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The major question that drives us all is: how do I find the right stallion for my mare? And I will spend a lot of time trying to find answers further down this site by using my own mares and how I picked the -hopefully- appropriate stallions for each of them. But let me start entering into the concept of breeding by explaining how to avoid the wrong stallion - as I believe that the reversion process of looking into potential stallion candidates is of unestimable help to exclude misconceptions. I want to thank Tom Reed from Morningside Stud in Ireland for allowing me to quote his thesis. When I first came across Tom's reading it was eyeopening and understanding at the same time: I couldn't have put it in any better words. So Tom, this one's for you:
by Tom Reed: Assuming you have a very good mare with a very good motherline, how do you choose a stallion?
Rather than answering that question, here's how to avoid the 99% of stallions that you do NOT want to use:
1. Do not use a stallion whose motherline has not produced excellent horses. Excellence is not determined by predicates (ster, keur, state premium mare, etc.) or high scores in foal or mare inspections. Excellence is determined by the goal that is driving the breeding program: producing horses that have excelled in sport in one or more of the three Olympic disciplines. An additional indicator of excellence is that the stallion's motherline has produced other approved stallions.
2. Do not use a stallion that does not have at least one half-brother or half-sister that is competing (or has competed) internationally.
3 Do not use a stallion 15 years or older unless he has (or had) several progeny competing internationally.
4. Do not use a stallion between 8 and 14 unless he is (or has) competed internationally with success.
5. Do not use a stallion 7 or under unless he is competing well at the national level at a level appropriate for his age (in showjumping, 1.10 - 1.20 m. as a 5-year-old, 1.20 - 1.30 m. as a 6-year-old, 1.30 - 1.40 m. as a 7-year-old).
6. Do not use a stallion unless he is licensed/approved by a full member of the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses. These studbooks are the ones with serious inspection regimes.
7. Do not use a stallion that is marketed on the basis of its color or the exotic colors of its progeny.
I think if you follow these rules then you will come up with a relatively small universe of stallion candidates. Then you need to analyze your mare's bloodlines and look for proven "nicks". This is where art meets science.
Finally, the rules I suggest can guide you in the initial years of your breeding program. As you become successful you will need to violate some of these rules to achieve other goals (for instance, to introduce more "blood" into your breeding program). But that's down the road...
My "rules" specifically are for people who want to breed international horses. If you go to my posts the word "international" apears many times and "amateur" never appears. And yes, the gene pool needs to be reduced. Precisely. That is the whole point of the discussion
The basis for breeding excellence is the mare, and the basis for the success of the particular mare is the consolidation of high performance genes in her motherline. 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 or yearling that in a short period of time will be your foundation mare. Make sure your mare has "quality" and ideally some "blood" (thoroughbred, but the right kind of thoroughbred blood) not far back in the pedigree.
It is not the job of the stallion to "fix" conformation problems your mare has and I would not let this drive your breeding decisions. Most conformation traits are determined by a multitude of genes and cannot be manipulated easily (such as I'll breed my long-back mare to a short-back stallion to get a medium-back foal -- it does not work like this). If your mare is so conformationally-challenged that she needs to be "fixed", get yourself a better mare.
Everything else equal, I prefer a mare with correct conformation. But I will also take risks on a mare that has a conformation issue if it has a superior motherline. Why?
1. Conformation traits are determined by multiple genes. Even if the conformation issue the mare has is due to genetics, there is no guarantee that she will reproduce it in her progeny. The best example of this is my mare Emerald Cruising M2S. She competed successfully as a young mare and won at 1.20 m. before the 2001 foot & mouth crisis in Ireland and the UK stopped all shows and movement of horses. Her bloodlines are super (Cruising x Clover Hill x Bliss xx). Her mother is a full-sister to an international jumper, a half-sister to as Nations Cup horse, and a half-sister to a good national-level showjumper. Emerald Cruising's top-line is not the best, but I took the risk and she has produced super progeny for us that have sold to the USA and England, and the top-line of these young horses is good.
2. A conformation issue may be the result of a developmental process and not directly as a result of genetics. Developmental processes can be related to genetics, but they can also be related to feeding practices, management practices, etc.
The bottom line is:
IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT THE MARE LOOKS LIKE...WHAT MATTERS IS WHAT SHE PRODUCES AS A BROODMARE.
Had I known Tom before or had I come across such brief but striking analyses of "do-do's" and "no-no's" - it would have been a lesser effort to build my very personal breeding philosophie. As I had to constantly extend what I thought was already a useful theorie to make it more applicable with every mare I bought. What's making me smile while I'm writing this is the fact that quiet obviously I finally came to exactly the same conclusions Tom stated in his post while working myself through years of researching stallions, mares and their offspring, slowly accomplishing my very own breeding philosophie step by step. The awareness of finally having come up with something that someone else completely independent from my own experiences also describes as "his" breeding concept is the greatest relief of all - as it shows that even though all roads lead to Rome, Rome is the one capitol we all go for! Thank you, Tom!
When I finally entered the warmblood-breeding scene in 2001 I came off scratch and had nothing but my mare, Fabrice, and my very personal breeding philosophie which was a simple theorie based on the understanding that crossing a good mare to a good stallion simply isn't good enough. If it was, there would be millions of superb horses around who all had one in common: being a product of a well thought of breeding combination.
However - reality proves, there are many good horses but only very few outstanding examples around, there's got to be more about finding the right partner for a specific mare. Just knowing stallions and having seen their get isn't good enough, either. Combining a stallion and a mare who both have been succesfully proven their talents in sports doesn't seem to be good enough, either. The latter is a concept that has been picked up by some very prominent stud farms in the past and they sure did produce some outstanding horses - but there also have been the lesser examples of quality, too - just that noone speaks about them.
Thus, there's got to be something beyond theoretical wisdom, no matter if
being applied in genotypical or phenotypical equations, something that I thought
was a very obvious thing to see when i thought of potential partners for
Fabrice. My very personal breeding philosophie to start with was as simple as
strengthen strengths and weaken weaknesses.
I looked at Fabrice and picked her favourite and negative features to start with:
Type/Face - a true positive
Conformation - round, compact, very harmonic upper line
Gaites: Walk - very good and well swung through the body
Trott - her personal highlight: very candeced, rhythmical and well swung through. straight frontleg, however.
Canter - her absolute weak point. somewhat downhill and straight frontleg, the only positive to mention is the active hindleg.
.. and there was my favourite stallion to start with: Quattro B.
Type/Face: - a true positive - chances were high the outcoming product could only benefit from both their positives.
Conformation: - a lot like Fabrice, compact, harmonic upper line - chances were high the outcome product was
made the same way.
Gaites: Walk - very good - nothing to loose.
Trott - same as Fabrice: natural rhythm (most important to me),
well cadenced and swung through the body, and on top of that:
a round front leg mechanic. Chances were high to recieve at least Fabrice's trott quality,
hopes for nicer mechanics were at least realistic.
Canter - his very personal highlight: uphill, well jumped through making use of the full body and
on top of that: nice round frontleg mechanics.
again: chances were even to do no worse than what Fabrice had to offer but realistically
expect Quattro's canter dynamics.
I had thought this over and over again and figured it would be the smartest to start with the negatives rather than the positives - so what was the most "negative" outcome I could have expected? A typey foal with pretty face and harmonic conformation, compact and of good walk and expressive trott, hopefully maintaining the natural rhtythm (which I had learned was the hardest part in breeding: rhythm ... simply can't be duplicated as such, but is considered the most precious feature in trott since if it is naturally given this is almost half the rent when having to ride such horse in due course - as it doesn't need to be elaborated any more) and a somewhat flat canter should Fabrice's genes succeed.
I figured I could well live with such foal as it would basically duplicate the mare's features and I had already done very well with Fabrice.
What I learned later about my theorie was that I simply was looking for the perfect match of both, rather than looking for features that need to be improved by either one of them. ... or speaking in Tom's words: "such as I'll breed my long-back mare to a short-back stallion to get a medium-back foal -- it does not work like this" The higher the "matching" quota, the higher the probability the outcome product would embody all of those matched features. A very simple perception, but yet so rare to find when talking to breeders about their personal "philosophies".
So i gave it a try despite lots of critics and comments from fellow breeders mainly referring to the fact that Quattro was a french stallion - so what?
I had done some research on pedigree and when looking at Quattro's pedigree one stallioon blends in immediately: Furioso II - the famous founder of the nowadays oh so prominent F-line. This to me was an even more promising "do-do" since all we have talked about so far is phenotypical appearance only. However, with respect to "strengthen strengths and weaken weaknesses" the genotypical influence of course needs to be taken into account, too. "Outcrosses" with respect to completely foreign bloodlines on both sides of course embody the same risks of lacking matches as any of my above mentioned phenotypical theories. Thus, there are only two ways to kind of "match" a potential bloodline combination:
1. you either know of already existing nicks of those two bloodlines to prove that certain genes "match" each other and thus compound certain desired features - thus, speaking in Tom's words "...then you need to analyze your mare's bloodlines and look for proven "nicks". This is where art meets science. (I love it!)"
2. you search for certain (prominent) bloodlines in common on both sides that you consider dominant enough (and desireable, of course) in order to be enhanced within the respective foal.
The concept of inbreeding, there I was.
Furioso to me was a stallion to defenitely "risk" inbreeding to - "risk" meaning to be well aware of the specific positives and negatives that might occur from such inbreed - in the case of Furioso the negatives were often bespoken: hot tempers and not necessarily meant to be amateur horses... The positives however were evident: performance blood at it's best. Not only with respect to double talented offspring as Furioso delivered both, jumpers and dressage horses - still present in nowadays prominent stallions For Pleasure and Voltaire (both direct sons of Furioso) whereas the dressage line is kept up by Florestan (who on top of that does not delete jumping genes), but also with respect to strength, soundness, successor type of horses.
Well, the results of my very first breeding "philosophie" have been discussed widely on this site - QRage I and II, Fabrice's first daughter and son by Quattro - both fully fulfilled my expectations and even topped some of what I had expected to see:
QRage I was of even refined type which I thought might be owed to the inbreed on Furioso xx as there was no other thouroughbred blood to be found in any of the parents. But since I never had the chance to see her develop beyond 6 months of age I can only guess that she migth have developed in a more refined way, all this said while knowing that the first foal of any given mare often tends to be a somewhat lighter or smaller horse.
QRage II ("Happy") however resembled the same features his little sister had, typey, charming, harmonic upperline, extreme walk, well swung through trott and canter showing the desired round mechanics plus Quattro's immense uphill tendency. This certainly nurtures my hopes that he also managed to pass on his perfect jumping ability with respect to bascule (scope) and techniques. As often, a canter well jumped through like that bares the means it takes to also come up with a good jumper.
That much about my breeding philosophie, part I, which I consider a success so far. Fabrice is into foal to Quattro for the third time and next year's foal will show if the two of them can clearly be considered a "nick" with respect to matching positive features. But for the time being and with different mares coming up I faced new challenges and realized quickly that finding matches is only one part of picking the right stallion. There still is so much to learn and as we all know: "learning" is a dynamic process, it grows...
And I learned.
My next mare was Wallery K, and she didn't fit into any of my former theories with respect to type, performance or any of that. However, I felt obliged to her - and how was that?
Wallery K descends of one of the most famous damlines of nowadays sporthorse breeding - all of that can be found on her site.
I never thought of her as a desirable broodmare when I met her first since she is what I would consider a very unspectacular horse in the first place. Then I got to know about her offspring and learned to value the aspect of "genotype over phenotype". Or, speaking in Tom's words: "it does not matter what a mare looks like. What matters is what she produces as a broodmare." Also, there are many stallions around (in former days more than today since those would have had no chance to even get licensed in the first place given our strict selection criteria at licensings - if a stallion doesn't blend in phenotypically he is "out" immediately and hardly ever gets a second chance unless he is being introduced to a succesfull career in sports and thus gets a chance to become licensed due to sport performance) who simply proved their breeding value by their get rather than their look: Ramzes, Gotthard, Grannus, Inschallah, Cor de la Bryere, Furioso - all of them share one thing in common: they were highly disputed when introduced to the german breeding scene in the first place but in due course proved to be of immense value given their genotypical dominance.
And where would the german sporthorse breeding be without any of the above mentioned sires?
So I learned that the value of a (brood)mare as such cannot only be derived by her phenotypical appearance, since what is true for stallions sure is true for a mare, too. Looking at Wallery's foals and see them develop under saddle clearly gave a good hint as to what she was capable to accomplish when only meeting the right stallion: Beltain. Having seen Babbalou, Belle Grande and Bobby develop (and later on perform) under saddle and having a guideline set by 4 foals of the same breed (Be Happy hasn't been ridden yet) how a rather unspectacular foal at first sight can develop in due course tought me to look at the less flashy but more relevant features in a foal: hindleg and ryhthm (again: it might appear to be an obsession to some readers that rhythm is the one feature I always get back to when judging a horse - as rhythm cannot be elaborated, it needs to be naturally given - and I had discussions about it with native english speakers about what I consider "rhythm" - "Takt" - the german word is hard to translate - the common translation I was given was "cadence" - but cadence is just another feature describing the "airphase" of trott and can be elaborated - it does not describe "Takt" - naturally given rhythm.)
Wallery's foals by Beltain were all stamped by rhythm and a naturally engaged, active hindleg.
Whereas hindleg activity needs to be broken down into two features again:
1. activity with respect to mechanics describing the width of step a horse is able to step under his body and
2. quickness of repeating ("Fleiss" - again, anotherone that is hard to translate)
Meanwhile I had learned to understand the value of a strongly consolidated damline with respect to dominance of heritage transformance. With respect to Fabirce's damline and consolidation works there was not much evidence given by the time I bought Fabrice. This was a completely different thing when considering Wallery's value as a broodmare since clearly, the positive features she adds to her get descent from the genotypical influence of her outstanding damline. Breeding Wallery K to Beltain however adds another aspect to damline enhancement and inbreed since both descend of the very same damline. Here we not only talk inbreed but inlinebreeding. And it does seem to work. By the time my friend Svenja and I bought Wallery K she had already had 4 foals by Beltain and each of them spoke for itself. Wallery K is the living prove of a broodmare that clearly puts genotype over phenotype.
If this theorie will work in a somewhat extended version when breeding her to Brentano II, different stallion, same damline, identical genetic background, is something we are all excited to find out when she is due next year with her first foal by Brentano II. The reason we picked Brentano II after Beltain wasn't available anymore is evident and again clearly driven by genetic logic:
1. Brentano II is bloodidentical to Beltain
2. he has proven his quality of heritage transfer many times and an entire offspring winning amount of nearly 400.000 Euros (within Germany, only) speak for itself.
I had gotten that far, learning, and developing my little breeding philosophie when I finally faced a new challenge:
Crossing extremes and the need of thouroughbred in warmblood breeding
Further up the learning curve the next big awarenss was just around the corner: the understanding about the necessity of thoroughbreed in warmblood breeding in order to maintain and strengthen all those features we desire in a modern sport horse. A severe need and lack in any w.b. breed, no matter where you look. A huge problem in nowadays sportshorse breeding since everybody talks about t.b. but noone wants to touch it within the first generations. It is a present challenge -if not THE present challenge- of each and every (german) w.b. breeding verband these days in order to maintain their traditional and well recognized superior position in worldwide w.b. breeding. The more I have dealt with t.b. influence in w.b. breeding (and results of this are hard to find and even harder to judge due to a lack of critical mass of t.b.offspring within w.b. breeding) the more I developed the desire to face the challenge on my own by using a t.b.mare myself to cross to w.b. From a w.b.breeders perspective this is widely undiscovered land, even more so when approaching it from the opposite angle: rather than using one of the very few t.b. stallions who have proven to be positive contributors to the w.b. scene trying to re-envent the wheel introducing a t.b. mare with zero empirical evidence given about any of her values (or faults) with respect to w.b.breeding. Or putting it in Tom's words (again): Finally, the rules I suggest can guide you in the initial years of your breeding program. As you become successful you will need to violate some of these rules to achieve other goals (for instance, to introduce more "blood" into your breeding program). But that's down the road...
.... and here I find myself down the road, violating.
Looking for the perfect t.b.mare with respect to w.b.breeding I learned very soon: there is no such thing like the perfect t.b.mare. Since if there was we wouldn't face such tremendous problems crossing t.b. in the first place:
given the origins and history of t.b. as a racehorse and maintaining "speed" as it's one and only breeding goal over hundreds of years but at the same time developing the modern w.b. sporthorse in a way that can almost be described as "engineering" the perfect horse with respect to conformation clearly explains how far these two have developed from each other. And I am explicitly NOT saying one developed for the good or better while the other stood were it was - as both of them do serve their specific purposes to their very best effort.
When I started my search I only had a little catalogue of criteria I considered necessary attributes to find in the mare:
it had to be a pedigree of well-known european stallions, ideally "Nearco-free", as they say overhere, for the simple sake of recognition value amongst the warmblood population - mainly (german) verbands officials and further on potential buyers of the get - since indiviual t.b. stallions are barely known by non-t.b. breeders overhere and the very few that are usually come with a story of fame and fortune of one of the prominent german t.b. studs of highest recognition (even amongst w.b. people, that is).
Thus, the question of pedigree was a question of "labelling" in the first place
2. focus on long distant race horses with several years performance
Why? since if any, only the capability to perform over long distances rather than short distances (speed horses) allows for a certain conclusion about potential value with respect to w.b. breeding: soundness and strength.
I discussed this with native english speakers who brought up a very good point: why don't you look for a steeplechaser in the first place? at least those have proven ther jumping ability!? - point taken. And I hadn't even thought of it. However, I can't think of any steeplechasers myself - how could I expect the non-t.b. oriented w.b. scene to acknowledge such pedigree? Whichs takes us right back to point 1. - recognition value. And it might certainly be a question of culture and mentality but my feeling is that there is no such thing like a pronounced steeple-scene overhere as it might be the case specifically in the US or UK.
The first thing I look at at foal inspections is: how does the dam walk?
and I would expect future potential buyers to note that, too.
from all the mares I have seen a good walk "walked through the body" was one of the hardest things to find.
the next best second thing one migth look at, too, when looking at foal inspections - usually the dam is shown in hand when trotting.
And here I am not talking flashy gaites or kicking frontlegs - I am talking hindleg activity with respect to mechanics/width when stepping under and impulsion/"Fleiss" - even at the least powerful in hand performance something that should not get lost due to lack of speed.
preliminary with respect to shoulder angle and usually corresponding croupe formation/hip bone angle
I was amazed to find that one of the most popular health and care porblems dicussed amongst the t.b.scene were poor hoofs - these horses don't even get to walk on hard ground, yet barely any of them can do without hoof shoes.
These is the bloodline we pick for adding soundness and strength?
And this is the one that got me most dispeared - as I know "a good horse has no colour" and personally I don't care for colour. However, I had found a grey mare of best prepositions within any respect and it made me sick to finally have to consider her colour a knock-out criteria: it is hard enough to somehow market a half-t.b. within the w.b.breed. The wide negelection of grey horses adds an additional 50% no-sale stigma to any foal - sad but true. And I simply can't afford 50% additional risk.
8. canter ...
Actually, I gave up on canter pretty soon.
I had to realize that what some famous horseman once told me is true: Thoroughbred horses can run - but they cannot canter.
It lies in their breed and is probably owed to the fact that they need to move efficently and "brief" in order to develop and maintain speed - no lavish mechanics allowed. And the kind of canter we want to see in a horse - well jumped through; airspace and of round mechanics - is a timeconsuming and effortful way of moving and simply excludes itself in a bloodline where speed is the highest priority.
So I finally found Ionia for all the reasons I have widely described on her site. Now the search for the "right" stallion arose as a big challenge...
I had a few criterias in mind that I considered "unconditional" in the first place:
1. the stallion needs to have t.b. blood in his own pedigree not too far behind (ideally within the first 3 or 4 generations). Why? Because blood needs to meet on blood in order to work out it's strength. Talking about crossing extrems and finding the perfect match: crossing pure t.b. to purest w.b. is like trying to aim for a "medium length back when crossing a short backed stallion to a long backed mare" - it doesn't work that way. You either get the one or the other but never the medium inbetween. To me this is the prime reason why F1-generation (halfblood) are being lokoed at so negatively amongst the w.b.scene: because most of them descend from extrems and the result will feature either the one or the other - but hardly ever the desired "inbetween".
2. double talented stallion
Even if the foal will be of moderate gaites only potential jumping abilities shouldn't get crossed out simply to provide for a better perspective as a sporthorse with respect to eventing.
3. a proven heritage transferrer ("Stempelhengst") of highest recognition value and proven damline on his side to hopefully provide for my own well consolidated future damline in case I keep the filly - and of course, having to sell a half-t.b. recognitionvalue of the sire becomes even more important.
4. ... I forgot about "4" since I figured that it was almost impossible to even meet the first three criterias :-(
A doubleoriented well proven heritage transferrer with close blood in him is simply not available. I consider only a handfull of stallions out there worth carrying the lable "Stempelhengst" and only two of them are clearly double oriented: Argentinus and Quattro. However, Argentinus excludes himself due to complete lack of t.b. (even Quattro has littel to add...) and Quattro, given his french background, simply doesn't fill the bracket of german damline consolidation.
I was seriously considering some of the Trakehner stallions but since I am not very familiar with the Trakehner breed myself and given
a) the small size of the population and
b) the fact that these are wide spread over the country and can't be found in certain density locationbound I find it very hard to find a decent critical mass of offspring by one single stallion to fairly judge his heritage qualities. Plus, the recognition value of a Trakehner stallion amongst non-Trakehner breeders basically doubles the problem of already excisting lack of acknowledgement using t.b. in the first place.
So I kicked the double orientation and went on looking for a proven dressage stallion of excellent background - dressage, because maintaining and hopefully adding gaite potential in a foal woudl always be my first goal. If it still can jump I take it as a plus.
And that's how I came up with Brentano II (surprise, surprise) who not only descends from one of the most valueable damlines these days but also carries three times t.b. in his pedigree: Black Sky, Bleep and Marcio.
It was a very long mental journey to finally get here and what surprises me most is how quickly I was forced to basically "dump" my ideals and values that I had considered well thought of and applicable for w.b.breeding when suddenly facing the challenge of adding t.b. It makes a whole new world and I have no idea if my way of approaching it is a "wrong" or a "right". Only time will tell.