Blood­lines Of Top Dres­sage Horses

Mis­ter X: An ath­lete, born and bred

Dressage Today - - Born to Perform - By Karen M. Brit­tle

Mis­ter X (Ege­jus X Derbi), a 14-year-old, dark brown Rus­sian Trakehner geld­ing, has helped put Rus­sian dres­sage back on the world stage, com­pet­ing with rider Inessa Merkulova in the 2016 Rio Olympics (23rd in­di­vid­ual fin­ish), the 2014 World Eques­trian Games (26th in­di­vid­ual fin­ish) and the 2018 World Cup Fi­nals (ninth in­di­vid­ual fin­ish). In move­ment the ath­letic geld­ing evokes the word “grace­ful.” He was bred by Nadezhda Sokolova at the Traken Ros­siya Stud Farm in Rus­sia’s Kursk re­gion. Ac­cord­ing to Dr. Maren En­gel­hardt, a life-long rider who was born into a Trakehner-breed­ing fam­ily and con­tin­ues the tra­di­tion in her own right: “Mis­ter X’s pedi­gree is a typ­i­cal eastern Trakehner pedi­gree. It’s based on two re­cur­ring themes: the sig­nif­i­cant amount of Thor­ough­bred blood [English and Ara­bian] and a heavy dose of line­breed­ing.”

Be­fore we look closer at Mis­ter X’s lines, it is im­por­tant to note that the Trakehner is widely con­sid­ered the only pure breed of warm­blood type. Un­like the other Euro­pean Warm­blood stud­books, the Trakehner has a closed stud­book, which will only ac­cept the off­spring of Trakehn­ers and ap­proved horses from refin­ing breeds (Thor­ough­bred and Ara­bian). For this rea­son, there’s a higher de­gree of ge­netic con­sol­i­da­tion within the breed, which yields greater pre­dictabil­ity in the breed­ing process. En­gel­hardt ex­plains that the gen­er­ally more re­fined Trakehn­ers are fre­quently in­cor­po­rated into the breed­ing pro­grams of other warm­blood stud­books to lend el­e­gance, im­proved train­abil­ity and a cer­tain look of re­fine­ment. She says this “bor­row­ing” of Trakehner blood has been true his­tor­i­cally (all Ger­man stud­books in­cor­po­rated Trakehner blood in the mid- to late-20th cen­tury to pro­duce mod­ern warm­bloods) and still to­day plays a ma­jor role in the breed­ing of mod­ern dres­sage horses.

As a Rus­sian Trakehner (see sidebar on p. 18), Mis­ter X’s pedi­gree in­cor­po­rates some of the old­est and most cher­ished Trakehner lines. Both of this month’s breed­ing ex­perts, En­gel­hardt and re­tired Amer­i­can breeder Kyle

Karnosh of Con Brio Farms, point out that Mis­ter X’s sire, Ege­jus, was an ex­cel­lent sport-horse pro­ducer, equally likely to pro­duce a jumper as a dres­sage horse. Born in Lithua­nia at the large and pro­lific Ne­muno Stud, Ege­jus sired Estet, an in­ter­na­tional Grand Prix dres­sage horse, and Pamela, a CIC2* even­ter, among many other high-level per­form­ers in both dis­ci­plines. Karnosh points out that Ege­jus is line­bred to Pili­grim, a stal­lion bred at the Main Trakehner Stud in East Prus­sia be­fore its destruction dur­ing World War II and a son of a foun­da­tion Trakehner stal­lion, Pythago­ras. The line­breed­ing oc­curs through two crosses to the stal­lion Privet (him­self an in­ter­na­tional-level show jumper) and through the mare Pol­jana, who was sired by Pili­grim.

En­gel­hardt ex­plains: “Line­breed­ing to Pili­grim has been a recipe for great suc­cess in the Trakehner breed. In­ter­est­ingly, that’s been par­tic­u­larly true for show jumpers. Of course, we know to­day that a good dose of jumper

blood ac­tu­ally fur­thers dres­sage ca­reers and, in fact, some of to­day’s top dres­sage horses carry sig­nif­i­cant amounts of jumper blood.” She says Mis­ter X’s pedi­gree is a case in point and cites an­other ex­am­ple: “Ege­jus’s sire Volteras is a very close rel­a­tive to two Lithua­nian-born Trakehner stal­lions of in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion—Ver­de­nas and Veimaras. The lat­ter sired the U.S.-sta­tioned World Cup show jumper Ho­ralas *Pg*E*, an ac­tive breed­ing stal­lion with the Amer­i­can Trakehner As­so­ci­a­tion and sire of sev­eral in­ter­na­tional show jumpers and top young tal­ents in Ger­many.”

Karnosh em­pha­sizes the in­flu­ence of these lines on sport-horse breed­ing world­wide: “Pythago­ras, who is reg­is­tered as East Prus­sian, is known among other things as the sire of Toti­las. No, not that Toti­las! Rather, the one who pre­ceded him, born in Trakehnen in 1938. This Toti­las had ma­jor in­flu­ence on Trakehner breed­ing in the 20th cen­tury, sir­ing at least 16 up­per-level dres­sage horses, six up­per-level even­ters and six show jumpers. Even­tu­ally, through his great-great-great grand­son Gribaldi, the Trakehner stal­lion Toti­las is a di­rect an­ces­tor of the cur­rently renowned Dutch Warm­blood [Moore­lands] Toti­las.” En­gle­hardt adds that the 1938-born Toti­las’s real value didn’t come from the sport horses he pro­duced, but from his ex­cep­tional fe­male off­spring: His daugh­ters founded sev­eral of to­day’s most suc­cess­ful sporthorse fam­i­lies.

On the bot­tom side of the pedi­gree, we see Mis­ter X de­scended from the warm­blood mare Derbi by Thor­ough­bred stal­lion Blank. Both Karnosh and En­gel­hardt point out that Mis­ter X is about one-third Thor­ough­bred, with in­flu­ences from both English Thor­ough­breds (Rauf­bald, a sire of the 1940s and ’50s known for pro­duc­ing jump­ing po­ten­tial, ap­pears on both sides of the pedi­gree) and Ara­bian Thor­ough­breds. Ac­cord­ing to En­gel-

hardt, “The Ara­bian blood comes through Topal by the fa­mous stal­lion Pri­boj—prob­a­bly the most suc­cess­ful pure­bred Ara­bian ever used in sporthorse breed­ing world­wide. His grand­son Hockey was a leg­endary sporthorse sire in Rus­sia, pro­duc­ing horses for both dres­sage and show jump­ing to the Olympic level.”

We also note that Mis­ter X’s grand­dam, Da­rina, de­scends from un­known stock. Karnosh ex­plains: “This may just mean that no one both­ered to en­ter her pedi­gree into our data­bases, which hap­pens more fre­quently than one might think. Un­knowns back around the time of World War II may be just that: Breed­ers could see the horse was branded and of breed­ing stock, but may not have had ac­cess to the pedi­gree due to the up­heaval of the war.” For this rea­son, part of Mis­ter X’s pedi­gree can­not be an­a­lyzed pre­cisely, lend­ing an air of mys­tery to the ex­act breed­ing com­bi­na­tions that yielded this tremen­dous per­former.

In con­clu­sion, En­gel­hardt says, “So you may be ask­ing your­self: Where is the dres­sage blood in Mis­ter X’s pedi­gree? I think the point is that an ath­letic horse can fill many shoes, and Mis­ter X is the re­sult of care­ful com­bi­na­tion of some of the best sport-horse ge­net­ics that we know, and in many cases, he’s line­bred to those par­tic­u­lar horses.” En­gel­hardt adds that Mis­ter X ex­em­pli­fies the ver­sa­til­ity of the Trakehner breed.

To­gether with Merkulova, Mis­ter X makes Grand Prix dres­sage look easy, but it would not have been a great sur­prise if this horse had be­come a show jumper or even­ter in­stead—at least, not based on his pedi­gree. As En­gel­hardt muses: “In Mis­ter X’s case, the com­bi­na­tion of se­lected Thor­ough­bred blood and sig­nif­i­cant line­breed­ing to proven sport-horse lines has pro­duced an ath­letic, grace­ful and ul­ti­mately very suc­cess­ful dres­sage horse.”

Rus­sia’s Inessa Merkulova and Mis­ter X at the 2017 World Cup Fi­nal in Omaha, Ne­braska

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