The Heart and Soul of Breeding



Without breeders pouring their hearts and souls into the creation of foals, there would be no riding horses in three years, here or anywhere else. In the United States, it is an expensive undertaking with little or no financial return. There are many types of breeders – the professional who attempts to make a living from his or her passion; the one mare owner who wants to duplicate a wonderful partner; and the backyard breeder, both serious and hobby. There is also the owner whose mare has broken down, is no longer ridable or has a terrible temperament, and the hope is breeding her will help – this is another other topic for another future column. Allow me share the process that a breeder goes through to produce that cute foal full of potential.

We breeders are, by nature, very passionate about what we do. We need to be. Breeding is a roller coaster ride of emotions. The joy of watching the newborn foal struggling to rise and nurse for the first time, that first wobbly venture out of the stall into the new world, and seeing the bond forming between mare and foal – these things are as heartwarming as watching your own child. It is a truly heady and intoxicating experience.

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After all, the breeder makes the decision to put that individual stallion together with that particular mare. We went through the insemination process hoping to see that little “black dot” on the ultrasound at 14 days, fed, cared for, and worried over the mare for more than 11 months. We obsessed over the nutrition and exercise of the mare. We vaccinated and had the vet out numerous times for the repeat ultrasounds. We fretted over the birth itself, as each pregnancy and each foaling is unique. Would it go without complications, will mom accept or reject her newborn, will there be any difficulties in the birthing or nursing? We lost hours, and whole nights, on foal watch.

Those are the good parts. The flip side is watching hopefully for the positive result of the inseminations, time after time with nothing to show for the efforts. Seeing a mare become pregnant to find her “open” at 28, 45, 60 or even over 100 days into the pregnancy, known as Early Term Abortion. Or having that special girl need hormonal assistance to maintain the pregnancy, at the cost of hundreds of dollars per month. Then along comes the due date and the mare goes into labor. There are so many possible complications that I won’t go into them all here. Possibilities include losing the mare or having a foal born with difficulties that result in many vet bills. Or worse, the foal is born dead, or can’t stand, or has crooked legs, or oxygen deprivation, or allergy to the mare’s milk resulting in death. Then there is the fact that no matter how ”foal proof” you make your farm, these rambunctious, bouncing balls of energy seem to find such inventive ways to injure themselves, even kill themselves. You simply never know what will happen.

All that being said, is it any wonder that breeders will have strong opinions and be so outspoken? I tell prospective mare owners looking to breed, “Breeding is like going to Vegas and rolling the dice, a pure gamble with Mother Nature.”

If you are looking for a young horse to buy, there many options here in the United States for you to investigate. Do some research into what breed meets your goals. Contact the breed registries for lists of members. Call or email breeders. We are always willing to talk about our babies, what “grandparent” isn’t?

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When looking for a foal or young horse from a breeder, first know what your goals are. Be very realistic with yourself about what you will be capable of providing in terms of housing, rearing, training, and eventually, riding. Are you looking for a competition horse, an amateur ride, an FEI prospect or a horse capable of jumping four-foot fences? How well do YOU ride, will you have a trainer, and who will back this baby when the time comes? The ideal situation for a young horse is to be raised outside with his/her peers, handled with fairness and firmness while they are small enough so that you are still the “alpha” mare and can fairly discipline the youngster.

Your young prospect will also need patience in the backing process. Take care not to start too early, as the young Warmblood may be a very mature looking two year old, but not be strong enough to carry a rider. These youngsters are playful, curious and very unbalanced. Most Warmbloods do not finish growing before they are 6 years old. If you invest your time wisely in the beginning, however, your Warmblood will be ready for the work and will stay healthy and sound for a very long time.

Originally published in Warmbloods Today March/April 2009 issue.

About Maryanna Haymon: She has been breeding Warmbloods for 18 years at her farm Marydell Farm in Columbus, NC. She stands the Hanoverian stallion Don Principe (Donnerhall/ Prince Thartchxx/Durkheim) and breeds seven to 10 mares every year. Marydell Farm won the prestigious USEF Breeder of the Year award for 2007 and has produced many USDF Horse of the Year Champions and Reserve Champions along with top 10 young horses over the years.