Top: Casall, ridden by Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (SWE)

By Christopher Hector and Gemma Alexander
Photography: FEI, prvate collection

Given the changing demands placed upon equine athletes in modern showjumping, it is understandable that the physical attributes these athletes require have evolved. Courses of today are much more delicate and the time allowed is getting tighter, requiring adjustability and speed in levels much higher than was seen in the brute strength of jumping horses past. Such evolution required an injection of ‘blood’ into the gene pool, leading to the lighter and more reactive horses of today.

This increased need for blood begs the question: Do we still need Thoroughbred blood in the breeding of the modern performance horse?
In 2010 Holstein Breeding Director Thomas Nissen said: “Our breed can only develop in a good and right way for the sport when the breeders take always a little Thoroughbred influence in our population. It is necessary… I think it is necessary that the breeders use Thoroughbreds but use them with very good thinking about which mare is right for the Thoroughbred. You need for a Thoroughbred stallion, your best mother line, with a good background, a good stamm behind it, and good jumping ability. This is necessary because in other ways the risk is too big that the result goes this way and that way.”
At the time Arnaud Evain had a different take on the situation: “One of the major reasons that French breeding is appreciated in the world today is because of Thoroughbreds. We used the proper Thoroughbreds, the bad ones we used also, but no one remembers them, they disappeared from the dam lines. Now if you go into the pedigrees of the French book, and you find stabilized horses with between 15% and 20% Thoroughbred blood – the situation is much the same in Holland – and when you mix those horses together, you keep 15-30% Thoroughbred. The use of a new Thoroughbred was a must, 15 to 20 years ago, when you had to select the good bloodlines and keep adding ‘blood’ into the heavy horses… But now we have them – if you take a drink with 20% alcohol and mix it with another drink with 20% alcohol, we still have a 20% alcohol. The same with our horses, we can breed the horse with 20% Thoroughbred blood to another with 20% and keep the percentage we need.
“You have horses today in competition, with no Thoroughbred in the first three generations, but they have a lot of blood. Thoroughbred does not have the exclusivity of blood any more. Take Quidam de Revel, if you look at his pedigree it is quite cold blooded, but he has one Thoroughbred in the third generation which is pushing blood all through the pedigree.”
Florian Sitzenstock of the University of Goettingen found in a ground breaking piece of research, that in the Hanoverian studbook since 1985, the percentage of horses by full-blood or half-blood sires has diminished, yet the percentage of Thoroughbred blood in the Hanoverian population had actually increased...

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