Sport Horse Breeding: Registries, Papers, Inspections – Does it Matter?


horses and papers

In the mid to late 1990’s American Sport Horse Breeding boomed, and North American Warmblood Registries exploded in popularity. Years of fashionable European horse importing coupled with declining Thoroughbred soundness turned the “Warmblood” into the new American Dream horse. Suddenly, one didn’t need to import a German Warmblood; that same caliber horse could be bred at home, in The States. Or could it?

By the late 90’s sport horse boom period, I was heavily involved in with Warmblood breeding, research, and bloodlines. For several years, I sat on a breeding committee inside an American Warmblood registry keeping up to date on other registries, their rules, their studbooks, their mare books, and their inspections. As part of the committee’s task, we made recommendations on rules and rule changes pertaining to the “integrity of the breed.”

Rules for American Sport Horse registries, originally, were very very stringent. To the degree their European counterparts held 700 years of recorded horse breeding rules and allowances, American Horse registries used to do their best to mimic “the motherland’s” horse standards principles. Horses let in were dazzling, offspring let out [pun intended] were just as nice.

Rules for American Sport Horse registries, originally, were very very stringent.

Later, when I was continuously disappointed with approvals, inspections, and the quality of mares and offspring being registered, branded, papered, and labeled as “Warmbloods,” I got out of the American Warmblood breeding loop. Continuing, as American Warmblood breed registries further opened their books (and fattened their wallets), I lost interest in the no longer objective nature of horse breeding integrity and became very pessimistic about the future of American Sport Horse and Warmblood breeding.

Around this time, there were a lot of politics surrounding the International Sporthorse Registry (ISR) and Oldenburg NA. Accordingly, even more reputable American Warmblood registries and organizations softened their requirements. By the time I personally witnessed a few mares having no business being seen by the registries admitted into the Holsteiner and Hanoverian books, my pessimism quickly turned to loathe.

After a couple years doing what I thought was important breed integrity work, I tossed countless books detailing centuries of methodical horse breeding practices on the shelf, left my position on the committee, and have since turned a raised eyebrow to inflating papers, bonits, scores, “premium” status, registrations, and associated price (gouging) tags that now come alongside American bred Warmblood horses.

So is the chicken, or the egg, to blame for American horse breed registries watering down their books? Did American bred Warmbloods bloom in popularity because American Sport Horse registries bloomed in popularity as well, or did American Sport Horse registries grow simply because they opened their books to anything with a tail and four legs?

Though I formally and mentally left the horse breeding and branding stage, my horse life, and your’s too, has been infected by poor breeding standards, practices, and inspections given to sub-standard horses to say the least. Anyone keeping it O.G. to the sport horse breeding world can pick out a Warmblood horse’s home country before even seeing the brand. This isn’t simply a case of longing for the good ole’ days as much as recognizing why German engineers were recruited to build bombs and rockets for the US. Europeans had horse breeding figured out centuries, CENTURIES before any American suit in need of a tax write off could start a horse breeding farm for his wife.

Despite any particular brand, the American Warmbood horse is nothing more than an American Crossbred. Get that straight. Mutt horses can make great pets and sporting partners, but make no mistake, American Warmbloods and European Warmbloods are not created equally.

European breed registries are served by documented horse performance, not the designer fashions of the riders making purchases, or in many cases, horse re-sale investment decisions.

In the United States, horse breeding is a private industry. American breed registrations, designations, and brands do not exist for purposes of preserving or tracking quality gene pools, they exist (and collect fees) to provide “name brand” marketing. Why is “brand” marketing important for the American Warmblood breeder? Simply, because American horse breeders are lazy, greedy, naive, and do nothing to actually track the performance of the foals they’re throwing.

In Europe, any out crossed bloodlines come from the stallion line. They use Thoroughbred stallions, Anglo Arabian Stallions, and other Warmblood stallions to improve, refine, or enhance the particular breed. European horse breed organizations have followed, studied, and scrutinized every “improvement” stallion entered into the breeding book and have closely followed their progeny. Their breeding successes and failures have been documented, to excruciating details, since before paper was sold in reams.

The success and methodical nature of European breeding programs is never so evident as when reading descriptions of stallion and mare lines. In Europe, breeds, branding and registries do not exist to form breed marketing, instead, performance serves the brand, and performance forms the breed.

Pick an American Warmblood horse registry. Find a stallion owner. Ask, “Does this stallion cross best with a broadly built, muscular type mare, or a longer, leaner, mare?” If an American Warmblood stallion owner can even understand that question, let alone answer it, let alone provide detailed documentation of 70 examples for each scenario posed, you might be in luck.

In The States, horse breeding registries play more of a money game than an actual breeding program. Besides the fact foals and their lifetime, that’s right, lifetime performance are not tracked, stallions throwing less-than-quality foals are not monitored or adjusted, just simply marketed differently. American horse breed associations to not serve breeds and bloodlines, they serve the stallion owners, and the checks they cash.

American horse breeders are producing horse “types”, not breeds. Horse types may perform, they may keep their soundness, and they may make great equine partners, but they do not, by and large, carry a genetic legacy known and built from hundreds and hundreds of years, research, trials, and documentation.

A guy in a garage can make a kit car that looks like a Ferrari, drives fast, and still runs on gas, but that car absolutely does not have the same components of an actual Ferrari.

In America, even nice mares need luck to produce any horses of performance value. In Europe, strawberry farmers produce Grand Prix caliber horses in their back yard, and their daughters don’t even ride.

If I’m not making this clear, let me be obvious:

– The American Warmblood Society produces mutts, only
– same for The American Warmblood Registry

I’ve seen these inspections, and they are pointless. Both organizations are members of The World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH), don’t let this fool you; this doesn’t mean they are producing world class horses, it just means the horses are qualified to compete in the Young Horse Championships and that the horses of these registries are tracked and ranked by breed organization in international competitions. By breed, of course, neither organization is ranked in the top ten jumpers, dressage, or eventing; as a matter of fact, they don’t even show up because there are no horses from these organizations competing at international competitions. This is not a coincidence.

– The International Sporthorse Registry, and
– The Oldenburg NA

produce horses possibly in line with their brand, but they are far from performance horses. Some are sweet, some are cute, most have major and obvious confirmation flaws that would effect soundness, and hardly any of these horses could even hardily be considered athletic.

Canada has two Warmblood breed organizations,

– The Canadian Sport Horse Association, and
– The Canadian Warmblood Horse Breeders Association

Both are a crap shoot and lack horse production consistency in their breeding base. Research shows the Canadian Sport Horse Association seems to run much like the American Warmblood Registry as they are breeding more for type than for breed. The Canadian Warmblood Horse Breeders Association (CWHBA) is a bit stricter in their mare base.

My hat goes off to the following breed organizations in America that, while not perfect, are attempting to tighten their standards or keep their standards high when it comes to mares and stallions cataloged in their studbooks. I no particular order,

– The American Holsteiner Horse Association,
– The American Hanoverian Society,
– The American Trakehner Association,
– Dutch Warmblood Studbook in North America, and
– Oldenburg Horse Breeders Society

don’t outright suck. In American horse breeding, that’s a compliment. These organizations are far from perfect and no doubt could improve many breeding program rules and regulations. Hopefully, one of these organizations will lead the front of quality performance tracking so we can all enjoy better statistics.

In America, “registered” mares and “well known” stallions still need a whole lotta’ luck to even produce an average performing foal.

It is up to registries, associations, and societies to ensure registered horses are of superb quality and that they are in fact improving their respective breeds. Certainly, in many ways, it appears that it matters less and less to horse riders and trainers if a horse is registered to any specific breed entity in this country. American papers, at this point, are just PROOF of age and parentage; they by no means denote quality or expectations of high performance levels. Still, one must look to Europe for these papers.

American papers, a premium dam, and a performance sire do not automatically equal a performing foal. With the price of importing horses becoming less and less financially viable, even for outstanding qualities, young (and therefore, unproven) horses need their bloodlines searched methodically.

We have some great horses here in the United States, but we absolutely have a lot more duds. Everyone looking to buy a horse wants a great horse, and anyone looking to breed wants to produce an outstanding horse, but without the proper resources, even the well intentioned mare owner doesn’t posses the tools, reasons, and methods to choose a proper stallion.

America does enjoy an untapped breeding horse potential, but without quality control through tracking, we can’t rightfully call on the names of our breeds to indicate future performance potential.

And though undoubtedly I’m expecting to witness some fire spewed in the comments, if you thought this article was scathing, wait for round four when I attack horse breed shows.

Related Citizen Horse Articles
Sport Horse Breeding: The Mare
Sport Horse Breeding: The Stallion
Minimizing Horse Slaughter Starts at the Source