Principles of the Studbook & Grading


There are probably as many ways to breed a competition horse as there are breeding organisations with which to register them. Even so, a very high percentage of the horses competing internationally (particularly in show jumping and dressage) are warmbloods and there is one area of breeding policy that almost all official Warmblood stud books throughout the world have in common. This is the compulsory grading (the inspection, approval and licensing) of all stallions and mares prior to entry into their breeding studbooks, to which only animals meeting the grading criteria of the society concerned are allowed entry and which normally takes place at 3yrs old.

Once a horse is graded, the offspring of these animals are then entitled to pedigree papers and a brand, provided that the other parents also graded in to the same studbook, thus ensuring the quality and the credentials of the horses concerned.

The purpose of grading

Grading criteria do actually vary from one country to another and one studbook to another, but probably the classic (and most quoted example) of how the grading system works in practice is that used by the hanoverian Verband in Germany. The Hanoverian verband has one of the most thorough, rigorous and demanding processes for grading of both mares and stallions of all studbooks. This high standard is a challenging target for Hanoverian breeders worldwide but it also means that purchasers of Hanoverian horses know that they are getting the best.

The success of the Hanoverian worldwide at the very top of dressage and showjumping is a testimony to the breeding programme.

An understanding of the Hanoverian grading system is therefore vital for anyone considering breeding show jumpers or dressage horses anywhere in the world. Every aspect of the Hanoverian grading system is designed to fulfill the specified breeding aim of the Hanoverian Verband, which is:

" .a noble, big-framed and compact Warmblood horse with good rideability. A horse which, on the basis of its natural abilities, its temperament and character is suitable as a performance horse as well as a pleasure horse.
On this basis, the Verband strives for the breeding of talented sport horses in the disciplines of dressage, show jumping, eventing and driving." 

The activities of the Verband are all structured to ensure that of the 9,000 or more foals born every year that are eligible to be registered, only the very best are kept for breeding the Hanoverian competition horses of the future. With such a long-term plan, this selection process begins when the animals are very young and follows the timetable laid out below, so that by the time a stallion is seven years old he could be one of as few as twelve in his age group to be still approved for use at stud. This table shows that the grading process itself is an extremely lengthy one, taking in as it does exhaustive assessment of conformation paces, rideability and ability to pass on inherited talent.


Colts / Stallions
Fillies / Mares
Initial Inspections
Initial Inspection & selection
2yrs 6 months
3 yrs

Successful stallions have to fulfill performance requirements

Stud book inspection, mare performance tests and
mare show where state premiums and Hanoverian premium mare awards
3 yrs 6 months
Final testing in a stallion

Ridden performance test held locally not at performance testing station (i.e. not at a stallion testing station), or 19 day performance test at official testing station

4yrs 6 months
Judging of progeny
7 yrs 6 months
Analysis of competition


All of the different stages of grading are run by the Hannoverian verband Breeding Commission. When conducting stud book inspections and mare shows, this commission is made up of one breeder, the manager of the State Stud at Celle or his deputy and the breeding manager of the Verband or his deputy. When conducting stallion licensing it comprises two breeders plus the breeding manager of the Verband or his Deputy, with the manager of the State Stud or his deputy acting in an advisory capacity.

For members of the BHHS, these processes are carried out in the UK in conjunction with the Verband via the annual show and various regional shows. In the UK, mares can be studbook inspected at any age, but it must take place prior to the branding of any foals. Non-foal branded Hanoverian mares (that is, mares from other breed societies) may be eligible for stud book inspection and subsequent entry into the Hanoverian stud book subject to an assessment of their pedigree. Additionally, mares can undertake their performance test at any age, but to be eligible for Elite candidate status, this must take place before the mare is older than five. Stallion licensing takes place in the UK as per the timetable, but the stallion performance test can only be taken in Germany. With regard to the rearing of stallions, here is an additional service provided to British breeders called the ‘colt assessment’.

Yearling colts can be brought to the annual show for an assessment of their potential to make a licensed stallion. 
Details of the studbook inspection, licensing and performance testing for mares and stallions can be found under ‘Mares’ and ‘Stallions’. More information can also be found under ‘The breeding rules’.

Progeny performance records and BLUP indices

As both stallions and mares progress through their careers at stud, the results gained by their progeny, not only in these inspections and gradings but also in open competition, help to provide the data that makes it possible to assess how successful they are as sires and grandsires or dams and granddams of competition horses.

From these assessments it is possible to calculate the Best Linear Unbiased Predictor (BLUP) index for each breeding horse for each discipline and from this to develop a breeding policy which ensures that breeders produce stock from only the very best animals with the highest potential for producing competition horse offspring. This is why the long-term planning so inherent in the grading system used by the Warmblood breeds has been so vital in producing the competition horse of today.

Information about a stallions success and BLUP data can be found in the annual publication of the stallion year book called the Hannoveraner Jahrbuchhengst which is available from the Hanoverian verband.