How do we breed for the amateur market?

With so many breeders focusing on breeding for the amateur market, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to define what WE mean by the term: “breeding for the dedicated amateur.” After all, we breed for them, we do not breed for ourselves, other breeders, breed associations, or for the judges. I think it is important to articulate this core value of our breeding program as it makes it clear to us and to others.

So first of all: what are “amateurs riders”?

If we look at what they have in common we can then find where we need to focus our breeding efforts. It’s about knowing your clients so you can offer what they are truly looking for.

A dedicated amateur rider is:

  • Someone that has a full-time job away from horses.
  • Someone that had to (or still has to) balance their time and monetary investment in horses with other things in life such as education, family, mortgage so that their accomplishments in the saddle are perhaps not where they would like them to be.
  • Someone that currently cannot dedicate all their energy to fitness and training for themselves and for their horses but that makes the most of what they have.
  • Someone that has aspirations to better themselves and their horses but has to balance other life priorities responsibly.
  • Someone who’s main objectives is not the show circuits or the pursuit of scores and accolades to build their reputation or their ego.

With this in mind, what kind of horse do we seek to breed?

The demands of the English riding disciplines require horses to carry themselves uphill, push off their hind, be laterally and longitudinally supple and be on the bit. For the jumper, it requires scope, agility, a snappy front end, and a hunger for the jump. Understanding and knowing all this, it is reasonable to think that with limited time and resources at one’s disposal it is easier to get a horse that is already built for the job to do this than one that is not.

The extravagant movements we seek in the dressage arena should come from training, suppleness, and relaxation,  and can only be built on a solid foundation. Too much movement early on although flashy and spectacular can be hard to sit, channel, and regulate for the average (and even for the good) rider. So correct, loose movement with good use of the hind end is a solid base that can then be easily managed and trained.

Mistakes will be made. They should not send anyone to the hospital, set back weeks of training because they cause anxiety in the horse or the rider. So it’s important to select a partner that will be tolerant of mistakes, that will not lose their mind if things are a bit different or challenging.

Finally when we only work with horses a few times a week and that we do it for our pleasure and our sanity it probably is vitally important that the horses be happy to see us, enjoy the attention, and generally be eager to spend time with us.  The professional aloofness of some is probably a bit disappointing to those that really seek to connect with their horses. We think friendly, people-loving horses are generally more fun partners.

How do these requirements affect our breeding decisions?

So to summarize so far we want:

  1. Horses that are built for the job.
  2. Good but not extravagant movements.
  3. Forgiving, sensible, and good work ethics.
  4. People loving temperament.

Horses that are built for the job.

Being a riding horse is a hard gig. Horses are not really built to carry riders, and that is why we spend quite a bit of time and effort in making sure they use themselves correctly. In dressage, jumping, or hunter we want them to build their core strength, use their back, lift their shoulder, and engage their hindquarters. Therefore, it stands to reason that from a pure conformation point of view it will be easier to do this with an animal that is already strong in the back, uphill in carriage, and with a good reaching hind leg. It will also help a lot if the poll is nice and clean and the neck is set high.

A fine Saddlebred.
An Andalusian (PRE)
Welty-A Hannoverian.

I have basically just listed some of the basic and most common conformation points of purposefully bred warmbloods. That is why we follow warmblood breeding guidelines focusing on breeding correct animals that are more rectangular and uphill in type.

We avoid breeds that were developed for other purposes and therefore not built on those principles such as drafts, thoroughbreds, and quarterhorses to name the most common.

We do think that Iberian breeds share some of those characteristics. The Saddlebreds were bred to be ridden and those with a strong back and correct loins attachment are certainly also good candidates.

What you breed in you don’t have to train in.

2. Correct, but not extravagant, movements.

We look for correct movement and good rhythm but we do not seek to breed the extravagant super springy gaits that look amazing but can be hard to ride. We tend to stay away from the really flashy movers in both our mares and stallions choices. The big movers fetch bigger prices but they are not always suited to the average riders. Really big walks are hard to keep pure, bouncy trampoline trots are hard to sit,  and overall bigger gaits are harder to package and organize. Top riders and trainers that have dedicated their lives to this can certainly make use of it and if we were breeding for them we would have those big lofty gaits as our requirements. We aim for a correct, strong, push at the trot, and a canter with some jump, the rest, we are confident, will be achieved with correct training. The PRE and the Lusitanos are getting more popular and accepted in sport and they do not need the initial big lofty gaits we see in some warmblood lines.

3) Trusting and forgiving.

Perhaps the most important thing in an amateur horse is their ability to shrug off mistakes and bad experiences and remain trusting and willing in the face of confusing and new requests. Very sensitive horses will literally scare themselves if they are not handled and ridden perfectly. We have all heard the cases of the talented but difficult or sensitive horse that would react explosively to new stimuli. Those are not for the faint of heart to start or even develop. They require a very good seat, good emotional control, and probably more time and patience then the average riders are willing to invest. They can be brilliant but at what cost?

We choose mares that have the qualities we are looking for but because of their bloodlines and their individual qualities. We focus on bloodlines that are known for their good easy and trainable temperament. We pay very close attention to the track record of the stallions we breed to. We do not breed to those that accumulate a reputation for being or making difficult horses. We stay away from stallions with very few foal crops on the ground as it can be difficult to determine how their progeny is doing under saddle at first unless their own temperament is absolutely exceptional. We have had good success with the R (Rubinstein) and D (Donnerhall) lines but as those lines get older we are looking at others that seem to be making good-tempered horses.

4) People loving temperament

There are a few things more frustrating than to have a horse that does not enjoy spending time with us, that is hard to catch, or simply bad to handle. Good manners start early on and seeing humans as a source of reassurance, comfort, and general pleasant interaction is vital when the horses are young. No experiences are better than bad ones but good ones are certainly the best. We handle our foals a lot and we don’t introduce unpleasant experiences until they have a solid base of trust. We choose mares that are well-tempered and have good manners since foals will learn from them too. Over the years with a variety of breedings, we seem to have systematically produced horses that are very people-oriented, trusting, and well-handled although a lot of that is up to our clients that pick the leadshank when the foals go home, we make sure they have a good base.

RedInk is a love bug.

 

So there you have it, this lays out our goals, objectives, and approach in breeding horses.

So if you are in the market for your next partner and you are an amateur rider we hope these reflections resonate with you and help you on your path to finding a suitable riding partner now or in the future. We firmly believe that there is a horse out there for everyone and that with a clear picture of what we are looking for it we are better equipped to find it.  We welcome your comments and questions.

Owner and worrier in chief at Formosus Sporthorses in Alberta she's been breeding horses for over 15 years. Warmblood, warmblood crosses, and a few saddlebreds. She loves handling mare and foals and is passionate about giving foals the best start possible.

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