Dressage Stallion Production--Part 1 Discerning Trends
I'm going to start this blog series with some general thoughts on picking stallions for mares and deciding amongst foals by their sire. I'll follow with my observations of a few well-known sires. I want to start by stating that IMO the value in a stallion should be in what he brings to the table as a producer, not who he is himself. Breeders and foal buyers should concern themselves with discerning what specific characteristics a stallion reliably produces in his offspring. If I'm a breeder or a foal buyer, I could care less if a stallion is 17 hands if virtually all of his offspring end up 15.2.
How do we know what characteristics a stallion reliably produces? The best place to start is to ask experienced breeders, riders and trainers who’ve worked with offspring from the stallion in question. I always keep in mind that everyone has their likes and dislikes, so what one rider dislikes another may love. Some riders love hot horses with a bit of attitude, some riders prefer them a little quieter and more willing. And while I don’t take as fact every little tidbit I hear, if I consistently hear the same thing over and over (or experience the same thing over and over), I start wondering if there’s some truth to it. I also keep in mind that not all breeders are riders, so while it is nice to know something about foal behavior on the ground, I have found that it is not a reliable indicator of future ridability or trainability under saddle.
It’s important to try to get specific information. A really good example of a vague answer (and I hear this one all the time) is “his offspring are hot”. But what exactly does that mean? I ask follow-up questions so I can get a good read on what exactly they mean. Is the horse spooky? Very forward thinking and energetic but not spooky? Super tense to the leg? Wanting to constantly run away from the rider? Bucking when pressured? Super sensitive? Sound sensitive? Certainly good or bad training can contribute to various behaviors, but if you consistently hear that the offspring of a specific stallion show a specific behavior I make a mental note.
I also pour over videos of offspring and look for trends. While it is best to see them in person (the Europeans have mare shows and foal auctions that are wonderful for this purpose), in this day and age we have a wonderful resource in the internet and social media. It is important to look at as many offspring as possible, and not just the super nice ones. Do the offspring consistently have powerful hind legs? A slightly roach back? A pretty face (or an ugly one)? A happy go-lucky attitude when ridden? (Yes, I’ve actually looked up a stallion after seeing enough offspring with that specific characteristic!) None of these individual traits are inherently good or bad, depending on your personal interests, breeding or buying goals, and your mares (if you're a breeder). I would add it is just as important to look for the good qualities as it is the negatives; you’re trying to get a well-rounded view of what characteristics the stallion tends to put on his offspring.
Of course, it is essentially impossible to predict what a stallion will produce when he’s very young and has no offspring on the ground. Most breeders who pick very young stallions have a lot of experience breeding and know their mares really well, so they’re more confident taking a chance on a young, unproven stallion. Personally I generally avoid breeding to stallions with no offspring on the ground because breeding is risky enough without having any idea what the stallion might bring to the table! That said I also watch European foal auctions every year to get an idea of what qualities the newest young stallions are putting on their foals.
Most riders, breeders, and foal buyers have probably realized that stallions who produce fancy foals don't always produce good riding horses later on (and vice versa). In the next blog I'll try to tease out a few different ways to think about stallion production, based on the stallion's age and age of their eldest offspring. Stay tuned!