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The Trakehner Breed & The Thoroughbred

Thoughts About the Influence of Thoroughbred Stallions and Mares.
In Germany’s Oldest Riding Horse Breed

by Dr. Eberhard von Velsen
Translated by Helen K. Gibble 
from the September/October 1981 issue of
Trakehner Hefte.

The author, breed director of the Trakehner Verband, saw a need for this article when he was confronted with the question whether in the present situation of the Trakehner breed it would be desirable, from a breeder's point of view, to use increased amounts of English Thoroughbred blood. The comments made in this article are concentrated on some aspects of the subject which seemed particularly important to the author. It was in no way possible to exhaustively discuss this theme here in its full breadth and with all its difficult problematic. In view of the fact that there are 40 xx stallions approved for use in the Trakehner breed (in addition to the Thoroughbred stallions owned by the state studs which are also recognized by the Trakehner Verband) and 142 xx mares registered in the Appendix to the Trakehner Stud Book, and their progeny, the horses discussed and depicted here are only of an exemplary nature, they do not constitute a comparative evaluation.

The Stud Book of the Trakehner Verband is closed. The Trakehner breed is thus the only warmblood breed in the Federal Republic of Germany which has a closed population and breeds "pure". This breeding method has the advantage that the traits and performance characteristics typical for the Trakehner can be fixed in a consolidated way. However, with the relatively small population of presently 4500 registered broodmares and roughly 280 stallions, there does exist the danger that the "blood pool" in the breed becomes too small. Also, after 30 years of reconstruction from the smallest beginnings in the Federal Republic of Germany, it turns out that three stallions in particular have established large stallion lines which dominate the breed picture. These are the stallions Impuls, Pregel and Maharadscha, the latter mainly through his son Flaneur. The names of these stallions and their progeny are represented in the pedigrees of a large number of present-day Trakehner horses. Interbreeding of these horses gives rise to the thought that the breeding base should probably be broadened in the future. If such an opportunity does not exist, there arises the danger that certain inbreeding depressions which can also occur in horse breeding - e.g. loss of vitality and growth, susceptibility to disease, poor temperament and the like - will have to be accepted.

For reasons of keeping the breed pure, a goal that is specified in the breed standard and must be adhered to, stallions from other warmblood breeds cannot be used for outbreeding. "Only" English Thoroughbreds and Arabians continue to be available. (The breeding to such stallions is not considered a ''cross'' in horse breeding, but is part of the "pure" breeding method.)

The English Thoroughbred stallion in particular, in addition to improving certain exterior traits, provides various interior values which will be discussed in detail later and which are desirable in breeding the high performance sport horses demanded by today's market. Under these conditions, there arises the urgent question: Can the influence of the English Thoroughbred be increased in the Trakehner breed of today?

As in other breeding questions, a simple "yes" or "no" answer is impossible a here. Important realizations and experiences which further illuminate the significance and effect of the use of Thoroughbreds may serve as "background material" here.

Extent and Effect of the Use of Thoroughbreds in the Warmblood Breeds

In 1937, Count von Lehndorff examined the "Blood Composition of Prussian Warmblood Breeding Stallions" and noted that all warmblood stallions in use as breeding stallions in the breeding areas of East Prussia, Hannover, Holstein, Oldenburg and Ostfriesland since 1819 trace back to a total of 74 foundation sires, 62 of which were English Thoroughbreds, 7 Arabians (or Anglo-Arabs) and only 2 were "halfbred stallions." (Author's note: Until the beginning of the 1920's, the warmblood breeds were called "halfbreds." In England, they are still called "halfbreds" today and in France they are identified as "demi sang.")

This shows that Thoroughbreds have had a basic lasting significance in the development of the German warmblood breeds. The reason for crossing in Thoroughbred blood was that the Arabian as well as the English Thoroughbred have, in addition to certain exterior features, special performance characteristics, which distinguish them over all other horse breeds.

In the course of its more than one thousand years of breeding history and as a result of careful selection in breeding and a severe, natural culling by the desert climate of it's homeland, the purebred Arabian has developed particular hardness, frugality, endurance, good health and hardiness and has the proverbial good-natured temperament. With respect to its conformation, the purebred Arabian is distinguished primarily by the well-balanced proportions of its body and impresses by the elegance of its appearance and the beauty of its typical, expressive head. Longevity, high fertility and rapid regeneration after stress are other valuable characteristics of this breed which, however, will not be discussed in detail here.

The English Thoroughbred breed, in which Arabian stallions are known to be the primary foundation sires, also has valuable constitutional characteristics. But since this heavily inbred breed is founded solely on the performance principle and has been selected for more than 250 years exclusively according to the results of strenuous racing tests, it surpasses its origins and all other horse breeds, especially in galloping aptitude and speed. Due to the continued, systematically applied performance selection, there exists a high probability in both these breeds that they possess the corresponding performance genes.

The warmblood breeds, however, due to the fact that in the course of their breed histories they have always been adapted to changing economic demands and have therefore been selected according to varying criteria, are not so well balanced in their performance traits. To obtain and further enhance performance capability and aptitude in a warmblood horse, which is also to have good riding horse characteristics, the selection process customary in warmblood breeds according to conformation, way of going, pedigree and constitution alone is not sufficient. Moreover, the accepted performance tests, although continuously developed and improved, meet the requirement of successful selection only conditionally. Therefore, in order to impart these performance characteristics to the warmblood horse, Thoroughbred blood has always been crossed into the warmblood breeds to a greater or lesser extent.

In addition, one hopes that the use of Thoroughbred blood will produce an improvement in certain exterior features of the warmblood horse. The author sees the advantages of using English Thoroughbred blood mainly in "better definition of frame" (specifically shoulder, withers, croup and angulation) and in an improvement of the walk and the canter as well as the entire muscular system. Suitable body size and a "rectangular format" in its body outline are other characteristic criteria of the English Thoroughbred breed which the warmblood breeder must evaluate in a positive sense.

Up to now, the effects of the Thoroughbred on the gene pool have been examined in only a few scientific papers. One of the first to attempt this was Brandes (1926) who tried to determine the influence of Thoroughbreds on body size, bone and performance in warmblood horses. With measurements and weighings of numerous stallions and mares at the studs of Trakehnen, Graditz and Altefeld as well as at the provincial studs of Gudwallen, Georgenburg and Rastenburg, he showed that in the East Prussian Warmblood breed the influx of Thoroughbred blood resulted in:

1. reduction of bone;

2. reduction of depth of girth;

3. reduction of girth circumference;

4. an influence on size which

a) in stallions was always reduced;

b) in mares was almost always reduced;

5. reduction of body weight.

Very much later (1958), Breithaupt examined in a similar way the influence on the Hannoverian breed with respect to development of body and type effected by English Thoroughbred, Arabian and Trakehner stallions used in the state studs of Lower Saxony. For this purpose, he measured, in the district of State located in the most concentrated Hannoverian breeding area, the direct female progeny of these stallions (F1) and those which results from matings of direct Thoroughbred progeny with purebred Hannoverian partners (R1).

Similarly to Brandes, Breithaupt noted from his measuring results that the development of the body (size, width, bone) of the direct progeny of English Thoroughbreds was less on the average than that of purebred Hannoverian mares. The backcross generations (R1), however, in comparison to (F1), showed great similarity in body dimensions to the purebred mares.

The author's own examination of the influence of Thoroughbreds were made in 1968 with Westphalian horses. Comparison measurements here revealed that direct female Thoroughbred progeny were, on the average, smaller, narrower, shorter and less rumpy than warmblood mares. Particularly the curvature of the ribs was shallower in the Thoroughbred daughters and the cannon bone was weaker. It was also found that, compared to the warmblood mares, the Thoroughbred progeny included a larger proportion of horses who were somewhat higher in the croup. And in all of the characteristics that were examined, except for body length, there was a greater range of variation in the Thoroughbred progeny than in the comparison mares. The result was taken as confirmation of the view that Thoroughbred stallions used in warmblood breeds pass themselves on very differently and must therefore be selected according to very strict criteria and must be used with prudence if the desired, general use riding horse is to result.

We thus find here a substantial coincidence in the effects of Thoroughbred influence on the various warmblood breeds although the respective examinations were made years apart.

The Use of Thoroughbreds in the Trakehner Breed

The history of the oldest and noblest German warmblood breed shows that the extent of the influx of Thoroughbred blood depended, and still depends, on the breeding goal, on the intended use of the horse at the particular time and also on the changing requirements of the market. Without a doubt, the Thoroughbred has played a greater role in the development of the breed of the East Prussian Warmblood Horse of Trakehner Origin than in any other warmblood breed.

Originally, the Arabian was a decisive part of the development of the breed. At the beginning of the 19th century, the English Thoroughbred gained greater influence. Determinative for the increased use of stallions of this breed in East Prussia was the fact that the English Thoroughbred - in contrast to the Arabian - was systematically performance tested in races, had better paces and already had the conformation which seemed more suitable to produce a noble performance horse with a larger frame.

Looking at the stallion inventory of the Main Stud Trakehnen, it is noteworthy how large a number of Thoroughbreds were used as breeding stallions in the East Prussian breed. The reason for this is that the necessary Thoroughbred blood was infused through the Main Stud. This was a breeding recipe that turned out to be a blessing for the entire East Prussian breeding industry. The Main Stud "filtered" the genetic material carrying the desired, but also undesirable, traits. By culling out inferior material and making valuable ''pre-selected'' Thoroughbred sons available to the provincial breeders, the Main Stud exerted great, invaluable influence on the entire East Prussian horse breeding industry.

From 1800 to 1860, 68 English Thoroughbred stallions (18% of the total inventory) and 27 Arabian stallions (7%) stood at Trakehnen. In the time thereafter, from 1861-1925, there were 116 English Thoroughbreds (51%) and only 10 purebred Arabians (4.5%). In 1913, for example, the year of the greatest use of Thoroughbreds, 84% of all mares were covered by these stallions a measure which must be understood mainly as a result of the great need for lighter army remounts at that time. This heavy crossing in of English Thoroughbred stallions in particular, produced not only a large number of utility horses but also changed the Trakehner broodmare herd in a corresponding way. In 1800, for example, 15.5% of all broodmares were offspring of Arabian stallions. In 1920, there were only 0.3%. The corresponding number I of daughters of English Thoroughbred stallions was 0.8% in 1800, but in 1920 61% of the entire broodmare herd were Thoroughbred offspring!

The result of this excessive use of Thoroughbreds, which amounts to a displacement outcross, was a refined, noble, blood horse which in type and frame was hardly distinguishable from a Thoroughbred.

In spite of the use of English Thoroughbred stallions in such large numbers, according to Dr. Schilke, only seven of these have had greater significance in the Trakehner breed. The seven were: Snyders, Sahama, The Duke of Edinbourgh, Marsworth, Friponnier, Hector and Perfectionist.

To this list could be added, for the period after World War I, the stallions Paradox, chestnut, foaled 1919 in Trakehnen, and Lehnsherr, foaled 1927 in Weedern, who were used directly by East Prussian private breeders.

When, after World War I, there was no longer any demand for the lighter army remounts, the East Prussian horse, with its lack of substance and bone and its often high strung temperament, was only conditionally usable for intensified agricultural operations. What was needed was a warmblood horse of more caliber which, in addition to its suitability as a riding horse, was able to develop a correspondingly greater pulling power and covered more ground. The State Stud Director of that time, Siegfried Graf Lehndorff (1922-1931) tried to solve this difficult breeding task with the so-called "strengthening from within the breed" method. He preferred to use as strengthening stallions the progeny of one Thoroughbred stallion who had been found to be particularly suitable for warmblood horses; a breeding method which is quite interesting! As examples, we can mention here the stallions Tempelhüter, Jagdheld and Irrlehrer as sons and Pirat as grandson of Perfectionist xx (foaled 1899 by Persimmon xx out of Perfect Dream xx by Morion xx).

In 1930, due to the change in the breeding goal, only 12% of the mares were covered by English Thoroughbred and Arabian stallions. However, in 1938, when remounts were needed again, the number rose to 30%.

In the reconstruction period after World War II, the breed recorded good successes with several Thoroughbred stallions who were used mainly on larger, particularly suitable breeding farms. This applies to the stallions Stern xx, Maigraf xx and more recently Swazi xx at the Gestüt Hunnesrück (Lower Saxony), Pindar xx at Panker (Holstein) and Nannhofen (Bavaria), Traumgeist xx and Kreuzritter xx at Rantzau (Holstein), Prince Rouge xx at Birkhausen (Rhineland-Palatinate) and Pasteur xx at Gestüt Vogelsanghof (Rhineland). The significance of Traumgeist xx, Prince Rouge xx and Stern xx, and of Pasteur xx and Swazi xx - the latter two still in use in the breed - will be illustrated by a brief characterization:

The brown Traumgeist xx, foaled 1953 at Gestüt Waldfried by Goody xx out of Traumkind xx by Aventin xx, was a stallion of great beauty and had the best riding horse points; he had a very well balanced, cadenced way of going in all phases and the best temperament. He must be called a first-class progenitor of the Trakehner breed. His 50 Stud Book registered daughters and seven valuable sons give testimony of the great genetic power of this Thoroughbred stallion who was equipped with the best riding horse traits. Among his daughters, the black mare Schwarze Schwalbe, dam, among others, of the stallions Schwalbenlied, stands out in particular. Traumgeist's sons are Unikum (Sweden), Schwarm (Denmark), Schöngeist, Kampfgeist, Traumkönig, Hirtentraum, Lockruf I (Denmark) and Lockruf II. Hirtentraum was gelded because of infertility and is presently, under Uwe Sauer, one of the best dressage horses in the world. The most recent successes of this top dressage team are a first in Intermediaire II and two seconds in a Grand Prix and a Kur at the Hamburg Derby on June 13 and 14, 1981.

Prince Rouge xx by Rouge et Noir xx out of Carioca xx by Astrophel xx, foaled 1951 in France, stood mainly at the Trakehner Verband Stud Birkhausen from 1965 to 1976. He was an exceedingly noble, lean Thoroughbred stallion with much presence and a beautiful silhouette. His ground covering and agile way of going was especially noteworthy. He produced 46 Stud Book registered daughters and the sons Facetto, Hanseat, Prince Condé, Tschad and Trabant (Switzerland). His heritability with respect to riding horse traits, particularly jumping prowess, must be considered above average. Today, horses having Prince Rouge xx in their pedigrees are particularly in demand as jumpers.

The bay Stern xx by Berggeist xx out of Signoretta xx by Ebro xx, foaled 1949 and bred by Manon Donner, Berlin, was used in the breed from 1953 to 1961. The somewhat controversial stallion must be considered a strengthening stallion in the Trakehner breed. He left 30 mares registered in the Stud Book of the Trakehner Verband and eight certified sons: Gobelin, Sterndeuter, Coriolan (Argentina), Anteil, Ritus (Finland), Isländer (Denmark), Rivale (Belgium) and Trautmann (the latter standing as state breeding stallion in Celle, Hannover).

The brown Pasteur xx, foaled 1963 by Bürgermeister xx out of Praline xx by Ticino xx, bred by Prof. Watermann, Hamburg, and owned by Gustav Hoogen, Kervenheim, is a natural good mover and has the outline and suitability of a higher level dressage horse which he could be if he were trained further -being trained now to the M level. The stallion is used heavily every year by Trakehner and Rhineland breeders because he gives his progeny special rideability, good size, agile paces and the best temperament. At present, he has 11 daughters registered in the Trakehner Verband Stud Book; his sons Marlon, Kant, Mahagoni and Falkner are approved stallions. Because of their outstanding quality, MarIon, Mahagoni, the Patron son Mackensen and their first-class dam Maharani by Flaneur recently were declared champion of the family class at the Rhineland Show at Sonsbeck.

The brown Swazi xx, foaled 1974 (mare family of Schwarzgold), bred by Gestüt Schlenderhan and owned by the Trakehner Gesellschaft, Hamburg, this year has his second crop of foals on the ground at the Gestüt Hunnesruck (Lower Saxony). The stallion who, interestingly enough, has only Derby winners in the first four generations of his pedigree, has the largest possible frame, a strong foundation and great solidity. The latter refers also to temperament and character of this Thoroughbred stallion who is equipped with a very good walk, trot and canter. In view of the crop produced in 1980, this stallion must be considered a top progenitor among those recognized for the Trakehner breed in Lower Saxony.

Altogether, the 1980 Stallion Directory of the Trakehner Verband lists 40 English Thoroughbreds and 12 Arabians. Measured at the total number of approved breeding stallions (330), this amounts to 15.75%.

The percentage of English and Arabian blood today is low compared to earlier breeding periods. Moreover, only about 5% of all mares covered in 1980 were brought to these stallions.

Tables 1 and 2 serve to supplement these results. They are a compilation of the number of xx and ox stallions represented in the first five generations of the sires listed in the stallion books of the Trakehner Verband.

Table 1 shows, among others, that a total of 539 Trakehner stallions, 78 (14%) have no English Thoroughbred blood at all, 54 (10%) are direct descendants of a Thoroughbred, while the remaining stallions carry 15% to 20% Thoroughbred blood in their second through fifth generations. A comparison between the older and younger stallions indicates that the amount of English Thoroughbred blood has decreased in recent years.

Table 2 shows the corresponding values for the percentages of Arabian blood. It is not unexpected to note here that the Arabian blood is represented more in the earlier generations of the stallions (0.7% in the first generation, 18.7 % in the fifth generation). As a whole, the regressive tendency is also clearly discernible here.

Conclusions

The following conclusions can be drawn from an evaluation of the illustrated results:

The percentage of English and Arabian blood in the Trakehner breed is presently not very high. The small number of mares covered by Thoroughbred stallions emphasizes the possibility of increasing the Thoroughbred influence without problems. For reasons of body size and conformation, various exterior and interior features, the English Thoroughbred is preferred over the Arabian. Such a measure seems even more urgent, now that the Stud Book is closed, because only through the Thoroughbreds can the necessary broadening of the Trakehner pedigrees be accomplished and the desired improvement in performance be accelerated.

What is important for the use of a Thoroughbred stallion as progenitor in the warmblood breeds - particularly the Trakehner breed - is that he have size, frame and correct conformation, and most of all a calm, quiet temperament and the best of character. In today's situation, a primary prerequisite must be that the Thoroughbred stallion himself move like a riding horse, that he have a smooth, cadenced way of going, also at the trot! Moreover, the stallion should demonstrate that he can be ridden as expected from a good, uncomplicated riding horse. It has been the author's experience that certain characteristics of the horse, e.g. behavior toward humans or under the rider, seem to be more heritable than he had previously assumed. Therefore, the interior qualities of the Thoroughbred stallion must be evaluated with greater care before he is used in the breed on the basis of his conformation and his own performance. Good performance on the racetrack, the amount of weight assigned to him, should not be the deciding factor in his selection.

 

Table 1

Number of Trakehner Stallions With English Thoroughbred Blood (xx) in the 1st - 5th Generation of Pedigree in the Their Pedigree in the Trakehner Verband Stallion Books

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

5th

no xx

Total No. of Stallions

54

81

113

111

102

78

539

10.0%

15.0%

21.0%

20.0%

20.0%

14.0%

100%

 

Table 2

Number of Trakehner Stallions With Arabian Blood (ox) in the 1st - 5th Generation of Their Trakehner Verband Stallion Books

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

5th

no xx

Total No. of Stallions

5

8

43

82

101

300

539

0.9%

1.5%

8.0%

15.2%

18.7%

55.7%

100%

 


 

 

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