Your wonderful mare, the horse that has carried you soundly through thick and thin and maybe taken you well beyond your imagination, is starting to slow down. It takes a bit more of a squeeze to get that bounce in her trot, she no longer looks for the next fence, or her reining scores are starting to fall off. To you, she’s one-in-a-million; you’d never sell her, and the idea of breeding her has been popping into your head. But how in the world will you ever pick a stallion for her out of all those thousands of potential suitors?
The first step is to determine if your mare really is a legitimate breeding prospect. (See “Six Reasons to Breed Your Mare.”) Then apply the “acid” test: If I didn’t own this horse would I buy her for a broodmare? If the answer is “yes,” start by honestly listing her faults with the worst ones at the top. If you can’t be objective, ask your riding buddies to evaluate her. Most horse people will jump at the chance to criticize someone else’s mount; if nothing else, they won’t have your bias. If you’ve got a friend with a long-standing reputation in the breeding business, beg for an assessment.
Once you’ve got the list of features you want to improve, prioritizing it will efficiently eliminate most of the stallions out there. You’re definitely not going to pick a stallion with the same major faults.
If the first item on your list is “long back,” you need to decide how big a fault that is. Yes, it probably contributes to the smooth ride she gives you, but if it’s long enough to qualify her for bus plates, you’re going to have to search out a stallion with a short, strong back.
How about those small-for-her-size feet that throw shoes willy-nilly? Move them up the list and then ignore any stallion lacking substantial hooves.
LET’S GO SHOPPING!
The Internet is a wonderful tool to save gas, but only to a point.
Thanks to Photoshop and clever video editing, almost every stallion out there now looks like a contender. A red flag: if the only footage available of a stallion is in slow motion or deep snow, pass. In real life, he probably can’t get out of his own way.
Spend some time surfing; check out the prospects in what you think might be your preferred breed, but don’t close your mind to others. Obviously if your mare is registered and you want the foal in the same registry, you’ve already narrowed your selection.
If your mare is a crossbred, or highly in-bred and you’d like to add some hybrid vigor, broaden your mind and your search fields. Check out some breeds known for short backs. Investigate some stallions with exemplary feet. Registration papers will usually increase the horse’s resale value, but they don’t guarantee quality; you can’t ride them.
When you’ve narrowed your list down to several possibilities, contact the owners/stallion managers for more information.
Things to ask:
1) Live cover, fresh-cooled or frozen shipped semen?
2) What was the stallion’s conception percentage the previous year?
3) Will he be campaigning, and if so, what plans are in place to provide semen when your mare needs it?
4) What kind of mare has he crossed well with in the past?
5) Where can you view some of those foals?
6) Does the stallion stand with a “live foal guarantee” and what does that actually include? If your mare has a strong performance history, don’t hesitate to dicker on the stud fee; stallion owners love exceptional mares.
Don’t be awed by a fabulous show record or the Internet buzz about the current “it” stallion. The old adage, “Blood will out” still holds. No matter what the pedigree or performance record, the proof is in the stallion’s ability to pass on his attributes to the next generation. A phenomenal stallion from obscure lines rarely breeds true; conversely, even the bluest of blue-bloods may not be able to transmit his best traits.
You need only to consider Affirmed and Alydar to see the truth in this. The beautifully-bred Affirmed won the 1978 Triple Crown, with Alydar breathing down his neck all three races. So Affirmed was sent some of the most valuable Thoroughbred matrons to “romance,” but the resulting foals were mainly disappointments. Alydar, on the other hand, kept hitting home runs out of the park.
GAS UP THE CAR
Think you’ve narrowed your choices to just a few? Then you MUST go see the stallions in person. Remember when we said the Internet was great “up to a point”? You’ve reached that point.
The horse you saw in photos and video may look nothing like the horse you’re going to view in person. You may be totally “wowed” by what you see in the flesh, but more likely you’ll think:
“Where did that narrow chest come from?”
“That bridle sure made his head look a lot nicer than it is.”
“Are those hocks really that puffy?”
I fell hard for a stallion which seemed like the perfect cross for one of my mares; he had everything I was looking for until they led him out and he rope-walked right toward me, something I never would have spotted on a video.
Observe how the handlers act around the stallion. Forgive some high spirits, especially if it’s breeding season. If the staff is reluctant to deal with the horse without a chain through his mouth and helpers carrying whips, cross him off your list.
Go ahead and ooh and ah when the horse is photo-posed . . . but then ask to see him turned loose. It’s the preferred way to analyze his natural gaits, and you’ll get an even better idea of his personality: Does he put on a show with no encouragement, or does he stroll over, ears up, stick his head through the fence and check you for treats?
An in-person assessment may seem like a huge, and possibly unnecessary, expense. But it’s essential. Compared with the cost of raising and training an unsightly, untalented foal, it will seem like a bargain.
It doesn’t matter if the stallion is in Hofbrauhaus, Germany, or Upper Moosejaw, Michigan, you need to go see him. As a bonus, there should be offspring at his farm or in the area which you can evaluate at the same time.
The bottom line is disposition. A stallion with a good temperament trumps almost all other considerations. The foal you breed will probably be with you for a long time. Industry statistics from 2013 are not yet available, but those from 2012 show the pleasure horse market remains in a downward spiral. It is still a buyer’s market, and you have little hope of selling a young horse unless it’s fully trained or has a “give away” price tag.
But your chances of a sale increase exponentially if the youngster is friendly and close to bomb-proof. It’s fun to dream about breeding a horse that has Olympic potential, but those horses normally require the best of professional trainers and are seldom easy.
You’ll be much farther ahead if you do your homework and then try to breed the horse YOU would want to ride.
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