“How can we explain that one of two Thoroughbreds, birth brothers, offspring of the same parents, may turn out a chestnut and a great galloper, and the other, a bay with no special talent? For me, that was Hamlet’s dilemma.”
Frederic Tesio penned those words at the left in his native language of Italian in 1947, when he wrote “Puro-Sangue – Animale da Esperimento” (“The Pure Blood – An Animal of Experimentation”). He was describing the beginning of a journey that would end with Tesio becoming one of the most successful Thoroughbred breeders of all time.
“The truth of the matter was that I had learned to read and to see, but I had not yet learned how to think…about why things happen,” Tesio wrote.
Thankfully, Tesio went on to think a lot about why things happen, especially things related to equine genetics. His breeding and inheritance theories resulted in horses that continue to have a genetic impact on the modern Thoroughbred 100 years later.
So what does Tesio have to do with today’s Western performance horse? A lot, if you’re trying to breed the best cutter, reiner or reined cow horse possible. Shane Plummer, of SDP Buffalo Ranch, in Fort Worth, Texas, strives to do just that, and often turns to Tesio’s teachings for guidance.
“I’m very much a student of a gentleman by the name of Frederic Tesio,” Plummer said. “He was an Italian gentleman that hit his stride in the early part of the 20th century. He won the Italian Derby five years in a row, which is like the equivalent of winning the National Cutting Horse Association Futurity five years in a row or the National Reining Horse Association Futurity five years in a row, with all different family lines.
“He was what I call a statistician breeder. He learned through looking at the statistics of certain family lines, and what they did in racing. Then, by stacking certain traits together through inbreeding, that’s how he found all of his success,” Plummer explained of one of Tesio’s mating methods.
In addition to studying Tesio’s writings, Plummer also learned from his father, S. David, who has spent a lifetime breeding top Quarter Horses for racing and Western performance disciplines.
“Growing up breeding horses has been a big advantage for me. I’m second generation in breeding in the horse industry, and I had the best teacher I know, which was my father,” Plummer said. “He minored in genetics, so he always had a flare for it – not only just mating selection and animal husbandry, so to speak, but a lot of the science behind it, as well.”
Plummer builds on his own experiences, as well as those of his father and master breeders of the past, such as Tesio, in his own breeding program at Buffalo Ranch. The results have been promising for the relatively young operation.
“There are a lot of factors that need to be taken into consideration when we discuss mating selection, from genetics to conformation, athleticism, working style, temperament and marketability, which is what people have a demand for when you go back to the marketplace. To me, those are the key factors that have to be considered, and everyone may value certain things differently,” Plummer said. “Horse trainers certainly are going to be more concerned with the athleticism, working style and temperament than anything. The market breeder is going to certainly care about the marketability, the conformation and the genetics, because those are the things that translate into [money in] the sale ring. It all depends on what everyone’s end goals are, and the deciding factor of what the best choice is for you.”