I read the article “Some Thoughts on Modern Breeding” authored by my Russian colleague Leonid Babaev. The article can be found here http://tinyurl.com/ybrhncm.
I would like to continue the topic of breeding progress that Babaev brought up.
Let us look at the factors for breed improvement.
A breeding program includes both the principles for how to improve the breed and how it will be executed in order to reach the specified breeding goals. Factors that affect the possibilities to reach the breeding goals are genetical as well as policy based and require cooperation amongst breeders as well as between the breeding and the sport.
Many traits in the horse are affected by genetics and environment. The basis for breeding is that the traits one wants to improve are inherited. Inheritability describes to which extent the variability in a trait is inherited. The higher inheritability in a trait, the easier it is to select for improvement of this trait.
Accuracy in the selection is a factor that directly affects the breeding progress. An incorrect selection, such as if the best horses are not used for breeding, will have immediate negative consequences. The accuracy in the selection will increase if the traits we select for have a high grade of inheritability and most importantly, the more information we have about the individual horse, such as several assessments and pedigree information. The accuracy also increases with the higher connection between what we measure and the breeding goal.
The intensity in the selection is also important, eg the number of horses that are selected for breeding. If few horses are selected for breeding with correct methods, those animals will be above medium level of the breed than if many horses are selected for breeding, and thereby breed improvement will increase. In order to select only the best horses for breeding and at the same time maintain the size of the population, as many horses as possible must be tested.
A third factor is generation interval. A short generation interval is acheived by using the selected horses for breeding at a young age. It will have a positive effect on the breed progress as every new generation should be better than the foregoing IF a correct selection has been made.
Another factor that affects the breed progress is the genetical diversity. The genetical diversity is the genetical variation between the horses. The genetical diversity cannot be affected by humans.
Every single factor is important to achieve breed progress. As the options for testing is different between mares and stallions, mares and stallions need to be tested and selected differently.
Stallions can produce hundreds of offspring while a broodmare seldom produce more than ten offspring. The number of offspring drastically affects the accuracy of the breeding value assessment.
Every successful breed organization utilize a strict control of stallions selected for breeding, while the selection of mares to a greater extent is affected by the breeder’s ambitions.
If a breed organization has a vision of improving the breed on a short and long term, nationally and internationally the following is required
1. A strong membership organization based on amateur, non-profit work and professional involvement.
2. A detailed breeding goal, that defines the traits that are considered important for the future development of the breed and the goal for the breed. The breeding goal must be long term and adjusted to the market.
3. The basis for horse breeding is the work of assuring the identity of the animals. Once the identity is assured, traits and test results can be recorded. It is an ancient tradition to carefully register an individual with correct pedigree. A correct registration is the basis of a sustainable work with a breed. The traits and results of each horse is a very important part of the work with breed progress, and it must, without doubt, be the right horse with the right pedigree entered into the studbook.
The formula and principles for breed progress mentioned above were to a great extent followed on a micro-level by V. Schamborant. V. Schamborant was a national breeder that had access to almost 100% of the horses in the Akhal-Teke breed, he could evaluate his breeding stock by travelling around and assess horses for traits he had specified in his breeding goal. He tested the horses on the race track, then selected the best stallions available in the breed. He selected and added young and tested animals to his breeding stock annually and had full control over the quality of the offspring from his selected stallions. Vladimir Schamborant was a professional breeder who followed the basic principles for breed improvement. High selection pressure, testing of all animals in the breeding program is also utilized by Stavropol stud. It is not a coincidence that successful breeders today base their breeding programs on animals produced by these breeders. The breeders will affect the breed with the animals they produce, however, one single breeder can only to some extent affect the principles of the global breed management.
Ryabova, who as Babaev mentions, has other principles for selection, has a different role of than a single breeder. Ryabova is unique in todays’ horse breeding industry as she has taken upon herself the role of policy maker, judge and registrar of a global horse breed. In her position as single decision maker she is not adhering to the basic formula of breed improvement mentioned above neither has she implemented the three basic rules for a successful breed organization.
The current situation for the Akhal-Teke breed is evidence that it is necessary for breed organisations to follow the classic formula for breed improvement.
The effect of this unique style of management with a biased and corrupt evaluation and registration of horses and the lack of accurate information for breeders has certainly had an effect on the breed’s development.
Stallions used for breeding are approved by owners, owners that in some cases have very little education, experience and guidance in the art and science of horse breeding. Babaev correctly mentions the policy for selection for Ryabova is to maintain and create stallion lines. As mentioned above the maintenance and creation of stallion lines has no impact on breed improvement and the policy is not based on any modern science for horse breeding. Many breeders of Akhal-Tekes are in an information vacuum where they have no access to relevant information concerning breeding value, breeding goals, important and inheritable or measurable traits to select for. These breeders will soak up any information they can access. The rare line policy is easy to understand and in many cases it is cheap to buy rare-line stallions, especially those who are below medium quality in the breed. A rare –line stallion will continue his rare line if he produces a colt and within this policy there is a high risk that factors such as soundness, type, conformation, movements, workability is given a lesser importance than the rare- line policy.
Some breeders even dream of creating their own stallion-line. This focus has damaged the breed to some extent as the best of the breed has not been selected.
The lack of information and education to breeders has also led to the fact that vague breed standards such as exotic, ancient type, asian eyes, desert bred, etc has been used to define breeding goals. Such subjective non-descript goals are not possible to measure and to specify.
Breeders are ill-educated, under informed and not engaged in the development of the breed. The lack of leadership and mentorship leads to frustration and sometimes hostility amongst breeders.
The current situation is used by opportunists, who for economical or pure egoistical reasons, feed on people’s lack of education starts acting as authorities and creates even more confusion and misinformation.
The breed has lost its attraction to serious breeders with experience and expertise in the equestrian field that could put selection pressure to the breed and start producing high quality animals.
An example of the low quality of the breed is the recent and open stallion evaluation in France, photos and evaluation reports clearly reveal that the quality of the French stallions offered for breeding is medium level or below for the breed. Despite the hard work by the French association and the fact that the breed has existed in France for 20 years or more, the quality of the stallions show that no serious attempts have been made to produce high quality animals. The breed will continue to attract amateur breeders who look for a cheap initial investment to become breeders and an even cheaper evaluation and assessment system.
The fact that you can get your Akhal-Teke “graded elite by a Russian expert” while grazing in your backyard does not improve the image or quality of the breed.
I do not blame the breeders for this mess. I blame the lack of a system.