Most breeders get into the business of horse breeding because they have a deep-rooted love of the animals. The desire to understand their chosen breed and work towards constant improvement of the youngstock should be the fundamental motivation behind a good breeding programme. The belief that the commercial side of breeding will allow them the opportunity to be immersed and involved in the improvement of the breed while earning an income, needs to be very carefully thought through as it is a heavily traded market.
The fundamental requirement behind such a project is a good breeding programme that will afford it the chance of being a commercial success within a planned financial projection. A vital aspect of breeding horses, aside from understanding the intended purpose of the breed, is to have a thorough understanding of bloodlines and a good insight into what the market is looking for. There is a responsibility attached to knowing who your intended buyer is, as it helps to ensure that horses end up in homes where they will be valued and properly cared for.
Know your buyer
So what is the buyer looking for? Firstly, he will look at the horse as an overall picture and already ascertain his pros and cons at that point. Then he may examine the horse’s pedigree – interestingly, this may involve just a cursory glance. But his ears will prick up if you tell him that the dam jumped the Mini Derby twice before injury put her out of work. He will certainly note if the horse has been recorded and has papers so that he can verify what you say. After that he will ride the horse and often this is where things ‘click’.
Where things go wrong
If, however, you picked up the dam at a good price from an acquaintance at the track, you may find that buyers will be less impressed with a distant connection to a recognisable sire if she’s never passed an inspection or performed successfully herself. They will be even less impressed if the sire was a stallion who stood on a farm somewhere nobody’s visited and whose only claim to fame was being a great-grandson of a good imported horse in the ‘80s! In this case, you have probably just cut your chances of a sale by more than half. Unless you’re selling at a bargain price. Bargain prices already require you, as the breeder, to be concerned about the long-term outcome for this horse, as there are many potential problems related to the care of the horse.
So does pedigree matter?
If the buyer will only glance at the pedigree, why should the breeder bother too much with it? Well, this is the one area where you can get the advantage on the outcome of what you are possibly going to produce. You may go in with a better chance of improving height with one stallion, improving movement with another, or calming temperament with a third. That is why breeders prefer to use the strenuously tested licensed stallions from studbooks like Holstein, KWPN, Hanover, BWP and SF in Europe. It is also why the SA Warmblood Horse Society is firm in only accepting certain of these studbook stallions’ licensing papers when they are exported here.
What about local?
Are we saying that there are no good local sport horse stallions then? Not at all. South Africa has some super stallions, both bred here and imported. Think of good bloodlines still wanted today in local mares, such as Little Mayfair Wunderbar SAW, because they are so well proven. Optimum van de Wellington BWP, imported by Alzu, is good to see on either side of the pedigree and very sought-after by jumpers. Wendesi, Dolerit, Wachmann III and Larry de la Bryere, sitting further back still in pedigrees, are also to be noted. Canello, who was at Brandenburg Stud, is popular for mares and jumpers; Rex Grannus Z, imported by Davenport Stud, via broodmares, is proving a talented producer. Locally based stallions have to pass strong scrutiny during inspection, during their performance on the circuit, and in the quality of their youngstock in order to pass muster.
Knowing the market
The first step is to determine who your market is. South Africa currently has two major studs in the showjumping arena that access and improve constantly by buying from Europe at levels most South Africans cannot afford. There are also several smaller studs catering for the sport horse market with a good eye on current breeding trends; these breeders have invested small fortunes and much passion in their pursuit of breeding the perfect horse. Can you compete with them? Have you established all the markers to meet in order to produce a horse who can compare with the best being bred in the country right now?
Any sport horse register worth its salt will be fervently in favour of those studs who can get it right. There is definitely a need for South African breeders who can lure buyers away from Europe to purchase their next ‘big-time’ horse. Keeping the money in the local pool can only benefit our equine business in the long-term. In an ideal world, the SA Warmblood would be as good as anything coming from abroad. With jumpers we are closing the gap exponentially; while we are a good way off with dressage, the good breeders are inching their way closer to this ideal.
If the top-end market is not in your sights, perhaps you’ve opted to breed for the hobby rider; those who don’t mind if their horse won’t make Grand Prix or jump 1.6m. If this is the case, it might benefit you to do a little more homework. Think about their price range, think about the choice they have access to, and then decide if it will be profitable for you to breed for this sphere. Bear in mind that a lot of other good breeds are out there that service the hobby rider.
With today’s cost of keep – let’s say conservatively R2,500 per month – it’s likely that simply to feed and stable your broodmare during her gestation period will cost you R27,500. Without the costs of insemination or semen, to break even your foal will have a price tag of just under R30,000 as he hits the ground – a good Thoroughbred can cost significantly less; a nice crossbreed even cheaper. And both will already be under saddle, whereas you’ll be feeding your foal for several more years before he catches up. At your base cost of R2,500 per month for three more years, your youngster will have added an extra R90,000 to the bill. How many hobby riders will spend R120,000 on a recently backed three-year-old?
Text: Frances Cheboub