Convincing people of the need for thoroughbred blood in the event horse is the easy bit in this series of articles. Ireland has been the World Breeding Federation number one country for event horses for the past 14 years with horses that are almost exclusively 3/4 to full thoroughbred, as have been the majority of the greatest event horses in history. The key component and value of the TB is obviously speed……and safety.


Cross-country horses must be able to gallop and jump well within their maximum speed for safety reasons. This is possible with a thoroughbred or 3/4 bred. However if a horse has to go close to their maximum speed then the margin for error is reduced, the scope of the vertical jump reduced and they are almost certain to tire more quickly. Modern cross-country courses suit the TB, because with frequent sections requiring a show jumping speed or even slower a much faster cruising speed is needed for the rest of the course. This applies to horses at all levels and is particularly important to riders who compete predominantly at novice level and slightly above. This is a vital point as most people do not ride at an elite level.

When this is combined with the thoroughbred’s higher proportion of fast twitch muscles, and ability to function anaerobically (without the use of oxygen), I believe the thoroughbred is undoubtedly the safest option as a breed for cross country…although adding some X factor with a dash of native breed or pony blood is also probably of real benefit.


I have spent far too many hours researching the breeding of the most successful event horses over the last fifty years. It shows strongly not only the continuing vital importance of having a majority of thoroughbred blood but also the extraordinary strong genetic connections between these horses. It has also thrown up a number of wonderful stories. The story of the thoroughbred MERELY-A-MONARCH, ridden by Anneli Drummond Hay, winning first Burghley three day event as a six year old and then Badminton a year later in 1962 is well known, but there is so much more to tell. He won his first show jumping Grand Prix in the same year he won Badminton and was short listed for both the Horse Trials and Show Jumping for the Tokyo Olympics. Unsoundness stopped these dreams and he was directed to high level show jumping thereafter and was a regular member of the British team. He remains one of the handful of best event horses of all time.

What many people don’t know is that his dressage was also so good that Rosemary Springer, the five time German champion and Olympian, tried very hard to buy him as a dressage horse and later on in his life he was also short listed for the British senior dressage team! Now British dressage was hardly flourishing at this time but Rosemary Springer’s knowledge and eye as an international judge are unquestionable. So what a horse! But there’s more…his sire HAPPY MONARCH (whose grandsire was Pharos and great grandsire was Son-In-Law) became one of the first recognised great event horse sires, but Merely-A-Monarch’s dam was a pony...believed to be a thoroughbred crossed with a Fell pony. (X factor once again.) A pony whose temperament was so appalling that after Merely-A-Monarch was weaned they put her down. So much for professional assessment! (In my experience this sort of extreme bad behaviour is usually related to cronic pain.)


Happy Monarch also sired the individual Gold Medalist in the Munich Olympics, Lauriston, and continues to influence horse trials breeding at the highest level through his sons Just-A-Monarch, who is the sire of Andrew Hoy’s top horse Master Monarch, and Rock King. So Merely-A-Monarch joins the handful of horses that have been successful at an advanced level in more than one discipline. Other examples are Durlas Eile, a grandson of Gainsborough, who won International show jumping classes with the Irish Army Equitation School before winning Badminton in 1965 with Eddie Boylan. Then after a long career in horse trials at the highest level they won an international dressage class in the UK. In more recent times the Irish bred thoroughbred Hand In Glove, the sire of Jaguar Mail, also competed in both international dressage and show jumping, winning at Prix St George level in dressage and competing at World Cup level in show jumping.


I am proud of finding the three Olympic horse trials medalists GILT EDGE (7/8 TB), CUSTOM MADE (3/4 TB) and BIKO (TB) for Karen and David O’Connor of the USA. Gilt Edge won more medals in championships than any other horse in USEA history, Custom Made was individual Gold medallist in the Sydney Olympics, and Bico was voted horse of the century by the USEA. In each case I was sure of their brilliance as young horses, however I paid very little attention to their breeding. It was not something I considered very important at that time. What is extraordinary is that when I did eventual compare their breeding I had a big surprise…..I discovered there was a strong similarity in their TB genes:

Phalaris x 4, Gainsborough x 2, Blandford x 2 ), Teddy x 1, Hurry On x 2 + (Rialto x 1)

Phalaris x 1, Gainsborough x 2, Blandford x 2, Teddy x 1, Hurry On x 1, + (Rialto x 2)

Phalaris x 6, Gainsborough x 3, Blandford x 2, Teddy x 1, + (Rialto x 2)

A great shot of Karen O’Connor with the full thoroughbred Biko, who I bought as a three year old with my brother John Micklem,

Certainly the right genes do not guarantee high level performance but it certainly increases your chance of success if the training is also high class. It is simply staggering how the same thoroughbred families keep reappearing in championship horses from ALL disciplines.


The favourite for the show jumping Gold Medal in advance of last years Hong Kong Olympics was LATINUS ridden by Ireland’s Dennis Lynch. Latinus failed a drug test and was unable to complete the competition but he remains one of the very best jumpers in the world. He is almost 60% thoroughbred, having Ladykiller as both a grandsire and great grandsire, and also having crosses of the thoroughbreds Anblick, Cottage Son and Manometer, and a cross of the incredible RAMZES.

Ramzes, 50% thoroughbred and 50% Arab, was not only sire of Raimond, the sire of Ramiro Z the show jumping super sire, but also of the influential Dutch jumping sire Rigoletto, and the hugely successful dressage stallion Radetzky. He therefore features in a huge dynasty of European showjumpers and dressage horses. He was also sire of Remus and Mariano, Harry Boldt and Joseph Neckermann's two great Olympic and World Championship dressage champions, and sire of those four great German jumping champion horses, Robin with Fritz Ligges, Retina ridden by Fritz Thiedemann, Romanus with Hans Günther Winkler and Ramona with Alwin Schockemöhle. Not a bad team for one stallion!


After Latinus’s disqualification at the Olympics most agree there were three outstanding horses left in the individual final…Shutterfly (50% TB), with Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, the eventual individual Gold medallist HICKSTEAD with Eric Lamaze, and IN STYLE with the incredible 61 year old Ian Millar. Both Hickstead and In Style are 43.75% thoroughbred, which is a lower percentage than many, but the thoroughbred genes they carry is the interesting thing. Hickstead’s dam carries the thoroughbred genes of three of my five Gods of the warm blood world, Lucky Boy, Furioso and Cottage Son, and his sire goes back to Hyperion & Phalaris among others. In Style also has crosses of 3 out of my five Gods, with two crosses of Rantzau, two of Ladykiller and three of Cottage Son.


In addition In Style’s grand dam on his sire’s side is Ribecka, whose sire is Calypso 1, one of the six famous Calypso full brothers sired by Cor de la Bryere the influential jumping sire. What is so interesting is that the dam of all these Calypso sires, Tabelle, is a full sister of Samei, who is the dam of GRANAT, Christine Stuckleburger’s great dressage champion and double European Gold Medalist. In addition Granat’s grand sire was Cottage Son…so there are strong genetic connections between the top Grand Prix showjumper In Style and the top Grand Prix dressage horse Granat.


…And there’s more…..Margot Otto Creppin’s famous European dressage champion CORLANDUS was also ‘jumper’ bred and a relation, being by Cor de la Bryere with the thoroughbreds Rantzau, Furioso, Ladykiller and Cottage Son close up in his pedigree. He was therefore just under 60% thoroughbred….the best jumping thoroughbred blood in a dressage horse that many judges consider to be one of the very best in dressage history.


The one other horse of this period who bears comparison with the champions of today was Reiner Klimke’s best dressage horse AHERLICH, who was World and Olympic champion.

…….A little digression because I think this is important regarding the training of our riders….Reiner Klimke remains one of the greatest dressage riders ever, however what many people don’t know was that he also competed internationally in both horse trials and show jumping. In three-day eventing he was German Eventing Champion in 1960 and European Eventing Champion in 1959. He participated in the 1960 Olympic Games of Rome as an event rider and with his 18th individual place he was the best German combination. In addition a victory in the Berlin show jumping Grand Prix proved his exceptional all round ability although he is quoted as saying that “the best test of riding ability is the three day event.”……

Back to the main story….Although Klimke and Ahlerich competed in the 1980’s much of their work is still available on film so the quality of his work is there to be seen. Aherlich’s piaffe and passage, the quality of all his paces, and his overall athleticism were all exceptional, yet as we now know he was half thoroughbred, being out of the thoroughbred Angelo, also grandsire of that ball of beautiful energy and Olympic and World champion, Rembrandt, ridden by Nicole Uphoff.


…And there’s more…..RAVEL, this year’s winner of both the World Cup in Las Vegas and the Aachen Grand Prix, has a grand sire called Contender….. and Contender is by Calypso 11, the jumping sire and full brother of all the famous Calypso jumping sires who are related to Ian Millar’s In Style! In addition Ravel carries the thoroughbred genes of Rantzau, Furioso Ladykiller and Cottage Son. Now where did I hear this before?


And another connection…OLYMPIC COCKTAIL, the Olympic champion with Anky van Grunsven and hugely successful Dutch sire of dressage horses, including the top rated stallion Jazz, shares a grand sire, the thoroughbred Le Val Blanc, with…… Hickstead, as well as having Furioso close up in his breeding! Hickstead's dam sire Ekstein, stood in Ireland at Tom Reed's innovative Morningside Stud before his death last year. He is a big loss to Irish show jumping breeding, but they also stand two of his sons and the very successful jumper Condios at Morningside Stud. Condios, with three crosses of Ladykiller and both Lord and Cor de la Bryere in his pedigree, has top young horses competing in all three disciplines and looks set to make a major contribution to elite breeding.

....And a brief final connection as I look up Anky Van Grunsen’s web site…her Grand Prix stallion Krack C has a cross of Lucky Boy and Rantzau, three of Ladykiller, and a little pinch of Cottage Son! This is the great Ladykiller...four crosses of Chaucer, two of Pharlaris, two of the Tetrarch and one of Hyperion... and extraordinary spinal flexibility.


Now I do not set out to search for these connections…they are everywhere. They offer compelling evidence that there is a much closer connection between top warmblood showjumping and dressage breeding than many would admit and the connection is often the thoroughbred element. As these same thoroughbred genes are also in the event horses it puts a new value and level of importance on this thoroughbred blood. You will remember I started the second part of this series with the story of the breeding of current top event sire CAVALIER ROYALE, who is more than half thoroughbred, with thoroughbred genes largely made up of those four thoroughbred gods, Furioso, Cottage Son, Rantzau, & Ladykiller.


1 - What a small world it is.
2 - The multi- discipline approach to breeding already exists.
3 - What heart this should give to those with breeding stock with BOTH top performance and these genes.

Happy Days. William


Next week….the final part of this series….more surprising facts about Dressage and the thoroughbred…..plus a little summing up and some thoughts on the future. Thank you for staying with me in such numbers on this one…it is extremely gratifying that so many care about this subject.

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Comment by Jackie Cochran on August 14, 2009 at 10:19am
This series is a great public service. Thank you for bringing the TB back to the pinacle that he really never left, however much others give weight to brands.

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