Carole Mortimer: We need to breed more horses [H&H VIP]

  • It’s not the sort of headline one would expect to see at the top of a page that generally espouses responsible breeding. Yet it is exactly what some in the sport horse world are saying.

    It does seem to fly in the face of current thinking, which is that there are too many horses, therefore breeders must cut back. The over-production, plus rising costs resulting in suppressed prices, has indeed led responsible breeders to reduce their broodmare herds.

    For many, breeding is currently not commercially viable. Yet perhaps before the next breeding season (shortly) arrives, maybe we should consider the proposal.

    Less choice

    One reason for breeders to think again is the likely future shortage of horsepower that logically and perhaps ironically will be the result of the downturn.

    Former FEI presidential candidate Ulf Helgstrand (father of dressage rider Andreas) said it is not only British breeders that have cut back, but also in Europe, the main sport horse provider:

    “The number of foals has, over the past five years, decreased by 40-50% compared to the numbers born in 2008”.

    The effects of the downturn will, however, only just start to be felt this year or next when riders start looking for prospective three- and four-year-olds. In theory, there will be fewer to choose from and certainly fewer left for British riders once the German and Dutch riders have taken their pick.

    This will, as the years pass, start to push prices up again — last year’s low registration figures will mean few international prospects in eight to 10 years’ time — so buyers are going to have to dig deep.

    Increasing world markets

    There is another, less predictable, reason that may well add to the shortage of prospective sport horses. That is the recent increase in the number of new and affluent buyers from the rising markets of Arabia, Russia and the newer states that made up the former Soviet Union as well as an increasing market in the Far East, where there is a rapidly developing interest in horse sport, as well as money to buy.

    To quote Ulf again: “You do not have to be a professor of mathematics to realise that the lack of horses will soon be a reality if we just sit back and wait for better times to come.”

    Good point. If breeders wait until the better times, they will already be several years behind — no-one got rich quick by breeding horses.

    But maybe some riders are cottoning on. There is evidence they are changing their buying habits; historically riders have bought horses as three-year-olds ready to back, but more seem to be buying foals, even to the point that some breeders have already sold 2015 foals, in-utero. Of course an upturn does depend on breeders producing the right products, with the right bloodlines that riders want to buy.

    Getting ahead

    Putting increasing numbers of mares in foal this year is perhaps a case of “who dares wins” — and perhaps the large European breeders are already on it. But there seems to be an opportunity for British breeders to produce future prospects for British riders, who should soon be starting to look for their 2025 prospective grand prix dressage horses and showjumpers before everyone else gets there.

    British breeders have already proved they can produce world class horses — we now need more. Over to you.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 1 January 2015

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