I was just having this discussion with someone this weekend and I'm going to share it here.
It is the unusual horseperson who never considers breeding a horse of their own. Most of us, at some point, will own a mare that we think is just awesome, one that we would like to make more of. Or we will fall in love with a particular stallion and want a foal by him - but nothing that we see for sale out of his offspring fits the bill.
I'm never going to turn into a 100% anti-breeding radical. Someone does have to breed so that we continue to have and enjoy horses, and it helps nothing if all the responsible, knowledgeable people stop breeding and the bottom feeders with barbed wire paddocks behind their trailers keep popping out a dozen fugly grade foals a year. I've heard so much crap in the small animal world about how, if you breed, you're taking a home away from a shelter pet. In most cases, nonsense. The person who is dead set on having a high quality Viszla, for example, is not going to truck down to the shelter and adopt a Chow-Shar Pei-Lab-Pit mix instead. The truth is, there's always a market for a high quality, well bred, well conformed animal of any breed. The market that's dead is the market for the Chow-Shar Pei-Lab-Pit puppies and the fugly ewe-necked, calf kneed, long backed Quarter Horses (even if they are gold! Really!) and the black kittens your barn cat had. There are almost no homes for these animals. Your chances of winning the lottery might be better.
So the first question: Is what you are planning to produce selling? REALLY? Are you SURE you have not seen it at your local auction? You can't take your Uncle George's word on this. You have to conduct your own serious market research, based upon the show records and pedigrees involved. Even if resale is not your goal, remember that life is unpredictable and it doesn't make sense to bring a horse into the world that no one else will want. If I meet one more person who thinks a foal is marketable because it goes back to Man O'War, my head will explode. Plenty of descendants of Man O'War, Seattle Slew, Leo, Poco Bueno, Doc Bar, King, *Bask, Morafic, etc. go to kill every year. If you don't have big name breeding close up, it's pretty much irrelevant.
Second question: Are foals from the stallion you are considering currently winning in some kind of competitive discipline? I don't care what it is - dressage, barrel racing, endurance, park horse, whatever - but are they? If you are considering a young, unproven stallion, is he currently winning in some kind of competitive discipline? There are plenty of opportunities to get the breeding you want at a reasonable price - check out stallion service auctions, for example.
Third question: Have you met the stallion in person? Does he look like his pics? Lots of people retouch! Does he have a nice disposition? "Because he's a stallion," is never an excuse for a snarly, nippy attitude. If you are in a high performance discipline like racing and are willing to put up with that attitude to get the performance (cough cough Storm Cat cough cough), well okay, but I'd still prefer that nasty mind didn't breed on because it sabotages their chances of a good home and a second career after the track if they can't run. Is there another stallion who is equally talented with a better mind that you can choose? And is the stallion sound? If not, why? Unsound after winning $600K on the track or an eventing career - well, fair enough. Unsound because he's 1300 lbs. on size 00 feet? That should give you pause. Of course, totally sound after winning $600K on the track would be my first choice, but I don't always hold these things against the horse because it has so much to do with management, how good the trainer and his staff were about care, etc. Bad management can F up the legs of the best conformed horse on earth.
Fourth question: What about your mare? If you are making the decision to breed because she is the most awesome show/barrel/endurance horse you've ever had and she wins everything, kudos! That is the kind of mare we want to make more of. If your decision is being motivated by any of the following, don't do it:
1. Mare is lame and I don't want her just sitting around (Particularly if mare is lame from something related to conformation like navicular - I have no issue with a mildly injured show mare being bred when she needs time off anyway. That makes sense.)
2. Mare is too crazy to ride. (Please hit yourself in the head for me if you want to breed her to settle her down or because you can't do anything else with her because she is a wack job. REGUMATE!)
3. I want a BABY, they're so KYOOT! (Please go to your local auction and take one off the killers' hands for $25. Assuming you realize they're not a stuffed animal and know that weanlings typically do naughty things 8.426 times per hour on average, including striking at you, kicking you, nipping you, etc. If you cannot discipline because it's KYOOT, you will wind up like the people on It's Me Or The Dog, except that what is running you over will be 1,000 lbs.)
4. I want my kid to have a horse she can grow up with! (I'd love to say I don't still hear this incredibly moronic comment, but I still do. If you think this makes sense, I hope you know your way to the Emergency Room, because your kid is about to become a Frequent Flyer! Young horses and young kids are a terrible combination. You're going to wind up with a hurt kid and a spoiled horse that you will then run to the auction because you don't know how to fix it.)
Fifth question: What are your mare's conformational flaws? Are you selecting a stallion who is strong in those areas? Is your mare free of serious conformational defects that interfere with soundness and use? A long back can easily be shortened by the right stallion. Pigeon toes or an upright shoulder, not so much. And the long-backed mare is not so bad if your goal is to produce a pleasure horse in any of the stock breed associations - but she shouldn't be considered if your goal is dressage. If you can't look critically at your mare because you love her too much, take her to a show (or a few shows) for halter class and ask the judge for their comments.
Sixth question: Genetic defects. Know which ones your mare may carry and do the appropriate testing if it's not already done. Make sure you breed to a tested stallion. It is never okay to roll the dice and possibly produce a HYPP positive foal, a HERDA foal, a lethal white or anything else that can be tested for and prevented. Not to mention that you do not want your first breeding experience to result in a foal that dies within days!
Seventh question: What do you really want? Do you want a foal out of your fantastic performance mare, and not care what sex or color you get? Awesome, because you can only predict so much. Sure, you can breed to a cremello (if you can find one that doesn't suck, good luck on that - I can maybe think of three decent ones off hand) and get a certain color but that's about it for predictability. If it's important to you to have a buckskin filly...buy one.
Eighth question: Can you afford all the associated vet work? Ultrasounds are a must - you have to know if your mare is carrying twins or some other problem exists. Can you deal with it (emotionally AND financially) if the result of all of this is a dead or permanently damaged mare and/or a dead foal and/or a foal that is never going to be rideable? All of these things can and do happen. It is heartbreaking to see someone lose a mare they loved just because they were trying to reproduce her. If she is super, super special to you, you might want to consider doing an embryo transfer to take the risk of foaling out of the equation. Let some older broodmare who has had several successful, complication-free deliveries do the "work." And consider all the possibilities and have a plan in mind if things go bad - what will you do with a foal that is born with a disability or is injured before he reaches riding age?
Ninth question: If the object is resale and the baby does not sell as a baby, are you prepared for that? (a) Do you have safe and separate facilities for a weanling? Hot tape won't hold a weanling who is screaming for mom, and you all know what I think of barbed wire. (b) Do you have the knowledge to train appropriately during all stages of life, or the financial resources to pay for training? (c) What about feeding and nutrition? What do you know about how to feed a foal? It's not like feeding an adult horse. You can trash their legs permanently if you don't know what you're doing. (d) Can you afford another horse if he never sells?
Final question: Are foals like the one you contemplate consistently selling for at least $2000 - $2500 as weanlings? If you can find one out there for $500...don't do it. Please, don't do it. We have so many of those. We cannot find homes for them. They are $500. Then they are $300. Then they are at the auction. Everybody who goes to the auction is so damn tired of seeing your weanlings, yearlings, two year olds and unbroke adults selling for $175 to the kill buyer. And I know nobody planned for that outcome but it happens left and right. You are not immune from life's bad luck. You could lose your job. You could get divorced. You could get cancer. You could get hit by a drunk driver and never be able to work again. Bottom line, it is flat out irresponsible to produce foals that are not reasonably high in value. The only real protection a horse has in this world is a high value. Please, please, please don't create foals that don't even have that much of a safety net in life.
Your comments? I will keep them anonymous if you want to talk about both good and bad breeding experiences, or which worked out and which didn't. I'll only tag a screen name on to them if you put that at the end of your comment.
The SAFE show was a huge success. I knew some of my former rescues were coming, but this one was a surprise. This is Maggie, who was featured on the blog when she was up for adoption in January 2008, after we pulled her out of a place where hoof care and mucking did not take place anywhere near as often as they are supposed to. She had terrible teeth and ulcers in her mouth. After her rehab, she found her perfect home with a young rider whose name I did not catch (will edit when I get it) and this was their first horse show together! Too cool.
Of course it was fun to see Petersburg Knight again, who went in the adult/significant other lead-line with his mom's 90 year old grandmother! He looks fabulous as always. Prince Caspian, the Arabian I rode at the show last year, was there with his new owner. Sugar, a Paint ex-broodmare who was abandoned at a boarding stable this year with her colt, was out showing with a kid and loving it.
So many horses we'd originally seen as animal control seizures, with Henneke scores of 1 and 2, were out there looking ready for the big shows. One of the most amazing transformations is Cedar County Queen. This mare is huge (16.3), dark bay and super classy. Best of all, she's not spooky or silly, nor does she require an experienced rider. She would be a fantastic dressage prospect for an amateur or youth with a trainer to help bring her along and the sky is the limit for her. She flunked out of track training and wasn't ridden for 10 years, so at age 14, she has perfect legs and no issues.
If you are interested in Cedar, contact SAFE.
And if you run a rescue, please consider having your own local rescue-friendly show! It is not only a great fundraiser, but it serves many other purposes. (a) You get to check on some of your formerly adopted horses in an informal way, (b) It provides a great "starter" show for an inexperienced horse/rider combo, (c) It shows the world how many high quality horses are rescued and (d) It shows the world how long a horse can live a useful and productive life and how a 37 year old can look! Among other things, I showed 37 year old Sarge in Rescue Halter and Bribe Your Horse (we got 2nd out of 20 in BYH!)...he has 2 teeth left but as you can see, looks great. It can be done and is not even hard. Pretty sure you all have a hose to make mush!
Comments on Friday are coming - I received a lot! :-)