Horse running through field

Linebreeding as a Visual Gimmick

by Roger Lyons

And did I mention that pedigree interpretation that focuses on linebreeding is so boring? I won’t go so far as to say it’s gibberish, but, if it’s not, it’s the last thing you pass through before you get there. In any event, it’s fair to say the written word is not the linebreeder’s best friend. It won’t come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog (if there are any) that I have a theory about that, too.

The focus on linebreeding is part of a broad cognitive shift in human culture, which started off by way of oral tradition. Speaking and listening need no special incentives because they are both pleasurable in themselves. Then, with the rise of literacy, the transmission of culture began to take on a visual orientation organized at first by the printed page. In the course of the last century, with the rise of commercial culture, Western cognitive capacity has morphed into full-blown pictorial mode.

Understanding linebreeding is cognitively impossible unless it’s understood in pictorial form. It’s completely dependent on the visual orientation, and that’s why written descriptions of it are nearly incomprehensible.

You can say that the linebreeding consultants–you know who they are–actually throw back to oral culture because the essence of their discipline is to memorize thoroughbred ancestry in comprehensive detail going back to the origins of the stud book, kind of like tribal story tellers; but I would argue strenuously that what stands between their memories and the writing of their pedigree interpretations is a mental image they have drawn, complete with duplicated names in bold-face type. And that’s assuming they don’t actually have the pedigree printouts in front of them as they write. Their prime literary problem is to get you to look through those words to see what they see.

The current focus on linebreeding, in that sense, is a product of the visual orientation that has been gradually taking over human cognitive capacity since the origins of capitalism in the 15th century. The appeal of the visual orientation is strong because, as every advertising professional knows, pictures sell. It’s because the eye is the least intellectually discriminating of all our organs of sense. Thus, the persuasive appeal of those computer printouts of extended ancestries, their typographic features all pointing to linebreeding.

It’s a good thing for linebreeding that a picture is worth a thousand words. It doesn’t have to make sense because you can “see” the meaning in it. If you don’t instantly get the picture, then those tedious pedigree interpretations will eventually sink in by way of endless repetition of the stock topics of linebreeding–Domino-Macaroni, Nasrullah-Princequillo, Tweedledee-Tweedledum, etc., etc.

But, as I’ve tried in other ways to explain, those typographic features, taken together, constitute a grand illusion, the mirage of a winner’s circle always just out of reach. Linebreeding is now a pervasive feature of the thoroughbred population. Selling linebreeding is nothing more than selling thoroughbred pedigree–in its most generic sense–by another name. Not even the linebreeding consultants realize it’s just a visual gimmick because they don’t bother to notice that the bad runners are bred in the same image as the good ones. The difference can’t be reduced to a full-page ad for pedigree, any more than a picture can be transcribed into a thousand words.

One comment to “Linebreeding as a Visual Gimmick”

  • Greg writes:

    Pedigree pretty as a picture, eh?

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