In response to direct questions one of my readers posed on Saturday, I thought I would offer up some answers. :)
What makes some more suitable for halter, and others for performance?
To be honest, I don't necessarily know that in Arabians we are quite near to what the Quarter Horses have done by breeding two entirely different types of horses, one for Halter and another for Performance, however I can see it possibly happening in the future. But one of our biggest problems in the Arabian breed is folks breeding more for type than athletic ability, and ignoring things like good structure and especially good legs and feet. This, of course, leads to a lack of good movement as well, which is also why the implementation of the Arabian Scoring System in April of last year which mandates using numerical scores for Halter horses was so important. It's not perfect, however it is a good start. Performance horses, in oder to stay sound, must have excellent legs above all, so even minor faults which we unfortunately do find prevalent in many Halter horses have an impact on longevity of their careers. For me that's one of the biggest dividing lines, so to speak.
Which ones are consistently good at crossing over?
I find that a mix between the Polish lines and Crabbet lines seem to be fairly consistent in having careers in both Halter and Performance, though the same can be said for Russian horses. Which, of course, are mainly a cross between the Polish and Egyptian with a bit of Spanish thrown in (and utilizing the same Polish lines that founded the famous "Crabbet lines"). But again, you really cannot pigeonhole any particular Arabian bloodline to be relegated into strictly a "Halter horse" or strictly a "Performance horse"! Even the offspring of some of our more famous recent National Champion Halter horses (Enzo comes to mind here) are beginning to excel in the Performance arena.
How much does the style in which the foals are raised have to do with it? For example, Rushcreek horses consistently perform well in endurance, yet looking at their website, the horses don't look such-of-a-much to me in terms of conformation. So why are they so good at endurance? Is it b/c they're ranch raised?
Honestly, I believe that it isn't the environment a foal is raised in but rather what the pedigree dictates along with how the foal looks when he/she grows up that determines whether or not a horse will excel in a specific discipline. If you look closely at the Rushcreek horses, they consistently have great legs, outstanding bone, freedom of shoulder and a deep heartgirth, all conducive to longevity on the Endurance trail but not necessarily what judges are looking for in a Halter horse. When you take a glance at the Marwan horses (such as QR Marc, Aria Impresario, Marhaabah, Marjestic WA and other sons as well as many of his daughters), for instance, you won't find many qualities that lend themselves to having Endurance careers. That's not to say there are not several sons, in particular, that have started Performance careers, because there have been ~ especially in Western Pleasure ~ however, I doubt you will find many of them as Endurance horses.
And how do bloodlines impact on conformation which impacts on performance?
Oh, bloodlines have a lot...well, everything...to do with a horse's ability to excel in Performance careers! If you want an English Pleasure horse, you would seek out horses that have well set on necks, a nicely laid back shoulder, a great hinge at the poll and a strong hindquarters with well let down hocks. For Western Pleasure horses, you want a smoothly tied in neck that has the great arch and less hinge at the poll, along with strength in the hindquarters but not necessarily the same ability to "move uphill" as an English horse would. With Sport Horses, you look for a longer, reaching stride with none of "up and down" that's become sought after for English horses and more strength through the back and loin. This is all very brief and again not detailed, however, hopefully it gives some more insight into what is necessary for each type of discipline.
A lot of people I know in the endurance world shop strictly for performance: they buy on the basis of soundness, conformation, vet exam, any past performance, etc.
Absolutely!! Because without a sound horse, you're not even going to finish an Endurance ride, let alone place. I also look for a trainable mind and a tractable temperament (which really is my preference for any performance horse!) which makes for a far easier time out on the trail. Recovery (which directly correlates to that depth of heartgirth) and soundness are paramount. Club footed horses, those with long cannon bones, those with weak loins, those with poor hocks and gaskins, those with small poorly conformed hooves and so forth are NOT going to come up sound at a vet check, period. As the saying goes, you can't ride a head. Well, you can't ride a giraffe-like neck, either.
There have been horses who have won in Halter and done well in Endurance. Take one look at Remington Steele++, who was a show ring winner in a number of performance disciplines, a US and Canadian National Top Ten Halter stallion and a well known Endurance horse ~ pictured here:
As a Halter horse...
Climbing Cougar Rock on the Tevis...
Incredible horse, any way you look at him! Rem finished the Tevis and had top tens as an Endurance horse, plus he also has show ring victories in Native Costume, Western Pleasure, Hunter Pleasure and Sport Horse In Hand. His show record also spanned well over a decade and one of his Scottsdale Top Ten's in Halter was as a 16 year old!
But if there are reliable bloodlines for these types of things, I feel like it would narrow/focus my search. I want a horse that can perform both in endurance and lower level dressage. Recommended phenotypes/genotypes for this??
Look to the Crabbet/Polish crosses as Remington Steele++ was bred, and the Sport Horse lines. Talk to as many breeders and competitors in your chosen field(s) as you can, and then you'll be sure to make an educated decision. Good luck!!