The KWPN’s most important goal is to breed horses that can perform at the highest level of equestrian sports. Of course, achieving this goal also requires years of training. However, once horses have advanced to the top, they should remain active at that level for some time to come. For this purpose, healthy and problem-free horses have an advantage.
The KWPN specifies the following traits in its breeding goal: performance, health, conformation, and temperament. Because health is a precondition for performance, the KWPN strictly and consistently selects horses for this trait. This approach has certainly contributed to the esteemed position the KWPN holds worldwide as a performance studbook. However, selection for health should not just be tied to performance, for breeding healthy horses is also a moral obligation. The welfare of horses is advanced when they can easily do what is asked of them.
Selecting for Health
Health encompasses a vast range of traits including respiration, biomechanics, fertility, metabolism, and more. Because health traits vary so greatly, there is not one method to select for health. Methods can differ by trait or by groups of traits. One of the most important requirements for beneficial selection is that a trait must be highly hereditary; otherwise, even strict selection for low-heritability traits will yield relatively small results.
The KWPN studbook is known for requiring its stallions to undergo a very strict selection process, which includes selecting for health. Because sires have a significant genetic influence on the horse population, it is logical to stipulate strict requirements for this group of horses. The KWPN imposes mandatory requirements which must be fully met before stallions are granted approved status.
Because great value is also attached to healthy broodmares, the KWPN has implemented a stimulation policy which is supplemented by predicates. For example, the PROK predicate is awarded for health. PROK mares are those that meet the radiographic requirements stipulated by the KWPN. Furthermore, a keur mare with the PROK predicate can be promoted to elite status. Predicates are “quality stamps” for horses as they play a role in both the selection and marketing of horses.
Selection can be carried out in two ways: direct and indirect. Examples of KWPN direct selection include clinical studies and selecting for health. One example of indirect selection is the KWPN’s goal of breeding horses with correct and functional conformation. Horses with this conformation are built to do their work easily and therefore encounter fewer physical obstacles. The KWPN devotes a great deal of attention to breeding horses with correct and functional conformation, starting from the first round viewing of the Stallion Selection and extending through the inspection of foals and three-year-olds. For mares, inspection takes place prior to studbook registration. Another example of indirect selection is the performance test which indirectly selects for soft tissue (muscles, ligaments, and tendons) that is able to withstand stress. In general, horses are tested on both their physical and mental abilities for performance under saddle.
Health is a very broad topic with many simultaneous connotations. For this reason, the term “durability” is frequently used. Implicit in the term is the KWPN’s goal of breeding a healthy horse that can do its work well, and therefore durability encompasses all previously mentioned aspects of health. Each part of the broad health spectrum is important, but ultimately, health is about the total animal: a durable sporthorse that can perform at the highest level.