Dear Jessica, first thank you so very much for HORSE SENSE and for all that you do for us. I've owned horses for ten years now and I feel like I will never be able to learn enough about them. I think that you are the best authority on horses, because your advice is always just so sensible and kind, and you don't ever treat people like they are stupid, no matter what they ask you. I wish you lived near me so that I could ask you questions all the time! You'd get pretty tired of me though, I bet. Now I have a question that I hope you can answer for me before spring, because that's when I am thinking about breeding my mare. She's not a great mare but she's okay and I would really like to have a young horse to train. I think I could handle that as a project. If I breed her to a good stallion and get a nice foal, then even if it doesn't work out as my next horse, by the time it is three or so I can probably sell it to someone else. My instructor wants me to buy a 3 year old instead of breeding the mare, he says that I can start working with it right away. That's true. He also says that he was at one of your clinics one time when this subject came up, and you said that people had more responsibilty for their own horses that they bred, more than for ones they buy. That didn't sound right, because I'm sure you would say all horses should be treated well! Did you maybe say something else, or if you said that, could you tell me what it means, and what you think I should do about breeding or buying a horse? I think I could handle the whole foal thing, but mostly I just want to start training a young horse to be a riding horse since my mare is old. Thanks very much, I won't breed my mare until I get your answer. Janice
You're quite right, I WILL say that all horses should be treated well. But I probably did say something like: If you breed a foal for yourself to work with and train and ride, you have a greater, longer-term responsibility to that foal than you would to one that you purchased. Here's what I mean by that.
OF COURSE you should (and would, I'm sure) treat ANY horse well, no matter where it came from. In everyday, management terms, you wouldn't treat two youngsters differently because one was purchased and one was a home-bred. But if you breed a horse, for whatever reason, you must never forget that that horse would not exist if you hadn't decided to "create" it. Its entire life, therefore, is the product of your own decisions and your own actions, so you have an extra layer of obligation toward that horse. This is especially true if it is the product of an ordinary mare and the locally-available stallion - such a foal, if you are lucky, may make a perfectly satisfactory riding horse, but it may not be the sort of animal that other people would be falling over themselves to buy and love and cherish. Your moral obligation to a horse you own is considerable, but your moral obligation to a horse you created is even greater.
This, I suppose, brings us to the whole issue of why and whether to breed a mare. If you have plans for the foal, and are prepared to give it a good home for life regardless of how it turns out, then go right ahead. If you are just thinking about getting a new horse to ride, it's actually going to cost you less to buy a three-year-old that someone else has had the trouble of breeding and raising! And if you buy someone else's horse as a three-year-old, you will know exactly what that horse looks like, and how it moves, at three. If you look at someone else's three-year-old, you can say "I like his build, I like his movement, I like his attitude" -- or "I don't like his build, I don't like his movement, I don't like his attitude." Either way, it's all there for you to observe, and that gives you a lot of useful information when you make the decision to purchase or not. If someone said "I have a three-year-old, and I won't tell you how it's built, how it moves, what sort of temperament or disposition it has, or even what colour or gender it is, but I'll sell it to you!" you would probably not leap at the chance to make that purchase, right? And yet that's very much what you are doing if you breed your mare in the hope of getting your next riding horse.
If you have an utterly wonderful mare, and desperately want a foal from her, and have access to a very correct stallion with a good disposition and a record of siring sound, solid, sane foals, it's far more likely that you'll get the sort of foal you want. It will still be a good deal of work and expense, and there will still be no guarantees, but it's a slightly better bet.
If you have an ordinary mare, but desperately want a foal from that mare, and don't care if the resulting foal combines everything you like least about both mare and stallion, you might want to rethink WHY you want a foal from that mare! Never, never count on a stallion to "fix" the things you dislike about a mare. Breed the best to the best - which, for most people, means breeding the best mare they have to the best stallion they can afford - if you want good results. And even then...
If you have the proper facilities to bring up a foal, AND if you have the patience to wait three years, evaluate what you have, and then give it a wonderful home for life, no matter what your evaluation tells you, then, yes, by all means breed your mare! But if you sit down and plan out everything you'll need to have and do over the next four years of breeding, waiting for the foal, and bringing up the baby, before you can find out what sort of three-year-old it will be, and you find that you're beginning to hesitate and wonder whether you really want to do this, STOP. Every year, there are thousands of nice three-year-old horses for sale. Someone else has gone to all the trouble of breeding and raising them; YOU, as a buyer, can look at many three-year-olds and choose the one that meets your specifications and preferences about style, movement, attitude, size, colour, markings.... whatever attributes matter most to you. out, take it home, and train it to be your next riding horse. And don't choke on the price tag - unless you've added up all the various costs of breeding and raising a foal to the age of three years, and compared the numbers.
I'd still side with your riding instructor. Unless you have a really compelling reason to breed a foal, go out and buy a young horse instead. It will give you something that you can work with NOW. If you're not in a hurry, and/or if you don't have the cash right now, consider this: You can spend the next four years putting aside all the money that would have gone into breeding and raising a foal of your own. After four years, when it's time to go shopping, you should have a good sum of money. If you think four years seems like a long time to wait, think again - that's exactly how long it would take for your mare to produce a foal and for that foal to become a three-year-old!
If you do decide to breed a foal, don't forget: Although we have certain responsibilities to any horse we own for any reason whatsoever, we have particular and lifelong responsibilities to those that would not exist were it not for our decisions and actions.
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