Match Making

Choose the right stallion for your mare.

Choose the right stallion for your mare.

Take luck out of the breeding equation by finding the right stallion for your mare. Journal illustration.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

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.

4 thoughts on “Match Making”

  1. Your last paragraph about embryo transfers is irresponsible! This may not seem to be indiscriminate breeding but it is. What will you do with the foals that do not meet your criteria? Send them on to a market which is flooded with horses and no buyers? Responsiblility? Breed with conscience to improve the breed? Too many times the breeding is for the income–not the outcome. I own two registered quarter horse mares with excellent breeding (Doc Bar and Smart Chic Olena, Jackie Bee, and Go Man Go). These mares could produce beautiful, quality babies but where is the market for them to end up in a secure environment where they would be appreciated and used for a purpose besides just producing more unwanted foals? I don’t see humane societies with stables attached. I see our beloved horses becoming like the puppies and kittens–no home, no life, an appointment with the killers. Yes, we have a responsibility to be responsible.

  2. I agree with Bonnie….now more then ever…we need to breed only what you want the market can hold…right now…well…here in TX…I have seen them put out to the side of the road… Please do not breed too many…be responsible for the ones you do.
    Thank You,

  3. Carol: “We have a responsibility to not bring defective horses into this world,” I find this an interesting comment, as AQHA is failing to restrict the breeding of horses who are carriers of the genetic defects of GBED and HERPA, or even do anything to encourage the identification of these horses so that breeders can make educated breeding decisions. The statistics on the number of horses that are estimated to be carriers if these genetic defects are staggering. Education on these conditions is poor, despite the very generous “pat-on-the-back” to the contrary that AQHA gave themselves in the June article.

    To continue to mate these animals is a diservice to the breed, as those that mate and the GBED and HERDA tainted foals that do survive will continue to pollute the gene pool.

    Yes, I understand the financial impact that identifying stallions that are carriers of these conditions would have on their owners – I feel for these breeders, especially considering the current deflated state of the horse industry. Yet, we cannot permit our breed to self-destruct and do nothing to control its demise.

    I also feel for the breeders ignorant of these conditions – until I learned the hard way this year, I was one of them – thousands of dollars lost on vet bills, mare care and breeding costs and fees – on foals that were doomed from conception.

    It took, what, 20 years before anything was finally done to rein-in the HYPP problem – if we wait that long with this issue it will be too late. When you look at the eventual odds of producing a live foal, or in the case of HERDA, one that will live or at least be able to be ridden in adult-hood, perhaps the unwanted horse issue will no longer be an issue when it comes to our beloved Quarter Horses. Is this how we want to “thin the herd”?

  4. I have to agree with Kim – and take it a little farther. Before the HERDA test was available, I went to great lenghts to find a stallion that couldn’t be a carrier because there was a possibility my mare was – I also searched the stallion records of top candidates for abnormally high numbers of deceased offspring. I tested for GBED – but none of the stallion owners advertise for it.

    When the HERDA test came out, I tested my mare – positive, but her filly was negative. So any future breeding will come out of the filly though she’s not nearly the horse her dam is. The dam is a great riding horse with a good show record but no more babies for her even though they would never exhibit the debilitating HERDA skin problems with good stallion choices. There are too many choices and possiblities down the road to contribute to the carrier population. and, many of the good characteristics of the popular HERDA carrier stallions are now out in the gene pool through offspring that are negative for it. My advice is test your mares for both – the test costs are nothing compared to the expense of a dead foal or live, suffering young horse. And don’t breed to any Stallion that doesn’t advertise N/N HERDA. If you find a stallion you like – ask the owner if they have been tested for GBED. In this market, they will start to get the idea if you turn away without the test result.

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