Breeding and Genetics

Since ancient times man has known that some domesticated animals are better than others. They produce more milk, they are stronger, faster, they have better progeny and so on. Although our forefathers understanding was hazy at best, they believed it was true and in their own way they tried to use it to their advantage. Later when an understanding of breeding fostered by the work of Mendel, Darwin, and now molecular biologists, we pretty well understand the process and are in a position to make good use of it. However, there is still one big problem. When you are attempting to breed a superior race horse you know you are going to get four legs, a tail and a head. But it is the complex factors you are interested in. Soundness, speed, attitude, health, a good immune system and competitiveness and, to find these it is not that simple. There are complications in breeding.

Why it’s not a Straightforward Process

The biggest obstacle that stands in your way is the very thing that affects all species

Love your mares: Stephen and his friend Chrysin

on the planet, and that is the genetic base of survival. Sexual breeding begins with the joining of the sex chromosomes of a male and female. In human terms 23 from the mother and 23 from the father. Horses have 32 plus 32. In the formation of the sperm and eggs, chromosome pairs are split in a process called meiosis. However during the process there is always a crossing over or shuffling of genetic material between the pairs of chromosomes. Thus every sperm and egg cell is slightly different. This is why brothers are not identical to each other and a sister is not identical to her sister. This crossing over is not so great that a mare will suddenly drop a zebra foal.  But these complications in breeding  could affect those minor factors (in genetic terms) that the horse breeder is critically interested in. A heap of Nobel Prizes await those that can sort this out and certainly the University of Kentucky and others have an interest in the equine aspects of this issue.

How to Live with the Uncontrollable

The fact that there is a random factor floating around  in every horse mating which is likely to have an impact on the well thought out plans of the breeder should be acknowledged. However, because it can’t be controlled and the “randomness” may be little or great, the breeder must proceed on the basis that it will be inconsequential . Despite its acknowledged limitations a pedigree analysis is the first starting point for any breeding program.

Super  Sire Galileo

 A Breeding Plan

So where does that leave us in the big scheme of things? How do we handle the complications in breeding factor? How do we increase our chances of breeding a superior racehorse?  My view is to approach the task the way those people involved in racing select the winner of a race.  They considering the horses previous form, the distance, the jockey, the barrier, the opposition, the state of the track and any other factors that believe relevant and come up with their selection of a winner. Are they always right? No, but they are right more often than the pin method or a selection based on lucky numbers. And so it is with mating horses. The breeder has to incorporate from the prolifera of breeding theories available, those factors which they consider relevant and come up with a breeding plan. Will it always work? Of course not. But it’s likely to produce a better racehorse more often than some of the reasons I have heard in the past. These range widely.

  • This stallion is the closest to our farm
  • I use the alphabet rule-I send one mare to “A” the second to ”B” and so on
  • My girl friend lives close by and my wife thinks I am with the mares.
  • I go with the cheapest within 3 hours drive.

The methodology of picking a winner is the same on the racetrack as it is in the breeding barn. Only the inputs are different. As Damon Runyon, the great American newspaperman, short story writer and lover of the racetrack had wise words about this.  The race may not always be to the swift nor the victory to the strong but that’s the way you bet”.