Miller standing with her prized mare Shiners Hot Flash. • Photo by Cam Essick.

Breeding & Beyond: Matchmaking

One incredible plus about working on a ranch with more than 300 horses at the minimum at any given time of year is you learn. You learn fast. You learn why you do something a certain way because time is money, efficiency is incredibly important.

And if you are on the Rose Ranch, you are doing it in such a way that horsemanship is emphasized with every detail. Even I learned after all my years of experience that there is a wrong way to halter a horse.

The bigger lesson was about bloodlines. I have a very strong memory; sometimes I remember too much, but I remember. I remember when a foal is born, and that thrills me when they glean their own life lessons — from being started under saddle or something more exciting, like winning a major event title. Somewhere in that time, I developed a passion for “matchmaking: equine edition.”

I always enjoy helping a buyer find the right horse. I wouldn’t call myself a broker, as I’m not really into the “game” of it all, but I do find joy when someone tells me they want a certain kind of horse and I can find that for them. What I really love, though, is trying to find the perfect cross in the breeding barn.

That being said, the breeding business is a game all its own, and it isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s just not for everyone, and I respect that. You have to love it. But not everyone understands the biggest truth to the breed- ing game. There are two types of horses we breed — those who win the popularity vote and those who don’t.

Let me stop right here and issue a disclaimer. I’m not saying the most popular bloodlines don’t make good horses, and I am certainly not saying anyone breeds their horses without the intention of making a good prospect.

But when it comes to picking a stud and answering the thousands of “What do I breed my mare to?” questions I get each year, I have learned there are two schools of thought.

Every day, someone texts or calls me to ask my thoughts about to which stallion they should breed their mare. Sometimes I don’t even wait for them to ask; I’ll call and tell them my advice. (You know who you are.)

Recently, I was debating this topic with a friend. He has a mare I want him to try on a certain stud. His response? “But they didn’t sell that well at the sales last year.”

True, but I told him that since his mare doesn’t have much of a record yet, he can’t use that excuse. At this stage of her life, when he’s trying to prove her as a broodmare, it’s about producing the best babies.

The stallion I think is the best cross for her, if I’m honest, isn’t the most popular one by the public’s perception. He is a young horse and a great one, and he will rotate back around on the “flavor-of-the-day train” one day.

In the meantime, I think he should focus on putting a record on her. It’s a shift in mindset, to where he can say she makes good colts, even on what “they” say is “less popular.”

He came around to the idea, but the real- ity is we do not know if that was the right choice. Whether or not it will be a successful cross is yet to be seen, but it was a very edu- cated decision based on the two individuals.

The positive trickle-down effect to choices like these is allows others to go to a sale and find something different, in a good way. So many bloodlines are so concentrated, we’ve gotten to the point where maybe we are seeing “too much” of a good thing in a single individual.

I learned from Shining Spark how important it is to be open-minded. He ultimately taught me to “ride the cycle,” so to speak. He was made up of bloodlines you wouldn’t normally think you’d want to cross, but it worked.

When breeding him later on, I often unloaded mares for customers, only to think, “Hmm, I don’t think this is the bloodline we want for him.” But then I’d see how wrong I was as I watched the resulting foals in the Futurity Open finals a few years down the road.

Carol knew. She always said she didn’t screen mares because you never know. It was an invaluable lesson I still use in my career today.

We have recently seen similar success resulting from the intestinal fortitude of Jeff Oswood, who rounded up a group of cutting mares to breed to Equi-Stat Elite $3 Million Reining Sire Gunnatrashya.

It was an educated guess for Jeff, and maybe the best worst-case scenario was they would “only be reiners.” Yes, that alone would have been great enough, but how rewarding is it to see some of them walking to the herd under the bright lights of the Will Rogers Coliseum?

Shining Spark and Gunnatrashya might seem like odd subjects for a column about breeding to more obscure stallions, because they are popular bloodlines today.

They, too, were once just starting their breeding careers, though, and my examples are not about “fashionable” crosses. They’re about successful ones born out of ingenuity.

So, what is popular? It’s all perception, really. Reality is all about finding the best cross, no matter what you think is trendy.

This Breeding and Beyond column was published in the March 1 issue of Quarter Horse News. To purchase this issue, click here.