Potency Primer

Setting Type into Your Herd

As sport horse breeders, whether large scale or small, we all want to set type into our herd of superior, sound and talented stock, that excels in our chosen sport, and we want to be able to do this consistently. This potency primer with several examples aims to help you do that.

The pedigree is our window into the genetics and we intend to use this tool to reach our goals. Our aim as breeders of sport horses is to consistently produce horses that excel at Olympic type sport and can pass it on. Based on the statistically proven successful breeding practices, this is a potency primer to help you create horses that can pass on their sport excellence. 

As in any other worthwhile pursuit, in sport horse breeding: Knowledge is Power. For sport horse breeders understanding your breeding stocks genetics is paramount to your success.

Dr. Bowling said: "We use pedigrees to help us understand what genes a horse may have..."

Your horse's pedigree is the chart of its genetics. If you understand your horse's genetics you will be able to build in prepotency to your herd.

How do you get started? Before you do anything else you need to examine your horse's pedigree. To do that you need to have a reliable copy of it. Many horse owners only have what is provided by their registry. Some only have the sire and dam identified, while others may only have a partial pedigree. 

You can order a five generation pedigree from some registries, for others you may be on your own to research your horse's lineage.

Their are many great resources out there for you to access; for instance, you can go to Sporthorse-Data and not only research stallions standing in your area, but actually build a test mating with your mare on their site. This is a wonderful service.

Remember to check your information, no matter the source; many pedigrees are inaccurate for various reasons. When your pedigree is inaccurate, then of course, the breeding decisions you base on its information will be less reliable also. Some pedigrees will be incomplete just because the information is not available.

Get clear with yourself about what exactly you want to breed: your breeding goals. Understanding what you are aiming at will help you when choosing a mate to concentrate on the specific sport lines that carry your goals.

Research the significant ancestors in your horse's background to identify the strengths they already possess--you don't want to waste the good sport lines they might already carry. In sport horse breeding we often use several breeds and we should strive to understand what each breed contributes to the gene pool (see Sport Horse Recipe page).

For example, many jump breeders now look to the Selle Francais to improve their style or jump performance. But this is a new breed, established in 1958, and so it helps to see what made it what it is. The main components that make up the Selle Francais are Anglo-Norman (heavy trotter breed made up of Norman Draft/Norfolk Trotter/Thoroughbred/Cleveland Bay-provides substance), Thoroughbred (racehorse--provides speed, jump), Anglo-Arab (light sport breed), French Trotter (speed, jump and style) and their is even some American Trotter in them as well.

Most of the French Trotters possess 'critical mass' in a horse called the "Hambletonian of the French Trotter", this is Fuschia FT, and he is a major typesetter in the French Trotter and in the Selle Francais--for instance the great jump sire Alme SF has critical mass in Fuschia FT. and I determined through tracing what there is of his pedigree back through time that he is a powerful transmitter of the jump himself. The French Trotter is based on the Norfolk Trotter, Thoroughbred with some Cleveland Bay and American Trotter added. There is much missing in his lineage, but of what we have we can see he is inbred 4x4 to a coach horse mare named La Juggler, who is by the Thoroughbred Juggler out of a dam who is Norfolk Trotter and Cleveland Bay. Background consolidation like this is seen in the best sport breeds, and the best modern examples somehow manage to re-concentrate the essential elements down through the generations so that the potency remains focused.

Now getting back to your own pedigrees, it pays to look closely at the 3rd to 6th generations, what the experts call the engine room to find good linebreeding targets for your program.

Check to see what sibling relationships you have, and for the sex balancing of duplications. If you already have multiples of a significant ancestor, but in male lines only (this is very common) then you should strive to find the female complement in a mate. This common all male occurence doesn't harm your horse, but it does choke the transmission of the abilities, so what comes through to your horse will be less than you desire. A pedigree design that works well when there is a heavy presence of a major sire by his sons only is to add multiple lines of another major sire by daughters only, this is called a 'remote sex-balance' and many great sires have this pattern.

Above is Domino, one of the strongest typesetters in the American Thoroughbred and now in the international Thoroughbred. In racing he has become a sure path to supreme speed, but he is inbred 3x4x4x4 to the greatest four-mile heat racers, Lexington RH and Lecomte RH (sons of Boston RH), horses that made the world distance records. Contrary to common lore and the theories associated with the new speed gene discovery, stamina horses can carry the speed gene as well as the have tremendous stamina. The early Thoroughbred Janus is another example of this, he too was a four-mile heat racer, but as a sire was known for producing sprint racers.

Pedigree Structure Indicates Potential. And in Domino's pedigree we see tremendous potency, not just in the stamina stars' generation position, but his dam-line is tremendously inbred as well: War Dance RH and Lecomte RH are 3/4 brothers, here by daughters--a filly factor, and the 3/4 sisters Reel and Judith are 4x5x5--another filly factor. Domino was a champion sprint racer, so fast he was nicked-named the Black Whirlwind. He had two full sisters, Correction and Mannie Himyar, and Correction was also a champion sprinter, winning 38 races! All three went on to be fantastic producers of the very best race horses, it became so certain that if you wanted the extra speed necessary to win then you would add Domino and his family. This bloodline is not just a racing line, it is found continously in the top show jumpers.

Very few pedigrees are equally good for a filly or a colt. But Domino's is one that is, he carries the strong colt factor of Lexington RH sons and daughters which is balanced by the filly factors mentioned above. This design is a winning pattern for both sport and breeding and both males and females.

There are general rules about what makes a pedigree good, such as having full or 3/4 siblings is an excellent way to upgrade your horses, being almost a guarantee of outstanding performance. And having sex balanced line-breeding unlocks the full potential of a target ancestor. The extensive research that has been done by the Thoroughbred Industry has turned up some interesting statistics. 

Through studying thousands of pedigrees the researchers were able to identify pedigree patterns that were consistently present in the best performance horses and the best breeding stock. They established that the better fillies and colts have pedigree patterns that differ from each other.

The following is an outline of what they discovered: The statistics show, that good performance fillies or mares have multiple lines of daughters of a superior sire and/or both sons and daughters of an exceptional mare. These are called filly factors.

Better performance colts and stallions have the opposite: multiple lines of sons of a target mare, and/or sons and daughters of a superior sire. These are called colt factors.

Things get more complicated with breeding stock. For producing excellent broodmares a pedigree goal would be to include the filly factors mentioned above along with some colt factors. The colt factors are seldom a problem, usually being there already, often too many of them. It is harder to get multiple lines of a mare because mares produce far fewer offspring than stallions. It is a very unusual mare that has more filly factors than colt factors, but ideally that is what you want to create for a good broodmare. The best mares have a high number of filly factors, plus a slightly lower percent of colt factors.

Good stallions have the colt factors above but also carry a significant and strong filly factor(s)--such as you just saw in Domino. Your breeding stock - male or female, will benefit from the presence of strong filly factors.

Another typesetter of power is The Tetrarch. This stallion was a great racer as a two-year old but had to retire because of poor front legs. His legacy at stud is colossal, and not just in racing either, he is one of the constants in top show-jumpers as well. There was a mystery about him, because his traditional lineage did not explain his huge typesetting ability. But the DNA studies of Dr. Bower uncovered that a key sire in is lineage was wrong. The great Bend Or, turned out not to be so great afterall, instead he is revealed to have been a ringer named Tadcaster, and it is Tadcaster that has the race and breeding record that was previously credited to Bend Or. In The Tetrarch, once his pedigree was corrected, then his potency was plain as day, he is inbred 3x3 to full siblings: Clementina/ Tadcaster, through sons--a colt factor, but that also has remote balancing by a powerful filly factor of Alice Hawthorn sons and daughters 5x6x5. 

The key eventing sire Water Serpent is a fine example of filly factors in a stallion- Water Serpent pedigree
Another more modern and very clear example is seen in the pedigree design of Cavalier Royale pedigree. If you ever needed to see the power of the filly factors in action, read about the career of the modern show jumper sire of international performers, Cavalier Royale here.

Potency equals 'Critical Mass". The Thoroughbred experts have coined a phrase 'critical mass' to describe the state when pre-potency for sport success reaches a level and consistency that winners are produced on a regular basis.

"There can be no doubt that careful balanced inbreeding and linebreeding to superior strains (especially those that reflect the background strength of the pedigree) will maximize the likelihood of producing a superior performer." ('Patterns of Greatness II' by Porter & Peters). We just saw that in Domino--tremendous power in the best racers of the previous era, refocused to the front.

Many of our sport horses, not being pure-bred like Thoroughbreds, make this goal appear as if it is very difficult. If you approach your sport breeding aims with the idea of building up special bloodlines rather than focusing on the 'breed', I believe you will find it an easier task--see Cavalier Royale.

Depending on the quality of your starting breeding stock, if you carefully select their mates, it can take anywhere from one to three generations to reach the "critical mass" point. It is important to take the time, and possibly an extra generation if needed, to build up the genetic power in the far reaches as well as a focal concentration closer up. Even the master Tesio took two or three generations to develop his winners. The surest way to see what constitutes critical mass or that genetic tipping point where the quanity and quality of superior sport genes start producing winners is to look at the lineage of individuals that demonstrated the ability to deliver many good horses.

Repeat the Breeding. Once you have constructed what you believe is the best possible genetic combination for your sport horse foal, the experts advise that you repeat the breeding, at least once. Even Tesio did this, and the science of genetics backs this advice up.

Bowling said, "The random assortment of chromosome pairs during gamete formation means we can not predict the exact proportion of genes that any two siblings have in common."

Each of the genes can divide and combine in many variations and your first, or even second mating may not get the most beneficial shuffle of the genetic deck. If you are planning your matings correctly, even the lesser of the foals should be a very good horse, but the variation possible doesn't insure that he first foal will be the best of the bunch, so repeat the breeding, at least once.

Now for an example of the variation possible in full siblings look at Man O' War and his Four Full Siblings.