How often have veteran horsemen said, a good horse has no bad colour. Yet, when ringside at North American draft horse sales, it is evident there are few draft horse breeders today, who give credence to this sage advice.
Clydesdale breeders are hung up on colour. To command buyer interest a Clydesdale must be a black or bay in colour. His four legs must be white, as must his face. Horses withone, two or more dark legs, regardless of their quality, breed character, manner of going or pedigree, capture little buyer interest, although they may be the better horse. Even soundness is often overlooked in favour of colour. Roan Clydesdales command little buyer interest although several highly successful Clydesdale breeders maintain a good bay is a bay Clydesdale with white hair in its coat. It is evident the number of Clydesdale breeders breeding for colour is growing. Traits essential to the success of a Clydesdale–shown on halter or in harness; at work on the street or in the field, are overlooked. This is a recipe for breed disaster.
Roan horses must be employed on occasion if Clydesdale breeders are to maintain quality in the horses they breed. Solid coloured Clydesdales, bred to solid coloured Clydesdales, generation after generation, lose quality. The hair on Clydesdales, the product of such a breeding program, is increasingly coarse and curly with each passing generation. The bright body colours sought fade. While few breeders want a stable of roan Clydesdales, it is essential that roan horses be employed to point in a successful Clydesdale breeding program.
Percheron breeders are also hung up on colour. Today, black is beautiful, while grey coloured Percherons have lost favour. When black Percherons are bred to black Percherons, generation following generation, the black colour of the Percherons produced fades with each generation. Such horses sunburn readily, their hair coat remains dull in spite of the care received. The number of the black Percherons consigned to breed sales that manifest this trait is on the rise.
To maintain the ebony black colour buyers seek, Percheron breeders must employ dark dappled greys on occasion in their breeding program. Likewise, horsemen who breed grey Percherons must employ black Percherons on occasion in their breeding program, to breed the dark dappled grey Percherons popular with those who seek Percherons of this colour. Otherwise, the grey horses Percheron breeders produce become ever lighter in colour with each generation. These grey Percherons turn white at an early age.
Belgian breeders pay less attention to colour. In breed circles rich red sorrels are popular. Red sorrels are bred to red sorrels, generation after generation. However, those dirty, dappled sorrel Belgians, whose mane and tail are silver, now appear with greater frequency. Is this a consequence of the fact few roan Belgian horses are employed by Belgian breeders in their breeding program? A number of veteran Belgian breeders suggest this.
Belgian breeders like chrome, lots of chrome on the horses they breed. Horses with little or no facial markings command little breeder interest, as do horses with little or no white on their feet and legs. Today’s Percheron breeder avoids chrome, as if it were infectious. Little breeder interest is focused on Percherons with a white face and/or white on their feet and legs. Clydesdale breeders go into orbit, if one, two or more feet or legs are dark coloured. A few dark hairs in the white markings on one or more legs are cause for concern.
How many breeding horses, that could make a significant difference in a breeding program, have been overlooked by today’s horsemen, whose principle objective is breeding Belgians, Clydesdales or Percherons for their colour and markings. Surely, soundness, manner of traveling, breed character, conformation, quality and pedigree of a stallion or potential brood mare are equally key, if the seedstock a draft horseman produces are to achieve lasting success.
Master Farceur Jr. was roan in colour. His many descendants, so successful in breed circles today, exhibit the desired rich red sorrel colour. Dunure Footprint was an attractive black stallion with abundant white hair in his coat. Grey hair was seen in the white marking found on his left front leg. The offspring Dunure Footprint sired were well known for underpinning of unsurpassed quality. The long, straight hair that furnished his feet and legs was fine as silk. Calypso had a right front foot that was white, a white left hind pastern and a right hind leg, white half way to the hock; plus a star, short strip and snip. The style, quality and action of Calypso’s descendants still dominate their breed. Today, most draft horse breeders would overlook Belgian, Clydesdale and Percheron stallions such as these, given their colour and/or markings. However, these celebrated sires were key to the success the Belgian, Clydesdale and Percheron draft horse breeds currently enjoy.
Too many draft horse breeders today are throwing the baby out with the bath water. At least this is how I see it.