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Horse Breeding

( Originally Published 1898 )

BREEDING That there is no royal road to the production of good horses is shown by the fact that many owners to whom money has been of no importance, who have added long experience and keen observation to practically unlimited expenditure, have vainly tried all their lives to breed the object of every racing man's ambition—a Derby winner. Much is written about scientific breeding, but the most that can be really maintained in regard to it is that by the judicious union of certain strains of blood a fair proportion of valuable horses is likely to be secured. When a horse wins a number of the principal stakes, strong evidence seems to be furnished that he is bred on highly judicious principles ; but all the own brothers and sisters of such a horse not only one or two, but all of them not seldom prove absolutely worthless for racing purposes, and this is an argument against scientific breeding which takes a vast deal of explaining away. The different supporters of the theory of scientific breeding have different ideas on the subject; there are no set rules. The majority of them, however, would doubtless have agreed cordially as to the absolutely and unimpeachably scientific breeding of several horses who finished far behind St. Gatien in the Derby and behind Robert the Devil in the St. Leger and it is certain that neither of these two animals would ever have been picked out as an example of the science. One naturally chooses a sire of approved merit, and looks for size and quality in the mare ; but if she is good looking and comes of a distinguished family, it is not essential that she should have won races. A great many of the mares that have been most successful when in training have failed to produce winners. Possibly in some cases their vital energy has been more or less exhausted during their career on the Turf. The fact remains, whatever the cause may be ; and, on the other hand, many mares that ran moderately, or even badly, have become the dams of famous horses. There are what may be called " chance " sires also. An example is Wisdom, a wretchedly bad horse when in training, who greatly distinguished himself at the stud, one of his sons having won the Derby, another the Ascot Cup, and a daughter the Oaks. Reference has already been made to The Rover, sire of St. Gatien, and to Bertram, sire of Robert the Devil, though it must be remembered that unless a horse has shown capacity to win races he rarely has a good mare sent to him.

Advocates of scientific breeding are specially contemptuous about what they describe as " rule-of-thumb," that is to say, disregard of intricate and exhaustive calculations of strains of blood, in favour of the simple attempt to supply from the dam deficiencies in the sire, to obtain from the sire correction of weak points in the dam, and so forth. It is far from certain, however, that, if this is carefully done, the secret of breeding, so far as there is any, has not been discovered. The suggestion will no doubt provoke the con-tempt of the theorists, but it is an idea firmly held by many men who have considered the subject and dealt with it practically all their lives, and have very likely in their time been themselves ardent supporters of theories, before the futility of their most ingenious calculations had been repeatedly exposed. Certain questions as to make and shape being borne in mind, if a man sends a dam of winners to an approved good sire, the result is very likely to be a good animal.

Of late years the majority of breeders have paid attention to a point which was formerly much neglected the necessity of keeping the stallions in good health by giving them sufficient exercise. Opinions differ as to whether it is advisable to ride the horse or to lead or lunge him, and the truth is that this depends in a great measure upon the disposition of the individual animal. But robust exercise is essential, particularly in the autumn, that he may be hard and in good health when he begins his stud duties. It can scarcely be necessary to remark that the age of thoroughbreds dates from January 1st, and that the period of gestation is a year. Foals have occasionally appeared during the last days of December, and the unfortunate owners find themselves possessed of "yearlings" that are actually only a few hours old, the little creatures therefore rating as two-year-olds when their age is really twelve months plus the hours by which they anticipated the beginning of the year ; and it is obvious that they are at a hopeless disadvantage with their quasi contemporaries who have months of additional growth ; for a few weeks make a great difference to a foal when he once begins to grow the right way and to " do well." Some breeders like their foals to be born in January, so that they may have the more time to get forward ; others think that the young creatures thrive better if they do not come into the world till the spring grasses have begun to grow, till there is more sun and the winter winds are gone. Seeing that days in March are not seldom as bleak and cold as any in the year, attempts to avoid winter winds are likely to have doubtful results. Here, as elsewhere, hard-and-fast rules are in truth impossible. Much depends upon the mildness or inclemency of the season ; much more on the treatment to which the foals are subjected, the shelter afforded them, and so forth ; very much again on the young animals' constitutions. Roughly speaking, it would seem that a colt born in February would have great advantages over the one born three months later, when as two-year-olds they run against each other; but some of the most successful horses known have been May foals. The Bard, Saraband, and Best Man, may be cited as examples.

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