We are not anti-breeding. We’re anti-irresponsibility.
It’s that time of year again – stallion ads pepper Facebook and cute foal photos are shared everywhere.
That means it’s time to have “the talk” again.
It would be easy to label a rescue as “anti-breeding.” We are not. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking an exemplary mare, pairing her with an accomplished stallion and producing a quality offspring.
We are anti-irresponsible breeding. We are anti-thoughtless breeding. We are anti-overbreeding. We see – and house in our program – the results of all of these. The consequence of the cute foal that someone wanted until it grew up. The throw-away product at the end of a poorly executed program – the overbred, untrained senior broodmare. The unhandled teenage stud pony that keeps slipping out of the 2-strand fence running down the highway. The who-knows-what mix pregnant mare whose legs will never hold up to carrying a rider, likely to miscarry the foal out of pain, stress, and her own poor physical condition.
But it’s even more complex than this. You might see a very attractive stallion advertisement and think maybe you should breed your mare. So how do you make this unalterable decision to create another life?
In some ways, it’s really not all that different than deciding to start a human family. You may laugh, but if you’ll look at the level of responsibility, financial investment, and potential consequences – it is a very fair comparison.
Let’s look at two hypothetical situations.
Mare A is a good example of her breed. She’s attractive with good conformation, size and bone. She is easily trainable, she has so far performed as her pedigree dictates she should, and she is fully disease-panel tested negative. It’s really a bonus that she’s a pretty color that she might pass on. In fact, her only flaw is she got hurt in training last year and may not be rideable again. The owner decides that she really wants to go to a higher level in her discipline, and maybe breeding her mare to a stallion that is already winning is the way to go. She has her vet-checked to confirm that the mare is sound and clear to breed, gets her fully vaccinated, and begins the search for a suitable mate. The owner searches for a stallion that will compliment her mare and balance her minor faults (if we’re honest, her back is a little long and her ears are a little big; so let’s try to balance that out.) She wants equal or a little larger size, complementary pedigree, proven ability in the specific discipline or siblings that are proven, and disease panel tested and fully disclosed.
The mare is dropped off for two months to be bred, vet checked confirmed in foal and picked up. She is checked and re-vaccinated at regular intervals, pulled off pasture at the appropriate time to avoid fescue toxicity, and has a wonderfully uncomplicated delivery 342 days later. The resulting foal is vet-checked within 24 hours to confirm IgG levels and overall health. He is handled regularly over the next few months, so he’s easy to geld at 4 months. When he’s weaned at 6 months, he starts enjoying trailer rides with his pasture buddy to local shows and trail rides. He is entered in his first show in halter and in-hand trail as a yearling and is prepped for training in the discipline he was bred for as his age and temperament dictate his readiness. The breeder is offered increasing sums of money for him, but she continues to decline and enjoy meeting each goal that she had in mind when she chose to breed her mare. Eventually, she leases her proven, well-trained gelding to the 4-H kid down the road to learn with and enjoys watching the two of them have fun together.
Mare B has been the family pet, occasionally ridden around the farm and played with at the local saddle club. She’s likely a mix of more than two breeds, loveable with the kids but looks like she was assembled by committee with a clunky head, straight shoulder and weak hind end with sickle hocks and drooping pasterns. The family thinks it would be cute to have a baby, so they take her down the road to their friend who has an indiscriminate and nearly un-handleable spotted stallion.
They turn the two loose together for the summer and then take their mare home. They guess that she’s bred because she grows heavier and heavier over the winter. In their perfect world, they go out and find a foal one morning happily nursing the mare. Now, maybe the mare lets them handle it, maybe she doesn’t. Maybe they actually raise and train the foal into a solid citizen and the resulting foal remains sound and healthy all its days. But, maybe they get tired of feeding two and run one or both through the local auction. Maybe resulting foal is a stud colt who breeds his mama 18 months from now. Maybe not knowing whether the mare was bred and never having a vet involved results in a dead mare, dead foal, or both.
If you’ll note in the first mare’s case, a veterinarian is involved before the mare is ever bred, and at regular intervals throughout the pregancy. Proper vaccination and care of the mare helps ensure the foal receives some level of disease immunity in the colostrum. Mares who aren’t vaccinated can’t pass immunity on to their foals, so if baby foal gets West Nile or Tetanus, baby foal dies. Especially in our area, where oftentimes ‘horse pasture’ wasn’t sown as such, fescue toxicity is a very real thing and can result in anything from a red bag delivery to a mare’s milk not coming in. Maybe spotted daddy is an overo and carries Lethal White Overo Syndrome and the baby dies within a few days of birth because its intestines aren’t fully developed.
Indiscriminate breeding is irresponsible breeding no matter how you look at it. Foals are cute. But with life comes responsibility. It’s expensive to breed the mare and raise the foal when you do it right. Consider though, the alternatives when you cut corners. Breeding a poorly conformed horse to a poorly conformed horse is setting up the resulting foal for a lifetime of unsoundness, discomfort, changing homes, neglect, or slaughter. Breeding genetic diseases like HYPP, PSSM, or LWOS is purely avoidable heartbreak. Tests for these things exist – use them rather than breed them on. Breeding just to breed fills the auctions with $20 run-through young horses that go straight to Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses.
Breeding without a plan for the resulting foal is irresponsible in today’s world. There are enough good minded horses already here that can go to trail, be a family pet, or play around on obstacles. You don’t need to breed a Pintappwalkquarab to do that. You’re not creating market desire or a designer breed, you’re putting together a whole lot of incompatible parts that just don’t fit right.
Don’t breed without a plan.
Don’t breed unless you have the money to properly care for mare and foal. It’s a much greater investment than just a stud fee.
Genetic test BOTH PARENTS.
Involve a veterinarian; take proper care of mare and foal throughout the process.
Understand that horses live for 30 years or more. They can easily end up in very bad places; it just takes the one wrong person. When you decide to ‘make’ one, make it the best possible creation you can – temperament and conformation are vitally important to soundness and trainability, which in turn helps ensure a lifetime of possibilities.