The English Thoroughbred

Anglo-Saxons

Richard I - Lion Heart

Charles II

    Already C. Julius Caesar in his “writings about the Gallic Wars" is mentioning the small but fast horses, which the Brits were riding and with which they also used to race the Roman cavalry horses. Later on, when the small Nordic ponies were no longer suitable in the developing culture for the draft and racing alike, there were imported into England taller horses of the western type from the European mainland, mostly from Normandy and the Belgian Flanders, with which the local horses were crossbred and the lighter products were used for racing.

The old English chronicles mention that horse racing was an ancient national tradition/entertainment of the Anglo-Saxons and already in the XI century the racing was organized with certain rules; the races were conducted over longer distances and the owner of the winning horse received an honorary reward, like silver bell, but there were no money prizes. From these chronicles, it is also known that already in the year 1121 also ran/raced in England an imported Arabian horse. Whether it was actually the first Arabian, as it is stated, cannot be realistically proven.

The certain fact is, that with the Christian Crusaders came into England many horses, mares and stallions from the Orient, and that Richard I the Lion Heart brought home entire ship of these horses, which he used to crossbreed the local horses to improve their speed. The later rulers also paid great attention to racing, awarding greater purses and importing horses not only from the Orient but also from Morocco and Spain as well, where for the longest time circulated the blood of the Barb horse (
see Old Spanish Horse) , the legacy of the Moorish culture.

The first recorded Arabian that ran on the racetrack in England was Markhams Arabian, but he fail to prove him self in his offspring. Later on under Cromwell rule, the Turkish gray stallion Palace White Turk proved himself not only in racing but also through his descendants' racing performance. A greater import of horses came during the rule of James I (1603-1625). Also by the late Stuart king Charles II there was a great import of mares, whose offspring excelled in racing and entered the pedigrees of the English thoroughbreds, these mares were/are known as the “Royal Mares”.

From those days, which is circa the year 1680, is dated the beginning of the English thoroughbred breeding. The imported “Royal Mares” were not exclusively Arabians, but also Turkish and from North Africa the Barbs as well as some Hungarian mares who were of Oriental origins. All imported horses were in England tested on the racetrack and if they proved themselves, they were used in reproduction. Their matured progenies were again tested on the track. Hence in this way, there was a new breed of horses developing in England mainly for racing purpose – “English fullblooded horse” that was named “thoroughbred”. Horses were selected according to their performance and not according to their form as it was done on the European mainland.
    When we backtrack pedigrees of today’s thoroughbreds to the more distant generations at the end of XVII and the beginning of the XVIII centuries by the sire lineages, they all can be derived from three stallions, the founders of their breed, and from about (less than) a hundred mares, whose descendants proved themselves not only on the racetrack but in reproduction as well.

Byerley Turk

Darley Arabian

Godolphin - Barb

    The patriarchs of the English thoroughbred became three stallions that founded lineages after themselves.

  1. Byerley Turk who was captured during the siege of Vienna in a Turkish camp. For the longest time he was a property of an English captain Byerley, who served in the imperial cavalry in the year 1683. It is also stated that this horse was born in 1680 and bred for the first time 1689. However, he covered relatively small count of mares, hence there are not many mares and stallions of his lineage.
  2. Darley Arabian purchased by lord Darley in the Syrian Desert around Damascus in the year 1712 and imported to England in 1713, where he was widely used in breeding, hence the thoroughbred is greatly founded on the blood of this smaller, bay Arabian stallion.
  3. Godolphin – Barb, born 1724, also known as Sham, (meaning false), because he was not an Arabian but a Barb (Berber). There is even less known facts about his breeding/”pedigree” than about the two previous stallions. According to one statement he was a gift from the bey of Tunis to the French royal court of Louis XV, according to others he was captured in one of the Moors stud farms and came to Paris. At that time, when the fashion of the high stepping Spanish genets ruled Europe, his appeal was not desirable; hence he pulled water carts around the city. One day in the year 1729 he was bought by the English horse breeder Coke, imported to England and later ended up at the stud farm of lord Godolphin, where he was used as a teaser, because of his less noble/refined appearance. His fame established the thoroughbred mare Roxana, which the stallion Hobgoblin refused to cover and no other stallion was handy, thus the Barb stallion was allowed to pair with her (supposedly). Out of Roxana was born in 1731 after him a colt that already as a two year old won several races over his competitors, thus the attention turned to the bay, bony, 160 cm tall Barb, belonging at that time to lord Godolphin who also gave him his name.
         After that he was used frequently for the reproduction of racehorses. The stallion was already old and produced very little offspring; hence his lineage is the least represented among the three main lineages of the English thoroughbreds.
    As far as the 100 mares are concerned, which were entered into the first edition of the Stud-Book,  they were not all "Royal Mares", but they were also other imported or domestically bred mares after Oriental stallions, which proved themselves on the racetrack, as well as mares of unknown origins. There are listed variously crossbred mares in which, on their mothers side, circulated the western or the Nordic blood, as well as mares that proved themselves in racing and when bred to one of the above mentioned three stallions, the progeny was performing well in racing.

Eclipse

Herod

Matchem

      Not all of the ancestors of the English thoroughbred were imported Orientals. The famous chestnut racehorse Eclipse had from his dams side many ancestors of unknown origins, hence from the domestic mares with the western or Nordic blood. Therefore, the English thoroughbred is not some type of an acclimatized Oriental, but with one-sided systematic selection according to performance, training, with the entire preparation for the racing career and with the help of inbreeding was established, stabilized and bred an individual/genuine breed (crossbreed), in which the most influential was the blood of the Oriental ancestry. The horses, that were repeatedly winning on the track had in the racing gallop, not only by training, well developed mechanics of their body, but also the needed temperament and efficient heart and lungs. These characteristics are hereditary in the English thoroughbred under similar living conditions. In this way, the Oriental type changed into a brand new type, the English type noticeable in the long lined proportions of his body. The presence of the western blood can be noticed in some thoroughbreds in the somewhat “edgy” (less rounded) shapes, in the head is noticeably longer and from the front narrow, from the profile straight or at times bulged in the forehead, further in the longer loins (6 more vertebrae), chestnuts developed on all four legs, in no particularity in feeding and in reaching greater weight (Prawochodenski).

    In order to keep the breeding of the English thoroughbred pure, there was a need for listing and record keeping of selected horses in the breed book. The first printed edition of this breed book of domestic animals, named “General Stud-Book” came to existence in the year 1791; in this book are registered all horses back to 1680, that excelled on the racetrack and in reproduction gave the foundation to the English thoroughbred. Already before the first print of this Stud-Book, there was established a rule, that from that point on, besides fullblooded Arabians and their offspring (hence Anglo-Arabians), no other horse could be registered that without interruption could not be tied to the ancestors registered in the book; hence today all the thoroughbreds have to have verified family tree/pedigree.

    For easier up keeping of the Stud-Book there were later on chosen representatives from each of the original stallions; for Byerley Turk lineage the stallions Herod (1758), for the Darley Arabian the famous Eclipse (1764-1789) and for the Godolphin the stallion Matchem (1748). Among these sizable lineages there are further recognized large count of lineages named exclusively after stallions.

Translated by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a. Lee Stanek from the 1953 Special Zoo-Technique - Breeding of Horses
Published in 1953 by the Czechoslovakian Academy of Agricultural Science and certified by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Written by: MVDr Ludvik Ambroz, Frabtisek Bilek, MVDr Karel Blazek, Ing. Jaromir Dusek, Ing. Karel Hartman, Hanus Keil, pro. MVDr Emanuel Kral, Karel Kloubek, Ing. Dr. Frantisek Lerche, Ing. Dr Vaclav Michal, Ing. Dr Zdenek Munki, Ing. Vladimir Mueller, MVDr Julius Penicka, pro. MVDr Emil Pribyl, MVDr Lev Richter, prof. Ing. Dr Josef Rechta, MVDr Karel Sejkora and Ing. Dr Jindrich Steinitz.