The breeding of horses is a matter that would require much more space for its consideration than can be devoted to it here, and it is one, moreover, which may be discussed from many points of view. Suffice it to say, that to breed good horses profitably requires patience, capital, and an amount of special skill and discrimination, which not many of those who attempt it possess. If it is an interesting occupation, it is nevertheless one in which very few succeed in gaining profit or renown; while as a science, still fewer can master its details. In the following remarks nothing novel is attempted in this direction, but only what experience has proved, so far, to be worthy of note by those who are about to venture on horse production.
The breeder of horses should know the kind of animal he is desirous of producing - racer, hunter, harness or riding-horse, hack, draught-horse, pony, or whatever else in that way circumstances or his fancy may lead or compel him to try for. Whether it is to be pure blood, half-bred, or cross, is another point which he should have decided before he commences operations; as it is surmised that whether he breeds for pastime or profit, improvement of the stock he breeds will be one of the objects he has in view. In the solution of these questions will be found the selection he makes of the parents; and the judiciousness, or otherwise, of his selection will in time be evidenced in the progeny,
It has been recognised that the progeny inherit invariably a modification of the forms and attributes of the parents. Therefore as the latter are, so will the former be. "Nor is it necessary for transmission to offspring that any special form or quality possessed by a parent should have been by him or her inherited; an improvement once established in an individual, whether by inheritance or as a result of special management, is susceptible of transmission to succeeding generations, and by careful and intelligent attention to the selection of future partners for the offspring, the alteration may be fixed and become a typical character of the improved race. It must never be forgotten that not only are superior forms and attributes transmitted from parents to progeny, but that defects, malformations, and unsoundness, or the predisposition thereto, seem to enjoy an especial privilege of reappearing in succeeding generations.
"Some persons regard the qualities and defects of breeding animals in a relative, as well as in an absolute sense. For instance, they agree that a malformed chest or mis-shapen limb are defects absolute; but assert that flat feet are only positively defective when possessed by a stallion intended to be put to a mare having similar feet. And, further, that such faults are to be considered rather as desirable qualifications in the partner of an upright-footed mare.
"Personally, I can admit of no such qualifications, and believe it folly to expect that the mating of two animals, each having opposite defects of any kind, can result in anything but disappointment. Imperfections of conformation, constitution, or temper, cannot be so corrected, but are to be very gradually improved by careful attention to the selection of partners possessing perfect organisation, to oppose defects, and, still more, by the employment of well-directed external means calculated to ameliorate the particular fault.
"Physical and intellectual faculties, to be permanent, must have been fixed by transmission from parent to progeny, K 2 through a series of generations. Recently acquired qualities are ephemeral; they are transmitted with difficulty and destroyed by slight opposing causes. Peculiarities of form, size, colour, and constitution, with qualities, vices, and defects of all kinds, descend through remote generations, and it is not rare to observe in a foal distinctive characteristics identical with those possessed by grandsire or grandam, though absent in its proximate parents."
In breeding, therefore, the breeder should seek to combine, by carefully selecting the sire and dam, what he desires in the produce. It is a mistake to suppose that defects are easily got rid of in breeding; for instance, that putting a horse with a well-shaped head to a mare with a large or unsightly head, will ensure the foal having a good head. Nothing is more uncertain or more unlikely, and it is the same with other defects, and also with some hereditary unsoundnesses and tendencies to disease. To breed pure-bred horses, both sides - sire and dam - must be pure-bred; and to ensure sound and durable stock, the parents must be sound and vigorous; and not only so, but their parents, again, should have been in the same state, for there is a strange tendency to reversion towards defects and weaknesses which one generation may escape, but which will manifest themselves in a succeeding one.
No matter what kind of horse is to be bred - racer, hunter, or heavy draught-horse - the best of the kind should be selected to breed from; the most perfect in form for the purpose required, with a sound constitution, free from hereditary disease or defect, and good-tempered. It is by the system of careful and long-continued selection that our best breeds of horses have been raised; this, and appropriate food and stable manage ment, has given us the mammoth draught-horse, the unmatch-able hunter, and the fleet racer and steeplechaser.
What is called "in-and-in breeding," - that is, breeding from animals closely related to each other by family - has been practised by skilful horse-breeders with excellent results, so far as high-bred stock is concerned; inasmuch as it has assured the transmission of the special fixed qualities which have made certain strains of pedigree stock so famous and valuable.
As a writer on this subject judiciously remarks: "It is the only way to hand down the undiluted influence of some extraordinary animal, to perpetuate and give a fixed character to rare and desirable peculiarities and qualities, to produce an animal that will not be half one thing and half another, as most animals are; but will be all one thing, all one blood, one strain - one strong predominating tendency of form, quality, or character. It is evident that in the ordinary course of breeding, the character of any extraordinary progenitor must soon be lost. His son is only half his blood, and if the other half is entirely foreign, he has probably lost all power of transmission already. His grandson has only a quarter, his great-grandson only an eighth, the next remove one-sixteenth, the next one thirty-second, and so on. The extraordinary blood is lost, and may never be picked up again. On the other hand, by breed, ing in-and-in, we can preserve the rare blood and the rare qualities, and hand them down, little impaired, to millions of descendants."
But this consanguineous breeding demands the greatest care and attention, and should never be carried far, except for special and powerful reasons; as defects become intensified, and predisposition to imperfection of shape or tendency to disease greatly increased thereby.
"To get very fixed character, with undoubted power to transmit its qualities, you must often keep working on the same strain of blood, but under general circumstances you need not keep to what are called very close relations. The more closely you keep to one blood, so the more vigilant you must be to avoid the defects to which that strain has the strongest tendency, and to shun the slightest symptom of disease."
To improve a breed, "crossing" is often resorted to most beneficially; an alliance of different breeds or races giving origin to a stock which, if judgment has been exercised in assorting the parents, may combine more or less of the good qualities of the two families. It more frequently happens, however, that the progeny inherits qualities superior to one side and inferior to the other. So that the breeder has to decide beforehand what qualifications he desires to obtain, and what effect the mixture of races is likely to have on the produce.
The influence of the sire or the dam on the progeny is also to be taken into consideration. This, it has been noted, varies with the age, constitution, and breed of the individuals; and though it is asserted that the sire transmits conformation of fore-hand and limbs, as well as strength, energy, and capacity for work, while the mare gives height, size of the body, and shape of the hind-quarters, yet this is far from being the rule, and it has been observed that the more highly-bred one parent is, as compared with the other, the produce will generally take after the well-bred one - no matter whether this be the sire or dam.
It has also been remarked that the offspring of equally well-bred parents will more closely resemble the parent nearest in age to the prime of life, and possessing the most vigorous constitution; so that, if no particular influencing conditions come into play, the progeny will, if a colt, be like the stallion, and if a filly the mare.
Nevertheless, the influence of the sire is so important, that the greatest regard should be paid to him by the breeder, and especially in obtaining any special type, conformation, colour, or aptitude. More particularly, also, is this necessary in the matter of soundness. The force of this caution will be apparent, when it is remembered that a mare will produce only one foal in a year, while the stallion may be the sire of seventy or eighty in the same period. Therefore it is that, to prevent the country being over-run with unsound, and for this reason comparatively worthless animals, a law should be passed (to protect the public, as well as breeders), prohibiting any but licensed stallions being used for procreation; such licence to be renewed annually, on veterinary certificate that they are free from hereditary disease.