Breeding Event Horses: Future Generations and a Twenty Year Plan

You mean I shouldn't stand on mom? Photo Anneke Davidson. You mean I shouldn't stand on mom? Photo Anneke Davidson.

Most breeders of horses don’t breed for the event market, as OTTBs are often the mounts of choice for  eventers. However, lately more purpose-bred event horses are offered for sale in the U.S. Gone are the days when just about any athletic Thoroughbred from off the track can be made up into a competitive three or four-star horse.

Can they still be found, those diamonds in the rough, who will still stack up to the best in eventing?  Of course, but with the added emphasis of dressage in this sport, that OTTB had better be a super moving horse in addition to possessing a great gallop with a good jump.  The recent WEG results still indicate that a lot of Thoroughbred blood is desired (needed?) for a true four-star track, even though some breeders have gotten away from so much blood in their lines over the past ten years.

Not everyone breeding horses for eventing is breeding for an Olympic or WEG caliber horse.  And when you are breeding for that top tier horse, many won’t make it to the upper levels for a variety of reasons.  If that young horse has a four-star personality, selling it might be a lot more difficult if the whole package isn’t there.  I’m talking the quirky, sensitive type of horse that often excels at the top level of our sport.

Try selling one of these quirky prospects that lacks a bit of scope and you find yourself with a not very marketable commodity! One that you may very well have to sell at OTTB prices and definitely at a loss. That is not very economical and certainly not a good business plan. What’s a breeder to do?

In developing a 20 year plan for breeding with eventing in mind, I decided my breeding goals would be for athletic and talented but amateur friendly horses (at least their breeding indicates ammie friendly).  Not as much blood as you might want in a four-star horse, initially, to see what this first and second generation actually go and do.

Then, the plan is to hold back a mare or two if the line seems to be a good mix of athletic and smart with the “hunting the next fence” attitude (and hopefully some spectacular dressage movement) and breed that progeny back to a proven eventing Thoroughbred. I’m ten years in, but I thought it might be a good time to look at the eventing progeny produced so far. Sharing this information with eventers and event horse breeders will hopefully also get them to weigh in on what they think of this plan and share what their plans and goals are.

I started with a Thoroughbred mare with Turn-To bloodlines (grandsire) who also had the conformation I desired and personality I adored (Turn-To appears in the blood lines of a number of excellent event horses.). I had known this mare from when she was nine, and at 16, I convinced her owner to part with her so I could try breeding her to a Connemara stallion.

The first stallion I used was *Gunsmoke, who at the time had performed to the Preliminary level in eventing and also performed very well at the Connemara Show at Clifden in Ireland.  Unfortunately for me, *Gunsmoke was exported back to Ireland shortly after I used him.  There is frozen semen available, but with an older mare who had trouble catching with fresh cooled, I only got one filly, who was foaled in 2004.

The resulting mare is currently in Texas and has been successful in eventing (her registered name hasn’t been used, unfortunately), but she shows as Fiona.  I should have kept her for the breeding program, but at the time I needed the funds, so off she went!  Fiona matured to 15.1, with fantastic jumping form and breath-taking dressage.  She won her YEH 4-year-old test in Texas with very high marks and comments from the judges that she should be successful nationally in eventing.  It seemed like the breeding program might be off to a good start.

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Pictured above and below, Black Dog’s Smokin’ Kate (now Fiona) with Carol Green (Jim Stoner Photo, below).

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At this point in breeding, I decided to try to improve on the Thoroughbred mare I had (as far as her movement for dressage) and I bred her twice to a Trakehner stallion who stood in California for a few years.  Never licensed by the ATA due to an injury, he nevertheless had three very good gaits and incredible rideability.

I used Feuertanzer twice on my getting up there in age Thoroughbred mare and scored fillies for both 2005 and 2006.  By now I was feeling pretty lucky that I kept getting fillies as well!  The 2005 filly managed to injure herself as a two year old, resulting in my opting to retain her for future breeding.  The 2006 model was sold to a Pennsylvania pony clubber who qualified her for Pony Club nationals, in less than six weeks of ownership, when the mare was only 5!

I did manage to show the 2005 filly in hand prior to injury at both USDF Dressage Sport Horse Breeding and USEF Hunter Breeding shows (no USEA YEH in Florida yet!) and Black Dog’s Fiorella scored in the mid to high 70’s in dressage and finished Zone 4 as the 5th placed HB Yearling.  With a wonderful personality and movement that is excellent, her one conformation flaw to me is that her neck is a bit short; I decided I could live with that.

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Black Dog’s Fiorella, age 6, pictures by Omar G Photography.

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I thought my TB mare (Pestycide for those interested in her Jockey Club name) had produced some lovely foals and it was time to go to the next generation (and she was 21, she died this past spring at 28).  In 2009, I bred her daughter “Ella” back to a Connemara stallion, this one a stallion son of the first stallion (*Gunsmoke).  My hope was to keep quality of gaits, while reducing size and ensuring an “ammie” friendly nature.  While Ella is the sweetest and most personable Anglo Trakehner I have ever met, Ella matured to 17 hands and for eventing, I prefer 16 hands for eventing and ammie owners.

This sire, WH Topgun, was not currently competing much when I first used him, but I so liked the ‘nick’ with the TB mare and *Gunsmoke that I went for using the daughter of the TB and the son of the Connemara. Topgun now has a competitive career in eventing, winning often at training level on scores of 25 and he will be competing at Preliminary in fall 2014.

Three offspring have been produced with this cross, with one competing in eventing, one aimed at an upper level dressage career (Canada) and the 2014 colt I anticipate selling to an event home.  I sold the first foal, a filly, this spring as a 5 year old, after deciding I just shouldn’t keep her since I personally don’t want to even past training level.

If I want to get people excited about eventing quality horses that are so ammie friendly a child can ride them, I needed to sell them to those homes. Black Dog’s Top of the Morning went to Woodside, Ca where she is just starting to compete with her 12 year old rider.  Her trainer anticipates “Mia” and her new owner will compete in Young Riders in a few years (I sure hope he is correct).

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Black Dog’s Top of the Morning photo courtesy of Palmer Photos.

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Photo courtesy of Adriana Dail.

The next offspring was not as “bold”, but a great moving guy who was very steady in his personality.  I apologize for not having a great moving picture of him, but he was sold to an upper level amateur dressage rider in Canada.  I have no doubt he could event, but personality wise, he may not have been as suited.

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Black Dog’s Gold Luck, photo credit Jody Harwood.

This year’s colt is three months old now and I think he will be an excellent event horse.  Amicable with great movement and conformation, I think he will mature to be quite competitive.  Personality wise, he reminds me of Mia in his boldness and presence, while maintaining a friendly disposition.

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Black Dog’s Top Dun, photo courtesy Anneke Davidson.

I’d like to think the ten year plan is working, at least in providing good moving, sound, conformationally correct horses who are forward and light but not ridiculously sensitive for most amateur riders.  So far, they appear to jump in good form, have a good gallop and movement necessary to be competitive on the flat.

The second ten years, the plan is to retain a filly from this crossing.  By blood, that filly would be half-Connemara, ¼ Thoroughbred and ¼ Trakehner.  I would then breed that filly to a proven Thoroughbred or high percentage Thoroughbred sire so that the resulting foal is at least 65% Thoroughbred by blood.

As long as that sire is a good “nick” with my mare and a rideable type stallion, then the resulting foals should appeal to the amateurs who purchase most of our stock, while still having the potential to be successful at the upper levels.  That isn’t to say that the progeny bred so far couldn’t be competitive at the upper levels, but at the three and four-star level, they may not have enough blood to be competitive.

I would love to hear from other breeders who are breeding for the largest market out there (amateurs) with the hope that maybe an offspring at some point ends up with a professional who takes them to their full potential.  And if not, boy those ammies will have some fun, myself included.

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