Breeding Your Next Champion
By Al Dunning
Buying horses is a difficult and tedious task but breeding horses is even tougher! In the fall of each year, I go to the NCHA Futurity not only to compete at times, but also to be a student of the industry. I watch the horses being shown and check the bloodlines to see what is the most popular and what crosses are preforming the best. During the sales, I look at every horse to determine attitude, conformation and the positive traits of each individual. Studying trends annually keeps me up to speed on which sires are most prolific and which dams have the bloodlines to reproduce successfully. I spend plenty of time talking to fellow trainers. They give me an inside perspective on which horses are easy to train, have the right attitude and the greatest athleticism. I want to know which ones they get excited about riding. These horses make our job easier and a lot more fun!
Probably the most exciting part of my trip is scouting for the next great sire coming down the pike. Undoubtedly, this new up-and-coming sire will have finally gotten to breed quality mares in adequate numbers to produce something special. Sorting out whether they are a fluke or the real deal takes a keen eye.
A key to finding the right horse to breed to is to identify the optimum characteristics and suitable conformation that fits events you wish to compete in. Good conformation to me means soundness and structure to ensure longevity in their career. I try to always watch the horses’ movement to look for something special in their step or any things that are problematic. If I decide to purchase any horses while I am at the sales, I enlist the help of an expert veterinarian that understands the rigors of my event.
With all of this knowledge and continuing education, breeding is still a tossup. I watch the same mare with great conformation and impeccable breeding and a huge performance record year after year having different caliber foals. Even breeding to the same sire on multiple years, you are never going to have an exact duplicate. I try to breed my mare to a sire that has the capabilities and characteristics you want and a proven track record. What’s interesting about sires is some can go along as young sires and not produce much but become very potent as a sire later in their years.
For my mare, I want her to be impeccably bred on both sides. The black type that is referred to at major sales means that the mare has been a producer or she has parents that are producers on both sides. However, there are many winners that don’t produce and some producers that never won. This adds to the guessing game.
One thing that is not logical to me is when somebody buys a mare to breed that has conformation faults, a bad attitude, soundness problems or has an unpopular pedigree. Usually these issues will carry over to the foal and the breeder will probably get exactly what they already have or more often even worse.
Horses are a huge expenditure! If you look at a tabulation of your expenses, you probably think 1) your house, 2) your car, maybe then 3) your horses when you consider all of the paraphernalia and constant care needed to show or keep them going. It’s risky business in breeding; consider the financial requirements seriously before going down that path.
With all of this said, one of the greatest joys of my horsemanship career was watching a foal be born out of one of the mares I won on and loved. There is nothing like the hopes and dreams that are all tied up into one big bouncing bundle of bucking excitement that you see running in the pasture. Then if your dreams come true you may raise the most outstanding horse you’ve ever had. It can become an addiction!
Sometimes the foals turned out great and sometimes not, but it didn’t matter. The moment was so special. The time you spend with them and the relationship you have is like raising a child; it adds to why we breed horses. It’s not all about how much they are worth or if they become a champion. It’s a good part of life.
In summation, if you’ve really thought about it and realize the expense and risk involved, breed your mare. Be sure that overall it’s for that special excitement of actually seeing what your personal crystal ball sought. The more logical you are and educated, the better chance you’ll have of having an enjoyable breeding experience. As a professional, I have always searched for that dream cross that would raise the extra special performance horse that would not only win, but would never be sold and become part of our family and our life and fulfill those childlike dreams.
Top of Page