mare-and-foal
When it comes down to it, how much does a horse's birthday really matter? • Photo courtesy of SDP Buffalo Ranch.

Breed Late or Wait?

There’s a time for everything, and most in the Western performance horse industry strive to have their mares foal early in the year.

However, sometimes things happen and mare owners are faced with the decision of whether to breed later in the season than they’d originally planned or to hold off and wait until next year to breed the mare.

For this edition of Industry Insider with SDPQuarter Horse News (QHN) sat down with SDP Buffalo Ranch owner Shane Plummer to find out the pros and cons of breeding late.

QHN: What month(s) do you consider the most advantageous time for a mare to foal in the Western performance horse industry?
Plummer: Any month is good for a quality foal!  People have lots of passion when it comes to our beloved horses and passion most of time does not equal logic. Some of the biggest taboos to discuss over the dinner table are politics and religion, and you might as well lump horses in there, too. Everyone has their ideas and I’m no different. 

All that being said, I try and let facts and data guide me, rather than my emotion. The fact in Western performance horses is that the vast majority of events begin in the fall and winter of their 3-year-old year. For a horse, that is akin to a human teenager (one human year equals five horse years). So a 3-year-old horse is approximately the equivalent of 15 to 19 years old in human years by the time he or she hits the fall or winter months. All horses are individuals, just like people. Some bloom early and some bloom later. Kobe Bryant and Lebron James started in the NBA right out of high school. Michael Jordan didn’t even make his high school basketball team as a freshman and by the way, “MJ” is the greatest of all time, aka GOAT. Tom Brady was a sixth-round draft pick because all anyone say was a weak, scrawny and limited passer. He too, GOAT. 

So, if your horse has an April or July foaling date, does it really matter all that much by the time September, October, November, December of their 3 year old year rolls around? I don’t think so, as long as quality horseman have been involved through all the in-between. That is my opinion.

QHN: What are the pros and cons of breeding late in the season? 
Plummer: One pro that I can think of is  stallion demand is lower, so there should be more supply. March, April and May are peak demand months for their inventory. If a stallion collection yields six on-site doses (500 million progressive cells), that is three commercial shipping doses or 1.5 frozen. If you are breeding in February or June/July, you are going to have more access to that inventory of semen. All stallions are individuals. Some will give you 15 doses and some will give you one. Another pro for later in the season, well, it is easier for a mare to be “in season”. I live in the South, so it is a lot easier for our mares to start cycling than it is for mares in the North, where it is cold and snow. Sure, horseman can manipulate nature to get those mares cycling, but it is work. 

Some mares will just be more reproductively sound later, than they are earlier. Just like stallions, mares are individuals and what is best for one might not be what is best for all. Horsemanship is hard and there is a lot to it.

Some cons that I can think of … I have stopped trying to educate or talk someone into something when it comes to their opinions. I am certainly aware of the viewpoints that people have on early foaling dates. A yearling foaled in January, February, March is more physically mature as an auction prospect, than one born in May, June or July. I remember when I was playing youth football and coming up against an opponent with a beard in the seventh grade. Not only did he have a beard, he outweighed me by 40 pounds. He was a lot more physically mature at that point in time and I promise you, if we had both been “taken to market” right then and there, who do you think would have had the higher sales price? Fast forward to high school, he was balding and I had outgrown him in speed and stature. So, my little story is to just illustrate market requirements and what the market wants. It has ZERO basis when it comes time to careers.

Another con is foaling dates and availability to breed that following season. Gestation is just over 11 months for horses. July breeding will yield a June foal. If a mare foals in June, she can be bred on foal heat under a week later or a few weeks after foal heat. Depending on conception, the timeline just continues to get later. With embryo transfer, my statement then is, who cares? Donor mare is open for the following season anyway, so a foal on the ground later in the season is better than no foal on the ground as long as you can afford it and have a plan for it.

QHN: What are the advantages and disadvantages of waiting to breed a mare until the following year?
Plummer:  Advantage is you can start your plans and reproduction as soon as you’d like. The disadvantage is you don’t have that foal you would have had if you bred her late the year before. I’m not advocating for breeding every time, always, no matter what. But I am advocating that you can’t win without a horse, you can’t sell without a prospect, and you can’t prove your mare without produce. 

Don’t spend that which you don’t have, never ever not ever harm your livestock with bad horsemanship, and don’t make dumb mistakes. Do have a great time, love every minute and spend as much as you can on the best quality you can. You will never hit a ball you don’t swing at.

QHN: What scenarios do you find it better to skip a year rather than breeding late? 
Plummer: Only reason I’d skip a year is if I couldn’t afford to breed the mare. And, if that is the case, I’d suggest trying to find someone to lease your mare. It is so important to keep mares in production with at least one foal a year for both her value and the timeline of events. Having a mare with a produce record history with no foal one year brings up negativity and negativity diminishes value.

Another reason, her health. If your vet says that not breeding your mare is best for her health, reproductively or just mortality – do what is best for your horse. I might be a businessman, but I will never compromise my horses well-being.

QHN: Do you have a hard cut-off date where, if one of your mares isn’t bred by that point you usually just wait until next year to try to breed her again? 
Plummer: I’ve bred mares in September. One of the greatest horses I ever had was an undefeated champion named SDP Justice Is Comin. He was born in July, so he was conceived in August. He was a three-time reining event champion as a 3-year-old. Sadly, he tore a ligament before the National Reining Horse Association Futurity, so that ended his career. Too much stress on a young horse? Maybe. I didn’t think so, nor did his trainer. I’ve had the same thing happen to 7-year-olds. Horses are not made out of steel. Risk is everywhere in this world.

What is the cut-off date? It is when it is best for you.

QHN: Broadly speaking, what have you noticed about foals born late in the season?
Plummer: In summary, there are many opinions, mine included. Here are the top 10 all-time money earning performance horses with their life-time earnings recorded in Equi-Stat, date of birth and estimated breeding date for their dam:

RankLifetime earningsDOBEst. Breed date
1Poco Quixote Rio$1,108,885 6/17/837/7/82
2Red White And Boon$922,063 3/23/884/13/87
3Sister CD$852,612 3/16/024/5/01
4Don’t Look Twice$850,628 6/12/057/2/04
5Dual Rey Me$818,177 2/21/993/13/98
6Smart Little Lena$743,275 6/29/797/19/78
7Meradas Little Sue$730,552 4/21/905/11/89
8Woody Be Lucky$705,740 3/13/004/3/99
9Gun Smokes Wimpy$682,474 6/1/846/22/83
10Little Badger Dulce$668,461 5/1/895/21/88

As you can see, three of the ten were conceived in July and one, end of June. Of the top ten, not one was conceived in February, and there was one in March, three in April and two in mid-to-late May. 

A date of birth is a number; a good horse, that is what is wanted. 

People might say, “Well Shane, some of these were weekend warriors that won their money hauling down the road into their teens!”  To that I say Smart Little Lena won the Triple Crown and I gurandarntee you he was the smallest one of this lot. A good one is a good one is a good one. 

When a champion is crowned, has the question ever been asked, “When is your horse’s birthday?”