Article by Kimmy Risser, Hickory Manor
From the outside, breeding may appear to be a simple math problem of stallion + mare = foal. However, once you’re in the thick of it you realize it’s more of ‘find x’ on the triangle, with ‘y’ and ‘z’ equaling stallion and mare. Deciding how y and z fit together to figure out x can be a complicated process that requires hours of studying, but when you get it all right the answer to ‘x’ can be very gratifying (if you haven’t already caught on, x is the foal).
Before I begin this breakdown of the things to consider when choosing a stallion to breed your mare too, I must stress the importance of viewing the mare and stallion objectively. There is no such thing as perfect conformation, and it’s crucial to be able to acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of your mare or the potential stallion. I understand that our horses tend to be our pets, so if you’re unable to take off the rose colored glasses, seek out the help of an experienced breeder.
Arguably, the most important component to breeding is the mare. Although there are differing opinions, I believe the mare is at least 70% of the equation. Of course, some genetics are stronger than others but that is all part of the research. The mare is the base line, the foundation of what you’re hoping to create; you can tweak or improve but you cannot change what is there. It is important to understand you’re not starting with a blank slate, you’re starting with a bit too long of a pastern, too straight of a hock, a great neck set, or really fantastic movement. From that baseline, you can begin to develop a list of potential stallions for your mare. The stallion can help improve or strengthen certain traits, or he can detract from them. It is not a perfect science, but creating a list of what you’d like to improve or keep the same with your mare is a good place to start.
A mare or stallion does not just appear one day, it is the product of centuries of breeding. Every horse has a mother and father, a grandmother and grandfather, and so on. There are countless genetic traits, both obvious and hidden, that make up a horse and when breeding, those traits can be passed on or skip a generation (or 3). I think color genetics is a good example of that; you can breed a bay mare to a bay stallion and end up with a chestnut (ask me how I know!). A mare that may be 15.3h may not necessarily produce shorter offspring, she could have height all throughout her bloodlines and maybe it just skipped her but will be passed on to her foals. Same goes for stallions - a tall stallion won’t necessarily always produce tall babies. When you put it all together, it is a crap shoot but doing your research past just the first generation will help narrow down the end result.
Evaluating the offspring of a stallion is a major component to your research. Any consistency among the offspring can provide you an idea of what the stallion will pass on (good or bad) or improve. Again, it’s important the know the dam of each baby as well. Researching similar crosses to what you’re hoping to do can narrow down the end result even more. Horsetelex.com is a good resource for seeing the offspring from each stallion (as long as it’s been entered on the site), and I personally like watching videos on Youtube to see the horses in action. If the stallion is old enough to have produced horses of show age, looking up the show results of the offspring can also be beneficial not only to show their work ethic and athleticism but also for marketing purposes if you intend to sell your foal.
Choosing which registry you will go with will help to narrow down the choices quite a bit. If you mare has not been entered into the mare book of a registry, you will need to get her to an inspection for which she is eligible so that her foal can also be registered. A major benefit to having a mare in a registry is that you have access to guidance and suggestions from the judge who has seen thousands of offspring from a wide array of stallions. The judge will be able to give you a list of stallions that would benefit your mare and help produce the best offspring that she can.
Temperament is a biggie! You’ll need to decide if the foal will be a keeper, or one you will sell. Will it be a professional ride or more geared toward amateurs? Are you looking for an upper level horse or a steady eddie for the lower divisions? All of these questions are important, b/c the temperament of both mare and stallion will effect the offspring and that’s offspring’s ability to perform in their career. If you’re looking to produce a pro ride for the upper levels of the sport, you can choose a spicy stallion with truly amazing talent. On the opposite end, if you want a safe child/adult hunter you’ll need a stallion who not only possesses a great temperament but also passes it on to his offspring. As a side note, rideability and temperament are not always interchangeable so keep that in mind.
Once you have you gone through your checklist and matched up a good selection of stallions, look up the stallion contract (usually listed on the breeder’s website) or send an email to the stallion owner and request the contract to look over. Not all breeding contracts are the same! Some contracts may only give you 2 years to achieve a successful breeding, and if you have a tried and true foaling warrior that may not be an issue but for an inexperienced breeder or mare, a contract that gives you 3 years may be more beneficial. Live foal guarantee is another item to look at, some cover only once the foal is up and nursing, and some can last up to several months. Collection days are a biggie in my book, I will only use a stallion that is available for collection Monday-Friday. Some stallions are only available for M-W-F collection, and if you’ve ever spent more than 5 minutes with a mare you’ll understand they do not care about contracts or your schedule. I wouldn’t say that M-W-F is a deal breaker, but it’s important to understand that part of the contract going in so you aren’t shocked when you order on Thursday and your request cannot be fulfilled. If you’re breeding to a performance stallion, be sure to request show dates ahead of time or at least insure that the stallion owner will give you a heads up for when the stallion will be showing. Another option for performance stallions is a fresh/frozen contract, where they will only be available for a certain time period fresh and if you are unable to breed during that time, frozen will be sent and the LFG is still applicable. Also looking into the collection fees, since some can be much higher than others and it’s a fee you will have to pay for each breeding if your mare doesn’t take first time. A lot of these choices really depend on your comfort level and how competent of a vet you have.
Speaking of Vets, that is a MAJOR component to breeding. Although not necessarily related to picking a stallion, you’ll need a good reproduction vet to make a foal possible so I wanted to include this part. Not all vets are reproduction vets; sure they can get it done, but when you’re spending all this money you want a vet that is educated and experienced. Speak with your particular vet about your plans to breed and ask for their experience in the matter and success rates. If breeding is not their forte, ask your vet for a recommendation or reach out to local breeders in the area to see who they use.
Last but certainly not least, you have chosen your stallion and now need to sign the contract and seal the deal! If it’s early enough in the season, many stallion owners offer fantastic early booking discounts on stud fees. If you don’t see it advertised, do not hesitate to ask. Other discounts could include performance mares, proven offspring, or elite mares. Another option is the stallion service auctions, which usually start around the end of January. Each registry will put on an auction in which stallion owners can donate a breeding that will be sold to the highest bidder. If you haven’t narrowed down your list to just one stallion, this is a good way to track the bids of the stallions you like to see if you can get one for an especially good price over another. For this information, just look on the registry websites. If a stallion is approved with more than one registry, you can buy the breeding from another registry auction and still use it and register the foal with the registry of your choice.
This article serves as a generic list of things to consider when choosing the right stallion for your mare. Depending on which discipline you are aiming for, there will be countless more items to check off your list that pertain to that specifically. Scope for the jumpers, style for the hunters, suspension for dressage, the list goes on and on and many times it comes down to personal preference or trends in the sport. For research, going to nearby shows and seeing what is winning and succeeding will help guide your choices. Speak with professionals in the sport as well for their preferences, especially if you’ll be looking to sell the foal. There is so much work to be done to insure you’ll be creating the best possible outcome, and even then breeding truly is a gamble, but putting as many tools in your ‘breeding toolbox’ will help put the odds in your favor.
Article by Kimmy Risser, Hickory Manor
Editor's Note: The USSHBA recommends that all breeders consult first with their veterinarian and/or experienced foaling manager to develop their specific foaling plan. The following are recommendations from breeders, but is not a complete list and all supplies/drugs or techniques should be discussed in advance with your veterinarian and used under veterinary supervision.
The Well-Stocked Foaling Kit
Tips, Suggestions, and Experiences
“...We have mats in our stalls and the foals can have a hard time getting up on them with just straw as bedding, so we put shavings down first then straw on top. This works well as the shavings do a great job of absorbing all the fluids. 15-20 minutes after the foal is out we change the soiled part of the bedding to keep everything clean and dry.” - Dr. Rachel Kane, DVM
“Milk testing: You want to test the pH and the calcium, low pH (around 6) and high calcium (500+) usually means foaling is imminent. Use a ratio of 6:1 with water and use spa test strips or aquarium test strips just make sure the pH goes low enough and calcium goes high enough.” - Kimmy Risser, Hickory Manor
“When the front legs first start to appear, I always follow the legs up into the birth canal to make sure I can feel the head in the right position. That way if there is an issue with position I can detect it right away instead of waiting until the problem becomes obvious.” - Jennifer DesRoche, Signature Sporthorses
'Milk out the mare shortly after foaling and feed the foal the colostrum from a bottle before he stands. That way he will get the much needed colostrum in his system to build immunity right away and to give him the energy he’ll need to stand and eventually nurse. It can help the mare pass the afterbirth quicker as well and prevent meconium impaction in the foal' - Several breeders
The USSHBA's #1 mission is to support the efforts of U.S Sport Horse Breeders through education, recognition, and outreach. In our continuing efforts to do so, the Education Committee is please to announce the start of a Breeders Blog on the USSHBA website.
Educational blogs will be posted regularly our website on a variety of topics of interest to sport horse breeders. The Education committee is also reaching out to USSHBA members and outside professionals that are experts in their fields to contribute as Guest Bloggers.
Just a few of our upcoming topics will include:
We gladly welcome questions and ideas for the blog and submissions of articles as well! Please direct your input to Kimmy Risser.
A collaborative effort produced by the USSHBA Education Committee, USSHBA members, and our partners.