Buying a Dressage Foal--Part 7 Buying off Bloodlines
I started my journey in foal-buying and breeding as a rider wanting to find high-quality FEI prospects and I had to somehow simplify my search as there's simply too much information out there for me to process otherwise. Entire books have been written about different studbooks and bloodlines, so there's no way a short blog post will even begin to cover the amount of information available. As a result I mostly constrict my research to popular Oldenburg, Hanoverian, and Dutch bloodlines. There are of course many popular and successful dressage-oriented bloodlines in other registries, be it Holsteiner, PRE, Dutch Harness Horse, or Thoroughbred, but I've confined myself to the main German and Dutch warmblood registries, and particularly those bloodlines who've proven to consistently produce horses that perform in the international FEI ring.
When you're looking at foals, most breeders will tell you that the mare matters more in the equation than the stallion. Some will say the mare is 60% of the foal, whereas others will give you a higher percentage. Honestly I have no idea where these breeders get these numbers or if they are at all accurate. I will say that genetics is interesting (which is why breeding is such a crap-shoot), and I've seen mares who consistently produce themselves or produce specific characteristics, mares who seem to bring nothing to the table production-wise, and the same from stallions (more on that soon). I've seen offspring that look like neither one of their parents; as I mentioned in Part 1 I've seen small parents produce very tall offspring and vice versa. Some stallions strongly "stamp" certain characteristics, for example I can pick out a Jazz just by looking at its head (you can also normally tell by their temperament LOL). Other stallions don't seem to consistently put anything at all on their offspring and, as breeders say, "leave it to the mare". The inconsistency in genetics becomes especially obvious if you evaluate full siblings.
Where does that leave the aspiring foal buyer? The first thing to remember is you're buying the foal, not the parent or parents. So while it can be helpful to look at the mare, or the stallion, or close siblings, in an attempt to make future predictions, in the end each foal is an individual and needs to be evaluated on its own merits. So don't get too married to the idea of having a foal from "X" stallion, because you think "X" stallion is so amazing or even because you hear he produces "X" characteristics. Conversely, while a good performance pedigree does give some predictive value of future success, it is no guarantee. Certainly dressage movement and performance is largely heritable, and certain stallions or lines are known to reliably produce certain characteristics that correlate with high-level performance. However, for all the offspring who've made it plenty have not. That said, my next series will delve into discerning what characteristics particular sires produce in their offspring. While in the end I'm buying the foal in front of me, as a somewhat risk-averse buyer (meaning, I try to stack the odds in my favor as much as possible), I like having a general sense of what I might get when I buy a foal (or breed a mare). Stay tuned!