By Christopher Hector
Photography: FEI/Arnd Bronkhorst, FEI/Leanjo de Koster, FEI/Libby Law
It’s that time of the year again when the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses releases its annual breeders, sires, and studbooks rankings. Since the role of the studbook has changed so dramatically over the past 30 years, it might be useful to consider exactly what a studbook is, and what it does.
The model of all studbooks is the General Stud Book founded in Great Britain in 1791. This is the organization that controls the breeding of Thoroughbred horses all over the world but, compared to the European books that cover the various Warmblood breeds, its aims have always been modest.
The General Studbook lays down strict rules covering breeding, but again, the rule is simple, ‘live’ covering is the only insemination allowed, it makes no attempt to tell the breeders which mares to use or which stallions to send them to; it leaves those sorts of decisions to the racetrack.
The European books were somewhat different since they were, in the main, founded by rulers in search of better horses for their cavalry to ride. They actively sought out better stallions, making them available to the farmers and rewarded breeders with premiums for better mares. Great power lay in the hands of the director of the state stud, and the colts he selected; and the districts he sent them to, shaped the foals of the future. In 2023, this system has almost entirely disappeared. In France the great State Studs have closed, and throughout the world the private stallion stations have become more and more influential.
The distinction should be clear between the ‘Studbook’ with its volumes of rules and regulations, stallion licensing, and performance tests, and mere ‘Registries’, where organizations offer, for a price, pedigree papers without all the rigmarole of the studbooks. Today, that difference is not quite so apparent and, indeed, some of these registries have been quite successful, more successful even than some of the traditional studbooks.
A grand studbook contest
Recently the WBFSH organized a grand contest of the studbooks, the WBFSH Studbooks Jumping Global Champions Trophy, held at Jan Tops’ Valkenswaard arena. Ironically this showcase of studbooks simply reinforced the feeling that studbooks are increasingly irrelevant in the business of sport horse breeding.
To take one of many examples, the six-year-old title, which was won by the Belgian Warmblood studbook. I think the horse that led their charge, Ransome III, makes my point fairly decisively. The bay gelding is by El Barone III Z, whose sire Emerald van’t Ruytershof is branded BWP, though Emerald is by the great Selle Français sire, Diamant de Sémilly out of a Zangersheide-branded mare, by the Holsteiner, Carthago out of a BWP-branded Selle Français/ Hanoverian mare... To read the complete article you need to be a subscriber
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