A foal in the family

February 26, 2018
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Many owners will dream of breeding their next horse from their much-loved mare; it seems a simple solution! Choose a stallion that will produce the finest foal and hey presto! However, as those who have bred a foal in the past know only too well, there is so much more to it. Here we take a look at choosing a stallion and offer a small snapshot of the current breeding scene in east Anglia.

The quality of horses being bred in Britain at the highest level is now on a par with the rest of Europe, following a rather rocky start to the industry, with numerous top British riders now supporting the cause. Whether breeding for your own use or to sell on, there are many myths and individual perceptions associated with this area of equestrianism.

Science made simple

Most mares are not bred intentionally until they are at least three years of age although many mares are capable of producing a foal at an earlier age. A stallion can start covering mares as early as two years old (in some cases earlier), but it is healthier for the young stallion if breeding does not begin until the age of four. In both cases, early breeding may affect growth. A mare may continue carrying foals until she is in her late twenties and likewise, a stallion may continue breeding mares into his twenties, although his potency will decline.

Mares are referred to as “long day breeders”. Under natural conditions, they are not reproductively active, known as anoestrus, during the seasons with short daylight hours, such as from late autumn through to early spring. Once the daylight hours lengthen in late spring and summer, mares start their oestrous season and will remain reproductively active until they conceive a foal or when they move back into the anoestrous season.

A mare can only produce one foal per year while a stallion is capable of producing around two hundred foals per year. The gestation period –  the time from conception to birth –  usually lasts 11 months in mares. With visual imaging, veterinary surgeons might be able to detect pregnancy as early as 10 to 14 days with a fair amount of accuracy. Physical examination usually requires the embryo to be a little older and therefore larger.

Choosing a stallion

First and foremost, you need to have a long, hard think about the final goal of breeding from your mare. Is the resulting foal to be the next Valegro? Is the intention that it will be used for hunting, show jumping, eventing or simply a fun horse for life? Knowing the type of horse you intend to produce will help to narrow the field when considering potential stallions.

Next it is important to look at your mare’s conformation and remember no horse is perfect! Make notes about her good points, as well as what needs improving. Then do the same for any stallions that are being considered and eliminate any that have similar weak points in common with your mare, leaning towards those stallions that will hopefully correct the weaknesses in your own mare. If you are unsure, ask someone experienced in breeding whether your mare is a good candidate to produce the type of foal you are looking for and if the answer is no, then seriously consider whether you should be breeding at all. Buying a foal might be a better alternative in the long run.

Personality is another major factor to think about when choosing a stallion. All horses differ in temperaments and a horse who is easy to work with is just as desirable as a horse with perfect conformation. What kind of temperament are you looking for in the foal? Is the stallion nervous or confident, the mare timid or bold? Calm or jumpy? Sharp in the arena or a complete joy to have around? Temperament is known to be genetic, so you need to evaluate both the dam’s and the sire’s personalities carefully.

A good steer to the sort of foal that may be produced can be gained by looking at prior offspring. If the stallion has other offspring, take a good look at them. Did the stallion pass along his good traits to his progeny? Were any congenital defects reproduced? Breeding a foal is a serious and responsible business, so there is nothing wrong with investigating ancestry even further by contacting breeders with the same line.

Finally, there are the costs to consider. Of you want to choose the most beautiful and the most athletic stallion, but stud fees can become increasingly expensive the further up the performance level or breed standard you go. Stud fees vary considerably; a mare could be covered by a locally-based stallion for a few hundred pounds, or through artificial insemination by Frankel for £125,000! it really does depend on the stallion and his stud value.

Breeding in East Anglia

East Anglia has always been the heart of thoroughbred racing having Newmarket on the door step. The racing industry has an abundance of thoroughbred studs in the area – the most famous being The National Stud located in Newmarket. A thoroughbred breeding ground for some of the most successful race horses in the UK, there are currently five stallions standing at the stud, with fees ranging from £4,000 to £13,000 and as many as 200 broodmares. The stud offers a range of services to horse breeders, including stallions at stud, seasonal and permanent boarding, sales preparation and quarantine for export. The stud is also a training ground for young people entering the Thoroughbred breeding industry with top class training opportunities using internationally–renowned education facilities. Another noteworthy racing stud in East Anglia, is The Nunnery Stud. Since its construction in 1987, The Nunnery Stud based in Thetford has been home to some of the world’s greatest racehorses and most influential stallions.

East Anglia is not only a host to racehorse studs, but is also lucky to have an abundance of other breeding establishments each offering successful stallions, ranging in breed, type and intended discipline.

Where dressage is concerned, Pippa Childerhouse; owner of Team Torrent, home to the coloured stallion Amour G found in Attleborough, Norfolk, is a success story for local breeding. Described as an exciting, elegant young horse with many winning achievements, he has gone on to produce many top quality sport horses as well as all rounder’s for the more amateur rider.

Shetlands

One native British breed to mention that can be found in West Norfolk is the Shetland pony. Kalipso Shetlands is a small, family stud specialising in miniature and standard Shetland ponies used for both showing and breeding. Established in 2010 the stud has grown year on year and each pony is carefully chosen for its super friendly nature, correct conformation, excellent breeding and beautiful colour.

Quarter Horses

Sovereign Quarter Horses, owned and managed by the Deptford family in March, Cambridgeshire has a history for breeding great horses from Suffolk Punches to famous show ponies. In 1986 the family bought their first American Quarter horse brood mares and ploughed everything back into the business to be able to purchase top class stock stallions and brood mares from the USA. Today the stud stands at the forefront for promoting both the breed and western riding throughout the UK and overseas.

Show jumpers

Family owned Clements Equine, based in Bardwell, near Bury St Edmunds, is a small show–jumper breeding operation, with two licensed stallions, six broodmares, several youngsters and some ridden horses competing at local, national and international levels. The stud also has liveries, takes in horses for rehabilitation and offers various breeding services.

Over the last few years Clements’ breeding operation has really grown. The stud takes in mares for artificial insemination and foaling, as well as taking in owners’ stallions for dummy training, walk-in collections and freezing services. They have been lucky to complete more than 75 commercial collections this year, the first as a collection center.  Clements has been supported by prominent local riders such as Sharon Hunt and Emily Hilton and also work very closely with Rossdales LLP whom carry out all the stud’s veterinary work on site.

Keep it British

British breeders and stud books now have high hopes for the future of British bred horses and by working together they aim to build on the successes of British bred horses in international competition, ensuring that promising young horses identified by the British Equestrian Federation’s futurity scheme and pathway programmes will find their way into the right rider’s hands to allow their full potential to be fulfilled. In addition, using the buzz from the British team horses and the Olympics will raise the profile of equestrian sport and sport horse breeding to the level of expertise that the UK deserves.