Cumano, 2006 world champion in Aachen, jumping here with Jos Lansink during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong

By Christopher Hector
Photography: Peter Llewellyyn, Blue Hors ApS
Graphics: Gemma Alexander

Every year about this time I look forward to receiving the translation of Dr Ludwig Christmann's annual survey of the German breeding values, this year particularly so, since it seems that the breeding values are multiplying rapidly. Once upon a time there was a single German FN value, based on the BLUP model, which has been used to calculate everything from milk production in dairy cows (which I think was its first use) to the likelihood of a volcano explosion!

It is just not such a useful tool when it comes to evaluating horse breeding and identifying the best stallions.
The BLUP system gained most power in France where it dominated the selection of licensed stallions, and provoked stern criticism from the famed breeder, and journalist, Bernard le Courtois. Writing in 1994, six years after the introduction of BLUP to French breeding, he was of the opinion: “In the beginning I was optimistic concerning the BLUP; even though I have always been convinced that nothing can replace experience and observation and the know-how of a horseman. Today, with hindsight, I am aware of the system’s aberrations as well as the way in which it has been abused.”
Le Courtois asserts that his judgment “is drawn from professional experience: as a stud farmer, owner, judge, dealer and most of all as a breeder passionately involved in sport horse selection.”
He is also well aware that the pressure for some sort of ‘objective’ guide comes in part from the phasing out of the traditional breeders to a new generation of ‘town’ breeders. This was compounded by a National Stud staffed by “executives who do not have the practical training their predecessors received, thanks to present modes of recruitment and training.
“Many newcomers in the horse world grabbed onto BLUP like a childishly simple life-buoy. Suddenly they felt on an equal par with the professionals, imagining that this index would make up for their lack of knowledge, without realising that they were fooling themselves. They hid behind the BLUP, believing it would protect them.”
Le Courtois turned to the evidence of the scientist, Professor Signoret: ‘The principal PRINCIPLE of the BLUP method is excessively simple, even simplistic. It affirms a priority that a foal that is born will, providing all else is equal, represent an average between his father and mother. Breeders, genetic specialists, and those involved in improving domestic breeds know that, generally speaking, this is not the case. Only milk production is the happy exception confirmed by experience.’
“It turns out that the equine BLUP index is nothing more than an adaptation of the American milk BLUP index!”
I have written a series of articles over the years, pointing out anomalies in the 'numbers' – young stallions would appear from nowhere, high on the rankings, then disappear just as rapidly, while established sires with excellent progeny on the ground would languish at the bottom of the tables, if they made them at all.
Seemingly those in charge realised the rankings were not perfect because the German FN changed the system. There were now two tables, one based on progeny performance in young horse classes, one on senior competition results. It was an improvement, though there were still some bizarre results. This year, there are three sets of tables, but I’ll let Ludwig Christmann explain the changes of this year's charts: The new breeding value works
With great anticipation, we waited for the results of the breeding value estimation of the German Equestrian Federation. After all quite a few changes had been implemented. The biggest difference is the insertion of a new breeding value called ‘Highest Achieved Level’... To read the complete article you need to be a subscriber

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