When we breed a mare and a stallion it is a fact that we breed the brain as well as the body. Nothing strange about that, and trainer after trainer, coach after coach, and expert after expert all continually repeat the line about the need for a good temperament…a good brain for working with humans. Unfortunately this message is often ignored as we put greater emphasis on beauty and brawn rather than brain. Or we misinterpret the message by breeding the type of docile horse that will put up with mechanical training in caged environments, instead of the bright, responsive and spirited horses that are the very ones that forge the strongest relationships with humans, and give years and years of pleasure.
THE THOROUGHBRED BRAIN
Thoroughbreds often gets a bad press with regard to their temperament but the evidence suggests that this is probably because of their bad introduction to life in ‘factory’ racing stables. If their introduction to life is good it is my belief that most thoroughbreds and part bred thoroughbreds are easier to ride because they are self-starters, who go more willingly forwards than those without this thoroughbred influence. This is not surprising because the best thoroughbred families have a willingness that enables them to persevere in a race and put their nose in front on the finishing line. As the great Italian racehorse breeder Frederico Tesio said, "A horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart, and wins with his character." We so need these horses and families that have the predisposition for a forward attitude because there are far too many horses out there that have a predisposition to be unwilling.
THE X FACTOR
Of course there are no certainties with breeding and the most wonderful champions are sometimes bred from the most unlikely and unsuccessful stock…but I would emphasise the ‘sometimes’ because a more logical route is to find or develop a family that breeds true as well as talented. It is no coincidence that many of these talented performers have a little drop of the X Factor brain, inherited from native ponies and native breeds. It is not just because I live in Ireland that I love the Irish Draught brain…they tend to have that wonderful combination of both gentleness and sensitivity.
The Household Cavalry in the UK have over 250 Irish Draught/thoroughbred crosses that are used for example on the Queens birthday parade every June in the centre of London. Anyone who has seen this spectacle will confirm the immaculate behaviour and dressing of these horses in front of over 250,000 spectators. They have tried other types of continental horses but have now gone back to their traditional Irish Draught crosses because, as their Colonel Richard Waygood said to me in at a demonstration in 2007, “ they are more willing.” The same applies to the use of so many Irish Draughts in the mounted police forces in the UK.
Interestingly the charismatic Richard Waygood’s favourite words of wisdom are these….”Life’s battles do not always go to the stronger or faster man but generally to the man who thinks he can.” Of course many find the traditional Irish horse to be less compliant but I honestly believe this is because of poor training standards. How else can you explain that the greatest number of tens in championship horse trials dressage have been given to Irish Draught/Thoroughbred horses…particularly because of Pippa Funnell’s double Badminton winner Supreme Rock and Bettina Hoy’s multi medalist Ringwood Cockatoo, who is still competing at the highest level at the age of 18 years.
MORE X FACTOR
Mark Todd also had some X factor in his legendary double gold medalist Charisma, who by the way was only 15.3 and was out of a 15 hand mare, Planet…I love the little ones! Planet was a great jumper and was by the stallion Kiritea who was 1/16th Percheron Draught horse! While Mark’s Olympic star from last year, Gandalf, is out of a thoroughbred but by the coloured stallion Pintado Desperado, who has some Australian stock horse and New Zealand station bred genes. Then there are so many thousands of ‘weekend’ pleasure horses who have crosses of native breeds and are also superstars.
On a higher level I have mentioned in a previous blog the extraordinary international show jumping exploits of those two ‘ponies’ and Connemara/thoroughbred crosses Dundrum and Stroller. (May 1st - WILLIAM MICKLEM NAMES AND SHAMES). Of course in more recent years we have had Karen O’Connor’s Pan American gold medal pony, the extraordinary Theodore O’Connor, who was 3/4 TB, 1/8 arab and 1/8 shetland pony! Talking of Arabs the famous stallion, Ramzes, who features in the pedigrees of many great warm blood show jumping sires, was 1/2 Shagya Arab, and William Fox Pitt’s Badminton winner Tamarillo was just under 1/3 Arab. The Shagya Arab has been used extensively in the warm blood world.
It is well known that the Thoroughbred originated from just three Arabian stallions crossed with just 28 English mares in in the 18th century…the Godolphin Barb, the Brierly Turk and the Darley Arabian. This means that the genetic gene pool of Thoroughbreds is actually very small, especially when you realize that 95% of Thoroughbreds go back to one predominate sire the Darley Arabian. This both helps them breeding true and makes the native breeds a great outcross. The great sadness for me, particularly in our quest to produce ‘brains’, is that we are using ponies and native breeds so much less in our breeding programmes.
Next week I will continue this series of articles on breeding on a high note, as I explain about the Thoroughbred Gods of both the warm blood world and all performance horses.…. stallions that not only had the right bodies to pass on in their genes but also the right brain. It is staggering information. Happy days, William