Multiple Foal Rule

The impact the multiple foals rule change has had on the Quarter Horse industry – so far.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Back in 2003, it was anyone’s guess what would happen. As of January 1 of that year, AQHA rules allowed a mare to have more than one registered foal per year, pending parentage verification. Immediately, AQHA saw a 41 percent increase in embryo transfer enrollments: In 2002, 1,849 mares had embryo transfer enrollments filed; for 2003, there were 2,614. By the end of the breeding season, facilities offering embryo transfer services testified to a surge in business. Royal Vista Southwest in Purcell, Oklahoma, reported a 50 percent increase in transfers performed. There were all sorts of questions on how the multiple foals rule would affect the industry.

In 2008, we were five years and four foal crops down the road, with another on the way. A high of 3,821 mares had embryo transfer enrollments filed with AQHA in 2007. AQHA numbers have established new facts: Embryo transfer produces a small number of the total AQHA foals registered. For example, in 2004 there were 2,692 registered foals produced via embryo transfer (from 2003 breedings). That is 1.6 percent of the total 160,442 foals registered with 2004 foaling dates. And not all of those were multiples – mare owners also use embryo transfer to produce one foal because a mare cannot (or the owners don’t want her to) carry her own.

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Although embryo transfer does not always result in a “standing and nursing” foal, more mare owners are producing multiples out of their mares. Before 2003, the number of mares enrolled with AQHA for embryo transfer was always higher than the number of resulting foals registered. Every year since and including 2003 (to date), there have been more resulting foals registered than there were mares enrolled in embryo transfer the previous breeding season. Case in point: 3,426 mares enrolled in embryo transfer in 2005 produced 3,821 registered foals in 2006. However, most mares that do produce more than one foal in a year typically only have two. Of the total sets of multiple foals registered thus far, 79 percent were sets of two. “The number of mares producing foals by embryo transfer is increasing, but not in large numbers,” says AQHA Director of Registration Operations Tammy Canida. “While some owners have produced more, the majority are choosing to produce just two foals in a year.” According to AQHA registration records, as of February 2009, there have been 6,213 sets of multiple foals born, all foaling years combined (a mare is counted for each set of multiple foals she produced). Those 6,213 sets represent 14,251 registered foals, or an average of 2.29 foals per set.

The Markets Overall

How have those numbers translated into the open Quarter Horse market? “Embryo transfer and multiple foals is ‘old hat’ to cutters,” says Jim Ware of Western Bloodstock, a leading cutting horse sale company in Weatherford, Texas. Historically, the largest incidence of multiple foals sold at public auction has appeared in the cutting industry. Because unregistered horses can compete in the National Cutting Horse Association, cutting breeders have produced multiple foals out of Quarter Horse mares for years, using a DNA registry to establish parentage. Since the 2003 rule change, many breeders have retroactively registered their older DNA horses with AQHA. Racing has quickly established itself as a close second to cutting in number of multiple foals. According to Jeff Tebow, general manager of Heritage Place, a leading racehorse auction house in Oklahoma City, for many breeders “(multiple foals) has just become part of the economic business model now.”

The western pleasure and show horse sales “really haven’t seen a lot of them,” according to Mike Jennings of Professional Auction Services Inc. of Berryville, Virginia, which is an auction company for top sales nationwide, including the AQHA World Championship Show Sale. As a whole, sales companies have not tracked the averages and incidence of multiple foals as a distinct group, but they have seen trends. “Overall, I can’t say it has hurt anything financially, so far,” says Robin Glenn of Robin Glenn Pedigrees Inc., equine marketer and sale catalog publisher out of El Reno, Oklahoma. “The sales have been tremendous, and overall sales averages are up.” Jim agrees, specifically regarding the cutting market. “Originally I was opposed to (the rule change),” he says. “But it has not created the negative impact in this business that I thought it would. “The thought that breeders were just going to flood the market with colts, that we’d have too many of them and the value of them would greatly decrease – in our top end (cutting) horses, that just hasn’t happened.” If you look down a list of mares producing multiple foals in any discipline, you’ll find that most of them are household names as performers and/or producers. Their typically higher-priced foals can better offset the added cost of multiple embryo transfers. In the cutting industry, Jim has seen that trend benefit young stallions that are proven performers but unproven as sires. When a top mare could have only one registered foal a year, she went to a proven stallion; now mare owners are also sending her to stallion prospects.

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“The rule change has really helped to jump start the siring careers of some young show stallions,” Jim says. He points to Western Bloodstock’s “New Sire Spotlight” session at the NCHA Futurity Sales, for selected yearlings by stallions with foals 3 and under. “If you look at the quality of mares those young sires bred, you get a snapshot of what I’m talking about,” he says. “I do think (the cost of embryo transfer) makes it harder for a smaller breeder or a middle-income person to be a player at the top end of the business,” Mike says. “We might see a larger part of the high-end market will be owned by a smaller number of people who can afford those great mares and can do embryo transfer.” On the other hand, there are more top pedigreed individuals available for the middle player to purchase, especially in unproven mares from good families. When a top mare produced only one foal a year, breeders often kept it; now those breeders are more likely to sell siblings. Mike also thinks there will be more middle-income people who will buy the best mare they can afford to show or race and take advantage of embryo transfer to also produce foals out of her. “We’re a little young yet in this market to see exactly what it’s going to do,” Mike adds.