Horses are nowadays mainly used for sport and leisure purposes, and several local breeds, traditionally used in agriculture, are exposed to the risk of extinction. The long-term survival of local horse breeds depends on strategies to both monitor their genetic diversity and to find their sustainable role in the equine market. Thus, several local horse breeds need to adapt their breeding objective to allow a modernization process. The Bardigiano is an example of such horse breeds; we, therefore, studied the existing evaluation protocol from a genetic standpoint to assess the protocol's suitability to convert the Bardigiano from an agricultural to a riding horse. To this end, we estimated genetic parameters for four conformation measurements, ten grading traits and 23 linear traits. For conformation measurements, the heritabilities ranged from 0.31 for cannon bone circumference to 0.63 for height at withers. For conformation and attitude grading traits, the highest heritability (0.34) was estimated for development and the lowest (0.09) for gaits. The heritabilities for linear traits ranged from 0.05 for the leg straightness to 0.32 for the coat colour. Genetic correlations between linear traits and corresponding grading traits varied considerably, ranging from −0.42 to 0.98. This study showed that the current evaluation protocol in the Bardigiano horse is appropriate for genetic evaluation. Genetic parameters estimation can, in turn, be used to develop novel breeding values to help this conversion. Our study paves the way to optimize the Bardigiano horse breeding programme, and it may help several other local horse breeds experiencing similar issues.
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