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Genetics Index
First Posted: Feb 8, 2007
Apr 7, 2012

Registry, Breed, Type

by Debora Johnson
What Are the Differences?

Have you ever wondered what the differences are between a registry, a breed, and a type? It seems confusing, but the puzzle can be sorted out. It is important, first to define each.


A registry is an official record book or an entry in one. For example, a horse registry can be a color registry, an open registry, or a breed registry. An open registry is taking foundation stock that will eventually become the basis for a breed registry. The stock have to meet established criteria in order to qualify. A Patchy Star, pictured on my home page, is registered as a Spotted Mountain Horse. That registry is still open and accepting foundation stock. When the registry closes, the offspring of that registry will be able to be registered as a breed, if they meet the criteria of that registry. Also, A Patchy Star is a tobiano, spotted horse. He could be registered as a Pinto, which is a color registry, but not a breed registry. Sometimes registries are started for financial gain and go no where.


A breed (for this purpose, horses) is said to be presumably related by descent from common ancestors. They are visibly similar in most characteristics. The breed registry establishes what criteria are necessary to become a part of that breed registry. Once closed, all descendants hail from the stock registered at closing date. A breed begins when men notice that the animals of one herd or one community seem different from others and superior for some purposes. Pedigree barrier of some sort is then raised between these animals and the rest of the species, so that their special characteristics will not be diluted or scattered by crossing them with other stock. This is usually done by a breed association which defines the breed ideal and supervises registration. The first published herd book, "The General Stud Book for Thoroughbred Horses," appeared in 1791.


The following article, by D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD, eloquently describes "type."

Type Assessment
The Importance of Type in Rocky Mountain Horses
D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD

"Type" is a difficult concept to define, but is an absolutely vital one when talking about breeds of livestock. One definition of type is the conformational peculiarities that separate one breed from another. It is safe to add that "type" almost represents the ideal mental picture of a breed. Type is therefore central to a breed's character and identity, and it is what sets the different breeds apart one from another. Quarter Horses have a"type", and Spanish Mustangs a different "type". Even closely related breeds, such as the Peruvian Paso and the Spanish Mustang, have subtle differences in type that help distinguish one from the other. Likewise, Rocky Mountain Horses are a different type that Saddlebreds and Tennessee Walking Horses, but only subtly different from the closely related Mountain Pleasure Horse.

The Rocky Mountain Horse comes to us today as an interesting amalgam of a few different strains and sources of founder horses. One result of the base upon which the breed is founded is that there are at least subtly different types within the Rocky Mountain breed. Even at the extremes within the breed there are some consistent conformational traits that set Rocky Mountain Horses off from other horses, and these conformational traits are essential to the typiness of the breed. Horses that exhibit all of the conformational peculiarities of the breed are said to be "typier"than those that have fewer.

Breeders of any breed need to be aware of type and what it is. Within every breed some individuals are going to be born that are "off type". The fate of these individuals has an important impact on the fate of the breed. If these animals are heralded and used widely as breeding stock, the breed's type will slowly erode until the original breed is unrecognizable. If, on the other hand,"off type" individuals are culled from breeding, then the original type can be preserved.

Modern horse breeds in America can give good lessons in the importance of type, and the ability of breeders to change type. One example is the Morgan horse. The original Morgan was

a dual-purpose farm chunk, valued for its durability and for its strength. Fashion has changed some strains of Morgan away from the original model into more of a refined show horse. Some of this was done by crossbreeding, but much of it was done by selecting away from the original type. This has been done to the extent that the original type is now quite rare, and its breeders concerned about its extinction.

Draft breeds, such as the American Belgian and Clydesdale, are other good examples of the ability of type to change. Originally these were massive, stocky heavy horses with great bulk. They were used for agricultural work. The modern use for these is usually for parade use, and this has favored a much leggier, refined type. The original type is rare. So which one is the "real" breed - the modern type or the original? This is an important question in breed conservation, and has no easy answer.

Type in beef cattle breeds has seen even larger changes than has that in horse breeds - and swine probably have changed type the most of any species of livestock. All of this has helped the breeds in question to adapt to current demands, although in the process the result has been that all breeds tend to start looking very alike. Without the distinctiveness of breeds there is less chance for any breed to really fit a specialized niche, as they all become generalists.

Breeders of Rocky Mountain Horses need to ponder the importance of type to the breed. If type is important, then it needs to become the responsibility of every breeder to breed toward the breed type. This is especially important in the Rocky Mountain Horse which sits between the Spanish horses and the other North American gaited breeds. If the Rocky Mountain Horse becomes nothing more than another Spanish breed, or at the other extreme, another Saddle Horse, then what is the value in having it as a distinct breed? My own bias is to conserve the Rocky Mountain Horse as a unique genetic resource - and this means that its type should be different than other breeds. The historic type of Rocky Mountain Horse has been very successful - it does not need to be changed.

D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD
Professor, Pathology and Genetics
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Genetics Index