Looking for Gold

Some frank talk from breeders on how they select broodmares.

Ask great breeders what the secret is to raising top individuals, and they’ll say their mares. Stallions have many chances to sire a great individual every year, but most mares have only one chance a year to produce a great foal. That’s why so many breeders believe in the prepotency of great mares, even though the genetics come equally from sire and dam. Finding a great-producing mare is like hitting a seam of gold in quartz. The American Quarter Horse Journal asked three leading performance and halter breeders how they pick the “gold” in their herds, and here’s what they had to say:

Greg Whalen, Blue Ribbon Farms, California

Greg and Mary Whalen of Clements, California, have been raising and showing American Quarter Horses for more than 40 years. They’ve raised several world champions and AQHA champions in their own names and partnerships, including leading sire Mr Yella Fella and world champion and multiple reserve world champion halter gelding All Star Design.

Q. How do you pick broodmares?

Greg: We’ve always selected mares that were built correctly in their legs and had some muscling. Even though we showed our mares at halter, we liked to think if we took them out of halter shape, we could ride them, too. We’ve done just about everything with our horses. These days, you have the halter thing, the pleasure thing, the reining thing – everybody’s got their own idea about what kind of mares you need. I always felt you should buy something that had a good father but had an extremely good mother. We go a lot on the female side.

Good horse conformation is important in numerous ways – from athletic ability to value as breeding stock. AQHA’s Form to Function – The Importance of Horse Conformation DVD explains how to spot an ideally conformed horse.

I like a mare that looks like a pretty woman, with a big eye and pretty head and feminine in her neck and a lot of heart girth. She’s short-backed, ties in over the loins good, has a nice low hock.

Q. If you had to, what would you sacrifice in a broodmare?

Greg: If I had to sacrifice something, it would be size. If I was looking at two mares, and they were the same mare but one was 16.1 hands and one was 15.2, I’d take the smaller mare. I think we’ve gone way out on the size thing. A Quarter Horse started out to be somewhere between 14 hands and 15.2; the reiners have stuck to that. When you get away from that bigger horse, you get more athletic ability. Everybody tells you you’ve got to have size to win a world championship, but that’s not true. I’ve won it 16 or 17 times, and all the ones I won with weren’t over 15.2.You know, Smooth Town was about 16 hands. But if I had to sacrifice something, size is where I’d start.

Jim McKillips, Meri-J Ranch, Wisconsin

Jim McKillips manages the Meri-J Ranch of Beloit, Wisconsin, as well as the breeding, training and showing program for leading halter and performance breeder Rita Crundwell of Dixon, Illinois. Rita’s broodmare band includes multiple halter world champion She Scores; Cash N Clue, dam of halter world champions Attest and Shezcopesetic; and the Thoroughbred mare Sum For Me, dam of multiple hunter under saddle world champion Naturally Ironic and Rita’s stallion NI Fabulous. Jim is an AQHA Professional Horseman and Team Wrangler member with more than 30 years in the Quarter Horse industry.

Q. What do you look for when you’re picking out a broodmare?

Jim: I try to look at my stallions and know what their faults are and sure try not to pick a mare with the same faults. I try to be open-minded and not barn-blind when it comes to realizing my horse might have a fault or two, and I don’t breed faults to faults.

Roll It!

Diamonds Sparkle was a superhorse - literally. She won the 1979 AQHA Superhorse title with “Sunny” Jim Orr. Then she went on to be a super mom to superstars Sparkles Rosezana, Spark O Lena and Shining Spark, just to name a few. Learn about the interesting life and career of this palomino mare. I definitely want all theconformation you can get in one. I like a strong back, and I prefer a more posty-hock than a set hock because I feel you have to have that for a good topline and croup, and to have a lot of hip hanging down. I’m pretty fussy on the legs. In some ways (our industry has) bred to death the bad legs, and it’s hard to out-breed those. The movement is important, and I’ll take movement over a little incorrectness in my performance mares.

Q. You breed everything from halter to hunt-seat horses – do you look for the same things in those broodmares?

Jim: I really do. I think we’ve gotten away from a lot of the true conformation traits of the Quarter Horse, and I think we need to improve that. Even in my Thoroughbred mares, the horses are all short-backed and have a lot of conformation. I like to see an attractive horse with a short back and real straight legs. I think that as far as the riders go, we have to strive for better natural movement. We’ve come a long ways there. And we need an attractive horse. I think the performance halter might improve that a bit. I’ve bred some of our riding mares to our halter stallions and vice versa. I bred Attest to Gallo Del Cielo, “Rooster,” and got a nice filly. We’re trying a lot of things, experimenting a little. But I look for conformation and movement in both halter and riding mares.

Joan Schroeder, Schroeder Ranch, Texas

Robbie and Joan Schroeder established Schroeder Ranch in Gainesville, Texas, more than 25 years ago with the help of their stallion, Blazing Hot, 1996 junior western pleasure and junior western riding world champion. The horse made a name for himself as a performance horse sire across disciplines; at the 2006 AQHA World Championship Show alone, Blazing Hot geldings won the senior heading (Cant Skippa Blaze with Robbie) and the 2-year-old western pleasure (I Like Hot Chips with Jay Starnes).

The Schroeder broodmare band includes Miss Surely Bars, dam of leading pleasure sire Certain Potential, and Born Lopin, the 2005 National Snaffle Bit Association’s Leading Dam of money earners.

AQHA’s Form to Function – The Importance of Horse Conformation DVD is suitable for beginners and advanced horse enthusiasts, and is ideal for people interested in buying or selling a horse. It’s also great material for horse judging groups. Plus, AQHA members get a 5% discount. Get your copy today!

Q. What do you look for in a broodmare?

Joan: When picking a broodmare, I have four major qualifications. First, and in my opinion the most important, are great bloodlines. The mare’s sire must be a popular, current stallion that is a producing stallion in the forefront of the industry. But it’s equally important that the mare’s dam has superior bloodlines in her family, top and bottom. It takes two. A lot of people think that if you have a mare by a popular stallion then it’s going to be a great broodmare, but that’s not necessarily so. The bottom-side of our mares is as important as their sire’s side, if not more so. Second is conformation, for obvious reasons. You want good bones and feet to improve the chances of the mare passing that on. It’s important to have a sound horse in riding or anything else you want to do with them. You have nothing without soundness. We like a short back, as well as good, strong hocks and stifles, which improve the horse’s carriage, movement and athleticism. We like our pleasure broodmares to be up in their shoulders, and their withers should be level with or higher than the croup. Movement is also very important for our broodmares – but if you meet the conformation criteria I already talked about, then this is not an issue. And, lastly, prettiness is not a must for me, but it definitely is a plus!

Q. Is how you select a broodmare now different from when you began?

Joan: I would say we have changed mainly from having quantity to focusing on quality. We don't have any unknown pedigrees on our ranch, whether we're breeding for pleasure horses or cow horses, reining horses or rope horses.

It’s not only rewarded in the halter ring at horse shows, it’s also vital to the athletic ability and longevity of any horse. Poor conformation can lead to lameness issues, limited performance ability, and certainly a loss of monetary value. AQHA’s “Form to Function – The Importance of Horse Conformation” DVD explains how to spot an ideally conformed horse.