It was the classic riding school quiz question: who were the founding stallions of the Thoroughbred? And we all know, don't we - the Byerley Turk, the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian. What we don't know is who the founding mares were. There were some 72 of them, and many were not named in pedigrees, some being simply known as "A Royal Mare". A study by the University of Cambridge, led by Dr Mim Bower, has set out to identify where the founding mares came from.
Some breeders claim the Thoroughbred is descended from pure Arabian stock, but the Cambridge research shows that wasn't the case: it was British and Irish mares who were most influential on the maternal side. 61% of the founding mares were from British or Irish breeds, and only 8% had Middle Eastern or West Asian links. The Cambridge study came to the conclusion that there was already a vibrant racing industry into which the Eastern stallions were introduced.
The news article does not give the full analysis of the genetic material found, but at least two British (and Irish) native ponies are mentioned: the Connemara and Exmoor. It's odd to think that while the Exmoor is a rare breed, whose survival is threatened, Moorland Mousie lives on in the Thoroughbred.