Horse Breeding

To Cut or Not to Cut

January 30, 2009

Tips for deciding which colts aren’t ideal stallion prospects.

Don’t forget to watch highlights from the 2008 AQHA World Championship Show TODAY at 3 p.m. Eastern/ 12 p.m. Pacific on the Universal Sports Network.

Originally published in the September, 2002 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?

In 2002, breeders Stan Weaver, Pete Becker and Billy Cogdell told The American Quarter Horse Journal how they made their gelding decisions. Here’s what they had to say:

The Chosen Few

With more than 115 combined years of experience in the breeding industry, Stan, Pete and Billy knew exactly what they were looking for in an ideal stud prospect. They also knew how seldom they found one.

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Billy, a 30-year breeder from Tulia, Texas, gelded all his colts each year, except the “real exceptional ones.” He didn’t keep many studs every year because he used a lot of geldings on his ranch. He raised 30 to 40 babies a year, and kept just a few colts each season.

Stan shared similar sentiments. The 20-year breeder from Big Sandy, Montana, said he sold most of his colts in the fall as weanlings. He kept five or six colts every year specifically for ranch geldings. At the most, he kept three stud prospects every fall. Stan kept those prospects until they were yearlings and then sold them in the sale as yearling stud prospects. Most of the horses at Stan’s ranch, though, got gelded.

Just about every year, Pete gelded most, if not all, of his colts. The 2001 AQHA Legacy Award winner said, “They really have to be up to snuff.”

True to his word, in 2002 Pete kept just two of 12 colts as studs. 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 stud prospects. Over the years, Stan, Pete and Billy developed lists of criteria to help them make quick decisions.

The first thing Pete said he looked for in a colt to keep for a stud was a “good mind and disposition.” According to Pete, that’s No. 1.

He also said “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 based his choices heavily on the colts’ bloodlines. “The most important thing about keeping a stallion is the pedigree,” he explained. “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,” said 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 established good bloodline, he looked for character traits and athleticism. If the colt demonstrated great athleticism during ground work, Stan might have considered him as a stallion prospect.

Stan said his program represented the cow horse bloodlines, and that athleticism was about the most important. Like Pete, Stan voiced the importance of a good mind. Stan said he definitely gelded horses without trainable minds. He went so far as to say he probably eliminated that horse’s parents from the breeding stock, too. He did not want to pass the undesirable trait on to future foal crops.

If the horse showed good athletic ability and looked like he could really do something, there was a chance Stan would go on to show him. Pending success in the show ring, the horse might have been reconsidered as a stallion.

Stan said 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 added, they do not guarantee a good stud prospect. Pete said that one mistake people make is assuming that their baby will make a great stud horse prospect simply because his sire had a high service fee.

Pete said, “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 bred his mares to outside stallions as well as his own, considered pedigree to predict strong candidates to carry on his ranch’s performance bloodlines.

He believed there were good horses out there with off bloodlines, but explained, if you’re trying to do particular things with a horse, you have to stay within the bloodline boundaries of your discipline.

Billy told us it was “necessary to stay within a certain bloodline depending on what you’re trying to get done with your breeding program.”

Billy bred for cutting and ranch work, and although he maintained his traditional bloodlines, he occasionally kept good stud prospects from outside stallions when he hunted for new bloodlines for his breeding.

But that stud prospect, of course, had to match Billy’s criteria. He watched the colts as they grew up, the way they moved. He looked at the head, and then he’d go to the hips, look for a short back, low hocks and good feet.

He also assessed their character, immediately weeding out ornery and rowdy colts. His breeding program had no room for stallions that would pass on bad attitudes.

Billy liked to go by the disposition when they were yearlings and coming 2-year-olds. He gelded any horse that got stud-like too quickly, unless they were exceptional colts out of one of his best mares. After many years lessons in breeding, Billy knew that if they got stud-like and ornery while they were young, they would be a lot worse later on. As a rule, every stud they used had to have a good disposition.

Change of Heart

Around weaning time, most breeders have a fairly good idea which colts could make stud prospects. But that doesn’t mean they don’t change their minds – sometimes days before castration. On a few occasions, even these breeders said 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 admitted. “We all learn from our mistakes.”

Billy recalled that he had made some mistakes over the years by cutting some he wished he hadn’t.

But, Billy admitted that finding a market for a stud was difficult.

“You had to put a lot of training into them. Sometimes they didn’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 studs.

Stan agreed that he gelded some good stud prospects, but he benefited from having good, usable geldings for ranch work.

“I gelded a lot of really good horses,” Stan said. “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 said he did not have any that he truly regretted gelding.

Stay Sensible

Although they might have regretted a few castrations, the three breeders agreed 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 said. “Everybody’s 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 reminded, to eliminate undesirable characteristics from a gene pool, such as irritable attitudes and conformation flaws.

Pete said he couldn’t stress enough his belief that horses need to have good minds and dispositions. He simply didn’t have room for anything else. As far as Pete was concerned, horses with good minds and dispositions are more trainable and work better.

Plus, Billy pointed 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 explained that good stallions can bring in more money. However, he said it was harder to sell them because the market is limited. According to Stan, most people preferred to ride a gelding than a stallion, unless it was going into a breeding program.

TODAY!!! Watch 2008 AQHA World Championship Show Action

Friday, January 30th
3 p.m. Eastern / 12 p.m. Pacific
presented by Bank of America, featured on the Universal Sports Network

Watch exciting cow horse action! Highlights from the reining and cutting events will also be shown along with an update about the World Equestrian Games featuring reining, which will be in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2010.