Horse-Breeding Bloodlines: Old or New?

Horse-Breeding Bloodlines: Old or New?

Balancing old foundation Quarter Horse bloodlines with the more modern style of American Quarter Horse. How two breeders incorporate vintage breeding.

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What was old is new again. So if you need something new in your breeding program, then consider adding something old. 

Once was a time when the American Quarter Horse did it all. In the ’50s and ’60s, it wasn’t unusual to find a Quarter Horse showing in halter in the morning, western and English classes in the afternoon, and then back home in the evening rounding up cattle. As times changed, though, so did the Quarter Horse. As shows became more discipline-specific, it became advantageous to have a specialized Quarter Horse that performed his particular job better in the show arena. However, it also had its drawbacks. In some cases, bones and joints became more fragile, hoof sizes shrank and dispositions became hotter.

Many Quarter Horse breeders look back to the tried-and-true traits of older bloodlines for today’s horses. Deborah Skow of Horizon Quarter Horses in Keenesburg, Colorado, and John Anderson of Willow Creek Quarter Horses in Plainview, Nebraska, are doing just that.

“When the original founders of the organization were establishing the Quarter Horse registry, I think they were trying to separate it from the other breeds of horses. They wanted an all-around horse that could do everything. However, we’ve been moving away from that as an industry,” says Deborah, who has been breeding Quarter Horses with her husband, Charles, for more than a quarter of a century. “For our program, we want that versatile, all-around athlete with a good disposition.” 

John’s breeding program focuses on producing a horse that can work. 

“We run a 15,000-head feedlot and an 800-head cow ranch, so our main focus is a true cow horse. But many of today’s cutting and reining horses are not true working outfit-type horses,” John says. “We’re one of the few outfits that don’t have any four-wheelers. We still have 12 to 14 geldings saddled every day to check pens and drive cows. So we need a horse from 14.3 to 15 hands. But a horse smaller than 14.3 has a problem in rodeo ranch-type country.”

Considerations for Your Quarter Horse Breeding Program

Before they choose a foundation-type stallion or broodmare for their breeding programs, Deborah and John have a target in mind for their end result. 

“We are pretty picky about what we like and will usually sit down and go carefully over what was produced the previous year,” says Deborah, whose 11 breeding stallions are mostly Poco Bueno- or Doc Bar-bred. “We will go over what we liked about the individual foals, especially after we’ve gotten through the halter-breaking part and so forth.

“We then ask ourselves, ‘Is this the best cross that we’ve seen on this mare? Is this the best nick for her?’ Some of our mares are fortunate that they just rarely make a bad cross with various stallions. Others, however, have a better mix on one stallion than another.” 

Deborah then considers what improvements might be made. 

“I like to look at the individual and consider if I need to breed more bone into this horse or maybe we need a little bit more foot? That’s something we might be looking at when picking out some of these foundation horses to breed to a more modern-bred horse.” 

John also wants to ensure that the foal born next year is the same as the foal that was produced this year. 

“We want to turn out a consistent product,” John says. “We don’t want to be all over the board in our breeding program. What we want is when somebody sees one Willow Creek Quarter Horse gelding, they’ve seen all of them.” 

For John, that means a horse with a sound mind, no buck and athletic ability. 

Vintage Quarter Horse Bloodlines

“Good disposition is No. 1 for us,” says John. “And I feel some of the older bloodlines are more inclined to that.”

Disposition is also a priority for Deborah, who sells many of her horses to amateurs and novice riders.

“When we started in the horse business about 25 years ago, we started out with some halter horses. However, that wasn’t going to serve the interest that we had,” she says. “We’re selling mostly to an all-around market, and we need horses that are going to be something our customers enjoy.” 

But it’s not just the minds of the vintage bloodlines that attract Deborah and John. It’s also the way the older Quarter Horses were built. 

“They were big, bulldog-style horses with lots of muscles and plenty of bone and good feet,” Deborah says. “But a lot of our refinement of our modern lines with the speed required for various events has bred down the size and the structure of some of our horses that maybe has led to some of our issues with health and soundness. Many of our foundation horses can provide a little bit more of that solid bone and mass.” 

For John, the vintage bloodlines are just another tool in a breeding program. 

“The foundation bloodlines have some time-tested genetic positives that we can use in some of the modern bloodlines to fill in some of the genetic weaknesses of today’s horses,” he says. 

That said, John points out that not all foundation bloodlines are equal. 

“I think the word ‘foundation’ has been over generalized and used a bit too loosely,” he says. “Without mentioning certain ones, there are some foundation bloodlines that were noted to need a cowboy to ride them.”

Modern Quarter Horse Bloodlines

Although Deborah and John appreciate the older bloodlines and they do incorporate some line breeding in their programs, they aren’t out to recreate an exact duplicate of a foundation horse like Poco Bueno or Driftwood

“Even though he was an outstanding cutter at the level of competition in his time, I don’t think Poco Bueno could compete in today’s cutting pen,” Deborah says. “So we’re not specifically trying to breed strictly Poco Buenos. Instead, we try to maintain some Poco Buenos that we can use to breed back to some of the current bloodlines of today. This gives us the best of both worlds and produces an exceptional horse.” 

John also says that breeders shouldn’t get caught up in the percentage of foundation blood

“We have a lot of Driftwood in our horses but you’ll never see an ad for Willow Creek Quarter Horses that touts the percentage of Driftwood there is in our horses. That’s not our goal,” John says. “We like Driftwood in the pedigree, but we think when people get caught up in one single-trait selection, it lowers the bar on their breeding program. A Model T was great for Grandpa, but we don’t want to drive one anymore. Instead, we’re always looking to the horizon to make what horses we produce better.”

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