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Horse Linebreeding Inbreeding and Outcrossing Basics
 By Winniefield Park   •   23rd Feb 2016   •   4,387 views   •   0 comments
Horse Linebreeding Inbreeding and Outcrossing Basics

Line breeding, inbreeding and close breeding in the horse world and in many other livestock and pet breeding programs is important to understand. The terms can be a bit confusing, and some have come to be regarded as a negative. Basically, all mean that the animal will have the same ancestor multiple times in its pedigree. Ideally, the common ancestors will be a few generations back. The more closely the ancestor is to the offspring, the riskier things get. Sometimes the result is an outstanding horse that reinforces all of the best genetic material available to it. But, sometimes all the weakest genetic material rises to the top, and the result is an individual that exemplifies all that a breeder wished to avoid.

Line breeding, close and inbreeding involve breeding a male and female animal to another with a common ancestor. In horse breeding, there may be several common ancestors. Thoroughbreds are a good example of where line breeding is often used. Ideally, when we breed horses we match a mare and a stallion whose qualities compliment each other in the hopes that the foal will be as good as or better than its parents. And, we want to do this consistently.

Related: Five Reasons Not To Breed Your Mare
Related: Horse Breeding Terms Tutorial

Itís pretty common for someone with one mare to match it to a stallion with qualities that compliment the mareís without worrying too much about a common pedigree. They look for a stallion that has conformation, temperament or other qualities that they want to pass on to their mareís foal. This, like most breeding is a gamble, because sometimes, you end up with a combination of the mareís and stallionís lesser qualities. This is called outcrossing. The results tend to be a bit hit and miss. But, to increase the likelihood that a foal will get all the Ďgoodí genetics, breeders turn to linebreeding.

Line bred horses will have the same horse in their pedigree twice, ideally once each on the motherís and fatherís side. Take a look at the pedigree of the most recent Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah. Tracing back through both his sireís and damís pedigree, youíll see that Northern Dancer is his great, great, great grandsire on both sides. This is where you want that common ancestor, and this is common in many Thoroughbred pedigrees. The fourth through sixth generation seems to be the ideal. Trace American Pharoah's pedigree back enough generations and youíll see a pattern of line breeding on both dam and sireís side.

What is it called when the common ancestor is within the first three generations? Thatís inbreeding. Inbreeding has itís place, and it seems that many breeds have their foundations in inbred horses. Inbred horses can carry forward an ideal set of genetics, or they may reinforce negative traits. What they wonít do is cause horses that are defective or have mutations. Inbreeding strongly concentrates the genetic traits of the offspring and the results can be very good or very bad. The next step then is not to continue breeding too close, but to outcross again. Secretariat is an example of a result of outcrossing. There are common ancestors in his pedigree, but they are well behind the 6th generation. And while Secretariat himself was a Ďsuper horseí he did not produce super horses consistently. This is common with the offspring of outcrosses.

Another combination is close breeding. This is when a horse is bred to its parent or offspring or a sibling. Some good horses may be produced this way. But, itís not often done, because as with inbreeding, things can go very right or very wrong. This is why close breeding is done when researching genetic problems in plants and animals.

For breeders, balance is the goal. Line, cross and close breeding can enforce positive (and negative ) qualities, but outcrossing can enforce hardiness. All can have a place in a breeding program as long as the breeder doesnít lean too far to one side.
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