What if AQHA Had Genetic Evaluations?

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

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.”

14 thoughts on “What if AQHA Had Genetic Evaluations?”

  1. I think that’s a great idea. And AQHA could and maybe should take it a step further. With the unwanted horse situation and its effect on the horse market, and overcrowded rescue facilities, AQHA could slowly (like you did with DNA testing) phase in a testing process and eventually refuse to register any horses whose sire and dam have not been tested. That would ensure only the best horses are bred and registered. I wish we could count on everyone to breed responsibly. We have cut down to breeding 2 or 3 of our 5 broodmares each year now due to the market. Unfortunately everyone thinks their stallion or mare is good enough to breed even if they aren’t. It’s a subjective analysis and isn’t always based on fact. I think it would be the responsible thing to do. Yes, there are too many horses now to start test them all, but that is precisely our problem, too many horses. We should think about the future of the breed and our resopnsibility to the horses we bring into this world.

  2. I think this is a terrible idea. The “mountain of data” that exists now is based mainly on show records. If we follow that logic, my Superior gelding should be more worthy to be a breeding horse than a stallion that only achieved an ROM because of who knows what extenuating circumstances, regardless of the superiority of the stallion. Humans always want to push things towards total control over other people’s choices. All you have to do is note the first persons comments. She immediately jumps from testing to refusal to register all the while maintaining that her broodmares are good enough to be included in that elite cut. The only way that an objective opinion about the “desirability” of a particular trait can be evaluated is by people that have no financial or emotional ties to the animal. This means a governmental agency folks…just like in Europe as the article stated. I’m no where near ready to go down that road, nor will I ever be.

  3. Judy Snow has it right. In the racetrack world there are too many instances of mares, who were not great racehorses or unraced, producing excellent racehorses. If these suggested ‘testing’ procedures were put into place, those mares would never have been bred. Cases in point – the dam of Dash for Cash and the dam of Special Effort. AQHA should restrict itself to genetic testing to eliminate undesirable traits that harm the breed. It should not interfere with the creative art of selecting breeding animals. Breeders should take the responsibility of culling animals, as was done in the early days of setting type in Quarter horses, in selecting breeding animals. Individual responsibility is needed, not an agency restricting imagination. There really is no objectivity when evaluating horses…..everyone has their own opinion regarding movement and confirmation. The only real objective evaluation of Quarter horse performance is on the racetrack where actual performance has no human determining the result. There are lots of people who will tell you there is no objective evaluation in the show ring.

  4. I have been a meber of AQHA for several years and have spoke with many people over the last few years about this “Culling process used by Europeans”. First off very few people in Europe own horses and there are multiple reasons. First off is expense, horses cost more because of this breeding classification system and second, little room to have them so this cost is expensive. Feed is expensive also so only the elite own horses. Our country was developed and driven by horses without them we would not have the world we have today. Government driven problems have caused the issues with over population and unwanted horses along with animal activists and laws they have bought. I own several horses some typical and some not so typical horses in the AQHA breed many rescued from slaughter because I love the animals more than the air I breathe and they had a good quality about them. One my personal Stallion ia a non typical foundation bred horse that would not pass some of these tests of conformation but throws beautiful old style quarter horses. If I tested him for qualification (Who determines these?)it would never occur and then what do I have just another cull. However I bet if I tested him for X factor genes I would bet he has it. He has more heart than a lion. Will they test for these traits? Not just his looks and performance records? Just because I do not campaign him and do not hob knob with our industries finest humans I don’t have the right to breed and register for the organization I pay to belong to? I do know that these individuals that test them in Europe are the elite and they have been swayed by greed just as many others have. SO do not believe all you hear. True you would have refined the breed to where only this one was good for this but then you get into another issue again all about money. Whoever owns this individual has the big money (Hitler liked this idea also only let the elite live and breed). I agree with Conde. As Americans we have rights to own a registered animal if we so choose. I have seen many of these high dollar animals animals walloped in Local shows by unregistered American QH’s (Grade Horses). Judged by registered judges for AQHA. Again we would drive the individual’s rights out and those who owned only an approved horse would have the chance to prove the horses worth. You then take away the individuals right to prove their animal is as good or better then the others. Then it again becomes nothing more than the sport of kings (The Rich). Equine Responsibility is the key to many of these issues. Breeding and Owning! Knowing what it takes to own, care, and provide for one and all the sacrifice that goes along with it. Today I would bet 500 horses are bought for little Johnny ot Jil without any thought about this and these are the animals who end up being rescued or turned out in the wild. This applies to all breeds not just QH’s. I do not believe anyone has the right to say I can’t because they say so…………….

  5. The suggestion to only register horses that pass the test would bring us more unregistered horses and more of an unwanted horse problem. I could see producing EPDs similar to what the cattle industry does which provides owners and breeders with more information they can use the way they want to produce the animal they want. I am a lifelong owner of Quarter Horses but the minute AQHA implementes a control over breeding like this would be the day I become an Appaloosa member. This leaves the quality of an animal up to another person’s opinion. The last thing I want is some person who has owned two horses in their whole life and only ridden English, or worse an activist that somehow worked their way into the job, evaluating my western horse. Look back at some of the foundation horses in the Quarter Horse breed. How many of those horses were thought to be worthless then turned out to be great and produce offspring that developed this breed. Doc Bar was supposed to be a racehorse and failed, he wasn’t even a performance horse, but his offspring still are. Most cowhorses pin their ears at you when you walk up to their stalls, they are bred to take control of other animals, which is why they do that. Would that pass a disposition test? When I was in college those mares terrified the equine science majors at the repro center. What about Hancock horses would they pass a disposition test? This would be a great way to cull all cow instinct out of the breed. If AQHA thinks they are a communistic organization and I am not smart enough to make a choice with my own animal then why am I sending you money? The unwanted horse problem is not a Quarter Horse problem, it is an uneducated owner problem because an educated horse owner will train their horse so they can be safe useable animals. A badly bred horse can still be trained. Most kill horses are badly handled, leading to behavior problems and injuries, usually by people who thought they could get a young horse and either treat it like a dog or bully it and then wondered why it grew up to be a monster. Then instead of taking responsibility they blamed the horse, the breeding, and the industry.

  6. I’m all for utilizing technology. And genetic testing for each horse prior to registering could greatly reduce the number undesirable gentic traits and conditions. But, I don’t think it should go too far. The idea is reminiscent of the movie Gattaca. If you haven’t seen it, maybe you should, and then re-think this issue.

  7. I agree that we should utilize the genetic testing and color genetics, disease testing to the best potential to help the breed. But I do not think we need anything else. I agree with Judy Snow, L Conde, A Shilling, Angelina Fuoco, P Benton. I also second their comments. I’ve raised AQHA horses all my life and have owned other breeds as well. We’ve had some fine horses and have shown in open shows mostly because we were always too far away from any of the AQHA shows to attend them. If breeders would be more responsible, if people wanting to buy a horse would take the time to learn about their care, cost, training expenses, etc. before buying a horse, there would be less unwanted horses in this country. We do not need a government control. We need to regain better control of our industry. I have Bar link, Impressive horses. I have a great, great, great, great(many greats) granddaughter of Santa Maria(a 1938 mare), the first nationally recognized AQHA Rabicano mare owned & bred by Wiescamp. What if they had had a government controlling their decisions back then?? They didn’t, they bred responsibly & so should all of us! I do not believe in just breeding to be breeding & having to give away horses to make room for the next ones. Nor do I believe in so called government round ups & holding pens. This whole issue should be rethought as well. They are called Wild Horses for a reason & need to be left to roam our ranges with dignity, not shut up in holding pens & shipped to where????? Horses may very well be the backbone of this nation again if things keep going the way they are headed now. Owning them should not be limited to the Rich.

  8. I agree wtih many of the comments made by Judy Snow, L Conde, A Shilling, Angelina Fuoco, P Benton and S Windham also. The US was established because we (as a people) were just unwilling to allow groups in general to dictate our lives and actions. Generations ago we left Europe for a reason – there is no reason now for us to “return” to Europian thoughts/ideas. We are American and should do things the way we want to. On a whole, the American Quarter Horse has developed the way we as a people have wanted them to. When breeding for a particular purpose, all you have to do is look at the stallion adds showing what that stallion has produced and what the offspring have done – there are your controls. As far as racing is concerned, how many offspring of Secretariat were successful at racing – not many! Most of his offspring ended up at Olympic level driving or jumping – not on the racetrack. So for someone to say that racing or drum running gives an unbiased base on how a horse performs is unrealistic unless you are looking for mindless speed. Personally, I like a horse that is smart enough to do ANYTHING I ask of it. Not just running from one end of an arena around 3 barrels and back again.

  9. Lots of good comments. Maybe the breeders should be culled. Lots of people raise horses that they can’t develope and train. They wouldn’t know a good one if it stood on their feet. Isn’t it funny that performance would be used to measure a horses value yet most halter horses that the AQHA has couldn’t perform. Get rid of those horses first and hire judges that know a good one.

  10. I really believe that the horse world as a whole, and especially the AQHA industry could be improved by having tests to determine which animals are quality enough to be breeding stock. I work closely with a woman who owns Fresians and they have their Keuring process to determine which animals should be breeding animals. Theirs is a VERY strict process, but they have a very pure breed and the value of the individual horses in this breed is very high, even in and economy like ours because of their restrictions. I’m not saying that we need to have a testing system that is this strict, and it would be nearly impossible to implement a protocol like theirs with a breed like Quarter Horses that is so widespread and whose horses can specialize and be bred to be suited for so many different disciplines. But I see so many “Quarter Horses”, and even some of mine fall into this category – that the horses do not have good temperaments (and I know it’s not from lack of socialization and handling) or who have tiny feet, bowed legs, and all other sorts of conformational and soundness issues that should not be passed along to further generations. And yet, so many people are out there breeding these horses, even though they may be the best show horse in the world or have a great personality and look fantastic, but if they have these issues, then they can pass them along to their offspring, and these animals should not be bred. AQHA would seriously improve the breed and help to decrease the number of unwanted horses in the world simply by making it regulation that any animal to be used for breeding must be tested, scored, and approved. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with a horse’s show record or breeding – although it would eventually come down to that because if only approved horses were bred and registered, and only their foals were registered, you would end up with very strong bloodlines and very healthy, athletic, intelligent, and willing horses. For now we could just weed out the horses who have weak conformation or who have unhealthy feet and legs (which is the biggest problem I see in quarter horses now). Many people need to look at why they continue to breed horses and what they are breeding and make adjustments. Of the many quarter horses we have owned and met, I can think of very few that have the solid, strong, and correct conformation, leg, and hoof soundness that would be suitable breeding animals because they don’t have anything about them that I would be afraid for them to pass on to their foals. That doesn’t mean that the others aren’t good horses, but in the interest of improving the breed and making each generation better than the last, I would not consider them for breeding.

  11. I agree with a lot of the points made, both for and against the testing. The big problem isn’t even lack of education, it’s ignorance, stupidity and the desire to stay that way. I live in an area where we have the best of the best in the cutting horse industry, but we also have a huge number of people breeding animals who haven’t the slightest clue what makes a good horse. I’ve learned first hand that many of these people can not be educated, they don’t want to be. There is a woman down the road from me who breeds 4-6 foals a year. None of which are registered because in her opinion papers don’t matter, only stuck up people care about papers. Those were her words. Then she wonders why she can’t get the $2500 she asks for them and ends up taking them to the auction and getting maybe $100 for each of them. I see it everyday. There’s another person down the road who has an unregistered stallion, who even if registered is not good quality, who refuses to geld him. This same person has 4 mares, 3 of which are unregistered, yet they plan to breed all of them. I used to be friends with this person, but after 4 years of beating my head against a wall trying to educate them, I gave up. These type of people always know better than everyone else. I know there are a lot of people out there who would welcome further education, but there are just so many that think they know it all and that “show” breeders are the real problem, not them.

    I also have a problem with Brian Marshall’s comment: “Isn’t it funny that performance would be used to measure a horses value yet most halter horses that the AQHA has couldn’t perform. Get rid of those horses first and hire judges that know a good one.”

    Has he taken a look at AQHA’s performance halter statistics recently? There are many, many halter bred, and halter point earners, who are showing and winning in that class. And don’t you have to show in a performance class to show in performance halter? I’ve also seen a lot of halter horses going on to other careers recently. In the current economy where many people can no longer afford to have a different horse for halter, western pleasure, HUS, ect. more and more people are taking their halter horses and showing them under saddle as well. You would be hard pressed to find a pleasure or HUS bred horse who could successfully show in halter. I’m not saying that halter horses are perfect, and there are many that I would never own, but the overall conformation of pleasure horses has gotten so bad, they no longer resemble the original breed. I breed and show halter horses, but even I can admit they are not perfect. In reality, well bred cutting and reinging horses are the ones who most closely resemble what the breed is supposed to be.

    We need to get back to the true all around QH. There’s way to much crossing of TB’s into our breed. Many of the HUS horses are way more TB than QH these days. If you want a TB, then get a TB, but don’t try to make the QH’s into them.

  12. I think it isn’t right or rite to selectivly harvest what we think is best. Didn’t we learn that when they thought a carmelo horse was a defective albino,only to later re-do the rules to include them? Moreover people should look at the dog breeds which do this type of selective breeding. When we do we, can see the lac of genetic diversity, inherant health problems, and chronic health problems. I feel that if you want to be a part of that kind of system then go buy you a European horse and have fun. In conclusion some of the best horses which I have owned or ridden would not fit well in most of these categories. Also what of the horses that can’t do anything but let a disabled person ride on its back? Im pretty sure these horses would not make the cut.

  13. I think like most have said here..we should use testing to prevent disease and bad genetic traits should be culled by all us responsible breeders. One thing alot of people forget though is that as a quarter horse there is no definite type. Because the quarter horse is so infused with completely different genetics at it’s very foundation. The founding sires and dams came from all over the world and today because of us American breeders having cultivated and crossed what was available many years ago, we now have the most versital and desired horses on earth ! And I do not believe that selective breeding as some are saying would improve our horses welfare. Dog breeders have done this type of breeding for years now and have more health issues than before ! And no sure fired way to unbred the bad traits they have now. We should maybe put inspectors back out in the field to look for bad traits. Like parrot mouth,toed out etc and keep the genetic testing to eliminate disease. I know too many people who are not very happy with the quarter horse being bred to 17hh. I myself do not like it.
    People have a tendency to want to control way too many things. I say keep genetic testing as a tool and not a protoccol!! The quarter horse should be versatile and very diverse as a whole horse not as sectioned off individuals as a cutter only or jumper only. We are loosing what it means to be a quarter horse and I honestly see no way to put an end to the specialized breeding, which is where I believe our biggest troubles began. We have almost completely lost or versitale horse

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