June 14, 2013
Use these intelligent, integrity-based decisions for breeding hunt seat horses.
Twenty years ago, few breeders focused on the AQHA hunt seat niche. Growth patterns in English events, however, spurred mare owners and stallion promoters into a new specialization. Their goal? An animal with quality disposition, movement, conformation and size to adequately meet demands of flat and over-fences classes.
This breeding slant produced consequences both constructive and destructive. Positive trends resulted in some of today’s distinguished hunt seat and hunter horses – horses that exemplify intelligence, balance, appropriate size and movement. We’ve also witnessed bizarre breeding decisions thanks to our American mentality for extremes. Negative examples include breeding for super-huge horses with poor conformation, disregard for form-to-function and trainability, and breeding without adequate research of the mare’s pedigree and potential as a quality producer.
Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.
- Robert C. Gallagher
Times and expectations change, but we are still called to be responsible stewards of the American Quarter Horse’s future. As a breeder, have you considered the impact your genetic modifications make on America’s Horse?
“Many people seem to think that just because they have a mare, they should breed her,” says Lynn Egan of The Appendix Connection in Omro, Wisconsin. Lynn, along with her late business partner, Sandy Balzer, worked together for 15 years to suit buyers with quality hunt seat Quarter Horses. Today, Lynn runs The Appendix Connection herself, concentrating on quality mares.
“Sandy was one of the most professional individuals you’d ever meet,” Lynn says. “Her big thing was the importance of the dam. Without great mares, she knew we couldn’t make positive changes in the breed.”
Sandy and Lynn’s The Appendix Connection was ahead of the curve. Few specialized hunt seat stallions were promoted as such until the 1990s, so breeders often signed contracts with little-known Thoroughbred stallions. Or they bred Thoroughbred mares to proven Quarter Horse stallions that excelled in the (usually western-type) Quarter Horse arena.
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Breeding can be expensive, time-consuming, dangerous and depressing. But for many mare owners, nothing is more rewarding than being involved in the life of a new colt or filly.
“I love the springtime,” says Ann Myers, owner and breeder of record-breaking, world champion western pleasure stallion Zips Chocolate Chip, as well as top performers Chips Hot Chocolate and Rich N Chocolatey. “I set up the camera in the stalls so I can watch the mare from the house, and there’s just nothing like it.”
Ann of Ashland, Ohio, sees the hunt seat market as a great opportunity.
“It’s a brand-new horizon,” she says. “There are new places to go and new chances for stallions to make their mark. Other disciplines have gotten very saturated, but the English classes are a new horizon. I think the breeding for specific hunt seat horses has only been focused on, widespread, for 10 years or less.”
Myers remembers a time when most hunt seat show horses were “reruns” from the Quarter Horse racetracks.
“Today, we have new stallions and upcoming opportunities for the industry,” she says. “We’re breeding for a specific animal, and they’re getting better and better.”
The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.
- Charles Kettering
Ann has a checklist of questions when a mare owner calls her to chat about breeding.
“I ask the mare owner, ‘Do you love your mare?’ and if they say, ‘Yes,’ then I say, ‘good.’ I tell them to hope for a baby that is just like their mare,” she says. “And the icing on the cake would be for the stud to enhance their foal to make it even better.”
The difficulty, of course, is the owner who brings in a subpar mare and expects the stallion to “fix” all her flaws.
“I will never tell someone they cannot breed to one of my stallions,” Ann says. “But I don’t want people to think that they should breed a horse that has a lot of problems. They might get a foal that is exactly like their mare – and then they’ll dislike the baby, too!”
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Ann acknowledges that some conformation faults can be improved upon by breeding decisions. But she wishes for mare owners to not depend upon that.
“The deal is, they need to be happy with their mare in the first place and not expect that stallion to do all the work,” she says. “Many people feel that mares throw 70 percent of themselves into the equation.”
All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.
- Ellen Glasgow
American ideals about having the most, the best and the biggest historically give us competitive advantage. They can also leave us a bit off-center.
“It’s sad that we don’t see one Quarter Horse competing in every event anymore,” Ann says. “It’s a different world than 20 years ago. But that’s the way competition works. We see the same thing with Olympic gymnastics or ice skating. We all work to perfect our skills more and more. The level of competition improves every year, and everyone is trying to get that extra edge.”
The most obvious updates in hunter under saddle horses today vs. 15 years ago? Hunt seat horses are taller. And more “typey.” Seldom will a short, stout, champion rope horse successfully cross over into the hunter ring.
Turns out, breeding decisions are a mix of science, instinct and plain ol’ luck. For every hard and fast rule, there’s a huge exception.
“As much as I plan and research and make educated choices on my mares, there’s sometimes a surprise when the foal is born,” Ann says. “It’s breeding bingo! You make your best guess, but you might get a surprise package.
Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change.
To be responsible stewards of our American Quarter Horses, we must make far-sighted decisions about their welfare and their future genetic makeup. As an organized breed, AQHA’s history has seen its horse tweaked in positive and negative ways.
Change is inevitable. As breeders, our job is to adapt when the change is positive. And do so with grace and responsibility.
Before you breed, consider:
- Why are you breeding this mare? (To get a foal just like your mare? To get a marketable foal to sell for potential profit? To get a world champion?)
- What will be the purpose for the foal? What are your expectations for the foal?
- Give your mare a good, hard look. Assess her conformation, movement, disposition and pedigree.
- Consider your stallion choices. Which stallion will help you meet the goal outlined above?
- Choose a few stallions and ask each stallion owner/manager how the stallion typically crosses with a mare such as yours.
Hunt Seat Changes
Pros: Larger, scopier horses can often move with more elongated, sweepy steps. Pretty horses are often attention-getters.
Cons: Bigger doesn’t always mean better.
Misconceptions: Joe Q. Public notices that bigger horses are winning – without realizing that the bigger, winning horse is also the best-moving horse in the ring. Joe Q. Public believes that if big is good, then bigger is better, and biggest must be best.
Problem: Joe Q. Public breeds a giant horse, sacrificing conformation, disposition and movement.
With bigger horses come bigger potential problems. Big horses need time to grow more slowly. They look like adolescent teenagers for longer. And because of their slow maturity rate, they often cannot be trained as quickly as their smaller counterparts.
A true professional trainer, judge or clinician will never discriminate against a smaller horse. He or she will, however, evaluate the smaller horse’s ability to perform its job with style and efficiency.
“Probably more important than height alone, we should be focusing on balance and good bone,” Lynn says. “Our industry should consider the longevity of the horse – especially with the growth of Select classes. In the long-term, I think our Select amateurs are going to be a lot more interested in having a nice, mature, sound horse to ride instead of a leggy futurity horse.”
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