I thought about this guest blog today because the guy sitting next to me at computer training said his brother in North Dakota can't sell any horses right now even though they're all "pedigreed Quarter Horses!" I pointed out to him that AQHA papered horses are approximately as common as mosquitoes and the low end is not selling. Not in North Dakota, not in Florida, not in California, not anywhere.
First, before we get into the boring stuff – It is essential that if you’re doing any sort of pedigree research, or documenting their bloodlines in any way, the horses’ names MUST BE SPELLED CORRECTLY. Don’t put an apostrophe or an “s” where there isn’t one. It just screws things up for everyone else. Many times, just an apostrophe or an “s” in the name is the only thing that separates two entirely different horses. If you can’t spell the names correctly (as they are documented by the breed associations), you probably shouldn’t be messing around with pedigrees - at least, not anywhere where someone else is going to refer to your work.
In this illustration, you will find a 4-generation pedigree. (That would be the subject horse PLUS four generations of ancestors.) No, the subject horse doesn’t count as a generation, contrary to what the foundation Quarter Horse and foundation Appaloosa “registries” will have you believing. If, for example, you WERE to count the subject horse as a generation, would that make the dam the “first dam in the second generation”? And the grand dam would be “the second dam in the third generation”? How confusing is that? The DAM is the FIRST DAM in the FIRST generation. The fourth dam is the fourth mare back on the mare line in the fourth generation. (That would be INFRA RED in the pedigree shown). It’s so much easier to understand when used correctly.
In most accepted pedigree formats, the sire is always shown on the top half of any pair; the dam is on the bottom. That’s easy enough to remember, for obvious reasons. Sometimes you will find pedigrees showing the opposite, or a pedigree that goes to the left instead of the right. Whatever…as long as you are proficient in reading a pedigree and are familiar with the names, I guess you can read it that way, too, although the above pedigree is the standard, accepted international format for pedigrees. Pedigrees have been formatted this way for many centuries worldwide. The ones who had the money (and the education) that bred the high class horses, were usually the ones who got it right. We probably should pay attention and not change it to suit our silly preferences. You can’t change who the ancestors are anyway, no matter how you format a pedigree.
Within each pedigree are sections, called “quadrants”. If you were to separate each quadrant, you could isolate and look at the pedigree of each of those horses in those quadrants. Each section can be divided equally, all the way back. You can divide the pedigree in half, then divide those two sections in half, etc. In this pedigree, the quadrants would be NASRULLAH, LALUN, PRINCEQUILLO and VIRGINIA WATER. You can see two generations of ancestors on each of THOSE horses. (I don’t see “three” generations of ancestors behind them, do you?) I don’t know about you, but when I ask for a 4-generation pedigree, I want to see four generations of ancestors I didn’t know about, not three. So we do not count the subject horse as a generation.
Since the number of horses double in each generation going back, the numbers are equal - meaning they can be divided in half infinitely as you go further back. For example, there are 2 horses in the first generation, 4 horses in the second generation, 8 horses in the third generation, 16 horses in the fourth generation, and so on. (There are a total of 30 ancestors in a 4-generation pedigree; there are 62 ancestors in a 5-generation pedigree; 126 ancestors in a 6-generation pedigree; 510 ancestors are in an 8-generation pedigree; there are 2,046 ancestors in a 10-generation pedigree; there are 8,190 ancestors in a 12-generation pedigree. A 20-generation pedigree has 2,097,182 ancestors! We must keep in mind, though, that many of those ancestors are the same horses.
When calculating blood percentages (such as for one of the foundation QH or Appy registries), you will see a pedigree chart illustrated as 50% for each parent, 25% for each grandparent, 12.5% for each great-grandparent, 6.25% for the great-great grandparents, etc. Each horse, in each generation, does not represent equal INFLUENCE on the subject horse. For example, in the above pedigree, BIMELECH and INFRA RED do not equal 6.25% each in influence on the subject horse. Infra Red probably DOES has more influence, if a genetic test could prove that. (It sort of HAS been proven, with the recent MtDNA studies on Thoroughbred mare families).
The sire, the sire’s sire (grandsire), the grandsire’s sire (great grandsire), etc. on back along the very top of the pedigree, is called the TAIL MALE LINE, SIRE LINE or MALE LINE. On the bottom side of the pedigree, the dam’s dam (granddam or 2nd dam), the granddam’s dam (great granddam or 3rd dam), etc. on back along the very bottom side of the pedigree, is called the TAIL FEMALE LINE, FEMALE LINE, or MARE LINE. Each horse in the pedigree also has a tail male and tail female line if you looked at their pedigrees individually.
Reading a sale catalog page is pretty self-explanatory if you read enough of them, are familiar with your breed, and know the horses in the pedigrees. Usually, a 3-generation pedigree is given, a little blurb on the sire of the horse selling, and then as much information that will fit is given on the female line of the horse. If the female line was a good one, sometimes only one or two dams are shown so their best performers and producers can be highlighted. I’ve seen poor quality mare lines in a sale catalog, going back 6 generations of females, looking for something decent to highlight in that family. The highest quality foals are always shown. On this catalog page for a running Quarter Horse, note that there are three foals listed under the first dam, yet she produced 7 foals (including the one selling). Those three foals (all half-siblings to the horse going through the sale) are her best three. Note that it mentions at the 2nd dam that she’s a half-sister to BUZZ TE and SUMPIN SILLY. Rita Seis, Buzz Te and Sumpin Silly all share the same dam, but have different sires. (I looked them up). They are HALF-SIBLINGS. If the compiler of the catalog were to use half-siblings to mean “same sires”, there wouldn’t be room to list even the best ones. Buzz Te’s sire is Easy Jet. Easy Jet sired 2,505 foals! Which ones would you identify as Buzz Te’s “half-siblings” if you believe half-siblings mean they share the same sire? Since Buzz Te and Rita Seis share the same dam, now that is telling us something. Rita Seis is a big time mare, and a half-sibling to her tells us a lot about that half-sibling.
The BLACK TYPE (bold type) indicates horses who have achieved higher levels of success. All bold caps denote horses who were stakes winners; lower case bold indicates horses who were stakes-placed. In other breeds, the black type indicates other levels of achievement such as AQHA Champion, ROM, Superior Event, and others. The more black type, the better quality the family is. The colt going through this sale is out of a mare whose full sister is one heck of a producer. This is good. While his dam didn’t produce any black type foals (yet), HER dam sure did.
Back to pedigree characteristics…There are other features of a pedigree that could give us a clue about the quality of the subject horse. Aside from the obvious successful or famous horses in a pedigree as opposed to poor quality ancestors no one has ever heard of, the SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS are important. These are the duplicated ancestors and their full and half-siblings. This can intensify the influence of that particular blood. It might be something you want, and it might be something you want to stay away from, depending on the success of those horses and your preferences. For example, those of you who hate IMPRESSIVE in a QH pedigree might want to also steer clear of any horses in a pedigree who were SIBLINGS to Impressive. (You need to know your pedigrees in order to spot them). Siblings are not equal. They may share the same parents, but they are not equal, in phenotype, performance or production ability (but they can be similar), so that’s another thing to keep in mind. Unsuccessful siblings to successful horses are also not recommended. They didn’t do well themselves, and probably don’t have the genetic strength to pass on their good breeding. There are exceptions, but not many.
Another important aspect of a horse’s pedigree chart is the positions of certain ancestors in that pedigree. For example, you wouldn’t want a stallion sired by a horse that is a known, successful sire of broodmares, but doesn’t have any good siring sons. Likewise, you wouldn’t want a mare whose sire isn’t known to sire good daughters. These are “ingredients” of a pedigree that can be analyzed throughout the whole bloodline; as far back as you want to research. You don’t have to be a breeder to know your pedigrees. When you are well-versed in the bloodlines of your breed, you are able to analyze a prospect’s pedigree well, with knowledgeable insight into the potential of that horse. Knowing this, it is easy to see why a horse with a pedigree full of obscure, do-nothing horses (his genotype) most likely is NOT going to have the ability to perform at high levels or produce anything of real quality. His “phenotype” (conformation and class) will confirm that.
With “ancestral influence” in mind, we can see that a 43.5% Poco Bueno “blood percentage” doesn’t mean a whole lot (other than the horse needs to be tested for HERDA). Linebreeding to one ancestor does not equal a quality individual, nor does it mean a whole lot if all of those crosses are through SONS of one particular ancestor. A pedigree needs be BALANCED in order to be improved upon and predictable, which means any siblings in the pedigree should be of opposite sex, distributed equally throughout the pedigree among all quadrants, and not all clumped together in one area of the horse’s chart. Linebreeding methods of breeding are used to set a type, or at least, maintain a type, but it can only be predictable when using sons AND daughters of certain ancestors. Take a look at any Hank Wiescamp pedigree (whose horses were virtual cookie cutters), and you will see that he linebred to stallions AND mares equally.
Pedigrees are only a small part of knowing horses, breeding them, showing them, etc. Pedigrees are the only tool we have that we have some control over, and there are documented records to draw from. Check out some of the pedigrees of proven horses, and you will find successful ancestors, and lots of sibling relationships in the pedigree, (even if they’re 12 generations back). We can’t always predict the outcome of a mating, but we CAN give the potential foal the best chance at having a quality life if that foal is born from quality individuals and successful, quality ancestors.