Watching my mares’ fuzzy foals has reversed my opinion on raising my own horses.
For the longest time I had trouble recognizing the appeal of raising horses. To me, it was a simple math equation. I figured that if I could find a bargain on a prospect—or even something fairly trained—I was way ahead of someone who had a mare, paid a breeding fee, raised a foal to riding age and then put the time or money into training the animal. When I purchased a horse, I knew that it had straight legs, a sound mind and the sort of looks and ability that I wanted. Shoot, I could even pick the color! In my mind, purchasing a horse eliminated the risks and potential unknowns of foaling one out. Unless I stumbled across a phenomenal, proven mare, I just couldn’t see why I would ever want to raise a few of my own.
Well, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had a change of heart on the subject. No, I haven’t stumbled across the next Royal Blue Boon, nor do I have aspirations of winning Remuda of the Year, but I’ve learned to appreciate the work, excitement and enjoyment that comes out of growing your own.
I’m not an advocate of raising horses just because there’s a mare on the property. I truly believe that a mare has to have a multitude of desirable characteristics in order to be worth breeding. Granted, depending on what your goals are, those characteristics can vary—but they still need to be addressed. Some desire athleticism, or conformation, or temperament. Others strive for cow sense, durability, and yes, even color. And there are so many options when it comes to picking a great stallion. To have a better chance at being successful, you need to know the stud. What traits do his babies tend to exhibit? What are his strong points and shortcomings? Breed good horses to good horses. Strive for soundness in body and mind. Aim for athleticism and trainability. Correct conformation sets a horse up for success no matter the discipline, and don’t try to make up for one horse’s weaknesses with another one’s strengths.
I understand it’s a game of odds. Sometimes a breeding cross is not going to turn out optimal. Sometimes expectations will be met—or exceeded. I try to be as educated and deliberate as possible when I breed my couple of mares. I love the element of surprise. I love to watch them change from gangly, gnarled and awkward to strong, shapey little athletes. I love their curiosity and minds. And I love to see my good mares mature into protective, caring and nurturing mothers.
I’ve only raised a handful of foals, but I can attest to the rewards of seeing somebody enjoying a horse that you raised. My colts and fillies all started as a hope—an effort to create a cross that was the best of both horses. I know there are a lot of horses in this world already, but I think there’s always room for more good ones. I admire a strong, responsible breeding program. I hope to have that reputation myself one day. And for anyone who would rather buy than breed? I completely understand.
But the next time you go out and appreciate that particularly extraordinary horse in your life, just remember that there was probably a person who cared a lot about him being here. Somebody who researched the stud, paid the fees and took the time to execute a plan.
Someone who would be thrilled to learn that he became something special to someone, someday.