Everyone who breeds American Saddlebreds, whether a large operation with hundreds of horses, or an owner who wants to breed their single mare, has the same aspiration: to breed a quality foal that meets or exceeds the breed’s conformation standards and will become one of the greats. But, with so much to consider, breeders are left wondering where to begin. While breeding horses is not only a science, but also a genetic gamble, there are a few factors that owners can take into account when choosing a stallion, and these factors can help roll the dice in their favor.
A breeder should know the mare’s conformational strengths and weaknesses. What does she possess in either talent or conformation that will enhance the foal? If she showed, what were her talents or flaws in how she moved or performed? A mare contributes to approximately 55 percent of her foal’s genes. Knowing areas in which she is lacking is a vital tool in narrowing down the selection of stallions, because it will show what to improve on in the foal that will be produced. For example, a short-necked mare should be bred to a stallion with a longer neck or a stallion that has a history of producing quality necks. Find her weak points, and use the stallion’s influence to improve upon them. Be sure to watch videos of the stallion moving, if they are available, and study his conformational pictures to indicate what his strengths and weaknesses are to determine if he best complements the mare.
If color is important, learn about the genetics of color. While it is still a gamble, knowing the recessive and dominant color traits may improve a breeder’s chances of getting the color they desire. While investing in color is less important in American Saddlebreds than in other breeds, if it is important to the breeder, they need to inform themselves of the possible outcomes.
While breeding should not be based on price alone, checking one’s pocketbook before making a decision is a wise idea. It may not be in the best interests of the breeder to try to save a few hundred dollars on the second or third choice of stallion, just because they are slightly cheaper than the desired stallion. A breeder must keep in mind that the stud fee is generally the cheapest part of the investment. Of course, it is also entirely possible for a stallion with a cheaper stud fee to produce better foals. The only way to know is to look at the end results. A good indicator of a good stallion isn’t what he can do, but what his offspring are capable of, and some stallions produce foals that look entirely different from themselves. Saddle & Bridle’s Sire Ratings are a good place to start, but the American Saddlebred Horse Association online registry can also be of use when considering a stallion that has not made the list. How are the stallion’s get doing in horse shows? Are they ribbon winners? If so, find videos and watch them move, and watch them respond to their riders. If none of them are old enough to show, contact someone who is currently training or has experience working with young horses from that particular stallion. Learn how they have been performing, their conformation, trainability, and even personality. Watching videos of the offspring moving during their training will give a good idea of what future foals will look like.
Another point to ponder is what type of foal is desired. For example, if a gaited horse is desired, be sure to research the stallion’s get. Looking at both sides of the bloodlines, does the mare or stallion have any gaited lineage? If the mare has no gaited tendencies, and the stallion has not produced any gaited horses, the odds are that the foal will not be gaited. Be sure to pick a stallion that has a tendency to produce the type of foal that is desired. Take into account that horses that have performed very well through the years may have been foaled from the same sire or grand sire. Look for horses that produce performance, and notice patterns of greatness. CH Will Shriver, Bourbon Genius King, CH Valley View Supreme, CH Wing Commander, Supreme Sultan … these are all names that have produced Hall of Fame champions and extraordinary performance horses. Try to find these famous names on the right side of the bloodlines.
Make sure to make a list of each stallion; qualities that are liked about him, how he may complement the mare, what his faults are, and what he has produced that is desired or not desired. The more research the better. This will help to narrow down the playing field and aid in the final selection. After narrowing the list down, if one does not stand out, then pick the one that is a personal favorite. Sometimes there is something about a stallion that cannot be measured or defined; people just have a feeling and know it when they see it.
As important as it is to check the stallion, be sure to research the stallion breeder as well. The vast majority of Saddlebred breeders are reputable and devoted to their breed. They will be able to answer all questions as fully as possible, and will admit if they do not know the full answer to a question. Most Saddlebred breeders and trainers are well connected and can direct people to someone who has the answers, if they themselves do not. Always make sure the stallion’s breeder and/or owner is experienced, regardless of if the person who owns the mare has experience or not. If references are not freely given by the breeder … beware! Any reputable breeder will be more than happy to supply a good list of references, especially past clients who are happy with the foals they have bred from that particular stallion. Just as in typical businesses, a breeder who has records of repeat customers is worth doing business with because they are reputable, care for the breed, and offer a quality stallion that is capable of producing quality offspring.
One last vital piece of advice is to know that in breeding, there are no guarantees. Mother Nature is mysterious. There is no winning the genetic lottery every single time a foal is bred. However, if a breeder takes the time to research stallions, and selects one based on the above points, the dice may roll in their favor. They just might end up producing the next World’s Champion.