The Joy of Gene Transfer

BY TPH PUBLISHER PIPER KLEMM, PHD.

As someone who spends most of her time at horse shows and also runs businesses in this industry,  I am the first to look at the economic hardship of breeding. When I initially jumped into the sport, I remember a trainer telling my mother that if a breeder sold a three-year-old for $10,000, they were losing money. And that was twenty years ago. It is easy to look at how expensive U.S. horse shows are,  how expensive farms are to run, and to conclude with doom and gloom that we should give up domestic breeding and just go to Europe.

But, anyone who has bred their own horse is at odds with these spiritless predictions. Anyone who has brought along their own youngster, decided to breed their performance mare at the end of a great career, or tried to replicate a horse from their past knows better. They know the joy of gene transfer.

I have made one foray into this land. I bred a now 4 year old pony colt under the watchful eye of Sandy Holbrook at Sugarbrook Farm. Eagle is, quite simply, a doll. He is the next generation product of my performance mares and watching him trot, canter, and jump, I am transformed to a different time. I jumped in so hard that I showed him myself on the line at Devon all three years he was eligible. Those experiences were some of the most fun times I’ve had showing. My mom flew out and we had a good old-fashioned horse show – just like when I was growing up. I can’t wait to experience this year. Eagle was broken this fall and will compete in the Young Pony Hunter Under Saddles and (if he’s ready) go to Devon and the World Equestrian Center Young Pony Championships. I look forward to his career in the Pony Hunter divisions and national competition. We are on a long slow road, but every step, every milestone, every achievement is its own reward: this is fun!

Piper and Eagle after their outing in the downpour at The Devon Horse Show (Pa.) in 2017. Photo: Sissy Wickes.

Because here’s the thing about Eagle… I have invested in the joy of gene transfer. Have I invested more money into him from conception than he’s worth at the moment? Absolutely. As a hobby, from a joy perspective, have I gotten it back in spades? I get to watch a canter that makes me smile, a face that warms my heart;
I get to interact with the best of personalities. I love this pony.

I have also invested in our industry. When we breed domestically, it produces a trickle-up effect. Supporting North American breeders, we are supporting breeding barns for stallion fees, board, foaling out, and veterinarians. On the way up we send these horses to local farms to be broken and trained, supporting local trainers. We begin their show careers at local horse shows for mileage and experience. Some of the horses we produce may belong at the local level of competition and will be sold into this marketplace. Others may belong at a higher level and will be sent to a trainer who attends national level shows to be sold or to be enjoyed as professional horses by their owners or to be competed by juniors and amateurs. North American bred horses literally feed our industry on the way up.

Be competitive – strive to breed the best you can, produce an even better model, and aspire to the highest quality hunters and jumpers. Emily Anne Belin of Magic Hill Farms makes a great case for hunter breeding divisions on The Plaid Horse podcast, the #Plaidcast, last month (found at theplaidhorse.com/listen).

I implore everyone riding in the amateurs, showing in the juniors – get involved with young horses! Ask the people around you whether your retiring mare would be a good candidate for breeding. Buy a baby to show on the line and learn to stand them up yourself. Discover a new aspect of the sport. Get to show at the greats like Devon and Upperville, even if you can’t commit to a full time year-round show circuit. If you see a nice two or three year old, devise a plan of how you might buy it and raise it.

The horses with whom we participate in the process will be the most meaningful to us. Give yourself, your students, your children, and emerging riders in this sport the joy of gene transfer. This is where our next generation – both of young riders becoming horsemen and young American bred horses becoming successful – is going to come from. 

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