A Breed Apart

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Breeding is so much more than 1 +1 = 1 (foal.) It’s a complex equation of brains and beauty…and if it’s a stallion, brawn, too. Don’t forget temperament, conformation, athletic ability, muscular build and gait or movement, among other desirable traits.

If you’re considering the addition of breeding to your list of equine business pursuits for 2010, you may want to think twice—at least. That’s the seasoned advice of Gary Carpenter, the new executive director of breed integrity and animal welfare for the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) in Amarillo, Texas. The association’s creation of this new position is yet another testimony to the importance it places on breeding and on the humane considerations of our four-legged friends.

“It’s somewhat like entering a partnership,” says Carpenter, a nine-year AQHA veteran who’s been racing, showing and breeding most of his career. “You don’t enter into a partnership without knowing how you’ll get out of it.”

Once that cute, wonderful foal is on the ground and eating out of your hand, your challenges are just beginning, he says, so you absolutely, positively must have a plan and not just an idea. If not, there may be no ultimate place for the horse to go if its genetics or conformation aren’t good enough—and the bar here is already set very high—because then the foal could become an unwanted horse.

Ask yourself, suggests Carpenter, whether you intend to show the horse or race it. Have you given it every advantage, like nominating it for programs that will enhance its marketability? Can you train it yourself, and if not, can you afford for someone else to do it? If you’re inexperienced, consider also that maybe you’d be better off going to a sale and buying what you want instead of trying your luck at breeding.

Carpenter reminds Quarter Horse owners of the greater potential and encourages all horse owners to do their homework first. “We’ve created a tremendous athlete that can go a number of directions. We have more tools and more access to records and other information. We can therefore make better decisions,” he says.

The association, which places a major emphasis on breeding outcomes, doesn’t want to make the process so bureaucratic that members are intimidated, but, like other proactive breed associations, urges its constituency to take the process very seriously.

Want to forge ahead in the New Year? Take charge. “Talk to lots of people and don’t rely on one opinion, one advertisement. Develop your eye for horses and be aware. Breeding is a real responsibility,” says Carpenter.

BE THOROUGH

It’s also a labor of love for breeders like dressage aficionado Judy Reggio of Windy Ridge Farm in Bethel, Pa., where the Royal Dutch Sport Horse, a.k.a., Dutch Warmblood, is celebrated under the directives of the KWPN-NA studbook (www.nawpn.org). Reggio appreciates the detailed, finite approach, “the thoroughness,” of that studbook, which identifies 20 specific, desirable traits such as length of pastern or slope of shoulder.

Reggio cautions us not to get bogged down in rules, however. “A dressage horse is not a static thing, but constantly evolving. Horses of 20 years ago look nothing like today’s horses. Now they’re refined, lighter on their feet: It’s been a process.” She urges breeders not to be fixated on one well-known stallion name. “That’s going backwards. Instead, try to find a son doing well.”

Breeders, she says, can work to continually improve the animal to make its job easier, for although many horses can do dressage, if the neck isn’t set right, the poll isn’t right, if they can’t sit on their haunches, “dressage will be difficult for them.”

You ask yourself, and we do, too: Which is more important, mare or stallion? Reggio calls the mare the “intangible,” but she wouldn’t breed “a really poor [mare] specimen with a great stallion. We used to think the stallion could ‘fix’ anything. The best stallion in the world will improve the offspring to some extent, but can’t do wonders.” In dressage, avoid the downhill mare “as dressage has to lift in front.” Other unacceptable traits, she says, include toeing out or a straight hind leg, but remember: “There’s no such thing as a perfect horse!”

BREEDING IS A PROFESSION

This is a serious business, asserts Augustin G. Walch of W. Charlot Farms Ltd. in Stratford, Ontario, currently the United States Equestrian Federation’s (USEF) Leading Hunter Breeder, an enviable designation he and wife Christine have held several times before. Please, implores Walch, think before you breed. “It’s not a hobby. This is a profession.

When evaluating stallion and mare, look at the whole horse, he says. Some people, when they look at hunters, just see the front. “The horse doesn’t bring the hind end along, and it has to carry the horse: The engine in the horse is in the back.”

Just because your mare is lame and your neighbor has a stallion, don’t think, “‘Let’s breed her.’ This is a science, so be critical and always consider ancestry. Walch weights the mare’s importance around 70 percent and adds that “a really good mare will have a good foal, no matter the stallion. The mare is so important, so get the best one you can. Then look for a stallion whose lineage and genes can work. Breed the best to the best to get something good. Don’t just throw the dice.”

AN EVOLVING SCIENCE

In the Saddlebred world, specific traits also carry extreme importance, especially at the respected Callaway Hills Stable in New Bloomfield, Missouri, again earning the top notch in the USEF Leading Breeder rankings. The farm is well known for deceased stallions WC Callaway’s Blue Norther and WC CH Caramac. The industry relies heavily on frozen semen, says Lenore “Tony” Weldon—Weldon is the third generation of family to own and operate Callaway Hills.

Will Shriver was the farm’s five-gaited foundation sire and has been credited with saving the breed with respect to correctness of gaits, gameness and more, Weldon says. To ensure the line, Weldon keeps a notebook with all the produce records, looks at what’s worked, and she follows that.

Mrs. William H. Weldon with her beloved stallion, Will Shriver, following his retirement ceremony at Kansas City's 1976 American Royal Horse Show.

“My goal is to preserve our farm’s top line and our bloodlines, which have proven to be good. I’m going to keep breeding primarily to our own mares, all using artificial insemination.

“I’ve learned that a lot of times, it’s just luck. I try to breed the best to the best. But, you can have a champion stallion and mare and the child might not live up to them. We do what works, our broodmares are getting older, but we know which mares are compatible with each stallion. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. We do line breeding and have had great success breeding Caramac daughters to Blue Norther, really unbelievable luck doing that. When we’re looking at acquiring new mares, we’ll base those on what has crossed well with our top line in the past. I really don’t favor inbreeding,” Weldon concludes.

A TEAM EFFORT

A stallion that’s definitely stood the test of time is Janice A. Boswell’s Shugak, who, with his ten-foot-long tail, is now age 33 at Jazzaron Arabians in Hephzibah, Ga. Boswell is USEF’s Leading Arabian Breeder, and admits she’s as bonded to her stallion as she is to her husband. “If my husband and I hug, the horse pushes us apart,” she says.

For her, that collaborative attitude’s “the thing.The horse must have kindness. That mare or stallion must want to work with me, so we work as a team.”

Boswell cites the ability to work in tandem as the key to a successful breeding sire or dam. “I’ve never asked him to do anything I didn’t think he was ready for,” she says, “and I feel the same about my mares. Sure, some mares can be ‘witchy-bitchy’, but you can have a mare that’s as loyal as a stallion.”

Stallions, on the other hand, can be “aggravating,” as they have that “one thing” on their minds. As a conscientious breeder, Boswell has taught her stallions that they must earn the right to breed, to do an honest day’s work before breeding, “to be worthy of breeding, of reproduction.”

When selecting a stallion or a mare, Boswell waxes poetic about the wonder of horses and the reasons we breed them, buy them or ride them. “A horse isn’t modeling clay, it’s a living, breathing thing with feelings and emotions that gets hurt and remembers things. So many people seem to be out for the big win and don’t care how they get there.”

“Don’t just breed to breed” is the mantra our experts convey. Do it wisely, and your foal really can be a breed apart.

Methods of Mating

By Audrey Pavia

Once upon a time, all you needed was a stallion and mare to make a baby. But veterinary science now enables breeders to create a pregnancy without the stallion and mare ever laying eyes on each other. Of course, the tried and true method of putting a live stallion with a live mare can be controlled or handled naturally, also. Whatever the choice, the most important factor is the safety of all involved.

A.I.

Artificial insemination is growing in popularity. Impregnating a mare using artificial insemination saves the mare owner the expensive of shipping the mare to the stallion for breeding. It’s safer for the mare—she’s not exposed to the illness and injury that sometimes comes during transport or while staying at a breeding facility.

For a variety of reasons, says Karen Berk, of Equine Reproductive Services, a mobile operation based in Ocala, Fla., “transported semen may be perfect for your mare. When properly timed and executed, it has a very high percentage of conception on first cycle, with less risk and expense.” Stallion owners also benefit, as their stallions can serve more mares and maintain their show schedules.

Artificial insemination starts with the collection of semen. The semen is then cooled and transported to the mare owner, or frozen and stored for later use.

Cooled semen has a 65 to 91 percent success rate. The semen is shipped immediately after collection, and the mare is inseminated within hours after the semen arrives. Mare owners must determine when the mare ovulates to ensure she is fertile at the time of insemination. The fertility of the mare is also crucial.

Frozen semen is not as potent as cooled semen. “At this time, conception rates with frozen semen remain at about 50 percent,” says Berk. “There are many critical factors for success.”

In either case, insemination of the mare must be performed by a veterinarian under sterile conditions. For the procedure to result in conception, the mare must ovulate 12 hours before or six hours after insemination.

Controlled Breeding

Before artificial insemination became an option, controlled live cover was the norm. Still a popular method, controlled breeding involves bringing the mare to the stallion and handling both horses carefully The mare is usually exposed to a teaser stallion to prepare her for breeding. Once the mare is ready to accept the stallion, the breeding stallion is brought to the breeding shed where the mare is restrained by a handler. The stallion is allowed to mount the mare and once he has ejaculated, he is quickly led away.

Controlled breeding can be less expensive than artificial insemination if travel is minimized. Veterinary costs are eliminated, too, since the job requires just two good handlers.

The downsides to controlled breeding are the possibility of injury to horses and handlers. Mares can kick stallions, stallions can strike at mares, and handlers can get caught in the crossfire. Controlled breeding also poses the risk of contagious diseases being spread, including venereal disease. Plus, this method doesn’t always result in a foal, since the mare may not be at her most fertile at the time of the mating.

Pasture Breeding

Not many breeders practice pasture breeding, since it provides very little control, but it offers the highest fertility rate of all the breeding methods. The disadvantages include not knowing the exact date when a mare has conceived, making it difficult to predict a foaling date. There is also a risk of injury, since the horses are mating without the supervision of a handler. Venereal disease is also a possibility since pasture breeding involves several mares being bred interchangeably by the same stallion.