Horse breeding is the planned and well thought-out reproduction of horses with the aim of maintaining or improving health, performance and willingness and certain breed characteristics. Waldemar Seunig formulated the breeding goal as early as 1943: “The ideal to be striven for by the breeder is to create a horse of such perfect health and harmony between outer and inner life that all forces remain free for wanting and working in the service of man.”


Since only animals that correspond as well as possible to the breeding goal of the respective breed should be used as breeding horses, a selection must first be made. Selection criteria can be:

  • ancestry
  • exterior and interior
  • personal contribution
  • offspring performance
  • Health

History of Horse Breeding

Horse breeding has a long history and, according to current knowledge, begins between 5000 BC and 5000 AD. and 3000 B.C. Around the same time in different areas of Europe, Asia and North Africa. The use of horses often increased the mobility of the peoples using them.

The domesticationAt the same time, this led to a stronger mixing of the horse breeds with each other, since people were always trying to use the breeding material that seemed best to them from the breeds found in the now larger sphere of action.

Determining the exact date of domestication is extremely difficult, as there are few clues by which a domesticated horse can be distinguished from a wild horse. So one is normally dependent on the find of commodities such as bridles and saddles .

Initially, the main purposes were probably the transport of loads and meat production; horseback riding and field work were soon added. Today there are hundreds of different horse breeds, which have conquered almost all habitats with humans. A decline in species diversity has been observed since the mid to late 20th century . The reason for this is the omission of a number of areas of application due to progressive industrialization .

Recent studies, based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA from modern-day domestic horses and fossils from extinct breeds, indicate that horse domestication did not occur at one location, but rather at multiple locations independently of one another.

The main indication of this is the breadth of the genetic variations, which is the same in both test groups. If there was only one place of domestication, a smaller range of genetic variation would have been expected in domestic horses. In addition, these tests found that some of the fossil finds were more closely related to modern-day races than some modern-day races were to each other.

In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, about a third of all German horses died because they had been used in the interests of the German armies’ mobility/speed. As a result, the German princes agreed on a racial distribution in order to be prepared for the next war through a broad distribution of the war-related races. For this purpose, the state stud farms were given the stallion monopoly in order to breed a specific breed in each German state. Even if the stallion monopoly could not be enforced, it was about half of the horses that could be bred accordingly. At the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900, these uniform breeds could be presented internationally for the first time.

This would also explain the strong divergence of some of today ‘s breeds , such as ponies , draft horses and thoroughbreds , since the breeders not only had the domestication period for the different development of the breeds, but could also fall back on the genetic material of breeds that existed long before.

The technical term for stallions is generally a sire or stallion, the stallions used at a state stud are referred to as state sires .

Breeding procedures

At the beginning of horse breeding one can hardly speak of a systematic breeding of today’s form. The available animals were simply crossed with each other at will. Animals from more distant areas were often crossed in through trade or raids. The end product was rather random. The breeds largely corresponded to the natural breeds found in the respective area.

Today, horses are usually only allowed to be bred if they are included in the herd book of the respective horse breed . They are presented at breed shows . Stallions must be licensed .

Performance breeding

Warmblood breeds usually have an open stud book , which means that even horses whose parents are not registered may be included in the stud book if they meet the requirements of the breeding goal of the respective breed. With the help of the breeding value estimation , the performance of the breed can be improved.


In the pure breeding process, only animals of the same breed are mated with each other. In this case one also speaks of a closed studbook . Breeds bred using this method tend to have a consolidated population. That is, most animals are quite similar in appearance and personality traits, and there are relatively few extreme exceptions. In pure breeding, it is important for the breeder to pay special attention to the preservation of genetic diversity, since too narrow a bloodline can also lead to not inconsiderable health problems. The best-known breeds with closed studbooks are the Arabian thoroughbred horse (breed abbreviation »ox«), the English thoroughbred horse(breed code »xx«) and the Icelandic horse . Some warmblood breeds , such as the Holsteiner or the Trakehner , also have virtually closed studbooks.


When crossing, as for example with the Aegidienberger , an attempt is made to bring together the characteristics of two breeds. The two original breeds are crossed again and again in the course of breeding to refresh the blood and strengthen the breeding direction. Of course, more than two breeds can form the starting points for the crossing, but the original breeds should then already show a high level of similarity in order to avoid the new breeding line being split up too much. An example of a large-scale crossbreeding “program” was the crossing of native Central and Northern European breeds with Spanish horses in the Renaissance and Baroque periods(whereby mostly individual stallions from Spain, still known by name today, were used, so that one could also speak of refinement), which led to the development of Lipizzaners , Kladrubians , Frederiksborgers , Friesians , Neapolitans and presumably also the Connemara pony .

Breeding in the 21st Century

Breeding is organized in breeding associations. There are state studs , but most of the breeding animals are in the hands of private breeders. Horse breeding in Germany is based on the Animal Breeding Act and the Ordinance on Performance Testing and Breeding Evaluation of Horses.

Like other animals, horses are now no longer reproduced only naturally ( natural breeding , mating ), i.e. by bringing stallions and mares together. Artificial insemination and embryo transfer have also found their way here. For artificial insemination, sperm is first required, which is obtained by collection . The semen is diluted, portioned and frozen. This development is viewed critically in some cases. The advantages of artificial insemination certainly include the reduced stress on the animals, as there are no transport routes and the risks of injury and disease transmission are minimized, as well as the cost advantages for the breeder. On the one hand, mares have poorer results in pregnancy, and on the other hand, there is a long-term risk of genetic impoverishment, since certain aggressively marketed “fashion stallions” are now able to pass on their hereditary traits more often than average.


In horses, the generation gap is relatively long. Mares rarely have more than six offspring, so they cannot pass on their traits to the same extent as stallions , who can establish an entire breeding line . The best example of this is the breeding of English thoroughbreds , in which 95% of the pedigree animals go back to a stallion.

The pedigree of a horse is usually characterized with three stallions from the pedigree , see the following graphic:

  • the father, often abbreviated to V (2)
  • the mother’s father, often abbreviated to MV (6)
  • the mother-mother-father, often abbreviated to MMV (14)

Sample of a pedigree over four generations :

model horse (1) father (2) paternal grandfather (4) great grandfather (8)
great grandmother (9)
paternal grandmother (5) great grandfather (10)
great grandmother (11)
mare (3) Mother’s father (maternal grandfather, 6) great grandfather (12)
great grandmother (13)
maternal grandmother (7) Mother-Mother-Father (Great Grandfather, 14)
great grandmother (15)

As an abbreviated form of representation, the spelling (name of father) x (name of mother’s father) x (name of mother-mother-father) can often be found. In the case of detailed information or if the mother is to be highlighted, the information (name of the horse), from (name of the father) from the (name of the mother) from (name of the father of the mother) should also be found.

Depending on the breed association, the first letter of the breeding name of a horse is often determined by the first letter of the father’s name (most common variant, especially in warmblood breeds), by the first letter of the mother’s name (English Thoroughbred) or by the year of birth.

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