The influence of ancestry

I’ve always been vaguely interested in my horses’ ancestry, especially since it’s easy to find information on Thoroughbred pedigrees and on the horses that show up multiple times in a standard 5-generation pedigree. Back in 2014, Eventing Nation ran a fascinating article on the data-driven process Wits End Eventing uses to select stallions to breed to their mares. They’re proponents of linebreeding, a mild form of inbreeding; the theory goes that balanced linebreeding will produce whatever traits you’re hoping to pass on within four to six generations.  There are a variety of opinions on what the optimal pedigree looks like. Some pedigree specialists believe that the 4×4 position- that is, the ancestor appears twice in the fourth generation, is best, while others assert that 5×5 (twice in the five generation pedigree) is superior.

Turn-To
Turn-To

Moe is linebred to Turn-To, a stallion who appears in the pedigrees of many top event horses (including 2016 Olympic competitor Blackfoot Mystery). Turn-To is found three times in Moe’s pedigree: once in the fourth generation, and twice in the fifth. I don’t know what Moe’s breeders were aiming to produce when he was conceived, as his sire and dam were not successful on the track and their pedigrees are sort of a mixed bag of bloodlines. Regardless of what they were attempting to get, they managed to create a marvelous sporthorse (most recent show notwithstanding, ha). Moe is a tough, hardy horse who has stamina, a great gallop, and a good jump. What didn’t Moe get? Size, for starters. Moe is a diminutive 15.2 hands and extremely narrow. He also looks like he’s been assembled from spare horse parts that someone had lying around: small head, ewe neck, enormous withers, relatively high stifles and somewhat steep hips. But the resemblance is there, even diluted through several generations. Moe has a similar neck tie-in, shoulder angle, and short back.

Raise A Native (right) and Nearctic (left)
Raise A Native (right) and Nearctic (left)

Gina’s bloodlines feature Raise A Native (4×5) and Nearctic (also 4×5). Raise A Native is known as a sire of sires, mostly due to his influential son Mr. Prospector (who Gina can also claim as a relative). He is not a popular sporthorse sire, per se; his descendants are pegged as being unsound. However, he’s an ancestor of many Thoroughbred sporthorses simply because he has an overwhelming amount of offspring. Nearctic is a hugely influential sire through his son Northern Dancer (another of Gina’s distant cousins). Nearctic was a short, compact horse who was allegedly a mean, hot-tempered creature. Like Raise A Native, he is an ancestor of many Thoroughbred and Throughbred-cross sporthorses because his offspring have been prolific producers. I’d guess Gina’s breeders were actually attempting to produce something that could win on the track, as her pedigree is peppered with big names like Danzig, Affirmed, and of course, the aforementioned stallions. What has Gina inherited from these horses? She’s a big-bodied mare (for a Thoroughbred) with a conformation similar to Raise A Native, while her temperament sounds reminiscent of Nearctic’s. Thankfully, the bad hooves and joints associated with the Raise A Native line don’t seem to be present in her.

Bold Ruler
Bold Ruler

Candy is a 4×4 descendent of Bold Ruler. Bold Ruler was another influential Thoroughbred sire; his descendants are typically very good as two year olds running short distances. Candy bears this out, as she raced best at short distances and was very good as a two year old (and a three year old). Many Thoroughbred sporthorse enthusiasts look for Bold Ruler in pedigrees. His son Bold Bidder is especially popular. Bold Ruler offspring are purported to have big hearts, lots of courage, and a smart, sensitive personality. They also have a reputation for having fragile legs. What has Candy inherited from Bold Ruler? She’s put together similar to the way he is- they have similar stifle angles, similar shoulder angles, and similarly powerful hindquarters. She raced 34 times across three years without lameness issues, and doesn’t appear to have gotten the flimsy legs.

Of course, a horse is more than its pedigree, but much can be learned by studying its ancestry.

Are you interested in pedigrees? Does your horse share many characteristics with its progenitors?

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

18 thoughts on “The influence of ancestry”

  1. Interesting! Chloe also has Raise a Native and Nearctic in her 5th generation, as well as Northern Dancer a few times in the 5th generation on her Dam’s side. Fortunately (knocking on wood SO HARD right here!), she doesn’t seem to have any hoof or soundness issues either. When I bought her I was told that she was unraced, but at some point the papers got swapped with another plain dark bay mare that looks exactly like her (both came from the same breeder and the lady I bought her from got them from the same owner as well) so she actually had 4 starts but never broke her maiden. Explains a lot of the under saddle issues we have at times!

    1. From what I understand, the soundness issues are more prevalent in horses who have Raise A Native lines closer up in the pedigree, in the second or third generation. Raise A Native died in 1988, so we’re seeing him further and further back, and with that, the soundness issues associated with his bloodline will recede.

      Crazy about Chloe’s papers! I can imagine that could be a major problem for an owner with lots of horses (especially ones that look alike and are the same gender)!

  2. I’ll be the first to admit that I know almost nothing about bloodlines and pedigrees. A lot of people are REALLY into it, and while it’s neat to know if your horse(s) is bred to something famous, IMO, bloodlines aren’t the end-all, be-all. I ran Roger’s pedigree past a few of my more knowledgeable TB friends and they noted some cool horses in his past, but that’s where my interest in his bloodline ends…I know his sire and dam and that’s pretty much it. I’m sure somewhere in his breeding, he picked up his athleticism and even temperament and goofy personality, but I would have purchased him even if his breeding was “crappy” or uninteresting. I don’t know that much about passing down personality traits or recessive coat colors or conformation characteristics because it’s not super important to me. I certainly don’t knock people that are super into breeding and pedigrees, it’s just not my thing.

    1. Bloodlines are definitely not the be-all-end-all of a horse, but I think they’re useful in making predictions about an animal or any offspring an animal might produce. Now, should you decide against purchasing a well-put together, even-tempered horse that’s capable of doing what you want to do just because its great-grandsire was a mean and ugly horse? Of course not! But I think pedigree examination is essential if you’re looking at upper level prospect or interested in breeding.

  3. I have friends who care about these things for me. I’ve tried REALLY hard to be interested in it and I’m just not. I don’t breed. I’m not ever going to breed. I don’t like baby horses and I’m not in an income bracket where I’m going to be buying things for their bloodlines.

    And I know, it makes me a somewhat terrible horse person. I just. Don’t. Care.

    Now, I do like knowing fun factoids about my particular horse and his ancestry and maybe if I have a related horse in the future, that can start to roll into something, but until then?

    Meh.

    1. I don’t think it makes you a terrible horse person! As you pointed out, you aren’t a breeder or interested in purchasing some obscenely priced warmblood weanling with trendy bloodlines.

      I think this sort of stuff is pretty interesting, especially since I like to daydream about a sporthorse breeding empire. 🙂

  4. I also know literally nothing about pedigrees except, OOO I KNOW THAT ONE! I think its cool to look at them, but most of the time I am like ????

    Yankee’s 3rd Gen we have no one I know except Fortunate Bid. Literally no familiar names in 4. In the 5th Generation he has Turn-To (which I had zero clue about until I read this post), Bold Ruler, Northern Dancer and Nasrullah. So like ALL the horses that are in every single TB pedigree. then there’s Count Fleet in the 6th. Like I said, clueless.

    Bacardi is a little more familiar to me, names wise. But apparently his dad, Consolidator, was a big deal…but I have never heard of him. Storm Cat is is grand sire, who I know of, which leads to fucking SECRETARIAT in his 4th gen on sire’ side. Secretariat is also 6th Gen on Dams side. Bold Ruler in 6th and Northern Dancer in 5th AND 6th. HB literally is Secretariat twin in coloring and Consolidator too, also a chesnut.

    My desire is one day find baby pics of both which would be cool, but I’m with Jenn…not as interested as most.

      1. Turn-To’s descendants have kind of been flying under the radar until the last couple of years (which bears out the 4-6 generations philosophy), but he shows up in the pedigrees of many, many top event horses (primarily through his son Hail To Reason, who is one of Yankee’s ancestors).

        And OF COURSE it’s fun to find famous relatives in your horse’s pedigree. A million years ago when I got Moe, I was SO EXCITED to have a Thoroughbred because I just KNEW he was related to Man O War (one of my faves, too!) or Secretariat or SOMEONE. Sixteen year old Stephanie was very disappointed to see zero familiar names in his pedigree!

  5. Thanks for the explanation of linebreeding, I never really knew what it meant before.

    Studying horse ancestry is certainly interesting, though rather than conformation comparisons, I more just used it to be able to say (with my old anglo-arab mare) “my horse’s great great great grandsire won the Kentucky Derby!” (Shut Out) haha. Ellie also had Nearctic in her pedigree, but only once. She was line-bred to Czort (5×5) and Nearco (6×6).

    Personally, I feel that ancestry is important for baby horses, either by choosing a suitable sire and dam to make a baby horse, or to evaluate what a baby horse might turn into. However, once a horse is full grown, I think the usefulness of a pedigree wanes. Once they are an adult, you can evaluate them on their own merits – conformation, behavior, performance, temperament – and no longer need to rely on looking at genes that they may or may not have have inherited. This is why I was okay to buy Kachina even though she was grade without papers, she was full grown so I could evaluate her sufficiently without knowing her parents. I would still love to know who she comes from just for curiosity’s sake though!

    1. I enjoy the conformation comparisons; I think it’s super interesting to see what physical traits get passed on! (I think this is interesting for most species, though.)

      Your point about evaluating the adult horse is spot-on. With adult horses, you are very much looking at what’s in front of you, and all the bloodlines in the world aren’t going to help a 9 year old with sickle hocks. I definitely became much more interested in bloodlines when I decided to breed Gina. I wanted to know what sort of traits I could expect her to pass on, and what sort of traits I should look for in a stallion to cross with her!

  6. Since Leo is a saddlebred, his pedigree is basically nonsense to me. I know way more about thoroughbred bloodlines than I do about saddlebreds! But I got really lucky with him – the woman who owns the facility that my barn rents is a saddlebred person, and she actually knows the owner of Leo’s sire! She knew before I ever told her that Leo is a Vanilla Ice (yes, that is the stallion’s actual name) baby; I haven’t seen a picture yet, but apparently he is the spitting image of his father, and has the same sweet temperament that Vanilla Ice babies are known for in the saddlebred world.

    1. I will freely admit I know very little about pedigrees of horses who aren’t Thoroughbreds! I’ve been trying to become more informed on various warmblood lines (since I am trying to produce one, haha).

      It seems like it’d be more difficult to evaluate a horse’s potential as a sporthorse if it comes from a non-traditional breed like ASB! But you are absolutely right in that you can at least estimate a horse’s personality based on its immediate ancestors!

  7. I usually don’t look back more than one or two generations when looking for personality or soundness quirks that may have been passed down. I love, love, love exploring (ok stalking) TB pedigrees though!

  8. Alas, I’ve never really been in a situation where ancestors mattered – I just looked at the horse in front of me and tried to go on that and what the vets told me. It can be really cool to see what your horse’s ancestors did though!

  9. I think it’s so fun to look at these things, especially in TBs. I would add that I can always peg a Bold Ruler horse, no matter how far back he is, because they all have a slightly more solid body type, and they all have pretty big personalities and erm…opinions. I really like horses by him, but they do tend to have a pretty strong NO when they put a foot down. Haha. My jumper in HS was a Bold Ruler horse, and when he was really being bad, we usually just planned to do a second ride later because it was not worth the fight.

    I did not know those things about Neartic or Raise a Native, but Val has both of those, so now I’m curious to look more into some of his other bloodlines!

  10. Romey is surprisingly not all that in bred… Mr. Propsector shows up twice, but no one else in there seems to be closely related. He does have Bold Ruler on the Mom’s side 5th generation, and he has a lot of the traits you mentioned. He was pretty successful on the track winning just over $230,000.00 but had to retire due to what we’re assuming was a suspensory branch injury when he was 6. He seems very smart to me, but I’ve been riding warmbloods for too long, so my standards might be low in the department 😉

  11. I love this! I just wish I knew where to start without dealing with a giant mess of worms! I always thought inbreeding was the worst but now I understand something more!

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