Saturday, October 24, 2009

Genetics and Breeding Selection

With breeding season still several months away, now is the time to begin considering all the factors of planning your next breeding choices.

From a mare owner’s perspective, there are several things which must be at the forefront: First, what are your goals in breeding your mare? You need to assess her good qualities and her bad qualities, and figure out what you should be looking for in a stallion. Second, the stallion you choose should be suited for whatever discipline you want the future foal to excel in. Above all, he should be of excellent conformation and structure, show a great deal of what we call “breed type”, have good temperament and have a sane, easily trainable mind. Remember, a well conformed horse is also far more likely to remain sound, and that’s definitely something you want in a baby.

After you’ve looked closely at your mare and are certain she’s as flawless as can be (yes, that was only a little bit tongue in cheek...seriously), you should start your list of what to look for in her mate.

Once you know the direction you intend to look, your search can begin. Whatever stallion you choose, he must compliment your mare. If her areas in need of improvement are her length of neck and shoulder angle, don’t settle for a stallion with a short neck and too steep a shoulder! Pay close attention to his legs and be sure he has both good bone and good feet. There will inevitably be stallions who catch your eye, but don’t rely solely on your first visual impression. Look closer and examine him as you would with a horse you are interested in buying. You may not be purchasing him, but you are purchasing a part of him. Naturally, you’ll want to choose a stallion who is similar in type to your mare while bringing benefits she may not possess. Don’t try to breed for a reining horse by utilizing a lanky English-type mare even if she’s an awesome example of her breeding and conformation and you have her booked to the best reining stallion in the world.

If you want a working horse such as a reiner or a jumper, is the stallion athletic enough to produce those kind of prospects? Does he have a history and show record in those endeavors? Has he produced winning foals in your chosen discipline(s)? Should you want a Western pleasure mount, the stallion needs to be conformationally correct for that discipline and he should have the proper attitude. I look for a laid back personality, a horse that can move slow-legged yet fluid and smooth, plus a neck that ties in lower than your average English horse while enabling the horse to maintain roundness and a proper frame. For [Saddleseat] English horses, I’ll seek a stallion who’s got a lot of “go”, well angulated hocks that allow him to drive forward with impulsion to spare, a good open shoulder angle, plenty of elasticity of movement, a neck that comes almost vertically out of his shoulder and a nicely hinged poll to assist him in the bridle.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the person who forsakes conformational soundness and good temperament for color. Many breeders today are far more concerned with getting a baby who has a spectacular coat pattern or who possesses that “golden ring”, the dilute gene. Nevermind that he’s crooked legged, club footed, got a short thick neck and a weak hip! Too many times I see people who are so proud of their breeding programs taking horrific examples of what can go wrong into the show ring and getting upset when their palomino, dun or loud overo gets the gate. Such a scenario never ceases to amaze me, and it plays out on a regular basis. DON’T fall into that trap. Insist on breeding good horses first, with color as an added bonus.

Another consideration to make is regarding the genetic issues some bloodlines of some breeds are plagued by. Many folks these days consider the Lethal White, Lavender Foal, SCIDS and HYPP as problems of the past. We have tests for many conditions these days and most of them we can breed to avoid. Unfortunately, not everyone does.

Unless you think you’d enjoy watching an innocent foal you have waited so long for, planned carefully for, spent money on and loved so much die, be sure you do your homework to avoid producing a foal afflicted with one of the horrible conditions that can now be prevented. Use the tools and information available to you. Don’t cause unnecessary trauma and suffering to the baby you’re going to breed because you took shortcuts.

Breeding horses is a very serious responsibility that you should approach as you would making any business decisions. Good luck in all your endeavors!

[LTF article circa 1999]


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