Breeding Horses vs. Buying Horses

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I've often had conversations with other horseman about the pros and cons buying young horses vs. breeding horses and training them yourself, and that's a topic I've been thinking quite a bit about lately.

Some prefer buying young, green prospects, citing the economic inefficiency of breeding and raising your own horses, only to have a percentage of them turn out to be unsuitable or unsound.

Others prefer breeding their own horses, because you can mold the horse more surely to what you want, both in terms of the discipline and in terms of what you consider important in training. If you?ve bred and trained your own horse, you don't have to spend months or years working to overcome the mistakes someone else made.

But, statistically speaking, one of four horses you breed is a failure, usually physically (they're unsound in one of dozens of ways) or temperamentally (usually meaning that they don't want to do the sport you want them to do). The statistic becomes more like one out of two when you factor in the possibility that He's too big or too small for you or that his temperament doesn't suit you in some way.

This subject has been rolling around in my mind lately because it's at the heart of what we tried to do at Phoenix Farm and didn't succeed at commercially. But we did succeed in that now We've bred six lovely horses, three of which We've kept. Plus, two of the ones we kept are mares.

Six lovely horses sounds great, right' But to get them, there were the two dead foals, two dead mares (and the two orphan foals that were the result, whom we kept). In other words, two of eight foals failed, the 25% average.

I figure it cost $18,000 to get Amani (who's now 6 and was the first of the orphans) to her 4-year-old year, when she started competing and when you usually are first able to sell a horse you?ve bred. Amani had high orphan expenses (three months of lactation-inducing drugs for the nurse mare and milk replacer for Amani).

Fortunately, Bella, the second orphan who's now 4, didn't cost us much extra to feed, because we got a nurse mare who was lactating like a Holstein cow. So I figure it's cost about $15,000 to get Bella to where she is now, and I figure it's cost about $10,000 to get our other 4-year-old Piper to this point, because we didn't have to pay a stud fee to conceive him, we leased the mare for free, and he had no young horse injuries or illnesses.

THere's another breeding cost center?the likelihood that babies will attempt to expensively injure or kill themselves. For instance, Amani sliced a shoulder on the fence as a yearling and caught ehrlichea as a 2-year-old, while Bella suffered a serious wound to her hock as a 2-year-old.)

So I calculate that those three young horses cost us $43,000 to get midway through their 4-year-old years, when we would have likely been able to sell them. That figure includes what we paid for the two lost mares and two stud fees, but that only accounts for about a quarter of the $43,000.

Now, let's look at what the other five foals cost us. The one foal died within hours of birth, so was only minor expense. The other was just shy of 2 and had had numerous problems, so I estimate that we spent $7,000 on him. The other three foals had cost a total of approximately $29,000 to produce to when we sold them. That means We've spent about $79,000 to produce eight foals in our breeding program, an average cost of $9,875 per horse. We sold three of them for $27,500, a figure that is $51,500 short of the total cost.

And we sold only one of those three at a profit? because we leased the mare for free, because he is a lovely horse, and because we sold him for a very good price in February 2009, just before the equine economy crashed.? The other two sold for about half of what we put into them, and the only reason the cost wasn?t higher is that we managed to sell one as a barely started 3-year-old.

These numbers prove, I think, that sporthorse breeding is a depressingly unprofitable business model on a small scale (one or two mares, no stallion). But, the upside of our experience is that we now own three horses of the quality that we couldn?t have afforded to buy as 4-year-olds.

Amani is competing at the preliminary level and has jumped faultlessly around all three preliminary cross-country courses sHe's tackled. She gives me the feeling of a big-time horse, and Bella, 4, just finished second in her first introductory level event. Both of these mares are out of the two Thoroughbred mares we bought to be our foundation broodmares seven years ago, both of whom died after foaling these two horses, leaving them orphans.

we'd bred both of them to sell, but after months of bottle-feeding Amani and holding a nurse mare for Bella to drink, we made the poor business decision that we couldn?t possibly sell them.? But, even if we'd sold each for $20,000 as 4-year-olds, we'd still be in the red. We didn't breed Piper to sell, but even if we were able to sell him at this point in his life, we might be breaking even over a seven-year term?not much of a business model.

These numbers and losing our mares are why we're not longer in the breeding business, but we do own three athletically proven mares (the third being Alba, who's competing at intermediate level). Should we breed them at some point, we wonder, or ourselves or for sale' that's a tough question for me, for several reasons.

On the one hand, it's extremely enjoyable and fulfilling to ride these (and other) horses We've bred, to teach them their jobs and to develop them as athletes. And it's especially rewarding to take them to competitions, to have them perform well and to know that I taught them that. I also enjoy them looking at me with eager anticipation and trust every morning, as if they're asking, ?What are we going to do today'? like my 3-year-old son often does.

On the other hand, horse breeding is fraught with perils, as We've learned. I've told Heather that if we bred Alba I'd be as anxious as I was when she was pregnant, perhaps even more so because veterinary medicine can't do as much for pregnant mares as human medicine can for pregnant women. I've told her that if we breed Alba, it's going to have to be through embryo transfer. I suspect we'd have to do the same with Amani and Bella. Fortunately, there are two clinics within 200 miles that do embryo transfer at a surprisingly affordable price.

I suspect that we'll breed one or more of these mares at some point, especially if our son Wesley indicates he wants to be serious about riding. But maybe it would be less expensive and less difficult to buy horses instead'