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12 August 2007

Selecting Fillies and Mares for a World-Class Breeding Programme

by Tom Reed
Ireland's Horse & Pony, August 2007

In the last few months I've had several conversations with two new breeders. One man, let's call him Fergal, is from Northern Ireland and the other, let's call him Liam, is from the Republic. Both Fergal and Liam aspire to build world-class breeding programmes to produce showjumpers that will compete at the highest international level. Unfortunately both men made wrong decisions as they began their breeding programmes and have wasted a lot of money. Let's see what mistakes they made and how we can learn from their mistakes.

Fergal purchased two mares last year and both were in foal. Unfortunately the mares were sired by rejected stallions so both mares carry the dreaded Blue Passport issued by the Irish Horse Board. No matter how many generations of foals are bred from these mares their descendants will not receive entrance into the Main Studbook and receive a Green Passport.

Why is this important? Unless one is talking about a gelding under saddle and showing good form, sophisticated Irish and foreign buyers do not want fillies and colts that are not entered into the Main Studbook because these horses have inferior genetics, inferior pedigrees, and cannot be used for breeding in the main studbooks of Ireland or other countries.

The sires of Fergal's two mares are unapproved stallions with no competition careers and no success in the breeding shed -- they have produced no athletes of note in showjumping, eventing, or dressage. Even more important, neither of Fergal's two mares has a damline that is the least bit distinguished: the damlines have produced no athletes.

Now let's turn to Liam, who purchased two filly foals earlier this year. Liam's fillies are both in the Main Studbook of the Irish Horse Board so they have Green Passports. But like Fergal's mares neither one of Liam's fillies has a damline that has produced any athletes. Liam's mistake was concentrating solely on the sires in the pedigree: he was seduced by the high-profile sires in the pedigrees and did not investigate whether the females in the pedigree were superior.

This way of thinking about bloodlines is so ingrained is us that we often refer to a horse as being a Cruising x Clover Hill, for instance (meaning that the horse was sired by Cruising and out of a mare that was sired by Clover Hill). But this is not the way to think about selecting breeding stock. Instead we need to thing like Holsteiner breeders (who give each damline a number, such as Stamm 104A) or Trakehner breeders (who name each horse's damline based on the foundation mare in the line, such as the "Schwarze Schwalbe" line). Even more familiar to Irish breeders is the use of the term "Black Type" in thoroughbred breeding to denote damlines that have produced winners of big stake races. What "Black Type" -- meaning international showjumpers -- has been created by your damlines?

What do I mean by damline? Let's use as an example the pedigree of one of Morningside Stud's stallions, Ulysses M2S, the 2006 5-year-old Indoor Showjumping Champion and now successfully jumping 6-year-old international classes with a Belgian young rider, his half-owner Rossella de Simone. Ulysses M2S is by Ekstein and out of the mare Gudrun. Let's examine Ulysses' pedigree and damline ( see: http://www.morningside-stud.com/Images/UlyssesKWPNregistration.jpg).

Gudrun received two important honours from the KWPN studbook: she was designated a Keur mare because she was one of the top 3-year-old fillies in the Netherlands, passed a performance test under saddle, and later produced a very good first foal. Gudrun also received the predicate Prestatie in recognition of having four progeny that have excelled in sport. At the
time of her early death Gudrun had already produced two Ster mares; if she had produced one more she also would have earned the predicate Preferent.

Besides the international showjumper Ulysses M2S, Gudrun also produced the approved stallion President (given as a wedding present to Olympic showjumping rider Princess Haya of Jordan, the President of the International Equestrian Federation) that was Champion stallion in Italy and Belgium and surely would have been an international showjumper if the Princess had not retired from competition. Gudrun also produced the mare Kretienne, the Champion Mare of the KWPN studbook and among her progeny is the approved stallion Taloubet du Rouet *Pleville*, who surely will begin jumping internationally in the next year or two. Gudrun also produced the mare Orashi, an international showjumper by Cruising that competes with a young rider under the sport name Cruisly.

Gudrun's dam Adriana also produced the Ster mare Deborah that was successful in both showjumping and dressage and is the second dam of the approved stallion Ringo G, the 2004 6-Year-Old Belgian Showjumping Champion. Deborah is also the second dam of the international showjumping mare Pepita G and the third dam of the Vice-Champion of the 2004 Italian Stallion Performance Test, Temptation van Herikhave. Adriana also produced Evident, a Keur Preferent Prestatie mare that was a successful dressage horse and is the dam of the Danish Warmblood approved stallion Mercurius, the International Grand Prix dressage mare Independent, and the Elite mare Konvident, who received the Sport-Showjumping and Sport-Dressage predicates from the KWPN. Fontaine 861, a stallion approved in Sweden and later exported to the USA, was another progeny of Adriana along with Justice, a winner in both showjumping and dressage.

The dam of Adriana is Sunia, a Keur Perferent mare who is the foundation of this extraordinary damline.

Look at the pedigree of one of your horses. Forget about the males in the pedigree -- focus only on the females in the bottom of the pedigree. Start with the dam of your horse. What notable horses did she produce? Did she produce any national-level competitors? International level? Any sons that became approved stallions? Any daughters that produced international competitors or approved stallions? Now go to the dam's dam (that is, the second dam or grand-dam of your horse). What notable horses did she produce? Did she produce any national-level competitors? International level? Any sons that became approved stallions? Any daughters that produced international competitors or approved stallions? Now go to the third dam (the great-grand-dam of your horse). What notable horses did she produce? Did she produce any national-level competitors? International level? Any sons that became approved stallions? Any daughters that produced international competitors or approved stallions? If like Fergal and Liam your mare's damline has not produced national or international competitors and/or approved stallions, then you are breeding from the wrong mare.

So what are the lessons that Fergal and Liam have learned?

1) The basis for breeding excellence is the mare, and the basis for the success of a particular mare is the consolidation of high performance genes in her damline. Yes, the males (that is, the sires) in the pedigree must be excellent. But even more so the females in the pedigree must be excellent.

2) Don't be distracted by high-profile sires in the pedigree. What have the females produced?

3) It is better to have one excellent mare than any number of average mares. If you don't have an excellent mare, sell your mare, save, and buy one – or buy a filly foal or yearling that in a short period of time will be your foundation mare.