Your Next Foal: Will it Be a Breed Apart?

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So, you have decided you want to breed. Your new foal might never see the Olympics, but still you hope for the best possible outcome. When “baby makes three,” perhaps you plan to use your new horse in a lesson program or as a lower-level competition, trail or pleasure horse.

Whether the goal is to raise the next Seabiscuit or a loyal trail friend, top breeders agree that certain guidelines should be followed no matter the horse’s career destiny.

“The same rules apply when you breed simply for good riding horses,” counsels Colleen McQuay, 20-year top producer of Quarter Horses and hunter/jumpers. She and her husband, reiner Tim McQuay, stand reining’s all-time leading sire, Hollywood Dun It, whose get has already accrued more than $2.3 million.

McQuay is adamant. “They have to have a good mind and cooperative disposition. Plus, we’ve never bred anything without long-range goals in mind for the horse.

“Jumper, reiner, no matter the career, you’ll always have horses that do not meet the top of the line for competition,” she adds. But when you produce one and you’re familiar with the mind and heart of the parents, you know that this horse will be extremely useful for other jobs.”

McQuay looks realistically at the bottom line of the breeding business. It’s expensive. And no one breeds to produce school horses. “You can’t afford to operate a breeding program unless you are breeding for upper-level production. Then, it’s from there that the ‘average’ horses filter down into the school programs or as horses for kids to grow up with.”

Sandy Arledge of Ranch Santa Fe, Calif., is a member of the AQHA Professional Horsemen’s Association and the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Breeder Referral Program. Having overseen literally thousands of breedings, she shares pertinent advice.

“If you keep the horse in a small pen or a stall, where there’s no access to a large lot, don’t breed. It does a disservice to the foal and the mare to be in such a small area, and then, you tend to raise a horse that is not as serviceable, that can develop behavior problems,” says Arledge.

She says she is concerned that the current “pedigree fixation” is working to the detriment of the horse industry. “I don’t care if a horse is by the greatest sire on earth, if it isn’t a good individual, then it’s not a breeding horse. If you like the horse, you’ll like the pedigree, but the reverse is not necessarily true.

“You can do a lot to promote a horse with advertising,” she adds, “but I wouldn’t breed to a sire unless I had seen him personally, seen him move, seen how he behaves himself, for disposition is an inheritable commodity. If you breed for mediocrity, that’s what you’ll get. You always want to breed for as good a horse as you can possibly get.”

We’ve all heard this before, and it’s a statement that makes experienced breeders shudder: “That mare is just not rideable. She’s got too many behavior problems to be useful, so we’ll just breed her.”

Hold your horses, they say, for trouble begets trouble. According to Arledge, “you shouldn’t breed her just because she’s got ovaries and a uterus. There are just as many mares that should be geldings. I wish there was an efficient and inexpensive way to spay mares.”

Veteran breeder Joe Perez of Lisa Kunkle’s Running Creek Ranch in Solvang, Calif., agrees. “You’re looking for trouble. If a mare doesn’t show anything in the way of actual performance, breeding is really the wrong way to go,” he says. “Don’t put it further into the gene pool. Now, if a mare gets injured and she has good bloodlines, that’s a different situation. But a mare who’s hot will throw that to the offspring.”

Perez breeds sport horses for hunters, jumpers, eventing and dressage, as well as Arabians and other breeds. “Look first at the sire and see what he’s done. Do your homework. Of course, you can do plenty of research, but know that a great deal still depends on luck.”

In the equation, sire + dam = foal, the dam is not something to be considered lightly, warns Mary Shirley-Soland of Rocky Mountain Warmbloods in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. The farm produces Dutch Warmbloods, Hanoverians and Selle Francais, among others.

“Seventy percent of the foal is the mare,” says Shirley-Soland. “So, if you breed to get a nice riding horse, you can’t expect to just take a mare off the track and end up with a great colt. It does happen, but very rarely.”

Certain critical characteristics do matter in both parents, cautions Shirley, “like temperament and ease of rideability. An amateur may not always have the talent to ride certain types of horses, so you need to choose something that has the right attitude. Our sales videotapes feature children riding our stallions. You’ll see a six-year-old jumping Pikadero, for example, and the horse is really well behaved and does his changes, even when this little girl can’t post the trot because he’s so bouncy.”

Amateur event rider and Bijou Springs hunt member Jerry Burk of Parker, Colo., has been very successful breeding a few nice horses in her back yard. Her dining room is resplendent with silver trophies earned at local hunter trials on horses she broke and trained mostly on her own. Do-it-yourself has worked well for Burk’s well-thought-out breeding program.

Her current charge, “Toby,” now jumps three feet willingly at age four, and doesn’t bat an eye at a bank or ditch. “If I were picking the horse I wanted out of a book, I couldn’t have gotten any closer to what I bred. I kind of wish he was a mare…. He has been so sweet since he was born.”

Burk chose a registered Paint mare with Thoroughbred blood—bred to race—replete with a nice personality, athleticism and good conformation. She bred “Lista” to the Thoroughbred, Axen Now, from Plum Creek Hollow Farm in Larkspur, Colo. “I wanted that combination of good temperament, good bone and a little ‘oomph!’ and that’s just what I got.”

Hilary Carrel, most recently of Plum Creek Hollow Farm and now in Sheridan, Wyo., at Colts Unlimited, is a highly respected and decorated jumper, event and hunt rider and trainer. She has made many trips to Germany to select horses from the most famous sires and dams and has started—and then campaigned—hundreds of foals. Carrel can’t stress enough the importance of a suitable mare.

“The foal’s traits very much match the mare’s in terms of disposition and willingness,” says Carrel. “The stallion can possess potent athletic ability—passed on through genetics—but with behavior, the mare’s instincts always come through. With a nice mare, the foal will be pretty consistent, especially when you train it, and later when you have to ask a lot of it. You want it to act like the mother. That’s why, when you analyze the racing industry here and the breeding system in Europe, the mares count so much.”

A stallion’s show record can be a great predictor, she says. “Some stallions may not have had the opportunity to show, either because of economics or an injury, so then take into account what other offspring have done. But,” she adds, “if nothing has been proven, it’s just not worth the gamble. Look for the record that speaks for itself, and don’t be taken in by looks. It doesn’t matter how great a horse looks if it can’t perform…just like with a car.”

Across the ocean at the Clonshire Equestrian Center in Adare, Ireland, Sue and Dan Foley train Irish Sport Horses, veritable “machines,” it seems, in the hunt field or jumper ring. They like the sire to be Irish Thoroughbred and the mare to be Irish Draught or other warmblood breed. “That way, we produce Sport Horses with the brains and agility of the Thoroughbred, but the extra leg and sense of the mother,” says Dan. “The mare gives most of the personality to the foal, so it’s a good match.

“As for the sire, we like a good, straight mover with a good walk, good, clean jump, best proven in the field. We wouldn’t recommend breeding a mare that was not a nice horse to ride.”

Tom and Wissie Brede (coincidentally, pronounced “Breedie”) are widely sought after hunter judges based in Orefield, Pa., who have bred Thoroughbreds for the track for many years and with great success. Wissie approaches the whole matter with good, common sense. “You always want to breed to improve. If she’s an average mare, you want to breed to something that has size, substance and moves well. If it’s a small horse, breed to a big horse, if it’s a big, thick horse, breed to a finer kind of horse,” she says. “It’s not too different from breeding dogs, if you think about it. You wouldn’t breed two bad dogs. Don’t ever breed a bad horse. Find another use for it, or donate it.” [sm]