Why bloodlines are important

Although I am not a breeder, I have worked for breeders, bred one horse of my own, and been avidly interested/semi-involved in the breeding industry for over a decade. Often when I see a horse at a show that I particularly like, I will approach the owner and ask what it’s bloodlines are. 9 times out of 10 I get a blank stare. Once I even had to tell the person that their horse was registered BWP (according to it’s brand) because they had no idea what that “wagon wheel” was. Serious facepalm moment.

this is not a wagon wheel

I understand that sometimes papers are lost and people just don’t know anything about the horse, but the amount of people who also just don’t care in this country is pretty shocking to me. If you ride sporthorses, and have any interest in riding them in the future, you should care! The breeders are the ones that produce the horses, but the riders are the ones that end up with them. We wonder why Europe outproduces us? Do we just enjoy paying 10k+ on top of purchase price to import their horses?

I think what a lot of people just don’t understand is how heritable many traits are. It’s no coincidence that certain lines are known for producing a certain temperament, or requiring a certain type of ride, or being slow to mature, or jumping over themselves in front. If you ride a horse that was purposefully bred for sport, someone somewhere planned that breeding with an end goal in mind. They picked out both parents and considered traits that they hoped both would bring to the table. The results may vary, but they are no accident. You can often tell a lot about a horse just by looking at the papers.

Even those of us sitting on OTTB’s (or QH’s, or Arabs, or Morgans, or or or) should not consider this a reason to be uninterested in pedigree. In the same way as sporthorses, any breed has lines that have become known as standouts for certain abilities (or lack thereof) in sport. Study well enough and eventually you’ll be able to look at a pedigree and make a guess as to what the horse might be suitable for, even though it was originally bred for something else. Sure, there are exceptions, but you’ll be right most of the time.

Mytens (Spectacular Bid x Hoist the Flag) – producer of upper level eventers, show jumpers, and even some hunters.

Dr. Ludwig Christmann did a really interesting study on heritability with the Hanoverian registry many years ago. Want to know the two things that were found to be MOST heritable? Head and jumping ability. What ranked lowest? Legs and correctness of gaits. If you want to read more about it, go here. Of course, some stallions pass on certain traits more than others (for good or for bad), but those little nuances are the things you learn along the way.

Kannan (Voltaire x Nimmerdor) – #1 sire of show jumpers in 2014

Really I cannot wrap my head around why anyone just plain wouldn’t care about breeding. Even if you say “I don’t need a top level jumper or an amazing mover, I just want something that is enjoyable to ride!”. Guess what else is highly heritable – temperament, character, rideability, and willingness to work. Guess what some of the qualities are that they evaluate at stallion testings – ding ding ding, you got it.

Quando Quando, an Olympic veteran who also scored perfect 10’s on character and willingness to work at his stallion testing.

I know it can be mind boggling at first, but in the internet age where we have so much information at the tip of our fingertips, it’s easy to learn. Be that weirdo that sits in the stands with me at horse shows and looks up bloodlines on USEF, only to be super frustrated when there’s nothing listed. If we want to get better we have to fix this, and it starts with changing people’s minds about how much it matters.

54 thoughts on “Why bloodlines are important

  1. I guess I have never got involved much in bloodlines because a) almost all of my horses have had unknown pedigrees and b) I have never been in a position where I could afford to care. I currently have a Dacaprio baby and it has been fun researching her pedigree, but I bought her because she was everything I wanted and in my price range. Obviously some of that is because she is a Dacaprio baby, but regardless of her pedigree she was what I could afford on a college budget. She is a Hanoverian x Holsteiner cross which means she isn’t registered which is why I could afford her. The other nice filly on the property was registered Hanoverian and her price reflected that, which crossed her off my list before I even saw her. If I was more into showing/breeding or had more money I would definitely love to be more picky about bloodlines, but I haven’t had the opportunity yet.

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    1. Hanoverian x Holsteiner is totally registerable in theory. They aren’t breeds, they’re studbooks, so crossing horses from one into the other is very common. Registration possibilities have more to do with whether or not the parents have eligible pedigrees for registration and whether or not they have been approved for breeding with whatever registry you want papers from for the foal.

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      1. So I don’t know a ton about this, but I was told that because she is a cross she can’t be registered “by default” she has to be approved. Or else I could get a “certificate of pedigree” from either association but that isn’t exactly registered. And since she is now almost 4 she would have to be ridden to be approved. Is that true?

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            1. if you want you can send me an email and we can look – charliebrowntb at hotmail dot com . Sounds like she wasn’t registered just because the breeder didn’t take the mare to be approved by any of the registries the stallion is approved by. It could have been done, provided the mare has sufficient pedigree.

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              1. That would be great! And yes she told me she planned on getting the mare approved Oldenburg but sold her before she did. Her breeder was a nut job to say the least lol. She had money problems and definitely should have been doing things differently…

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  2. Well I know the bloodlines of my QH and they are western foundation bloodlines (Like OLD WEST LOL). Unfortunately (or fortunately for me) no one told him that he was supposed to be that type of QH and he loves to event and jump! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee

    But i do agree if you have a registered horse you should learn about the bloodlines especially if you are interested in breeding in the future. I know you Amanda and you are a walking text book on bloodlines. You could do a consulting biz on that!

    🙂 Great post!

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    1. Regardless of what they’re intended for or what they actually end up doing, caring enough to want to know the bloodlines is the most important thing! Kudos to you for that. No more apathy!

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  3. I get asked all the time about Foster’s bloodlines- but unfortunately he’s not registered and my search for more of his history has been unsuccessful. (womp womp)

    I don’t know a ton about current sporthorse bloodlines, but can hold a solid conversation on Haflinger or Irish Draught bloodlines any day!

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  4. I am that nerd! I actually keep a spreadsheet of horses I like and their bloodlines and have excel keep track of how often stallions appear. My friends think I’m nuts, but I figure I’m never going to be able to ride a bazillion Voltaires vs Kannans vs Ahorns to learn that way. So far I REALLY like the style of going of the Indoctros and Catokis.

    But I really want a DD baby! That inherits that jump!

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  5. I’ve been trying to read and research more about bloodlines as I start to seriously consider breeding Gina. I think about which characteristics of hers I’d like to improve on and which stallions might do that.

    I worked for a woman who bred Oldenburg x Thoroughbred horses for fun, with pretty much zero consideration for what kind of horses it would produce. I’ve known a couple of those offspring as adults, and they are NOT good- soundness issues and serious personality problems. But at least they’re pretty, I guess.

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    1. Oof. Bad breeding decisions (either brought forth by ignorance or apathy) are how so many end up on the meat truck. 😦 Good luck and kudos on your quest for knowledge… if you ever want to chat about breeding I’m always up for it!

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  6. You’re inspiring me to want to try a little harder. I’m around lots of thoroughbreds, so their bloodlines probably matter more to me than the fabulously beautiful warmbloods I’ll never be able to afford. Any great ideas for getting started?

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  7. I was fortunate that my pony came with a passport and papers! It’s interesting to look at his pedigree, and see the similarities in conformation between him and other GRP’s. Though once you go back a few generations, his bloodline is full of Arabs, Welsh Ponies, and the mysterious British Riding Pony.

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  8. Nimmerdor is my horse’s grandsire – glad to see him in this post! I am a big fan of that line, I have known several wonderful Nimmerdor horses. I find them to be a little lighter than other WBs and very level-headed. And all the ones I know can jump! I know quite a bit about jumping horses but I am going to have to learn more about dressage lines when the day comes for me to get a new baby. But yes, it’s amazing how little people know about breeding!

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  9. I like bloodlines and I respect their importance, but I don’t live by them. If I was horse shopping and found something capable in my price range, I wouldn’t but a ton of credit into the lineage. That being said there are certain lines I like more than others and a certain stallion in a pedigree draws me to a sale ad sometimes.

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  10. I love looking at bloodlines too! I would be there in the stands with you, looking up breeding on horses I like (something I do at pretty much any GP I watch LOL). I actually didn’t get interested in it until I started breeding my mare, but it really is fascinating. And I agree, I have lines that I am definitely attracted to over others.

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  11. May I please pick your brain more about this sometime? Red is an A-line Hanoverian and I know what his bloodlines are and a little bit about them, but I want to know more. I also know a breeder who is making choices I find HIGHLY questionable and I’d like to run them by you to see if I’m just dumb or whatever.

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    1. Yeah sure, feel free to email me. I actually met Red’s sire at the farm he stood at and I’ve seen a lot of foals since he stood in TX for so long. That said, I’m far from an expert – just someone who has actively tried to educate herself throughout the years. 😉

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  12. This is why I love doing my Throwback Thursday: Bloodline edition posts. There is so much to learn and explore, and now I am a bit ashamed that I have missed the past couple of weeks. Whoops!

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  13. I find bloodlines interesting, and I enjoy learning about them, but when it comes to buying a horse for myself, I don’t care what the bloodlines are. I’m not looking for a certain breed, and I’d prefer to judge the individual as I see them.

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    1. Just because you’re buying the horse, not the bloodlines (which 99% of people, including me, are doing as well) doesn’t really seem like a valid reason to not care about them. There can be a lot of things “hiding” in a pedigree that you might not realize until you’ve had the horse a while – both for good and for bad. Would it not help in the situation of, for example, looking at a 4yo and saying “it looks so immature” and know when you look at the pedigree that, oh – no wonder – it’s from a slowly maturing line? Or if you want to steer clear of lines known to develop OCD’s or stifle issues or degenerative joint disease? Or if you’re really looking for a particular temperament, knowing what lines are known for it and paying extra attention when you find a horse from that line? I’m not saying that the horse’s pedigree is what should determine which horse you buy. I’m saying that knowing about bloodlines is what makes you an *informed consumer*, less likely to be lured in by pretty packaging, bright font, and a coupon. 😉

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  14. IMO, of the truest things ever is that “you can’t ride papers.” If you’re breeding, or going to drop a shit ton of money on a young horse for a specific discipline, I can absolutely see the point of doing your research on bloodlines. That said, I’ve owned a horse with impeccable bloodlines who couldn’t do a damn thing that he breeding said he should do. Plus, horses (like people) are more than just their parents – the end result is based on good handling, correct training, etc. I knew that Paddy’s sire was well-respected in the US when I went to see him, but what mattered more to me was how willing Paddy was under saddle, how he moved and carried himself, and his personality. To me, that means more than whatever the piece of paper says. 🙂

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    1. It’s true that a lot don’t live up to their bloodlines talent wise. That’s going to happen. But a lot of them turn out very “true” to their bloodlines in many other ways than just performance, if you know what you’re looking for and have a good eye. Nurture is a huge factor obviously, but nature can’t be completely discounted. I think some people are missing my point here. I’m not saying that the bloodlines are what determines everything about a horse. I’m saying that educating ourselves (and really ultimately – just giving a crap) as the “end user” helps make us better consumers.

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  15. I’ve always wondered how much of a stallion or mare’s influence can be traced three or four generations out. Certainly there’s evidence that two generations can lead to influence (Secretariat, for example, having sucky offspring but fairly good grand-offspring), but after that there’s just SO MUCH dilution. I see tons of people saying on OTTB connect “my horse has Alydar as a great, great, great grandsire and that personality really shows through” etc. etc.

    Also, why do people so underestimate the influence of the dam? So many maternal effects going on in there. Dams are arguably WAY more important (esp for temperament things) than sires — in utero hormones and life experiences can have HUGE long term effects on offspring development.

    The other thing that is interesting is when you look at lameness. I’ve heard of lots of lameness linked back to Mr. Prospector, but is it really him? I’d love to do some more pedigree analysis on this, actually. I’d also like to do some analysis on the soundness of various breeds by their representation in various disciplines and by the actual breeding numbers. So many cool analyses to be done!

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    1. I agree that damline is very important, which is why you see so much about stamms in Holsteiner breeding. And I agree that how reliably certain traits come through as you get further down the generations can really vary. Some things REALLY carry down strongly through some lines for generation after generation. Other things don’t even make it to the first generation. Breeding unfortunately can still be a crapshoot.., genetics are what they are and heritability will never be equal across the board. But the more we track, the more we know!

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      1. If I could include a pic here, I’d post one of my coach’s dressage horse. He’s got Secretariat on top and bottom. He looks remarkably like him–tall, red, STUNNING, great neck, fabulous balance, blah blah blah. He apparently had a great gallop when she was trying to event him–Lucinda Greene galloped him once and thought he’d be Mary’s team horse. He also has absolute shit feet, which is a Secretariat thing. In fact, when I first walked into the barn and saw him I was like “WOW, gorgeous,” and she said, “Secretariat on both sides” and I said, “How are his feet?” And she said “You can stay.”

        So, two morals to this story: 1. Some things do come through reliably, and there’s always more to learn about that. 2. You can impress people with what you do know about bloodlines, and in this bidniss, it can pay to impress people (as long as you’re not a pompous insufferable asshole).

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  16. Excellent post! One of my favorite things to do is look up TBs pedigrees…and compare them to my horses and horses I have known. From this, I have learned what names I like, what ones I don’t, what ones throw good jumpers with a side of hotness, and what ones throw lameness….it’s so interesting and especially important if you want to breed or purchase for performance. Since I am a mostly TB girl, that is what I know, along with Appies because I have had a few reg’d ones. I started learning about Traks’ when I got William, and still don’t know a whole lot there but definitely did some research.

    I find NA is more like…don’t care, take my money – give me pretty. And they wonder why there are so few good programs here.

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  17. The inherit-ability of temperament has been well known in the TB world for a long, long time. Look how many instances of “vicious” studs begetting “vicious” offspring. It’s also really interesting how much jumping ability comes through the TB lines. Lots of those big jumper lines come from infusion of TB blood, which isn’t surprising when you look at how many OTTBs have a great innate jumping ability. Their style and gait may not be killer, but when it comes to sheer “off the ground ability” almost every TB I’ve met has it in spades.

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  18. great post! breeding is something i never thought about – and figured it wasn’t important for my purposes. but i find myself getting more and more interested now that i’m studying my sport more closely.

    when i started eventing i figured i’d be the only one out there with an arab. later found out my mare’s grandsire was quite accomplished and well known for producing arab and arab cross sport horses through the region. and have since met quite a few ppl whose horses come from the same line! so we aren’t quite the outliers i thought we were haha

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  19. It’s amazing how little most Americans care about breeding, especially compared to the Europeans. In Europe, you can ask someone who a horse is and they’ll go, “Oh, this one’s by….out of a …. mare”. The will tell you it’s breeding before they tell you it’s name!

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    1. AND – what helps so much with that is how the horse’s names never change. There is no selling it, reinventing it, renaming it, and conveniently losing the papers along the way. The horses have passports and those passports go with them everywhere for life. They understand the importance of tracking much more than we do!

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  20. I agree with what you’re saying, I can’t believe how many people don’t know about their own horse’s pedigree. Granted, I don’t know much about breeding for most breeds, but I do know a lot about breeding for Irish Draught and Irish Sport Horses. The second anyone asks me about my horse I just talk their ears off telling them all about her mommy and her daddy and this is why she probably acts like this, and this is why she doesn’t do that. Yadda yadda yadda. I think I scare people away.

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    1. the easiest way IMO is to start paying attention. When you see a horse you like, try to look it up and see how it’s bred. Jot down the lines and what you like about the horse, do some research on the names, and over time see if any similarities start to emerge. You can also look up any warmblood inspections near you and go spectate, to get an idea of what they’re looking for in breeding stock and how they judge the foals. Don’t be afraid to ask questions… you’ll find that people who are interested in breeding really LOVE to talk about it. 😉

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  21. Kannan… *cue major drooling session* I knew horse breeding would be tough, but the toughest so far is having the perfect mare to put to Kannan, and the opportunity to get a covering from him, and in fact everything except the money. There’s a reason why his stud fee is astronomical, but sometimes I wish it wasn’t.

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  22. LOVE this. I’m the only person in my close family/friend circle that actually cares a *lot* about bloodlines. That being said, I have rescued horses that knew nothing about their lines before and still gotten them. But the one rescue we did have that we figured out lines on, turned out to be a racehorse with a lot of racing in his lines. Don’t get me wrong with my next comment because I LOVE OTTB’s and other race horses, but a lot of them do tend to be high strung at times. And with him..his mind was still on the track. And yeah, he fit right in with his lines. Looks, conformation, everything.

    I got my Quarter knowing zilch about his lines. He wasn’t a rescue per say..but definitely needed help. He was in rough shape, I watched him get better and better and thought to myself, “Gosh, this horse reminds me of a certain line that I’ve heard of…” sure enough, my Quarter’s daddy is the son of Big Step, brother of some great rope horses. And he is literally just. like. his brothers and father and even his great great great grandfather’s and horses way back in his history have a lot in common. I messaged his old breeder’s daughter and we were amazed at how much his family is alike. They are all like twins. And once I figured out his lines and did research, it made since on why he didn’t make a good Western Pleasure horse. He wanted to be a ranch horse. 😉

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  23. I feel very bad with much sinning because mustang is the bat. I’d love to know what the other horses I work with are but they (all have their papers in my trainer’s black hole/hell for neat freak me of an office and just no) belong to other boarders whom I never ever see.

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  24. Breeding, how horses are related and how conformation/characteristics can be tracked through the generations fascinates me. I wish sport horse breeding was as regulated and easily accessible as TB breeding.
    I hope to embark on an adventure of discovery into my girls lines with an eye always to future breeding opportunities and improving the horse for the future

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