Two Women Take Center Stage in American Breeding

Laura Connaway breeds all of her mounts and leans into the horses’ strengths as they develop. Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography

By Kara Pinato Scro/Jump Media

Despite the popularity of European-bred warmbloods in the show ring, there is no denying that interest in American-bred horses has increased. We’re seeing new accolades being awarded to American horses and breeders such as the Connaway & Associates High Point American Bred Horse at the Capital Challenge Horse Show, but they’re not being given for the sake of simply presenting another award. This heightened attention on breeding quality horses on home soil has proven beneficial for riders in our country. In some cases, the cost to go on buying trips in Europe or importing a horse from Europe is too steep. In particular, buying trips abroad became especially difficult during COVID-19, and as a result North American-bred horses have been increasingly in demand. Additionally, in many cases the cost of buying a well-produced horse that’s already been imported is out of the realm of possibility. With this in mind, some have taken it upon themselves to enhance the quality of American-bred horses.

Case in point: Karin Morgenstern Jimenez and Laura Connaway. While Jimenez has made breeding her career and Connaway breeds for herself, both women are prime examples of individuals who uphold exemplary breeding standards for the sake of the sport as well as the wellbeing of the horse. Read on to learn how these women found success in breeding here in the U.S. and their topline advice for those looking to begin the breeding journey.

Karin Jimenez, along with her husband, Dr. Carlos Jimenez, DVM, of Sporting Chance Farm in Pennsylvania, have dedicated their careers to producing quality Dutch Warmblood sport horses for a variety of disciplines. Photo courtesy of Karin Jimenez

Karin Morgenstern Jimenez

Jimenez of Sporting Chance Farm in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, has made a living from breeding top-quality Dutch Warmblood sport horses that often go on to be successful in high performance programs across a number of disciplines including jumping, dressage, and eventing. Her consistent track record for breeding top horses earned her the 2021 US Equestrian (USEF) Ellen Scripps Davis Memorial Breeders’ Cup, which recognizes an individual who and/or breeding enterprise that consistently breeds outstanding performance and show horses. Though Jimenez knew she wanted to breed horses from an early age, it was a bit a luck that kickstarted her now 30-year-old operation.

“I had champagne taste and a beer budget,” Jimenez shared of looking for a mare to get her started. “I had the luck of finding a young and very high-quality filly that had sustained a pelvic injury and would never be sound enough to jump in the high performance hunters. Because of her injury, her owners were willing to award her to a new breeding home for only one dollar as long as the new home could provide very strong references,” continued Jimenez. 

In the end, Jimenez and her sister were selected as the best match for the young horse and, little did they know at the time, they would end up with a horse that paved the way for what would become their full-time operation. “This filly ended up being the mother of one of our foundation broodmares, Jolie, that put our name in lights in the Studbook of the Royal Dutch Sport Horse of North America (KWPN-NA),” she stated. “Jolie provided a legacy of successful sport horses in all arenas in addition to excellent breeding daughters.” 

Despite her good fortune early on, Jimenez has always done her homework to ensure quality offspring and considers herself a student of the Dutch Warmblood breed and equine bloodlines more broadly. For those interested in the basics of breeding a quality horse, she says a good place to start includes focusing on the mare, breeding for the best conformation possible, and at all costs, avoid paring a mare and stallion with the same faults whether they are in conformation, athleticisim, gaits, or temperament.

Karin Jimenez and her husband Dr. Carlos Jimenez were awarded the 2021 US Equestrian (USEF) Ellen Scripps Davis Memorial Breeders’ Cup, which recognizes an individual who or breeding enterprise that consistently breeds outstanding performance and show horses. Photo courtesy of Karin Jimenez

“Mares are very, very important in breeding,” said Jimenez. “Beyond their 50% genetic contribution to the foal, they also raise and nurture the foal for five months. With this being a formative time in a foal’s life, you want a mare that does this job well.

“I also think being a stickler for conformation helps to ensure soundness in a horse because form and function are closely related,” Jimenez continued. “The better the conformation, the more likely it is to be sound and athletic. Finally, never, ever double up on a fault, whether that be conformation, movement, or temperament. It is astonishing how heritable these traits are.”

It’s clear that this formula combined with her three decades of knowledge have contributed to the success of her program, but Jimenez contends she has a goal that goes beyond the desire to breed and sell. Jimenez is on a mission to educate people about the importance of a high-quality horse. For Jimenez, it ladders up to equine welfare. When a horse is of ordinary or lower quality, or is unsound or poorly suited for an owner, there’s a much greater chance the horse may end up being traded or sold on until it ends up in a poor situation.  

“It’s a mission of mine [to educate people interested in breeding] because there is a trickle-down effect that can help prevent the vast number of horses being discarded in this country,” explained Jimenez. “There are horses showing up in slaughterhouses with warmblood brands these days and that’s terrible. So, the more I can help someone to upgrade their breeding choice and slowly increase the quality of offspring might help to save a horse. I also encourage people to only breed quality and registered horses. It doesn’t matter the breed. I’m not a breed snob, I’m a snob of good horses. When a horse has papers, it becomes easier to keep track of it thereby helping to ensure it ends up in good homes.

“If someone comes to me for advice, it’s my goal to help increase the quality of the future offspring by sharing what I know,” she continued. “We must try to put good enough horses on the ground to help stop the flow of horses to terrible places.”

It’s Jimenez’s broader hope that with enough knowledgeable breeders sharing insights and learnings with those newer to the business, more quality American-breds will be produced, which will be a win-win for everyone.

Laura Connaway is pictured with her homebred, Ceralena, who progressed into a grand prix jumper mount for her. Photo © Sandra Gregory

Laura Connaway

For Connaway, amateur grand prix show jumper and founder of Connaway & Associates Equine Insurance Services, Inc. in Little Rock, Arkansas, the desire to enter the American breeding scene was born out of necessity. Connaway—who had spent her early adult years training with the sport’s best of the best including Laura Kraut—aspired to climb the show jumping ranks and hold her own among the world’s elite in FEI-sanctioned competitions. To do this, Connaway needed a viable mount but she knew purchasing a horse that was ready for the challenge wasn’t financially feasible. So, she buckled down and began researching what it would take for her to breed her mare, Ceranova. Ultimately, Ceranova delivered her first foal in July, 2005.

Because Connaway breeds for herself, she does her best to select bloodlines that combine scope and carefulness and are also known for being easy to handle. “I like to be like a best friend to my horses, so ultimately, it’s a three-pronged approach,” she shared. “I want a great formed horse, an athletic horse, and I also seek out a bloodline that blends for good rideability and good personality.”

Before determining a stallion for her mares, Connaway notes she spends a lot of time speaking with breeders and often looks to Jimenez, in particular, for expert insight and opinions. Connaway and Jimenez became friends after Monday Balous—who was bred by Jimenez—won the Connaway & Associates Equine Insurance Services, Inc. High Point American Bred Horse Award at the Capital Challenge Horse Show in 2019 and 2020 with Cassandra Kahle aboard.

“If you ask a lot of questions, the breeders will tell you a lot,” she said. Connaway recommends speaking with breeders that you think highly of or have bred horses that you admire. She also shared that the staff at breeding services, such as with Superior Equine Stallions, have immense knowledge. “I have asked these services about personalities of different stallions,” she explained. “They have usually gone on buying trips and met a lot of the stallions, have talked to a lot of riders of the stallions, and have talked to the people standing the stallions. Beyond that, they really research the offspring so they’re able to give you a comprehensive picture of what you could get from a specific horse at stud.”

While doing research and learning the landscape is essential to being successful at any endeavor, there will always be a degree of uncertainty when it comes to a horse’s offspring. Connaway’s initial foray into breeding in particular proved to be educational. Though she had done her research and bred Ceranova to a particular stallion in hopes of a foal that would produce into a viable candidate for the jumper ring, Ceranova’s colt eventually made it clear that his preference was the hunter ring.

“The first foal I had became a hunter,” she shared. “He was so slow and quiet and did not have a single fast-twitch muscle in his body. He was lovely. I did some international derbies on him and the amateur owner hunters and he was just awesome. I ended up selling him and he is still a hunter today.

“I think part of breeding is not necessarily knowing what horse you are going to get but aiming to have a foal that will produce into a useful and productive horse,” Connaway continued. “Instead of thinking, ‘oh my gosh, he’s not my jumper,’ I looked at his great attributes and tried to figure out what that horse was going to be good at.” 

Finally, Connaway shared the important reminder that not all horses develop at the same rate. “I think that when horses don’t produce quite as rapidly as people would like, they can be quick to dismiss them,” she said. “I know for sure that I would not have bought any of the horses that I have bred and it’s because horses develop differently at different points in their life. Breeding your own mounts is interesting in that, since the horse is already part of your family, you are dedicated to trying to produce it to the very best it can be and that can go a long way. 

“When you spend the time to see how it can be a productive member of society, and then lean into that, you’ll find that they just really bloom,” she concluded.