EQ Life Masthead - 2019
live TV (up)
EQ Life virtual competition
CMH.TV advert (V2)
EQ Life Magazine
12 month subscription
Thoroughbreds rule in eventing

This article first appeared in a previous issue of Equestrian Life. To see what's in our latest issue, please click here.

“Sandhills Special” Purpose bred eventing horse - Photo Credit © Julie Hedley

“Sandhills Special” Purpose bred eventing horse: 7/8 thoroughbred competing very successfully at 1* level. Bred at Sandhills using the same mare lines as Sandhills Brillaire also with Staccato on her mare line with introduction of a NZ thoroughbred sire of Abelou bloodlines.

© Julie Hedley


WELL-BRED EVENTING horses have been a luxury Australian event riders have taken for granted since the Australian three-day event team went to its first Olympics. The Australian and New Zealand Thoroughbred was, and probably still is, the best style of horse for eventing at the highest level. These horses were predominantly of staying bloodlines that were very accessible to riders throughout the second half of the 20th century. They were available cheaply from local racehorse trainers usually because they were too slow. They were tall, rangy types with three good paces, good bone, athletic and, of course, they could jump and gallop.

Throughout the later part of last century the Australian Thoroughbred industry slowly turned its focus on shorter distance races, thus slowly drying up the older staying types that were being bred. This was mainly through a quicker return through yearling sales and the shorter races suited a younger horse.  Also, markets opened up in Asia for Australian Thoroughbreds, which increased their value and took them out of reach of the cash-strapped event rider.

So, it could be argued that the success of the Australian and NZ riders through the 1980s and ’90s can be largely credited to the superior horse they were riding. As we moved into the 21st century the sport of eventing went through a change and dressage and show jumping became more influential. Riders moved toward horses that showed more talent for these phases as the endurance part of eventing had been significantly reduced.  Many of the Thoroughbreds that were so good at the old format were often incredibly difficult in the dressage phase. The ex-racehorse would run on huge amounts of adrenalin which often proved the undoing of many dressage tests.

Moving forward to today's eventing horse , we shouldn't stray too far from our Thoroughbreds that helped make us so successful 20 years ago. Breeding eventing horses is not as difficult as you might think. Many individual breeders here in Australia have proved it possible from small beginnings. The late Bud Hyem bred two Olympic gold medal horses in Kibah Tic Toc and Kibah Sandstone, Megan Jones bred her own Olympic silver medalist and Wendy Schaeffer has used purpose-bred Thoroughbreds to win Adelaide 4*. Our own Sandhills stud has been involved with the breeding of two consecutive Adelaide CCI4* winners in Panamera and Sandhills Brillaire. The sire of these two mares, Staccato, has a wonderful jumping and staying Thoroughbred pedigree, including King of Babylon and Pacific Prince. Panemera has the Lunchtime Thoroughbred pedigree on her dam’s side and Sandhills Brillaire is from a Galverston mare which is the great Sir Ivor Thoroughbred line.

Across Europe the UK and Ireland, people have been breeding eventers for many years and the advantage they have there is simply numbers; the number they breed and the number of years they've been concentrating on it. It's interesting to note that one stallion, Heraldick, had 100 mares in his first season. Heraldick is doing for Germany what the Australian and NZ Thoroughbred did for us 20 years ago and that is to be a dominant factor in the achievements of the German team.

The Thoroughbred, whether it is Australian, Irish, English or European, brings the most important factor to an event horse, which is lung capacity. Every horse, whether it's at the end of a race or cross-country course, will be getting tired, but it's the horse with the best access to oxygen that will outperform the others.

After lung capacity, the next factor that should be considered for your eventer is good feet and legs, also something the Thoroughbred is good for. Conformation is a whole subject by itself so we’ll leave that well alone and move to the general abilities that we like. We prefer firstly a good jumper that we can train to do dressage rather than the other way round. Today it's still very rare that the dressage leader wins the competition at the major championship. Eventing is still more about  cross-country and showjumping than dressage.

To start your breeding program we encourage you to find a 16hh-plus mare that is predominately Thoroughbred, has good feet and legs and appears athletic. Temperament is vital and can be assessed if the mare has been a performance horse, or a little bit of research will uncover temperamental tendencies of particular lines. This is an extremely important, because it doesn’t matter how much talent they have, if they don’t have a trainable temperament it will be a disappointment.

Choosing your stallion will be a personal decision taking into account your mare and what will compliment her. Research is the key so check out what's available, paying particular attention to the stallion’s mare lines. If you've ever seen a Thoroughbred auction catalogue you'll notice the mares that have produced winners will be in bold print. This is no fluke as the Thoroughbred breeders recognise the importance of the mare in the breeding process. If you have a good mare and she produces a foal not to your liking, change the stallion not the mare!

Australia is still in its infancy as far as breeding eventing horses go and looking into our crystal ball we'd guess that the cross-country is not going to get any harder, so dressage and jumping will continue to dominate the genetics of your breeding. Let's see if we can resurrect the lovely Thoroughbred type with a splash more flair for the dressage and jumping. We encourage you to continue your breeding endeavours no matter how small, our future 3-Day Event teams are depending on you.

Read the latest News.

Discover what it takes to breed the modern showjumper.

Find out how purpose-bred horses have changed the face of dressage in Australia.


Back to top. Printable View.