What do Secretariat, Cigar and Silver Charm have in common? Besides being fast as the wind, they are all Thoroughbreds. The Thoroughbred is probably the best known breed in the world — and the most valuable. Thoroughbred racing is a huge industry and millions of people train, race and breed these beautiful horses.
The Thoroughbred breed has only been around for about 200 years and, believe it or not, each and every Thoroughbred can trace his ancestry back to three Arabian stallions — the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian.
The Byerley Turk was an Arabian, ridden by Turkish invaders who were fighting British soldiers in Hungary in 1690. After a fierce battle, Captain Robert Byerley claimed the horse as his own. He then rode the brave horse in other battles. When the Turk retired, Captain Byerley sent him to Britain and he was bred to racing mares with Spanish and Italian bloodlines.
The Darley Arabian was bought as a four year old in 1704 by Thomas Darley, a British diplomat in Syria, in the Middle East. Darley shipped his new horse back to Britain where he sired many talented racehorses.
The Godolphin Arabian was born in the Middle East, but was imported to Paris. He was spotted by Lord Godolphin, a very rich Brit who bought the horse and sent him home to be a stud in 1728.
All three stallions produced beautiful foals that grew up to be amazingly fast racehorses. Eventually the offspring of these stallions were given a breed name — Thoroughbreds.
Because racing is such a popular sport, Thoroughbreds became sought after around the world. In the mid-1700s many were imported to America by settlers. As settlers moved west, many set down roots in Kentucky when they noticed how their horses thrived on the nutritious "bluegrass" in the area. Today, Kentucky is the Thoroughbred capital of the USA. One of the most famous races, the Kentucky Derby, is held in Louisville every year on the first Saturday in May.
Thoroughbreds are usually raced as two or three year olds. This means they are in training a lot earlier than other horse breeds. Sometimes the training is too tough for their growing bones and some Thoroughbreds suffer injuries and break down because of the stress and strain. Horses that are successful on the track are usually retired to breed future champions.
Thoroughbreds usually stand about 15.2-16.2hh. They have clean-cut heads, big eyes and large nostrils. Their necks are long and graceful and they have sloping shoulders. Thoroughbreds have long backs and strong, muscular hindquarters. Their legs are long and fine, with large joints. Purebred Thoroughbreds have silky, thin coats which come in solid colors, usually bay, chestnut, black or gray.
Because they are so athletic, Thoroughbreds are very versatile. They can make excellent eventers and wonderful dressage horses. They have lots of stamina and are sometimes used as endurance horses. They are often seen competing in hunter and jumper classes at shows, too. Because many Thoroughbreds are bred to race, many are highly strung and nervous. This is why young Thoroughbreds are not always perfect horses for young people. Some people breed Thoroughbreds to hardier breeds like Connemaras and Quarter Horses and the resulting horses are tough, clever and athletic — perfect for young riders.
If you would like to learn more about Thoroughbreds, why don't you go on line and check out the Jockey Club's Web site?