To Cut or Not to Cut Your Colt

Tips for deciding which colts aren't ideal stallion prospects for horse breeding.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Each year, colt crops are carefully scrutinized, sized up from head to toe and painstakingly critiqued to find the select few, extra-special colts that are worthy of carrying on a bloodline. But what makes a stallion stand out from his gelded brothers? Here's how breeders Stan Weaver, Pete Becker and Billy Cogdell make their gelding decisions:

The Chosen Few With more than 120 combined years of experience in the breeding industry, Stan, Pete and Billy know exactly what they are looking for in an ideal stud prospect. They also know how seldom they find one.

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Billy, from Tulia, Texas, gelds all his colts each year except the "real exceptional ones." He doesn't keep many stallions every year because he uses a lot of geldings on his ranch. He raises 30 to 40 babies a year and keeps just a few colts each season. Stan, who is now a member of the AQHA Executive Committee, shares similar sentiments. The breeder from Big Sandy, Montana, says he sells most of his colts in the fall as weanlings. He keeps five or six colts every year specifically for ranch geldings. At the most, he keeps three stud prospects every fall. Stan keeps those prospects until they are yearlings and then sells them in the sale as yearling stallion prospects. Most of the horses at Stan's ranch, though, are gelded. Just about every year, Pete gelds most, if not all, of his colts. The 2001 AQHA Legacy Award winner from Ashby, Nebraska, says, "They really have to be up to snuff." True to his word, one year Pete kept just two of 12 colts as stallions. Still, even those two were reconsidered for gelding again in the fall.

Window of Opportunity

With castrations normally performed at about 1 year of age, breeders have limited time to scrutinize their colt crop for ideal stallion prospects. Over the years, Stan, Pete and Billy developed lists of criteria to help them make quick decisions. The first thing Pete says he looks for in a colt to keep for a stallion is a "good mind and disposition." According to Pete, that's No. 1. He also says "correct conformation - straight legs, nice hips and shoulder, a pretty head and neck and a kind eye - is important. An ideally conformed horse is hard to come by. Horses who don't meet those criteria are gelded." Stan bases his choices heavily on the colts' bloodlines. "The most important thing about keeping a stallion is the pedigree," he explains. “They have to be closely related to a horse that's done something.” “If you get three or four generations off - say a great-grandson of a world champion,” says Stan, “you're getting a little too far away. You want a son or grandson.

You can't get too far away from the top bloodlines." Once he establishes good bloodlines, he looks for character traits and athleticism. If a colt demonstrates great athleticism during ground work, Stan might consider him as a stallion prospect. Stan says his program represents cow horse bloodlines, and athleticism is about the most important trait. Like Pete, Stan emphasizes the importance of a good mind. Stan says he definitely gelds horses without trainable minds. He goes so far as to say that he probably eliminates an untrainable horse's parents from the breeding stock, too. He does not want to pass the undesirable trait on to future foal crops. If the horse shows good athletic ability and looks like he could really do something, there is a chance Stan will go on to show him. Pending success in the show ring, the horse might be reconsidered as a stallion. Stan says that in his mind, everything should be gelded. "You pick out the ones that are from exceptional breeding, exceptional athletes and exceptional minds - they have to be all three to be a stallion.”

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While strong bloodlines are critical, Pete adds, they do not guarantee a good stallion prospect. Pete says, “It just doesn't work that way. Just because you had a real strong bloodline and performance bloodlines, you don’t always end up with a good stallion. I guess that's what makes genetics interesting." Billy, who breeds his mares to outside stallions as well as his own, considers pedigree to predict strong candidates to carry on his ranch's performance bloodlines. He believes there are good horses out there with "off" bloodlines but explains that if you're trying to do particular things with a horse, you have to stay within the bloodline boundaries of your discipline. Billy breeds for cutting and ranch work, and although he maintains his traditional bloodlines, he occasionally keeps good stallion prospects from outside stallions when he hunts for new bloodlines for his breeding program. But that new stallion prospect, of course, has to match Billy's criteria. He watches the colts as they grow up, the way they move. He looks at the head, and then he goes to the hips and looks for a short back, low hocks and good feet. He also assesses their character, immediately weeding out ornery and rowdy colts. His breeding program has no room for stallions that would pass on bad attitudes. Billy likes to go by the disposition when the colts are yearlings and coming 2-year-olds. He gelds any horse that gets stud-like too quickly, unless they are exceptional colts out of one of his best mares. After many years in breeding, Billy knows that if they get stud-like and ornery while they are young, they will be a lot worse later on. As a rule, every stallion the Cogdells use has to have a good disposition.

Change of Heart

Around weaning time, most breeders have a fairly good idea which colts could make stallion prospects. But that doesn't mean they don't change their minds - sometimes days before castration. On a few occasions, even these breeders say they regretted a decision or two. "Several times through the years, I looked back and thought I should have kept one I made a gelding out of and vice versa," Pete admits. "We all learn from our mistakes." Billy says that he, too, had made some mistakes over the years by cutting some he wished he hadn't. But, Billy says that finding a market for a stallion can be difficult. "You have to put a lot of training into them. Sometimes they don't sell well." Even still, there were a few times he believes he cut outstanding colts who would have been worth quite a bit more money as a stallion. Stan agreed that he has gelded some good stallion prospects, but he benefited from having good, usable geldings for ranch work. "I gelded a lot of really good horses," Stan says. "But in most cases, we used them for ranch horses, and they became really good ranch horses. If they were stallions, you couldn't use them in a lot of the same situations." He says he hasn't truly regretted gelding any of them.

Stay Sensible

The three breeders agree on the importance of keeping the stallion pool small and strong.

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"There are a lot of horses being kept stallions that really shouldn't be," Stan says. "Everybody has got their own opinions, but you want to keep improving on the bloodlines. Everybody wants to stand a stallion, but every colt born is not necessarily a stallion. There are so many good horses out there nowadays that you don't need to mess around with the bad ones. People need to look at that a little more." It's important, he says, to eliminate undesirable characteristics from a gene pool, such as irritable attitudes and conformation flaws. Pete says he can't stress enough his belief that horses need to have good minds and dispositions. He simply doesn't have room for anything else. As far as Pete is concerned, horses with good minds and dispositions are more trainable and work better. Plus, Billy points out the potential problem of selling a stallion. In 2002, he said there were so many studs around that "a real good gelding can be worth more money than a stud that's not doing too much." A stallion must prove himself in the winners circle to be a profitable investment. Stan explains that good stallions can bring in more money. However, he says it is harder to sell them because the market is limited. According to Stan, most people prefer to ride a gelding than a stallion, unless it is going into a breeding program.