Natalie DiBerardinis, Hilltop Farm
First published in Elite Equestrian, January 2015
It’s a wonderful time of year for anyone considering breeding a mare . While stallion shopping is perhaps the more glamorous, exciting part of planning your next breeding, I think this winter research time can be even more effectively spent if we first start by defining our breeding goals and critically evaluating our mares. We need to put equal research into exploring our mares’ backgrounds at much greater depth to have the best chances of breeding our next champion.
Why do you want to breed a foal? Will this be a future performance horse for yourself, a future broodmare for your growing program, or a sales prospect? Each of these is a great reason to breed, but the goal will help define if your mare is the right one for the job.
If you’re breeding a performance horse for yourself, start with your mare’s own qualities as a riding horse. Was she suited for the sport you compete in? Did you enjoy riding her? Did she have enough talent that even if you ended up with an exact replica of her you would be happy? If the answer to any of those questions is no, then perhaps she is not the right breeding candidate for your goal.
If you are a long-term breeder and would like to produce a new filly for your broodmare herd, the depth of your mare’s pedigree is critical. Look at the stallions represented, but even more importantly, look at the mares throughout her background. What have they produced and done in sport? Is there a consistency and strong tie from one generation of mares to the next? Experienced breeders know its these strong producing mare families that they can rely on for the development and continuation of their own programs.
If you are breeding for sale, consider the commercial appeal of your dam and her pedigree. Does she have a fashionable or well-recognized pedigree? Did she have a strong sport career or have other siblings/offspring competed well? Breeding is an expensive endeavor and key to financial success is being able to sell the offspring you breed. Stallion names may catch buyers eye, but you can differentiate your offspring from the other offspring of the chosen stallion by the appeal of your mare.
So, you’ve established your breeding goals and believe in general your mare is a good candidate. Now, we look towards more specifics to create a blueprint of our mare’s strengths and areas that we may need to improve upon with our stallion selection. Temperament, character, and rideability are an excellent place to start when evaluating your mare. Break these into different categories as you evaluate your mare. Temperament includes sensitivity and reactiveness. Think of an energy scale here -- is this a cooler, slower reacting sort of horse or one who may be considered hot or reactive to aids, environmental changes, etc. Character, to me, is the evaluation of how a horse interacts with its people, how consistent it is from day-to-day, how honest it is in its responses. Rideability includes not only willingness to work, but also evaluates if the horse gives a rider a good feeling naturally through the body, if it is willing to listen and wait for the rider’s aids, and how quickly it learns. Where does your mare rate in each of these areas?
Conformation is the next area to consider in your evaluation of your mare. What are her strengths and where are her weaker areas? With a potential weakness, evaluate how severe it is - did it impact her success under saddle, did it contribute to an injury? No horse is perfect, but animals with a significant conformational defect are not good breeding candidates. There are a lot of wonderful books available discussing sport horse conformation traits as well as seminars run by organizations such as USDF, USEA, and some breed registries. If your mare has an injury that is leading you towards a broodmare career, it would be a good idea to discuss with your vet if he/she has any concerns related to her conformation or way of going that could have contributed to that injury and how inheritable that trait may be.
Your next step is to evaluate the riding strengths of your mare. What made her a good mover, gave her good technique over fences, etc. What was easiest for her in work and what areas did she struggle with? Your trainer’s input could be very valuable here. Again, as we identify areas that we would like to improve in the resulting foal, we need to be aware that breeding isn’t an exact science. I always cycle back to one question. “If I got an exact replica of my mare in the foal would I still be satisfied?’ If the answer to that question isn’t yes, I don’t feel she’s a strong choice as a broodmare.
Now we get to pedigree evaluations. This can take a lot of time, but can also be one of the most fun processes in research. Find out everything you can about the stallions, and dams, in your mare’s pedigree. Does she embody the characteristics those lines are known for? What are the most successful horses from these lines and what bloodline crosses do you consistently see with this pedigree. That can give you a guide a potential nicks to follow in your breeding plans as well.
After all this evaluation, I’d suggest picking two or three things that you most want to improve on your mare. Use those specific traits to guide your stallion selection. Enjoy your winter research and evaluation of your mare. Best of luck in your breeding decisions this coming season!
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