Whether looking for horses for regional, national or international sport, competitors in the U.S. have a consistently uniform belief that the $800 plane ticket for a weekend of horse-hunting in Europe and the $4,000 cost to ship the horse back home is well worth the money for the quality and convenience that the Europeans supply. But in 1994, the Performance Horse Registry (PHR) was established in the U.S. to promote the breeding of American sport horses to compete on a level with those bred at European stud farms.
After a slow start at the Jockey Club, the PHR moved to new headquarters at the American Horse Show Association (AHSA) in September of 2000. Under the AHSA, the registry has become the first registry in North America to compare and keep data on the pedigrees of registered horses in relation to their performance and that of their offspring. These are the same types of records that the European studbooks keep and it makes it possible for breeders to make better informed breeding decisions by keeping tabs on the progeny of their stallions and mares.
The routine importation of horses from Europe and other breeding hot spots like New Zealand, Australia and South America, has left many worthy American stallions unnoticed. Besides the internationally competitive stallions that exist in North America, there are many instances of successful stallions in Europe that can trace their bloodlines back to this continent.
“The caliber of some of the stallions in America is phenomenal,” says Julie Moses, the assistant director of information resources at the Performance Horse Registry, “but they are often overlooked. The PHR will help breeders to promote their stallions by following their offspring.”
“People will always be interested in the allure of European horses,” says Meghan deGaray, the office manager at Iron Spring Farm, Pa., “but the PHR could be a great tool for breeders, and in the future help serious competitors find horses in the U.S. and even bring Europeans here in search of horses.”
America, it seems, does have the potential for a successful sport horse breeding program. Consider the huge success of the Jockey Club. Race competitors from all over the globe travel to the U.S. for the finest race horses in the world. Why shouldn’t the same be true for sport horses?
The PHR believes that keeping better breeding and performance records is the way to its own Jockey Club-like success. By combining efforts with those of other equine registries in the United States, the PHR will assist in creating a single source of breeding records, but that probably won’t diminish the standing of the European farms.
“...the PHR is a way to start improving American breeding practices.”
“You can go for a long weekend in Germany, Holland or Ireland and see 30 or 40 good horses that are trained and ready for competition,” says Denny Emerson, an international eventer and member of the AHSA Breeders’ Committee. “It would take weeks of flying around the U.S. to see half that many.”
Emerson goes on to say that “the American systems have never helped their breeders, but people like Alan Balch (the president of the AHSA) and organizations like the PHR are starting to make a difference.” This doesn’t mean, though, that the U.S. will ever match the high concentrations of well bred, well-trained sale horses available in Europe, and this continues to be the main reason why competitors search for their mounts on the other side of the Atlantic.
The registration forms are available online at the Website, www.AHSA.org/PHR/ and the fees are reasonable, but there is an extra cost for the DNA typing of all breeding animals. Horses are also eligible through established American Warmblood registries, but the most exciting part of the PHR is that it was created especially for crossbred horses.
“If you know the stallion and mare of your horse, great,” says Moses. “If the history is not known, though, your horse could be the start of a family tree. It’s a place to register horses that are not eligible for other registries.” It also targets disciplines that the stud records of other nations do not.
“The Europeans are most interested in jumpers and dressage, but Americans are interested in hunters and other disciplines as well,” says deGaray.
To promote all of its sport horses, the PHR began an awards system called the Silver Stirrup Awards. They offer state, zone and national awards in all categories of hunter, jumper, dressage, eventing, driving and endurance. All of the points are posted on the PHR Website. The dressage and eventing scores are maintained by the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) and the USCTA, respectively.
The PHR also promotes its recording methods through the AHSA, USDF and USCTA, as well as on its Website and in equine publications. These promotional efforts seem to be working because the PHR is increasing its registrations and inquiries, but it will take some time for Americans to see the effects. A few generations of breeding and stud records, and at least a few more years of show records for all horses, will be necessary to accurately follow bloodlines and establish American breeding patterns.
“There will always be an international horse search for the next great one,” says Emerson, “but the PHR is a way to start improving American breeding practices.” By combining the efforts of the PHR with other registries, the era of new and improved generations of American-bred sport horses has just begun.