Selecting a Thoroughbred: The Role of Genetics

Researchers are learning what genes (when found or not found) could suggest about a Thoroughbred’s potential.

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Any owner will agree that he or she considers several factors when purchasing a horse. From conformation to show records and bloodlines to temperament, the number of aspects a potential horse owner evaluates can be endless.

But add to that list–at least in the Thoroughbred industry–molecular genetics. Researchers have made strides in deciphering what genes (when found or not found) could suggest about a horse’s athletic potential. At the 2011 Thoroughbred Pedigree, Genetics, and Performance Symposium, held Sept. 7-8 in Lexington, Ky., Matthew Binns, PhD, adjunct professor in the University of Kentucky Department of Veterinary Science and consultant for The Genetic Edge in Midway, Ky., discussed a genetic perspective on traditional pedigree methods and the characteristics of genetically complex traits, such as athletic performance.

"Is genetics important to the horse industry?" Binns began. "A major determinant of sale prices is the pedigree. And pedigree can be thought of as a surrogate for genetics."

Binns described the Thoroughbred horse and its tradition for heavy pedigree keeping as a geneticist’s playground: "It’s a fascinating history. It’s a group of animals that’s perfect for genetics

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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