Sport Horse Breeding—Why Bother?

Why does breeding mean so much? Isn`t talent where you find it? What about Idle Dice, and so many  like him, who weren`t specifically bred to be elite sport horses. Molokai in eventing, Jet Run, Keen, Out and About, so many great ones, like Touch of Class, bred for one sport, finding superiority in another.

Sure, talent is where you find it. The next time you drive past a herd of horses turned out in a field, consider this. Any one of them might be a Touch of Class or an Idle Dice. But then consider this. Who is ever going to discover that talent?

The word “winnow” describes an ancient farming technique of separating grain from chaff, the simplest form of which was to pitch a forkful of cut wheat into the air. The desireable grain, being heavier, would fall to the ground, the lighter chaff would blow away. If you have the means to assemble hundreds and hundreds of horses, randomly bred, and winnow through them, and have the talent to discern latent greatness, and have the stomach to jettison the rest to an uncertain fate, then you will find some good horses. Most have neither the means nor the tough mindedness to do this.

Purpose bred horses do not necessarily serve the purpose for which they were bred. When I was digging through the pedigree information of the great thoroughbred stallions, looking at the progeny results, I was struck by how few sons and daughters of even the best stallions in the world, “made it” on the race tracks they were bred to conquer. When Storm Cat was standing for a fee of $500,000.00, his percentage of stakes winners was something around 16%. In other words, someone could spend half a million dollars for one foal, and have about an 84% chance the foal would never “hit” on the race track.

However, if someone randomly bred a “nothing” thoroughbred stallion to a “nothing” thoroughbred mare, the chances of getting a stakes winner are just about the same, “nothing.”

If you breed a Grand Prix show jumping daughter of Quidam De Revel to Dobel`s Cento, does this mean you will get a Grand Prix jumping foal? Absolutely not. But if you breed a random mare to a random stallion, the foal will almost certainly not be a superstar jumper.

If you breed a good mare to a good stallion, and the qualities of one complement and “assist” the qualities of the other, what you`re basically doing is upping your odds. It reminds me of a line I heard attributed to someone looking for new oil wells, “It`s OK, I guess to be a wildcatter, but I`d rather drill for oil in a place other guys have found oil.”

Study pedigrees to discover where others have struck oil. Or go randomly dig holes. Come back in a few years and let us know which is the better system!

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