Pedigree Study

The Importance of Pedigree Study for Breeders

Pedigree study and genetic research will be a new idea for many sport horse breeders. We all are used to focusing on conformation evaluation, an important element in choosing breeding stock. Many breed associations place a heavy emphasis on phenotype (conformation), such as Warmblood societies, and they have been successful with this method. Pedigree is also considered, but usually only to the 3rd generation.

As a pedigree specialist I have come to value the phenotype of the horse as a powerful indicator of which part of the pedigree the horse is throwing to (dominance). But breeders should not be seduced into thinking that conformation is all that matters. Phenotype is only a portion of the genetic blueprint the horse carries, and for breeders it is important for their success to understand the full genetic package, for your horse, or the mate you choose, might not breed "true to type".

Every time you breed a horse you get a mix of the genetics- it is very much like a kaleidoscope, always the same pieces of colored glass but a different picture each time you rotate the view. If you could lessen the number of colors of glass to just a few, then when you turned the tube you would find the images much more consistent. So it is also with genetics, pre-potency is the result of focusing and increasing the input of desired superior genes. Not just close up, but real consistency in offspring comes when the far reaches are involved also.

How many of you have bred a mare to a sire you admire, hoping of course you will capture some of his talent and presence in the foal, yet the foal has little resemblance to the illustrous sire? This is because the leading dominance in the foal was not the same as what made up the key qualities in the sire. Your foal is going to resemble the leading dominance in the genetics, and that can change with every breeding and every generation.

Even the most proficient sires do not leave their physical imprint on all their progeny. Nasrullah, a formidable Thoroughbred line, has proven to be a hereditary transmitter of athletic ability in sport horses. And he passed much of this greatness on to his son, Bold Ruler, who resembled him physically fairly closely. Bold Ruler went on to be a great sire of sires, able to pass on some of his gifts to his sons, his masterpiece being Secretariat.

But Secretariat didn't look too much like this sire line. He did receive the short muzzle and straight hind leg of his sire, but then the resemblance fades. Alan Porter said "...Secretariat is untypical physically of his sire Bold Ruler, or his maternal grandsire, Princequillo..."

Physically, I think Secretariat throws back more to Bold Ruler's dam sire: Discovery. However, the resemblance goes deeper than the "wrapper", Discovery and Secretariat also had a similar racing ability, that is, both of them were great weight carriers and stayers. Plus, in the breeding shed their performance is almost identical.

Discovery's owner, Alfred Vanderbilt, used to say the key to racing success is to breed anything to a Discovery mare. This bold statement of genetic dominance was not unfounded. Discovery's daughters produced not only the legendary Bold Ruler, but the equally famous Native Dancer. Both of these stallion greats come from the Pharos/Sickle line out of a Discovery mare- obviously a pretty good recipe. And one would tend to give equal credit to the sire line, but Discovery's greatness came from other combinations also; there was Intentionally- called the Black Bullet for his sprint speed, out of his daughter My Recipe from a Fair Play line sire, and then his daughter Traffic Court gave us two great racers and stallions: Hasty Road out of a Teddy line sire and Traffic Judge out of a Hyperion line. So Vanderbilt wasn't far from the truth- Discovery was pre-potent, and his sex-linked characteristics were top notch.

Secretariat is leaving a similar legacy. One of his daughters, Weekend Surprise, gave the racing world both A.P. Indy (whose daughter Rags to Riches won the 2007 Belmont Stakes) and Summer Squall, both great racers and sires. Secretariat's daughter Terlingua produced Storm Cat and his daughter, Secrettame, begat Gone West, both of these racers are now considered very good sire of sires. This is incredible genetic power that is coming down through the daughters. Secretariat's sons did not do nearly as well. An interesting side note is that one of Secretariat's best colts: General Assembly was inbred to Discovery. Another good one, Image of Greatness, was 4x4 to Discovery. But on the whole, his sons were disappointments.

Discovery's pedigree can teach us alot. Most pedigree experts will say that as close to a guarantee of greatness you can get in a breeding choice is when you have full siblings in the lineage, sex balanced and close up. Discovery is historic proof of this. He has the full brothers: Spendthrift and Fellowcraft, 4x5 on the top line and in the bottom quadrant, through a son and a daughter. These full brothers are by the great English sire Australian out of a Lexington mare (Aerolite). And then there are the full brothers: Orvieto and Laveno 4x5, also through a son and a daughter, plus their two 1/2 sisters: Fairy Gold and Oriole are 3x4--these all participate in the building up of lines of the good mare Clemence. The great St. Simon is 4x5x4- sex balanced. Isonomy, also sex balanced 4x4x5. Hermit, is found in a strong filly factor, as he is represented here by 3 different daughters- 4x4x5. Another filly factor is found on the bottom line with a double of Lady Hardway, sex balanced. But it is his 3rd dam Adriana that I find is so remarkable--a daughter of Hamburg, Adriana carries 5 lines of Lexington plus two of his 1/2 brothers: Commodore and Lecomte, all of which finds another line in the sire. No wonder his daughters were so good!

Discovery 7 generation pedigree

Secretariat, funny, he too is often mentioned as an outcross, but he also has incredible duplications, but they are 5 generations and beyond- making his pedigree that of a stayer. (This is a stamina pedigree pattern). Secretariat is like just about every other Thoroughbred in that he has multiple lines of Galopin (sire of St.Simon), but he also has 21 lines of Isonomy sex balanced, tapping right into one of Discovery's pedigree strengths, and close up he has 2 of the Isonomy sons; White Eagle and Isinglass through 2 and 3 daughters respectively (filly factors). He has 32 lines of the great Hermit. He carries an additional 5 lines of West Australian, the sire of the full brothers Spendthrift and Fellowcraft in Discovery, and 19 lines of Tadcaster, sire of the 4 full and 1/2 siblings in Discovery. Secretariat also has strong filly factors besides White Eagle and Isinglass, he carries 2 daughters of Corcyra on both bottom lines 4x5, and the two 1/2 sisters Brielle and Pietra 5x5. Like Discovery, Secretariat has some surprising contributions on his damline: His 2nd dam Imperatrice carries 5 lines of the full siblings Tadcaster/Clementina 6x6x6x6x6, plus Angelica/St. Simon 6x6x7x7.

Secretariat 7 generation pedigree

No matter how great a sport horse may be, if that power is not accessed or refocused in the breeding pattern then the foal will be of noticeably less ability. So then, unless you are one of those people who are extremely lucky, you need to research what genetic strengths your horse has before you breed, that is if you expect to be successful. That means studying the pedigree. Who does your horse look like in its ancestry? Is that an influence that you want to continue to access or would you like to bring something else forward to the foal?

Even if you don't want to do a full analysis, familiarize yourself with the key names in the pedigree. Look far enough into the lineage to find a good genetic transmitter of the qualities you would like to reproduce. Is it already duplicated in your horse, and if so, is it there by both sexes? Look for a mate that compliments your horse's genetics. Stay away from reproducing mutliple sons of a sire. Most horses have too much male emphasis because only the sire was considered of importance for so long in horse breeding, which has resulted in the equine population being overloaded with male only representations of the good lines. History has shown that when duplicating a major sire through sons only, the abilities become lost, usually completely by the third generation. But what would happen if you found the female line to balance your overloaded male lines? And what if, that female was not just the sister, but the 3/4 or even better, the full sister? Then you would be well on your way to bringing back all that greatness that had been watered down.

One of the genetic strengths of the great War Admiral is that he carried a rare full brother to Swynford named Harry of Hereford, in his 3rd generation through a daughter. Swynford and his half brother Chaucer were the best sires of their era. Harry of Hereford was not consideed a "good" horse, but when he met his full brother in the mates of War Admiral it caused an explosion of talent and potence. This full sibling configuration is one of the factors that made War Admiral a great sire. Other strengths are in two full sibling groupings he carries: Sainfoin/Sierra 4x6 and Birdcatcher/Faugh-a-Ballagh.

This principle- adding a full sibling of a powerful bloodline, whether the full sibling is as noteable as the great horse or not has proven to extremely successful in building potency in talent. Tesio's own program took off when he started adding in Angelica- the full sister to St. Simon in his creations.

Your horse's pedigree is the key to its genetics, when you know what the names represent in ability and you have a grasp on the Tesio methods then you have a powerful tool to help you engineer a better horse.

For step by step instruction in 'Tesio Methods' and a wealth of sport horse examples see: North American Sport Horse Breeder

Links to More Articles

How to Look at Pedigrees

How to Breed Potency into Your Sport Horses
Breeding Principles Outline
Pedigree Generation Position
The Mare

Resources and References