Breed a Superior Dressage Horse
Genetic specialist Dr. Ludwig Christmann gives a seminar on Hanoverian mare and stallion selection.
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Breeding a successful dressage horse from scratch involves art, science and a little luck. Each parent must contribute positive traits, which in combination produce exceptional offspring. To achieve this goal, the Northwest Hanoverian Club invited Dr. Ludwig Christmann to share his expertise in broodmare selection, Hanoverian bloodlines and the use of his statistical system of breeding values. Dr. Christmann has been assistant breeding director of the German Hanoverian Verband for many years. He is a specialist in equine genetics and lectures on Hanoverian horse breeding all over the world.
On a crisp fall day at North Star Farms in northern Washington, warmblood breeders from all over the Northwest, including myself, gathered in eager anticipation. Dr. Christman's goal was to help us develop skills in identifying mares that have a high probability of passing on superior performance traits--to "produce a noble, correctly built warm-blooded horse capable of superior performance."
Evaluating a Mare's Strengths
The results of Hanoverian Mare Inspection and Mare Performance Tests (see "Mare Performance Testing," DT Jan. '03) have been formulated (and reformulated each year) to find mares that best pass on the traits that produce future performance success. Mares are inspected and graded for conformation and movement by experts before being entered into one of the three Hanoverian Studbooks:
The Main Studbook is for Elite mare-those with top-scoring at their inspections that also have passed the Mare Performance Test and had a foal.
The Studbook is for the majority of mares.
The Pre Studbook is for non-Hanoverian mares that have specific characteristics deemed important to the breed. Thoroughbred, Arabian and non-Hanoverian German warmblood mares can be accepted into the PreStudbook based on their superior inspection scores.
Dr. Christmann emphasized that we should begin by judging the mare on her overall impression. "Look for an athletic, balanced looking horse with an alert, yet calm, demeanor," he said. "All parts of the body should fit together seamlessly to create a picture of harmonious flow." He then focused on what we should be looking for in an individual's conformation.
Overall: Look for a noble, large-framed horse that looks capable of the energy, soundness and saneness for performance; the neck, mid-section and hindquarters should be approximately equal in length; the withers should be higher than the croup (uphill), so the mare can lift her front end easily
Forelegs: Legs should be clean and well muscled with well-defined strong joints. They need to be straight and stand parallel to each other. A line dropped from the point of the shoulder should bisect the leg evenly.
Then Dr. Christmann directed our attention to movement. When mares are inspected or tested, movements are scored for correctness, impulsion and elasticity. When the mare moves toward you, her legs should move straight ahead without swinging in or winging out. From the side, the mare should move forward with power, bringing up her back and flexing all the joints to create an energetic, forward and fluid impression. Dr. Christmann said, "The mare should move through the entire body, incorporating use of the back and all parts of the body in a supple, energetic and elastic way."
The walk should be rhythmical with four, even beats. Her stride should be ground covering, energetic and elastic with the hind hoof print overstepping the fore print.
The trot should have a clear two-beat rhythm and a high level of impulsion, elasticity and balance. A trot with active, well-bending hind legs moving with thrust under the center of gravity is ideal, enabling the shoulder and forequarters to lift and move freely.
Several breeders kindly consented to let us use their mares to practice our evaluations. The first mare presented was a gray yearling Hanoverian filly by First Gotthard and out of an Empire mare. She has the strong jumping bloodlines of Gotthard, Furioso, Diskant and Don Carlos. "This filly is a nice type, correct with a strong back and hindquarters and a wide hock that reaches well into her cannon bone. Her head fits her well," said Dr. Christmann. "Stallion choice: I would choose a stallion with uphill movement even with Holsteiner blood to improve her movement and enhance her jumping ability."
Next, a large-framed, powerful looking chestnut yearling Hanoverian filly by Contucci and out of a Calypso II mare entered the ring. Dr. Christmann said the filly would be good for either dressage or jumping and commented about her strong, correct legs and her wonderful neck. He suggested a compact, refining stallion to further improve the head and topline.
Then, Wiegenlied, a tall chestnut Oldenburg mare by Werther and out of a Thoroughbred mare entered the arena with her 2-month-old colt by the Trakehner, Caprimond. "I really like this mare," said Dr. Christmann. "You can see how she uses her entire body when she moves." He also admired her strong back, well-proportioned hindquarters, shoulder, loin, forelegs and pretty head. As Dr. Christmann pointed out, we could see that the mare not only moved her legs but also her back, shoulders and hips. The picture was energetic, fluid and purposeful.
The next mare for us to evaluate was a rangy, chestnut Canadian sporthorse mare by the Hanoverian stallion Empire and out of a Trakehner mare. This 11-year old had competed as a jumper. Dr. Christmann commented on her good head and shoulder. She demonstrated a good uphill long-striding canter with good activity behind. For this mare Dr. Christmann suggested a "G" line stallion. These are from the famous performance line of Grande to pass on a strong supple back and good neck. Over half of the top medal winners in both dressage and jumping in the 1996 Olympics traced back to Grande.
A dark bay Canadian Thoroughbred was the next mare to be evaluated. Although recently shipped in from Canada, she entered the arena calmly with an interested expression. Dr. Christmann told us that this mare was a useful type for sporthorses. The Thoroughbred type sought by the Hanoverian breed has the classic appearance with long lines, big strong joints with good angulation and, above all, elasticity in movement.
We could see that this mare was a good type because of her presence. She had the big bones and good joints Dr. Christmann told us to look for. She showed an energetic, forward trot with good freedom of the shoulder. He suggested mating her to a stallion with a strong topline and correct hind leg to compliment her Thoroughbred lineage.