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Thoroughbred Horse Breed Information

The Thoroughbred is a horse breed best known as a race horse. While carefully bred racehorses had existed throughout Europe for centuries prior to this time, the breed as it is known today developed during the 17th century in England when English mares began to be bred to imported Arabian stallions. This addition of verifiable Arabian blood coincided with the creation of the General Stud Book of England and the practice of official registering of horses. Today all modern Thoroughbreds trace to these imported stallions.

Some individuals mistakenly refer to a purebred horse of any breed as a "thoroughbred." However, this is incorrect usage. The Thoroughbred is a unique, distinct breed of horse. The proper term for any horse that is a pedigreed animal of a single breed is always "purebred".

Basic information

The Thoroughbred stands typically from as small as 15.2 to as large as 17.0 hands (64 inches/1.63 m) high and is usually bay, "brown" (dark bay), chestnut, black, or gray. Less common colors include roan and palomino. White is very rare, but is a recognized color separate from gray. [1] The face and lower legs may be marked with white, but white will generally not appear on the body (although certain color genes, possibly the rabicano or sabino genes, result in white hairs and white patches in the coat—the study of equine coat color genetics is complex). Good quality Thoroughbreds have a well chiseled head on a long neck, high withers, a deep chest, a short back, good depth of hindquarters, a lean body, and long legs.

Thoroughbreds are often crossed with horses of other breeds to add speed and refinement. Thoroughbreds are classified among the "hot-blooded" breeds, animals bred for agility and speed, generally considered spirited and bold.

Unlike most registered breeds today, a horse cannot be registered as a Thoroughbred (with the Jockey Club registry) unless it is conceived by "live cover;" that is, by the witnessed natural mating of a mare and a stallion. Artificial insemination (AI), though legal and commonly utilized in other horse breeds, cannot be used with Thoroughbreds. Originally this was because blood typing and DNA testing had not yet developed to a degree adequate to verify parentage. Today the reasons may be more economic: a stallion has a limited number of mares who can be serviced by live cover. Thus, the practice prevents an oversupply of Thoroughbreds to some extent. (Though modern management still allows a stallion to live cover more mares in a season than once was thought possible.) By allowing a stallion to only cover a couple hundred mares a year rather than the couple thousand possible with AI, it also preserves the high prices paid for horses of the finest or most popular lineages.


All modern Thoroughbreds carry the genetics of three stallions imported to England from the Middle East in the late 17th and early 18th centuries: the Darley Arabian, to whom 95% of today's Thoroughbred pedigrees trace, the Godolphin Arabian, also known as the Godolphin Barb (Because this horse was born in Morocco, there is some dispute among historians whether this horse was a true Arabian or a Barb. However, based on paintings from life, the stallion was clearly Arabian in type, a Barb is built differently), and the Byerly Turk (who may have been a Turkoman Horse rather than an Arabian), together with around 35 mares. There are also other horses of oriental breeding that have been less of an influence but are still noteworthy. These include the Unknown Arabian, the Helmsley Turk, the Lister Turk and Darcy's Chestnut.

The first Thoroughbred horse in the American Colonies was Bulle Rock, imported by Samuel Gist of Hanover County, Virginia, in 1730.

Maryland and Virginia were the centers of Colonial Thoroughbred breeding.


Although the Thoroughbred is primarily bred for racing, the breed is also used for show jumping & combined training due to its athleticism, and many retired, retrained race horses become fine family riding horses, dressage horses, and youth show horses. The larger horses are sought after for hunter/jumper and dressage competitions, whereas the smaller horses are in demand as polo ponies.

Horse racing

The Thoroughbred is bred primarily for racing under saddle at the gallop. Some families of Thoroughbreds are known primarily as sprinters or as distance runners.

Although buyers generally prefer to buy larger individuals, many great racehorses and great stallions have been average or small in size. While Man O' War and Secretariat were famous horses over 16 hands, a significant number of excellent race horses were average to small. These include Northern Dancer (15.1 HH), Hyperion (15.1 HH), and Aristides, winner of the first Kentucky Derby.

Many experts who purchase Thoroughbreds attempt to assess a young horse's potential by observing its overall structural balance, the athleticism and willingness of its walk, the perceived intelligence of its outlook, and the correct conformation of its legs. Buyers of more expensive horses often hire veterinary experts to examine and report on the condition of the horse's breathing apparatus, soundness of bone structure, and size of heart.

Thoroughbreds that are born in the Northern Hemisphere technically become a year older on January first; those born in the Southern Hemisphere turn one on August first. These artificial dates have been set to enable the standardization of races for horses in certain age groups.

Approximately 35,000 Thoroughbred foals are registered each year in the U.S. The largest number of foals are born in Kentucky, Florida, and California. The Thoroughbred industry is a huge agribusiness. It supports tens of thousands of jobs in each of these states, from jockeys, trainers, starters, grooms, and kitchen employees at the race track, to farm employees assisting with the birth of foals, the grooming of yearlings, or the growing and preparation of feed, to veterinarians who understand and treat horses, to drivers of horse vans who transport horses across country, to employees of auction houses that specialize in the sale of horses, to employees of companies who develop products to improve the lives of horses and people who work with them. Parimutuel gambling on races provides purses to the winners and taxes to the state.

The Thoroughbred in other disciplines

Naturally athletic, with a generally strong work ethic, the Thoroughbred excels in many equestrian sports. While other breeds are currently more popular than the Thoroughbred in dressage and show jumping, certain individuals of the breed are competitive at the top levels. Flowing, long gaits, good jumping form and the ability to go with speed makes the Thoroughbred a top show hunter as well.

The Thoroughbred mare Touch of Class helped win the show jumping gold medal for the United States Equestrian team at the 1976 Summer Olympics , and the Anglo-Arabians on the French dressage team helped earn that nation a bronze medal at the 1936 Olympics.

Of all the equestrian sports, the Thoroughbred is probably most suited for eventing, and dominates the highest levels: almost all Olympic or World Championship horses are full or part-Thoroughbred. The breed is most suited for the cross-country phase, due to its long stride, natural speed and stamina, as well as its athletic jump.

Thoroughbreds are also the most common breed for use in polo. They are seen in the fox hunting field as well.


Modern Thoroughbreds are bred for extreme speed. One theory holds that capability for speed is enhanced in an already swift animal by decreasing bone mass while raising muscle mass. [ citation needed ] A Thoroughbred "carrying" a light skeleton using abnormally strong muscles will travel faster at a gallop than one with a heavier bone load. [ citation needed ] As a result, modern Thoroughbreds are muscularly powerful but osteologically delicate creatures. Moreover, the situation is exacerbated because Thoroughbreds in the United States are first raced as 2-year-olds, well before they are completely mature. Though they may appear full-grown and are in superb muscular condition, their bones are not fully formed. [2]

Current estimates indicate that there are 1.5 career-ending breakdowns for every 1000 starts in the United States, an average of two per day. The state of California reported a particularly high rate of injury; 3.5 per 1000 starts. [3] This is a ratio far in excess of almost all other human and animal sports. [ citation needed ] Of those injuries, many result in the horse being euthanized. [ citation needed ]

Leg injuries that are not immediately fatal still may be life-threatening because a horse's weight must be distributed evenly on all four legs to prevent circulatory problems, laminitis and other infections. If a horse loses the use of one leg temporarily, there is the risk that other legs will break down during the recovery period because they are carrying an abnormal weight load. If a horse loses the use of one leg for a long period, its other legs will ultimately break down as well, with euthanasia the only possible outcome.

Whenever a racing accident severely injures a well-known horse, such as the case of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro breaking his leg during the 2006 Preakness Stakes, animal rights groups tend to target the thoroughbred racing industry. [4] The bioethics are seldom clean-cut, however. While thoroughbreds can be delicate and horse racing is hazardous, veterinary science is also developing, so that previously hopeless cases can now be treated successfully. Thoroughbreds are arguably as much helped as harmed by the racing industry. Research in veterinary medicine that benefits not only Thoroughbreds but all horses is largely funded and driven by the horse racing industry. If horse racing did not occur, advocates argue that there would be far less funding and incentives to pursue medical and biomechanical research on horses. [citation needed ]

One of the most promising trends is the development of synthetic surfaces for racetracks. One of the first tracks to install such a surface, Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky, saw its rate of fatal breakdowns drop from 24 in 2004-2005 to three in the year following Polytrack installation. The material is not perfected, with some areas reporting problems related to winter weather, but studies are continuing. [5]

The Thoroughbred in breeding

The Thoroughbred remains one of the most important breeds used in modern horse breeding. They have been incredibly influential on many of the favorite breeds of today, including the American Quarter Horse, the Morgan (a breed that went on to influence many of the gaited breeds in America), the Standardbred, and others. Along with the Arabian, the Thoroughbred continues to be a favorite as an improver of breeds. This is most notable in the Warmblood breeds, which occasionally infuse the hotter, leaner Thoroughbred blood when needed.

Favorite crosses to the Thoroughbred includes breeding with an Arabian to produce the Anglo-Arabian (which has a special registry of its own within the Arabian Horse Association ), as well as with the Irish Draught to produce the Irish Horse.


  1. Coat Colors Of Thoroughbreds
  2. Miller, Robert M., DVM. "And they call us horse lovers," Cowboy magazine , Fall, 2006, accessed at [1] , February 1, 2007
  3. Rosenblatt, Richard. "Barbaro's legacy: A better life for racing horses." Associated Press, April 24, 2007
  4. [2] "Barbaro's Tragic Injury: A Symptom of a Cruel Industry" PETA Campaigns Web site accessed February 2, 2007]
  5. Rosenblatt, Richard. "Barbaro's legacy: A better life for racing horses." Associated Press, April 24, 2007

External links

The breed information above is provided by Wikipedia. All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License . (See Copyrights for details.)

The Stallion Place does not endorse or confirm accuracy of any information listed on this page. It was provided by Wikipedia. The Stallion Place does not endorse sites listed in the breed information section, the stallion listings or link pages.

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