Your Guide to Equine Health Care

In Defense of Grade Horses

Grade horses provide a great pool of genetic variation and generally lack many of the genetic diseases that currently can afflict purebreds.

In Defense of Grade Horses
Photo: iStock

Many people are under the impression that grade horses (those whose parentage is unknown, unidentifiable, or of significantly mixed breeding) are largely to blame for the horse overpopulation issue. The May 2010 issue of The Horse had a letter to the editor that again stated horse overpopulation would be reduced if people stopped breeding grade horses.

Grade horses provide a great pool of genetic variation and generally lack many of the genetic diseases that currently can afflict purebreds. Their lack of papers does not decrease their functionality, with the exception of not being able to show at breed-specific events. Papers increase a horse’s value only by showing potential based on parentage. Papers do not prove an animal is sound physically or mentally, free of genetic illness, or capable of performing well. Grade horses that sell do so based on their own merits of soundness and functionality.

In purebreds, as you continually select a specific trait or breed type, you diminish the amount of genetic variation within that breed. When this is done, genetic problems, which nature previously reduced through genetic variation, can become focused. Many species of animals that humans breed for specific characteristics develop genetic diseases. In many cases these diseases have decimated breeding populations of purebreds. Foundation breeds may not be available to “restart” the

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Written by:

Former veterinary technician and researcher at Utah State University.

17 Responses

  1. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    Well, I think this is a great article.  

    The economy is still bad & I don’t have the answers to the breeding / overpopulation / slaughter / rescue issue.

    What I do have is my opinion on my personal experience with linebred, paper

  2. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    Just coming across this article.  For those of us who value all horses, the grade is the base of american culture.  As part native american indian, raised with horses, trained horses for kids camps, I will take a grade horse any day over some

  3. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    No one should be breeding as long as the surplus of horses, grade or reg,  are being slaughtered, that being said, I would be more apt to get a grade horse and i think the market will too, even in a poor economy for some simple reason, LOWER VET B

  4. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    To Cathy,

    Yes quality horses do not end up at auction as often as non-quality horses but auction statistics don’t standardly take into account whether or not that horse has any papers.  Most of the time, if an animal has landed in a slaught

  5. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    I do not breed horses so I will not comment on that aspect of the discussion.  I do own two horses.  One is a good looking QH with World Champion, Foundation breeding, etc. on both sides. He has multiple joint problems and has cost me a small

  6. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    Agree 100% with Pam.  Grade horses are NOT free of genetic disease…you just don’t have a clue which ones to look for!  While the purebred horse industry has DEFINITELY erred in selecting FOR some bad traits (small feet in AQHA halter horses

  7. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    Ellen, your absolutely right about the fact that two problem animals of different breeds don’t make a sound crossbred.  However, at the same time, if one of the parents is papered and has a genetic problem and is bred to a grade or already crossbr

  8. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    Jennifer and Liz make good points.  I’m fairly sure there have not been good studies done comparing the prevalence of heritable disease in papered vs. "grade" horses.  If you cross an insulin-resistant Morgan with an insulin-resista

  9. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    I agree with Marla. I have a horse rescue. I get in as many "papered" horses in the rescue as I do grade or cross bred. By far, I have more problems with papered purebred horses with physical problems such as DSLD, Navicular, or Blindness tha

  10. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    Let us not forget that Figure, Justin Morgan’s horse was a "grade" horse and was an outstanding individual. The same cannot be said of the 100’s of thousands of purebreds being produced today.

  11. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    I’ve worked with many purebreds, Arab, Saddlebred, Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, POA, Belgian Draft, and Shire.  By far the horses I prefer to work with are the crossbred horses.  I’ve had less health issues with them and they can do just as m

  12. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    The big farms are cutting production because it doesn’t pencil out.  Many small breeders have gone out of business.  Stallions are worth pennies on the dollar compared to the mid 2000’s.  If you cannot make a living breeding purebreds, w

  13. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    These are good comments. As Jennifer says, the argument should be less about bloodlines and more about breeding good horses; and as Liz says, all breeding should have a goal.

    Unfortunately, I’m thinking too many breeders, no matter if they’re b

  14. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    I agree with Liz in some aspects of what she said: that breeding should be done with a goal in mind. However I dissagree that breeding "grade" horses should not be condoned. Yes the market has gone down the tank, but there are still many buys

  15. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    Well, the article makes a good point as far as a good sound horse is a good sound horse – the old saying "you can’t ride papers" is certainly true.

    However, the horse market has gone down the toilet – anyone who trains and sells perfor

  16. re: In Defense of Grade Horses

    How very true this article is………..

    A bad horse is a bad horse, papers or no papers….  

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