So be honest… before buying your groceries who looks at the list of ingredients on the back of the box as well as the appealing tag lines on the front? Probably not many of us, but now the research indicates that we are becoming much more aware of the true contents of the beautifully packaged and photographed goods on display. We have learnt that ‘90% fat free’ actually means 10% fat, which is a high fat content and probably also includes a high sugar content. We have learnt that ‘100% natural’ can cover all sorts of sins, and that your strawberry smoothie can also contain a number of cheaper fruits including oranges and other fillers. We have learnt to be more discriminating and we now expect more honesty and accuracy in labelling.


So what has this got to do with horses William? Well, I think we have a problem with the labelling of our sport horses. More honesty and accuracy in labelling our horses would avoid many of us being led astray in our horse purchases and in many cases save us money. Let me give you an example from the world of horse trials. After the Hong Kong Olympics Gold Medal success of the wonderful grey “Holsteiner“ Marius, ridden by the flying German dentist Hinrich Romeike, Mark Todd was quoted as saying that this proved that now all types of horses, including warm bloods, could win in high level horse trials. But look up the breeding of Marius and you will find that he is in fact three quarters thoroughbred.

Let me give you a better example. Ingrid Klimke was also a member of the Gold Medal winning German team in Hong Kong, riding the superb “Hannoverian” FRH Butts Abraxxas, who has been a vital part of their senior team for the last six major championships. Only three weeks ago after his superb performance at Aachen there was a headline on an article about Ingrid Klimke saying “Hannoverian Butts Abraxxas my best ever.” But here is the truth, Butts Abraxxas is seven eights thoroughbred. Yes that’s right, 87.5% thoroughbred!


The same applies to the winners of both the recent World Cup finals in Las Vegas. Third time show jumping winner, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum’s brilliant “Hannoverian” Shutterfly is at least half thoroughbred, with several non Hannoverian elements, while the KWPN (Dutch) Ravel, winner of the Grand Prix Dressage both there and in Aachen recently is almost half thoroughbred, also with several non Dutch elements. So if all these horses were packaged it would be more accurate in each and every case to describe them as thoroughbred.

Of course we all know that we only use the term thoroughbred to describe a full 100% thoroughbred, which is part of the problem and a major reason why we have this inaccurate labeling that leads us astray. We are led astray because these ‘warmblood’ studbooks also have horses which have little thoroughbred in them or no thoroughbred…yet we need the thoroughbred, because in the main these are the best performers, and we need to know both how much thoroughbred and which thoroughbred genes are in the breeding.


So the answer to the question ‘which is the most successful sport horse studbook in the world’, is surprising because it is the one rarely claiming credit for any success. It is Weatherby’s General Stud Book for Thoroughbreds.

Many elite performers actually carry a majority of TB blood, despite being registered as Selle Francais, Holsteiner, Dutch or other breed. Warmblood studbooks are not closed in the same way as Weatherby’s, and have all used TBs extensively to improve their breed over the past 60 years. Make no mistake these European stud books have done a great job with their breeding and testing programmes but the thoroughbred element is of crucial importance. Another good example is Darien Powers, double Sydney medallist for Andrew Hoy and considered the ultimate warmblood event horse. Yet Darien Powers is 3/4 TB. In show jumping, Rodrigo Pessoa’s Selle Francais Baloubet De Rouet, also three time winner of the World Cup final, is a great advertisement for his studbook. But look at his pedigree and the truth is revealed. He is 1/2 TB and like Shutterfly carry the bloodlines of great racehorse sires, including Dark Ronald, St Simon, Phalaris and Nearco.

Surprisingly the same is often true in Dressage. Ahlerich, German maestro Reiner Klimke’s Westphalian dressage World Champion, is often cited as the best of all time, yet is by the TB Angelo, also the damsire of another legendary dressage horse, Rembrandt. As Dr Thomas Lehmann, former head of the Westphalian State Stud, said: “You must have TB blood for elasticity.”


The wow factor of modern dressage is enhanced by the quality and lightness of the TB. For example the German National Stud has made great use of the TB Prince Thatch, who is in the top 10 dressage sires, and the British-bred TB Lauries Crusador is a producer of real dressage talent. He was Hanoverian Stallion of the Year in 2006…now that’s an eye opener…and he has had a considerable influence on the breed. His son, Laurentianer, won the 2000 World Young Dressage Horse title, while another son, Londonderry, was champion of the Hanoverian stallion licensing in 1997 and went on to take the German four-year-old title.

The removal of the requirement to carry a minimum weight in International competition, the increasing demand for speed, quality and athleticism, and the increase in female riders at all levels have all increased the need for and use of the Thoroughbred in all disciplines. However because the European marketing system concentrates on creating desirable brands, the TB influence often goes unrecognised. We begin to believe the hype about these brands and the packaging without checking out the ingredients (genes) in greater detail.


Of course many of us don’t want elite performers. So the recipe will be a little different. I totally love pony blood, native breeds, and any genes that breed true ….and in particular have gold medal minds. Lucky the riders who have such a horse or pony. Happy days. William


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Comment by Jackie Cochran on July 17, 2009 at 9:22am
Yes, people forget about the wonderful TB influence on ALL riding horses except the Arabians and the Barb descended Pasos.
The recipe for developing wonderful and athletic riding horses from inferior broodstock has ALWAYS been to bring in a TB stallion (though Arab stallions can be good too.)
In the USA there was the Remount Registry for 1/2 on up TB crosses. Half-breds and three quarter-breds were considered good horses to preparing you to ride the REAL THING, the TB. Being a good enough rider to ride a TB was the BIG goal for all us girls in hunt seat when I was a kid.
Heart, endurance, athletic ability, speed, jumping talent, trainability and prepotency at stud. How could a breeder go wrong (using the right stallion for the mare, of course.)

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