Reading A Pedigree
by Larry Thornton
(c) Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.
The pedigree is a selection tool that is like
having a book, if you don't open it and read it, it is of no use to you. Or, as the old
saying goes, "you can't judge a book by it's cover." Reading your horse's
pedigree will tell you a lot about your horse.
Actually, the pedigree is like a history book of
the horse's genetic past through his ancestors. We use the past to help us plan the
future. We can use the pedigree to help us determine the type of performance a horse is
best suited to, how well his ancestors may have performed at the desired tasks, what type
of breeding systems were used to produce this horse and how we might want to breed the
next generation. Thus the pedigree will provide systems that will enable you to make wise
The late Humphrey Finney was a noted Thoroughbred
breeder that provides us with an interesting philosophy on the use of the pedigree in an
article he wrote called "Primer on the Pedigree," which appeared in The
Horse and Horsemans Anthology
Finney stated, "It is the weakness of our
pedigree keeping that we do not record more of the 'constitution, conformation and
disposition' of our component animals." What Finney is trying to tell us is that
if we don't know something about the animals in our horse's pedigree, we can't truly read
the book and understand it.
This knowledge of the horses in a pedigree goes
beyond the performance and race record. Thus, the more we know about the weaknesses and
strengths of the horses in the pedigree, the better job we will do in raising the next
Those of us in the Quarter Horse industry are
familiar with the stallions King and Grey Badger II. This means that we should know that
the King bred horses were noted for their disposition as well as their ability. We need to
know that when we see the Grey Badger name, we have a line of horses that were known to be
a little cold backed, but still considered outstanding performers on the track, at the
ranch and in the arena.
This knowledge doesn't guarantee that all King bred
horses have a good disposition and outstanding ability, or that all Grey Badger horses
would buck you off before you rode them. It is information that will alert you to possible
qualities in the individuals that we own, want to breed to or buy.
Leon Rasmussen, the Daily Racing Form's
retired pedigree columnist, presented a speech at the Southeast Stud and Stable Seminar in
1973. The text of his speech appeared in the March 1974 Quarter Racing World. In
his speech, Rasmussen called horse breeding an "inexact science." He goes
on to explain that he bases his opinion on the fact that breeders do not agree on who is
responsible for successfully producing a foal. He sees some breeders believing that
stallions exert the stronger influence, some breeders believe that the mare is the greater
influence, and so on down the line.
Rasmussen explained that he uses the family
approach to successful breeding. Basically what this means is that when mares from one
family are bred to stallions of another family or vice versa, you will get good runners or
performers, if the cross tends to produce good runners or performers.
The point Rasmussen is bringing us to is that
breeders have different philosophies. And that the progressive breeder needs to be
familiar with these philosophies to better understand what he is reading in the pedigree.
You need to know that when you look at a Hank
Wiescamp bred horse you will see linebreeding to such sires as Old Fred and Skipper W.
This linebreeding is then reinforced by outcrosses to such stallions as Rukin String,
Double Dancer and Three Bars on the mares in the program. But the foundation of Wiescamp's
program was the mares he bought and bred for the program. He will readily tell you that
his mares are the foundation of the program.
When you look at the King Ranch, you will see
linebreeding to Old Sorrel. The focus of this linebreeding program is through the sons of
Old Sorrel, including Solis, Little Richard, Cardenal, Macanudo and Babe Grande. Then the
linebreeding shifted to an emphasis on Hired Hand, the last son of Old Sorrel in the
program. The next phase was the use of mares sired by such stallions as Rey Del Rancho for
the modern King Ranch Cutting Horse program. These mares were outcrossed by breeding to Mr
San Peppy and his sons.
You will note that the foundation of Wiescamp's
program was his mares. The emphasis at the King Ranch was through sires. This doesn't mean
Wiescamp didn't try to secure the best stallions for his mares and that the Old Sorrel
wasn't bred to the best mares possible on the King Ranch, but that the pattern for
linebreeding came from different points of view.
Rasmussen brought out another point in his speech.
He firmly believes that outstanding performance, especially in stallions, is a key to our
success as breeders. He proves his point with the fact that successful runners make better
sires. It goes back to the philosophy of "breeding the best to the best to get the
Thus outstanding individuals may be the key to the
success of your foal. These outstanding individuals carry the desirable genes or gene
combinations. Successful individuals in the pedigree do not guarantee success, but they
tend to increase the odds of successfully producing the next generation.
Errors become a fact of life as you learn more
about our Quarter Horse pedigrees. For whatever reason, it has been reported to me and
others that some of the great stallions and mares have mistakes or errors in their
pedigrees. For the most part, people are honest, but memories do fade and mistakes can
take place. The confusion is fed because many of the early horses were known by more than
Cutthroat was the dam of Oklahoma Star P-6. She was
known as "May Matteson" during part of her racing days. She is often credited
with three different pedigrees. The most widely used pedigree credits Bonnie Joe as her
sire. Bonnie Joe was a Thoroughbred. Some pedigree sources give her sire as Gulliver.
Gulliver was a Quarter Horse. This gives Cutthroat a Thoroughbred sire and a Quarter Horse
The third version of her pedigree gives Peter McCue
as her sire. This is an interesting connection because for many years Peter McCue was
known as a Thoroughbred. He was registered as a Thoroughbred sired by Duke of Highlands.
Today his accepted pedigree gives Dan Tucker, a Quarter Horse, as his sire. As you can see
through Cutthroat and Peter McCue, it was a common practice to change the name and
pedigree of their horses.
Of course there are horses with the same name.
There were two prominent "Kings" in the Quarter Horse breed.
King P-234 has become the registered horse. His
registration number has become a part of his name to single him out as a special sire.
King P-234 was sired by Zantanon by Little Joe and his dam was Jabalina by Strait Horse by
But King P-234's grandsire, Little Joe, was a full
brother to another King. This King was taken from Texas to Arizona and renamed Possum.
When you see this stallion in a pedigree you will see him as King (Possum) or Possum
(King). Little Joe and King (Possum) were sired by Traveler and out of Jenny by Sykes
Rondo. King (Possum) was also known as King Cardwell in some circles.
We sometimes have the same problem with the famous
Poco Bueno. Poco Bueno was sired by King P-234. His dam was a mare named Miss Taylor. Miss
Taylor was sired by Poco Bueno. We now refer to the second [mentioned] Poco Bueno as (Old)
Poco Bueno. The (Old) Poco Bueno was sired by Little Joe, the grandsire of King P-234 and
the full brother to King (Possum). Some authorities show the Old Poco Bueno to be a horse
called Ponco Bueno.
So as you can see, it can sometimes get very
confusing when we look into the genetic history of our horses. But with today's modern
computer systems, blood typing and genetic testing, we are able to eliminate some of the
problems the early researchers had to deal with.
Where do we find pedigree information? The AQHA is
the prime source of information as the publisher of the "Stud Book." The can
provide you with a great deal of information on the pedigree, race and show records and
produce records with reasonable fees. The AQHA system is augmented by such companies as
Premier Pedigrees and Robin Glenn Pedigrees.
Sale catalogs are an important source of pedigree
information. They are so valuable that catalogs produced for prominent breeders from the
past sell as valuable collectibles. Robin Glenn Pedigrees specialize in sale catalogs.
They have put together such important sale catalogs as the [AQHA] World Show Sale Catalog.
Another very good source of information for
pedigree research comes from books written by historical writers. Bob Denhardt and Nelson
Nye are two good examples. Denhardt was the first Secretary in the AQHA and he gathered a
great deal of material as he toured the country registering horses.
Nelson Nye is the author of a number of books,
including The Complete Book of the Quarter Horse.
It must be noted that all the historical writers
may not agree on the lineage of a horse. It all comes down to who they got their
information from in writing the pedigree. These differences of opinion makes pedigree
research very interesting and sometimes flustrating.
Premier Pedigrees has a number of books that they
have put together that index hard-to-find foundation Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds.
These books include Roots: Foundation Quarter
Horse Bloodlines; The Real American Quarter
Horse ; Reference to Thoroughbred Roots of the
Quarter Horse; and The Most Influential Quarter Horse Sires (out of print). Their list
of books includes The Stallion Finder, a
modern concise index of stallions currently standing at stud. Of course, the internet
gives us easy access to The Stallion Finder Online.
Cow Horse Books has put together a series of books
on the foundation bloodlines. The Cow Horse list of books includes The Foundation
Quarter Horse Directory, Volumes I, II and III.
The need for information on the may famous
stallions and mares lead me to start "The Working Lines" column that
appears in such magazines as Southern Horseman and The Southwestern
Horseman's Performance Horse. We not only delve into the personal history of famous
horses, but we try to look at the nicking and breeding patterns that are found with the
breeding history of these famous horses. We have our own reference book with
The Working Lines. This is a compilation of
stories on a number of prominent stallions, mares and breeders that have made significant
contributions to the Quarter Horse. It is available through Southern Publishing, Cow Horse Books and the Quarter Horse Outfitters gift store at the AQHA
Heritage Center and Museum.
Sometimes we can't depend on books or written
pedigrees to learn about our horses. This calls for the owner, breeder or buyer to talk
with people that have been associated with specific bloodlines. Learn the weaknesses and
strengths of those lines.
As you can see, the pedigree is more than just a
family tree, it is a book of information that you can use as a management tool. A
management tool that you must open and read to improve the next generations of horses.