21 March 2009
By Tom Reed
Horse International Vol 3 2009
The WBFSH ranking of 2008 sires of international eventing horses raises a fundamental question about breeding for this discipline: Will international eventing horses of the future mostly be the product of conscious efforts by breeders or will they mostly be "happy accidents"?
Before we delve into this issue I first must acknowledge the brilliant breeders of eventing horses who have created successful programs designed specifically to produce top-class eventers. The most famous breeders in this category over the last decade or so include Patricia Nicholson of Ireland; Sam Barr of the UK; Mrs. Bud Hyem of Australia; the Polish Studs such as Nowielice, Janow Podlaski, and Ochaby; Victor Dockers of Belgium; and Friedrich Butts of Germany. These breeders knew how to produce successful international eventers.
Let's look at the rankings for 2008. The top 30 sires are ranked in the table along with three simple but I think important statistics gleaned from the FEI/WBFSH data: the number of horses in the Top 50 and Top 100 eventers in the world (a total of 1,009 competition horses appear in the database from which the sire rankings are derived), and each stallion's success as a damsire of horses in the ranking. Some of these statistics are not very impressive.
Eleven of the stallions in the top 30 have produced only one progeny in the current ranking of international eventers. I am beginning to wonder whether the WBFSH should amend its rules to reflect what used to be done when they produced rankings of breeders: the breeder had to have produced two or more horses in the rankings before the breeder himself or herself was ranked. In the case of a stallion like Brilliant Invader xx this is not an issue but there are other stallions on this list whose reputation is based on the success of one progeny. This is not good enough for me.
Breeders should also reflect on whether a sire passes the "duck test": if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it certainly must be a duck! Let's take the case of Cruising. Does it make sense that Cruising is the third best eventing sire in the world? I am a fan of Cruising and I own two of his daughters and several grand-daughters and great-grand-daughters. He has been one of Ireland's top sires for the last decade…showjumping sires, that is. But Cruising's progeny are usually not known for several attributes required in successful eventing horses.
I believe that Cruising's prominence on the WBFSH eventing sires list is more a statement about the crisis in Irish showjumping breeding than a statement of Cruising's value as an eventing sire. The uncreative destruction of genetic capital (with my apologies to Joseph Schumpeter) that has been going on in Ireland for the last two decades has left the country with an Irish Sport Horse mare base that is failing to produce international showjumpers like it once did but continues to produce international eventers. To me this makes absolute sense if one takes the view that many international eventers are "happy accidents": they don’t jump well enough to be international showjumpers; they don't move well enough to be international dressage horses; but they have the courage and extraordinary reflexes and heart required for success in the cross country.
Yes, the famous eventing breeders acknowledged above (some of whom have sadly passed on or are retired) did not create "happy accidents": they created breeding programs as rigorous, as disciplined, and as successful as the best showjumping breeding programs. But I predict that there will be fewer of these dedicated evening breeders in the future because of the changes in the format for top-level events that require a different type of eventer and the relative lack of financial reward compared to breeding showjumpers and dressage competitors.
In my articles for Horse International I have made a number of suggestions to the WBFSH on how to improve their rankings. I will add another suggestion to the list: why not include the name of the breeder in the list of competition horses that are used to produce the sire rankings? Would it not be great fun – and informative -- to look at the list of the top 100 eventing horses and see the names of the breeders? Are there any new Friedrich Butts out there in eventing breeding?
Rank / Name / Points / Progeny Ranked / In Top 50 / In Top 100 / Damsire of
1 / Cavalier Royale / 1,097 / 8 / 3 / 3 / 0
2 / Heraldik / 725 / 4 / 3 / 3 / 1
3 / Cruising / 559 / 5 / 1 / 1 / 2
4 / Master Imp / 556 / 8 / 0 / 1 / 0
5 / Highland King / 513 / 3 / 2 / 2 / 1
6 / Jumbo / 406 / 4 / 1 / 1 / 0
7 / Irish Enough / 400 / 1 / 1 / 1 / 0
8 / Brilliant Invader / 359 / 3 / 1 / 1 / 1
9 / Rock King / 353 / 4 / 1 / 1 / 0
10 / Pallas Digion / 335 / 3 / 0 / 1 / 0
11 / Jensens Man / 327 / 1 / 1 / 1 0
12 / Stan the Man / 325 / 2 / 1 / 1 / 0
13 / Hand in Glove / 308 / 4 / 0 0 / 0
14 / Amerigo Vespucci / 301 / 2 / 1 / 1 / 0
15 / Miners Lamp / 280 / 1 / 1 / 1 / 0
15 / Uri du Longbost / 280 /1 / 1 / 1 / 0
17 / Fleetwater Opposition / 268 / 2 / 1 / 1 / 0
18 / Condrieu / 251 / 1 / 1 / 1 / 0
19 / Fines / 240 / 2 / 0 / 1 / 0
20 / Parkmore Night / 239 / 1 / 1 / 1 / 0
21 / Koyuna Majestic Supreme / 236 / 2 / 0 / 1 / 0
22 / Puissance / 232 / 2 / 0 / 0 / 1
23 / Rustic Amber / 225 / 1 / 1 / 1 / 0
24 / Pintado Desperado / 224 / 1 / 1 / 1 / 0
25 / Eighty Eight Keys / 222 / 3 / 0 / 0 / 0
26 / Faram / 222 / 1 / 1 / 1 / 0
27 / Stanford / 221 / 1 / 1 / 1 / 0
28 / Voltaire / 214 /* /* /* /*
29 / Veloce de Favi / 213 / 2 / 0 / 1 / 0
30 / Tarnik / 211 / 1 / 1 / 1 / 0
*There are apparently several horses named Voltaire in the WBFSH rankings and it is impossible for me to differentiate among them with certainty.