Most British breeders — well, the responsible ones — accept that it is prudent to use a graded stallion on their mare. Many wouldn’t dream of using an ungraded stallion.

However, how many breed only from graded mares? I suspect (actually, I know) that even those using graded stallions don’t always use graded mares.

While the use of graded stallions is becoming routine, we’re still reluctant to embrace mare grading.

Perhaps it’s understandable, as grading isn’t embedded in the psyche of the British breeder. Historically we bred hunters and thoroughbreds. The thoroughbred was — and still is in the thoroughbred world — “graded” through performance.

He, or she, who runs fastest or stays longest, is the best and most valuable. And to some extent there is merit in that.

However, in the competition world horses are not proven until relatively old, so a system of grading young stallions and mares was initiated. This has served the European societies that developed it very well and oh, how we admire their stock.

When discrimination is good

But many British breeders don’t see the point of mare grading. It is viewed as another (unnecessary) expense and, many believe, for fancy sport horses only.

But it doesn’t matter what you aim to breed — a showjumper or a family pony. Good conformation is good conformation whatever the breed or type of horse or pony, and is imperative for future health and longevity.

To all intents and purposes breeding with ungraded stock, including mares, is indiscriminate breeding. Indiscriminate means unselective, undiscerning and uncritical; grading is exactly the opposite.

And isn’t this the main reason that more mares are not brought forward for grading; no one likes not being selected and most hate any criticism of their horse?

If that is the case, a good assessor will point out a mare’s weaknesses and explain why she does not make the mark they require for their studbook, or even why breeding from her might not be wise.

Most breed societies or studbooks have a system for approving mares. Grading is not only a stamp of approval of a mare as suitable for breeding, but also the backbone of a studbook. And the studbook is the future of the breed. Isn’t it about time we started being more discriminate about our mares and embraced mare grading?

One to watch

Poor little Lelegro. For Lelegro, born last week in the Netherlands, is the full brother of Valegro. And, as many know, there is nothing worse than having to follow in the footsteps of an older, super talented sibling. No one knows exactly which genes they share but, for a start, colour isn’t one — Lelegro is chestnut. How he turns out will depend not only on his genetic make-up (nature), but also on his upbringing and life experiences (nurture).

Already the past 11 months in the womb — nutrition and growth — will have had an effect on his future. Then there will be the influences of such things as the mare, other horses, handlers, food, injury or sickness and of course the owner may well want to leave him entire — which would mean a completely different animal for a future trainer to deal with.

Thankfully Lelegro is a horse and won’t be troubled by expectation heaped upon him by humans. However I suspect that, if and when the time comes for him to step into the arena, we will all be fascinated to compare and contrast — after all, that’s what breeding is about.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 5 May 2016