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Is there anything more annoying than, when looking up a horse’s pedigree, the answer comes back as “unknown”?

OK, in the grand scheme of things there is plenty that is more annoying but, as breeders know, it is right up there. How in this day and age can anyone not know the pedigree of their horse? You might well ask.

In many instances, the breeding is recorded as “unknown” because the pedigree has not been verified — that is, confirmed as correct, nowadays through DNA testing. A passport will usually state that the horse has been DNA tested.

Only studbooks and breed societies are able to record the breeding in a passport. Other passport issuing organisations (PIOs) that issue cheaper identity passports are legally not allowed to record breeding (due to Defra minimum operating standards). Even if it is inserted — which it shouldn’t be — it doesn’t mean it is correct.

If, for example, an identity passport is presented to a studbook in the future by unknowing owners, the pedigree, which was possibly part of the reason they bought the horse, will count for nothing and the provenance of the horse will already have been recorded by databases as “unknown”.

Horses without three verified generations of breeding are now automatically excluded from some competitions.

Cutting corners

What is so surprising is the number of people, including breeders, who choose not to have breeding put into the passport for the simple reason that it will save the cost of a DNA test — or at most two tests. All graded stallions have their DNA put on record as part of their grading assessment, so one just has to take DNA from the mare, if she has not been graded or had it recorded before, and/or the foal, by the simple extraction of a few tail hairs which is done by the vet when he draws up the foal’s identity paperwork.

No one said breeding was a cheap way to procure a horse, so a saving of less than £100 on a lifetime of a horse — around the cost of a set of shoes — hardly seems worth it for the frustration it can cause later. One excuse is that the horse will be a gelding and therefore will not appear in the future gene pool. True, but geldings happen to make up the majority of competition horses and most of us want to know the breeding of our competition horses.

This just wouldn’t happen in other countries, whose breeding many so admire and whose horses we buy. Those countries have systems and rules that all breeders and producers follow.

In France, horses who are not fully registered and verified with the governing body of the Haras Nationaux are not allowed to compete at any level above club level. No affiliated competition, end of.

Part of the British problem is that we don’t have an overseeing body. There is no single set of rules. As long as there are cheap identity passports available as an alternative to studbook passports, then owners, breeders even, will take the budget option.

The result is we will never build up decent studbooks, lines will disappear and future breeders will be none the wiser.

What is the point of breeding if you don’t wish to record it? For future’s sake please have the breeding of your foals verified.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 31 May 2018