Breeding: a Game that's Full Of Surprises

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My mind and computer keep returning to the lead article I wrote for the?Horse Journal?s?October issue, called ?Do You Plan To Breed Your Mare'? My point was that breeding is not cloning and is chock full of uncertainty and pitfalls, many of which can be extremely financially and emotionally expensive.

Basically, I was trying to convince people who own a mare to think twice (and then think again) before they decide to breed her.

But my blog of Oct. 11, which I called ?The Reward of Breeding Your Own Horse,? provided a contrasting point. In that blog, I told you how much I was enjoying training and competing our 4-year-old homebred filly, Amani. Well, last weekend we took seven horses to the Ram Tap Horse Trials in Fresno, Calif., five of whom support both my points. Let me tell you about them, and how they've fulfilled, surprised and disappointed their owners and their breeders during their lives, at least so far.

The first of these horses is Amani, who performed beautifully in the dressage and show jumping on Saturday and stood in fourth place at that point. It then rained rather significantly overnight, creating muddy, slippery footing she?d never galloped over for Sunday?s cross-country. Still she galloped around like a trooper, jumping fabulously and faultlessly, adding another confidence-building round to her resume, even though we had time faults that knocked us out of the ribbons. She was absolutely professional all weekend, and I'm looking forward to moving her up from novice level to training level next year, and to continuing beyond that. Yes, sHe's turning out to be what we hoped for when we chose to pair up Formula One and our Thoroughbred mare Gussie in the spring of 2006.

One of the weekend?s highlights was our farm manager, Roxanne Rainwater, jumping clear rounds and finishing third in her very first event on her homebred Quarter Horse mare, Freckles. I started Freckles, who's 6, under saddle exactly one year ago, and I rode Freckles at Ram Tap in October, in the mare?s first event. (She was fabulously clear on cross-country and show jumping too, and Roxanne has a cute photo of me smiling as I ride her back to the barn on her Facebook page.)

But Freckles, who may stand barely 14 hands, wasn?t bred to do this job. Her sire and dam are both from reining lines, and Roxanne thought she?d do that and trail riding with her. But our lives and interests change, and I can assure you that Freckles is glad Roxanne discovered eventing, because she loves to jump. She lives in the same pasture as Amani and my wonderful mare Alba, who also wasn?t bred to be an event horse, so I suspect the conversation about going cross-country gets pretty intense out there at night.

Conversely, Roxanne also bred Myster, a pinto Heather and I bought from her last winter because Heather had been doing so well competing him. Myster and Roxanne have never gotten along, much to her understandable disappointment, but Heather and Myster go together like peas and carrots.

Fable, whom I rode at training level this weekend, is, like Amani, an example of a horse you breed turning out like you hoped. My sister, Karin, bred him, putting Denny Emerson?s stallion Wintry Oak to her Thoroughbred mare. I started him under saddle at 3, competed him at novice at 4 and then sold him to a teenager, who competed him through training level. When she left for college in the summer of 2010, we were able to sell him to another teenage student, who also enjoyed competing him. But now sHe's getting ready for college too, and Fable needs another new home. He's the most willing and honest horse in the world, and I'm sure he could do preliminary or above.

The third horse I rode this weekend is an example of my point that breeding is not cloning. His full brother Oz Poof Of Purchase won the CCI2* at the Galway Downs International Three-Day Event two weeks ago, a year after finishing second to the third full brother Oz The Tin Man in the classic-format CCI1* at the 2010 Galway Downs. All three were bred by Theresa Groesbeck of Cedarhaven Sport Horses, by her Arabian sire and out of a Thoroughbred mare.

Magic, who's 12 now, is the youngest, and He's been sort of the black sheep of the family. He's the smallest, and factors of life prevented him from getting the same attention as his big brothers. He was leased to a series of people who didn't cotton to his sensitive nature and his athleticism, and he became very wary and anxious. We did a complicated series of horse swapping with Theresa over the Labor Day weekend, and I got the ride on Magic, as I seemed to get along with him.

Ram Tap was Magic?s first eventing start, and I was completely uncertain how he?d be, even though we'd taken him to Ram Tap to school in October?a rather up-and-down occasion. Well, this time we had a lovely dressage test, a happy moment since the first 10 minutes of the warm-up were a tad hairy. And we got around show jumping, which was a huge accomplishment since he?d had horrible experiences jumping colored poles and, until last week, could not do anything but stop or fling himself blindly over them. But we did jump the entire course, and I could feel him thinking, ?Wow, I lived! I made it! Holy Cow!? And then he galloped around the cross-country so enthusiastically that Theresa was crying afterward?the tears of joy that only a breeder knows. I cannot predict how he might progress from here, but all our fingers are crossed.

My final example of the uncertainty of horse breeding is a horse Heather also got from Theresa (although she did not breed this one) for one of Heather?s students. Zac is a Holsteiner (even though his dam?s side is all Thoroughbred), bred by well-known warmblood breeder Joan Irvine Smith in Southern California. I'm sure Zac was meant to be a top-class show hunter or jumper, but his high-octane, highly aware personality and big, open gallop meant he washed out pretty quickly in the horse show world. He then bounced around a series of California trainers for a few years before ending up at Cedarhaven in 2010. When Heather took her student there to look at horses in June, she and Zac were a perfect fit. He loves to go cross-country, although the discipline necessary for dressage remains a challenge to be solved. But they're moving up the lower levels, and their 2012 goal is the training level three-day event at the Galway Downs International Three-Day Event next November, the same goal I have for Amani.

I hope my description of nearly half our barn provides you with food for thought about breeding your mare.