Improving Breeding Programs

In today’s competitive equine market, developing strategies to succeed and grow can mean the difference for an equine business. Michael White, an equine advisor for Teagasc in Tipperary, Ireland, spoke about promoting growth of the Irish equine industry in the global market at the sixth annual Equine School at the Alltech Symposium in Lexington, Ky. The suggestions he gave the audience can be applied to many equine breeding programs for increased prosperity.

“Producing horses for markets that have become increasingly more sophisticated over the past 10 to 20 years is the difficult objective facing Irish horse producers,” he said. “We must examine what our competitors are doing, but do it better or devise alternative ways of producing horses that will once again bring Ireland to the top of the equestrian world.”

White advises his clients to use a four-pronged approach, which he calls the BEST package.  BEST stands for breeding, efficiency, sales, and training. “Before breeding horses, we must identify exactly what the customer requires,” he said. He gives the example that an international rider will require a different type of horse than the pleasure rider. He advised that breeders select breeding stock that is appropriate for their target market.

Once this is done, the efficiency of the operation must be optimized. Improving conception rates by ensuring that mares are healthy will increase returns on the investment, said White.

In order to sell a horse, successful marketing is necessary. Some strategies for successful marketing include promoting a horse’s successes (i.e., wins at shows); advertising in full-color sales catalogues, producing a video of the horse and allowing viewers to see the horse before the sale; using technology such as the Internet to market a sale horse; and breeders and/or trainers combining forces for better promotion and training of sale horses.
White added that having an appropriate training program is the final step.  “Having bred the horse, the next step is to train it properly. Training goals must focus on consumer demands. Training programs must be adaptable as every horse does not learn at the same rate. The basic training of horses must be standardized so that all horses can be ridden on the flat by any rider.”

White also discussed the history of the Irish Draught Horse, which he said has evolved into Ireland’s unique contribution to the equine world. The Irish Draught has also been crossed with the Thoroughbred to produce the Irish Charger, which was used in warfare, and the Irish Sport Horse, which excels in show jumping and competition.

“Quality breeding is still the key to success,” White concluded. “Breeders must ensure that their horses fall into categories that buyers demand, and that progeny are up to the mark in terms of pedigree and conformation. Establishing the breeding value of the mare is very important. Would you be better off in the long run putting a saddle rather than a stallion on your mare this year? A mare that has performed in competition successfully is more valuable for breeding purposes.”

White said that the game plan of owners and breeders should include the following:

• A vision of the end product;
• Parent selection;
• Successful foal production;
• Young horse management;
• Young horse marketing;
• Pre-competition training; and
• The successful competitor.

Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority, is the national body in Ireland providing integrated research and advisory and training services to the agriculture and food industries and to rural communities. White said that the Teagasc Equine Programme is in place to advise on these aspects of a successful equine business. The program’s objective, he said, is to “make breeders and producers aware of the best breeding and management skills/practices to produce horses with the conformation, movement, temperament, and athletic ability to meet market demands.”

Teagasc achieves this through farm visits, seminars, discussion groups, monitor farms, equine events and trips, newsletters, local press and radio, short courses, client web sites, and joint programs within the equine industry.

About the Author

Sarah Evers Conrad

Sarah Evers Conrad has a bachelor’s of arts in journalism and equine science from Western Kentucky University. As a lifelong horse lover and equestrian, Conrad started her career at The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care magazine. She has also worked for the United States Equestrian Federation as the managing editor of Equestrian magazine and director of e-communications and served as content manager/travel writer for a Caribbean travel agency. When she isn’t freelancing, Conrad spends her free time enjoying her family, reading, practicing photography, traveling, crocheting, and being around animals in her Lexington, Kentucky, home.

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