In my column in the March 1 magazine, I brought up the subject of finding the best cross for your horse, no matter the popularity factor. I’m very passionate about this subject. Anyone who knows me knows my opinion on the matter couldn’t fit in one column, so I’m going to expand. (I can already hear my friends: “Shocking!” they are saying with a laugh.)

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I like to determine crosses on the best-case scenario. While I often sell my horses, I also always pick a cross by answering this simple question: “Well, if I can’t sell it, would I want to own it?”

I enjoy breeding for variety. I want the most well-built, well-balanced and versatile one I can make. I like to think of it from an open-minded perspective. If it doesn’t want to do “this,” would it be able to do “that” instead?

While we have become an industry of specialization, let’s be really real about this. Most of the specialization comes in the training barn, not the breeding barn. I’m going to strike some nerves here, but I believe it’s true and worth saying.

This isn’t a training article, but allow me to digress to explain how I think this all ties together. There are a million scenarios to support my theory. I do not have space to point them out individually, but — with few exceptions — they all have the same underlying story.

No matter the history of any given trainer, there tends to be “that one horse” or “that one bloodline” that really jumpstarts their career. Folks, right then and there is where the rest of their training lives is grounded.

Whether they realize it or not, what they learn is based on all their horses before “the one,” and then what they felt and how they navigated the training and showing of that “special horse.”

The rest of their career is all about training another one like it — hoping to find the same talent and win the same group of titles, or more. Even if their program is centered around what not to do wrong and/or how
to do things better, “the one” becomes their model horse.

As breeders, we hope to make the next one for them, just like the last one. For that reason, breeding decisions tend to come dictated from trainers. This is where I think we tend to get stuck. We all breed to the same stud rather than what is the best cross on a mare.

I will refer back to Shining Spark again as an example of a horse that rose (no pun intended) to popularity. He is quite possibly one of the most versatile sires I know, and it all came from the forward thinking of Carol Rose telling us, “They always make something.”

If she had a trainer on the payroll that didn’t like a certain horse, they still had to ride it. You couldn’t send the horse home because it was already there, and no horse was skipped. That was an invaluable lesson that paid off well for Shining Spark because during that time, you’d see his offspring in the reining, cutting, reined cow horse, rop- ing, barrel racing and more.

One time, we even received an email from a lady that had a son of “Shiner” she used in Pony Express re-enactment rides on a regular basis. We saw many in the finals at the major futurities, but it was never an insult to any of us when one didn’t make a futurity prospect. I can again hear Carol’s words ringing in my ears— they always made something.

Shiner is now 31 years old and his “bigger crop” days are admittedly over. But it’s not just “the old days” to which this concept applies. We see it still happening in present day with stallions like Gunnatrashya, who I mentioned last month, and One Time Pepto.

It doesn’t stop with them, though. There are many others; these are just two horses I have personally studied and been affiliated with, so they become my most relevant examples.

They carry different bloodlines and have different athletic types, but they are just that — athletic and well-made — and they are crossing over into different arenas on various types of mares. It’s exciting to watch it all unfold.

I don’t just lecture, though. I practice what I preach. I took a chance on creating the best cross I could when I bred my mare, Shiners Hot Flash. She was a World champion reined cow horse and, up until last year, most of
her $100,000 in produce earnings was from the cow horse arena. That changed last December.

You can’t imagine my surprise when her 3-year-old by Gunnatrashya won
the National Reining Horse Association Futurity Level 1 Open. Years ago, I was brave enough to take a chance on two horses I thought would be a good cross, not real sure of what the resulting foal would become — but I knew it would make “something.” That colt did so much more than that, and I’m thrilled to see him continue on in his career as a reiner.

In short, we might have a goal of raising a champion for a certain futurity, and that’s great! But, I still encourage everyone to breed for the best horse they can possibly make.

As for any of you who are still skeptics and say, “Sure, that one did well because its sire or dam did this or that …” I ask you, if that’s the case, then why are we not guaranteed a futurity champion when we breed a futurity champion to another one? The black type is only a fraction of this process. And don’t worry, they will always make something.

This Breeding & Beyond column was published in the April 1 issue of Quarter Horse News. To purchase this issue, click here.

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