Of course, one year cannot go any faster than another, but it certainly feels that 2017 has flown by like no other. And so, having seemingly just weaned the 2017 crop, we are already looking forward to next year’s foals and starting to make plans for our mares. While we spend much time considering stallions, perhaps we should also spend the same amount of time considering whether to put our mares in foal at all.
Overbreeding is still a root cause of problems for the equine charities; there are more horses than suitable homes in the UK, meaning prices are low, and yet still we breed (and import). World Horse Welfare accepts 300 unwanted horses a year that all started life somewhere. And they are not all of the hairy, coloured variety that generally tends to be associated with “indiscriminate breeding”.
World Horse Welfare estimates the single mare owner and those that breed less than five foals a year collectively produce the largest number of foals born each year. That is most of us.
Just as every male horse is not suitable for breeding — which is why you should only breed to stallions that have passed a grading — so every female is not a prospective broodmare. Having your mare graded is a helpful indicator of suitability, yet only a relatively small number of broodmares in the UK are graded. Even if owners don’t take their mares for grading, how many will ask for an independent opinion from someone whose judgement they respect?
The decision to breed should not come from the mare owner alone; trainers, friends, stallion owners and vets should all be more proactive in helping mare owners make the best decision for all concerned.
Yet how many of us dare to suggest to someone we know that their mare is not a suitable candidate for breeding?
Most of us do not wish to hurt feelings, appear too overbearing or we simply feel that it is not our place to say anything about failings of conformation or temperament, potential costs, or the unsuitable environment in which mare owners intend to bring up a young horse.
Stud owners can feel obliged to put a mare in foal — after all, if they don’t, another stallion owner will — while vets do their best to get the difficult or older mare in foal, when nature is challenging the odds.
In some respects, never has it been easier to get a mare in foal; stallion choices are huge and, compared to 20 years ago, stud fees relatively inexpensive. Mares can be inseminated at home and medical intervention can override nature. And once you start the process, there can be a lot of pressure to keep going — the just-one-more-try syndrome. But just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. After all, she doesn’t need a foal every year — get her a companion and give an unwanted pony a home instead.
Of course, there are breeders producing fabulous saleable quality sport horses, ponies and riding horses — and quality doesn’t have to mean four-star potential — but there are also still too many of us breeding run-of-the-mill horses, whose cost will always exceed their value, and whose future, especially when the unexpected house move/job loss/illness happens, cannot be certain. We all want a future for our horses, so let’s make sure that in 2018 we are breeding for the right reasons. Happy New Year.
Ref Horse & Hound; 28 December 2017