Mister X (Egejus X Derbi), a 14-year-old, dark brown Russian Trakehner gelding, has helped put Russian dressage back on the world stage, competing with rider Inessa Merkulova in the 2016 Rio Olympics (23rd individual finish), the 2014 World Equestrian Games (26th individual finish) and the 2018 World Cup Finals (ninth individual finish). In movement the athletic gelding evokes the word “graceful.” He was bred by Nadezhda Sokolova at the Traken Rossiya Stud Farm in Russia’s Kursk region. According to Dr. Maren Engelhardt, a life-long rider who was born into a Trakehner-breeding family and continues the tradition in her own right: “Mister X’s pedigree is a typical eastern Trakehner pedigree. It’s based on two recurring themes: the significant amount of Thoroughbred blood [English and Arabian] and a heavy dose of linebreeding.”
Breeding Terms: Linebreeding Versus Inbreeding. Linebreeding pairs animals who are related to a specific ancestor with the intention of preserving that ancestor’s influence on the offspring. (In Mister X’s pedigree, we see he’s linebred to Trakehner sire Piligrim and Thoroughbred Raufbold.) This differs from inbreeding, which is the breeding of two closely related relatives (i.e., father to daughter). Inbreeding is used with the intention of securing desirable traits in the offspring, but can sometimes inadvertently result in securing negative traits. Outcrossing is the process of introducing unrelated genetic material into a particular breeding line.
Before we look closer at Mister X’s lines, it is important to note that the Trakehner is widely considered the only pure breed of warmblood type. Unlike the other European Warmblood studbooks, the Trakehner has a closed studbook, which will only accept the offspring of Trakehners and approved horses from refining breeds (Thoroughbred and Arabian). For this reason, there’s a higher degree of genetic consolidation within the breed, which yields greater predictability in the breeding process. Engelhardt explains that the generally more refined Trakehners are frequently incorporated into the breeding programs of other warmblood studbooks to lend elegance, improved trainability and a certain look of refinement. She says this “borrowing” of Trakehner blood has been true historically (all German studbooks incorporated Trakehner blood in the mid- to late-20th century to produce modern warmbloods) and still today plays a major role in the breeding of modern dressage horses.
The Russian Trakehner. Mister X is referred to as a Russian Trakehner based on the fact that he is a Trakehner born in Russia, and of the same genetic background as Trakehner horses elsewhere. So how did a separate Trakehner studbook come about in Russia? Prior to World War II, there was only one Trakehner studbook, which existed to produce the most versatile riding horse at the time. Only horses born at the Main Stud Trakehnen in East Prussia, founded in 1732, were called Trakehners—their blood-identical relatives that were born at the farms of private breeders in the East Prussian province were called East Prussian Warmbloods. After the Main Stud had to be evacuated before the advancing Red Army in the winter of 1944–45, a large number of the best horses were loaded onto trains, but were eventually lost to the Russians because their trek ended just behind the Eastern lines in what would become the German Democratic Republic. Consequently, some of the best breeding stock from Trakehnen landed in the Russian Kirov stud, where a Trakehner herd was maintained for decades, producing some of the best sport horses the breed has ever had. Looking at Mister X’s pedigree, you can see that after 1944 many of the registered German Trakehners suddenly have their offspring registered as Russian Trakehners. Today, Trakehners are bred in many Russian programs and Mister X is such an example. His genetics trace straight back to some of the best original Trakehner blood available after 1945 and, therefore, he shares bloodlines with other Trakehners worldwide. —Dr. Maren Engelhardt
As a Russian Trakehner, Mister X’s pedigree incorporates some of the oldest and most cherished Trakehner lines. Both of this month’s breeding experts, Engelhardt and retired American breeder Kyle Karnosh of Con Brio Farms, point out that Mister X’s sire, Egejus, was an excellent sport-horse producer, equally likely to produce a jumper as a dressage horse. Born in Lithuania at the large and prolific Nemuno Stud, Egejus sired Estet, an international Grand Prix dressage horse, and Pamela, a CIC2* eventer, among many other high-level performers in both disciplines. Karnosh points out that Egejus is linebred to Piligrim, a stallion bred at the Main Trakehner Stud in East Prussia before its destruction during World War II and a son of a foundation Trakehner stallion, Pythagoras. The linebreeding occurs through two crosses to the stallion Privet (himself an international-level show jumper) and through the mare Poljana, who was sired by Piligrim.
Engelhardt explains: “Linebreeding to Piligrim has been a recipe for great success in the Trakehner breed. Interestingly, that’s been particularly true for show jumpers. Of course, we know today that a good dose of jumper blood actually furthers dressage careers and, in fact, some of today’s top dressage horses carry significant amounts of jumper blood.” She says Mister X’s pedigree is a case in point and cites another example: “Egejus’s sire Volteras is a very close relative to two Lithuanian-born Trakehner stallions of international reputation—Verdenas and Veimaras. The latter sired the U.S.-stationed World Cup show jumper Horalas *Pg*E*, an active breeding stallion with the American Trakehner Association and sire of several international show jumpers and top young talents in Germany.”
Karnosh emphasizes the influence of these lines on sport-horse breeding worldwide: “Pythagoras, who is registered as East Prussian, is known among other things as the sire of Totilas. No, not that Totilas! Rather, the one who preceded him, born in Trakehnen in 1938. This Totilas had major influence on Trakehner breeding in the 20th century, siring at least 16 upper-level dressage horses, six upper-level eventers and six show jumpers. Eventually, through his great-great-great grandson Gribaldi, the Trakehner stallion Totilas is a direct ancestor of the currently renowned Dutch Warmblood [Moorelands] Totilas.” Englehardt adds that the 1938-born Totilas’s real value didn’t come from the sport horses he produced, but from his exceptional female offspring: His daughters founded several of today’s most successful sport-horse families.
On the bottom side of the pedigree, we see Mister X descended from the warmblood mare Derbi by Thoroughbred stallion Blank. Both Karnosh and Engelhardt point out that Mister X is about one-third Thoroughbred, with influences from both English Thoroughbreds (Raufbald, a sire of the 1940s and ’50s known for producing jumping potential, appears on both sides of the pedigree) and Arabian Thoroughbreds. According to Engelhardt, “The Arabian blood comes through Topal by the famous stallion Priboj—probably the most successful purebred Arabian ever used in sport-horse breeding worldwide. His grandson Hockey was a legendary sport-horse sire in Russia, producing horses for both dressage and show jumping to the Olympic level.”
We also note that Mister X’s grand-dam, Darina, descends from unknown stock. Karnosh explains: “This may just mean that no one bothered to enter her pedigree into our databases, which happens more frequently than one might think. Unknowns back around the time of World War II may be just that: Breeders could see the horse was branded and of breeding stock, but may not have had access to the pedigree due to the upheaval of the war.” For this reason, part of Mister X’s pedigree cannot be analyzed precisely, lending an air of mystery to the exact breeding combinations that yielded this tremendous performer.
In conclusion, Engelhardt says, “So you may be asking yourself: Where is the dressage blood in Mister X’s pedigree? I think the point is that an athletic horse can fill many shoes, and Mister X is the result of careful combination of some of the best sport-horse genetics that we know, and in many cases, he’s linebred to those particular horses.” Engelhardt adds that Mister X exemplifies the versatility of the Trakehner breed.
Together with Merkulova, Mister X makes Grand Prix dressage look easy, but it would not have been a great surprise if this horse had become a show jumper or eventer instead—at least, not based on his pedigree. As Engelhardt muses: “In Mister X’s case, the combination of selected Thoroughbred blood and significant linebreeding to proven sport-horse lines has produced an athletic, graceful and ultimately very successful dressage horse.”