Jane Nixon Equine Vet and BEF Director of Equine Development has written a great article published in the Young Horse Insight section of the latest (Spring 2016) edition of the British Breeder magazine.
You can read the full artical below, minus the images, or to read the article complete with images, as it appeared as a 3-page spread in British Breeder magazine, please click the link below:
My current work is with the British Breeding Futurity and the BEF Equine Bridge. I also foster liaison with the British Breeders Network (BBN). I have conducted veterinary inspections for many studbooks’ mare and stallion gradings, and the National Stallion Association (NaStA) stallion test since its inception in 1991. This, and my work with private clients over the last 35 years, has prompted me to write this article from, what I hope, is a unique and worthwhile vantage point.
The key to successful sports horse & pony breeding is to have a business plan. Unless one is lucky enough to have no financial constraints, then a carefully constructed business plan, including cost analysis to production target date is imperative.
We have learned that Futurity graduates often do not progress due to the lack of a structured plan and also the lack of good and balanced riders. This is a worrying factor. The British Equestrian Federation (BEF) Member Bodies, are making significant inroads in starting to rectify this lack of young horse riders. The Pony Club, with the assistance of funding from Mrs Pilkington’s Charitable Trust, is looking to encourage “A Test” holders to enter the business career of young horse production. A British Horse Society (BHS) focus group is identifying the right people and industry requirements over the next 12 months for young horse production at all levels with particular reference to intelligent, educated and balanced riding.
The BBN has established that breeders’ main wish is for showcases and sales to exhibit their youngstock to improve sales success and start to recover breeding costs. There is undoubtedly no need to go abroad to purchase good young horses, however they are extremely difficult to locate in the UK. Many youngsters are shown with unnecessary substandard aspects due to inadequate management. Attention to the fine detail of young horse husbandry and production being the most critically important factor.
These are bold statements…now please read on!
A Plan and Strategy
Anyone who attended Keith Taylor’s talk to the BBN at the British Stallion Event at Bury Farm in January or who has read Carole Mortimer’s article in Horse and Hound in March will have picked up that a system for better considered production is now the only way forward, whether it be for breeders of two foals or many foals per year.
Attention to detail and ongoing cost analysis is essential. If this shows that you cannot afford to breed, I implore you not to start, in the interests of the welfare of the offspring.
To produce offspring worthy of a showcase, or to aim for elite sales to rightly attract buyers from overseas, it is critical to engage in a system of improved production. If funds are tight, consider syndication as a real possibility.
Industry bodies are right behind us, keen for talent to be spotted in both horses and riders, however they are concerned that insufficient athletes are being correctly produced in the first place to enable talent to be spotted! Everything is dependent upon a clear breeding strategy and process being at the cornerstone of the approach of every British breeder.
Breeders need to decide on the aim of their endeavours. They should use the best possible mare, ensure that she is graded to allow the offspring to be suitably registered and, in due course, to be themselves eligible for grading. These days this is a must to enhance value. Your chosen, essentially graded, stallion should be closely evaluated and it is worth taking professional advice and scrutiny of the rankings and available data.
Most importantly, whatever your endeavours, always avoid a mare or stallion with rotational or angular limb deformities, as whilst these problems are not necessarily heritable, lack of correctness will often lead to your sale horse being “spun” at vetting leading to reduced value. If you are keeping your horse for your own sport, these deformities can lead to reduced performance and present an even greater management challenge and cost in later life.
We all know that there are many factors to be taken into account when choosing the mare and stallion including temperament, breeding ability, performance and youngstock rankings. However unless the horse at maturity is sound with good feet and conformation, he/she will never achieve full potential. This statement may be contradicted by some, however it has stood the test of time. Pain related to poor feet and substandard conformation for purpose will often lead to bad temperament, poor breeding ability and under performance.
At this stage you should ensure your plan has realistic expectations. What is your end goal? Are you professional or amateur? Are you breeding to keep or sell on to a professional or an amateur? What are your facilities? What value is your time or someone else’s! Consider the extent of the market for your horse at maturity, and study market values of similar horses. Do the costs in your business plan mean that there is sufficient surplus to make breeding this horse worthwhile? In other words, do your sums stack up? If not, why not?
You may now say to yourself, these numbers will never stack up. In my view, this is not so. Consider the more critical approach with better selection of high quality breeding animals, both mares and stallions, and the ongoing management of their health and welfare, and then you will have something to showcase.
Breeding and Nutritional Care During Gestation
Now you have your breeding strategy and have selected your mare and stallion, it is time to be informed and fastidious about critical nutritional care.
The horse is unusual in that the largest increase in growth occurs prior to parturition, which emphasises the importance of feeding the mare. Although previous thoughts on the pregnant mare’s nutritional requirements placed most emphasis on the third trimester (when the majority of foetal weight gain occurs), it is now appreciated that her nutrient requirements will be increased from conception. In 2011, the German feeding standards were reviewed to include a new growth curve for the foetus and inclusion of foetal oxygen consumption as the basis of the new structure for the description of requirements during gestation. Although in the UK we are aware of raised requirements of the mare from conception throughout pregnancy, it may be that feeding changes to account for this are more widely implemented in Germany in comparison to the UK.
If using embryo transfer, be aware of the environmental and behavioural early influence of the recipient mare as many studies now highlight the importance of a suitably healthy mare with appropriate type for the breed intended.
Do re vaccinate your mares against tetanus about 4 weeks pre partum as this will pass immunity to the foal, and avoid the worrying window to 6 months when the foal may receive a first tetanus toxoid vaccinations. Tetanus is a horrific disease to which equines are highly susceptible and is completely avoidable.
Herpes virus vaccination is currently in short supply, however Zoetis have informed that more will be available in September 2016. The benefits are obvious:
Nothing replaces 24 hour surveillance of the in foal mare. Can you operate this? Suffocation prevention must immediately be at hand. Are you familiar enough with the foaling process?
Monitor post partum period very closely, particularly the release of the afterbirth, and take expert advice. You must be meticulous in sampling for IgG to avoid medical problems ensuing.
Ensure sufficient colostrum is taken in by the foal in the first few hours.
Be careful not to turn out the foal too soon, or for too long, as this will cause compromise to young, temporarily weak limbs, and extend time taken to reach or even prevent normality.
If you are not sure about any of these points, then send the mare to foal down to an appropriate facility
These points of course apply to all horses and ponies, but in particular to the youngsters who are both inquisitive, exuberant & prone to mischief.
Draught free ventilation is top priority to enable good lung function, tissue perfusion with oxygen and consequential optimal growth.
Sufficient clean bedding is essential for the foal to weaning, and I strongly suggest mucking out every day for the prevention of foal diseases and sound limb development.
Suitable fencing and removal of sharp objects from stable, the walkway to field and field itself. For the want of this detail many foals are ruined for life due to unnecessary wounds.
Studs producing elite foals will often employ a specialist physiotherapist at days 2-3 postpartum as a routine, and after a difficult birth in particular, to avoid laterality problems and consequentially asymmetry during growth.
Birth to Six Weeks
Very regular attention to growth by combined consultation between owner, carer and stud manager and veterinary surgeon and farrier is essential at this stage to ensure correct symmetrical axial and appendicular skeletal growth.
In particular appropriate time out/rest in stable balance should be assessed together with feet assessment and re balancing to prevent limb abnormalities which subsequently are difficult or impossible to correct. If regular accurate feet balancing is under taken, further intervention in the forms of applications to the foal’s feet, shock wave therapy or surgery are less likely.
The evolution of the horse, as always, should be taken very much into consideration. The horse is a herd animal, is very quick to run from danger, grazes 18 hours daily and dozes the rest of the time.
Youngsters are best brought up in peer age groups, where they can integrate, and be turned out as much as possible.
The greatest care should be taken of the field ground surface and ridge and furrow is to be avoided at all costs, as it predisposes to joint injury and stress fractures.
From Weaning to 2.5 Years
Breeders should give regular attention to:
Producing a horse which is forward going, straight and level. This applies to every type of horse or pony, for every discipline or recreation.
Foot balance. Any inbalance must be immediately addressed. We are striving for the bilaterally symmetrical pelvic and shoulder girdles as a consequence of balanced limbs. Asymmetrical feet behind are even more important than in front and are the single largest limiting factor in sports horse production. Front feet with differing heel depths, most easily recognised from behind will cause uneven loading to the forelimbs from a very early age. If this continues throughout life, it will lead to undue joint wear and uneven soft tissue loading, particularly the suspensory ligaments, and influence the neck and back development.
Medio lateral inbalance in front or behind is also serious since it compresses the limb on the heavier loaded side of the hoof. Balance is maintained by managing the young horse from both sides equally. Most horses become lame in the left hock before the right as they are usually led from the left and consequently engage the left hock joints more than the right during the important growing stages. Similar comments apply to the axial skeleton (spine) and the right hind foot is more often than not unbalanced with a turned out toe, subsequent turning out of the whole of the right hind limb, with consequential asymmetric effects on the hip joints, sacroiliac joint and eventually leading to asymmetrical muscle development going forward along the back.
Nutrition Throughout the Growth Period
Within the equine population, there is such a vast difference in mature size that this inevitably leads to questions regarding growth patterns and how this may differ between breeds. Unfortunately due to lack of data, these questions cannot, as yet, be answered. While the most data exists on Thoroughbred growth and development, there is increasing interest in Warmblood development due to the increasing prominence of the sports horse. For other breeds, information on growth rates is, at best, scarce.
It has been remarked that the influence of young horse nutrition abroad is clear to see when comparing the musculo skeletal development of those horses with their UK peers. This is not about weight, but about overall height and physical condition.
As a first step, with need for immediate focus, the management and nutrition of Warmbloods in successful rearing programmes should be assessed for difference in approach. From this some preliminary conclusions may be drawn as to where the nutritional and/or management difference lies. This work is being undertaken and the outcome will I am sure be hugely beneficial to all producers.
The Ridden Horse
The Ridden horse may be introduced to being ridden from 2.5 years of age. An early start is proven (contrary to popular belief) to be beneficial to correct adaptation of muscular skeletal development. The 2yo sprinter has been shown to have a greater longevity as a subsequent hurdler than a horse not ridden until 5 years old.
It is absolutely essential that the young horse is encouraged through correct balance to go forward, straight and level.
This will depend upon:
It is usual practice in elite sports horse production to undertake a full clinical veterinary examination and radiographs in the early 3yo year to avoid unwanted traits which may, over time, reduce performance, value and sale.
In summary, realistic expectations combined with meticulous attention to detail can be rewarding and most exciting.