An Introduction to
The common purpose of all WBFSH Member Studbooks is to support breed improvement. But what do we mean when we say we want to "improve" the breed?
The exact definitions of what we mean by “improvement” may differ from studbook to studbook, as each studbook has its own preferred "type", and characteristics and ideals that make up each breed’s unique identity, or breeding goal.
Studbook evaluations and gradings are often centred on how close - in the opinion of the judge - the horses come to that individual breeding goal. Historically this was, and often still is, carried out by assigning numerical marks for pre-defined and often very broad traits, such as conformation, gaits, type, rideability and jumping ability. Therefore, the overall final numerical mark that is awarded after evaluating a horse is a summarised verdict of the horse’s quality, which has a high degree of subjectivity and which can vary a lot from studbook to studbook.
There are, however, also many commonalities and shared aims between WBFSH member studbooks who are united in their purpose to support and facilitate the breeding of horses who perform well in the sport.
In order to be able to share information and data that will help all studbooks to continue to improve breeding for performance, such an objective evaluation method needs to avoid aesthetic considerations and opinions, and focus instead on those characteristics that will provide an accurate indication of a horse’s ability to perform.
There are aspects of a horse's conformation that have a direct impact on its athleticism, its ability to move well and with ease, and its ability to remain sound. To describe these aspects in a meaningful way, Linear Scoring provides a methodology of creating a common language of describing horses in as neutral and informative terms as possible.
It starts by breaking down the old overarching traits, such as conformation, walk, trot, canter, and jump into a wider range of individual, clearly observable components. For conformation, for example, these could include the length of the neck, the angle of the shoulder, the height of the wither, and so forth. For a gait, such as the trot, this could - among other aspects - include the length of stride, balance, impulsion and elasticity.
The physical expression of each of these traits is then described by indicating where it is located within a range of two extremes, and as a deviation from the average. For example, the length of the neck of a horse could be described as average, or longer, or shorter than average. Furthermore, we can indicate whether a neck deviates from the average only slightly, or obviously, or extremely. In most cases, this has led to a 7 or 9 point scale, with 4/d or 5/e indicating the middle, or average position.
The linear profile of a horse that is thus generated does not yet constitute a value judgement about its ability to perform, or about its adherence to an individual studbook's breeding goal. However, it provides a detailed description that can illustrate how closely a horse adheres to a breeding goal, and it can be interpreted to form a value judgement.
For example, a longer than average length in stride in the trot would be a desirable feature in a dressage horse, and would therefore lead to a high numerical mark. In many aspects of conformation, extreme deviations from the average may be seen as less desirable, as they might impact on soundness.
Having been pioneered by the KWPN, Linear Scoring is now used by studbooks all over the world, with some interesting variations, but also with many commonalities.
As each studbook develops their own linear scoring scheme, we see some variations in the number of traits listed and scored, although there are many similarities, with a core set of traits that are important to most, if not all sport horse studbooks.
In order to identify commonalities between studbooks and to achieve a high level of consistency in scoring, the WBFSH has been organising annual International Workshops for the Linear Scoring in the Warmblood Horse. These have been very popular with studbook evaluators from all over the world, giving us an opportunity to enjoy a mixture of practical scoring sessions, evaluative discussions and presentation sessions to explore common ground and share knowledge and experience.
Some studbooks have developed different schemes for different ages and disciplines, and some have identified breeding goals and breed optima as an integral part of the score sheet to offer not only a description, but also a normative evaluation at the same time.
Overall, we are very encouraged to see that there are many interesting commonalities in the development and application of linear scoring systems across different studbooks. This will enable us to collect valuable and shareable data on which we can all build in the future, and which can be used to benefit sport horse breeding across the world.
To find out more about linear scoring and to access interesting presentations and information visit equinephenotypes.org