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The H&H sport horse breeding news story [6 February] that, as of this autumn, 25 German breed societies have agreed that only performance tested stallions can be registered into their main studbooks (or studbook 1) caught my eye.

In the first instance, this was because 25 breed societies agreed to the same principle. This is in itself an impressive achievement that well illustrates the difference between the UK and Europe when it comes to the regulation of breeding.

But secondly, it got me wondering why we don’t use performance testing as a tool for grading procedures in the UK.

The idea of a performance test is not that it simply evaluates jumping ability and movement, but more importantly a large percentage of the result is dependent on the stallion’s attitude, willingness to work, temperament and rideability during the test (up to 70 days). These are traits that perhaps cannot be judged during a one-day grading.

The KWPN uses the performance test as part of its grading process. Of the 700 or so stallions that go forward to its selection in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, about 80 are then deemed good enough to undergo the 70-day performance test held immediately after, at the test centre in Ermelo. Around 25-30 might then gain full approval. It is a strict system with no exemptions for the young stallions.

‘More robust assessment’

Of course, there will be hands up here saying: “But we do insist on testing.”Yes, the British Hanoverian Horse Society (BHHS), as a daughter society of the German Verband, abides by its rules. A BHHS licensed stallion has to go to Germany and be performance tested in order to gain full approval. This is not a cheap exercise and the owner of the stallion has to be sure the investment will be worthwhile.Stallions graded with Trakehners UK also have to complete a test within two years of selection to gain full approval.

Or owners can opt for the National Stallion Association (NaStA) test, which takes place once a year in the UK for two days and is open to stallions of all studbooks.

But now the UK is becoming more serious in its approach to sport horse breeding, what if we too decided to introduce performance testing, the results of which would determine the grading status of a stallion?

“The idea of performance testing does come up from time to time ,” says Jan Rogers, head of the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) equine development portfolio.“It’s a great idea and does allow for a more robust assessment. It could complement grading procedures — and that goes for ponies as well.”

Would British breed societies agree to the idea, and then on a universal format? More importantly, would stallion owners accept the premise of
a test? After all, few opt for the NaStA test.

Would it be possible to set up a centralised facility in the UK that would oversee the testing? And then there will be the detail: who is going to ride the stallions? Are they good enough? Who is assessing them? The list goes on. Or would it all just prove too difficult?

Lessons from the Continent

Would the result even make a difference to mare owners? Would they hold performance- tested stallions in higher esteem? After all, how many are aware which stallions have a mark from NaStA on their CV?

European systems are held in high regard in the UK; witness the number of times someone tells you how much better it all is in Germany and the Netherlands. Performance testing is but another tool used in those systems. Perhaps it is another one we ought to emulate.

By Carole Mortimer

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