Bastards or Bluebloods – a performance horse breeder’s dilemma

When French breeding expert, Arnaud Evain, thinks aloud, it is well worth listening. Arnaud wrote an op-ed, Les Batards that addresses the concepts of pure and mixed-race horses, and comes up with the conclusion that the future belongs to the ‘bastards’. It is a debate that re-visits some of the major themes of this history.

Arnaud addresses the notion of ‘species’ –  “a group of individuals who systematically has the ability to reproduce itself. Thus we have the human species, the equine species, the bovine species. Breeding between individuals from different species is quite common in the vegetable kingdom, but a lot less in the animal kingdom. It gives birth to hybrids. Hybrids can either reproduce themselves or be sterile as is the case of the mule, a sterile hybrid born from the insemination of a mare (equine species) by a donkey (asinus species).

The notion of race is less precise and its definition varies according to the author. Most of them agree that one race distinguishes, within an animal species, a group of individuals of homogenous type  – for instance, the Charolaise or the Limousine race in the bovine species.

Amongst the most ancient horse races, we can mention the Arabian horse and the English Thoroughbred. A race is ‘pure’ after a few generations if it accepts only reproducers (male and female) chosen within the race in question.

The product of the crossbreeding between two pure races is called a ‘mixed-race’. The mixed-race, contrary to the hybrid, is always fertile.  The yellow calf (cross between Normand and Charolais), the Anglo-Arab (cross between the English Thoroughbred and the Arabian horse) are ‘mixed-race’ –  Jappeloup is an example a mixed-race!

All the others are bastards, they are products of crosses between individuals extracted from populations that have been subjected to several generations of successive crossbreeding. Thus, bastards do not belong to a ‘pure’ race, and are not, like the mixed-race horses, the product of two reproducers from pure races, nor, like the hybrids, the result of a cross between individuals of different species.

So I guess, looking at say, the Holsteiner ‘race’, we find it in its present form an amalgam of the original farming stock of the Holstein marshes, enriched with the blue blood of the pure race Thoroughbreds combined with the blood of Cor de la Bryère… do we call him ‘pure’ since he is a typical Selle Français? Or ‘mixed’ since he is the product of a Thoroughbred over a Selle Français mare? Add to that a dash of the mixed-race, Ramzes (Thoroughbred / Arab) and we end up with the classic Holstein mix… and in Arnaud’s schema, bastards, very successful bastards.

As Arnaud notes, the studbooks help define these races and mixtures of races:

The Studbook for horses (Herd-Book for cattle) is an official registry which records the genealogy of the individuals that belong to it and sets the rules to allow a new progenitor in it (male or female).

Some very old studbooks are more severe than others as far as admission of male reproducers go, when they come from competing stud books, they examine the candidates very closely before allowing them in, but none refuse them as a matter of principle. This was the case in the Holstein with Cor de la Bryère and more recently with I Love You, Concorde, Quick Star and Quidam de Revel. Most of the newer stud books (KWPN, Oldenburg, BWP) made a choice to crossbreed successive generations from the start and claim without qualm their mixed-race. The choice to open up towards other European races was also made by the Selle Francais, cautiously since 1989, and more since 1995.

As a French breeder, and one of the first to import the semen of Dutch stallions for the French market, Arnaud is concerned with developments within France, particularly the reaction against ‘foreign’ blood:

Under the pressure of breeders and stallion owners, who were deprived of this improvement tool for such a long time, the gates opened widely, probably too much, and some high hopes were not met. These disappointments have given birth to a new ‘eugenic’ movement that gives me the creeps!

Let’s be realistic: good and bad has been done: Gold De Becourt (by Voltaire) or Lucciano (by Burggraaf) are Selle Français, Quidam’s Rubin (by Quidam de Revel) is Oldenburg and Mozart De Hayettes (by Papillon Rouge) is Belgian. They’re all bastards!

And these bastards have more in common with each other than with the Thoroughbred and the Trotters of the 21st century.

And according to Arnaud, it’s these bastards that win in the competition ring:

Sixty out of the 100 world’s best horses in international jumping (WBFSH classification) have a father and a mother from different studbooks. Amongst the six Selle Francais that make our studbook the number one in the world today, we have two with Hanoverian mothers, and one grandson of a SF stallion cross with  Trotter (whose mother is the daughter of an Anglo-Arab and a non-recorded mother). And this is without taking into account an average of 20% of Thoroughbred at the fourth generation!

It is obvious: the better the range of colours the painter uses on his palette, the better he will be able to share the range of his emotions. It is the same with horse breeders: The better the choice for the sensible and intuitive breeder, the bigger the chances are for him to produce the horse he had imagined. All the arguments of ‘purity’ of our race of show jumping horses are scientific inanities, and their particular genetic identity is an intellectual swindle.

The difference of the ‘races’ according to Arnaud, is not so much the genetics of the breeding material, as the culture of the breeders:

The truth is that the European horses share a common heritage and evolve according to their environment: Imagine a homogenous group of 300 mares and divide them in three groups of 100. We give them to 100 breeders of Holstein, Normandy and Sardinia.  Entrust them with the seed of 15 reproducers, quite different from each other. Leave them to breed, choose their future stallions, reward their best mares, and come back in six or seven generations. This will probably take about 30 years in Germany, and 40 to 50 years in France and Italy. You will get three populations of horses who will have totally different characteristics.

The difference will come from their environment, the way they were bred, and the choice made by man, which quality they were looking for and which flaw they couldn’t tolerate. Groups of humans quickly make groups of horses that are similar to them, through their choice of male and female reproducers!

Similarly, there can be very big differences of appearance between individuals and groups within the same studbook, bred in different environments. If you are not convinced, go see the Hanoverians of Germany, Namibia and Brazil, and, if that is not enough, compare the Anglo-Arabs of Sardinia and Poland.

Techniques are evolving, the competition is evolving, semen of stallions is circulating, objective (AND deceptive) information is more and more abundant, but the future obeys the same rules as it always has: it’s the man and the environment that make the horse.

The sport horse races don’t differ according to genetic differences, but according to the policy led by those who choose the male and female reproducers, and according to the environment in which they are bred.

Arnaud was associated with the publication of one of the essential texts of any serious breeder’s library, ‘The European Stallion Families’.

From 2005 to 2007, Olivier Desmeulles undertook the task to research as far as possible the genealogy of the active sport stallions in the world, that is, mainly in Europe. All of them come back to the same four ancestors, via the male line, grand sire line, grand grand sire line to: ACHILL (1877), ECLYPSE (1764), HEROD (1758) and MATCHEM (1748). His work, presented in the book European Stallion Families, allows us to go up the male line of all of today’s active stallions until we find one of the ‘founding fathers’.

If you take a closer look, you realise that by the end of the 19th century, there is only about 10 different branches and that almost all European stallions have at least one ancestor in common amongst a group of ten by the 9th or 10th generation of their pedigree.

Thus, there is no race of modern sport horses that can claim a genetic originality, they have all been blended in the big melting pot of successive generations!

For the last few years, the KWPN has been amongst the best studbooks in Dressage and Jumping. It is a great example of the merits of a composite race based on very resolute selection and served by a very efficient system of communication.

This studbook has grown thanks to the importation of French, Belgian and German (Hanover, Holstein, Oldenburg, Westfalien…) reproducers (male and female).

Once the mixture was improved, the studbook leadership communicated to the riders and dealers the production objectives and then committed to a very restrictive policy as far as the admission of external reproducers goes. The selection consists of three different stages, followed by a 70 day trial at the stud-book training center.

When they realised this method wasn’t flawless, they quickly established ‘emergency entrances’ to allow the return of stallions they had previously been refused like Mr Blue or Heartbreaker. This way, they gave themselves the opportunity not to miss any chance of improvement while creating an image of rigor and severity for the approval mechanism and its criteria: model, x-rays, semen quality…

The breeders support this system fully. They are proud and wholeheartedly play the testing game of the young stallions who have been designated as most promising by the jury. It is also served by an amazing publicity campaign that succeeded in making the general public believe that the Hanoverian, Voltaire, the Holsteiners Indoctro and Burggraaf, the Selle Francais Calvados (Sable Rose) and Guidam (Adagio) are pure Dutch products!

Having warmed to his theme, Arnaud sub-heads the final coda of his article:


As mentioned above, 60 out of the 100 best horses worldwide (WBFSH) come from fathers and grand fathers from different studbooks and the best Selle Français horses of today have in their pedigree (on 4 generations) streams of French, Hanoverian, Westfalien, Thoroughbred, Anglo-Arab and ‘unknown’ blood!

There are plenty of other indicators that show that the Selle Français depends widely on exterior input, like all other European races. Twenty-nine out of sixty 4, 5 and 6 year olds who were qualified at La Grande Semaine 2009 (20 products per generation) were results of SFxSF or AAxAA inbreeding, and thirty-one of ‘bastardry’, that included a mother or a father registered in different studbooks.

Ten out of twenty-six stallions classified as Elite in France, with CD>0.7, were registered in studbooks other than the SF. When you examine more closely the pedigree of the 26 best at the third generation, you can count nine different studbooks!

The same work done for the vast majority of the other big European studbooks would give the same results.

So let us test Arnaud’s thesis on the results of the 2010 World Cup Showjumping Final in Geneva.

 Küchengirl – the ultimate ‘bastard’

Marcus Ehning emerged as the World Cup champion on the back of two horses. His speed leg horse, Noltes Küchngirl is the bastard-to-end-all-bastards! She is by the Holsteiner, Lord Z (originally Lucky Star) who is himself something of a cocktail – in his fourth generation we find four Thoroughbreds, one Selle Français (the son of a Thoroughbred) and two ‘Holsteiners’, both of them the grand-children of the Thoroughbred, Cottage Son. Noltes Küchengirl’s dam is by the British bred Hackney, Cambridge Cole, out of a Dutch Gelders harness mare!

For his second and third legs, Marcus used the somewhat more conventionally bred, Plot Blue by Mr Blue out of a Pilot mare out of a Selle Français / Thoroughbred cross mare. Mr Blue is a nice mix of Thoroughbred, Anglo Arab and Holsteiner. Score two for the bastards.

 Plot Blue – a more conventional mix, but a mix all the same

By way of complete contrast in second place we have Ludger Beerbaum riding Gotha, a daughter of his great jumper, Goldfever. Gotha is concentrated Hanoverian, and quite in-bred with 14 crosses of Detektiv (who stood from 1926 to 1943), 70 crosses of the great Fling (1913 – 1922), and 155 crosses of Adeptus xx, the Thoroughbred stallion who stood at Celle from 1884 to 1904 (this is my rough count, I may have missed one or two). This is leavened with a dash of Selle Français, Furioso II, the Italian Thoroughbred, Pluchino, and the British Thoroughbred Lucius.

Gotha – one for the blue bloods… 

In third place, there was the Swiss, Pius Schwizer riding Carlina and Ulysse.  Carlina is another variation on that familiar Holstein tune: Capitol / Cor de la Bryère / Landgraf / Capitol / Landgraf. Schwizer’s other ride, Ulysse, is by the Darco son, Non Stop (Cor de la Bryère / Farnese / Ladykiller xx / Cottage Son xx on the dam line). Darco once again demonstrates his incredible ability to produce jumper after jumper and that really is somewhat of a puzzle. Looking at Darco’s pedigree you would not get too excited. It’s old fashioned Hanoverian (that ‘L’ is virtually non-existent in today’s Hanover), and aside from Cottage Son xx, there’s not a lot of flash on the mare’s side. Maybe then we are back with Arnaud’s other point – that breeding success reflects the culture of the breeder. Perhaps it was that Darco was such a hero in Belgium that he attracted all that country’s best mares, while jumping stallions in Holland and  Germany had to settle for a share of the admittedly larger pool of mares. I don’t know, all I know is that Darco keeps producing the goods – like the fourth place-getter, Winningmood – by Darco out of a Cassini / Ladalco mare.

Dermott Lennon’s fifth placed, Hallmark Elite was born in Scotland, out of a mare who jumped in a British Nations Cup team, Easy Touch. Easy Touch was Dutch bred –  by Renville who was by  the Thoroughbred, Courville, and out of a classic Dutch cross, Farn / Sinaeda, and out of a mare by Rigoletto, a Ramzes son and another of those successful imports from Holstein that added to the Dutch mix. Hallmark Elite is by the Lord Son, Lord Byron, who stood at Zangersheide long enough to acquire a ‘Z’. The colt was initially christened Lalique Z before morphing into Hallmark Elite. Again the horse is something of a cocktail. Lord Byron is a Holsteiner, by Lord out of a mare by Fra Diavolo (not the famous French Thoroughbred, but a Holsteiner by the Thoroughbred, Frivol)

Mario Deslauriers comes in at 6th place  on Urico, and here is a bastard to warm Arnaud’s heart. He is by Zandor Z, a cross of the French Anglo-Arab, Zeus, and the Westfalien, Polydor, out of a mare by the Darco son, Fedor.

There are three horses tied for 7th – Kevin Staut’s Silvana, another Holstein standard: Cor de la Bryère / Landgraf / Capitol; Richard Spooner  and Cristallo (three crosses of Corde) and Chris Chugg’s Vivant, another prime bastard: by the Jalisco son Fuego du Prelet  out of a mare that combines Landgraf, Ibrahim and Ultimate xx.

So the ten horses that headed the standings after the three legs of the 2010 World Cup final would seem to confirm Arnaud’s thesis, although I guess we have to ask when the Holstein  C +  C + L formula stops being bastard and claims a place in the ranks of the bluebloods?

If we look at the best represented stallions at the World Cup final, we find Darco and Carthago with three each, followed by Guidam, Zandor Z and Cardento with two. We’ve already lined Darco and Zandor Z up with the bastards, but Guidam is a fairly homogenous Selle Francais. Cardento and Carthago are the usual Holstein mix, although Cardento is something of a rarity in that Cor de la Bryère is absent from his pedigree.

Looking at the sire lines of all the horses that started in the first round, we again find Almé the most influential modern sire, represented by three stallion grandsons, and four great grandsons. Cor de la Bryère is represented by one son, and four grandsons. Darco sired three starters and his son Nonstop, produced one. Landgraf is represented by a son and two grandsons, as is his sometime stable mate, Lord. Capitol is represented by three sons, but two of these produced five competitors.  Furioso xx, is represented by a grandson, and a great grandson.

And to return to Arnaud’s theme, if we look at the top twenty horses at the end of the 2010 World Cup exactly half of them were bred within the same stud book, and the other half are the products of representatives of two different books. Bluebloods or bastards? The debate goes on.

Are there Bastards in the Dressage Ring?

Although my friend Arnaud has his gaze fixed on the jumping arena, it is interesting to test his theory in the dressage ring. Taking a quick look at the top ten placegetters at the most recent World Cup Dressage Final in Amsterdam, we once again find a mix of bluebloods and bastards…

The winner, Totilas, is a prime bastard. His sire Gribaldi is from the most closed of the German Warmblood studbooks, the Trakehner, while his dam carries five Holsteiner crosses, two more Trakehners and a dash of Thoroughbred.

In second place was Parzival. His sire, Jazz is basically Holsteiner, while his dam is a mix of Selle Français, Thoroughbred and old Gelderlander lines.

The third placegetter, Sunrise is branded Hanoverian, but her sire is straight Holsteiner, while her dam carries the Hanoverian classic lines of Werther, Grande and Gotthard.

In fourth we have another Hanoverian, Warum Nicht, who is again, classic Hanoverian and quite closely bred since both his sire and dam trace to the first of the Hanoverian modern ‘movement’ stars, Woermann, combined with a hefty dose of Thoroughbred and a dash of Trakehner.

In fifth place we have Scandic, a horse deliberately crafted by Dutch master breeder, Jan Greve as an outcross. His sire Solos Carex is a Danish Warmblood, but his blood is ¾ Holsteiner, while on the dam line we find a mix of old Swedish lines, a dash of Trakehner and two of the Dutch stalwarts, Amor (Holsteiner) and Lucky Boy (Thoroughbred).

Sixth is the most conventionally ‘dressage bred’ of the top ten, Digby. He is by the first of the dressage stallion stars, Donnerhall, but out of a mare that is roughly half Thoroughbred, half Holsteiner.

Le Bo who finished in seventh place is something of an anomaly. It was surely beyond Dr Bade’s wildest dreams when he leased the English Thoroughbred, Lauries Crusador for the stud at Celle, that he would produce Grand Prix dressage horses in the first generation, but that is exactly what he did. Le Bo is out of a mare of old fashioned and largely forgettable Hanoverian lines with the notable exception being another of the early movement makers, Duellant.

Triviant in eighth is by Olivi, a Dutch stallion of largely Thoroughbred breeding, with a dash of Selle Français. On the dam side, he is Holsteiner jumping bred and is by Saluut, a grandson of Ramiro.

The Belgian entry, Apollo van het Vijerhof is by the dressage bred, Welt Hit II, out of a mare by the great grandson of another dressage specialist, Romadour II.

And rounding out the ten, we have a right Aussie bastard, Victory Salute. He is by Salute (a son of Saluut) and out of a mare by the French Anglo Arab, Victorieux out of a half Percheron, half Thoroughbred mare.

I guess we can say that when it comes to dressage, it’s again about half and half in the bastards versus bluebloods stakes…

2 thoughts on “Bastards or Bluebloods – a performance horse breeder’s dilemma

  1. Wonderful study. I wish it went back far enough to show the strong influence of Lucky Boy xx, not only in Dutch breeding but in the sport results and breeding of the world. He sired Olympic and World Cup champions for multiple nations.

  2. I hope someone out there can help me. I purchase an Oldenburg mare with pink papers, to breed to my TB stallion, reg with the Jockey Club. He is 17H and looks like a warmblood himself. He is not sound had an injury when he was 2 weeks old, but has beautiful and big babies. My question is how would you register a foal out of the mare with these two combinations?

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