The Dotted Line

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With most business practices today, the old adage, “Get it in writing,” holds true more than not. And it’s no different when it comes to breeding. Before you spend hundreds or thousands for your unborn foal, document the stallion service with a breeding contract.

A good contract eases the business concerns of buyer and seller by addressing the “What if” questions. When you’re faced with a contract, look for these two basics:

1. The contract specifies the conditions of the transaction.

2. The contract clarifies the obligations of both parties.

Texas equine attorney and former Arabian breeder Larry Shallcross explains, “In any contractual relationship you are trying to avoid

having any disputes or misunderstandings. The clearer you are, the more you will avoid the misunderstandings.”

The Basics

The contract should first name the horses and people involved, and who is receiving what. When it comes to breeding, the mare owner receives the service, in exchange for money paid to the stallion owner.

Look for the contract to specify the method of breeding. Options include live cover, artificial insemination (AI) at the breeding farm, or AI at your barn or vet’s clinic—using either cooled (“fresh”) or frozen semen transported to the mare. Some farms offer separate contracts for live cover versus shipped semen.

If your mare’s situation doesn’t fit a contract term, ask about changes. The stallion owner will most likely agree to a reasonable request, such as who receives the transported semen—mare owner or veterinary clinic. Or, perhaps you want to save money by supplying your own disposable shipping containers (You can buy the Clipper (an Equitainer model) or Equine Express II, which is available in four-packs.). These types of changes should be noted in the contract.

Another example of straying from the boiler plate is at Chacaro So-Black Arabians in Texas. In order to market their pinto stallions, they offer a special, limited-time color guarantee: The owner of a gray Arabian mare pays no stud fee if a pinto stallion fails to produce a pinto foal. “It’s an offer to gray mares—an incentive for them to breed,” says owner Charlotte Ivy. “We have a written agreement, and it spells it out completely. They pay a booking fee up front, and shipping.”

Going Live

Live cover requires boarding the mare at the breeding farm, which should entail a subset of points in the contract. You will be entrusting your horse(s) to the farm, so read the contract for the boarding conditions. Can your mare be on pasture, with other mares? Do you feel comfortable with her in a corral in a “mare motel” setup, or must she stay in a regular barn stall? Your mare might be either “dry” (without a foal) or “wet” (accompanied by her current foal), and these considerations are important.

Iron Spring Farm, Pennsylvania, has a separate farm reserved for outside mares, with a 17-stall barn. “It’s their own venue,” says Robert Croteau, equine manager. “We have individual paddocks, or large fields for groups, and a dry lot if the mare’s not used to grass.”

Artificial Insemination

With AI, contract needs are less because the mares can stay in familiar settings, and stallions breed “phantoms” that never kick.

Sue Burkman trains Arabians and Andalusians, and stands as many as five stallions at her California ranch. And even though the process may be easier on the horses, contracts still play an important role. “I hardly ever naturally breed a stallion any more. Everything is transported nowadays. But you still have to have contracts, especially with embryo transfer.”

With AI, you want to know you’re receiving viable semen. Croteau explains how they use a densimeter to count the sperm in the collection. “We put the semen under the microscope, to see any abnormalities, and we subtract the number from the progressive number. We need to send the customer normal sperm. We send all the paperwork in the Equitainer, with the breeding package.”

Even with viable sperm there are no guarantees of success, so study contract terms about these situations. For example, the “live foal guarantee” typically means the stallion owner assures you of a foal that is able to stand and nurse. Are you covered in the event that is not the outcome? Read the “what if” details, to see how the agreement covers re-breeding, or switching to another mare, if you don’t get a live foal in the current breeding season.

Look for any warranties from the breeder, such as clarifying the stallion’s health. Quarter Horses can cite “HYPP free,” and Arabians can be “SCID Clear.” Also, instructions can detail safely breeding to a stallion who is a carrier of equine arteritis virus (EVA).

Who Owes?

Here’s where “get it in writing” pays off when figuring out the actual costs of breeding and who is responsible for what.

For example, on top of the stud fee, additional payments can include a booking fee, a “chute” fee, and board or shipping costs. AI can add lab fees. Total the true costs you invest, especially with veterinary bills at the farm or clinic.

“Specificity is vital in breeding contracts,” says Shallcross. He lists the potential concerns: “Not revealing all the fees associated with breeding; is there is a re-breeding fee should the mare not take the first time; is the Equitainer returnable.”

Burkman says, “The contract has to stipulate exactly who pays what, how many shipments—you have to have it in writing.”

Those contract details aim to manage the collection, transport, and insemination. The stallion owner needs advance warning about a mare ready to ovulate. Some cite collection days, and you’d have to arrange shipments within that schedule.

By signing the contract, you assure the seller that you’ll pay the asking price—and you’ll assume responsibility for the foal’s gestation to qualify for that live foal guarantee. Some contracts spell out how you promise to manage the mare during gestation. “The mare owner’s role is bigger than the stallion owner’s,” says Dolly Wallace, a Quarter Horse trainer out of New Mexico with 40 years breeding experience. Successful AI also depends on the expertise and dedication of your equine practitioner. Wallace explains, “Our recommendation is to get a vet who’s had successful AI experience. Otherwise, you get a tremendous amount of money tied up. It can be frustrating for the mare owner, and the stallion owner who’s shipping good semen.”

Customer Service

Breeding is a risk for both parties, but the rewards are often worth it. The stallion owner aims to profit, both financially and in reputation. You envision the foal of your dreams.

But because breeding is often a major investment in time, money and emotions, it’s comforting when the farm gives you more than just stallion service. Look for a stallion owner who expresses an interest in your mare, and supports your expectations for the foal. Whether that person stands one stallion or 10 elite sires, you want to feel like the farm cares.

Ivy notes, “Most mare owners are very conscientious. We become friends, and we stay in contact. It’s a relationship, and not just moneymaking.”

“We stand behind the product,” says Iron Springs’ Croteau. “We talk the mare owner through the process. It’s all about customer service.”

Dolly Wallace agrees and has been known to bend the contract rules a little. For example, if a foal dies after the “stand and suck” definition, “We feel for them. If we know they really tried to save the foal, we’ll honor that breeding and let them come back.”