Breeders are the ultimate dreamers of the horse world, the visionaries who always seem to see the glass half full and believe there’s a reward around the next sharp bend in the road.
One of the greatest satisfactions in competing is the journey that you take before you step into the show ring, as you overcome the many obstacles that will undoubtedly surface on the way there. For breeders, their journey is the longest but often the most fulfilling. When their homebreds make it all the way to the top, to blue ribbons, to national championships and even beyond, to the Olympics and World Championships, it must be an amazing feeling.
Those of us who purchase young, green prospects and make them up take a similar trip. We don’t have that same long-term investment in our hearts, however. When we search for a young horse we primarily employ our brains—we critique his attributes and flaws when we first meet him, and we weigh the pros and cons as to whether he’ll fulfill our needs.
Our heart generally comes into play later, if the choice turns out well. If he indeed becomes the mount we sought, one with whom we can develop a meaningful partnership, he’s cherished.
A breeder’s journey is different. It starts with heart—the capacity for courage and determination—because those are traits absolutely required if you’re going to breed horses.
First the breeder chooses a mare, picks apart her faults and identifies her strengths. He takes these puzzle pieces, considers them carefully, and searches for the stallion who will complement the mare for the ultimate picture: a healthy, athletic foal with a generous temperament, who excels in his job and has no pieces missing.
If all goes well, this mare becomes pregnant. Then, it’s an 11-month wait. For nearly a year the breeder will agonize over the next ultrasound update, will carefully monitor the mare’s feed, weight, vaccinations, deworming and turnout partners. As her due date approaches, he’ll finally begin to believe this might just happen. He’ll start to think about a foaling kit, foal watch, registration names, replacing shavings with straw, buying a pair of insulated boots and a new 10-cup coffeemaker.
So when that day finally comes, a healthy foal hits the ground, stands and nurses, the breeder is already smitten.
Courage comes into play because the above scenario, where everything falls into place, is exceedingly rare in the breeding business. When problems arise, the decisions become difficult. What do you do with a foal with severely contracted tendons? What do you do with a mare who has a track record of problem foals? How many times do you breed a mare who consistently aborts?
For many breeders, however, even if the foal turns out to be less than expected it’s often merely a speed bump in the road. It might slow him down, but it won’t stop progress because the breeder has spent the past year imagining what this foal could accomplish when he grows up. Will he be the next Judgement or Winsome Adante or Rox Dene?
I admire those who breed horses. It’s such a tough business. For every success, there are multiple failures. People who take a vision and turn it into reality in the challenging and sometimes heartbreaking world of horses are truly an inspiration—especially those who spend many, many sleepless nights so that the rest of us can dream of glory.