Evaluating your mares' strengths and weaknesses is the key to making an informed decision on ideal mate to complement her
It is that time of year yet again when breeders are thinking about preparing last season's barren mares for the coming breeding season and also short-listing stallions for use in 2013.
Perhaps breeders are also pondering which mares will be bred or culled, or possibly if new investments will be made. Naturally, for many, it will be a case of waiting to see what the 2013 produce is like before concrete decisions can be made.
The first thing for any breeder to decide is which market they are aiming to produce for, as the demands of each discipline are quite different. The day of the reject showjumper being successful at top level eventing is well behind us.
The demands of a showjumper are that he must have a balanced uphill canter, be scopey, with adequate technique and a good attitude. Athleticism is a principle requirement. A balanced horse with his hocks underneath him has better self-carriage and is easier to ride. Power, especially in combinations like a one-stride oxer-to-oxer combination, is required. It is not sufficient to rely on pace for scope in such situations.
Scope is a term that can be difficult to explain. It is really the ability to push off the ground with power, while gaining height and width over the fence. Modern showjumping courses are comprised of small, light poles in shallow cups and safety cups on the back pole that collapse easily. Horses must be scopey and careful.
A horse without a decent stride is always under pressure. They must lengthen and shorten easily throughout the more technical courses.
The rider must be able to adjust the stride as course designers are constantly challenging the rider with the distances set.
Temperament is not as critical to the professional rider as the amateur but the horse must still be rideable and have a desire to jump.
Scope is more important than technique and a careful, scopey horse can be forgiven vagaries in his technique.
Likewise, small conformational irregularities or faults, such as being slightly pigeon toed, can be forgiven as long as the horse's overall athleticism is good. However, this forgiveness should not stretch to serious irregularities in the horse's conformation.
The stresses that limbs are put under when jumping at international level are enormous and the more correct the animal is, the longer its career will be.
An attractive horse is more desirable and the horse should look like an athlete. Ewe necks (upside down neck), hind legs camped out behind, sickle hocks and crooked limbs are all undesirable traits.
Jumpers should also have enough size. The ideal height is 16.2hh. Smaller horses find combinations difficult as can the bigger horse. Again it comes down to the individual, its balance in the paces and how it has been produced.
Desirable conformation traits for showjumpers include horizontal neck conformation with a slightly upward orientation as opposed to those with a more distinctly uphill/vertical conformation, in order to be able to make a good shape over the fence.
Harmonious lines from the forehand through the back and loins are preferable. Strength, but also suppleness, in the loins is a must.
A flat croup has more power for the take off and allows the horse to open behind when jumping the fence.
If there is too much angle, there is less power. Many of our mares are deficient in this respect to a large degree and it is an area we should work on improving.
The longer lined horse – ie, one with longer limbs, more length through the body and the croup – will offer more scope. So though it is desirable to look at stallions which are good in these traits, we must be careful to choose stallions that are also supple.
With regard to movement, the pace of principal concern is canter. It is rare that a horse with a good canter cannot jump.
An active canter with a carrying hind leg showing suppleness, balance and carriage is desired.
The carrying capacity and stride length of the canter is something that, in general, requires improvement in the Irish mare herd.
The most lucrative market is for those jumping 1m60 level. Those jumping 1m40 are still capable of offering a good return. There is a solid market in the US amateur scene for easy horses that have a good balanced canter and jump 1m30 with ease.
The further down the scale one goes the smaller the returns and the more important temperament and rideability become.
Performance pedigree is an extremely important consideration when choosing a mare to produce for this market.
Though this is noted as an aspect which is lacking in many of the Irish mares, there are mares with appropriate performance in the back pedigree that was perhaps unrecorded.
If a mare shows talent herself and is suitably conformed with enough 'blood' then we may, with caution, excuse the line and start trying to create it from now.
In other words, take a foal off the mare and make realistic appraisals of the merit in breeding her again. However, it is of course more desirable to start with the whole package, including full recorded performance pedigree.
The term 'blood' is one which results in much confusion. In this context it means sensitive, responsive, rideable, athletic, quick reactions, quick over the ground, quick reflexes. It does not equate to thoroughbred blood.
In fact, thoroughbred blood up front in the pedigree can be negative rather than positive where showjumpers are concerned.
Most prefer to see it back four or five generations.
The modern showjumping producing thoroughbred has not yet surfaced and those available are not serving as improvers.
Developing 'own performance' of mares is an expensive route for breeders.
However, given the lack of performance in the bloodlines of many mares here, those with ability should be given the chance, where possible, to put performance under their belts.
Teagasc encourages breeders to have their mares linear scored at inspection.
The information provided, particularly in relation to the athleticism traits, will give a clear indication regarding suitability of the mare to produce for this market. The inspections offer opportunity for independent evaluation of strengths and weaknesses of mares in order for breeders to make more informed decisions on stallions to complement the mare.