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Quality Control – The role of Stallion Licencing

Are all stallions created equal?

Author: Jody Hartstone/Wednesday, October 7, 2020/Categories: Blog

Quality Control – The role of Stallion Licencing


If you are looking at breeding your mare to a warmblood sport horse stallion this breeding season there are many points to consider.  Whether or not the stallion has been licenced and approved for breeding should be one of these consideration points. This article explains some of the reasons why choosing a licenced Warmblood stallion for your mare adds a degree of certainty to your breeding program…


In New Zealand, the breeding industry is largely unregulated.  There is no state or government intervention into horse breeding like there are in many parts of the world.  There is no compulsion to microchip or register the foals bred here even though a substantial biosecurity risk might be posed by not knowing the whereabouts of all equines in this country.  There are also no laws stopping people standing unlicenced stallions at stud.

In Europe there is basically no such thing as an unlicenced stallion – those that don’t pass muster at the various licencing facilities are quickly gelded or sold off to countries far away.  These European nations take horse breeding very seriously and simply wouldn’t dream of “backyard breeding” and all that comes with it.

Seeing is believing

In days gone by, people only bred to stallions they had seen themselves in the flesh.  Wise horsemen and women would drive across country to see a particular stallion they were looking at putting their precious mares to.  They would see first-hand the stallion’s character and conformation and maybe even get to touch, handle, and perhaps ride the stallion themselves.   A visit to the stud farm also gave the breeder the chance to look at any offspring by said stallion that may have been produced already. 

Fast forward to today’s world where aeroplane holds are brimming with semen shipping containers as mares are bred to stallions standing anywhere from Northland to Bluff.  We are no longer limited by how far we can transport our mare to stud, so we can search further afield to find the perfect match for our mares.

Add frozen semen to the mix  and you have access to pretty much any stallion anywhere in the world.  You can spend many hours trawling the internet and glossy catalogues and magazines for the perfect match for your mare. 

But without seeing the stallion in the flesh you are simply being drawn into what the stallion owners and stud masters want you to see and believe – a marketing guru’s dream!


Passing the test – an assurance of quality

When you see European stallions advertised, more often than not their licencing scores and the stud books they are approved for will be proudly stated in the advertisement.  That is because it is a “badge of honour” to be licenced for breeding, and if the top stud books in the world have accepted the stallion due to his performance in sport or influence in the breeding world then that is even better.

Getting back to the New Zealand scene…  it seems every second stallion of warmblood decent advertised in the magazines or on various Facebook pages and websites is not licenced by any Stud Book.  Based on pedigree alone, many of these stallions would be eligible to be assessed for approval into one of the Stud Books here.  And here in lays the problem.  Any horse can look fancy in photos and videos.  Videos are often slowed down to enhance movement, the free jumping you see could have been the only time it jumped down that lane without touching a pole, and who is to say the pedigree being expounded is even correct?!

Proof of Linage

If you are breeding to a stallion that has not been DNA tested by a reputable breed society there is a change that the pedigree may not be as advertised.  We are seeing more and more unlicenced stallions saying they have been DNA tested but there are several issues with DNA being taken by the stallion owner and not being put through a Stud Book’s rigorous registration system.  One issue is that you are relying on the honesty of the stallion owner that the hair they sent for testing  is indeed from that stallion, and not another horse they have access to who actually IS by the stated stallion and out of the stated mare.  You also need to make sure the stallion’s dam line is correct and she herself has been DNA tested to her parents.  Not so simple when none of these horses have passports or paperwork.


All licenced stallions go through a veterinary examination which includes looking for defects that could be passed on such as a parrot mouth or a club foot.  The vet will also look for soundness issues and scars that could hide surgeries such as a wind operation (wind issues can be hereditary).

Choosing an unlicenced stallion may well mean you are choosing a stallion that may have severe soundness issues or may have undergone a surgery to cover up long term soundness issues caused by poor conformation or movement. 

An expert opinion

The New Zealand Warmblood Society only uses overseas experts to assess the stallions that are put forward for licencing each year.  These people are professionals who see literally thousands of foals and stallions each year and judge the stallions they see here to the same exacting standards that they judge to in Europe.

What is involved

The current stallion licencing test for the New Zealand Warmblood Association includes the judging of the stallion’s conformation, free movement, and jumping ability either down a lane or under saddle.  Marks are given for each part of the body (eg head, neck, saddle position etc) and comments made as to the structure and “typiness” of the stallion.  It is possible for the assessor to get a good “feel” for the temperament of the stallion as well.  The overall marks from each stallion are posted on the NZWA website, with more detailed results of the stallion’s licencing marks available on request.  The pass mark for stallions to get approved for breeding by the NZWA is currently 75%, with no mark in any category allowed to be less than a 6.  Jumping stallions to get their marks weighted in this direction, whilst dressage bred stallions have their paces and movement given more weighting than their jump ability (although all stallions must both move and jump to a respectable level regardless of their breeding).

Performance testing

In most European Stud Books, stallions must a performance test to show their abilities under saddle.  The NZWA is rolling out a system which will include performance testing, beginning with the Stallion Star System which was introduced two years ago.  If you go to the website www.nzwarmbloods.com you can see that every stallion listed is given a star rating.  A four-star rating indicates a stallion or a number of its progeny have reached the top level in sport.  Three stars is an above average sporting performance, a two-star stallion has passed his Performance Test Requirements and a one-star stallion has gained ether a Merit or and Excellence in his Licencing.   A stallion who has a zero rating has passed licencing but is yet to meet the Performance Criteria.  This system allows breeders to see at a glance which stallions have proven themselves (or have done so via their progeny) in sport.  Given the high levels of hereditability when it comes to performance, the NZWA Stallion Star System helps breeders make informed breeding choices.

Before you sign that breeding contract

Remember, choosing an unlicenced stallion could mean you are simply breeding to a gorgeous advertisement in a glossy magazine.  The reality could be the semen you are putting in your mare belongs to a lame, parrot mouthed stallion with a turned in foot and a questionable nature, whose pedigree has not been verified by DNA.

Why not make stallion selection less of a gamble and choose a licenced stallion for your breeding?

NB The NZWA accepts stallions who have been licenced by most recognised international studbooks who a members of the World Breeders Federation for Sport Horses.  For example, foals born in New Zealand by frozen semen stallions approved for breeding with Holstein, KWPN, Oldenburg etc are all eligible for a NZWB International Passport.  



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