The Importance of the Pedigree
by Arlene Magid
The importance of understanding Arabian pedigrees before one breeds is best summed up in a statement from the noted breeder William States Jacobs (who was active in the 1940s and bred some excellent horses, including the National winner sires Imaraff and Raffi). He said: "Whatever is in the pedigree will come out. Nothing else can." This simple statement could alternately be said to be the eleventh commandment for Arabian horse owners: "Know thy horse's pedigree." Pedigree expertise can help with selection of show horses, make breeding programs more successful, and can be the edge needed to clinch a sale of a horse or a breeding.
Many people believe it is unnecessary to deeply analyze the pedigrees of horses they are considering for purchase strictly for show use as riding animals. However, much can be learned about a prospective show horse purchase from its ancestry. Did the horses in the nearest generations remain sound for a number of seasons in the show ring? Are they known winners in the division in which the horse being considered is trained? (This writer knows of someone sold a "park horse" that had "won" in single horse classes--the dam's pedigree was all hunt pleasure and western pleasure winners, and the park mare was not bred for the class in which she performed). If a rider is interested in a particular style of riding, it is wise to investigate the bloodlines best known for success in that division, be it cutting or english pleasure. A horse with a good attitude towards work and a stable, accepting temperament is essential for most junior riders and many adult amateurs. Do the forebears of a horse also have these attributes? All of the factors mentioned can be discovered by research into the show records of parents and grandparents to check for the number of years they were campaigned (indicating they were sound) and the disciplines in which they excelled. Temperament can be checked through discussing the horses with trainers who worked with them or their relatives or other people who have personal knowledge of the horses involved. Doing this investigation can enable a buyer to make better decisions as to which prospects best suit their needs.
Breeding horses is an art, not a precise science (if it were, everyone would have "perfect foals" and there would be no challenge in it). Knowing as much as one can about the ancestors (especially the first three generations of them) can help determine if one's breeding plans are on track. Physical traits are passed from generation to generation, and if certain horses in the pedigree appear a number of times there is more of a chance that their traits (both positive and negative) will be seen in their descendants. Also, if the linebreeding or inbreeding to a particular ancestor occurs more distantly (in the fourth generation or beyond) that horse will have influence as if it were closer up. Occasionally there will also be a "throwback" to a distant ancestor that the horse will resemble very closely, and will reproduce its attributes as well. Thus, familiarizing oneself with the horses' achievement records and appearance is essential.
One of the best sources for photos of horses shown in the years 1953-1983 is I.A.H.A. Yearbooks, which provided the results of all shows and photos of many of the competitors. These are out of print but one can locate them through bookdealers specializing in Arabian materials as well as by placing ads in equine publications or online asking for people willing to sell them. Older magazines are also a good source of photos, particularly the Arabian Horse News, published (1948-1975) and Arabian Horse Journal (published 1958-1967). Many of these older photos were not taken to hide flaws, so they document the horses better than many of the ad photos one currently finds. (Of course, since many of these photos were snapshots taken by owners one does not always find the horse taken from its most flattering angles). In the early years of Arabian magazines, there were fewer horses registered, and to promote the breed the magazines would run pictorial features showing Arabian versatility, broodmares, etc. as well as professional show photos. Arabian Horse World magazine has, with one exception, run a feature called “Foto-Finish” every year in its January issue which documents all photographs in editorial and advertising run in the previous year. This is another good resource for those sleuthing ancestral photos! Also, one can ask on the message boards of various websites (arabianbreeders.net, ablackhorse.com. or awhitehorse,com) for assistance from people there, many of whom may have scanned photos from historic magazines or Yearbooks.
Historic photos are also found in all three volumes of Carol Mulder's Imported Foundation Stock of North America books, in Gladys Brown Edwards' The Arabian: War Horse to Show Horse and A Photographic History of the Polish Arabian, in Mary Jane Parkinson's The Kellogg Ranch: The First Sixty Years, in Archer/Pearson/Covey's The Crabbet Stud: Its History and Influence, etc. Sandy Rolland has also done a series of books that have rare photos, on *Raffles (out of print), *Raseyn, *Mirage, and Polish and Crabbet imports.
Another essential tool in studying pedigrees and historic photos is a working knowledge of conformation and form to function. Teaching oneself this subject can be done through both books and videos. Dr. Deb Bennett has a series of videos on conformation that can be rented through tack shops or purchased. She also has several paperback books that illustrate conformation well. Another book that is very helpful as it explains the cause and effect relationship of conformation problems on a horse's soundness and usability (as well as the inheritance of less desirable traits) is Illustrated Atlas of Clinical Equine Anatomy and Common Disorders of the Horse by Ronald J. Riegel and Susan E. Hakola.
The Arabian Horse Association's Datasource online of all horses registered around the world can be a valuable resource when doing research to determine success of particular matings. The progeny list feature can be used to display both offspring and all grandchildren, and analysis of these will show if certain crosses were repeated multiple times (one might assume they were considered successful if they were). The Datasource also enables one to look up coat color to easily track inheritance of that. That can be very helpful when certain desirable traits are known to be color linked (some horses have better offspring of a particular color). Datasource subscription is available by the day, the month, and annually. It is occasionally possible to find the earlier version of Datasource, which is a CD-ROM published by the Arabian Horse Registry, last issued in 2001. This is not current but one does not need to be online to use it. Check the internet auction site Ebay for copies.
Though the Datasource is a useful tool, it is only one of many. It is not always possible to determine from it whether a horse belongs to a particular bloodline group (though it does show whether a horse is straight Egyptian, Egyptian bred or Al Khamsa). Some of the performance records are not fully accurate (and there are no performance records other than U.S. and Canadian ones), so they must be used with caution. Most performance records before 1986 do not appear, so for horse shown, raced or who competed in endurance prior to that date other resources must be found to validate them, such as the IAHA Yearbooks or printed show results in the major Arabian publications of the day. International show records must also be determined from other sources. Pedigrees of successful endurance, race, or show winners can reveal the "magic nicks" that work--some examples would be *Bask with *Raffles bred mares, Huckleberry Bey with *Bask daughters, *Ansata Ibn Halima with Babson Egyptian mares, etc. Once the nicks are recognized, study of the individual horses can refine the breeding decisions to be made. One should also keep in mind that some stallions have a quality bias for foals of a particular sex--*Serafix and El Magarto are noted as broodmare sires while Bay El Bey and *Aladdinn are more famed for their sons. This factor also needs to be taken into account when breeding, especially if one is trying to produce a replacement filly out of one's treasured foundation mare.
Pedigree knowledge is essential when fulfilling one's breeding goals, and it is equally important when marketing horses and stud services. It is the seller's responsibility to share accurate information, be it the specialized bloodline group to which a horse belongs (Polish, Egyptian, Al Khamsa, etc.) or the show records of its parents and grandparents. We have all seen advertising that is misleading or just plain incorrect--claiming a horse is pure something when it is not, or has wins it does not, or that its ancestors were winners when they are not. Such misrepresentation, whether deliberate or accidental. can result in loss of reputation and/or litigation. On the positive side, showing that you care enough to know as much as you can about your horses is often the deciding factor in securing a sale. When marketing foals having available full information on both sire and dam will help sell their offspring. Many owners recognize the importance of having good photographs and video available, but pedigree data is equally important to show prospective buyers that the animal being considered has good genetics as well as good looks, performance ability, etc. Owners standing stallions should be able to give mare owners indications of what to expect with a prospective mating, so that the best possible foal is produced. Without solid information about the good and less desirable points of the ancestors of both horses, it is much more difficult to assess the value of a particular cross. Pedigree-knowledgable owners who demonstrate expertise sell more horses and breedings, raise better foals, and make more intelligent decisions with their horses.