Words from a First – and Last-Time Breeder

Words by Alexandra Beckstett

I interviewing the Riogenologists Drs. Ben Espy (DVM, Dipl. ACT) and Ryan Ferris (DVM, Dipl. ACT) for the Responsible Breeders feature, several of their tell-it-how-it-is statements hit close to home. Their overarching message was along the lines of, “Please don’t breed your mare if she’s not going to contribute anything positive to the equine industry.” Ironic, considering breeding exams and broodmare care are these practitioners’ bread and butter.

Even so, they’ve likely seen enough drained bank accounts, disappointed owners, and unwanted offspring to justify their advice. Heck, I wish someone had convinced me not to breed my retired Brandenburg hunter, Alice, eight years ago. I went down that road not once, but twice.

The first endeavor was laughable, now that I think back on it. Alice, although beautiful and well-bred, was bull-headed and tough to ride, with a chronically late lead change. Her baby-daddy-to-be was a local aging dressage stallion that I picked for sentimental reasons—he was a half-sibling to one of the most successful hunters I’d ever shown.

Alice was bred via artificial insemination; she took on the second try. We sent her to live at a family friend’s Texas farm several hours away. They, too, had a few mares in foal. Gestation went swimmingly, from what I can recall, and “Jasper” was born 11 months later. We euthanized him at 2 ½ years when he developed debilitating wobbler syndrome, likely due to spinal cord compression as he grew.

Meanwhile, Alice was back in foal. This time we put a bit more thought into her mate, researching and settling on a proven hunter stallion to sire my future hunter superstar. Again she took on the second try, and 11 months later “Hannah” appeared in the field one morning. Knowing what I do now about foaling complications, I cringe thinking that no one at the boarding facility had anticipated or been present for her birth.

We decided not to breed Alice back for baby No. 3 and ultimately gave her to the farm owners to use in their own breeding program.

Today Hannah is 6 years old and, at the rate Warmbloods mature, just starting her competitive career. That neat idea my parents and I had eight years and thousands of dollars ago is only now paying off with what I originally set out to produce: a show hunter to replace Alice. What part of this makes any sense? With that time and money I could have conceivably bought, trained, and sold three young horses. Even now, although Hannah is competing successfully and I love her to pieces, we still don’t know her full potential or worth. She’s surprisingly short—-hovering just above 15 hands—and justifiably green.

So, would I do it again? Never say never, but armed now with a bit more knowledge, I’d say no.

The cons? Forget the expenses associated with breeding a mare and raising a young horse; hands-down the worst part for me was the four-to-five-year wait to have a viable riding horse. Also, some things are simply beyond our control, such as Jasper’s untimely death and Hannah’s slight stature.

The pros? Witnessing the miracle of life and creating a real, live foal. Watching your cantankerous mare morph into a loving mother. Adorable, fuzzy, precious foals! Watching a gawky weanling develop into a graceful athlete. The pride in knowing the finished product—however long it’s taken—is thanks to your hard work and decision-making. The look on strangers’ faces when they ask you where you got your cute little chestnut mare and you tell them you bred her.

Whether breeding is your business, hobby, or neither, continue asking yourself why you’re breeding your mare and what you hope to get out of it. There are many fabulous horses and bloodlines out there that deserve to be perpetuated. But some novice breeders, like myself, are better off buying. As Dr. Espy said, “Foals are cute and majestic, but foals will cost you $15,000-20,000 before you even know if they’re an athlete.”

Alexandra Beckstett is the managing editor of The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care and author of The Winning Edge Blog, at TheHorse.com/WinningEdge.

Originally published in the December 2014 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.

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