By Kara Pinato Scro and Tori Bilas/Jump Media
When it comes to breeding horses, there isn’t one rule of thumb or a magic bullet that can guarantee successful offspring, but having a solid and reputable broodmare is critical. According to Laura Connaway, founder and president of Connaway & Associates Equine Insurance Services, Inc., and breeder of her own grand prix show jumping horses, “In my opinion, breeding success has a lot to do with the quality of the mare.”
Former Canadian Show Jumping Team member Tani Zeidler, owner of Zeidler Farm in Calgary, Alberta, echoes this sentiment. “It was instilled in me that the number one thing that was important for breeding was the quality of the mare,” stated Zeidler of producing horses for the sport market. “It is old-fashioned to think that breeding is only about the stallions.”
So, what traits make a broodmare especially promising? Connaway and Zeidler, who have both produced successful foals from their broodmares, weigh in.
For Connaway, who competes in the grand prix ring as an amateur, the dams in her small, personal breeding program should have the same traits she’d look for in a horse she would compete herself. “I prefer to have offspring from a mare that was a top competition horse, specifically a mare that I jumped at the top level myself,” she shared.
Connaway’s foundation broodmare, Ceranova (Calido I x Juno F – Mytens), carried Connaway to top placings in national grand prix events and high amateur-owner jumper classes and has since produced offspring, such as Ceralena, who has turned into one of Connaway’s top grand prix mounts.
Zeidler agrees, noting that she seeks dams with a proven show record. Case in point is Zeidler Farm’s foundation broodmare, Illusion (Calvados x Terusa – Lucky Boy xx).
“She was a winner at the grand prix level, and her babies have gone on to win so much,” shared Zeidler of the Dutch Warmblood mare that was named “Itareusa” at birth.
One of Illusion’s granddaughters, Pitareusa, was a member of Canada’s fourth-placed team at the 2010 World Equestrian Games under Yann Candele before being named the Canadian Show Jumping Team traveling alternate for the 2012 London Olympic Games. Later that year, Candele and Pitareusa claimed the 2012 Canadian Show Jumping Championship title.
A Great Mind
Seeking a horse with a great mind might seem like a given, and both Zeidler and Connaway stress its importance especially when breeding for the upper levels of show jumping. Zeidler learned to emphasize character from her time spent at Alfonso “Pancho” Romo’s La Silla facility in Monterrey, Mexico. After examining a mare’s bloodlines and competition record, the other important question Zeidler learned to ask was, “what is her character?” By learning about Romo’s program at a time when his newly-formed La Silla stud book was establishing itself as a leader in show jumping breeding, Zeidler saw the importance of flipping the old-fashioned approach to breeding on its head by focusing on the mare even more so than the stallion.
In the competition ring, show jumping horses are asked to perform exceptional feats of athleticism in an incredibly short time frame. To get around the course safely and successfully, a horse that responds instantly is imperative for Connaway. “I want to ride a horse with extreme jumping talent, and one that thinks quickly and reacts immediately with confidence and calmness to situations in the show ring and in training,” she said.
Connaway elaborates, noting that a top broodmare must have good, courageous character with a competitive nature. “You wouldn’t want the dam to have mental deficiencies that might be replicated in a foal,” she explained.
Form That Follows Function
Conformation and build are also important factors to consider when evaluating breeding potential in a mare. The principle “form follows function” has its place in breeding as much as it does in the equitation ring.
“I look for a top physical specimen that has good jumping technique,” shared Connaway. “When it comes to my broodmares, I hope that by choosing the correct stallion I can have offspring as good as—or better than—the dam.”
Zeidler looks for a strong physique as well as qualities that predict the offspring’s potential for career longevity. The first foal to come out of her breeding program, India Blue ZF (Mr. Blue x Illusion – Calvados IV), remains a top competitor at the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) level at nearly 15 years of age.
Enlist a Surrogate
Equine surrogacy has been increasing in popularity among breeders across the globe. In Zeidler’s mind, it allows for the best of both worlds. “Using a surrogate enables your mare to continue her competition career with no risk of possible complications,” she explained, noting that the mares used in her breeding program have gone on to live longer lives and enjoy lengthier show jumping careers without the down time and risks associated with carrying foals. “The foals still possess the characteristics of their maternal mother, despite being raised by a surrogate.”
Connaway is also a fan of surrogates and hasn’t seen any downsides through her experiences. “There are strong and differing opinions about the character of foals raised by surrogate mares,” she shared. “I do not feel it is detrimental to use a surrogate mare and don’t feel my horses produce in any lessor way because they were raised by a surrogate mare.”
Breeding your own horses can be challenging yet rewarding. As Connaway and Zeidler have experienced, while stallions absolutely have their place in the breeding ecosystem, it’s important not to discount the broodmare’s qualities and role in producing a foal. Whether breeding for the hunter or jumper ring, evaluating the mare’s track record, her character and conformation, and considering a surrogate may go a long way in developing a foal into a top horse in the future.