CROSSBREEDING – WHAT ARE THE GAINS?
CROSSBREEDING has been used for centuries to develop certain breeds of horses, and to produce hybrid vigour in some breeds . Breeders who crossbred their horses did so for a very specific purpose: to develop a breed or kind of horse that would function in a specific job. For example, in the middle ages breeders crossed their phlegmatic cold blooded horses with the blood of the faster , more nimble middle eastern horses such as the African Barb and the Arab to get a horse that would still be able to carry them in full dress armour, but also be able to move more quickly in battle. This crossbreeding resulted in what the knights called the ‘destrier’. In this instance the crossbreeding had a specific purpose and produced an animal that developed and maintained certain traits that were continually bred for.
When a breeder considers crossbreeding he/she must first ask the questions: “What is the goal of doing crossbreeding on my farm? What do I want to accomplish?” The goal should be to produce a better horse than either of the parents involved in the breeding; therefore only the very best of either breed that is being crossed must be used. If the breeder wishes to accomplish establishing a new breed, or simply wishes to produce the best qualities of either breed he is using to produce a good, strong endurance riding horse for example, he must still use the following basic principle of good breeding, which is to always produce a better horse than either of the parents.
THE GENETIC FACTOR
When considering doing a crossbreeding, one should take into account the genetic components that make each breed what it is, and that defines its breed characteristics .In this article I will use the examples of the Standardbred and the gaited Peruvian Paso Horse.
The Standardbred is a relatively new breed, being only 200 years old. It began with a Thoroughbred called Messenger and was continually bred to become a horse that was used for mainly racing at the trot (or the pace, which became popular much later). The horse had to cover a distance of a mile at the trot in a certain ‘standard of time’..thus, the name Standardbred. Through very careful breeding certain characteristics were established and a horse evolved with a compact well muscled body, short back, long high croup, a long undercarriage, a long stride, weighing from 800-1100 pounds, standing 14.2hh-16.2hh, and with the ability to either trot or pace the mile within a standard of time. This type of horse excelled at its specific function of racing for which it was well suited. Off the track it had enough versatility to be useful for the disciplines of pleasure riding, barrel racing, dressage, and combined driving. As a distinct breed the Standardbred horse has developed into a solid racer and pleasure horse. It has become established as a distinct breed with set breed characteristics.
The Peruvian Paso Horse has been bred in Peru( and now in other parts of the world) for over 600 years, and has also developed into a breed of horse with distinct characteristics that define its specific function and breed standards. In Peru in the years of the Conquistadores’ advancing explorations, offspring of horses brought from Spain were used for breeding a certain type of horse that would carry the rider over vast distances of land in the Peruvian agrarian valleys with comfort and ease. The Peruvian Paso was bred to have a specific function, i.e., to cover distance in comfort and ease for both the horse and rider. The breed characteristics became set in a horse that was somewhat on the small side, averaging in height from 14-15hh, with a short backed compact body with a well rounded croup and a low tail set, the tail being carried close to the rump, legs equal in length to the depth of a well sprung deep barrel, elegant carriage, a movement called termino in which the front legs are lifted from the shoulder and move out to the side in an arc before hitting the ground squarely in front, and most important, a a distinct 4-beat lateral gait that can be sustained over a very long distance and is very smooth and even.
Now that we know what genetic factors have been set in each breed for its specific function, let’s explore why it is, or is not, a good choice to crossbreed these two distinct breeds of horse.
The Standardbred is a horse that is bred to trot( a dominant gene), or pace, to have a longer body and undercarrigae, and to have a greater depth of stride that especially suits its function of racing (along with other disciplines that are suitable for it to perform with this type of body). The Peruvian Paso, on the other hand, has a short, compact body that allows for great stability and for the correct execution of its 4-beat lateral gait that is executed with a ‘tripod’ stance of 3 legs on the ground at any given time while moving, making for great stability and minimum of movement under saddle, and which makes it possible to cover long distances in great comfort.
To crossbreed these two very distinct types of breed, one must look closely at the characteristics that set them apart, their body type, and those few things that might be considered similar.
Over two hundred years of careful breeding have developed a longer, and well muscled body that is suitable for racing. 600 years of careful breeding has developed a short, compact body that is very well suited for the 4-beat lateral locked in gait indicative of the Peruvian Paso Horse.
If one were to breed these two horses what would one look at before the mating? What would one hope to produce by the mating of these two breeds? What would you lose that is important to each of these breeds by doing such a breeding?
It is possible that you would get the 4-beat gait of the PP by breeding a PP stallion with a Standardbred mare or vice versa, however, there is no guarantee that the trotting gene would not be dominant in the offspring. If this should occur you have diluted the locked in gene for gait in the PP while raising the trotting gene. You might, indeed, get a smooth riding horse, but one that would more than likely be a pacer or a horse with a ‘soft trot’ instead of a horse that has a distinct 4-beat gait that engages the tripod stance under the belly which makes the ride on a Peruvian Paso like that of no other.
By crossbreeding the PP and the Standardbred you begin to lose the most important trait: the gait of the PP, and maintain the pace or trot of the Standardbred. You also begin to dilute the gene for the short, compact body of the PP, and you lose the termino which sets it apart from other breeds, and is a breed standard characteristic. The Standardbred, on the other hand, most likely maintains its dominant gene for the trot, and its longer body. The result of these breedings is not a new breed, just a horse that is partblood, not too rough to ride, and somewhere in between the two body types. Meanwhile you are continually diluting the gene pool of the PP, losing its gait, its termino, and hastening the demise of the breed, as it now becomes harder and harder to maintain the gene pool and characteristics with each crossbreeding. If you breed the offspring of the crossbreeding with either a Standardbred or a PP, you still will not accomplish the goal of maintaining the gait of the PP as each successive breeding will further dilute the gene necessary to maintain it. Your horses will not be purebred, cannot be registered in the purebreed registries, the offspring will be of little value and will cost you the same to maintain as a purebred.
The mating of different breeds should produce a better horse, maintain the best of the characteristics of each breed, and only the very best quality of horse from each breed, similar in body type should be bred. If the breeder does not do this he/she is slowly disasembling the gene pool of each, and making it very difficult to ever get it back.
This is my opinion only. It does not mean that some crossbreedings cannot be successful if carried out with foresight and careful matings. I am, however, of the opinion that if one wishes to own a Peruvian Paso Horse, then it is more beneficial to the breed to have a breeding program that produces the very best Peruvian Horse one can, and to ensure the continuance of the breed as pure blood. If the gene pool is diluted then what have we gained? Only the diminishment and eventual demise of one of the world's finest riding horses.
When crossbreeding it is wise to have a specific goal in mind.