I am fascinated by data. Part of it is the geek in me and part of it is because I like facts. Dale Hinman a US based eventing fan has pulled together data for all 4* events since 2006. You may be sat thinking how is this relevant to me as an amateur rider? But for me I watch the top level to see what will filter down the levels. I hope you find it interesting.
About Dale & Wits End Eventing. Website
My wife has ridden since she was 7 and started eventing at 12 after seeing a photo of the cross-country jumps at Burghley. Until about 8 years ago, we always had separate sports. I raced small sailboats and mountain bikes. She evented. When we moved to North Carolina, we bought land and then had the horses on the property. I’ve always loved animals, and it was a natural progression for me to become more and more involved with the horses and with eventing including competing a bit myself. We then started to buy/sell prospects and import from connections in NZ and Australia (back when the dollar was stronger, and you could actually make money doing that!). We transitioned from purchase/resale to breeding about 6 years ago starting with my wife’s CIC** mare, an ex racer we bought as a 6 yo. As we started looking for more broodmares (based at that point solely on my wife’s eye for a horse), I started looking at the pedigrees and noticed similarities in the pedigrees of the horses she liked. That “ah-ha” moment started the whole ball rolling. We are both scientifically minded (she is a pediatrician, and I am an engineer) so we began researching bloodlines for sport and learning about line breeding. The next step was to see what lines were in successful horses and what crossover we had, and that is where the database of 4* horses started. The database has been used primarily to help our breeding program, but I do find the information fascinating and am surprised that others in the industry don’t seem interested. I actually had someone prominent in the US young event horse programs tell me there is no point in collecting data about horses!
“Bigger horses have more presence in the ring and score better in dressage.” That statement started me thinking about height and event horses. My first reaction was skepticism; my second was, even if that statement is true, what about the other 2 phases? As I do with other problems presented to me, I went searching for the data.
Over the years, I have put together a database of all CCI**** from 2006 to present which includes every horse that has run, every score for each phase, country of birth, breed, breeder, height, % blood….you get the idea. We use the database in an attempt to make more informed breeding decisions than just “matching the best to the best.”
The data presented in the above graph is clear: horses at the top level of our sport are getting taller. Since the introduction of the short format, average CCI**** horse heights have risen 1.3cm. I have theories as to why this is happening which range from the introduction of more warmblood registries in event breeding (many of which breed for larger horses and even have minimum recommended or required heights for stallions) to the perception of a competitive edge for larger horses as expressed in the opening sentence. No matter why this change is occurring; however, my job as a breeder is to produce top horses and horses that can perform over time so the questions I’m interested in are
1) Is there a competitive advantage to height?
2) What effect, if any, does height have on a horses’ career?
To analyze height’s effect on performance I broke down the finish positions by phase and height.
We can see from the chart that, yes, bigger horses do better in dressage. The average first place horse after dressage is 1.25cm taller than the average entrant, and the average height for the top 10 horses after the dressage phase is 1cm taller than the mean. Equally obvious, however, is that by the end of the competition that advantage is gone. In fact, the average winning horse is 0.25cm shorter than the average entrant and 1.5cm shorter than the winner of the dressage phase.
The chart shows that the average height for all finishers is smaller than that for all entrants pointing to a possible advantage in riding/owning smaller horses at least where finishing events is concerned. To examine this further, I wanted to see if a correlation existed between height and career length as number of CCI**** events completed. The average horse completes 1.5 CCI**** events. Horses that are true campaigners will have completed at least 4.6 events (2 standard deviations above the mean). The average height of those horses is 166.5 cm, shorter than the average of all horses entering the event.
So, with both finish position and career length pointing towards an advantage for smaller horses, why are horses getting bigger?