Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse News


Summer Issue



What is a Breed?


by Dave Stefanic

There are a number of myths that have crept into the circles of Mountain Horse breeders over the years. Some of them have been started intentionally by mean spirited persons intent on putting down a competing organization. Some of them are just out and out fiction and others arise out of genuine misunderstanding.

One of the biggest myths circulating among Mountain Horse lovers is the one that states something along these lines: “Not all Mountain Horse associations are BREED associations, they are just registries.”

This subject seems to arise every several years or so. Usually when something of monetary value arises like the Kentucky Non Race Breeds Incentive Fund or the preparation for the Showcasing of a limited number of “Breeds” to be selected for demonstration at the 2010 Equestrian Games to be held at the Kentucky Horse Park.
It has been interesting to discover how different groups define the term “BREED”. We researched dogs, cats, birds, cattle and of course horses. The material following is the definitive answer!

For those of you who only read the headlines and won’t go on to read this entire article, let me say right up front .The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse is a BREED! The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse has been a BREED for almost 20 years!

The Spotted Mountain Horse is also a BREED! It was established back in 2002 as a distinct BREED of Mountain horse with more white markings than the KMSHA guidelines would accept.

Several years ago we met with Dr. Gus Cothran PHD, in his office at the Equine Parentage Verification Center on the University of Kentucky Campus in Lexington, Kentucky. (Dr. Cothran, is now with the Texas A & M School of Veterinary Medicine, in College Station, Texas ).

At that original meeting Dr. Cothran was very gracious to answer many questions that we had about the subject, “What is a BREED?” Dr. Cothran has a sign on the wall of his office that reads:

“ A BREED is a group of animals that has been selected by man to possess a uniform appearance that is inheritable and distinguishes it from other groups of animals within the same species.”

We asked him, “Is there not some kind of government agency or watch-dog group that regulates or decides who is and who is not a BREED?” His answer was none of which he had ever been aware. We asked, “How many different characteristics would need to be defined in the BREED standards to set an animal apart as a different BREED?” To our surprise, Dr. Cothran answered, “One”.

We then described to Dr. Cothran the characteristics that we identified with the Kentucky Mountain BREEDs both the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse and the Spotted Mountain Horse; temperament, gait, conformation, color and size.

He agreed that they were all genetic traits, that is to say that each of those qualities can be passed on to progeny, and that 5 different characteristics were more than enough to define a BREED. Then he cautioned that a very good breeding program would include provisions to cull any offspring that for some reason did not meet the BREED standard. We told him how we issued a Temporary Registration to foals and did not certify them to BREED until they were under saddle and could demonstrate to a minimum, two qualified and licensed KMSHA examiners that they possess each of the qualities described in the KMSHA’s “ BREED Standard”. He complimented us on the provisions we had put in place and stated that they were more than adequate.

We then told Dr. Cothran how we require DNA of all breeding horses to be kept on record for identification and also proof of parentage if necessary. He was impressed as to how particular the KMSHA was structured in order for preservation of “BREED type”.

In an article published in the March, 2003 EQUUS Magazine entitled “Defining a BREED”, genetics expert Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD responded to a question sent in to EQUUS asking for a “good definition of the term ‘BREED’” in this way: “I am afraid you are looking for clear-cut definitions and hard-and-fast rules that don’t exist. When speaking of horses, more than other livestock species, several different concepts for “BREED” emerge. Each of these has legitimacy, but each is very, very different.” Doctor Sponenberg goes on to say, “A few horse associations add restrictions to the genetic BREED concept so that not all horses that are born of registered parents are automatically registered…Further evaluation or testing might be required, or the foal might have to meet certain other requirements…Other horse BREEDs, and many of the most popular BREEDs in this country, have “open” herdbooks… The result of having herdbooks open, but open in only a restricted direction, is that the core identity of the BREED as genetically based is really not hampered much.” He then ends with this statement. “The key importance of pure BREEDs is that they represent real, repeatable, predictable choices for horse owners.”

As we expanded our research to investigate what other species of animals used to define the word “BREED”, we found some interesting statements.

The International Progressive Cat Breeders Alliance has this definition in their Registration Rules, Article 1-DEFINITIONS, Section 2: The word “BREED” shall be defined as a sub population of cats which differ from other cats with respect to certain physical characteristics which all members of the defined sub population share in common. These characteristics are described in the written “standard” for the BREED.

The American Kennel Club has a similar requirement. They say, “An established BREED, moreover, has a well defined ‘standard’ that clearly lists how it should look or how it should perform.”

The International Miniature Cattle Breeds Registry, Inc. states: A breeding program means standards and rules have been determined against which future animals are compared and measured. A BREED is defined as “A group of animals with similar characteristics from a common background that reproduces itself similarly within an acceptable range of standards”.

If you go to the Oklahoma State University website and look under Breeds of Livestock you will find this interesting offering;  Welcome to the Breeds of Livestock resource presented by the Department of Animal Science at Oklahoma State University. This site is intended as an educational and informational resource on BREEDs of livestock throughout the world.

What is a Breed?
The classic definition of a “BREED” is usually stated as a variation of this statement. “Animals that, through selection and breeding, have come to resemble one another and pass those traits uniformly to their offspring.”

Unfortunately this definition leaves some unanswered questions. For example, when is a crossbred animal considered a composite BREED and when do we stop thinking about them as composites? Perhaps this definition from The Genetics of Populations by Jay L. Lush helps explain why a good definition of “BREED” is elusive. … note: now read this slow, we had to read it three times before it really sank in…

A BREED is a group of domestic animals, termed such by common consent of the breeders, a term which arose among breeders of livestock, created one might say, for their own use, and no one is warranted in assigning to this word a scientific definition and in calling the breeders wrong when they deviate from the formulated definition. It is their word and the breeder’s common usage is what we must accept as the correct definition.

As you can see from Dr. Lush’s definition it is at least in part the perception of the breeders and the livestock industry which decides when a group of individuals constitutes a “BREED”.

All of these definitions fall well within the parameters of the quote we read on the wall in Dr. Cothran’s office. The fact is that a BREED is a manmade thing. When someone sits down and writes out a description of the characteristics he feels best describes those he wants to preserve in a breeding program; then sets about to introduce only those animals into the breeding program that meet the standards set forth in his description; as long as those characteristics are able to be passed on, or reproduced, in the offspring, that man has formed a BREED.

In 1989 Robert Robinson, Jr. set forth to do just that. Each horse registered and certified to BREED as a Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse has been examined and found to possess the characteristics defined in the BREED standards. Although foals born of registered parents have been allowed to be registered, they must be examined under saddle before they are certified to BREED. The horse, General Jackson, was the first horse to be registered as a Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse and every horse since then has met the same criteria set forth from the beginning.

The BREED was born in 1989 and has continued since that time with very strict provisions in place to insure that only those horses possessing the desired genes are allowed to be registered and certified. The result is that the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse has now been a BREED going on 20 years. We have over 22,000 horses registered. Each horse that has been certified possesses all of the qualities that Jr. Robinson identified in 1989 in the BREED standards for the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse.

Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses fall under three specific BREED categories:
Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse 14 hands and up; Kentucky Mountain Saddle Pony 11 up to 13.3 hands; Spotted Mountain Horse and Pony, with the same height standards.

So then, outsiders can say that the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse and the Spotted Mountain Horse is this or that, in their opinion; but what they can’t say is that the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses and Spotted Mountain Horses are not qualified BREEDS! To do so would only be telling the world that you simply do not know the definition of the word or your just plum crazy…or confused … or listen to people with little to no knowledge about our fine BREED of horses.