Choosing a Stallion Farm: Considerations for Owners
Choosing a Stallion Farm: Considerations for Owners
It’s that feeling when your gamble pays off: That yearling colt you bought last year has struck gold, backing up his impeccable bloodlines and looks with blistering speed on the track. In the fall, when it’s time to transition him to a new career as a sire, how should you navigate the process? There are many things to consider before you sign a contract with a breeding farm.
Multi-generational horseman Ryan Robicheaux manages Robicheaux Ranch at Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, where they stand an impressive battery of stallions that include senior stallions Heza Fast Dash and Game Patriot, both of whom are among the Top 10 of all-time sires by money earned; leading sires Apollitical Blood, Five Bar Cartel, Open Me A Corona; and young sire Tarzanito. In 2021, Grade 1 winner Gold Heart Eagle V joined the lineup. In addition, the ranch exclusively offers Quarter Horse breedings to two Thoroughbred stallions, leading sire Into Mischief and champion sprinter Mitole, both of whom stand at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky.
Phillip Stewart is the general manager of Bob Moore Farms at Norman, Oklahoma. For half a century, the farm has offered the industry world-class services including breeding. The farm currently houses world champion and top sire Apollitical Jess, champions FDD Dynasty, Hes Relentless and Flying Cowboy 123, as well as young sire Mr Apollitical Dash.
The Initial Steps
Holding on to a potential stallion prospect is like having a top high school running back: Expect to get courted. New stallion prospects are in limited supply in recent years, making them a particularly hot commodity.
“I always compare it to college football coach recruitment for high school students,” Robicheaux said. “You’re going to have all these farm managers coming after you.”
The key thing to remember is that you’re looking to form a partnership that works for everyone – the owner, the stallion and the farm. If you have a trusted business confidant that can help you, be sure to involve them in the process to get their perspective, as well.
The first step is evaluating the facilities that will fit your stallion’s needs.
“If you get the opportunity, I would suggest you always go look at the facilities before you make a decision of where you’re going to go with your horse,” Stewart said. “Make sure it’s a place you want your horse to go.”
Everyone has a little different idea of where they want their horse to be and how they want their horse cared for, but it’s important that it fits you and your horse.
“First you want to look at the facilities – are they well-maintained, and are they safe for your horse?” Stewart said. “Look at the people there, look at the other stallions that are there. Make sure they’re all in good shape, well groomed, well taken care of. That’s easy to see, that’s stuff you can walk onto a farm and know almost immediately how things are going to be.”
As an example, Stewart said, at Bob Moore Farms, it is a top priority that the stallions are turned out every day, regardless of the weather. Each stallion has his own multiple-acre trap to exercise in.
“I’m a big, big proponent of, your horse should go out every day,” Stewart said. “I just believe the sun on their back or the rain on their back is good for them.”
It’s also important to consider the horsemen who will be managing your horse. While stallions at reputable farms are handled with impeccable care by the horsemen attending them, that’s not the only thing you need to consider.
“It’s going to become a family,” Robicheaux said. “You have to trust the person who’s going to take care of your horse and your investment. You have to feel comfortable in where you’re going.”
It’s important that both the stallion managers and stallion owners are able to communicate freely on both sides, so that everyone’s needs are addressed.
“We want to work with stallion owners, we want stallion owners to feel comfortable with us, with calling us if they have questions,” Stewart said. “Likewise, we need to be able to call them if we have questions. So very much of our industry is about relationships.”
Another consideration is promotion. Some stallion farms tend to specialize in key bloodlines, while other farms choose to not overlap their pedigrees.
Specialized programs become a central stopping place for mare owners looking for that bloodline, offering different options of the cross they’re looking for to perfectly match their mare.
The farms that promote variety offer a buffet of stallions and bloodlines to fit everyone’s needs.
“There’s enough competition out there, it helps to not have competition in my barn,” Robicheaux said.
The technology of cooled and frozen semen means your stallion can stand anywhere, but in addition to considering the stallion lineup, weigh whether a certain state-bred program would add value to your horse. Various states have their own strengths and benefits, and their own rules to consider.
"My benefit with Louisiana, they could stand in Arkansas or Washington with shipped semen, it don’t matter where they’re at,” Robicheaux said. “You can stand in any state, but you never gonna get that Louisiana mare to breed to you if you don’t stand in my state, and you’re missing out on a bunch of mares – you’re going to get all the mares around the country, but also all the mares in Louisiana.”
Stallion vs. Stud
Just like an owner needs to find a perfect fit for them, the stallion farms need a candidate that fits their program.
“Somebody came the other day from Montana, he wanted to see all the stallions,” Robicheaux said. “After he got through the first three, he said, ‘You have a look that you like.’ I said, ‘Yes, I do, if I don’t want to breed to a stallion and believe in them, I can’t sell them to nobody. If I don’t believe in them, I can’t sell them to a customer.’ It’d be hard to say you should breed to him, but I’m not going to. There is a look I’m going for.
“I want a balanced-looking horse,” he continued. “We grew up in halter horses, and I know a halter horse isn’t a running horse, but I want to take one out that someone wants to look at, not just ‘Oh, you can put him back.’ They gotta have a pretty neck, good tie-in, good hip, just be as correct as we can. Not every horse that runs is the correctest or prettiest horse, we all know that, but when I pull one out, I want him to look presentable and something someone’s gonna want to breed to.”
Once you’ve found him the perfect place, you need to set a stud fee. It is best to consult with the stallion manager, Stewart said, as they have a good idea of how to price the stallion fairly.
Also expect to conduct a fertility test on a stallion before setting a book size.
“It seems like a lot of these younger stallions just don’t produce the volume of quality semen that you need to breed 125 mares,” Stewart warned. “So we’re going to have to collect this horse several times before we know how much semen we have and then we’ll determine how many mares we can breed.”
Once your stallion has settled into the farm, expect him to stay there for at least four years.
“It’s like a marriage, it’s going to be a long-term investment for both of us,” Robicheaux said. “I don’t charge no day rate, I get a booking fee and maybe so many breedings per horse. But if I’m not doing my job, you’re not making money and if I’m not making you no money, I’m not making money. I gotta go out and hustle mares to him.”
Expect that there will be ups and downs as well over that time.
“The stallion’s career is a roller coaster,” Robicheaux said. “The first year, he’s a new thing in the barn, people excited, they gonna breed to him. The second year, they want to see the babies, if they look good, they attractive, boom we’re going to breed, follow that first crop, and if he hits, boom I’m going to the sale. The third crop, hmm, it’s going to drop off a little bit. The fourth crop they’re waiting to see if those first ones are going to sell good and run. Did the buyers like them, do the trainers like them? But even if he hits with his 2-year-olds, the first 2-year-olds don’t run ’til March and April, so during that fourth crop breeding season it’s off trainer opinions. So if he does hit, you don’t catch back the numbers ’til his fifth year.”
Winning the stallion lottery is, like the rest of the business, a gamble – but when it pays off, it pays well, not only financially but also the satisfaction of winning the game.
"It’s very competitive,” Robicheaux said. “You gotta get the numbers. You gotta have a stallion that stands out. And you might have all that and he still fails. We all gambling that the next baby I have is the next futurity winner. It’s that possibility that you do have one. From the time you come look at stallions, look at your magazines, look at your mare’s pedigree, it’s just a starting point. She’s gotta foal out, gotta raise it to a yearling, he’s gotta X-ray right, a good trainer buys him, it’s a long road to go. It’s exciting, it’s fun, but you gotta have the patience too.”