Disaster?And Happiness?Can Loom If You Breed Your Mare

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When you read the lead article in the Horse Journal?s October issue, which I wrote, you'll see that I've basically tried to talk you out of breeding the mare that you love.? I've given you lots of things to think about, and I've also note that each year our country adds about 170,000 new unwanted horses, so unless you have a really good reason to add another horse to America?s population of 9.5 million, you should buy a horse instead of breeding one. I received an email following one of my recent series of blogs about these unwanted horses from a woman who believes very strongly that we U.S. horse owners should establish a moratorium on breeding until that problem gets solved. Her suggestion is a bit extreme for me, but I do think that our breed organizations?especially the American Quarter Horse Association, which registers 150,000 horses every year?should alter their course. Instead of encouraging people to breed lots of horses (the AQHA, for instance, charges are ridiculously low fee of $25 to register a foal), they should be educating their members about how to assess their mares (and stallions) so they can breed fewer, better horses. In the month or so since I wrote that article, though, I've been contemplating the reason people do want to breed their own horses, mostly as I've been training and competing our 4-year-old homebred Amani. SHe's one of nine horses We've bred over the last 13 years, and, in not a single case, has the foal?s birth or his or her development gone like we planned or hoped. Our first foal was Shawn, who's now 13. He's out of a wonderful Thoroughbred mare, named Ariel, whom I raced over hurdles and over timber, foxhunted extensively and competed in eventing through the training level. She was getting ready to move up to preliminary when she suffered a horrible injury while cross-country schooling. So we decided to breed her to the Thoroughbred stallion Class Secret, a son of the legendary Secretariat. I knew Secret and knew he had a fabulous temperament to complement his outstanding conformation. The gestation went without incident, but Shawn was born with a kidney infection that required him, and Ariel, to spend the first five days of his life in the neo-natal intensive-care unit of the Morven Park Equine Clinic in Leesburg, Va. That cost us $4,000,? so he was immediately worth his weight in gold. Shawn turned out to be an excellent event horse (as we'd hoped), placing in a classic-format preliminary three-day event and at intermediate level. But He's always had a terrific buck too, and he threw me about a dozen times when he was young. So I've never competed him?trainer friends of ours have done that. And now that He's mature, he doesn't buck (much) and a teenage girl is leasing him. Ariel lost three foals after Shawn, because, vets finally determined, whatever caused Shawn?s kidney infection continued to live in her uterus. But they couldn?t identify it, much less eliminate it. It would be eight years before we'd breed another horse. By then we'd moved to California and started our training farm and what we thought would be a breeding program. we'd bought two broodmares, both Thoroughbreds. One, Lizzie, was only 5 and hadn?t had a foal, but her dam had had 16 foals and her two older sisters had had multiple foals, so we were confident of her family?s reproductive ability. The second mare, Gussie, had proven her reproductive ability by having two foals already.? Lizzie was in foal to the Irish stallion Clover Hill when we bought her; we chose the Irish-bred stallion Formula One for Gussie. Lizzie delivered her colt on a cold night in mid-March 2007. She was fine, but the colt, whom we called Bongo, couldn?t stand, and it was only partly because he was lax in all four legs. We had to help him up and down to nurse and to sleep for more than a week, and his laxness and weakness did improve. But getting him up and down had caused the inevitable umbilical hernia, and at five months he had to have surgery for that (and was gelded at the same time). Bongo never really recovered from that surgery. He could never move right (he had a pacing walk and could barely canter), and as a late yearling an equine therapist took her to her farm, sort of as an experiment, to see if she could help him. About four months later she called one morning to say Bongo couldn?t stand?it turned out he was neurological (as we'd long feared) and we euthanized him that day. Two months after Lizzie gave birth to Bongo, Gussie produced a beautiful bay filly, with three socks and a big blaze and a devilish expression. The filly looked great right away, but Gussie was clearly exhausted. We cared for her and went to bed about midnight. When I opened the barn doors at 6:00 a.m., I could hear her groaning at the far end. She was colicking, badly. I started walking her as Heather called the vet, but he got stuck in morning traffic and didn't arrive until almost two hours later. Gussie was in her death throes as the vet reached the gate, and all he could do was pump the euthanasia fluid into her to make sure her misery was over. Amani had apparently nicked a blood vessel during the delivery, but that didn't matter then. We just had to keep this fabulous filly alive. I don't even want to think about the hours we spent bottle-feeding her or the money we spent on milk replacer or the drugs to induce the nurse mare we got to begin lactation. I never added it up, but it was thousands of dollars. And now we'd lost half of our broodmare band. Lizzie didn't conceive that summer, so we had no foals in 2008. But in 2008 she did conceive a foal by the Dutch Warmblood pinto stallion Palladio, and that winter we also had two mares in foal to warmblood stallions, and their foals were to be our payment for training the two stallions. Lizzie gave birth in late March to a pinto filly, whom we named Bella. But two weeks later she got ?broodmare colic,? and a rushed trip to the clinic for surgery couldn?t save her. Now we had another orphan foal. This time we were lucky enough to find a mare who had a foal that desperately needed to be weaned, so we didn't have the expense of milk replacer and drugs. We just had to wake up every two hours to put Bella in with the mare, because it was the better part of three months before the mare accepted her. Two weeks after Bella was born, one of the other mares, Phaedra, went into labor. She was a maiden and was clearly confused, and to make it worse the foal was slightly malpresented. Heather, who as three months pregnant at the time, reached inside of Phaedra, while a friend held the phone so the vet could talk her through straightening out the leg that was preventing his exit. Then, with Phaedra still standing, things happened really fast. I pushed Heather out of the way and literally caught the oversized colt in my arms. We weren?t sure he?d still be alive, but I'll never forget my excitement when I felt him take his first breaths and his heart pound away. We named the handsome chestnut colt Piper. The other mare, Sweetie, went into premature labor about two weeks later and delivered a sickly foal who died within a few hours. So the score for that breeding season was two healthy foals, one dead mare and one dead foal. Our breeding program was finished. That probably sounds as if I'm still trying to talk you out of breeding, doesn't it' Well, I hope you take it as a lesson. But riding Amani does remind me why breeding a horse can seem so appealing. SHe's beautiful and a fabulous athlete, I love riding her, and she seems as if sHe's going to be the event horse I'd hoped. She just completed her first horse trial last month, and except for one truly baby moment on cross-country, she couldn?t have possibly gone better. If not for that one run-out, at a tree-shaded fence she simply didn't understand at first, she would have won. We've had Bella and Piper in our pre-school program this summer, a regimen of longeing and ponying, and they've both been great. In about a week, pre-school will end and they?ll get the winter to grow. I can't wait to ride them next year. One more thing?we bred Amani, Bella and Piper to sell. Remember, this was supposed to be a breeding business' Well, after spending all that time nursing Amani and Bella, there was no way I was going to sell these lovely fillies. And Piper, well, he looks like He's going to be the perfect horse for Heather?and I'll never forget the feeling of him coming to life in my arms. It was a feeling second only to seeing my son being born and feeling him grasp my index finger when he was only a few minutes old. So, what's the final score for the Phoenix Farm breeding program' Two dead mares, two dead foals, one foal we gave away, one foal who's for sale now, and four foals we aren?t going to sell. Man, that was a profitable venture.