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Signs You Are Dealing With A Backyard Horse Breeder
Buying from a breeder
Not everyone buys a horse from a breeder. Unlike dogs and cats, horses often change hands throughout their lives. However, if you want a foal or yearling, then you are going to need to look for a breeder. Knowing how to find a reputable one is important. Watch out for these warning signs that the breeder is a 'bad' breeder. Not every small-scale breeder is a backyard breeder and some large ranches do all the things below.
Every mare on the property is bred
This alone isn't enough to cause concern. Many operations breed every, or almost every, mare every year. Mares aren't as vulnerable to problems caused by back to back pregnancies as smaller animals.
However, ask yourself this...is the market supporting all the foals this person is supporting? Or are they simply breeding as many foals as they have room for and hoping somebody will buy all of them?
Extra bonus points if they are all bred to the same stallion - no matter how good he is, you need to put more thought into horse breeding than that.
None of the stock is proven
This doesn't necessarily mean the stallion has to have a fantastic show record, but is he any good at anything other than getting mares pregnant? Does he trail ride? Does he do ranch work? Are the mares even broken to ride? Many backyard breeders don't bother training mares as it takes time out of their real job of having babies.
Always buy a foal who has relatives that have done what you want to use the horse for and done it well. You can make an exception for a mare who was injured in training, but in that case, have her offspring done anything? Her siblings?
The prettiest thing about them is their color
There's nothing more gorgeous than a good palomino or a smart pinto. However, backyard breeders often put color first, other traits second. An ugly and poorly conformed horse that is 'wrapped' in gold is a likely sign that color is the only thing the breeder cares about. A red flag for this is if the stallion ad goes on about homozygosity for color and doesn't seem to have much else to say about the horse.
Horses are underweight or poorly cared for
A backyard breeder may not realize just how much a mare eats when pregnant or nursing. Or they may simply have more horses than they can afford to feed. Often, they will use the excuse of the foal being hard on her to explain a mare that's a bag of bones with an udder attached. And while it's not uncommon for an actively breeding stallion to lose a bit of weight towards the end of the season, he too should not be malnourished. Also look at the hooves. Are the broodmares being trimmed regularly? Even if all they do is make babies, their hooves need care.
The breeder doesn't know the ancestry of the horses
You can't ride papers, but you also should be wary of a breeder who doesn't seem to know anything about the pedigree of any of her horses. It is fine to breed a well proven and trained grade horse, but it is also a bit of a risk. The genetics may combine in ways that are not expected, and this can be either good or bad. If the horses are supposed to be purebred, but have no papers, why not? A regular owner may not want to pay transfer fees, but a breeder should be willing to do so to increase the value of her foals.
The horses have a genetic defect
HYPP, HERDA and PSSM are just three of the genetic defects backyard breeders tend to either ignore or actively breed for because they want other traits. HYPP, for example, is found in Quarter Horses that descend from Impressive, and is associated with heavy muscling that some find desirable.
All three can be tested for. Also, a responsible breeder tests all pinto horses or horses with known pintos in their ancestry for the Frame (Ov) gene. One copy of frame makes a pretty pinto. Two copies makes a dead foal.
In Arabians, lavender foal syndrome is also a concern. Just as with any animal, horses with painful or potentially fatal defects should not be bred. HYPP often makes a horse unrideable, so never buy a foal that goes back to Impressive without testing it. If testing is 'too expensive', a common excuse among backyard breeders, how are they affording the other expenses of breeding? $50 or $25 paid out once is nothing compared to the costs of a positive foal.
Trust your instincts. If something seems wrong, it probably is. Low quality breeders produce low quality animals. Their farms or ranches are often untidy, and they may use barb wire fencing (although note that in some parts of the country everyone does and the dangers of using it with horses are under-recognized).
It's worth paying a little more for a foal rather than supporting a bad breeder (and there are such things as foal mills, too). A breeder should be asking a lot of questions and making sure you know what you're getting into when buying a foal, not simply handing you the lead rope and maybe a set of papers.