The thoroughbred (TB) horse is one of the oldest breeds of domestic animals, with pedigree records spanning three centuries. Because the population is essentially closed, there is concern about loss of genetic variation. Here we report two parallel analyses. In the first, genetic variation in the current population is measured using data from 13 microsatellite loci in 211 horses with relationships calculated based on allele sharing. In the second analysis, pedigree information is used to calculate genetic relationships between animals based on shared ancestry. These two measures of relationship are compared and shown to be closely related. Together, they provide an estimate of the amount of genetic variation which existed in founder animals. This study confirms the narrow genetic base of the breed and provides comprehensive analysis of contributions of founder animals. Seventy-eight percent of alleles in the current population are derived from 30 founders, 27 of these male. Ten founder females account for 72% of maternal lineages, while one founder stallion is responsible for 95% of paternal lineages.