So is there one King of thoroughbred sires in the sport horse world? Many of you already have your personal favourite, which is wonderful because personal favourites reinforces an emotional connection with horses and this gives the horse world added strength….and it is the emotional connection between human and horse that ensures we avoid treating horses as machines.
HYPERION – SMALL BUT STUNNING
My own personal favourite is Hyperion.
Statistically he is out on his own when one analyses the pedigrees of successful thoroughbred sires in the sport horse world as a whole, as opposed to the racing world. His genes seem to mix well with both thoroughbred and non-thoroughbred and once again he and his sons and grandsons are successful in all disciplines as stallions. However unlike my five thoroughbred Gods of the warm blood world the Hyperion genes are also in many top flat race horses in all the major racing countries in the world. This singles him out as an extra special influence.
By the best sire of his time, the triple crown winner Gainsborough, and out of the best racing filly of her year and stud legend Selene, Hyperion was almost gelded because he was so small. When he won the English Derby he was still only just over 15.1 but he won by four lengths in the then-record time of 2:34. He also went on to win the long distance St. Leger, despite the fact that he had been fast enough to set a five-furlong record as a two year old. He became England and Ireland‘s leading sire for six years, was first or second leading sire of brood mares
for seven years, and was grandsire of Northern Dancer, arguably the 20th century’s greatest sire. What I am most interested in is the individual character and spirit of each horse and I believe that the mental qualities handed down through the Hyperion line must be exceptional.
THE MAGIC BLEND
Eleven of his sons have made a major contribution to sport horse breeding in Europe and the USA….namely Owen Tudor, Hornbeam, Alibhai, High Hat, Khaled, His Highness, Rockefella, Stardust, Aureole, Aristophanes, & Heliopolis. In Australia and New Zealand Hyperion's descendants have also exerted a profound influence on on the racing and breeding industry. This influence was introduced via Hyperion's foreign based sons and also by five of his imported sons, Empyrean, Helios, High Peak, Red Mars and Ruthless. In addition his grandson, Irish-bred Star Kingdom was leading sire five times in Australia. While in South Africa Deimos was leading sire twice.
Of course High Hat was the sire of show jumping
sire Chair Lift, the father of my own much loved foundation mare High Dolly. High Hat was also the sire of classic winner Glad Rags, as well as being sire of High Line and grandsire of Ela Mana Mou, two top class racehorses and important sires of offspring with stamina. I could go on but I have to move the story on. It is important to realise that an Hyperion influence by itself is NOT sufficient. What is crystal clear is that a mixture of the 21 sires and eleven families they represent listed in part three of these articles, together with some inbreeding to these families, is what is required. As a rule of thumb genes from at least three of these families appears to be necessary as a minimum and double this is better. Although the racing world is losing the full variety of these lines, due to changing fashions and the predominance of Nearco and the Darley Arabian line, sires with these blends do still exist in the sport horse world and statistically are the most successful.
ARABS AND TROTTERS
The thoroughbred is not the only breed used for refining and improving the modern sport horse. In particular the refining influence of Arab and trotter blood should also be acknowledged. Many dressage horses
and jumpers, like Rodrigo Pessoa’s legendary Baloubet de Rouet are part trotter…in his case 25%… which is originally largely thoroughbred blood, so this is important to know. Selle Francais pedigrees have a considerable amount of trotter genes and all sport horse stud books have used Arab blood.
The Arab contribution could have it’s own series. Many are not fans of the Arab but I learnt to look at them in a different way in 1988, when a 19 year old student of mine, Sonya Duke, went round the most famous three day event in the world, Badminton, on a 17 year old 15.3 half arab called Carbrooke Charles…in the days before short format! He finished with a class clear round in the show jumping on the final day. Just the thought of it still brings a huge smile to my face. Here are the two of them jumping for fun on that wonderful cross country day.
It was a huge achievement for a wonderful partnership. Two 19 year olds have actually won Badminton, Richard Walker with Plucky Pasha and Lucinda Green with Be Fair, and once again partnership, belief and trust were the keys. It emphasises that all the good blood and good breeding theories are useless without the right training and development. The right bloodlines are only part of the recipe, but what I and many others have discovered is that although all horses with good genes do not do well, there are very few who do well without good breeding.
THE GOOD FAIRY & THE WICKED WIZARDS?
The TB is the ultimate athlete and breed improver— the good fairy of the breeding world. As long as you have one of a family with good feet then pound for pound the thoroughbred horse is the supreme all round equine athlete. In general they have better physiques and a naturally more forward attitude, and they tend to breed truer than non-thoroughbreds that come from a bigger gene pool. They are equine treasure. As Canadian breeder Gail Rodgers says, the thoroughbred gives us "generations of speed, courage, beauty, unparalleled athleticism and heart." We should cherish and promote its amazing contribution to the modern sport horse…and I would like to see all sport horses have their % of TB blood acknowledged in their passport. Only then will we avoid breeders neglecting these important bloodlines and purchasers being led astray into buying horses that are unsuited to their needs and ambitions.
I do not wish to suggest in any way that warmblood stallions are the wicked wizards of the industry. Indeed I could write another breeding series on the successful 'warmblood' horses, but there are already hundreds doing just this and very few telling the thoroughbred story. In general the continental breeding programmes, and in particular their performance assessment programmes, are deeply impressive and effective. However it is vital to realise that a number of the warm blood stallions may not have a sufficient level of TB blood or the right TB blood, and are therefore less likely to produce sport horses with sufficient quality and durability, or the right height and width, or the right flexibility for your needs.
THE RIGHT HORSE
Many riders are most suited to a 15.2 to 16.00 3/4 TB type of horse like the mare pictured here.
She is only 15.2 but is strong enough to carry a fairly big rider and yet small enough for a smaller female or teeenager...and she lives like a pony yet gallops like a horse! She is by Kings Master, a son of Master Imp....and I am looking forward to breeding from her as well….and no she is not too small, just as neither Hyperion or Carbrooke Charles were too small.
Of course the majority of breeders still just dream of producing an elite performer. With this in mind the evidence would suggest that the ideal modern elite Event horse is currently between 3/4 and full thoroughbred, the ideal modern elite Showjumper is between 1/2 and 3’/4 thoroughbred, and the ideal modern elite Dressage horse is between 1/4 & 1/2 thoroughbred…and the move in all these disciplines is towards more quality, athleticism and elegance. In the meantime I will continue to hold my dream of horses from one family of thoroughbreds, or three quarter thoroughbreds, conquering all three main competition disciplines! Dreams drive us on....but the big bonus is that if these horses don't become elite performers they can have useful lives in so many other directions.
What is certain is that big, wide horses, with little sensitivity and sense of self-preservation, are not required, and what is certain is that the phenomenal performance and potential of the Thoroughbred sport horse is no fairy tale.
A HAPPY ENDING?
Will there be a happy ending for the thoroughbred in the sport horse world? There are two key challenges.....challenges that those working in the thoroughbred industry and those with thoroughbreds or part bred thoroughbreds in the sport horse industry will have to face up to themselves, because what is certain is that the other ‘brands’ will not do it on behalf of the thoroughbred.... and this lack of promotion and support is one of the main reasons behind the decline of the sport horse thoroughbred. Those two key challenges:
1 - Will we find ways to acknowledge and value the use of the thoroughbred in the sport horse world rather than hiding it?
2 - Will we do more to assess the non-racing performance…especially temperament, paces and jump… of thoroughbred families to find the next generation of sport horse sires?
It is the second challenge that is the key and it is a difficult task, but undoubtedly the special ones are out there. Astute breeders in Germany saw the worth in the thoroughbreds Julio Mariner, Lauries Crusador and Stan the Man and brought them to Germany from the UK and Ireland. (Stan the Man is the sire of the recent winner of this years Eventing World Cup Final, the three quarters thoroughbred 'Hanoverian' gelding La Biosthetique Sam, ridden by rising German star Michael Jung.) More excellent thoroughbred stallions are needed...some will be found and many will be missed.
However some of the thoroughbred community have been guilty in the past of promoting some horses who simply do not come up to the high standard the elite sport horse requires. This has distorted the statistics and has given ammunition for the anti thoroughbred brigade. In addition too few thoroughbred sires are blessed with good riders and trainers and good early preparation, which is the other side of the coin from the excellent training and presentation the top warm blood sires receive. This clouds the assessment process, but the truth is that too many thoroughbreds are only assessed on their conformation and pedigree...hence the second challenge above.
LOOK AT THE WHOLE JIGSAW PUZZLE
Of course a horse needs a combination of qualities…for example a good mind goes alongside good feet as essentials…and good genes are only part of the jigsaw puzzle. They must also be real athletes and thoroughbred stallions such as Hand in Glove had the paces, jump and athleticism which, together with his breeding, conformation and mind, made him valuable to breeders from ALL disciplines. This is at the very heart of the argument for using the thoroughbred. This is Hand in Glove, a winner at international level in both dressage and show jumping...and yes he has a little dash of Hyperion. His great grandsire was Swaps, who was a son of Khaled, who was a son of Hyperion!
Hand in Glove sadly died in 2003, but there are others to carry the torch. In Ireland for example we have Master Imp, now reaching the end of his career, and younger stallions like Power Blade and Ghareeb with the same qualities...and for good measure Power Blade also sired the recently crowned Supreme Hunter Champion at Dublin show......And finally, let’s not forget the X factor in breeding top sport horses, which fits with the need for us to produce more small horses to suit the needs of the market as a whole. Will all stud books find ways to make more use of a little Connemara Pony, Welsh Pony, Quarter Horse, Fell Pony, Stock Horse, Waler, Arab, Irish Draught or one of the many native treasures to be found round the world? Now that would be truly happy days.
No I'm wrong.... truly happy days are seeing your foal for the first time and seeing them grow up and form great partnerships with special people. An impossible dream? Definitely not. William www.WilliamMicklem.com
Now that this series on breeding is finished I want to say a huge thank you to all the thousands of people from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand that have been reading these blogs and responding in such large numbers. I have never had such an enormous response. These blogs have been passed on to most other equestrian forums, and they have taken on a life of their own as many knowledgeable breeders and enthusiasts continue to debate these issues. The most frequently expressed point is the total surprise at the high percentage of thoroughbred in horses they thought were non-thoroughbred. This communication has to be good for us all as we work together to create better sport for more riders. Thank you again.
A new series of blogs about something even more important than this breeding series….and it’s something that I admit takes me to boiling point at times.