Monday, June 30, 2008

Breeding Dilemmas


Okay, so I've been giving a lot of thought to this lately. My mom and I have been considering breeding McKinna for quite awhile now, and we're thinking of breeding her sometime in the next three years. Yes, she's a QH/Arab and therefore grade, and my inner Fugly reader is kicking and screaming. But she's also very well put together, has an awesome temperament, and so far everything we've jumped (up to about 3'3") has felt smooth and easy. She also has a lot of sentimental value to us. She is truly a forever, family horse, and I know we'll keep her till she goes.

The reason I think Fugly (probably) wouldn't kill me for this is mainly: she's proven that she's got value. If we ever sold her, she would be an easy sell as an amateur packer due to her sweet, willing attitude and her all-around ability. We are looking for a nice stallion to breed her to, which I'll talk about shortly. Therefore, we can assume that the offspring, while hopefully being exceptional in conformation, would at least not be fugly. Finally, said offspring being a homebred and theoretically my future eventing project, it would receive plenty of training and in the event it was ever sold, would likely go to a happy ending.

I'm just having difficulty with both the stallion part and the eventing prospect part. First, I don't know what kind of stallion to breed her to. I'm wavering between Irish Sporthorse or full-blooded TB. Irish Sporthorses are known for being awesome eventers, but they're half TB, and the 3/4 TB 1/4 ISH is also known to be a very good cross. Since an ISH crossed with McKinna would be 1/4 each of Arab, QH, TB, and ISH, I don't know if that's enough TB blood to truly make it up the levels. A full TB would make it half, which means a hotter horse to deal with and train but also more likelihood of making it to higher levels easily. Of course then the question becomes whether I *want* to do the higher levels. I mean, I do. But is it going to be possible on my budget? I don't know yet. I also don't know what my budget will be like in six or seven years.

On the other hand, there are loads of really, REALLY nice eventing prospects out there. Already old enough to ride and greenbroke or further. Already a guaranteed horse with nice conformation and a known temperament. Expensive? Yes. But compared to the cost of breeding and foaling the mare and raising the foal, not so much.

But then I weigh that against the value of having a foal out of McKinna . . .

But then I consider that any horse I buy is going to be very special to me, and if I bought a mare for an eventing prospect, I could always breed her after she retired and theoretically proved to be a very solid competitor. But then I wonder if the prospect I would buy would be a mare at all, because what if it was a gelding?

Then there's also the issue of when to breed her if we do. Do we do it next year, so that by the time I graduate from college it'll be ready to start some long reining and the very tiny beginnings of backing? Do we wait until we have our own place so we can raise the foal at home, or do we do it at the barn we're boarding at so the foal can grow up around other horses? Do I want to put McKinna's at the moment very promising eventing career on hold to breed her? Will I bring her back to eventing after I breed her, or will she just be kind of a pasture pony after that? I'd like to think I'd be able to get her back in shape for eventing, it's not like it's never been done before.

Obviously this matter needs a lot more thought, which is probably a good sign. At least we're not diving into it headlong without considering the options.

....There are worse problems to have, at least. But this one's frustrating me.


mugwump said...

My biggest thought on breeding is, what happens if the baby doesn't come up to snuff?
Can I afford to keep and love it, plus my mare, plus go on to buy my dream horse?
Having a foal is expensive and time consuming.
I can buy my next prospect and gaurantee I'm getting what I'm looking for.
Just a thought.

manymisadventures said...

I know, and that's one of the problems I'm really wrestling with. You're still gambling on getting a nice horse out of the cross.
I know that we can afford to keep and love both mare and foal. That plus a dream horse? No way. Therefore I'd have to settle with the foal doing what it was born to do until McKinna dies (quite a long time as she has been 100% healthy since the day we brought her home), or sell the foal. Neither of which are fun options, since selling the foal kind of defeats the purpose.

It's definitely something I will have to talk to my mom about. If I take a cold hard look at the situation, I think it's mostly that I want to have a piece of McKinna to carry on. Not the best reason to breed, unfortunately.

SquirrelGurl said...

Other thoughts to consider- you are entering college, are you going to have enough time to balance your studies, riding and caring for a pregnant mare and the resulting foal?

The foal should have a least basic training as a foal i.e. being taught to lead, pick up feet, etc. Is your Mom willing to take this on alone if you are unavailable due to school?

I started college in 2000, swore I wouldn't let it get in the way of my riding. Guess what- it did. And I ended up free leasing my mare to some girls just so she would get some ride time.

When we purchased Buttercup we were unaware that she was pregnant. Imagine that surprise when the vet mentioned to us 1st time horse owners that she was. Was it neat to have a foal out of my mare? Yes. Was it cute? Definitely Yes. Was it a royal pain in the @$$? DEFINITELY YES!

Also, give thought to what will happen when it is time to wean. You have to separate them and the little one will need a patient companion to teach them how to live life without their Mommy.

Through pure dumb luck we had all of these things. Would I do it again? NO. Too much stress and time involved for an unknown. We ended up selling the foal since we had absolutely no clue how to start a horse and I was only 3 years from entering college. She now lives as a pasture pet for a couple north of us who keeps us updated on how she is.

I say buy instead of breed

manymisadventures said...

All throughout school, even in the craziest busy times of my senior year (which were really, really crazy) I made it out to the barn about three times a week, with my mother covering the other days. And I know she would be perfectly fine handling and working with the foal when I'm not around.

On the other hand, you're right about the time commitment.

It will take some more thought of course, but I suppose now I am leaning towards not breeding her. When you lay all the facts out, it's much more feasible not to.

Thanks for the thoughts and advice, guys. I will share all this with my mother and we'll take a long hard look at things.

Denise- LessIsMore17 said...

Oh I hope you do reconsider:-/ there are so many foals already out there... I had a mare and course "dreamed" of breeding her too, but I realized "that" foal would take up the spot for a horse or foal that really needed it...

other people are never going to stop breeding...

verylargecolt said...

I don't have a problem with a mare who jumps around at 3 feet and does various things and has proven her usefulness being bred.

But others make good points about the timing in your life. Your mare isn't that don't have to do it this year or next. Wait and see where life takes you. I did a 180 from where I thought I was going to be between 17 and 19. You may too. :-)

P.S. You're young! Go do a semester in Europe! Do it now! Before you wind up with eight horses to feed and no money! TRUST ME ON THIS.

manymisadventures said...

Okay, point taken :) Thanks, VLC.

You're right, going to college will probably totally change my ideas of where I'm going to be and what I'm going to be doing. It sounds like I'm talking about a human baby, LOL! Don't do have so much life ahead of you....

On that note, here's a question. What is the generally accepted safe range for breeding a mare? I'll have to do some research on that.

I guess I'd kind of assumed that after some abstract age like 15 it probably wouldn't be a good idea.

FD said...

Has she ever been bred before to your knowledge?
15 - 18 is about the outside for smallish-medium, fit, healthy, well put together maiden mare who isn't feeling her age.
If she's not a maiden, then mares can breed well into their late 20s, but it very much depends on their health, what their pregnancy takes out of them and how easily they carry.
It gets progressively harder for them to catch and carry as they get older, and the risk of problems delivering etc gets higher too, just like with people. There is also an increased risk of twinning too, particularly in maiden mares, which is a big worry. (I used to work for a stud, feel free to ask q's)

manymisadventures said...

I do not know if she's been bred before. We bought her at the auction about two years ago. We tried to get in contact with her previous owner, but the auction can't share contact information without permission, and the people never gave it.

I would definitely describe her as smallish medium, fit, healthy, and well put-together! She's about 11 now.

Is there any way to get some idea of if she's ever been bred before? How hard is pregnancy on a middle-aged (say, 14 or 15) mare? How difficult is it for them to come back to fitness? I will likely never do super hard upper-level riding with her, but many horses event well into their 20s, and I certainly hope she is healthy and fit enough at that age to at least hop around at the lower levels.

You did give me a license to ask questions so I'll take advantage ;)

Okay, some more -- what kind of horses did you work with? And I thought twinning was easy to deal with if you caught it early, you just pinch one it difficult/dangerous to do?

FD said...

OK, I did ask for it. *grins* In order of shortest answer first.

I worked mainly with very expensive Warmbloods with a short spell with TB's. (I did not much like the production line aspects to the TB industry.)

Telling if she's had a foal before - in short, there's no 100% guaranteed way.
Start by examining her udder - in mares who have previously foaled, there may be residual bagging and fullness of teats. However, just like with people, some mares return to a near pre-pregnancy state, so that's not really accurate. An internal exam by a vet may help. Some mares retain their hymen, some don't. If a mare has had multiple foals or a traumatic precnancy, there may be indicative uterine scarring or mucle tone loss. If a mare has been open for a long time though, tbh, it becomes a guessing game and anecdotal evidence (i.e. how does she behave around foals, what do you know / guess as to her history) can be as useful as anything.

How hard pregnancy is on the mare depends on many, many things, most importantly her medical history, conformation, metabolic rate, and the level of care you can provide. I can't even begin to guess about your mare honestly.
However, there are positives.
She's fit, appears conformationally good, and you say healthy. A certain level of fitness is very desirable in mares - it improves mustle tone, ability to handle metabolic change etc. Very high levels of fitness are a slight negative factor, just as with people. Any history of laminitis is a huge no-no for me, but there are people who don't agree with this / think it doesn't matter.
Easy keepers are generally easier (duh) to maintain pregnancies with - however if the easy is to do with insulin resistance, be very, very careful.

In terms of returning to fitness, unless there are health or soundness issues, there's no reason why a mare cannot stay in medium work up to 6-8 months, some say 9. I say it depends on your mare - she'll tell you when she wants to stop. Main thing as with all horses - no sudden changes! If she's accustomed to human interaction, it may even be better for her to stay in work as long as possible - a lot of working horses fret.
Getting her back to work after again depends on you, and her ease of delivery. With no medical issues, there's no reason why you have to wait more than a few weeks after foaling to resume light work, which can increase gradually. A lot of people with put a mare with foal at foot back into light work - increases socialisation opportunities for the foal, and helps reduce the impact of weaning on the mare.
I see absolutely no reason why she shouldn't go back to full work after foaling unless, as before, you have medical issues with her.

Twinning gets more likely as the mare gets older - due to release of multiple eggs, most likely, though there are considered to be a number of other risk factor including use of hGC in sub-fertile mares.

Twinning is relatively easily resolved, depending on the the skill of your vet and the relative timings. Easiest point to resolve it at is pre-fixation which occurs at around 14-16 days. At that point, assuming that the vet is skilled enough, that the most viable conceptus is accurately identified, that the conceptuses are separate / not touching, and provision of adeqate prophlactic anti-prostoglandin medication is available (if your vet feels it is required, some studies show efficacy, and some don't), there is a good chance of reducing one pregnancy by 'pinching' as it is termed.

All those things in place, 'pinching' is a relatively easy procedure, with few risks to the mare. The main dangers associated with it are the potential to lose both foals and with it the possibility of losing an entire breeding season. There is the possibility of damage / infection to the maternal reproductive tract (this is considered a low possibility) and again, depends on the skill of the vet.

At the early stages, (12 - 16 days, pre-fixation) it is generally considered that with all other risk factors low, there is as much as 90-95% chance of successfully pinching one pregnancy with no harm to the other conceptus.
Post fixation, with conceptuses located in opposite uterine horns, there is approximately 75% chance of a positive outcome.
Non standard locatiom, conceptus proximity and other maternal risk factors drop that percentage dramatically.
Post 30-35 days, even with ideal presentation, there is a minimum 50% chance of losing both twins and after that it gets worse.

Your mare is a Quarab, right? As such she falls into a medium-risk range for twinning, raised slightly by her being barren (as far as you know). Arabs fall on the statistically low range, QH medium. TB's & drafts are generally higher, though in drafts there is some possibility that this is because spontaneous reduction is lower, not that the incidence is higher. TB's have a higher incidence of multiple ovulation, higher incidence of multiple conceptuses, and higher maintainence rate though the possibility of a viable full term preganancy, live birth and long term foal health is no higher when adjusted for better neo-natal care.

H'mmm, what else?

If you DO decide to breed her I would highly recommend investing in the best vetcare you can afford, and starting the breeding season before you want to breed her. Older maiden mares (and mares in gereral tbh) should always have pre breeding exams & cultures.
At the very least:
* She needs examining externally for reproductive abnormalities - ie. vulval incompetence, abnormal vulval conformation
* She needs exmining internally by ultrasound for cysts, fluid, scarring, adhesions, cervical anomalies
* I strongly suggest cultures for chronic bacterial infections - these are often present in older mares and are sub-clinical, (show few signs) but can have huge impact on reproductive success
* Blood tests in addition to internal exams may also shed light on cycling issues, show up polycystic ovary syndrome
* Depending on what you want to breed her to, please consider checking for inherited risk factors - both Arab & QH breeds have inherited disorders, LFS and SCID springs to mind for Arabs, but I know QH have several more HYPP, EPSM, and HERDA - pretty sure fugly will tell you more about those! Not to mention NI - always check your mare / stallion blood types for incompatibility.
* I also recommend discussing vaccinations with your vet - specifically EHV-1, (the abortive strain) depending on your area.
* Also consider the prevailing pasture of your area - is it fescue based? You may need to move her away if it is, potentially well before conception.

That help at all? ;)

manymisadventures said...

My goodness, yes! Thank you, that was certainly an eye-opener.

I promise that if we breed her we will be working closely with our vet every step of the way :)

I really appreciate all the information you've given me.

Finally, are there any books you recommend in regards to breeding and foaling? I'm a big textual learner and I really like to have books to read before I need the information, so that I have a knowledge base and then can go back and get more from the material as needed.

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