Laura Graves and her astounding horse Verdades have reached the height of dressage performance. After years of spectacular wins rising up the ranks, the pair broke through into the history books when they took first place at the World Cup competitions in Aachen, beating out the perennial superstar Isabel Werth in the Grand Prix Special.
[Photo taken by lkmod-ned at Normandie France on 8/26/14 and donated for public use on Wiki Commons.]
I had noticed Verdades and his talented rider Laura for several years, and when I finally took the time to watch one of their performances on video I was startled. My first thoughts were "she is riding a carriage horse in dressage!" The high action and overall presentation called to mind a fine Hackney carriage horse. So I pulled up the pedigree and found there was a good reason for my observation, because the leading dominance in Verdades was inbreeding 4x3 to Renovo GEL, a son of the famous Hackney Cambridge Cole. The Hackney is not one of the WBFSH allowed or included breeds, and of all the European warmblood members only the Dutch have incorporated Hackney into their sport horse...or so it appears on the surface, but we will see later on the Hackney permeates the European Warmblood. Anyway, his lineage interested me and I made a mental note to explore it more, when I had the time. That time has come and I have made this presentation after deep research of Verdades pedigree. I think you will find the genetics powering this horse instructive.
For those of you that have come upon this article and may not be conversant with how pedigree analysis is carried out (see Understanding Pedigrees and Tesio Methods); we look at the lineage to understand the genetic fabric of the horse. Our operating theory is: if the pedigree is accurate it becomes a genetic map of the horse. We are looking to identify the carriers of potency in sport talent so that we can employ that knowledge in recognizing other talented horses, and breeds, and to improve our own breeding choices.
So let's begin by looking at Verdades pedigree--the color highlighted names you see in it are the duplicated horses. Duplicated ancestors, especially closely related ones are a proven way to set type and talent into a genotype (see Siblings). As you can see plainly in the attached pedigree all the duplications in the first 7 generations are on the dam side. The sire, Florett As is a moderately successful sire, and a good performer--a talented dressage horse. By far his most successful progeny is Verdades. I took a quick look at his next best son, Verdi de la Fazenda, and his found his pedigree very quiet for duplications on both sides, and he is not anywhere near the superstar that Verdades is, his total career winnings are under $3000 Euros, so a nice horse but not a great one.
Verdades' sire, Florett As WE (registered Westphalian= WE), is a mixture of mostly Westphalian and Hanoverian, with some lesser lines of Selle Francais, Thoroughbred and Trakehner. The Westphalian however is mostly based on Hanoverian bloodlines, so Florett As is largely a Hanoverian in type, with a very quiet pedigree, some excellent lines, but nothing strongly interacts or combines with other lines. I discovered in extending Florett As' pedigree that he has many background lines in common with Donnerhall OL (who is 1/2 Hanoverian) and Duellant lines (outlined on dressage page).When I see a lineage like Florett's it represents to me a genetically underused resource, it has some power lines, but they are underutilized, not being reinforced, therefore they are not made dominant. Combined with the concentrated power coming from the damside of Verdades I see his sire as a background supporting flavor rather than the typesetter, like a backup chorus is for a headline singer, it adds depth but is not the starring attraction. In contrast, the dam's lineage is explosive with power, and obviously made the difference that pushed this son of Florett As into a level way beyond what his sire occupied.
Verdades, a gelding, is a registered Dutch Warmblood, but like most Warmblood and Hunter bred horses he is a mix of several breeds. We saw that in the sire, but now let's look at the dam. We see right away that the leading dominances are labeled GEL, which is my abbreviation for Gelderland, a Dutch farm-carriage breed noted for its high neck set and elevated trotting action, very much like the Hackney. So the attributes of the Gelderland contribute heavily to the genotype of Verdades. We have Renovo (GEL) 4x3 through a son and a daughter, which is made more powerful because those siblings, Wilhelmus and Wilarda, are not just by the same sire, but are also closely related on the dam side through its Oregon GEL and Graaf van Wittenstein duplications, making them 70% related. There is an additional dominance arriving via Urgent GEL 5x6 via daughters. Oregon is 5x6x7x6x7x5, making him almost as strong a genetic influence as Renovo, and Graaf van Wittenstein is 7x7 sex balanced.
In the research phase of this article I extended Verdades' pedigree 10 generations and the duplicated ancestors all the way back to their origins because I wanted to understand what genetic components are behind this breeding. The sires Renovo and Oregon and their elements are especially dominant forces, and I will present to you what I found on their backgrounds. Renovo as you can see is half Hackney and the movement of the Gelderlander is very much like the Hackney. Is the Gelderland just a similar type or is there something behind them both in common?
What is a Geldelander? Holland has two native farm breeds, Gelderland is a lighter type, bred to work the easier sandy soil of its province, and the Gronigen is a heavy breed developed to work the clay soil. Both breeds are found in the Dutch Warmblood. They are the original stock the Dutch bred up from to produce a horse suitable for sport. The Gelderland was a lighter type and used for carriage and basic riding transport as well as farm work. The published breed history says it received Spanish Horse inroads on its original native base early on which perhaps gave it the high neck set and elevated motion it has become noted for. The indigenous Spanish horse of the southern Iberian Peninsula was an elegant horse with high action and head set, it laid the base for the Andalusian and the Lustano breeds among others, it was not particularly fast and it was not gaited. It had a very active trot. The Gelderland was not fast and it was not a sport horse. The British Isles also received Spanish horses, both the Celtic Horse (Hobby) from the north of Spain and the Spanish Horse from the south of Spain. So there is some very deep affinity in type behind the sport breeds...but that genetic commonality is just the beginning.
When I extend all the continental warmblood bloodlines that produce sport in their breeds, I find a consistent base. All their sport source bloodlines began in the 1800s or later and are based on Anglo breeds. What do I mean by Anglo breeds? Breeds developed by the English, Irish and their colonies; so the Thoroughbred, Norfolk Trotter, Cleveland Bay-Yorkshire Coach, Irish Horse (Draught, Hunter and Connemara) and the American Running Horse and later American Thoroughbred and the American Trotter and later Standardbred. These are the breeds that put sport in the continent's stock. The Norfolk Trotter became the Hackney Horse in 1883.
In the Gelderland sections of this pedigree I found a surprising strength in Oldenburg bloodlines, with some Anglo-Norman and Gronigen as well. And it turned out that the recorded portions that became Oregon, Renovo, Urgent etc. were more Oldenburg than native Gelderland. I will demonstrate this for you with the pedigree extensions that I attach in the detailed analysis section of this article. When I followed the dominant bloodlines back to their origins, it was then that the true depth and power of this lineage became apparent.
To get an overview you will need some basic knowledge of the horse development on the continent. First off, no matter the modern breed label (Holstein, Hanoverian, Oldenburg, Selle Francais etc.) all of their native bloodlines vanish in the 1800s--they cease to be recorded quickly. Following these lines back you will find with the Oldenburg this happens more quickly than the Hanoverian and Holstein who were organized earlier, but all the native lines go unrecorded sometime in the 1800s--some sooner than others. By the early 1800s the only recorded lines are Anglo breeds or their offspring. Further, what is fascinating to me is the very earliest foundation sires are often the same no matter which breed.
It was after 1800 that all of the European continent began receiving massive imports of English-Irish horses, and even some American breeds--this is where sport talent arrived, not from some "centuries old" European breed. In the early and mid 1800s with road improvements all of the continent needed more efficient coach and carriage stock because their native farm stock (Schwere Warmblud, Norman Draft, Black Marsh Draft etc.) were too heavy and slow, and huge amounts of Thoroughbred, Cleveland Bay-Yorkshire Coach, Irish Hunter and Norfolk Trotter (and even some American Trotter and Running Horse) were imported to adjust the type of the European breeds. France showed an interest in sport earlier than the others and wanted not just a coach-carriage horse but also desired a mid-gait racehorse breed. France imported Norfolk Trotter, Thoroughbred and Cleveland to cross on their Norman Draft stock--this resulted in the farm-coach Anglo-Norman breed and the lighter French Trotter. American Trotters were added in as well.
The Gelderland received much of their Anglo lines via large amounts of Oldenburg stock coming via foundation sires like Emigrant OL (3/4 TB), Rubico OL (1/2 AN, 1/4 CB-YC, 1/4 unrecorded), Kimme OL (1/2 YC-Trotter) etc.
In tracing the lineages back what I found here as well as in all others (see Valegro DU, Donnerhall and Loretto for examples) is that by the mid-1800s there is nothing recorded except the Anglo breeds. It appears the claim of carefully inspecting and selective breeding of European stock is a myth because no one bothered to record lineages before the Anglo breeds arrived. We will see this reality in the lineages that power Verdades as well.
The Norfolk Trotter which became a breed around 1750, was one of the early imported Anglo breeds used for improvement of the European Horse. The Norfolk, which carries Thoroughbred and Cleveland lines, became known as the Hackney in 1883, and in this pedigree it is found behind the power lines in the sire as well as the dam. Verdades's sire with a Hanoverian dominance goes back consistently to the Mecklenburg stock (foundations like Zernebog, King and Jellachich, Duke of Cleveland etc.). Mecklenburg was the main importer of Anglo stock for the improvement of the Continental breeds and it supplied all the surrounding areas with high quality breeding stock. So while this pedigree looks like a total outcross, there is a tremendous background affinity in Anglo bloodlines. In Verdades case, this affinity is strongly rooted in the Hackney-Norfolk Trotter and then reinforced and gathered to the front through Gelderland and Hackney bloodlines.
Why is all this background information important? For the individual breeder of sport horses, especially those who have not joined in with one of the WBFSH accepted breeds, it opens your eyes (I hope) to recognize which of your excluded breeds may carry tremendous sport genetics for your projects. Without knowing the history (as opposed to the myths) of the sport breeds you will not be able to recognize this fact. Here we have the example of the Hackney, a lovely combination ridden-driven breed, which turns out to carry a concentration of true sport genetics (Norfolk Trotter) that power the European breeds, the same breeds that in our day have shut it out of the market place.
[ A perfect example of the action of the Hackney is seen above in a champion stallion, Killearn Magician, foaled in 1925, he is very much the type found in Renovo GEL.]
Hackneys are not particularly fast, although at one time before excessive selection for elevated action took over the breed, it was tremendously fast at the trot even over rough roads. Elevated action precludes speed, even if the speed gene is present, the high action impedes forward extension, but as we see proven here in Verdades, the Hackney is a wonderful dressage prospect. Further, many of you may not be aware but the Hackney is a top show jumper, seldom used today as one, it was not that long ago that Hackney Horses won high jump contests with measured jumps of 8' and 8'3"...huh? Yes they possess a tremendous jump! Because of the front end action they may not be the best choice for eventing, but what would happen if you crossed them with Thoroughbred or Standardbred? And there is the added bonus of good temperament, soundness and good looks. Obviously, the Hackney Horse is a grossly overlooked sport resource for the sport horse breeder.
Okay, that is the simplified look at what Verdades is made of: he is a modern day Norfolk Trotter in type. Now, for those of you who are more advanced in pedigree study, or for those of you who think my sweeping pronouncements on sport genetic components are full of hot air, or for those of you who need more proof to convince you, I will add more depth here. I will quickly pick out the key dominances in this lineage and provide the pedigrees so you can see for yourself (click on each link to pull up the pedigree). The reason for this exercise is to allow you to see that many breeds that are not included in the closed 'World Rankings' that many of you rely on to guide your breeding choices may be a far better choice for your sport breeding success, because they are concentrated in true sport genetics.
We are working on the premise that genetic dominance sets the type and performance in a horse. For an illustration: ask yourself when does coffee flavored milk become a regular coffee? Besides the heat factor it becomes a regular coffee when the balance of coffee exceeds the milk. So it is in breeding, by adding more of a sport element to a utility horse base there is a tipping point when the horse becomes a sport type rather than a work horse. I know that is an oversimplification but many of you are breeding to very loosely bred stock and wondering why you are not getting the super sport horse you desire. You must concentrate the genetics you desire to produce the horse you can be proud of.
As you can see, Renovo GEL a registered Gelderlander born in 1975 is an obvious typesetter in Verdades DU. When I did a 10 generation computer study on him, he proved to be most dominant (3x4) in Walton Beauty HK, a Hackney mare, and his second strongest domination is from Baronet GEL of whom he has 8 lines in 10 generations, who in turn carries inbreeding to Domburg GEL 1x3. Domburg is in turn linebred 4x5 Achill HO, 4x5 Emigrant OL and 5x5 Bernhard OL whose linebreeding is to Noteur AN and Landessohn OL, horses we will look closer at below. This may seem tedious to keep pulling up the lineages, but by the end of this article you will understand where sport originated from in all breeds.
[Domburg OL--public domain image]
The leading genetic weight is from Walton Beauty HK and you can see she is a strongly bred Hackney (Norfolk Trotter), she in turn is most dominant in Sir Horace HK, with 6 lines close up, and the second dominance is further back, a Norfolk Trotter named Denmark NT and she has 35 lines of him, both of these amounts is critical mass. She has other dominances as you can see, but basically like these two, they all go back to the foundations of the Norfolk Trotter.
Doubled close up in Renovo GEL is Odin van Wittenstein GEL and genetically he is Anglo-Norman/French Trotter, like the modern day Selle Francais is. He carries several lines of Fuschia FT, which is a line you will find continuously in the Selle Francais. Fuschia FT carries Norfolk Trotter, Thoroughbred and American Trotter. Lassigny FT is made of the same basic ingredients.
Urgent OL, who is 5x6 in Verdades and contributes to the dam-line, is made up of Anglo-Norman and Oldenburg bloodlines, plus a heavy dominance in Domburg GEL. (I apologize but for some reason I have been unable to upload the Urgent pedigree...his sire is 1/2 Anglo-norman and French Trotter, 1/4 Oldenburg and 1/4 Gronigen and his dam is dominated by 4 lines of Domburg 4x6x5x5...typesetting presence)
[Public domain image of the great Oregon GEL, and you can see the preferred modern Gelderland type in him (very much like the Hackney stallion pictured above), elegant and high headed.]
Oregon GEL as I mentioned above is almost as dominant as Renovo GEL in Verdades DU, with his chief dominance in Xerxes OL, whose lineage is very spotty, many unrecorded lines, but carries Mecklenburg lines (Jellachich), an old foundation in Oldenburg and Hanover, plus Landessohn OL born in 1846, whose bloodlines are largely unknown, just a name with nothing recorded behind it. This is typical in the continental lines I am including these pedigrees for your instruction, so you can see for yourselves that the continental lines go away. Norman AN 1868 has more recorded, but then he is more Anglo to begin with, you can see for yourself, with lots of trotter, both Norfolk and French. And the French Trotter goes back to the Norfolk, Thoroughbred and Cleveland as you can see demonstrated in Noteur AN in this pedigree. Noteur AN and Landessohn were found duplicated in Domburg as well.
You can extend the other dominances yourself, but I believe you will find it tells the same story: the continental lines all disappear or run into Anglo lines. Sport talent comes from the Anglo breeds, whether they are Thoroughbred, Cleveland, Norfolk, Irish or even American.
Verdades' talent and style comes in large measure straight from the Norfolk Trotter with powerful background buildup which is refocused to the front of the lineage. Other studies we have done, such as Donnerhall OL, Valegro DU and Gambo OL(bottom half of article), show dominance in many of the old Oldenburg lines of Emigrant, Kimme and Rubico which go to the Thoroughbred and Trotter. Loretto HO of course has a strong Yorkshire-Cleveland and Thoroughbred leaning, and Duellant HA was discovered to carry tremendous amounts of Trotter and Thoroughbred. Realize Thoroughbred and Trotter of any kind are not member breeds of the WBFSH--therefore those breeds will never appear in the bogus 'world' rankings. The World Rankings published by the WBFSH are a marketing ploy, and a very successful one. Relying on their rankings for your breed choices is very limiting, and you may well be missing the concentrated sport elements that you need for your sport breeding success.
See Valegro DU for another pedigree analysis of a recent dressage star.
Read more about the base Dutch breeds and their bloodlines that are found in this star on this link: Groninger Horse