The horse you see–or the foal you envision–reflects generations of ancestors. Owners of those ancestors made decisions on mating horses, planning each generation. They selected animals by examining the successes of previous horsemen, as recorded in pedigrees.

Each breed includes individuals which meet a standard of a breed registry. The registry–an association or a government agency–maintains the records in a studbook.

To understand more about the effects of breeding decisions, you’ll learn how to read a horse’s pedigree, and how to examine the ancestry beyond the names listed in the chart. Knowing bloodlines helps you predict a horse’s suitability as a performer or as future breeding stock.

Pedigree research can be a lifelong pursuit, involving the science of genetics. For starters, here’s a three-step approach covering some popular registries, along with the European sport horses.

Trace The Chart

A pedigree chart portrays a horse’s family tree. You’ll see charts included in advertisements of horses for sale and stallions at stud, in sales catalogues, and farm brochures.

When you research an individual horse, a certificate of registration (the “papers”) establishes that animal’s identity. The registry that issued the certificate verifies the accuracy of ancestry, citing stallions and mares recorded in studbooks. On the certificate, a chart might list four generations: sire and dam, the four grandparents, the eight great-grandparents, and the 16 great-great-grandparents. Most pedigrees read from left to right, branching on the “top line” (the sire and his ancestors) and the “bottom line” (the dam and her ancestors).

The certificate should cite registration number, birth date, color, markings, sex, breeder, an