Peregrine Farm: Breeding by the Book

Matt Boyd, Ashley Giles with PF St. Elizabeth Rose (Grafenstolz x Speedy Dee) as a weanling. Photo by Erin Michelle Wheeler Matt Boyd, Ashley Giles with PF St. Elizabeth Rose (Grafenstolz x Speedy Dee) as a weanling. Photo by Erin Michelle Wheeler

Fifteen years from now Matt Boyd and Ashley Giles want to own the best broodmares in the country that are producing top four-star horses. Together, they are taking slow, calculated steps to reach that goal.

“The two of us strike a good balance because Ashley’s got far more experience riding than I do,” Matt said. “I’m interested in and willing to put work into understanding what is happening just from a straight data perspective.”

Matt began riding horses in his late 20s, is an experienced foxhunter and events at the lower levels. His introduction into the world of breeding was at Arabian, and later, warmblood, breeding farms. He handled the young horses on the ground but was not involved in producing them as riding horses.

Ashley, on the other hand, grew up riding at a lesson and boarding facility that purpose-bred Thoroughbreds for eventing. She was involved in the foaling process and helped start the young horses there.

Now at Peregrine Farm, a 16-acre property they share in Newnan, Georgia, Ashley and Matt have combined their knowledge and skill sets, setting in motion a plan to produce event horses for the top levels of modern eventing.

Matt’s Book

Many evenings Ashley will come in late from the barn to find Matt typing away on the computer, working on what he calls his “book.”

Matt has put hundreds of hours into cataloging and documenting stallions that are proven or have the potential to sire upper-level eventers. The majority of the stallions that are included in this book meet five criteria:

  1. are historic producers
  2. have a pedigree that suggests suitability for eventing
  3. have shown an aptitude for eventing themselves
  4. are being used by established breeders or top riders in their programs
  5. are being touted by thoughtful breeders or upper-level riders as showing the potential to be impact eventing sires

The most recent revision of the book is 118 pages long, though it is updated regularly. Data provided for each stallion includes height, age, performance record, offspring’s performance records, blood percentage, notable names in their pedigree, a photo, video links, article links and more. They are grouped by type and in alphabetical order.

Best of all, Matt is happy and willing to share his book with anyone who wants it. (Updated Eventing Stallion List by Matthew Boyd)

Part of Matt’s process for choosing stallions to include in his book is to separate fact from opinion. “There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence out there… Everybody likes to champion the horse that they like. It leads to a lot of misinformation, a lot of commentary that is not based upon anything,” he said.

Matt and Ashley's 2014 foal, Chloe Halimeda (Halimey Go x Catch the Bouquet xx)

Matt and Ashley’s 2014 foal, Chloe Halimeda (Halimey Go x Catch the Bouquet xx)

“The first thing I did was to look at about eight years worth of data on top placing of event horses at four-star events, the Olympics or World Games and started looking to see if I could see any patterns or trends.”

What he found was that even now, a decade since the short-format became permanent, a high percentage of blood is still apparent, with between 70 and 75% Thoroughbred or anglo-Arabian blood being the common denominator amongst top horses.

“I try to be very systematic about it and look and study pedigrees,” Matt said. “The most recent study I had done was looking at the 2010 7-year-old European championship at Le Lion. In that group, about half of them or more got to the four-star level, which was surprising.”

The 2010 Le Lion class includes Quimbo (Rolex winner), Bay My Hero (Rolex winner), Paulank Brockagh (Badminton winner) and several other notable names. It’s a group of horses that would have been bred with the knowledge that the short format had become essentially permanent, and the successful ones still have a high percentage of Thoroughbred or Arab blood. (click here for a link to Matt’s analysis of the 2010 class)

A Horse You’d Like to Ride

So with all the data Matt has gathered for his book, how do he and Ashley choose the stallions that they’d like to breed their mares to?

“We don’t pick them based on breed at all,” Ashley said. “We narrow the pool based on percentage of blood and then we further narrow them down based on their performance, if they’ve got young stock on the ground, whether we like the young stock.”

Matt will often pick out a group of stallions from his book that he believes will be a suitable match for a mare based on data and present them to Ashley, who analyzes them from rider’s perspective.

“A big criteria to me is whether or not I would want to ride that horse. There are some phenomenal stallions on paper out there that you watch go and it’s not necessarily something that you would want to ride.”

For Matt, he considers what he has learned in the hunt field and how that translates to eventing. One factor is the ability to be alert yet sensible and have independent balance over terrain while listening to the rider’s aids. However, the most important trait is the gallop.

“The gallop is a gait I think is severely neglected by a lot of people who are evaluating horses… that’s why I like the fact that the Young Event Horse series is evaluating the gallop, which is essential.”

The gallop Matt looks for is one that is easy to ride, ground covering, and efficient without expending too much energy.

“I’ve hunted a lot of horses, especially before I became a staff member (with the Bear Creek Hounds in Moreland, Georgia), people were asking me to hunt their horses for them. So I ride everything from crosses to off-the-track Thoroughbreds and everything in between.

“The difference in gallop between different types of horses was tremendous. You can’t compare a good galloping Thoroughbred to something that is heavier in some way.

“When it’s easy to see that eye-popping trot, people tend to forget this is a cross-country sport.”

For Ashley, size is a factor in whether or not she wants to ride a horse, both in terms of how well a rider fits the horse and how well the horse can manage today’s courses.

“My ideal height range is anywhere from 16-16.2 hands. They need to be compact, not long, so that they are maneuverable and able to do the modern courses,” Ashley said.

“I think the larger horses were probably able to get away at the four-star level a little easier in the past. Now, they’ve really got to be tidy and able to adjust.”

The first generation of Ashley and Matt’s homebreds using this process are on the ground. Rose and Chloe are both fillies sired by Grafenstolz and Halimey, respectively.

“Both Grafenstolz and Halimey are right in that 16.2-hand range, very uphill movers, excellent canters and gallops – because that’s the number one priority – and then their trots aren’t shabby either. They just look like rideable, adjustable horses,” Ashley said.

Of course the sire is only one part of the equation. Matt believes the dam is arguably more important than the sire, and that’s the aspect we’ll consider in part 2, so stay tuned!