Saturday, May 3, 2008

Stallions - Is is really cheaper to own your own?

We're going to talk stallions and I'm going to decorate this post with stallions I like of various breeds. It's nice to have something pretty here to look at in between all the humane cases and BYB fuglies, isn't it? :-) For those of you interested, the Paint is Impressive Sunrise, the Welsh is Gayfield's Call the Cops, the Arabian is Marajj and the Morgan is Don Diego. In particular, please look at the Welsh. THAT is a breeding quality pony stallion. Based upon what I see out there if I search for pony stallions, many of you need to educate your eye as to what constitutes a breeding quality pony stallion. "Because it's short" is not a good reason.

While we are at it, if you cannot get a better picture of your Hano stallion jumping than this...don't put one up. He is totally flat and looks like he's running off with you. Related point: Because you are a trainer at discipline X does not make you a trainer in discipline Y. And the pictures of your students are scaring the hell out of me. Someone is gonna die there. Remember my comment about how you shouldn't be jumping if you can't trot/canter without your irons and maintain proper equitation? How many of these kids do you think can do that? This looks vaguely familiar, I may have had him on the blog before, but shit, he still sucks, he deserves a second mention! (Disclaimer for the easily confused: I am bashing on the bad training - not the kids. My riding sucked as a child thanks to bad training, I know of what I speak.)

OK, on to my topic: I frequently hear people say that they have their own stallion because it is just cheaper to own your own. This begs the question - is it really? If you do it right?

Now, in the days before A.I. (and in the breeds that still don't allow it), I do understand the fear about sending your mare out to be bred. Just within my small circle of friends, mares have come back from breeding with a skull fracture, 200 lbs. underweight, wire cut to the point of permanent injury, or the foal at side got killed. Even if you visit and inspect a facility prior to letting your mare go there for breeding, it is hard to evaluate whether or not a stallion owner has any common sense on the basis of one visit, and bad things happen even at good barns. I totally understand people who say their mare will go out again when hell freezes over. But these days, most breeds allow A.I. and the risk is pretty much gone. Yes, getting them in foal is harder and more expensive with shipped semen, but your mare can stay safe at home for the entire process and that makes a lot of sense, especially with a valuable mare.

At first glance, it may seem cheaper to own your own stallion with stud fees of $1000+ and mare care of $10+ per day (or semen shipping charges and vet charges for insemination) for the good ones that are out there. This is where you have to look at it in more depth.
I am going through the stallion owning experience for the first time, after nearly 33 years in horses. (I have boarded someone else's stallions, and I've handled them for breeding, but this is the first time I have owned my own). As I've stated before, I believe it's your responsibility as a stallion owner to get your stallion out there and campaigned successfully in some discipline, and of course I am holding myself to that same standard. In keeping with that, I have been investigating the true cost of seriously showing for a year and (hopefully) putting some national titles on him. A friend of mine is in the middle of getting her AQHA stallion qualified for the World in the roping events and she filled me in.

Are you all sitting down?

Training/board plus showing: $2300 - $3300 per month

World Show alone: $8000 rough estimate

Boy, all I can say is that I'm glad mine is still a youngster and I have a few years to save up. (You all know my feelings on pounding on young horses - he will stay home and be lightly ridden until I am sure his legs are ready and he's done growing.) I don't know about you, but if I were trying to just have a breeding program and breed my own mares, I could buy a lot of breedings to already proven, excellent quality outside stallions for the cost of sending this one colt off to the big leagues for a year. My situation's a bit different - this colt is my focus and I don't really plan to have my own breeding program - he will stand mostly to approved outside mares if and when his show record warrants him reproducing. If, instead, I owned a bunch of nice mares that I wanted to breed? I'd let someone else put in all of this money! A $1000 or $2000 stud fee sure starts to look like a bargain when you add up those numbers. (And I bet you stallion owners will tell me that people still bitch!)

Looking at these costs, it is not so surprising that there are so many stallions out there who haven't done squat and lots of justifications why they haven't done squat! Hey, I am sure it was more affordable to make your horse an AQHA Champion in 1970 than it is now. What was gasoline back then? Let's all get together and have a group cry! Everything is expensive these days and showing is no exception - but you, as a breeder, have options.

First of all, it is easier and cheaper to buy a stallion that already has a show record. As with most things in horses, all of that work and expense does not tend to make the horse an equal amount more valuable. Let's say your stallion goes off to training January 1st and stays in training 11 months including Congress and the World Show. Based upon the estimates my friend gave me, you now have around $50,000 of show expenses into him. Is he going to be worth over $50,000? Probably not. Remember, that doesn't even include his initial value and the money you've spent raising him up to this point. And he can go to one of those big shows and suck. He can just plain have a bad day, no matter how well he has been doing. He's a horse. Now if he does win, and he turns out to be an excellent sire, sure, you can make your money back on breedings eventually. But boy, it's a gamble.

(Why do I want to do it then? Hey, I admit - a lot of it is just, once in my lifetime, I want a shot at the Big Win at the Big Show. I'll probably get some judge who goes "hey, that's the horse owned by that bitch who said I shouldn't be breeding my HYPP N/H stallion!" and that'll be the end of that, LOL!)

Secondly, if your goal is a top quality breeding program, you need a variety of bloodlines. You lose that with your own stallion. Eventually the odds are you'll have some of his daughters that were so nice you had to keep them - but now you're back at square one. You can't breed them to him (at least I hope not, don't give me a headache this early in the morning) so you're back to having to send them out/ship semen or buy a second stallion - who may need to be campaigned at the shows.

Third, do you really have the time/facilities/knowledge to stand a stallion? If mine does well at the shows and becomes a breeding stallion, I will most likely stand him at someone else's facility for a few months every spring. It seems to me that it is easier to pay board somewhere that is already set up for collection and has a good repro vet on staff. than do it myself. Have you thought about the liability involved with visiting mares? I have certainly seen/heard of enough lawsuits thanks to accidents that happened to visiting mares. Not to mention the fear that some evil visiting mare will take out your stallion.

I'm very interested in hearing from those of you who own stallions today. Did you campaign them at the shows yoruself? What did it cost, really? What did you accomplish with them (if you don't mind "outing" yourself a bit here)? What breed are they and what discipline(s) were they shown in? Did you, instead, buy a stallion that already had a show record? Do you stand them at stud yourself, at home? Do you accept outside mares or just breed your own? How many mares do you have yourself? Are you still breeding to outside stallions despite owning your own because you need the variety in your program? What problems/challenges have you had with visiting mares? Has it been difficult to deal with mare owners if you only breed approved mares and have had to say no? Do you have certain hard and fast rules, like not breeding HYPP positive mares?

Let's hash out all of the things that go into responsible stallion ownership today. I'll bet it'll be quite an education for those thinking about keeping something a stud, myself included!