I’m a breeder… which, I guess, makes me one of the many and varied quirks of the world of horses, for – I can assure you – it takes a special brand of madness to be a breeder.
Which in turn makes it difficult for people to understand what we do and why we do what we do. I get that. So here is my attempt at a few explanations about things we do hear from time to time:
Foals are expensive, because they are very expensive to make. In fact, so expensive that I do not know a single breeder who is truly honest with themselves about how much it really costs. I have a ‘scary spreadsheet’ where I note what I spend on feed and stud livery bills. It’s my attempt at being a grownup and sensible person. Yet even that spreadsheet is subject to some rather creative accounting and selective listing of items. For example, it may slip my mind to list the odd vet bill, which can be rather eye-watering, particularly when you have a mare who despite the most fastidious management stubbornly refuses to ‘take’ and needs all manner of scans and state-of-the-art drugs to get pregnant. Other items systematically omitted from my spreadsheet include: my facilities at home, including fields, winter turnout areas, barns, water, electricity, fencing (oh, yes, fencing…), the cost of my mares, and, above all, the cost of my time. Time not only spent mucking out, handling, grooming, feeding, buying and transporting more feed, holding the mares for the vet, transporting mares and foals, and doing whatever else is required to keep everyone alive and happy… but also time spent worrying, researching, learning, and simply staring at them to try and determine whether all is well…
So, no, my foals are not expensive. They represent great value, for much care and love, and only the best of everything has gone into making them. Breeders are the most generous people I know, for they willingly give all their time and love for free and are happy to receive just enough to pay the next year’s worth of feed (and, if we are really fortunate, vet) bills.
I admit it, I can bore for England when it comes to explaining the bloodlines of my mares and foals. And yes, I admit, I am very proud of them. Do I think that this makes my mares better than other horses? It is more complex than that.
Firstly, there are as many different breeding philosophies as there are breeders, and I am more than happy to admit that many roads lead to Rome, and that other breeders, with approaches completely different to mine, are achieving wonderful results. And that’s great. Wouldn’t it be terribly boring if we all bred the same.
Secondly, it depends on ‘better for what purpose’. Until the invention of a reliable crystal ball, studying a mare’s bloodlines still provides one of the most reliable indicators of what that mare is likely to pass on to her offspring. And my mares have been carefully chosen with that in mind.
It does not take tons of money and a privileged background to get a good mare from which to breed. It takes time and research. I am proud of my mares not in the manner others might be proud of an expensive watch, or car, or a big house. I am proud of them because they represent a long journey, hard work, and careful thought. They represent choices I made, like an artist would choose a colour palette and canvas.
A very good question. If I think about it, there are a myriad of things I could do (and would, in fact, love to do) if I didn’t breed horses. Going on holidays, sleeping, and actually riding are just a few of them. Breeding is socially disastrous, it puts a strain on your family life, as the nature of breeding is that you often have to drop everything and everyone to deal with whatever requires your immediate attention. It bankrupts you (see above). It can be heartbreaking, because horses are fiendishly bad at reproducing, and even once they have achieved that, there are all manner of things that can go wrong, as foals and youngsters are incredibly good at self-harming… There simply is no reason why anyone in full possession of their rational capabilities would want to breed horses. Yet we do. Because despite everything, there is simply nothing like the excitement of a new foal, the joy of choosing a stallion, the wonderful relationship and partnerships we develop with our mares, the first gentle touch of a soft foal nose exploring his or her world…. and because we are breeders, that is what we do. Like artists who paint or sculpt, like composers who write music, breeding is our raison d’etre, it is who we are. I don’t think we have any choice in the matter…
Yet, without that curious bunch of enthusiasts with masochistic tendencies that call themselves breeders, there would be no equestrianism. No competitions or happy hacking. No pony club, no ‘natural horsemanship’, no show jumping, dressage or eventing, no Carl, Nick or Charlotte (well, yes, there would be, but they would have to take up something else, like skiing or knitting…) – and that does make me a little bit proud…