It is to the advantage of the European stud books to be quiet about their thoroughbred genes as they develop their highly successful brands…and that is what most have become. They are often presented as breeds but in fact they are brands, and part of a marketing system rather than a method of showing the true breeding of horses. A number of leading sires are even approved by all the major European stud books, and therefore have registered offspring in different stud books. In addition many elite warm blood performers actually carry a majority of Thoroughbred blood, despite being registered as Selle Francais, Holstein, Dutch (KWPN), Westphalian or Hannoverian.
ONE BRAND – DIFFERENT PRODUCTS
This is because the major warm blood stud books are not closed in the same way as the Thoroughbred General Stud Book, and they have all consistently used thoroughbred blood in a major way to improve their breeds over the last 60 years. This is understandable and sensible …however the problem for the unwary is that under the same brand you can get a vast range of different types, from full thoroughbred to no thoroughbred. So in fact when someone tells you on the telephone that they have bought, for example, a Holsteiner, it is actually impossible for you to know what type of horse this is.
WHEN STUD BOOKS BECOME A BRAND
A good recent example of the success of branding was the huge publicity the Selle Francais stud book received in all the UK national newspapers and equestrian magazines when one of their stallions, Jaguar Mail, was chosen as the sire for Lucinda Frederick’s Headley Britannia, winner of both Burghley and Rolex three day events. Three healthy foals were actually produced by surrogate mothers this year, and understandably the whole project has further fuelled the British enthusiasm for using Selle Francais sires.
However the truth is that Jaguar Mail is six eights pure thoroughbred, one eights Hannoverian and only one eights Selle Francais…. and this Selle Francais, Alme, is three quarters thoroughbred! So Jaguar Mail is actually seven eights thoroughbred when you add in the thoroughbred from his one eights Hanoverian influence. What is also interesting is that this Hanoverian also contains a little American Quarter Horse and a little more Shagya Arab in it’s pedigree, so once again there is some X factor.
Some say that this thoroughbred blood is irrelevant if it comes from the great grandfather or great grandmother, but make no mistake if, for example, the 8 great grandparents of a horse are half thoroughbred and half other breeds then this is exactly what you will get in the offspring…thoroughbred genes do not just disappear!
OKI DOKI – THE ULTIMATE MUTT!
It is also worth making the point that even when the % of thoroughbred blood is less than 50% it may still be the biggest single percentage from any one stud book. It is said that the most valuable horse in the world is the Dutch show jumper Oki Doki, ridden by Albert Zoer. Although he is only 43.8 thoroughbred this is a majority as his remaining genes are a mixture of Arab, Holstein, Oldenburg, Hanoverian, East Prussian, Trakenher, Selle Francais, Trotter & Dutch …...and just 4.7 % Dutch!
WOMEN OF SUBSTANCE – GREAT DAMS
In these blogs I have focussed on sires rather than dams for the obvious reason that successful stallions can have a much greater impact on the international herd than mares because of the sheer numbers of their offspring. This should not detract from the huge importance of paying as much attention to the suitability of the mare as to the stallion. It is often said that the mare is worth more than the stallion, however the science would suggest that BOTH sire and dam need to be good.
Unfortunately it is true that many mares of unsuitable temperament become brood mares and this remains a problem. Equally I look at mares and stallions in a similar way from a training point of view and I believe that a number of mares are labelled ‘difficult’ when in reality it is the limited ability of their handlers that create many of the problems. Geldings tend to be more forgiving and long suffering.
I was very lucky to find my own foundation mare High Dolly. She was by Chair Lift, the famous show jumping sire, who is a grandson of Hyperion. Chair Lift was the dam sire of Irish Olympic horse Carling King (4th individually in Athens) and sire of Abbervail Dream, who holds the record for Nations Cups appearances for the British team. High Dolly is also related to the famous army equitation school showjumper Kilbaha ridden by John Ledingham. Kilbaha was by Tudor Rocket, whose grandsires were Buisson Ardent, also the grandsire of Chair Lift, and Owen Tudor, a son of Hyperion. Kilbaha was also out of a Rhett Butler mare and Rhett Butler’s dam grandsire was High Hat the sire of Chair Lift. Then there are a number of other connections through Pharos and Blandford.
Most importantly High Dolly was out of a Prefairy mare. Prefairy was by Precipitation, the sire of one of my five stallion Gods, Furioso. This also gives another tie in to Carling King, because Carling Kings ‘Irish Draught’ sire Clover Hill was in fact by the TB Golden Beaker, whose grandsire was the Precipitation son Preciptic. In addition Abbervail Dream’s dam also had a cross of Precipitation. Not only was Prefairy a champion National Hunt sire his dam and Furioso's dam were related through Son-In-Law and a little dash of The Tetrarch. There was also the bonus in Prefairy's dam of a cross of Foxhunter the grandsire of Rantzau. Then when I put High Dolly to the Irish thoroughbred Master Imp I also got a double cross of Tourbillon, an extra two crosses of Hyperion and a extra pinch of The Tetrarch…and obviously the whole combination works well together seeing the performance of Mandiba with Karen O’Connor and High Kingdom with Zara Phillips. Here are two of last years pictures of Mandiba, who is owned by the wonderful Joan Goswell. He is due to compete at Burghley 4* next month.
See the way he can use the front end like a real jumper. Here is High Kingdom as a 3 year old showing his exceptional jumping ability. These horses are 15/16th thoroughbred.
A MULTI- DISCIPLINE APPROACH TO BREEDING
In these days of specialisation it is rare to breed horses for more than one main discipline. However I believe that by aiming towards more than one we actually strengthen the breed and produce a more flexible and usable horse. There are already too many horses with one-dimensional limited lives and unbalanced physical characteristics. Mandiba is an eventing horse of the highest calibre and has the potential to rise to a high level in dressage, while High Kingdom could be a top horse in either show jumping or eventing. A multi-discipline approach to breeding certainly gives added value to many horses and bigger dreams for their connections. What a great aim it is to breed one with the flexibility to work at a high level in all three disciplines….and the key to this is the thoroughbred blood that has already shown itself to be successful in all three major disciplines.
YOU NEED THE MIND AND THE BODY
Apart from her athletic ability and great paces it was High Dolly’s attitude that made all the difference. She had an extraordinary gentleness yet this was combined with courage and a forward attitude, all of which she seems to have passed on. So I now have a full sister of Mandiba, Nuff Kisses, producing some truly exceptional young stock of her own ….including three fillies who I am sure will in turn make great brood mares. I also have a full brother of Mandiba, Jackaroo, who I intend to use as a stallion. I am a lucky man indeed.
If you find a good mare from a family that breeds true then you will dramatically increase your odds of breeding good stock. However these good or even great mares often become anonymous in our sire oriented world.
VALINE & VIOLA
So who has heard of Viola and Valine? Viola (1961) and Valine (1961) are both by the thoroughbred Cottage Son and their joint influence and families are now huge but largely unheralded. Viola is the dam of Lord, who has 48 approved stallion sons, and Valine is the dam of Ramiro Z, arguably the most influential jumping stallion ever. (Interestingly he is also one eights Arab through his grandsire Ramzes, who was by the thoroughbred Rittersporn.) Ramiro Z’s famous daughter, the double Olympic Individual Gold Medalist Ratina Z (1981), has been called mare of the century and her extended family are breeding sensations, including her full brother standing in Ireland Ricardo Z. Ricardo Z has produced top performers in both Eventing and Horse Trials as well as some traditional top show hunters. Apart from Cottage Son he carries the genes of the thoroughbreds Rittersporn, The Last Orange and Ultimate. This family breeds true and talented without a shadow of a doubt.
SELENE AND MUMTAZ MAHAL
….or what about Selene and Mumtaz Mahal? Selene (1919) was by Chaucer and a top class racehorse. As a broodmare she produced sons that had dramatic implications on the thoroughbred breed both in the short and long term. She produced fourteen foals, four of which, Hyperion, Sickle, Pharamond, & Hunter's Moon became outstanding international sires, while her daughter All Moonshine became the dam of the important stallion Mossborough.
Mumtaz Mahal (1921) was dubbed "the Flying Filly" after this daughter of The Tetrarch proved herself one of the fastest two-year-olds ever. She became one of the Aga Khan’s most important foundation mares. Her descendants, including Mahmoud, Nasrullah, Royal Charger, Abernant, Petite Etoile, and Shergar, spread her influence around the world, making her one of the most important broodmares of the 20th Century. But we just hear of the sires because a top sire will always get the publicity
GALILEO & SEA THE STARS
Currently Derby winners Galileo and Sea the Stars are probably two of the top 10 most valuable racehorses or stallions in Europe, each valued at over €40m, yet few would know they share a dam……the Miswaki mare Urban Sea (who goes back to Sickle, Mumtaz Muhal x 2, Fair Play x 2, Teddy x 6, Phalaris x 5, Blandford x 6, & Hyperion.) Yes the quality of the dam does matter and the old adage…’breed the best you have with the best you can find and hope for the best’ makes real sense for breeding any type of horse.
THE SUPERSTAR FOR THE AVERAGE PLEASURE RIDER
To finish I need to emphasize something of the greatest importance. Although I have been in the main writing about elite horse breeding, it is undoubtedly true that MOST OF US DON’T WANT OR NEED AN ELITE PERFORMER …this I recognise totally. I know that many of us are safer with smaller and less high-powered horses, as long as they have a good temperament…but the key point is that these horses can be bred as well. I’ll write more about this over the next two weeks, but in the meantime thank goodness for all the thousands of superstar pleasure riding horses and ponies. They bring as much if not more joy and satisfaction than an elite performer and they are at the heart of both real horsemanship and good sport. Happy Days, William
Next week…...why TB's may be safer and the connection between dressage and jumping …my apologies as I ran out of space this week.