By Jessica Jahiel
Reprinted with permission from Jessica Jahiel’s HORSE-SENSE Newsletter
Copyright © 1996-2007. Jessica Jahiel, Holistic Horsemanship®

Dear Jessica, there’s a mare I would really like to adopt from a rescue place. The vet there thinks that she is only about eleven or twelve years old. She is too lame to ride from several big injuries, and they want to adopt her out as a companion horse. I think she could do a lot more than just hang around a pasture! Just looking at her you can tell that she has good bloodlines and would make a good broodmare. I would like to bring her home and breed her for a colt that would be my next horse. I do some eventing and some hunter-jumper shows and some dressage, and I know some really nice stallions that I could breed this mare to. If the foal didn’t turn out to be as good as I think he would be, there are a lot of 4-H and Pony Club people around here so it wouldn’t be hard for me to sell him.

Here’s the problem I have. I mentioned to some of the people at the rescue that the mare would be a good broodmare, and they asked if I wanted to breed her and I said “Yes”. Now I know that was a really big mistake because now they won’t let me adopt her. They have a rule about you can’t breed any horse you adopt from them. This mare would make a good broodmare like I said, and I don’t understand why the mare needs to be punished because she had to be rescued from a bad owner or why I should be punished if I want to do something good like rescue a horse. I tried to make them change their minds but they said they didn’t allow breeding from any of their horses. I personally know about another rescue place that will let people adopt horses and breed them, and they breed some of the rescue mares themselves and have some nice foals every year. Plus they let you officially own the horses you adopt, but the place that has this mare has some system that they keep the ownership and just let the person who adopts the horse take it home and pay for everything, and then they come to your farm every year and check to make sure the horse is still there and you are treating it right. I guess that part is okay but they should trust people to adopt horses enough that they can let them own the horses!

What can I tell the people at my rescue to make them understand why it would be okay for me to breed this mare? It’s not like I would ever let her get thin and sick like her other owner did, or the foal either. I know that some adopters may not be responsible but I would be.

Hi! I know that you’re frustrated, and I sympathize, but I have to agree with the people who are in charge of your local rescue organization. Right now we have an overpopulation of horses in the USA. You’re probably aware of all the controversy over horse slaughter and whether all of the slaughterhouses should be closed – that’s the end of a story that begins with too many mares being bred for no good reason. Not all of the horses that go to slaughter are broken-down racehorses – many of them are simply horses that aren’t wanted, and that were bred by people who had nothing in particular in mind other than how much fun it would be to breed their mare.

Breeding a mare means – if everything goes well, and there’s no guarantee of that – bringing a foal into the world. I don’t think that’s a good idea unless you have a plan for that foal – not just to sell it to someone else if you decide that you don’t want it, but to give it a home for life and take very good care of it. We’re obviously responsible for the horses we buy and the horses we adopt, but I think that we are even more responsible (if that’s possible) for the horses we breed, because they are our creations: WE are the reason that they exist at all.

If you knew this mare’s bloodlines, and they were so rare that they were in danger of disappearing from the gene pool, and if you were running a breeding program dedicated to the preservation of those bloodlines, then it might make sense to breed her. But that’s not the case – you don’t know what her bloodlines are, the vet thinks that she is eleven or twelve but that’s only a guess, albeit an educated one. She may be younger or older than that, depending on what her life has been like and how she has been fed throughout her life. You have no way of knowing whether she would make a nice foal, because all you really know about her is what she looks like. You don’t know how she would move if she were sound. You don’t know what her parents looked like or how they moved or how sound they were or how easy or hard they were to train. She might be difficult to get in foal; she might have a family tendency to double ovulate – you don’t know, and you can’t guess. And after the injuries this mare has sustained and the other conditions that made it necessary for her to be rescued and rehabilitated, it’s possible that she might not even be sound for breeding.

You’re not dealing with a mare known to be a representative of an about-to-be-lost-forever bloodline; you’re dealing with a nice-looking, unsound mare of unknown breeding, background, and age. She’s had hard times, she’s been rescued, and she’s ready to be adopted by someone who is willing to give her a home as a companion animal. That means that the staff and veterinarians associated with the rescue organization have evaluated this mare and determined that it will be in her best interest to have a home where she will be looked after but where no demands will be placed on her: She won’t be ridden or driven or asked to perform in any way, and she won’t become a broodmare, which is a very demanding career in itself. She is not being “punished” and neither are you – that’s not a good way to think about this restriction. Here’s a better way to look at the situation and the mare: Ask not what your rescue horse can do for you; ask what YOU can do for your rescue horse.

The issue of the rescue retaining ownership of the horses it adopts out simply means that this organization is run by people who are willing to “go the extra mile” to ensure that the horses they rescue find and remain in the right sort of homes. By keeping the ownership of those horses, they control the horses’ fate to some extent, and can monitor their condition and know that their adopters will not breed or sell them. To me, that speaks very well for the quality of this organization!

I have to say that although I respect your local rescue organization based on what you’ve said here about their staff and their policies, I truly don’t think much of the other “rescue” you mentioned. Allowing adopters to breed rescue horses is not a good idea, and as for a rescue organization using rescued horses for breeding – that’s just crazy. Rescues exist because there are too many unwanted horses in the world; why on earth would any sane person try to combine a rescue organization with a breeding program that will create MORE horses? That makes no sense at all. Those foals are likely to grow up to join the other horses that are “processed” through auction houses all the time, all over the USA. Most of those horses don’t leave the auction house on the private trailers of new owners who plan to take care of them forever – they leave on large trucks and larger trailers, bound for feedlots and slaughterhouses. And those aren’t even the horses that suffer the most! Others never get as far as the auction house, because someone abandons them in a field or in a barn, and eventually some of those horses die and some others are impounded and end up at a rescue facility where they can – if they’re lucky – be rehabilitated and adopted.

Even if you had bred this mare yourself and knew every single thing about her, and did the very best you could to match her with a stallion who would complement all of her best qualities and compensate for her flaws, you wouldn’t get a clone of either your mare or the stallion, and you wouldn’t have a guarantee that the foal would be better than – or even as good as – his parents. Also, “he” might turn out to be “she” – and it sounds to me as though you want a colt.

You have wide and varied interests when it comes to riding and competing: Eventing, hunter shows, jumper shows, and dressage shows. Give yourself the best chance to get just the right young horse to bring up and train by NOT breeding any mare at all, especially this one. Instead, enlist the help of your instructor or of a local trainer you trust, anyone who has a lot of experience and a good eye and can help you select a nice, sensible, well-built, healthy, sound young horse that has real potential. When you shop for a horse – as opposed to breeding for one – you can choose what you like, and not have to be disappointed by a foal that turns out to be the “wrong” gender or size, or that arrives with a crooked leg or even a crooked blaze. I’m sure that your next horse is already in the world, probably as a yearling or two- or three-year-old, and that all you need to do is start looking for it.

Meanwhile, if you are able to give this poor mare a good life as a companion for your other horse or horses, that would definitely be a good deed. wink