Several years ago Jeff Switzer made a four-hour trip to Colorado to look at a 2-year-old Dash Ta Fame filly. He liked the filly enough to bring it home. The owner was looking to get out of the breeding business and asked if he would be interested in the mare as well.
“I told him give me a day or two to decide,” says Switzer, one of newer names among the industry’s leading breeders. “I knew that mare wasn’t going anywhere. I wanted Bo (Hill, his wife) to ride the filly to see how she rode and what her mind was like. She was darn near loping the pattern when I went back to get the mare.”
Martinis And Bikinis, a daughter of Bully Bullion, ended up producing the all-time leading futurity money-earner and dual slot futurity winner Famous Silk Panties ($237,571) and All Fame No Bull ($57,310), both by Dash Ta Fame.
“The Good Lord was looking out for me that day,” laughs Switzer. “She just fell into my lap, and I didn’t have to pay a lot for her.”
If only all great mares were that easy to find…
Is She Worthy?
What qualities does a mare have to have to be a broodmare? What qualities do all great producing mares have?
The answer varies greatly and is largely dependent on the goals for your individual program.
“Are you raising horses for your kids to run at the local gymkhanas? Then you could probably get away with anything if you cross it on the right stud,” says Switzer, Dodge City, Kansas. “If you want raise and sell futurity prospects, you darn sure need to pick carefully.”
Among the industry’s leading breeders the criteria is fairly standard— pedigree, conformation, proven performance or production and a disposition to go along with it. The age and history of the mare also affects which of the aforementioned factors are most important.
Pedigree isn’t just about fashionable bloodlines. It’s a road map that can give clues to performance, especially when researching the produce records of the dams and finding proven crosses.
When Vickie Adams, Collinsville, Texas, was looking to build Fire Water Flit’s career as a stallion, she started with Bugs Alive In 75-bred mares. She and her hauling partner, the late Celie Ray, who owned Slash J Harletta, Fire Water Flit’s dam, both had success running barrels on horses by Bugs Alive In 75.
“I had bred the daughter of Flit Bar that I went to the (NFR) on to Bugs Alive,” she explains. “He was known to throw really quick speed. I had confidence that Fire Water Flit was going through his mind and how he used his hind leg because I had ridden other Flit Bars and was around Slash J Harletta when Celie and I rodeoed.”
She didn’t just pick mares with great racehorse bloodlines. They had to have successful get in the arena too.
“I got Bugs Alive mares and some Shawne Bug and Jet Deck mares,” she recalls. “All of those horses had produced racehorses as well as performance horses. As it progressed, I went to Marthas Six Moon, Dash For Cash and First Down Dash. Again, a lot of them went back to that great mare FL Lady Bug.”
Switzer is hoping to pick up on the results of Adams’ pedigree work.
“Vickie Adams figured out that the Fire Water Flit-Bugs Alive cross was one of the most dominating crosses in the industry,” Switzer notes. “I’ve bought some Fire Water Flit mares to cross on Famous Bugs (Dash Ta Fame out of a Bugs Alive In 75 mare) because Fire Water Flit-Bugs Alive was such a great cross. I’m willing to take that knowledge that Vickie Adams spent all those years working on and steal or borrow it, depending on how you look at it.”
By crossing proven barrel horse lines, you greatly increase your odds of getting a barrel horse.
“You need specialized breeding for your percentage of having a barrel horse to go up,” says Adams, noting that people get into trouble when the raise a horse they plan on riding and training for themselves and then are in the position of having to sell horse that only has appeal to them. “You want to eliminate all that time and expense that goes to producing something that’s just average.”
For that reason, too, Adams tries to stick with own daughters of leading stallions.
“When I bought race mares, I bought own daughters,” she says. “They weren’t three generations removed where you didn’t know what trickled down or thinned out.”
Daughters of young stallions on the gain are the exception to the rule, she says.
“Like Chasin Firewater and Firewaterontherocks, they’ve had their first foal crops and they look like they’re going to be producers,” she notes. “There are some producing sons of Frenchmans Guy out there too.”
The difference is production records. That’s what separates the sons and daughters of great stallions. Some are able to pass it on and others don’t.
Stallions shouldn’t be expected to make up for shortcomings in the mare’s conformation.
“I get asked the question, ‘what would you breed her to?’ all the time,” says Mark Neville, DVM, the reproductive expert at Granada Farms in Wheelock, Texas. “If she turns out really bad or has an excessively long pastern, you think you ought to breeder to something that’s really short coupled, with short cannons and short pasterns. You wait a year to see the foal. If it turns out fine, great, but if baby is weak in the pasterns, sickle hocked or has some angular limb deformity, you wonder why did I even do that?”
Along with basic structural correctness, you want built for the task at hand—barrel racing.
“You can look for pedigree, but if conformation isn’t there, it’s not going to work,” Adams says. “It doesn’t matter how good a horse is, how good minded or how much they want to do it, if they don’t have the conformation, they’re not going to hold up. They need conformation for longevity.”
If the pedigree meets your approval for production and marketability, you need to assess the individual’s conformation to make sure the bloodlines have bred true.
“You have to look at the individual,” says Adams. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve looked at horses with the same pedigree a million times; you still have to look at the individual because you never know when some conformational fault from three generations back will pop up.”
Adams wants her mares to have low hocks, short cannons and good feet. She also wants mares with a clean throat latch and a nice clean neck that doesn’t tie into too low at the chest.
“Even your reiners and cutters will tell you that horse that ties in too deep in the neck won’t have as much mobility in the frontend,” she explains. “I never want a horse with a short, heavy neck that ties in deep. Barrel horses have to be quick in their frontend. They have to be able to drive from behind but be able to change directions.”
Correct hind limb conformation is also a must.
“I want something with a big gaskin and stifle, because barrel horses use them a lot. You get less injuries back there if they’re built right,” she notes.
Proven means a horse has shown ability as a barrel horse or as a broodmare. It’s the degree to which they are proven that separates great horses from good horses.
Everyone would love to have a blue hen mare, one that’s a prolific producer that has shown time and again that she has the ability to pass on greatness to her offspring.
A perfect example is Slash J Harletta, an AQHA Champion and National Finals Rodeo qualifier. “Harletta” produced several NFR qualifiers and two prominent barrel horse sires—Letta Hank Do It and the legendary Fire Water Flit.
Another blue hen is Ms Wahini Bug, the dam of Switzer’s stallion Famous Bug.
“Proven producers are really hard to come by,” says Switzer. “They’re out there but they’re really expensive to buy. I’m always looking for the next proven producer that’s not 20 years old.”
That leaves younger mares that may be proven in the arena or on the track that possess the right conformation and pedigree.
“If they did run, what did they win?” he questions. “Did they do it in tough company or did they do it at your local jackpot?”
Switzer said he doesn’t like to put a dollar figure on what he expects a mare to have won in the arena, noting that $10-$15,000 in earnings isn’t much for a futurity horse these days.
“I don’t really put a dollar figure on them because there are so many intangibles that can happen during their futurity year—bad ground, bad breaks,” he explains. “If they’ve got the heart, try and want to along with the conformation and family, I’ll give them a look.”
With Hill a regular on the futurity circuit, she has her eye out for those hard luck mares.
“If she sees a mare that’s had bad luck and got crippled, but she was a gritty, trying mare that only won $2,500 and she has the right conformation and family, I would buy her and try her in a heartbeat.”
Here family is key, not only in terms of desirable and marketable bloodlines, but also in terms of the ability to pass it on to the next generation.
The theory is that producer begets producer.
Some time it skips a generation performance wise. Consider Dashin Follies, the dam of Grade 1 stake winner PYC Paint Your Wagon ($889,581) and his brother stakes-placed Ivory James ($220,026), who recently sired Southern Rebel Futurity Champion Pirate Ben. Dashin Follies failed to place on the track, but she struck gold in the breeding shed. Her dam was World Champion Racehorse Dashing Folly ($535,841), who’s dam Hempes Folly is a stakes winner and dam of two additional stakes winners and AQHA World Champion Barrel Horse Three Folly Six. Dashing Folly’s own get never came close to winning what she did on the track, but her daughter Dashin Follies, a daughter of Strawfly Special, was able to when crossed on Corona Cartel.
On the other hand “Just because that mare was a great mare herself doesn’t mean she’s going to be a producer,” Switzer warns.
Consider these two broodmares.
Broodmare A is 16 and earned nearly $100,000 in the arena. She is by a paternal brother to a leading broodmare sire and is the only performer produced by her dam. She’s had eight foals with four barrel money earners sired by four different leading barrel horse sires. However, all four of her money earners were largely 3D and 4D horses even though they were jockeyed by leading riders.
Broodmare B is young and hasn’t produced a foal yet. She had some bad luck in the arena and has earnings of $15,000. She is by a rising son of a leading barrel horse sire and out of proven producer by a leading broodmare sire. Her granddam is a blue hen barrel horse producer.
Which one do you try? The big winner with the lackluster produce record or the young mare from a line of proven producers?
When talking to the breeders of last year’s NFR horses, one theme stood out starkly. While breeders had different preferences in bloodlines as well as definitions and degrees of proven, the majority wanted mares with good dispositions.
Switzer said a bad attitude will get a mare culled from his band.
“I expect my mares to be pleasant to be around, because they’re going to pass that on to the baby,” he says. “If they’re winners, I’ll deal with it, but if they’re just average, they’ve got to have a good attitude.”
Adams wants short distance speed in her race-bred mares, but they have to have good minds too.
“There’s not a mare out there in my band that I wouldn’t want to ride her babies,” she says. “I have my sentimental favorites, but when people come to pick out babies, I don’t have a problem riding what’s left.”
Dr. Neville concurs with Switzer’s and Adams’ assessment of attitude. A mare with a poor attitude can be hazardous to the foal and not mention her handlers.
“You have some of these mares that are right off the track or 3- or 4-years-old or others that have never been handled much, and they’re real aggressive,” Neville notes. “The next thing you know, they’re really aggressive toward the baby. They’ll reject it. If you try to go in there to help, they won’t work with you. Nothing makes you more frustrated than trying to get a newborn baby on mare that doesn’t want anything to do with it.”
Quality versus quantity
Adams suggests buying quality of quantity.
“People want to go buy four, five, six broodmares, and they end up with granddaughters,” she notes. “They all think quantity is better than quality. It never works in the horse business.”
She advises buying one great mare versus several average mares.
“If you go buy a mare for $7,500 or one $3,500, you might have a 10 percent chance of the $3,500 making it, when you had a 90 percent chance of the one for $7,500.”
Switzer says he’s not afraid to fork out some serious cash for a proven mare that he believes will improve his program.
“If they’re worthy of it, I’ll step up to the plate,” he says. “I’m always looking to improve. My ultimate goal is to raise the best horses out there. That’s why I’m always shopping for the next great mare.”
Time for a transfer?
Embryo transfer has transformed the Quarter horse breeding industry, allowing dominate mares to make multiple genetic contributions to the gene pool.
If your mare is broodmare material as defined by the article “Is She Worthy,” there are additional considerations.
Mark Neville, DVM, the reproductive specialist at Granada Farms in Wheelock, Texas, says the resulting foal’s worth should be the main factor.
“You have to ask at what point is the foal worth $6,000?” he says, noting that costs of the procedure have gone down. “That’s usually the cheapest you can get. Is the foal going to bring that much at the yearling sales or will it produce foals worth that much. With a barrel horse, it’s sometimes 4- or 5-years-old before it has any chance of winning that money back and paying for itself.”
The largest expense is the cost of recipient mare.
“I tell people if they have five broodmares and one is a great producer, why not breed the great one twice and put an embryo in one of the average mares? We can do that a lot cheaper. I also think you’re better off having two babies out of one great mare than five babies out of average mares.”