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7 July 2006

Choosing Mares for a Breeding Program

by Tom Reed

(An earlier version of this essay was originally published by http://www.muensterland-pferde.de/conceptofbreeding.htm in 2005)

The basis for breeding excellence is the mare, and the basis for the success of a particular mare is the consolidation of high performance genes in her damline. It is better to have one excellent mare than any number of average mares. If you don't have an excellent mare, sell your mare, save, and buy one – or buy a filly foal or yearling that in a short period of time will be your foundation mare. Make sure your mare has "quality" and some "blood" (Anglo-Arab, Shagya Arab, or thoroughbred but the right kind of thoroughbred blood) not too far back in the pedigree.

It is not the job of the stallion to "fix" conformation problems your mare has and I would not let this drive your breeding decisions. Most conformation traits are determined by a multitude of genes and cannot be manipulated easily (such as I'll breed my long-back mare to a short-back stallion to get a medium-back foal -- it does not work like this). If your mare is so conformationally-challenged that she needs to be "fixed", get yourself a better mare.

Everything else equal, I prefer a mare with correct conformation. But I will also take risks on a mare that has a conformation issue if it has a superior motherline. Why?

First, conformation traits are often determined by multiple genes. Even if the conformation issue the mare has is due to genetics, there is no guarantee that she will reproduce it in her progeny.

Second, a conformation issue may be the result of a developmental process and not directly a result of genetics. Developmental processes can be related to genetics, but they can also be related to feeding practices, management practices, etc.

The bottom line is:


Here is a question that is useful for mare owners, and I often ask it of my clients:

Identify several qualities possessed by your mare that must be passed on by the mare to her foals or you will be very disappointed.

If you have a hard time identifying qualities or attributes -- or if you can only revert to that old-time favorite "temperament" -- then ask yourself if this mare should be in your breeding program. What qualities does this mare possess that make her a compelling prospect as a broodmare?

For my breeding program the most important characteristic is athleticism, which can be expressed in a number of ways (and the way the athleticism is best expressed will determine which Olympic discipline the horse is pointed to in his or her sport career). The goal of sport horse breeding is to produce athletes. If one starts out with an unathletic broodmare, the chances of her producing a top-class athlete are very small.

Another thing I ask breeders to do is to go through their mare's extended predigree -- let's say three generations -- and tell me about each and every mare in the damline. Start with the dam of your broodmare. Did she produce any international competitors? Any national competitors? Any approved stallions? Next consider the second dam? Did she produce any international competitors? Any national competitors? Any approved stallions? Finally consider the third dam and ask the same questions.

If you cannot tell a compelling "story" about the mares in your broodmare's damline then you are probably breeding from the wrong mare.