Starting Out in Standardbred Breeding

What are My Goals?

Before you start this journey, you need to ask the question of whether you are breeding to sell, or breeding to race. The two options can play a big part in your breeding decisions and consequent results.

Breeding to Sell

If you are breeding to sell – your resultant foal needs to be deemed ‘commercial’.

Commerciality of said foal can be easily defined by the chosen sire and the maternal pedigree of the mother.

When choosing a mare, be honest: is your mare of good enough quality to breed from? Look at her race history; her black type; her pedigree (family tree); her conformation (how she is put together) and temperament.

If she does not tick most of the boxes she may not be deemed commercial enough for the resultant progeny to sell well, no matter how good the sire is.

A race record is often not as important as the maternal strength of a pedigree and often the best families will continue to deliver over time.

Trainers and buyers understand this and are often searching for progeny from families with plenty of ‘black type’ genetics to increase the likelihood of their chances of success.

Talk to the team at NZB Standardbred if you are thinking of breeding to sell. They can help in producing pedigree pages for hypothetical progeny of a mare and can give you an honest opinion of her and the resulting progeny’s commerciality.

If you are breeding to sell, choosing a sire that is commercial is critical also.

The reality is that when breeding to sell, you are breeding for a market of prospective purchasers and trainers who are buying speculatively on potential and type.

In eliminating some of the risks associated with purchasing, the buyers are most interested in progeny by stallions with proven race track results.

This can be tough because what is popular today may be last night’s news in three years’ time when you come to sell – of course many breeders will tell you that is the fun of breeding, predicting the future!

Again, having a chat with someone from the team at NZB Standardbred would be a great start in pointing you down the right path as to what is happening in the current climate with stallion popularity.

Breeding to Race

Breeding the best to the best and hoping for the best is not a bad analogy when looking for success, but the reality is, this is often dictated by what we can afford and the associated costs need to be factored in to any breeding decision.

Breeding to race is still heavily influenced by genetics, however commerciality of your progeny is not the be all and end all.

Champions do come from everywhere! Just look at current US Horse of the Year, Shartin.

She is sired by the New Zealand bred Tintin In America and out of a mare who showed a bit of zip in winning a race, but on paper wouldn’t have been deemed commercial. There are plenty of other examples!

Breeding to race will often give you more options when it comes to stallion choice and allow you the ability to choose a particular mating or ‘cross’ that is to your liking and perhaps a good match for your mare.

If you are breeding to race – it is still very wise to consider the qualities of your mare – to give you a greater chance of breeding a foal that will go on to race.

These factors are more to do with temperament, gait, conformation and strength of maternal pedigree. She may not have a gluttony of black type winners close up in her maternal tree, but that’s not to say she can’t or won’t!

If you want to breed from a non-commercial mare, you still have options when it comes to selling. You will have to wait until you can get the horse qualified and sell through a bloodstock agent, or race the horse and sell on.

Sourcing a Broodmare

Once you have decided what your breeding goals are, you will then need to secure or source a mare that is registered with the New Zealand studbook.

There are many ways that you can secure a mare with which to breed, and include:
• Buying or leasing a mare newly retired from the track
• Buying or leasing a mare from an online marketplace or print classifieds such as on our website.

Other industry sources for purchasing a broodmare include;
• Gavelhouse Standardbred
• HorseTrader

Leasing a broodmare can be a great option for those starting out in the breeding industry and can help in lowering some of the risks associated.

A lease agreement is usually conducted with two parties centered around an individual mare. The terms of the lease will stipulate the length of time in which you are responsible for all associated costs of the broodmare whilst in your care.

If you require help in sourcing a mare to breed from, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Selecting a Stallion

One of the most exciting aspects of breeding is the selection of a stallion for your mare. New Zealand breeders have access to the best stallions in the world through the use of fresh, chilled or frozen semen.

A listing of stallions available to New Zealand breeders is available in the annual Register of Standardbred Stallions (published by the NZSBA in August), and on stud websites. Many studs also send out annual catalogues and will have a mailing list you can add yourself to in order to receive a copy when it’s published.

Most studs will provide you with advice on which of their sires are physically more suited to your mare (i.e. a 16.3HH stallion may result in a large foal which would potentially cause problems if your mare is only small), and which have the potential to create a proven ‘cross’ with your mare – this is a foal pedigree that has similarities with their sire’s more successful horses. Members of the NZSBA also have the Crosses of Gold available to them which is a more comprehensive look at which sires are crossing with certain broodmare sires.

Studs will also help in advising which sires may be beneficial in correcting any faults your mare may have had in racing (or produced in previous progeny), or have a very high fertility rate if your mare has had difficulty conceiving in the past.

There are also different theories on suitability which you may wish to investigate with a vet or experienced breeder, with some preferring a completely different bloodline from their mare, and others choosing to use ‘line-breeding’ which couples a mare with a stallion which shares one or more ancestors (for example, crossing a pair who both have Abercrombie as a grand-sire or great-grand-sire).

Booking Your Mare

Once you have decided on a stallion for your mare, you will need to contact the relevant stud to book the service and arrange payment.

You will be required to complete and return a contract or booking form, and if you are having your mare artificially inseminated at a local veterinary practice, you may also need to complete a booking form for them and certainly you will need to make an appointment for your mare to be scanned to determine an appropriate service date.

Before signing any stallion service contract, discuss with the Studmaster the service fee, any incidental charges, the timing after a positive pregnancy scan when fees need to be paid, and any ‘free return’ arrangement applicable if your mare miscarries or produces a dead foal, or a foal that is unable to stand and suckle.

Serving Your Mare

Unlike the Thoroughbred industry, the Trotting Stud Book permits breeding using methods other than natural coverings, including artificial insemination (AI) and surrogacy. As a result you can, if you wish, arrange for your mare to be served at home or at a breeding farm close by rather than travelling to the stud for a natural cover (in fact many studs do not offer hand covering for their stallions).

Talk to the Studmaster about locations in your area where you can take your mare to be served. If you decide to breed your mare at home, you will need good facilities, including a crush or similar confinement area, to allow a veterinary surgeon to scan the mare’s ovaries to determine when she is ready to serve and to inseminate her when she is ready to conceive.

There are many benefits associated with AI when compared with natural service. Mares and their foals do not need to be transported long distances and are not exposed to other horses that could potentially be carrying infectious diseases. There is a reduced risk of injury to mares and foals associated with artificial insemination and re-service is made significantly easier. It also significantly expands the number of sires available – from all over the world – to you no matter where you are based.

Mares conceive more readily if they are in good condition. Ideally mares should be steadily improving in condition when they are served, whilst not being fat. Looking after your mare will maximise her chances of conceiving during her first or second cycles.

Remember also that mares don’t always conceive on their first breeding cycle. The late spring and summer months are the best time to breed your mare in order to maximise her chances of conceiving.

Sires Stakes & Futurity Schemes

With millions available in restricted prize money and bonuses, it is very important to consider if your foal will be eligible for the Sires Stakes and other futurity schemes.

Being eligible for these races adds value to your horse if you choose to sell it at Yearling sales or on the open market.

For more information on Futurity Schemes and payment dates, click here.

Foaling Down Your Broodmare

If you are confident in your husbandry knowledge, you may wish to foal down your mare at home, or you may choose to send your mare to a commercial broodmare farm.

The NZ Standardbred Breeders’ Association takes a very firm position on foaling down, and that is unless you have experience in foaling and husbandry, or have ready access to a vet or other experienced person, we strongly advise the use of a commercial service.

The rate of loss from mare services to live foals is substantial and ever-increasing, and many indicators point to inexperience and ill-preparedness as a reason for this.

Breeders make a significant investment in stallion fees, veterinary services, transport expenses, and ongoing mare care – we want to see these investments capitalised on with viable pregnancies and healthy live foals. This can often be best achieved through engaging a professional to ensure your mare receives the correct care and nutrition through her late pregnancy and any complications with foaling can be dealt with using the appropriate methods and experts.

In choosing to foal down at home, you should be very well prepared, including a considered nutrition programme and a properly stocked foaling kit.

Your preferred feed company will be happy to discuss broodmare feeding regimes with you and our NZSBA partners, Dunstan Horse Feeds would be a great place to start.

Further Reading:

Guidelines for Breeders and Studmasters
Test Mating Tools
Indicative Production Costs to Breed & Prepare a Yearling for Sales (pdf)