Friday 21st of January 2022

BADMINTON BREEDING: Is it all in the Genes? To TB or not TB, that is the question

The event season in Great Britain and Ireland officially got underway at the beginning of March but with so many events either cancelled or abandoned, due to an unbelievably wet Spring, many of us are desperately in need of our “eventing fix”.

As we move towards the end of April we have two of the biggest events in the world to look forward to, Land Rover Kentucky (April 26 – 29th) and the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (2nd – 6th May).

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser © The Gaitpost

Both of these 4* events have their own particular questions that they pose for horse and rider, not least the stamina required to gallop and jump over solid obstacles for around 12 minutes, and to then retain enough energy and athleticism to show jump clear around a 1.30m track the following day. It is this need for athleticism, stamina and the ability to gallop which prompts many people to look at the breeding of these elite equine athletes for indicators as to who might top the leader board at these major competitions.

At Badminton 2016, it was interesting to note how those horses with a predominance of Thoroughbred (TB) blood in their pedigree, rose to the top of leader board as the competition progressed. Of those finishing in the top ten in 2016, 60% had at least 70% TB in their pedigrees and 80% had at least 60% TB.

It is a similar picture in 2017 with 6 out of the top 10 having at least 60% TB in their pedigree and of the top 3 all of them had at least 65% TB.  Therefore, it is not surprising that for many, the “go to” indicator of a horse that will be able to cope best with the rigours of a 4* competition, is the amount of TB blood in its pedigree and this is something which we felt warranted review for the Badminton 2018 entries.

Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul © The Gaitpost

Badminton has 90 horses listed to compete of which 6 have either no known pedigree or very limited detail i.e. just the sire listed. Of the remaining 84 entries, 26 horses have an incomplete pedigree, normally the breeding of the dam is missing, and so it is difficult to get a true figure for the composition of the pedigree. Even with what appears to be a full pedigree, it is acknowledged that the recorded figures may be open to some margin of error given the vagaries of breeding records in different stud books.

Of the 84 horses for which there is a reasonable amount of pedigree information, 25 horses (30%) have more than 70% TB blood. Many experienced observers consider that the optimum pedigree for a top-level event horse will contain a minimum of 70% TB, so it may be surprising to see that less than a 1/3 of the Badminton entries have this preferred level.

TB % in pedigree % of Badminton 2018 Runners
70 % + 30%
50% – 69% 45%
Less than 50% 25% 


From the entry list we can see that 18 are by TB sires and, of those, the most famous must be La Biosthetique-Sam FBW who is by the influential TB stallion Stan The Man (TB) out of a mare called Halla (BADWU) who was sired by Heraldik (TB), giving Sam the “ideal” pedigree in that he is 76% TB. His talent is unquestionable and even more impressive has been his longevity and durability, which will most likely be a combination of the way he has been trained coupled with his natural athleticism derived from his predominately TB heritage.

Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam © Nico Morgan Media / The Gaitpost

If we assess how many have at least 50% TB in their pedigree, the figure increases to 75% of the Badminton entries. Traditionally, a horse with 50% TB is referred to as a “half-bred” and historically many people would not countenance a half-bred as being a potential 4* event horse. Yet with the introduction of more warmblood sires, most of which typically have less than 50% TB, into sports horse stud books in both GB and Ireland, it is not surprising that there are more horses competing in eventing with less TB in their pedigrees than historically was the case.

However, just as many athletes can overcome what appear to be physical limitations in relation to their chosen sport, horses don’t know what their pedigree is and so they have no knowledge of what they are supposed, or not supposed, to be able to do and so the lack of TB blood in a pedigree does not necessarily preclude a horse from delivering a big result at the very highest level of the sport. The bigger question is, can they keep coming back year after year and show the durability associated with the truly great horses?

Ben Hobday and Mulrys Error © The Gaitpost

It is also interesting to note those stallions which appear in the pedigree of more than one runner at Badminton. These are predominately warmblood stallions which, due to the lower level of TB blood in their pedigree, coupled with the fact that they have mainly been used on traditional sports horse mares which themselves are mainly half-bred, means that most of the resultant offspring have less than 60% TB, which may mean they might find the rigours of 4* events overtly challenging. 

Sire %TB No. of Badminton runners
Courage II (HOLST) 49.4% 4
Ramiro B (BWP) 33.8% 3
Balou Du Rouet (OLDBG) 34.4% 2
Ghareeb (TB) 100% 2
Mill Law (EHB) 93.8% 2
Puissance (ISH) 72.9% 2
Touchdown ( ISH) Partial Pedigree 2


Each of the stud books around the world continually seek to improve the quality of horses within their book and traditionally the Irish Sports Horse register (ISH) has been the top producer of event horses, particularly at 3* & 4* level. There are 18 Stud Books represented at Badminton in 2018 with the ISH leading the way with 38 horses aiming to win the coveted Mitsubishi Motors trophy designed by Judy Boyt. The stud book with the second highest number of entries is the Royal Dutch Sport Horse Stud Book (KWPN), with 10 entries and Sports Horse Breeding GB (SHBGB) is in third place with 9 entries representing its breeders.

Jonty Evans and Cooley Rorkes Drift © The Gaitpost

It is interesting to review the average %TB of the Badminton horses from these stud books and see that only the Anglo Arab (AA) stud book has an average of more than 70% TB blood in its representatives with, on average, 81% TB in their pedigrees. Only SHBGB and the French Selle Français (SF) stud books have an average of more than 60% TB in the pedigrees of their Badminton entries.

Stud Book (SB) No. Of Entries Avg. TB% of SB entries
ISH 38 58.7%
KWPN 10 46.6%
SHBGB 9 61.6%
AES 7 51.2%
AA 3 81%
SF 3 63.3%

Tina Cook and Star Witness © The Gaitpost

The terrain of Badminton may be slightly more forgiving than the terrain at Burghley and so there is less emphasis on endurance, however equine athletes will still need to have stamina and an easy way of travelling which can only really be derived from the Thoroughbred. It will be interesting to see if the winner of this year’s Badminton will reflect the traditional preference for horses with a generous helping of that much sought after TB blood, or whether it is possible to win the biggest of prizes with horses that, on the basis of their pedigree, could reasonably be expected to struggle with the demands at the very top level of the sport.

Andrea Brereton

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