Horsin' Around: More wonders of science, sort of

It's always comforting when science catches up with life, isn't it? It underlines exactly what you knew already and if, like me, you are not particularly in need of comforting, then it's good for a laugh and we always need one of those. Especially these days.

This time a group of Japanese scientists claim that they have found the spot on different horse breed's genomes that houses the exact dopamine receptor that explains why Thoroughbreds don't act like, for instance, Shetland Ponies. The fact that Thoroughbreds do not act like Shetland Ponies is certainly not news to anyone who has experienced both breeds but finding that infinitesimal spot seems to be.


Taken from an online equine publication, The Horse, we learn that:

"The key is dopamine - a natural chemical in the nervous system - which appears to play an important role in how horses behave socially and develop personality, said Yusuke Hori, PhD candidate, researcher in the department of psychology at Kyoto University in Kyoto and at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science in Tokyo. Specifically, one particular dopamine receptor - the 'D4' receptor (or DRD4), as scientists call it - has been previously shown to affect equine personality. So Hori and his fellow researchers set out to find the D4 gene in a variety of horses and then compare their findings across different breeds. A 2005 study led by Yukihide Momozawa, PhD, at the University of Tokyo showed that a single nucleotide polymorphism in DRD4 appears to affect the individual differences in what he defined as a horse's 'curiosity' and 'vigilance,' Hori said."


That's for those who understand such things. While I am sure that if you are dealing with an infinitesimal bit of dopamine safely tucked under a highly magnified image, it is all well and good to know that the seat of a horse's personality resides within that particular nucleotide polymorphism.

If, however, as so many grooms have done over the years you find that you are dealing with a couple of 16 hand yearling Thoroughbred fillies which have spent the past year running free in the pasture and now have to be civilized it is not nearly so reassuring. It becomes far less reassuring when the man in charge tells you that both of the dams of these fillies have attacked their grooms and you had better watch your step with them. It is kind of the boss to warn you but, honestly, it would be a lot better if those scientists could find a way to turn that specific bit of nucleotide polymorphism OFF!

And that is only Thoroughbreds. Anyone who has ever dealt with a good old fashioned Appaloosa as I did for all those years knows that their nucleotide polymorphisms run a lot deeper in their D4 receptors than in many other breeds and that "vigilance" and "curiosity" don't nearly cover the admittedly anthropomorphic concepts that show how that breed behaves socially and develops their personalities.

Where, for instance, does a wicked sense of humor reside? Where does a distinctly unhorse like intelligence develop from along those strands of DNA?

How do you get from the electronic microscope to the old saying that the cowboys used to have about Native Americans riding Appaloosas into battle "so that they would be good and mad when they got there!".

I have to admit that I thought that those cowboys had it all wrong.

If you have a horse that has a highly distinctive intelligence your task is not to diminish it but to develop it along the lines of a useful adjunct to what your task at hand is.

And, yes, that means that sometimes you have to be able to give over complete control in order to see what the horse has in mind. I don't feel that it lessened my abilities when I realized that he had a better idea of how to accomplish something than I did. More power to him and life was easier for me. All I had to do was to sit there and make it look like it was my idea all along. Fortunately for me that's how most people mistakenly saw it anyway.


Who knows? Maybe my D4 receptors had markers on their nucleotide polymorphisms that allowed me the ability to get along with other creatures.

Or maybe it was because I was born seriously left-handed and quite dyslexic. You try opening every door from what is to you the wrong side for most of your life and see what that can do to your belief in your fellow humans. I was ready to listen to animals early in life.

Speaking of that maybe one day the scientists will find out that my D4 receptors have been on the wrong side of my nucleotide polymorphisms all along. And won't that be a comfort?