Monday, March 30, 2009

Breeding based on bloodlines

I recently ran across the following ad, which prompted a spill of my thoughts on breeding based on bloodlines.

The title of this ad advertises that this 5yo APHA stud is a homozygous son of Strait from Texas. I have to admit that I know very very little of paint bloodlines (okay, nothing), but a quick google search revealed this stud to be top of the APHA world with a lot of winnings and some absolutely gorgeous get. Which also leads me to the thought (completely off-topic), because I also found some very poor quality horses sired by this horse - as a stallion owner, are you particular about which mares your stud breeds? Do you only breed best to the best with the intentions of turning out the best possible foal that exceeds its parents in quality?

Anyway, back to the ad. The ad went on to point out that Strait from Texas stallions, top-of-the-line in the APHA world, are difficult to find in Canada and that therefore this is a very valuable breeding. Going to their website, this stallion has not been started under-saddle yet and has no accomplishments of his own. He is also homozygous to black, but not to the pattern.

Okay, so here is the dilemna. This horse has no accomplishments of his own (yet) and to my eye, is not what I would deem "the best". There are so many horses out there and at this time, with the economy the way it is combined with the closure of slaughter plants in the US, there is a huge surplus of horses. Regardless of the current situation even, we should always be only breeding the best to the best with the goal of a foal exceeding its parents. That is why Europe is known for turning out the best horses in the world. Their breed standards allow only the best of the best to be bred, the cream of the crop, and the result is high quality horses. On the other hand, this horse does possess fabulous bloodlines. So, do you breed for bloodlines regardless of conformation? Or do you breed based on conformation first, achievements next, and bloodlines last? Personally, I would never breed to this stallion and had he been mine, I would have gelded him long ago. He certainly has some quality characteristics about him (balanced frame, nice hind, straight legs), but he would definitely make a better gelding than stallion. First off, this angle of photo makes it difficult to determine accurately his exact conformation, but he looks to be bum-high (something he is unlikely to grow out of after 5) and his eye, head, shoulder, neck and withers all make me cringe. I strongly believe that, despite bloodlines, a stallion should be judged on its own merit. That means it has flawless conformation, excels at whichever discipline he was bred to do, and also has great bloodlines (stress on bloodlines being dependent upon the stallion's own accomplishments). Then, of course, you look for him to be proven by way of his offspring. To me, successful bloodlines provide a stud a greater chance at being successful himself and also at creating successful offspring, but they should not supersede all else. This Strait from Texas has some amazing offspring - some of the best looking ones being geldings (!)...there are a number of stallions much better suited to carrying and passing on his genes.

This 7yo paint stallion is one I would possibly consider breeding to. He is balanced proportionately, his legs are straight, his back is nice and short, he has a great shoulder and excellent hind, his head is proportionate to his body...he just looks like an all-round athletic stallion with great conformation.

The ad reads that he is double homozygous (for the black gene and for the tobiano colour) and he boasts some top QH bloodlines. His website shows off some fabulous looking foals. No accomplishments to date listed though... but he is proving he can produce the right conformation in his get. Unlike the ranch standing the above stallion at stud, this ranch displays some gorgeous mares and great foals, demonstrating a lot of careful thought and knowledge behind the breeding.

Different bloodlines though and different discipline than the stallion above. This stud is bred more as a cow horse and to produce cowy paint offspring.

Here is another stud, this one a 5yo bred by the same individuals who bred Strait from Texas, and by that same stud (same as the top stallion). He is double homozygous and is very correct from a conformational standpoint. I'd like to see him more evened out (ie. bum a little lower) but otherwise I cannot complain - nice shoulder and hip angles, very balanced proportions, strong back, straight legs, neck ties in nicely into the chest, nice topline overall. He has sired some good-looking offspring and you can only expect him to succeed in the show ring. This stallion definitely has it all and is definitely one I would consider breeding to. Something else I found neat about this ranch is that they do not allow any mares with hereditary or genetic disorders, which seems to be rare to find a ranch ensuring.

These thoughts have crossed my mind countless times before. I can recall two Thoroughbred mares specifically who had not been successful on the track and who were brought back home to be used as broodmares because of their great bloodlines. The one mare was actually very good looking (otherwise) but had very crooked legs. Perhaps if you bred her to something with very correct legs you could get a nice foal, but I wouldn't be trying more than once if the first foal turned out with crooked legs. To breed her once even involves quite a bit of contemplation. The second mare had extremely light bone (so light that she obtained fractures from light training as a 2yo) and was fraught with conformation flaws - she was not built to last whatsoever. But, she had great bloodlines so her owners were taking her back home to breed her. This occurs throughout the equine industry, individuals breeding a horse based almost solely upon bloodlines (or "well we just want to have a little baby foal around!"...but that's another maddening subject altogether). Is this line of thinking successful? Or does it simply add to an industry already teeming with too many horses, many of which possess conformation worthy of banging our heads against a wall? What about all those grade stallions? I'm not referring to those bred with purpose, some of the successful sporthorse or warmblood crosses, for example. What about all those grade mares being bred to another breed not within their breeding already? This is not to say either that grade horses are not valuable - to the contrary, I find them extremely valuable. Most of our sporthorses (or other breeds) even are not the result of one breed being bred down through centuries (such as the Arabian or Thoroughbred), they're the result of careful mixing of a number of similar breeds to create the ultimate sporthorse. Belgian/Quarter Horses, Percheron/Thoroughbreds, Friesian/Thoroughbreds, all are fabulous crosses with great potential. But cross-breeding should still be done just as carefully as breeding within a breed, perhaps moreso because of the risk (breeding two breeds of two different backgrounds, thus there is some unpredictability) and so grade stallions and grade mares being bred...does not seem to ring well (as a whole) to my ears. They are also less valuable within the industry, and thus usually start out near the bottom. Add to that poor conformation and poor performance and the horse is most likely destined to exist at the bottom of the pile, one day ending up in a truck headed to Mexico. Keep in mind I am neither referring to the individual who breeds one or even a couple horses for their own purposes and breeds with responsibility and caution, I am speaking in general.

Another off-topic point, is why it is cheaper with some stallions to breed a grade mare to that stud? Why wouldn't you instead be encouraging the breeding of purebred mares to a particular stallion over grade mares? Just a thought and perhaps there is a good point for this, I just have yet to find it and was unsure as to the reason. Certainly breeding grade mares to a quality stallion can produce some amazing get, however the risk is higher at obtaining a quality foal and thus very careful planning is required. I find that those wishing to breed grade mares are often of the type that are not looking to improve a breed or produce a quality foal, but are rather simply looking for a pet foal, a foal for their kids to grow up with, a foal to entertain them for awhile. Of course this is not always the case and sometimes it is it even turns out well, but it seems to often be the case, the result is often negative, and so it makes me wonder why stallion owners would encourage this. Like I said, just another random thought to consider.

Taking a break from this whole breeding could be so much more in-depth even lol.

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