Breaking Down Breeding: Maclay Finals Edition

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Evaluating the bloodlines of the current top equitation horses 


Like many equestrians, I spent most of November 3, 2019 glued to the 2019 Maclay Finals live stream presented by the National Horse Show Association.  The course was beautiful, technical, and challenging for the junior riders and their horses. Live streaming allowed viewers to hear valuable commentary on course and discussions by expert commentators.  One comment made during the show stuck out to me: “a viewer asked if we knew the breeding of the horses… because this is equitation, it is all about the riders…”.

As most readers know, equitation riders are evaluated and judged based on their position and effectiveness. Although the horses are not the focus, they are certainly critical to the equation.  Successful equitation horses make complex courses and challenging flatwork look smooth and easy so the rider can focus on their equitation.  

Because of this, “Big Eq” horses are big business.  Equitation horses can lease for upward of six figures and play a huge part in a successful journey for a  junior equitation rider. These horses have scope, big strides, adjustability, excellent training, size, and good character.  Let’s face it—finding these attributes all wrapped up in a horse that is young-rider tolerant is not easy. But they all start somewhere – the vision and dreams of a breeder with a special mare, analyzing the best stallions to cross with her in the hopes of producing a successful athlete.  So, who is breeding these special equitation horses? I decided to research the breeding and bloodlines associated with the 2019 Maclay Finals horses to search for common bloodlines, breeders, and breeds.

All of the following data came from USEF, HorseTelex, Hippomundo, and a few Frozen Semen distributors for pedigree information.  In some cases, the sire names provided in USEF were slightly incomplete (missing a suffix, for example), but I completed this research to the best of my abilities based on the information provided in USEF.  This deep dive is all sire and stallion based, however, most breeders will tell you that the mare is 60% + of the equation. Unfortunately, our systems don’t easily support mare line searches, so we will start with the sires.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Of the 179 horses that showed in the 2019 Maclay Finals, 100% are listed as a Warmblood of some sort.  46 of these 179 horses are registered in USEF as sire and dam “unknown”. That’s roughly 26% of the 2019 Maclay Finals horses shown had no bloodlines or breeder noted – but miraculously, of this 26% with “unknown” breeding, every single one of them were listed in USEF with a known breed:  Warmblood, Dutch Warmblood/KWPN, Holsteiner, Westphalian, Swedish Warmblood, Hanoverian, or Argentine. 13 of these sire “unknown” horses listed a brand on their left hind quarter in the USEF markings description, or in the case for the Argentine horse, a brand on both left and right hindquarters.  Either the brand helped in identifying their breed for truly lost paper situations or it demonstrates a disconnect between breeders or owners and the inputting of sire and dam information into the USEF database. These 46 horses listed with “unknown” sire breeding are excluded from the bloodline discussions, which is a shame. 

This leaves us with 133 horses that showed in the 2019 Maclay Finals with a sire listed in USEF.  From these 133 horses, we had the following sires represented by more than one offspring at the 2019 Maclay Finals:

Sire (Sire x Damsire)Maclay Horses
Cassini I (Capitol I x Caletto II)Kenan, New England, Quite Cassini, Doutzen
Contendro I (Contender x Reichsgraf)Common Sense, Callahan, Blurred Lines, De La Cruz
Chacco-Blue (Chambertin x Contender)Chacco Star, Chaciara, Chacclander
Indoctro (Capitol I x Caletto II)Any Given Sunday, Bronziet, Campino
Mr. Blue (Couperus x Oldenburg)Curacao, C’est Blue
Valentino (Now or Never M x Belisar)Double Dutch, SWS Questionnaire
Berlin (Cassini I x Caretino)Utah Beach Un Prince, Munich
Diarado (Diamant de Semilly x Corrado I)Eppo, Boldly Stated
Quite Capitol (Quidam de Revel x Capitano)Quieri, Quax

Of the sires with multiple offspring represented in the 2019 Maclay Finals, only Valentino is standing in North American – Canada to be exact – and is available to breeders with fresh semen (Dreamscape Farm).  

The next step was to research the available sire information in USEF and analyze common denominators.  Which sires, grandsires, damsires, etc. are listed in the 4-5 generation pedigree? Here is a list of stallions represented in the bloodlines of 5 or more of the horses ridden in the 2019 Maclay Finals:

Stallion (Sire x Damsire)Number of 2019 Maclay horses with this stallion in their ~5 generation pedigree
Cor de la Bryere (Rantzau XX x Lurioso)
Capitol I (Capitano x Maximus)
Contender (Calypso II x Ramiro Z) 
Landgraf I (Ladykiller XX x Aldato) 
Caletto II (Cor de la Bryere x Consul) 
Ladykiller XX (Sailing Light XX x Loaningdale XX)20 
Ramiro Z (Raimond x Cottage Son XX)
Quidam de Revel (Jalisco B x Nankin)
Lord (Ladykiller XX x Calando I) 
Corrado I (Cor de la Bryere x Capitol I) 
Cassini I (Capitol I x Caletto II) 
Alme (Ibrahim x Ultimate XX)
Ahorn Z (Alme Z x Ganeff)
Heartbreaker (Nimmerdor x Silvano)
Caletto I (Cor de la Bryere x Consul) 
Calypso I (Cor de la Bryere x Heissporn) 
Voltaire (Furioso II x Gotthard)
Pilot (Pilatus x Graphit)

Without a doubt, the most heavily influential sire within the first 5 generations of the 2019 Maclay Finals horses is the Selle Francais stallion Cor de la Bryere (1968-2000), who himself is by the successful racing Thoroughbred Rantzau, and out of a Selle Francais mare by Lurioso/Furioso.  Interestingly, the French selection committee suggested gelding him as a youngster, but luckily his owner saw the potential in Cor de la Bryere and kept him intact. That decision changed the future of warmblood jumper breeding. Cor de la Bryere is within the first 5 generations of 36% of the 133 2019 Maclay horses with a sire listed in USEF.  That does not include extended pedigree searches, nor does it include any of the 46 horses with no sire listed in USEF, nor does it include a dam pedigree search of any of the 179 horses! It is safe to say that the 36% relation would grow significantly with full pedigree information and searchability.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Second up is the outstanding Holsteiner Capitol I, who was noted 37 times in the 4-5 generation pedigree search of the 133 Maclay horses with their sires listed.  We primarily see his influence through sons Carthago, Cassini I, Campione M, and Cento.  

Contender, an outstanding son of Calypso II (Cor de la Bryere), is the grandsire of a whopping 12 of the 133 Maclay horses with their pedigree noted in USEF.  If you include a 4-5 generation pedigree search, that number increases to at least 25 horses out of 133 Maclay Finals horses. Unfortunately, only two of the Top 6 Callback horses have their bloodlines listed on USEF (4 of the Top 6 Callback 2019 Maclay Finals horses are listed as “unknown”), however, both of those two horses – Copperfield 39, a Holsteiner by Crawford and Conthacco, an Oldenburg by Conthargos – have Contender in their 5 generation pedigree.

Of the 179 2019 Maclay horses, only 59 have the breeder listed in USEF and of those, only three appear to be North American breeders: Batchelor Party by Sempatico, bred by Kellie McCoy and owned by Hannah Batchelor, Quixote by Quidam de Revel, bred Christina Schneider and owned by Miranda Victoria Burruano; and Champagne by Tannenhof’s Conteur, bred by Equitop Farm and owned by Clara McDanniel.   The remaining 56 horses appear to list European breeders and are assumed European bred, based on USEF breeder searches and the best of my internet sleuthing abilities (a million apologies if I missed somebody). It’s worth noting that Paul Schockemohle/Gestuet Lewitz Stud was the listed breeder on 3 of the 2019 Maclay horses.  

A review of the 133 Maclay horse sires indicates only six sires are -or have been- stationed in North America: Arkansas (Canada), Conejo (Canada), Valentino (USA), Conway LL (assuming this is Conway II) (USA), Sempatico M (USA), and Contefino (USA).

If we talk about the elephant in the room, it’s that the available information indicates a large percentage of our Maclay Finals horses are likely imported.  This is presumed based on the low percentage of sires standing in North America (only six confirmed at the time of publishing) and the low percentage of North American breeders noted in USEF (only three confirmed at the time of publishing).  It is likely that a few North American breeders utilized frozen semen for some of our Maclay horses, but without having their breeder status noted in USEF, it is impossible to confirm.  

There have been huge strides made in North America in the last 10 years to increase frozen semen availability and improve breeder traceability.  Some warmblood registries now provide USEF registration for foals which is a great way for breeders to input their breeder information in USEF, linked with the microchip and DNA verification, without additional fees for breeders.  The United States Sport Horse Breeders Association was also created to strengthen the presence and recognition of breeders. They are slowly but surely making strides to increase breeder and bloodline awareness, such as efforts to have breeder and bloodline information announced at horse shows.  US bred sport horses are making their presence known thanks in large part to dedicated breeders leveraging outstanding European bloodlines suitable for the US market and trainers willing to partner stateside in developing young horses. With increasing popularity of equitation in the US, breeders in North America are considering these needs and increasingly breeding to stallions with scope and athletic prowess plus temperaments suited to the job.  This is resulting in more and more US bred success stories and more options for stallions in North America suitable for our market. For instance, at the East Coast North American Stallion Sport Test in October 2019, the winners of both the Jumper and Dressage categories were US bred!  

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Even though breeders are making exceptional progress here in the US, there are opportunities for expanded digital horse data management in the USEF database that could further enable the North American equestrian community by providing increased horse, breeder, and owner information and traceability.  For instance, users could envision USEF being linked with a HorseTelex type platform that would permit extended bloodline viewing and traceability to offspring data from both dams and sires. What if the USEF searchable database had links associated with horse recordings, so that users could “click” on breeder and owner information that would link to provided information such as websites, phone numbers, etc.?  You could hypothetically see a horse that you were interested in, and with a few clicks on the computer or phone, you could see its detailed pedigree, related siblings, and link directly to breeder’s or owner’s contact information if they chose to provide it. These are just a few ideas that could increase digital transparency between breeders, trainers, owners, riders, registries, and USEF, which would help our North American horse industry thrive.  

Congratulations to all the horse breeders, horse owners, riders, and trainers at the 2019 Maclay Finals.  North American sport horse breeders look forward to increasing our influence on the equitation horse landscape and hope that through owner education and ongoing partnerships with USEF, breed registries, trainers, and show management we can increase traceability and recognition of our North American sport horse breeders.

Author BethAnne Bort, of Inspire Sporthorses, is a small-scale hunter breeder based out of North Carolina, USA.  Her daughter, Rachel Bort, is a junior rider that shows in hunters and equitation on the A circuit.