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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.

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Comment by Gail Rogers on October 13, 2009 at 7:49pm
No, not you William, (after all you chose Hyperion!);) one of the people who posted a comment after your blog. I didn't want to centre anyone out however, so spoke generally.
I'm glad to hear you agree with me 100% (that is a great number!!!) ;)

talk to you soon,again,
Comment by William Micklem on October 5, 2009 at 4:14pm
Gail..good to hear from you again...I agree 100% with what you say...but I didn't suggest going to a coarser TB...must have been someone else...talk to you again...William
Comment by Gail Rogers on October 5, 2009 at 2:27pm
I am coming back again to this subject because the comment that we need a "return to the coarser TB" is something that I have to disagree with.
If one just looks at the picture of Hyperion - that alone contradicts this concept.
He is the epitome of the 'typey' Thoroughbred - and beautiful and perfect. Not one bit coarse.
I often hear people lamenting the loss of the 'old' Thoroughbred - but if you look at pictures of Thoroughbreds from the past -there is very little difference. Who would not want to put a saddle on Secretariat? for example? or Spectacular Bid? Either one would probably have made a spectacular eventer or jumper. I saw both of them trot across their pastures at Claiborne, and both would make you drool.
Or even further back, look at Royal Charger (1942) or Nearco (1935). Can anyone point out the difference between these and modern Thoroughbreds?
There are of course better and worse individuals within the Thoroughbred breed, and variations in types - but in my opinion at least - the type is set.

What is different, what has changed, is the way they are trained, the races that are written for them - the incredible pressure on precocity (especially in North America), the expense of racing, and the need for horses to win early as two years olds. If the races are written for 6 F that's what the horses race at. They don't get a choice.
But the horses, I believe, are the same.

William, thank you again for your encouragement, and for this beautifully written and informative series.
warmest wishes
Comment by William Micklem on August 30, 2009 at 7:38pm
We all start as underdogs...great to hear of your wonderful attitude...continued good fortune to you Lisa and good luck with the C of the H project. William
Comment by lisa rasmuson on August 30, 2009 at 6:19pm
i will be getting some coverage in the chronicle of the horse. around mid october they are starting up a new web magazine, and will be doing an ottb retraining theme for one of them. anyways, molly sorge (sp?) interviewed me by phone yesterday. and i am very grateful for the coverage. the chronicle is my favorite publication : )

i started awards for ottbs back in 2003 all in the honor of my ottb, hell's angel ( bobbie). two award programs are run through my local usdf gmo's. another award is given to members of the north american tb society who are usdf all breeds award winners. the other thing i do is a grant in education for adult amateurs riding ottbs. the horse and rider can be of any discipline but must take lessons with a licensed judge or certified dressage instructor. i also am a sponsor for a local tb charity show. the point of my awards and grant is to promote the ottb as a suitable mount for the adult amateur rider, and to get the word out that you can take an ottb, retrain and rehabilitate(if necessary, many do retire perfectly sound), compete respectably and be awarded for it. awards shouldn't just go to the person who spent the most money. awards should go to people willing to do the hard, dirty work. as competitors, we always have to give back , not just to our own horses, but, to horses, in general. no doubt competiton will always emphasize big money and fancy horses, but to me, personally, that holds no interest. i'd rather hear the story of the underdog who came through in the end. that's the inspiration, and there is no greater underdog than the ottb.

bobbie is my only ottb, but not my last. i am looking for another one to bring along. i also have a qh, who is a great deal tb. bobbie was my first ottb and the one who made an everlasting and fundamental change to my belief system about horses and their treatment. bobbie retired from the track with a fractured pelvis and a blown suspensory. i rehabbed him twice. the first time i just didn't do things correctly. the second time things stuck : ) i evented him, did hunter shows on him and took him to a bunch of dressage competitions. he got me my first score to my usdf rider performance award at training level and a ton of awards at the local usdf gmo level. it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that even an ottb with substantial injury can go on and be a respectable mount for the adult amateur. i rehabbed him and retrained him on my own with help in the form of clinics from an event rider. he was never ridden professionally or handled professionally after he came from the track. he has lived on our private family farm almost the entire 10 years i've had him other than occassionally boarding out for the winter. he is retired now, but not due to his racing injuries. he developed terrible allergies about a year ago. we blood tested him and found out that he is allergic to hay. finding a feeding program for him, and medicating his allergies have been exhausting. he is getting better, but it is slow work.

thanks for your interest! i'm sure i have written way too much and in too much detail. can't wait to read your next blog!
Comment by William Micklem on August 30, 2009 at 11:12am
Every sense Lisa..would love to know more about your work with OTTB s...could keep going for many weeks on breeding and assessing of horses but I promise you the next subject is more important...William
Comment by lisa rasmuson on August 30, 2009 at 10:06am
another great article. i'm sad to see all this great research on the tb come to an end, but i'm curious to see what your next blog will be about : ) glad to see the arabian represented. i have had 2, a polish and an egyptian, and if it wasn't for the arabian we wouldn't have our wonderful tbs.

i agree that tb bloodlines should be included on a horse's passport. that greatly increases the education on bloodlines for the people buying warmbloods. i think when people are better educated about tb bloodlines and their influence on breeding of warmbloods and other registries of horses, such as the quarter horse, then we have a better chance of really helping the off the track tbs that fall through the sporthorse crack.

the stigma of being an ottb is lessened greatly with education on tb bloodlines. it's great to talk about tbs and the influence of their bloodlines, but the really important work is making sure that ottbs don't fall through the cracks and get their opportunity to be retired from the track and go on to become good sport horses. that is where knowledge of bloodlines and helping the general riding public in gaining that education will make a huge difference for the outcome of these horses.

hope that i have made sense. i am in the middle of a barn renovation project and i've got the amish coming to my backyard tomorrow : )
Comment by William Micklem on August 28, 2009 at 3:16pm
You will know from my blogs how successful High Top has become in the elite sport horse world...good luck with your breeding programme...send me a pic...William
Comment by Terri Berwanger on August 28, 2009 at 2:39pm
Yes, my mare is out of Warning Light by High Top, then Light Duty by Queen's Hussar, then Highlight, then Hypericum. Twilight is listed placed herself and is in foal to Manhattan.

Comment by William Micklem on August 28, 2009 at 2:10pm
Hypericum produced Highlight who produced Highclere, owned by the Queen, who produced Height Of Fashion, the dam of Nashwan and other top horses...good blood by any definition! William

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