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Seven Ps for Breeding Horses


Horses are big business in Tennessee, which ranks in the top of the charts for numbers of horses in the nation. However, the horse breeding business should be approached with caution, and serious consideration should be given to the pros and cons of breeding a horse.

As part of the Master Horse Owner Program, the University of Tennessee Extension Service garnered information from Dr. Dave Whitaker, PhD, Director of the Middle Tennessee State University Horse Science Program, on horse breeding a horse. He arranged his advice into seven categories, which he calls “The Seven P’s for Breeding Horses.” Following are excerpts from his presentation.

Purpose - Developing a clear purpose for your breeding operation
Problems - Understanding and avoiding problems with breeding
Properties - What makes a successful breeder
Phenotype - How a horse looks and performs forms a genetic basis
Pedigree - Know what it tells you, and what it does not tell you
Performance records - Use them when you have them
Progeny- The highest level of proof is how the foals of a given mare or sire have done before   
Purpose: In today’s horse-owning culture, there is great concern for unwanted horses. So in deciding to breed a horse, whether for business purposes or for an offspring of your favorite mare or stallion, there are several factors to consider. The financial investment in the cost of keeping a mare, stud fees, and then growing a colt for two years can cost $10,000 or more. Raising foals is also a gamble in the gene pool. A champion mare can be bred to a champion stallion and the results can be another champion, or a horse with little or no value. A plus to buying a horse instead of raising one is that the horse can be visually inspected and evaluated before purchase. With breeding, we take what is born and hopefully it is at least healthy.

Problems: to avoid. It is extremely disappointing to breed your mare and produce a foal with a genetic fault that may be fatal or detrimental to the health and use of the horse. If we research the breed and individuals we plan to mate, we can avoid a host of problems.

If you are new to breeding and have selected a breed, get to know the genetic problems of the breed. Research has been conducted on many genetic abnormalities, and each can be researched on the web for your clear understanding of the gene, how it is transmitted, the test to determine if your horse has it, the classic symptoms, and how to avoid genetic problems.

If you are breeding stock horses, you should know about the HYPP (Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis) a disease that may cause temporary paralysis and can be fatal; HERDA (Hereditary Equine Regional Dermal Asthenia) a disease of the skin that appears most often when breaking the young horse to saddle and can render the horse useless. PSSM (Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy) is prominent in draft horse breeds, also found in several light horse breeds. It results in painful muscle cramping and muscle cell damage following moderate exercise. GBED (Glycogen Blocking Enzyme Deficiency) is a fatal heritable disease in stock horse breed foals that is characterized by abundant abnormal polysaccharide accumulation and a complete lack of normal glycogen. If you are going to breed Quarter Horses, Paints, Appaloosas or Palomino Stock horses, you should learn about these genetic problems.

If you breed Tennessee Walking Horses, there is a fairly high incidence of cryptorchidism due to the high level of inbreeding. A potential breeder of Walking Horses should be aware of the hoof and leg problems such as club feet seen in certain bloodlines; splay feet in front. These problems come as a result of breeding only for the ability to perform the desired gaits without concern for conformation in the selection process.

If you are going to breed Arabians you should know about SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease) a lethal primary immunodeficiency characterized by failure to produce functional B and T lymphocytes. The majority of affected horses are Arabian or part Arabian. Foals usually die with the first infection.

No breed is without some genetic problems, which may include parrot mouth, retained testicle(s), eye problems, and conformation faults.

Properties of a Successful Breeder: Any successful breeder must have POP. "POP is an acronym for passion, optimism and patience."

Laying all the financial investments aside, a serious breeder has to have passion, but most people today don't have the time to a lot of passion to breeding horses. There are very few breeders who have more than five mares. Most breeders do it as a part time avocation. Nonetheless there has to be a drive to want to produce a better product, i.e., a better horse. Even if you have just one mare that you are considering breeding, the passion should be there to want to breed her to the best possible match for your purpose. That means time devoted to researching stallions available and affordable. If you do not have the passion, forget breeding the mare. There are already too many horses. Creating another one without thought is not good for the industry or the horse.

Of all the good breeders I know, regardless of breed or species, optimism is a common trait. They all believe the next one is going to be the best one.

Patience is critical to the process, so those who lack patience should buy instead of breed. The average age of a mare when she produces her first foal is 8 years. If breeders stick to that average (called “generation interval’ by geneticists) we have to realize how long it takes to bring progress to the breed.

Phenotypeis the visible and measurable appearance of an individual, which results from the interaction of his genotype and the environment. Phenotype is what we see when we look at the animal. We usually think of color and conformation. Although two horses are black in color, they can produce a sorrel or chestnut foal. Phenotype is the black color of the parents, but the genotype of the parents could carry both genes for black and chestnut.

A few basic conformation traits are desirable in all disciplines: correct feet and legs; soundness, which depends on the degree of correctness. Conformation traits are highly heritable, so it is important in selection of breeding stock.
Pedigree and Performance: include the performance achievements of the mare and/or stallion. A sire and dam contribute 50% each to the genetic makeup of the goal. Grandparents contribute 25% of the genetic makeup and great grandparents 12½%. The fifth generation ancestors have little influence on the foal.

Some breeds have performance pedigrees, which list the individual names and give the data for performance achievements. In some breeds that are highly inbred, a high percentage of horse link to a foundation or prominent sire within two or three generations multiple times. Breeds such as Thoroughbreds try to keep inbreeding to a minimum. In addition, Thoroughbreds do not allow artificial insemination, so the number of mares bred to any one stallion is naturally limited.

Progeny: the most important consideration in selecting stallions or mares for breeding. The safest bet is to select from those individuals who have a record of producing the kinds of horses that the breeder has in mine. Mares who are multiple producers of great offspring are the most coveted. Stallions that have the most winners usually command the highest stud fees. Breeding to unproven horses is a higher risk.

As you consider breeding horses, consider the seven Ps of Excellent Horse Breeding: purpose, avoiding problems, properties of a good breeder (passion, optimism, and patience), phenotype, pedigree, performance records, and progeny.

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