Horse Breeding

What if AQHA Had Genetic Evaluations?

April 15, 2011

What would it look like if American Quarter Horse stallions and mares were evaluated before breeding?

By Christine Hamilton for The American Quarter Horse Journal

Wimpy P-1 was a product of the King Ranch’s breeding program. Though the King Ranch practiced linebreeding as a method for setting type in its horses, only a few stallions were selected to use as herd sires after extensive evaluations. AQHA file photo.

How could the American Quarter Horse industry make more use of genetic evaluation?

“In some European countries, stallions and mares intended for breeding have to be inspected and tested,” says Dr. Jennifer Minick Bormann, a geneticist at Kansas State University, who also shows in all-around events. “The tests are controlled by the state, and it varies by country.

“Every young stallion goes through a 75- to 100-day test in which he’s scored by professional riders and trainers who work closely with them,” she continues. “They are scored on quality of movement, disposition, jumping ability, etc. For mares, it’s one or two days, and they are scored on their walk, trot, canter and free-jumping.”

Each horse’s scores and rankings from every aspect of the test are put into a database. The test results are then combined with performance data gathered on every horse in dressage and show jumping competitions from across Europe. Pedigree information on every horse is also included.

“They take all that information and use statistical analysis to combine it and come up with a number for every breeding horse, on every trait they test for,” Dr. Bormann says. “So, a horse might have a jumping score of ‘x’ and a disposition score of ‘x,’ and so on.

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“The resulting number combines everything they know about that horse: It’s the best guess of that horse’s genetic merit in those different traits.”

It allows breeders to be able to more objectively compare horses when making breeding decisions. Breeders can also prioritize traits, choosing a horse with a higher disposition score than movement score, or vice versa, depending on what they want.

The more data that’s available on an individual and its family, the higher accuracy of the scores. If horses fail the test, it doesn’t mean their owners can’t use or breed them; the offspring aren’t eligible for registration.

“Only breeding stock is tested,” Dr. Bormann continues. “They just want to ensure that only the very best animals are bred.”

Dr. Bormann pointed out that an exact duplicate of the European system wouldn’t work in the United States. Among other things, our horse population is too large for an exhaustive testing program, and breeds have always been governed by private associations, not the government.

“But all (the statistical analysis) takes is data,” she says.

Donnell Brown, manager and co-owner of the R.A. Brown Ranch in Throckmorton, Texas, believes the Quarter Horse industry has that data and could make use of it.

“We have mountains of data on our Quarter Horses in how they’ve done in every event, as well as their pedigrees,” Donnell says. “The ability is there to boil that down, through computers and statistical analysis, and create very simple genetic parameters to identify the genetic traits we want to measure in these horses.”

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Donnell envisions a simple scoring and ranking system for an animal’s potential to pass on a variety of things such as ability to cut, run a quarter mile, jump or even win at halter.

“Those parameters would just be genetic predictors and not 100 percent accurate,” he adds. “They wouldn’t perfectly identify every animal at birth. They would simply help us make more right decisions than wrong ones in breeding animals.

“It would help American Quarter Horse breeders select and identify genetics that best fit their particular need.”