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6 July 2006

Selecting a Stallion for Your Mare

by Tom Reed

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

Assuming you have a very good mare with a very good damline, how do you choose a stallion that will give you the best chance of breeding an international athlete?

Rather than answering that question, here's how to avoid the 99% of stallions that you do NOT want to use:

1. Do not use a stallion whose damline has not produced excellent competition horses.
Excellence is not determined by predicates (premium broodmare in Ireland, ster mare in the Netherlands, state premium mare in Germany, etc.) or high scores in foal or mare inspections or success in showing classes. Excellence is determined by the goal that is driving the breeding program: producing horses that have excelled in sport in one or more of the three Olympic disciplines. An additional indicator of excellence is that the stallion's damline has produced other approved stallions. If the stallion you are considering does not descend from an excellent damline, do not use him in your breeding program.

2. Do not use a stallion that does not have at least one half-brother or half-sister that has competed internationally.
A damline that has produced excellent competition horses is important but make sure that at least some of those high performance genes have been expressed in horses very closely related to the stallion you are considering, namely the stallion's half-brothers and half-sisters (with half-siblings being defined as horses that have the same dam).

3. Do not use a stallion 15 years or older unless he has (or had) several progeny competing internationally.
Of course an exception to this rule is a stallion that has been used exclusively or primarily in sport rather than breeding: he simply will not have enough older progeny on the ground to make this a fair test.

4. Do not use a stallion between 8 and 14 unless he is (or has) competed internationally with success.
If a stallion has not proven his own athleticism, rideability, and soundness in international sport than there is no reason to risk using him in your breeding program.

5. Do not use a stallion 7 or under unless he is competing well at the national level at a level appropriate for his age (in showjumping, 1.10 - 1.20 m. as a 5-year-old, 1.20 - 1.30 m. as a 6-year-old, 1.30 - 1.40 m. as a 7-year-old).
In this day and age when stallions are expected to prove themselves in open competition, questions must be asked about stallions that are retired from sport when they are 4- or 5-years-old.

6. If a stallion is 7 or older do not use him unless he is approved by a full member of the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH).
If a stallion is 6 or under only use him if he is approved or licensed by a WBFSH-member studbook. These studbooks are the ones with serious inspection regimes and these are the stallions that have proven their genetic value, athleticism, and soundness on a basic level. To use a rejected stallion -- that is, an S2 stallion that has failed the veterinary exam – is a serious mistake in judgment. Likewise, if an S1 stallion has not achieved full approval by the end of his 6th year then there is no reason to select him over an approved stallion.

7. Do not use a stallion that is marketed on the basis of its color or the exotic colors of its progeny.

I believe if you follow these rules then you will come up with a relatively small universe of stallion candidates. Then you need to analyze your mare's bloodlines, conformation, and type and look for proven "nicks". This is where art meets science.

Finally, the rules I suggest can guide you in the initial years of your breeding program. As you become successful you will need to violate some of these rules to achieve other goals (for instance, to introduce more "blood" into your breeding program). But that's down the road.