A general plan should be carefully thought out before the farmer makes the attempt to breed few or many horses. As the work of breeding progresses, many questions of detail will arise which can be most successfully solved as they occur. One detail has a bearing on others, changes are constantly taking place in surroundings - food available, supply of and demand for horses, and fashion. After the general plan is outlined, he is most likely to succeed who adjusts the details most skilfully to the general plan, to the environment and to the proposed results.
First, the man should take account of his likes and dislikes. He may admire the light, active horse. If his farm is rolling, the soil easily tilled, he may gratify his tastes; but he would almost certainly fail if he attempted to breed draft-horses. On the other hand, the man who occupies a stiff-clay wheat farm, and who from this fact may have learned to admire a powerful, large horse, would be foolish if he attempted to breed roadsters. He succeeds best who unites with his knowledge of horse-breeding a genuine love for the breed which he cultivates. Before beginning, call a meeting of the stockholders of the enterprise - the wife and children; their wishes should be respected, and they may be able to give wise counsel. "In the multitude of counselors there is safety."
The market should also be studied. Draft animals sell well at the end of the halter tail. Roadsters and coachers should receive some training, if mature, before they are marketed, if full values are received for them. The amount of money and time that may be available for doing this training should be considered before it is undertaken. The beginner should start in a small way, carefully.
"Smaller boats should keep near shore, Larger ones may venture more."
To get the most out of breeding horses, one should know something of how to buy, sell and trade, - in other words, acquire some knowledge of the business. Some men are born with horse instinct, and these acquire a knowledge of horses quickly. Some tuition will have to be paid for this knowledge, if it is not possessed at the start. In the long run, honesty will be very much the best policy. This is especially the case in dealing in horses. Once a reputation is made for strict honesty, and the market for your horses is established. A sharp distinction should be made between differences in judgment and misstatements of facts. It is surprising how quickly the honest horseman is known and appreciated by purchasers in the horse market, although the judgment of the buyer as to value may not be in accord with that of the seller. Every honest transaction increases the selling price of every unsold horse in the stable, while every dishonest one not only depresses the price of the whole stock, but diminishes the number of customers. Having decided on the breed, - I cannot decide for you, - hold honestly to it. If it is not the best one, make it the best, if possible. Do not attempt to breed a draft-trotting-coach-horse. You will be fortunate if you do not make enough mistakes, when breeding with a definite object in view, to furnish all of this class of horses which the market will take. The most difficult task of all will be to get together a half-dozen or a dozen good brood-mares, - but without them failure is predetermined. It is assumed that my reader lacks the means to purchase these animals outright. Even if he had, he would then, with the horses already possessed, have too many work-animals; for the mares will be able to do the summer's work, although they may be put to raising colts in the winter. One of two methods may be used to dispose of the geldings, unsuitable mares, the old and unsound of both sexes. From time to time, quietly trade or sell one of the undesirable animals. Give "boot" if necessary - money or a cow or a wagon, - but trade if a good and tried brood-mare is offered, or trade for other live stock - cows and sheep. Then trade these for the brood-mare, or sell outright and take a good promise to pay. Put the notes in the bank as collateral security and borrow enough money to pay for the brood-mares. Such transactions will result in developing the judgment and in increasing confidence in one's ability to do business. If the trader is a young man, he will soon acquire good "horse-sense." There will be some tuition bills to pay, but we seldom secure knowledge of any kind without paying the score.
Many good brood-mares have been sent to the cities. They have been there on the hard pavement quite long enough. Their feet would be benefited by the soft earth of the field. Trade a gelding for the mare and get "boot." She may not be quite what you want, because she was not set at her life-work when young. Nevertheless, she may be good. There are many good brood-mares on the farms which have never been used for breeding purposes. There are a multitud of ways to change the heterogenous work-stock of the farm for at least fairly good, sometimes superior brood animals. One of the latter may be worth twenty-five to thirty cents per pound, or six times the price of beef on foot. My friend owns a mare which has performed regular and full work in the summer, and produced colts which, in the aggegate, have been sold when fairly mature for $1,700, or nearly $200 each. A plain grain farmer and a plain appearing mare; the latter suited to a distinct purpose, the former with acumen sufficient to make good use of his opportunity. (Figs. 48 and 49). Description of a Brood-mare. - It is impossible to secure a clear mental photograph of a good or superior brood-mare by illustrations or printed descriptions. The living animal must be studied long, carefully, patiently, if one is to become an expert judge. However, some help may be secured by means of pictures and descriptions. The brood-mare should be of good size, considered from the standpoint of variety or breed to which she belongs and the size of the progeny desired. Her body conformation should be rather open, or the reverse of pony-build. She may be, and often is, a shade too long in body and slightly too coarse. But these defects, if they are defects, may be corrected in the offspring through the sire. The eyes should be prominent, bright and well-set; the head fine, for the breed; neck inclined to be, if anything, too thin, provided it be well set on the shoulders. Short, thick-necked brood-mares are too often disappointing. The shoulders should be rather thin, moderately oblique, and withers high rather than low.
Fig. 48. A desirable coach brood-mare of good action and high spirits. Not ideal in form, but when tested for breeding purposes has proved to be superior.
Fig. 49. A three-year-old fresh from pasture.
The back (top line) may be a trifle long if the bottom line is correspondingly long, though a short top line coupled with a long bottom line is best. The hindquarters should be broad and deep, neither steep nor flat, with hips thrown well forward. The hips and short ribs should not approach each other too closely. A brood-mare that is a little open-ribbed is preferable to one that is too close-ribbed. Such a structure usually accompanies a symmetrically set tail, a broad pelvis and well-developed mammary glands. Symmetrical, clean, well-knit legs, - a little short rather than a little too long, according to breed, - placed rather well under the body, instead of on the "corners" of the horse, should, if provided with good feet and nerve power, carry the dam safely through ten to fifteen years of strenuous life, while imparting to her offspring her own characteristics.
Some horses have feet too large, some too small. Some have feet that are too low, flat and open at the heel. Others have too high feet with too narrow heels. If a happy medium can be secured, and the feet are dark colored, tough and close of texture, they will not only be good, but will indicate that the balance of the body structure is also tough and fine-grained. The color, as has already been said, should, when possible, be of some shade of bay or brown, while the hair should be thick, short and soft.
Having good mares, it is comparatively easy to select the male to which they are to be bred. The male should be masculine in appearance, fine, and larger and smoother than the female; for this is natural and logical if the reasoning which has already been given in Chapter XIII (Principles Of Breeding) is correct. In any case, whether the purpose is to enlarge the progeny as compared with its smallest parent or to reduce size as compared with the largest ancestor, the change should be gradual. Full success may not be secured from breeding large males to small females, or small males to large females, nor when one or both of the parents are enfeebled by old age or by abuse and over-work or over-feeding. Animals which are markedly immature should not be used for breeding purposes unless the object is primarily to direct the energies into certain specific channels other than reproduction, as in the case of dairy cows, or as may be the case when it is the purpose to produce a superior, heavy-milking, brood-animal. (See "When and How to Breed.")
Fig. 50. The draft-colt's first lesson.
Waist too small, rump a little too steep. When in good flesh and mature, these defects will largely disappear.