Guidelines for Breeders 2005

(Report on a power point presentation by Dr. Jochen Wilkens)

During his tour of NZ in February/March 2005, Dr. Jochen Wilkens, Breeding Director and General Manager of the Hanoverian Verband, made a power point presentation on four separate occasions. The subject was “The Breeding of Sport Horses for the Three Olympic Disciplines in Germany” and it was packed with information for breeders.

Dr. Wilkens started with a brief description of the history, development and bloodlines of the main breeding groups, of which the Hanoverian, with over 18,000 mares in the stud book is by far the largest, followed by the Westphalian, Oldenburg, Holsteiner and Trakehner. He cited the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses ( WBFSH) rankings for 2000-2004 as an indication of the success overall of the Hanoverian breeding programme.

In the Stud Book division for dressage, the Hanoverian breed has been at the top every year since 2000 (in fact every year for the last eight years), while in the Stud Book division for show jumping Hanoverians were first in 2000 and 2003. Last year (2004) they were in third place. The overall trophy for each year since 2000 has been won by the Hanoverian breed.

Dr Wilkens stressed the importance of mare performance tests, as a breeder must know the good and poor points of his mares. Mares are judged on gaits, rideability and free jumping. To gain State Premium Mare status, the mare must achieve an average score of not less than 7.25.

To the breeder’s question “What shall I breed? All-rounder, dressage horse, jumper, or eventer?” Dr. Wilkens’ answer is:

  1. Determine the breeding aim for each mare, i.e. either: jumping with average gaits, dressage with satisfactory jumping, or eventing- a horse with dual talent.
  2. Select for pedigree, performance ability and type.
  3. Keep in mind the weighting dressage : jumping.

There is a genetic correlation between type and dressage ability, so that if breeding to improve type, dressage ability will also be improved. This is not so much the case for jumping. In making selection based only on jumping ability, the quality of the gaits and type can be lost. If selecting only for type, jumping ability can be lost. The correlation between dressage ability and jumping talent is negative, and it is not easy to breed a horse that is good for both.

However, balance needs to be maintained. If the breeding aim for the mare is for dressage, the stallion still needs to have an adequate score for jumping. Jumping value in the dressage horse is helpful for the quality of the canter. In breeding a jumping horse, the gaits and rideability should not be overlooked.

In Germany, where there is a preponderance of heavy mares, the refining influence of the English Thoroughbred is very important. Here in NZ of course, our starting point has been our population of good Thoroughbred mares. However, the quality of the Thoroughbred trot generally needs improving.

When breeding a dressage horse, breeders should recognise that anything “over-sized” was not necessarily good (e.g. exceptionally big gaits can be difficult to control). As well as good gaits, rhythm, activity and ground cover (in that order) were important.

The movement should be first “uphill”, then forward, with the hind legs moving actively under the centre of gravity. Dr Wilkens attached great importance to self carriage and the quality of the canter. He said that to breed a really talented dressage horse, dressage stallions needed to be used, although the first four generations could include a stallion with dual talent. The mare should be of good type, have received very good scores for her gaits and rideability in her mare performance test, and satisfactory scores for her jumping ability.

For show jumping, the mare should have scored highly in the performance test for free jumping and  have performed well herself in jumping competitions. Previous offspring should also have placings in jumping competitions. The stallion should rate highly as a jumping performer and his offspring should be winners in advanced competitions.

Changes in International eventing rules mean that the dressage and showjumping phases gain in importance which works to the advantage of the warmblood horse. Dr Wilkens quoted the German national event horse trainer, Hans Melzer, saying that although the relatively high percentage of Thoroughbreds would remain in the breeding of event horses, both the dressage and show jumping tests had become more demanding. Therefore, “Warmbloods with a high enough percentage of Thoroughbred blood as well as good dressage and show jumping genes will have good chances in the future.”

In conclusion Dr. Wilkens summed up with the following recommendations:

  1. Select the mare based on conformation, performance and health
  2. Determine the breeding aim for each mare
  3. Select a suitable stallion for each mare as an individual
  4. Make use of the information in the Hanoverian Stallion Year Book.