Monday, February 23, 2009

Thoroughbred sport horse bloodlines

There is a sentiment among some sport horse breeders that thoroughbred blood is no longer useful or necessary in modern sport horse breeding. Tom Reed of Ireland's Morningside Stud wrote an article in Horse International called Special Role No More: TBs in Sport Horse Breeding. I have to admit his arguments, which are based on his observations of sport horse breeding in Ireland, are pretty compelling. Here in the U.S., the thoroughbred world seems to be producing horses to meet self-serving, short term interests rather than sound breeding principles -- and the results are seen in tragic events like the death of Eight Belles. The Chronicle of the Horse (COTH) featured an article several years ago (can't cite it specifically) on breeding/finding event horses prospects. The author lamented that changes in the thoroughbred breeding industry were making it harder to find good, sound horses off the track. In the article "Heart isn't enough any more," the Citizen Horse blogger reports:

The average, off-the-track Thoroughbred 20-30 years ago was around 16hh-17+hh average height, came with a refined head, long neck, high withers, short back, good hindquarters, lean body, deep chest, long legs, and ample bone for their size in addition to a very uphill build, a nice long stride at all gaits, and were generally, very athletic.
The average off-the-track Thoroughbred of today is smaller in height, 15hh-16.2hh, has a decent head, is often built downhill with a lean body, narrow chest, average to long back, and very small bone for the build. All in all, the average ex-race horse today is not built for performance of any kind, thus explaining their frequent breakdowns on the track.
A taste for the classics
Still, there are certain classic bloodlines that produce marvelous sport horse competitors. With the economic downturn, sport horse enthusiasts are again turning to the thoroughbred industry to find sport horse prospects ( see Sales draw sport horse enthusiasts, an Oct. '08 article from The Blood Horse). Currently, people who use thoroughbreds in their breeding programs emphasize the need for selectivity and careful analysis of bloodlines. Some thoroughbred bloodlines are known for producing the qualities that are desirable in a sport horse. In an article in The American Hanoverian (winter 05/06), Dr. Jochen Wilkins promotes the use of carefully selected thoroughbred bloodlines, noting that thoroughbred blood can counter the tendency for warmbloods to become coarser/heavier over several generations.

Finding out about thoroughbred bloodlines
I'm always on the lookout for articles and bulletin board/forum threads that talk about what thoroughbred bloodlines make good sport horses. Thought I'd share some of the resources that have been especially useful.

Thoroughbred bloodlines in sport horse breeding from Meadow View Farm
This is a gem of a resource that lists thoroughbreds who have been influential in sport horse breeding. Many thanks to the author of this wonderful database of thoroughbred stallions who have produced winners in jumping, dressage, eventing, and other disciplines. Click on the picture below to see an example of one entry, for Prince John, who happens to be in Harv's bloodlines. If you own a thoroughbred, grab your horse's pedigree and consult this list.

Click on image above!

Other resources
From Sport Horse Breeder web site
Thoroughbred bloodlines successful in the U.S.
The importance of the thoroughbred in warmblood and sport horse breeding
Stamina lines in the American thoroughbred

Observations on thoroughbred evolution from Chef de race web site
Thoroughbred in sport horse breeding, a book by Nicholas O'Hare
Reasons and Effects of Using Thoroughbreds in a Warmblood Breed to Improve Dressage and Jumping Marelines by Dr. Jochen Wilkens, in The American Hanoverian, Winter 2005/2006

COTH postings on thoroughbred bloodlines for sport
Thoroughbred pedigree for eventing
Thoroughbred lines known for quiet temperaments
Warmblood stallions that cross well with thoroughbred mares
Who's your fancy-moving OTTB by?


  1. Great post!
    I spent an interesting half hour analyzing my TB's pedigree - 9 of 62 horses on the list are in my boy's background. Fascinating read, and very true about the new trend towards lightness and speed. Isn't that what we all were talking about with Big Brown and his mere 6 starts, and 3 Belles and her very early breakdown? I wonder what this year's triple crown results will be like....

  2. You could not have the warmblood with out the thoroughbred. All the big European Warmblood registries contain many great Thoroughbred stallions. The interesting thing is that they hardly every contain TB mares - wonder why?

  3. I agree, this is a wonderful post!

    My first horse, the OTTB, was a Seattle Slew grandson. Sound as a rock, super athletic, hot and stubborn as hell but that may have had more to do with his previous training (or lack thereof!).

    I bookmarked that first link to peruse next time I get a TB, too. Wonderful resources.

  4. I agree that the modern TB is not what it used to be. Fortunately in NZ with the long distance races it is still possible to find quality big boned TBs. I think the TB will always be important if only for refining other breeds.

    I don't think they exist but TBs you want in a sport horse in this hemisphere have to be Brilliant Invader, Agricola, His Royal Highness and Grovesnor

    1. The best horse I have ever owned is Joncetto who 16.3 and built like a brick shit house! Athletic ability is outstanding. He is by Greig (Grovesnor) out of Concetto (Vain) I see that Brillint Invader is by Vain and His Royal Highness is by Grovesnor, fantastic bloodlines. Another one we all looked for a while back was Star Kingdom.

  5. Wow, this couldn't be any more accurate, especially in light of the 2year old TB colt I just vetted and do not think I will buy due to what was uncovered.

    He is 16 hands, built downhill, and at this tender age has the beginning of sesamoiditis in both front ankles and pedal ostitis in one front foot. He's never seen the track and with what he has going on here, for his sake I'm glad but I don't think I want to take the risk of buying a baby with the beginnings of such issues.

    I used to think the OTTB mare I had years ago had small feet for her 16.2 frame. What this horse has look like large pony hooves on a horse.

  6. I hoped throroughbreds in very high regard, and in my dreams would love to have one, but at my age and health, I doubt that will happen. It makes me sad what has happened to this marvelous breed. I have a friend who breeds race horses, and she is very proud of one of her mares who is big boned.

  7. Great reading! Those are great resources.

    I've got a soft spot for TBs after riding a lot in my youth. I was just chatting with some other ladies about how we see fewer TBs in dressage lately. 15 years ago they were the norm around here. But now they are uncommon. I wonder how much is just a fad or if it could be partly due to degrading conformational quality.

  8. I'm not specifically into horses but as young girl always love them (what girl doesn't?) I remember reading an article awhile back about the very subject your blogged about. That modern race horses are being breed to the point that they have little strength and stamina resulting in those very tragedies that you mentioned. It's same that many breeders would rather have short term money then long term quality and health.

  9. That was an interesting read, and i agree with a lot of what was said. My family have been breeding TB sport horses for over 100 years, the most famous being Souvenir, who would have to be one of the most successful breeding sires in Australia with progeny or bloodline representing Australia and many other countries at an Olympic level over the last nine Olympic games. We also owned; and breed Brilliant Invader (twice voted number 1 eventing sire in the world) a reg TB to our predominately TB line of mares with great success. I find the problem is that the Warmblood industry has out marketed the TB industry, and if you were to look at the WBCSH and look at the sires for eventing you will find that the TB still has a major role to play in breeding.

  10. My family and I breed TB. A major problem is that mainy trainers (luckily not ours) race horses who are too young and immature. Many breeders go for horses such as these and emphasis the importance of breeding horses who mature faster which results in breeding smaller horses.
    We tend to breed bigger TB who I might add tend to be the most succesful and sound. For example, our most successful mare didnt really start racing til age 3. Now, shes won 400k for us by the age of 5 and is still sound at 16.5 hands with good bone. Shes also a stakes winner. We have now entered her into our breeding program. However, one of our babies we breed was born crooked and she has been taken out of this program.
    Many TB are not selective enough. Instead, they are willing to gamble and breed unraced and unproven horses which is further weakening the gene pool.


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.