Horse breeders produce and sell horses for a variety of purposes such as racing, showing, and pleasure riding.
Successful horse breeders are well versed in equine reproduction, behavior, and management. The duties of a horse breeder may include such responsibilities as facilitating breedings by live cover or artificial insemination, handling stallions, teasing mares, attending foalings, assisting with veterinary exams, keeping herd health records, and managing farm staff such as broodmare managers, stallion managers, and grooms.
Horse breeders in the Thoroughbred industry are only allowed to conduct live cover breedings due to restrictions imposed by the Jockey Club. Breeders working with other types of horses may need to develop proficiency with advanced reproductive techniques such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer or employ individuals who have skill in such areas.
Breeders must work closely with equine veterinarians, nutritionists, farriers, and other industry professionals to provide complete care for the horses under their supervision. Small breeders may be required to work long hours in varying weather conditions and extreme temperatures, assisting with routine mucking and feeding duties. Breeders who own larger farms (and have a staff to handle the daily care of the horses) may not have the same responsibilities.
Breeders may also be involved with showing their stock in a variety of judged breed shows and competitive events to demonstrate their quality and enhance the value of related breeding stock. Proven race and show stallions command high prices when they stand at stud, so it is to the breeder’s benefit to give their horses every chance to prove themselves in their area of sport.
Horse breeders tend to specialize by focusing on the production of a single breed that interests them. Thoroughbreds, Arabians, and American Quarter Horses tend to be the most popular choices for breeding operations, though Warmbloods are becoming increasingly popular. Some breeders also specialize in producing and marketing horses for a specific purpose, such one intended for racing or show jumping.
Education & Training
While no specific degree or training is required to begin a career as a horse breeder, many in the industry do have a college degree in a field such as Animal Science, Equine Science, Equine Reproduction, or a related area. Schools such as U.C. Davis and Colorado State are known for having some of the top programs in the field of equine reproduction.
Coursework for these animal science related degrees generally includes the study of subjects such as anatomy, physiology, reproduction, genetics, nutrition, and behavior. Courses in marketing, communication, and technology are usually beneficial, as many horse breeders create their own advertising and web pages to promote their breeding program.
Most horse breeders have significant experience in the industry before they start their own breeding farm. Many start out as grooms or assistants and then rise to the management level before striking out on their own. There is no substitute for hands-on experience in the horse industry.
Additionally, breeders must be familiar with the history and characteristics of the breed they intend to produce. Studying pedigrees and learning how to evaluate conformation are of particular importance.
A horse breeder’s salary can vary based on the type of horses they breed, the quality of their breeding stock, and the breeder’s reputation in the industry. High-quality breeding animals (that have outstanding pedigree or performance records) produce foals that are in demand and bring top dollar when sold.
The salary a breeder earns is directly affected by which area of the equine industry they produce horses for. Top show prospects can sell for tens of thousands of dollars, while prospective racehorses can sell for millions of dollars if they have the right pedigree and conformation.
Horse breeders must also take into consideration the various costs of producing the foals that they sell. Hay, grain, bedding, veterinary care, hoof care, farm maintenance, farm vehicles, employee salaries, and insurance are just a few items that qualify as costs of doing business.
The market for top horses was affected by recent economic setbacks but seems to be rebounding. The Thoroughbred industry, in particular, seems to be showing signs of improvement based on rising prices at recent auctions, though profits are still nowhere near the impossibly high levels seen ten years ago.
Interest in the equine industry remains high, and many individuals seek to purchase their own animals for competition or pleasure riding. The horse breeding industry is expected to show slow but steady growth over the next decade.