A number of years ago, I was interviewing a legend in the hunter breeding world after his colt had earned a major best young horse title. As a young reporter, I was eager to find out all about how this lifelong horseman selected his horses, which bloodlines he admired, and what really mattered to him when choosing a promising youngster.
His words surprised me: “A good horse is a good horse, no matter what his papers say or who his parents were.” It turns out he didn’t even consider the horse’s pedigree when he selected him.
For more than two decades I’ve contemplated his sage advice as I’ve observed other winners, both on the line and in the performance arena. But I’ll admit that over the past 10 years I’ve wondered if pedigree does play a more important role in today’s technological world, when we can Google our favorite stallions to our heart’s content and easily see connections.
So if pedigree information matters so much, then why do so many U.S. breeders decide not to register their horses in breed registries? There are many answers. Possibly it’s a lack of finances, or maybe the owner hasn’t gotten around to dealing with the many steps involved. But, perhaps, it’s because there’s so little tracking of pedigree and performance here that it just doesn’t seem worthwhile.
Over the past month I’ve started looking for a young sport horse, and I’ve been surprised at the number of prospects advertised for sale that aren’t registered. The owner usually lists the horse’s breed, but often only the stallion is acknowledged if any pedigree information is included.
This week Between Rounds columnist Scott Hassler provides his thoughts on why breeders should register their horses in “Breed Registration Papers Have Never Been More Important” (p. 27). He believes it’s imperative for the future of the horse.
OK, so we might think registration is a no-brainer, but there are many top horsemen out there who disagree. They’ll argue that breeding talented sport horses is a crapshoot, that full siblings can be as different as night and day. One will conquer the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, while another might top out at training level and another might not even want to participate. They say each horse should be evaluated on its own merit.
Statistically speaking, the Thoroughbred breeders have it down to a science. Proven bloodlines in volume will get you nice horses, but breeders hope that for all of the average runners they breed a few will turn out to be freaks and win the Kentucky Derby. Nevertheless, most Thoroughbred foals born each year are registered so their pedigree and performance information can be tabulated, good or bad.
So, how does that one person looking for a sport horse go about it? Many horsemen believe the answer is to look for the individual first and the bloodlines second. But if the horse you’ve purchased isn’t registered, and you don’t know his pedigree, if he turns out to be the next coming of Rox Dene, Gem Twist or Winsome Adante, chances are good you’ll never know whom to thank, and that elite athlete will never contribute to improving the breed.
So, as I see it, a good horse is a good horse, but he’s even better for the industry when he’s registered.