Carole Mortimer: Is Brexit a boost for British breeders? *H&H VIP*

  • One of the most common issues that breeders frequently discuss and bemoan is their struggle to sell young horses for a decent price. It is particularly topical as breeders currently attempt to sell this year’s crop of foals and their potential buyers baulk at the several thousand pound price tag, seemingly unaware of the costs (before any profit) in producing a thoughtfully well-bred, microchipped and registered foal; at least a couple of thousand before it is even born.

    Those breeders who don’t give in and sell for a loss often prefer to keep the foal to sell as a young horse under saddle. Whether they ever make a profit is debatable. Therefore perhaps one saving grace of the current wave of Brexit jitters is that the current fall in the pound against the Euro might just possibly make British buyers think before travelling abroad to purchase, thus creating more home market buyers.

    Many banks predict that the pound will hit parity with the Euro by the year end, meaning a 1:1 exchange rate. So the €5,000 horse will be £5,000, not the £3,500 it was last year. Travelling to Europe (and Ireland) to buy anything equine should have much less appeal.

    The downside is that next year European stud fees could be much more expensive (€1,200 could be £1,200 not £850) meaning even greater costs for many breeders, although that may encourage more of them to use the — often under-used — stallions based in the UK. Who knows, Europeans might even start coming over here to buy, as they will have more pounds in their wallet.

    Castration isn’t failure

    While on the subject of selling foals, is it wise to advertise colts as “stallion potential”? It has recently become more common to leave colts uncastrated seemingly for two reasons: breeders like to think their colt has stallion potential, seeing this as a good thing, and, second, because leaving them entire supposedly encourages better development. Perhaps there is a third reason — breeders cutting costs by leaving them entire.

    In the past, breeding and raising stallions was the prerogative of specialist studs. All other breeders would automatically castrate colts at generally around five or six months old before weaning, when it is a simple procedure with little effect and much less stress on an unweaned colt. They were weaned about a month later once the wound was healed.

    Now it seems many breeders aim to breed stallions, seeing it as a mark of distinction for their breeding. However, with the rise of globalisation and AI, the choice of stallions has never been greater and, besides, few of the many stallions in the UK attract anything like a commercial book of mares these days.

    Leaving a colt entire because it develops better is a red herring. Colts can become difficult to manage and learn inappropriate behaviour that, even after castration, can be difficult to unlearn. They can of course end up in unsuitable homes and ultimately go nowhere because they haven’t been raised correctly. Or they end up standing in a stable for most of the day with nowhere to go and nothing to do except perpetuate bad habits.

    Castrating a young colt is not an admission of failure to produce a stallion. It is part of the success in breeding a useful sport horse. Is it not better to have bred a potentially good competition gelding that has far greater opportunity to find a suitable home and will give a breeder greater recognition than any forgotten and frustrated stallion?

    Ref Horse & Hound; 10 November 2016