Home-Bred Halter Horses

Get some expert horse-breeding tips on how to raise your own halter futurity winner.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

So you’ve decided to raise a foal and aim it toward a halter futurity as a weanling or yearling. Now the fun begins – you’ve got to pick the parents. You might have a mare already and need to find a stallion. Or maybe you want to lease a mare. Or maybe you’re looking for a mare in foal to the stallion of your choice. There are a lot of possibilities out there.

Here are some words of advice from two breeders who have had good success with raising futurity foals. AQHA breeder James Kifer of Hartselle, Alabama, is an all-time leading breeder of halter winners, including more than 20 AQHA and Palomino Horse Breeders of America world champions. A founding member of the World Conformation Horse Association, he’s also an organizer of the $125,000-added Big Money Halter Futurity. Breeder Donna Davis of Uniontown, Alabama, never raises more than a handful foals, a but a number of halter futurity winners have come from her program, including both the weanling colt and filly winners at the inaugural Breeders Cup Futurity in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2011. Here’s what James and Donna had to say about picking a futurity foal’s parents.

The Mare Comes First

Both breeders begin with the mare and a critical assessment of her conformation. “I look at the mare first as an individual,” Donna says. “I ask, ‘Where would I like to change her and make her better in her conformation?’ And then I try to pick stallions that I think are strong in that area. My main goal is to produce a foal that is better than the mare that I intend to breed.” Pay attention to what your mare produces and what a stallion is known to produce, James says. “You need to cross your mare to a stallion known to produce the trait you want to improve on in your mare. “I always check the AQHA records on the mare’s dam and granddam. It’s important to me that they’ve been producers, too.” James adds, “I’m a big believer in ‘own daughters.’ I hardly ever buy a granddaughter of anything. If someone has to explain the pedigree, it’s not going to work for me. Most of my mares are own daughters of good sires.” On a maiden mare, Donna looks even more closely at what her dam and granddam produced and on what bloodlines. “And then I go back to my first step – ‘Where I would want to make her better as an individual?’ ” “I have never leased a mare,” she says, “but if you can’t afford to buy the kind of mare you want, leasing might be an option for you. You could sure end up with a foal worth a lot more than you could afford to buy.” What’s a good risk in deciding to breed a particular mare? “The mares that I’ve taken a risk on are typically a mare out of a great producing mare, but this daughter didn’t quite have the look that you’d expect from that bloodline,” James says. “She’s got the blood that says she should work, even though she doesn’t quite look the part. Sometimes those mares will work for me.”

Make sure you are fully informed before you venture into breeding your own horses. Purchase AQHA’s Horse Reproduction report and learn more about the business of breeding horses.

Stallion Selection

As mentioned before, Donna and James both pick stallions whose strong points make up for any weak points in the mare. And they look for sires with solid production records or young stallions proven in the show pen. “Just like with the mare, I want to know what he has tended to produce,” Donna says. “He may not have the prettiest head himself, but he may produce that in his foals.” Donna always has two stallions in mind for her mare, just in case for whatever reason she can’t breed to her first choice. “Sometimes I will go with a young, unproven stallion if I like his pedigree and conformation, even though his production record is unknown,” Donna says. “It gives me the chance to have some of his first foals.” There are some things Donna wants to see in person. “Honestly, I’ve bred to a lot of stallions that I’ve never seen before,” she says; it can be difficult to travel to see a horse in person to evaluate conformation. “It’s better if I have seen a stallion, but if I haven’t, I make sure I’ve seen his babies. At AQHA shows, the World Show, futurities, I pay attention to any offspring by stallions I’m interested in. I look for patterns in what that horse throws and out of mares by a certain sire. And if I like a particular horse showing, I find out who its sire and dam are.” “I’m a big believer in hybrid vigor,” James says. “There’s nothing wrong with line breeding as long as you’ve got a lot of different genetics also in the mix; you’ve got to have outside blood for that to work. You don’t want to breed too closely. “There are a lot of Impressive-bred horses out there, and you’ve got to have enough different blood in there – Tee Jay Roman, Sonny Go Lucky, crosses to different horses and older blood.” Of course, you must choose a stallion eligible for the program you’re interested in showing in. “Breed to a stallion nominated to a futurity you want to participate in, and if you want to market it, a big-purse futurity,” James says. “For me, there’s not much point in raising a really good baby if I can’t show it where the money is.” Donna is interested in showing as an amateur, as well as selling a foal or two so she wants her foals to be eligible for programs offering good amateur and professional competition. Because Donna raises foals to sell as well as keep, she does keep in mind stallions that make her babies marketable. “I cross my mares to make a foal that I think people will want to buy. I breed not just for myself but also for the public,” she says. However, if you’re aiming to keep the foal yourself, that opens the potential for taking more of a risk on a young stallion. Common


“A common mistake I’ve seen people make is to breed to a stallion simply because it is a ‘good deal,’ someone gives you a stud fee or you buy a leftover auction breeding, or you have a rebreed on another mare,” Donna says. “Those are fine, as long as that stallion also happens to be what you think will be the best match for your mare. “The stud fee is probably the cheapest part of the breeding operation when you consider the vet charges, the feed and care of the mare until she foals and all the other expenses that go with owning a horse,” she adds. “Cross your mare with the stallion you think will work genetically, or don’t breed her.” James points out another common mistake: being too nostalgic about breeding a mare. “There are a lot of people who will keep breeding a mare when they really might need to sell her and get a better broodmare,” he says. “I don’t know how to say it politely, but people will hang on to and keep breeding a mare because they showed her or they raised her, when she’s not producing. “They often just keep trying to make her work, and she may never work. Look at her babies: If you’ve got two or three of them out there, and you don’t like any of them, it might not be the stallions’ fault!”

Considering breeding your own horse? Purchase AQHA’s Horse Reproduction report and make sure you are fully informed before you begin to breed.

Have Fun Donna handles all the breeding management for her mares at home and breeds mostly with shipped semen. She also foals out all of her mares and fits her own foals to show. “I love to do it myself,” Donna says. “The biggest enjoyment in breeding these mares for me is trying to cross them up genetically and waiting to see what I get, if my choices worked. I love that challenge. “It’s not just all about getting the baby and taking it to win. I like the whole process and when I can do it all, it’s just a great accomplishment for me.” When Donna’s two home-breds won the 2011 Breeders Cup, several people asked her why she sold them if she knew they had a good shot at winning. “Because I get just as much satisfaction out of hearing my name called out that I was the breeder,” she says. “I love breeding the mares and foaling the babies out, getting them to the show or selling them for somebody else to show. Because I’ve got more coming! “I’m all about letting somebody else take them and do good with them, and then maybe they sell them to someone else who does good with them. I think that’s the whole point of the horse business – making it a win-win all along the way.”