Our blogger Hazel's foray into breeding produced a lovely foal called Peggy-Sue. But she urges other owners to think carefully before breeding a foal...
"My mum always used to say “Fools breed horses for wise men to buy”, which is a familiar statement to many of us in the horse world, and one with which I have always agreed. Despite working at a Welsh pony stud from the age of four years old, riding and handling foals and youngsters for a well-known producer, it was always ingrained in me that there is far too much that can go wrong in breeding and I'd never considered it myself.
After all, when you breed horses, you don’t know what on earth is going to come out – even if you have used the best sire in the land and a good mare. You could lose the mare and be left having to bottle feed or find a surrogate. The foal could have rubbish conformation, a parrot mouth, a wind problem, it could even be the wrong colour... Not to mention it is very expensive and very time consuming pastime! I nearly fell over when we started looking at stallion books 18 months ago, I could buy two really nice three-year-olds for the cost of one pot of semen! Why would anyone do it?
Then my sister's exceptional event mare went lame at 13 and wasn’t going to come sound. Her joints were not going to hold up to top level dressage or jumping the tracks she was capable of, so what to do? She had already bred a foal with the previous owner when she was a youngster, so this was an option and one which my sister decided she wanted to pursue. So after lots of scans and my mother getting worryingly excited about the arrival of some sperm, my little sister was expecting four-legged baby (the best kind!)
Then we a long wait, until one day - when hanging the breakfasts on the stable doors - we saw some little fluffy ears poking up under her mum's chin. Baby pony had arrived safely and the mare was doing her job perfectly. Upon initial inspection it had four legs and a fairly pretty face, so we were happy.
As the days and weeks passed I begun to see why people breed, even though as mum says “it is the biggest waste of time imaginable”. Morning feeds no longer just involve hanging a manger on a door, nope, now you have to go in for morning cuddles, rolls around on the floor, scratches or just gazing in awe at the little miracle before you. Turning out gets more and more adventurous/dangerous as they grow up (which is very quickly). Every day is an exciting new adventure. You have to be firm with a foal, as within 6-12 month it will be looking down on you, but at the same time they must trust you and consider you part of their family.
Phoebe (my sister) would play with the foal (who we eventually decided to call Peggy-Sue) in the fields, they would race each other around and frolic together like best buds, it was and still is really nice to watch.
Peggy-Sue has grown into a seriously nice seven-month-old, we are, so far, very lucky, but our luck also boils down to carful and clever planning. She was very late, as the mare didn’t take the first few times, but aside from that she’s pretty perfect! We are all super excited for her future. She watches all the grown ups getting ridden in awe and follows her mum around now she is back in very light work, she will be weaned soon and the mare is in foal again, this time to a different sire. We will aim her at some BEF classes and then see where that takes her, although we are not desperate to sell her, you can’t realistically keep them all, so this is always a possibility.
Personally I enjoy the handling of babies but I would prefer, given the option, a three-year-old that I can start backing/riding straightaway instead of having to wait for years.
So breeding is really rewarding, when it’s done properly and all goes to plan. However I see week in and week out badly bred horses, by people who don’t really know what they are breeding for (not that we are experts but we did have a plan). One way of thinking about what to breed from is, if the foal takes all the bad points of the sire and all the bad points of the dam, would I still want it - or would I even be able to sell it?
There are a lot of rubbish horses out there and a lot of people breeding from rubbish, which with the best intentions in the world will never amount to anything. I am by no means saying that all horses have to be capable of top-level competition, far from it, but they have to be fit for purpose, not just bred to be a field ornament. If its confirmation is poor, don’t breed from it, if the mare has an appalling temperament, don’t breed from it, because the chances of the foal inheriting these problems are fairly high. Why risk it when you can go buy something you can see has good paces, straight limbs and a nice nature for a similar cost to a pot of semen and a lot less potential for problems?"