With that said, most of us know that there is an overpopulation problem in horses. Does that mean I should stop breeding all together?
Some would say "Yes".
Instead, I feel that it's my job to do 2 things: Breed the best and most desirable horses I can, and be responsible enough to care for that horse until it's last day if I need to.
Now, because I'm involved in the Sugarbush Draft Horse, a rare breed of horse with only 12 (almost 13... due in June) remaining horses, my breeding options are kinda limited. We have ONE stallion in the breed, that's it. Most of the horses are related to him in some form (siblings, offspring, etc). We cross to draft horses with the ideal conformation, and I aim for the whole package - conformation, personality, athleticism, and color.
Of course, because we're not on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy List, we can't be a "real" breed, but how many people actually look at what it takes to be ON that list? A minimum of available bloodlines. One of the criteria is 20 unrelated female lines. Uh, yeah, we don't have that since we only have TWELVE horses total. Also, after speaking with them, there is some concern that our records are a bit TOO good. Because this breed was intentionally developed, it won't qualify for many many years. Now, if we had found O in a pasture some where, with no known ancestry, we would have a few other options. That makes no sense to me. I mean, back yard breeding with no record keeping gets precedence over intentional phenotypical selection? Their theory is that if you know what you did, you can do it again, but sheesh.... that's a whole lifetime at LEAST to get back to where we are! Who wants to spend 50+ years just to get something that "once was"? But hey, who am I? Ok... I'm only a bit biased.
Well, I think I've addressed the first point. The second is nothing more then opinion. I mean, my horses are kinda in my back yard, since I live on the property... but 32 acres is a bit large to be a back yard. Seriously though, I do my research, have a life long commitment to the horses, and they are kept in good health. Am I perfect? No, but I'm working hard to get closer every day.
And as for the last point, well, that's kinda what gets me! Every year masses of people pump money into one of the biggest over breeding industries there is for horses - Thoroughbred race horses. The Kentucky Derby was last weekend, and the press was all over it, but I never once heard any complaints about the mass breeding used to get the handful of champions on race day. Nor did I hear any one talk about those horses who did not make the cut, and how to care or help them. I didn't see my Facebook pages lit up with rescues using the day as a way to get donations (which would have been smart in my opinion) nor ads for OTTBs ready for a new home. Why not?
Even with only a handful of horses left, we do not do that. We have an amazing mare that is just lovely in all ways. She does not have the LP color that the breed is known for, and is a full sister to O, so this limits her breeding options if her owner wants a colored foal from her. She can only produce a part bred (Stonewall Sport Horse) or cross to a Stonewall Sport Horse - and there's not many breeding stallions in that registry that I know of. Should the mare be pulled from breeding? Nope! Her owner decided to cross her down a generation, to get the color and shoulder back in, and then cross that foal (if breeding quality) back up into the SDHR, as per the rules. Yeah, it takes longer, and is much more of a commitment in both effort and money, but it's the right way to do it. She could cross her to something big black and hairy, and just sell the babies on as some one else's problem, but instead she's trying to get the total package. And that is what a good breeder does. They don't take the short cuts, they do things that will ultimately be the best for the breed.
So what I keep trying to wrap my mind around, is why ANY breeding is looked down upon. If we don't present ourselves to be the wealthiest, snobbiest, "better then thou" type of person, then all too often society assumes that we're just morons pumping out horses of poor quality. And yet we hate the people who act like those snobs that are "better" then us (in their own minds). Too often, we as horse buyers dump money in to "save" a horse that is in a bad situation, unknowingly reaffirming to the breeder that they should breed more because they are now "making money". It's OUR actions, the horse community, that makes this such a fuzzy picture and so hard to define.
I think it's a pretty easy thing though. I have a few rules that I use to decide if I'm breeding this year:
- Do I have the money, and am I prepared to spend it. Because not every breeding is easy, and a good stallion is rarely free. I own my own, and still use outside stallions when I feel it's the best option, and let me tell you, neither is cheap!
- Am I financially able to handle that I might lose money? I might, I might not, but there's no way of knowing. Even the best quality foal could cost more in medical bills then it would ever make back, and things happen in utero that no geneticist could ever prepare for... wry nose anyone?
- Have I done my research? Yeah, when crossing my own mares to my own stallions I only have to do this once, because the research will be the same, or nearly so, everytime (some crosses might look good on paper, but not be something I'll repeat). If I'm not willing to put 6 - 8 hours into researching the breeding what makes me think I'll have time to handle the foaling, or the foal?
- Am I knowledgeable enough to foal out the mare? What if NI is a problem? What if the foal ultra-sounded as being in a poor position? Am I up to date on all the medical knowledge I need to handle a distocia? I am, and in those rare cases I'm not (I'm not up to day on NI) then I know who to pay to handle it for me, or I plan far enough in advance to get trained up. You know, like a year before the mare is even exposed to the stallion!
- Can I handle the heart break? There's always something that goes wrong. I have been present or "nearly" present (went to the bathroom, got a coffee, etc) at every foaling I've had. I've missed a few, but it was always so close that if there had been a problem, I would have had more then enough time to correct it. I've handled redbag births, shoulder locks, and twisted foals, all with no loss of foal. Does that mean I'm some kind of amazing person? No, it means the chances that my next baby could be lost is that much higher. I'm prepared for it, and I do everything I can to minimize it, but I'm also able to accept the potential loss. If I ever have to choose, I know that I would save the mare over the foal, even if her days of breeding are over.I LOVE my horses, each and every one, but I also love my breed and don't want to see it die out.