Monday, May 18, 2009

How DID we get here from there?

One of my readers recently went to All Breed Pedigree to take a look at her horse's history and see what some of his ancestors looked like. She was shocked to see a plethora of fugly - and among some "big names" in the QH breed.

I agree, it's kind of a shocker at first glance but after thinking about it, I've realized that first glance can be deceiving. It's important to remember that horses weren't maintained years ago the way they are now. Many of those pictures show an unclipped, wormy looking horse who probably needs his teeth done. He's not going to have the pretty topline of a modern horse who is properly cared for. The lack of clipping tends to make heads and legs look clunky. The long, scraggly manes detract from the look of the neck. Old Sorrel, shown here, would have benefited greatly from everything from modern hoof care to parasite control to a power float that wasn't invented yet - but structurally, he's not a wreck. He's deep chested and has a good shoulder. Even with his super long toes, his legs look good - nice pasterns, not back at the knees. He's not "posed" at all but his hind end looks pretty correct - he may be a bit sickle hocked but it's hard to tell.

Some of these horses look excellent even by modern standards. I would breed a mare to Moon Deck today if he were still alive. I think he's gorgeous (mouseover the little horse icon at the link to see his pictures). Or Triple Chick - same thing. He is stunning! But you also see where today's conformation defects came from. Check out this Thoroughbred mare, Teresina. She's in my VLC's pedigree and I'm quite grateful enough other horses are in the mix that her legs were "overruled" by better conformed horses! Over at the knees, camped out behind, very weak gaskins. She might have been a fast, fast mare in her day but it's breeding for speed alone that has given us some of the flaws - and accompanying lamenesses - we see today. (And we continue to make the same mistakes today. Mr. Shitty Feet, Big Brown, will probably breed three gazillion mares before he is done. Expert farriers everywhere, rejoice - that vacation home will be yours!)

Here's a horror show of conformation, and again, she's from my own horse's pedigree. The only nice thing I can say about Dixie Beach is that she appears to have pretty nice pasterns (set atop hooves that are all toe and no heel). She's also got a straight shoulder, nonexistant neck, homely head, long back, and a super high set tail.

Everybody will tell you that the mare contributes more to the foal than the sire, so how did all of these fugly mares result in the beautiful horses of today? That's a really good question. It's obvious that we have had some very high quality stallions, even way back when, who really did stamp their get with their own appearance, even when bred to substandard mares. And I've heard that argument used by BYB's - that their stallion is so great he will overcome anything that's wrong with the mares. (Usually, the pics on their own web page show that not to be true). We know that prepotence is a variable - not all stallions pass along their characteristics to the same degree - but it's still an interesting question. I always enjoy hearing from those of you who have more information about the history of your breed and know what certain breeders were attempting to achieve.

Try it yourself. Go to, put in your horse's name and then select "reports" and then "photos" to see his ancestors. Are you shocked? Who do you think he takes after? Who are you happy to see he doesn't take after?