Match Making for Horse-Breeding Success

Match Making for Horse-Breeding Success

Choose the right stallion for your mare.
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How could you ever narrow it down to one perfect stallion for your mare? Flipping through the stallion ads in the Journal alone can be staggering. Everywhere you turn, from the feed store to the veterinarian’s office, there seems to be another stallion on the market. Finding the right stallion for your mare and your program is part research, part science and, sometimes, part luck.

The Journal sat down with past president Frank Merrill of Purcell, Oklahoma, and 30-year American Quarter Horse breeder Carol McWhirter of Doniphan, Nebraska, to get their input on how to take luck out of the breeding equation.

Want to earn some money when you show? The AQHA Incentive Fund pays participants for showing and breeding their American Quarter Horses.

The Game Plan Four of the most important things to know when you start to research a stallion for your mare are pedigree, conformation, the stallion’s performance records and prepotency.

  • Pedigree – When you’re talking pedigree, always be aware not to cross on a stallion that has close to the same genetic makeup as your mare. Line-breeding and in-breeding have long been a debate among AQHA breeders. Before you cross certain lines, you need to be aware of the characteristics those horses are known for and the consequences of crossing your mare on a stallion that is within the first or second generation. Make sure you are also aware of any genetic flaws that a certain stallion might carry.
  • Conformation – When it comes to conformation, evaluate your mare and determine an area that she might lack and find a stallion that is strong in that area. For example, if your mare has a long back, find a stallion that has a short back and comes from a family that is consistent for that trait. Find a stallion that has physical characteristics that complement your mare’s weak points, and remember that two negatives never make a positive. Try to personally view every stallion you breed to. Pictures can be deceiving when it comes to conformation. You want to make sure everything looks right, so if you are not able to see the stallion in person, make sure to get a photograph or video of the horse from all angles on level ground. You want a straight-legged horse that has overall balance.
  • Performance – Make it a point to watch stallions and their offspring through the year. Evaluate things like disposition over time. You can have all the talent in the world, but if the horse doesn’t have the nature to cooperate, it’s going to be a never-ending uphill battle.  Also look at athletic performance over time. For example, take a mare that needs a little help in her stop and breed to a stallion whose get is known for big stops.
  • Prepotency – The sign of a great sire is his prepotent ability to stamp his foals. Just because stallions are good show horses or performers does not mean they are going to pass their superior quality to their foals. Do not be satisfied just to see stallions. Look at their offspring. Ideally, you want to breed to a sire who throws a consistent product. You can walk in a pen of foals and be able to pick out the offspring of a prepotent stallion. Even though you can’t predict exactly what a foal will look like, when you breed to a prepotent stallion, there is a higher degree of consistency.

Foals by Incentive Fund-nominated stallions are eligible to be nominated into the program during their first 12 months of age.

Know the Bloodlines

Become a bloodline expert. Do not make market-driven decisions and breed to a certain stallion that is the hot commodity this year. He might be the most-promoted stallion out there, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the best for your mare. Know your facts. Learn the traits that certain lines of horses carry and find the right match for your mare’s traits.


“People must breed with a conscience and always have improvement in mind. We have a responsibility to not bring defective horses into this world,” Carol says.

Embryo Transfers

“If you register multiple foals out of a mare each year by embryo transfers, don’t breed to the same stallion every time,” Frank says. “You can speed up the breeding evolution by breeding to different stallions and seeing which one best fits your mare.” Share which stallions are you thinking of breeding to next year, or which stallions crossed well with your mares.