Gone are the days when riders could typically take a $100 horse off the track and turned it into a top competition animal. Purpose-bred horses now dominate all disciplines and breeders, buyers and riders want knowledge about their background to assess their potential - and assurance that the horse they are buying is the ‘real thing.’

Studbooks that classify and register horses have been a traditional backbone of breeding in Europe, with desirability and pricing of young stock heavily influenced by their studbook classification.

“In Europe, all horses are registered as a foal and receive a passport,” explained German A.C.E. group assessor, Gerd Küst on his recent month-long classification tour of horses across Australia. Although Australia hasn’t come to that point, rising numbers of breeders and owners are looking for validation and registering their horses with studbook groups such as the Australian Warmblood Association, International Sporthorse Association and the A.C.E. Group. , all of which follow the tradition of European models to help raise the profile of Australian horses and provide resources to track their pedigrees and performance.

For breeders in particular, the studbook assessment is very important. “The most important and influential stallions ‘stamp’ their progeny and the dam line is also so important, but a stallion and mare are only as good as their progeny, so it’s important to see them assessed, “ said Gerd during a recent classification organised for WA horses by Lucy Galovicova’s Kentaur stud in Chittering.

More than 20 horses ranging from several weeks to five year olds were paraded before Gerd, a highly experienced classifier from Germany whom A.C.E. has brought to Australia as an independent assessor over the past eight years. Just prior to this, Gerd had been at Yalambi Farm Stud, assessing that stud’s young stock, too.

“In Germany, different regions offer their own registry and classifications,” Gerd remarked. Interestingly, a horse turned down for classification in one region may successfully apply for classification in another. For example, Gerd revealed that, “Donnerhall wasn’t accepted in Holstein, so he was branded in Oldenberg.”

The Australian studbooks are national rather than regional and significantly more inviting than their European counterparts. Some even invite non-warmblood performance horses. For instance, A.C.E. offers registration to not only warmbloods, but in separate categories also to non-Warmblood breeds and ponies to ultimately give breeders a central database with performance results.
What all the studbooks share is a goal to help produce and validate Australian Warmbloods able to compete internationally against European-bred horses. “We look at the horses physically for conformation and movement (including free jumping), their ancestors and also assess their character, trainability and willingness to perform,” said Gerd, who was asked if horses can be re-assessed and classified as they get older.

“Yes, I like to see them as a foal and then as a three year old. Very often we see changes in movement and conformation. A foal with a short u-shaped neck can look very different as a three-year old horse than it did as a foal - and can be re-classified,” noted Gerd. There can also be significant changes in a horse from the time it turns three to four, depending on the ‘intelligence’ of its early training to bring out its best qualities.

Regardless of age or intended discipline, the young horses are assessed separately for their walk, trot and canter, the natural technique, style and attitude in the free jump and conformation. To reassure breeders and owners about the validity of a horses’ breeding, A.C.E. even offers the option of DNA testing each horses’ tail hair, which is kept on record by A.C.E. as part of their registration, to avoid any mistakes or mix-ups.
Given the number of elite and premium foals assessed at the recent classifications in WA, the future looks bright for Australian performance horse breeding programs.


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