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Stallion Selection Considerations
By Nancy Connelly and Laurie Weiser
There is a saying that “A breeder is one that leaves the breed better than it was before” and in doing so where does one start with stallion selection for their mare? The goal of every individual breeding is to produce a foal that is an improvement on the mare. To do this one must choose a stallion not only to compliment their mare, but to improve on her weaker qualities, while complimenting her strong ones. This article is a starting point and reference to help the breeder learn how to assess their stallion options to produce that champion foal!
Assess Your Goals
First, one must be realistic in your approach, assessment and analysis of both your mare and your stallion options. The answers to these questions will help narrow down your stallion choices.
- For what discipline are you breeding; hunters, dressage, jumpers, eventing or an all-around athlete?
- Are you breeding for yourself or for sale? If breeding for sale, it might be easier to sell offspring from a well-known stallion and consider traits that will be important to your target market.
- Are you breeding for the amateur or professional market? Amateur riders and professional riders often want different qualities in a horse. AA riders frequently consider a quiet and forgiving temperament a top priority, while a professional may want a horse with a bit more energy and sensitivity.
Objectively Critique Your Mare
We all love our mares and think they are “perfect”. However, every mare has some qualities that can be improved upon. It is important to separate your emotional attachment to your mare and critique her objectively.
A great place to start is to utilize your mare’s inspection and Mare Performance Test scores. The inspectors review thousands of horses and are the experts. Their scores will point out areas that can use improvement. Although you may not agree, the inspectors will give you an honest and objective opinion of your mare. If your mare has been shown at in-hand classes, review your score sheets. Make sure to video tape the inspection, MPT and in-hand shows for future review of their comments and assessment. Sometimes you might disagree with a judges/ inspectors comments, but as you watch the video of the event you begin to see what they saw. It can be difficult to assess your mare “live” so get good conformation shots (front, side, back) of her that you can analyze and critique.
Make a list of the qualities you want to retain from your mare and the qualities you would like to improve. Ask yourself what conformation points are weak with your mare, which gait can use improvement, and if there are temperament issues that need improvement. Once you have identified areas you wish to improve, rank them in order of importance to you. No one stallion can “fix” every item on a wish list.
It can also be helpful to get a second opinion of your mare. Ask your trainer, a respected breeder, or stallion owner for their opinions and suggestions.
Learn Your Mare’s Bloodlines
Genetics determine a lot; therefore it is important to know your mare’s bloodlines. Genetics isn’t just the dam and sire, but also the influence of the second, third, and past generations of your mare’s pedigree. These past generations can greatly influence the resulting foa,l and some lines are known to be very prepotent in future generations. If you have bred your mare before and are trying to improve on past breedings, take a look again at the previous foal. Check in with the current owner and see how temperament is shaping up a year later, as well as conformation.
Some lines are known to produce “nicks”, which is a pairing of bloodlines that have repeatedly been quite successful. Knowing your mare’s pedigree can help you determine if you might capitalize on a possible “nick” for future breeding. Also, if you are considering a specific cross, use the internet and look at pictures/video’s etc. worldwide to see what this particular cross has produced. As you view these pictures or videos, try to identify themes that might indicate prepotency for specific attributes.
Lastly, knowing your mare’s pedigree will help you prevent inbreeding and too much concentration of a certain bloodline in a resulting foal. There are many great bloodlines to choose from. If you are a novice breeder, “line breeding” would not be where you want to start. If your mare is a Donnerhall daughter you would not want to use a Donnerhall son.
Analyze Potential Stallions
Now that you have studied your mare’s conformation, gaits, and pedigree, it is time to start looking at stallions! The first thing is to see which stallions are approved and activated with the AHS. From that list you can narrow down stallions based on discipline and pedigree. For example, if you are breeding for a jumper, you would not want to use a dressage-bred stallion. On the other hand, many schools of thought discuss benefits to adding a jumping line to a dressage bred horse.
Once you have narrowed down your choices some questions to ask would be:
- Has the stallion been successful in sport himself? If not, was his sire successful?
- How have his offspring done in competition?
- What is the longevity of the stallion and his offspring in competition?
- Evaluate the stallion’s licensing scores and Stallion Performance Test results. If he is a young stallion these scores, along with Young Horse competition results, may be the only data available as he might not have any offspring yet in competition.
Dialog with stallion owners is important. There is no substitute for the old-fashioned telephone call, as not everything can be revealed via email. Call them directly and speak objectively about their stallion and your mare. Ask them, “What are the top three traits their stallion consistently passes on?” Ask for conformation shots and video of their stallion free and under saddle if you are unable to see him in person. Discuss with them what qualities you need to improve upon your mare, and if their stallion is a good candidate to help achieve those goals.
There is a trend sometimes to use the “hot new stallion”. However, if this will be your mare’s first foal you do not know what she can produce. In this scenario it might be wise to use an older, established stallion with known traits that he reliably passes on. If your mare is an established broodmare it can be exciting to use a young stallion with a strong pedigree that compliments your mare.
Fresh or Frozen
With all the veterinary reproductive technology these days, mare owners have access to so many stallions via both fresh and frozen semen. However, many factors should be taken into consideration when deciding between breeding with fresh or frozen semen. Do you have access to an experienced reproduction veterinarian? Frozen semen breeding requires much stricter monitoring of the mare’s cycle. Take into consideration your mare’s health, age and past breeding history. It can be tempting to use frozen semen as breeding doses are frequently less expensive. However, these often do not have live foal guarantees, and veterinary fees can be significantly higher. To further understand the cost comparisons between using fresh or frozen semen please read the article “Working with the Stallion Manager”
Resources Available to Breeders
The internet is a wonderful tool! Search your mare’s pedigree, potential bloodline combinations, stallion videos, stallion offspring videos, etc. There are many chat rooms that can offer information and a vast array of personal opinions and experiences. Just remember many rumors and misconceptions are also spread in the chat rooms. Try to stick with factual discussions versus the opinions of an individual.
Other valuable resources include:
- Online Resource List for Hanoverian Breeders. This list of current links is an excellent starting point for the beginning of your internet research.
- The AHS wants to see new breeders succeed, and in doing so offers the New Breeder Mentor Program. Very few registries offer such a wonderful opportunity, so take advantage of it if this applies to you!
- Hannoveraner Jahrbuche Hengste is the annually published Hanoverian Stallion Yearbook. This book is a wealth of information on individual stallions including performance test results, lists of licensed stallion sons and offspring successful in sport; as well as statistics of the basic traits they pass (conformation, gaits and jumping ability). Copies may be purchased through the Hanoverian Verband online, and limited copies are available for purchase through the AHS office beginning in February of each year.
- AHS Breeders Course and the Hannoveraner Verband Breeders Course. During these courses there are extensive lectures on the history of the Hanoverian, discussions on bloodlines, analysis of conformation and gaits, and many visits to breeding farms and breed shows. Both new and very experienced breeders will walk away from these educational programs with a much deeper understanding of the art and science of breeding the Hanoverian horse.
- There are also a few books that discuss Warmblood stallions and bloodlines. Two examples with good information, bloodline discussions and pictures include the “The Making of the Modern Warmblood. From Gotthard to Gribaldi” by Christopher Hector and can be purchased through dressagedaily.com and “Selected Sires of Germany” by Bernd Eylers.