Whether we’re talking about backyard horse breeders or dog breeders or ______ (fill in the blank) breeders. Take an honest assessment of the condition the horse industry is in, then compare that to the economic condition of the United States.
All you have to do is look at your local Craigslist Farm & Garden for sale section to see the overpopulation of horses.
Still backyard breeding continues.
What defines a backyard breeder?
- Breeding two horses together because they’re available, not because the match is suited to produce a foal with improved conformation, or talent than the parents. This could also be a trait/habit of animal hoarders;
- Breeding for color;
- Breeding primarily for a breed ‘type’ trait (i.e. Arabian’s dished face, Quarter Horse’s large ‘hip’ or hindquarters, Bashkir Curly’s curly coat, Paso Fino’s classic fino gait, etc);
- Breeding large quantities of horses to be culled in order to find that singular ‘champion’ foal (the resulting foals being sold off in production sales or sent to slaughter houses in Mexico/Canada, shipped to Japan);
- Breeding genetically flawed, conformationally flawed, lame or otherwise knowingly inferior horses;
- Breeding horses at a financial loss;
- Breeding horses you are unable to appropriately care for (feed, farrier, vet);
- Breeding horses you are unable or unwilling to handle, train and promote;
- Breeding horses you are unable or unwilling to keep their entire life if they cannot be sold to appropriate homes.
Breeders often fall into several of these classes. Of course it’s easy to point fingers at breeders in large breed organizations, like the AQHA which recommends breeders dispose of their overproduction of inferior foals by sending them to slaughter (and production sales are common/expected from many big name stock horse ranches).
But smaller breeds have their problems as well, like the Bashkir Curly where many breeders continue to use and promote the use of hairless (extreme/baldy*) horses in breeding based on the anecdote that they are homozygous for the curly coat gene; these are horses who are defenseless to weather extremes (head & cold) and bugs (no manes, no tail hair, many times large swaths of their body hairless as well). Also curious is that these extremes/baldy Curlies also show consistent conformational defects.
[* Please note there is a difference between Curlies having short manes/tails but full body coats year-round and those I'm referring to as "extremes" or "baldies" in this article who also present with bald areas on their body or face of varying degrees.]
These are just examples. Every breed has some weakness that backyard breeders continue to utilize, ignore, promote(!) or hide.
The low-cost backyard breeder
Let’s consider the face of the horse market as it stands right now. The cost to buy horses has dropped while all other costs associated with them have continued to rise; and those trying to sell horses, at any price, will tell you it’s difficult compared to even 10 years ago. The demand isn’t there, and supply is extremely high.
So where do the foals go that backyard breeders continue to churn out? A $500 foal compared to an $800 trained riding horse? At least in the Midwest that is a normal sighting. I can guarantee you that $500 doesn’t come close to breaking even on the expenses of breeding, unless you are neglecting & starving the mare and didn’t pay the stud fee. Or starving your own stallion too. Let’s not even bring up the costs of promoting those horses, registration for the foal, the upkeep costs of the parents (farrier, vet).
All of the costs related to keeping the mare and stud (or stud fee), property (or boarding), feed, farrier, vet, taxes, registrations, etc should all be factored into the cost of selling that foal. If it’s a business anyway. Unless you’re independently wealthy and doing this as a true hobby and enjoy flooding the market and giving away horses to questionable futures…
Let’s do some simple math. Assuming a breeder is selling their foal for $500. His dam was kept barefoot and the farrier charges $30 per trim. The breeder stretches the farrier visits to the maximum length considered acceptable (8 weeks). Over the course of a year (12 months) this will cost the breeder $195 in farrier fees alone – just for the mare. If they own the stallion too then take that cost and divide it across the number of mares bred/foals produced in a year (assuming he isn’t being trimmed on a different schedule, or wearing shoes).
That’s $195 in farrier fees for the mare who produced the foal that breeder is selling for $500. That isn’t considering veterinary costs (pregnancy checks to prevent twins, vaccinations to prevent abortions, unexpected injuries or illnesses, yearly coggins tests, etc), feed (hay, grain, supplements – and remember that pregnant mares require more nutrition than a pasture potato), property or board costs and so forth.
Essentially that $500 foal is being produced because the breeder likes producing baby horses. It isn’t to improve the breed, to improve upon the parents. It certainly isn’t because they’re running a business of any kind. They are hobbyists who are flooding a market where the victim is the horse because they face a future of uncertainty.
These breeders put their horses at risk of neglectful or abusive homes, abandonment and eventually the slaughterhouse.
The breed-trait backyard breeder
Seeing a foal for sale at a higher price point is not a guarantee they aren’t the result of backyard breeding practices, just that they’re being sold to a different market.
Breed traits produced in extreme can create a certain niche market for breeders, offering foals at a higher price point, but forcing these horses to live their lives deformed, damaged or in pain.
Whether the focus is on a physical feature, a color pattern, a certain kind of movement, hair coat; really the list goes on. Halter horses are bred to the point they’re unrideable (literally), unsound, plagued with genetic diseases; but the breeder isn’t in it for the horse’s well-being. The list could go on.
And when these horses succumb to their purposely-bred weaknesses what’s to be done with them? Again, it’s to an auction, sent to slaughter or perhaps they’re lucky enough to have found their way to a home where they’re quietly forgotten, neglected, or instead forced to work through their pains and live abused.
Retirement for breeding stock?
Another important question, where do the broodmares go once they’re no longer breeding sound? They’ve no training to fall back on and maybe retire as a child’s lesson horse. Or the stallions? These aren’t happy stories either.
What happens without backyard breeders?
Eliminating or even largely reducing the number of backyard breeders irresponsibly bred horses could breath life back into the horse industry again.
Eliminating low-cost backyard breeders
The supply vs. demand of horses would become more level or even drive a higher demand for horses than there is supply; effectively raising the value of every horse on the market. This would also allow sellers to pick and choose the best home for their horse rather than picking based on highest cash offer.
The value of foals will likely increase as well as stud fees, allowing breeders to invest in their business and provide better care for their horses. This could eliminate any financially-blamed excuses for not becoming better educated about breeding, genetics, conformation, training; investing in at least basic ground training for foals so they leave being able to lead, load, tie, stand for the farrier, etc – which again only improves the future of that foal.
A number of other areas could see similar improvements as a result. Getting involved in equestrian activities would be a more serious venture and education become a standard for beginner riders. It would be fantastic to see every new rider taking riding lessons before buying a horse (or becoming a horse breeder)!
Horse slaughter could also become too expensive to be viable. If the average horse costs $1000- $2000 without any training… well I think you can fill in the blanks. Removing horse slaughter plants from the US has done nothing to solve the horse slaughter problem, it’s just changed the dynamic slightly. The real problem is overpopulation and devaluation.
There are certainly a large number of people who would protest this, they like the availability of cheap/free horses because they feel they can’t afford a horse that costs thousands of dollars. But is it really that they can’t afford it or unwilling to wait the amount of time it would take to save that amount of money? And which kind of horse owner is going to provide a more stable future for their horse – the one who wants everything now for nothing, or the owner who plans and saves?
Of course it isn’t the equestrians that like inexpensive horses who face being dumped on the slaughter-truck when no one sees their value anymore. Good news is we can start treating those ulcers we developed leading up to the ban/approval of reopening slaughter plants in the US again – for now. But horses are still shipped to Mexico and Canada every day to be slaughtered, often resulting in further traumas due to the long trailer rides.
Eliminating the breed-trait backyard breeder
Many breed-trait breeders have a niche market, or run in competition circles and demand higher prices for their foals, show horses and stud fees. Unfortunately many of these horses are also bred for a singular purpose in the show ring or just for breeding.
When their time is up where do they go? Lame, injured or no longer breeding sound…
Eliminating breeding habits that are rewarded in the show ring is always more difficult, there’s money to be had in it after all. Getting more judges in the show rings that reward more conformationally correct horses would be too easy. Take into consideration politics and relationships as well.
Turning this around won’t be that easy but the peanut rolling rule did get turned around. There is always room for progress if we use our voices properly (and I don’t mean using our inside voices..).
Become a more responsible equestrian!
If you’re breeding can you make it down the list above without ticking a mental checkbox? Great! If not it might be time to re-evaluate what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what changes you can make to contribute to a better future for the foals you’ve produced. No matter the breed you’re involved with you owe it to every horse you produce to be as educated and responsible for their lifetime-welfare as possible.
For the rest of us, stop buying from low-cost backyard breeders! Stop buying $500 foals. Yeah we get pulled in emotionally with the thoughts of if we don’t buy them then someone terrible probably will, or they’ll end up at auction, or . . . But buying a foal like this is doing no long term favors for anyone. You’re going to see that same breeder selling another low-quality foal at a financial loss next year, and the year after.
And niche breed-trait backyard breeders? Don’t buy from them either! They might be asking a higher dollar amount but again you’re supporting and encouraging the continued production of horses with intentional flaws. Flaws that can cause that horse to suffer more through their life because the breeder likes post-legged/sway-backed/ewe-necked/pigeon-toed/hairless/HYPP Positive/navicular-prone/ horses…
Maybe even take the risk of speaking up and telling that breeder what they’re doing isn’t in the best interests of anyone – horse or human, and why. A good portion of backyard breeders aren’t doing these things on purpose, genuinely think they’re doing their breed/bloodline/color/gait/etc a favor. I doubt you’ll be long-time friends but you never know right?
If you want to rescue a horse, pick one up from a responsible/reputable rescue. Do them a favor by putting your money towards them helping other horses in need. Don’t pay to support the delusions of a backyard breeder who is only filling up horse rescues, auction sales, production sales and slaughter trucks. Adding Clarification : IF YOU WANT TO RESCUE a horse do your research and select the most reputable rescue you can find. If you want to buy a horse from a private seller then by all means do that as well; I’m not suggesting you should ONLY take in a horse from a rescue, but if you do go that route make sure that rescue isn’t a non-profit front for horse dealing.
If you’re set on buying from a breeder, again do your research. Buy from a breeder whose stock is conformationally sound. Someone who is investing in their horses’ futures by providing great care and training, breeding for their market demand and not mass-producing or mass-culling.