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El Rey Magnum: Has Selective Horse Breeding Gone too Far?

The Arabian horse is easy to recognize. The dished face and slender throat-latch are characteristic of the horse breed. A young Arabian colt, El Rey Magnum, however, raised concerns among veterinarians.

Concerns over breed standards exist in all sorts of domestic animal breeds. This happens when the search for an ideal look or function overcomes functionality and sometimes even the welfare of the animal. We see this in dogs, cats and sometimes — horses.

A young Arabian horse, El Rey Magnum, caused controversy in the veterinarian world back in 2017 due to an extreme dish to its face, a trait unique to the breed.

The colt raised concern, as veterinarians believe his extremely dished face to be harmful. Such extreme breeding may cause breathing problems in the young horse. Unlike dogs, horses can’t breed through their mouths. A potential blockage in their airways could lead to serious problems.

El Rey Magnum Purebred Arabian Horse
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Like most animal breeds, the Arabian may suffer from congenital defects, some even fatal. The risk, however, comes from accepting what vets see as defects as necessary and welcome breed characteristics. Orrion Farms, the owners of El Rey Magnum, says the colt is a step toward perfection. They claim he is already worth millions.

The Arabian horse’s typical dished face is one of its most iconic characteristics of the breed. The shape helps the horse breathe in its original desert environment, where the air is dry. Combined with large, wide nostrils, it enhances airflow into the lungs, which gives the horse its famous endurance.

El Rey Magnum’s Extreme Breeding Has Caused Concern

But excessive breeding could turn this trait into a flaw. British veterinarian Tim Greet believes El Rey’s nose might impede his breathing. In his view, El Rey would not be able to cope with exercise.

The major concern comes with breeding for appearances rather than function, especially in a breed known for its endurance and versatility. Halter horses tend to have more dish to their faces than other sports horses, even within the breed.

Adele Waters, the editor for Veterinary Record, where the first hints of concern appeared, commented on the colt’s appearance. Expressing disbelief at first, she believed the horse to be fake.

“My first thoughts were ‘is this the work of CGI trickery?’

“Many specialist horse vets have had a similar reaction. But the truth is this is a real horse and it has been bred to meet the demands of a particular market that likes a particular appearance.

“Where will it end? Is it really so bad for a horse to look like a horse and not a cartoon character?”

A cartoon horse, which critics say resembles the type of face seen in El Rey Magnum
Veterinarians say horses should not resemble a cartoon character.

But not all people agree on his looks. The nine-months-old colt polarized opinions. While some believe his appearance to be a step in the wrong direction, others believe it to be beautiful.

American veterinarians who examined the colt claim he has no breathing problems and no health issues. Doug Leadley, of Orrion Farms, which bred El Rey Magnum, claims he has no issues.

We think he is the most beautiful Arabian in the world – we think he is a king.

Other people, such as Wayne McIlwraith, the direction of musculoskeletal research at Colorado University, also came out in El Rey Magnum’s defence, saying there is no evidence the shape of the colt’s skull affects his breathing.

The Arabian breed isn’t the only one that rouses concerns about overbreeding. Other breeds, such as the Thoroughbred, face similar criticism, though in the latter’s case it involves their function as racehorses. The same happens to Quarter Horse, a breed whose bulkier halter horses have also come under fire.

What Has El Rey Magnum Been up to?

Since our story broke and went viral, El Rey Magnum has won a series of accolades such as: Yearling Colt Most Beautiful Head at the 2018 Arabian World Championships in Paris, France; Yearling Colt Supreme Championship at the 2018 Silver Champion-Arabian Breeders Cup; and Arabian Breeders Classic Yearling Colt at the 2018 Unanimous Champion-Scottsdale International.

Here is a more recent video of El Rey Magnum

According to the Orion Farms website, “The year 2020 will not only see El Rey Magnum opened up to the public as a breeding stallion, but also witness his first few foals joining our world”.

Currently, two mares at Orrion Farms are pregnant with his foal and are due to give birth in 2020. Time will only tell if they have the same extreme dished face, or even more extreme.

By winning so many competitions and becoming a household name, this shows the Arabian Horse industry see this extremely dished face as progression and beauty in the breed.

So what do you think of El Rey Magnum? Has the Selective Breeding of Horses gone too far?

Share your thoughts, or ask a question:
Comments 35


Cheryk Elphick

Wednesday 20th of October 2021

Whilst this Colt has extreme concave facial features this can not be called progressional breeding, the colt has been called pretty it surely is a step backwards for the Arabian Horse Breed, once acepted the genetic breeding can only be reversed over many generations of corective selection, the same way that this extreme bred Colt has had selective conformational features identified as ideal in the breed for future selection, financial gains via breedings whether live covers or inseminations, and world wide recognition as Breeders of this extreme individual within the Arabian Horse, as the Colt has already and in the future of the Show world been awarded acolades as the ideal specimen for measuring the Breed conformation standard. .

Anthony Crowley

Monday 4th of October 2021

I’m a nostalgic admirer of Arabian Horses. I don’t believe in extremes. But if this guy is healthy and shows no handicaps because of his delicate structure then Nature has not put a reject stamp on it. The show world is a Beaty contest. In the Arabian you can have beauty and inherent toughness. These beautiful specimens have not proven they have both. To each his own.

Crystal Johnson

Sunday 3rd of October 2021

This article is complete fabrication. Not one Arabian horse out of the thousands I've dealt with have ever had any breathing issues. The writer of this article does not like Arabian horses, and has actually made up a lie to drum up drama and discourage people from buying the most incredible, and oldest breed in the world. Arabian horses go back to biblical times, and those depicted in Roman architecture and art all have concave faces.... Long before Disney existed. Education goes a long way towards seeking the truth, and the author clearly has none, not the desire to research her topic of choice.


Tuesday 28th of September 2021

I’m sorry but that is so hideous looking to me. I love Arabian horse's but when I see this, all I can see is a horse that looks like a cartoon. What is the purpose and why?

Gerri Johnson

Monday 28th of June 2021

I find its head not attractive at all. I love Arabs but not this one. How sad they are trying to take that beauty away from the breed. He does look like he has a birth defect.