You see them everywhere. Frolicking in the neighbor’s corral, cavorting across the pasture at the breeding farm down the road, or dashing around the paddocks at the neighborhood stable. There is nothing more enjoyable than watching a vigorous foal kicking up its heels, unless it’s a foal of your own. One that you bred yourself, from your own mare, by a stallion of your own choosing.
Raising a foal is the ambition of many horse owners, and you’ve probably been flirting with the idea for some time. A foal that will one day draw the attention of the show judge, winning top honors at halter, then going on to a variety of pleasure classes as it matures into a beautiful mount. This doesn’t have to be an illusive dream, after all you think you have a pretty nice mare.
Skillful handling can bring out the full potential of your foal, but it cannot put something there that never was there to begin with. With this realization, you’ve begun to contemplate whether or not you should even think about breeding the mare you’ve been trail riding. Will your mare produce the type of foal you want? How do you evaluate her potential?
Investing in horse flesh is always a gamble. But by evaluating your mare for breeding purposes you can predict the outcome with a greater degree of accuracy. Before you establish a breeding plan you must first determine what type of horse you wish to raise. Will the resulting foal be used for driving, racing, competitive trail riding or working cattle? Possibly your plans are to train that future mount for dressage, jumping, barrel racing or maybe it will be the pleasure horse you’ve been longing for.
The decision to breed your mare should be based on a series of enlightened compromises, supported by all accessible information. Pedigree, performance, progeny, conformation, age and health, and mothering ability are the six building blocks that will provide you with the material for a sound breeding program.
The first building block that most breeding farms tout is the pedigree. A pedigree is the documentation of a known line of descent. The characteristics of your dream foal will be governed by genes inherited from these ancestors. Your mare, and the stallion of your choice will each contribute 50 percent to the foal’s gene pool, each grandparent has an influence of 25 percent, each great-grandparent provides 12.5 percent and so on. As you can see, the influence each individual will have on your foal varies with the closeness of relationship, thus the importance of distant relatives is often over emphasized. With this in mind, concentrate your assessment on the first two or three generations, and even then, unless you know the type of horse each individual is, and its abilities, the pedigree document may not inform you substantially.
One of the best tests of a breeding animal is the offspring she has already produced. This building block is the history of progeny. Information of this type may be hard to come by if you don’t know much about her background but, assuming she is registered with one of the breed clubs, these records should be obtainable on request. By taking a look at the data on her offspring you may discover a nick, a particular cross between certain families that show a pattern of greater than average success. If a previous foal or foals of this breeding were of high quality, it would be a fairly sound bet that the next foal would also be good. However, not all foals produced by the mare will be listed in this information. In fact, if each and every foal has not been registered with the same club or registry, these statistics will be incomplete, and there’s even a possibility your mare has never foaled before.
Pedigree and progeny records can be valuable tools, but these records would be more meaningful when something about the type and performance of the individual ancestors or offspring were included. The performance history of these individuals, as well as your mare’s accomplishments will help establish the abilities your foal could inherit. Keep in mind that there are many factors that affect a horse’s performance record. The age of the animal competing, as well as the quality of nutrition at the time of the competition, will have a significant effect on its performance. The level of the competition and the skill of the trainer and handler may also prejudice the records.
Evaluating your mare solely on the basis of available records is just not adequate, due to the fact that much of it may be unobtainable, incomplete, or bias. Consequently, a breeder will evaluate his mare on her own merits and conformation. After all, she inherited her looks and abilities from her parents.
One of the most reliable of the building blocks of any breeding program is the analysis of the mare’s conformation. How close is your mare’s structure to the ideal of her breed? Some traits for the ideal of each individual breed and its intended use will be distinct, but the majority of characteristics are similar for all breeds. Take a close look at her physique. Is your mare well-proportioned with sound legs and feet? Observe her in action. Does she have a free, fluid movement? Are there any noticeable faults or defects?
A nonhereditary unsoundness due to injury is significant only to the extent that it may prevent breeding, or interferes with carrying the foal or the foaling process. If she does possess any potentially hereditary unsoundness, consider not breeding her. The foal can just as easily inherit her bad points as well as her good. Use the Broodmare Evaluation Chart to simplify your evaluation. You’ll be looking to see that she has a well balanced, correct structure and is full-bodied with the capacity to carry a foal to full term.
If your mare has passed the first four appraisal techniques, now is the time to regard her health and consider her age. Although the prime breeding years are between the ages of five years to fourteen, a mare is capable of pregnancy as early as one year of age. However, a filly younger than three years of age has not yet fully matured, which takes place at about four or five years of age depending on her breed and type. Until then, she’ll have enough to do just growing up, let alone providing a healthy environment for the fetus.
Waiting to breed your mare until late in life has its own problems. An older mare that has produced before, may be difficult to settle due to damage to the reproductive tract caused by foaling problems or infections, and settling a maiden mare in her later years can also be frustrating. Don’t be discouraged, with the help of the veterinarian many fertility problems can be turned around. In fact, some maiden mares have been known to produce a first foal well into old age.
Carrying the fetus to term, parturition and caring for the foal puts considerable physical stress on the mare. A broodmare must be in excellent health, with plenty of vigor, free of infection, and anatomical conditions that would make conception and foaling difficult if not impossible. If your mare has produced before, has she ever had difficulty settling or carrying the foal to full term? Have your mare examined by a veterinarian for breeding soundness. He’ll examine her thoroughly to identify any specific reproductive problem and evaluate her reproductive status.
Mothering ability is the foundation of a sound breeding program. A mare with an impeccable pedigree, top performance record, and exceptional conformation is nearly worthless as a broodmare is she doesn’t have admirable mothering abilities. A mare with good mothering ability will be a healthy, vigorous mare that foals quickly and easily, and recovers rapidly. She must also provide plenty of nourishment to the foal until weaning.
Not only must she be physically prepared for foaling, she must also be psychologically prepared for motherhood. It will be her job to accept the foal immediately following foaling, cleaning it well, then watching over the foal, protecting it from danger and showing it how to get along in the world. Her vitality and disposition will have the biggest influence on the potential quality and tractability of her offspring.
Breeding for that perfect foal can become an obsession, consuming the greater part of a breeder’s life. There is no magic formula that will guarantee that your mare will produce the foal of your dreams but, with careful study, a little science, some intuition, and a lot of luck, you can reach your highest aspirations.
Contributed By: Mirror KB Ranch