Trifolium is the most used pastoral legume genus in temperate grassland systems, and a common feature in meadows and open space areas in cities and parks. Breeding of Trifolium spp. for pastoral production has been going on for over a century. However, the breeding targets have changed over the decades in response to different environmental and production pressures. Relatively small gains have been made in Trifolium breeding progress. Trifolium breeding programmes aim to maintain a broad genetic base to maximise variation. New Zealand is a global hub in Trifolium breeding, utilising exotic germplasm imported by the Margot Forde Germplasm Centre. This article describes the history of Trifolium breeding in New Zealand as well as the role and past successes of utilising genebanks in forage breeding. The impact of germplasm characterisation and evaluation in breeding programmes is also discussed. The history and challenges of Trifolium breeding and its effect on genetic gain can be used to inform future pre-breeding decisions in this genus, as well as being a model for other forage legumes.