Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Economics of Horse Breeding

As Ace’s surgery date approachs, I'm beginning to have sticker shock. There are two clinics to choose from. One is Cornell Vet School, and the other is Cleveland Equine. We are set pretty much equidistant between the two of them, which is a three hour drive one way. Because Cornell is a teaching school, they give a flat rate of $1500 for the procedure. Cleveland Equine estimates between $2000 and $2500 for the procedure, with the variables being surgical complications and recovery time.

Add to this at least $125 in gas because first you have to drop the horse off, and drive home. Then you have to go back and get him and drive home again. Which means each trip out is going to be 6-8 hours factoring in loading time etc. So, this means taking two days off of work. Let’s review. That’s $1500 to $2500 for surgery. $125 for gas. Two days off work. Things are starting to add up. I figure on the low end I'm looking at $1900, and at the high end, somewhere closer to $3000.

Now, when all this is said and done, what could we realistically value Ace at? I’m sorry to say it, but Saddlebred yearlings are not a hot commodity right now. A quick internet search will find you a dozen for sale at a lower price than Ace’s surgery. At the bi-annual Saddlebred auction in Lexington, you will see nice, useful yearlings going for less than a thousand. I’ve even seen a winning futurity colt from an excellent breeder sell for $125. That’s less than what we would spend on the gas alone.

Of course, we wouldn’t part with Ace for a few hundred dollars. He’s a nice, well mannered colt with a great deal of potential. But still, in this economy, you have to make responsible decisions with your money. Having an expensive hobby like horses requires good judgement. Too many people have continued on their merry way until they realized they were in a horrible predicament with no easy way out. And their animals often suffer from it.

With all these things in mind, I emailed my mother the other day saying maybe we ought to think about finding Ace a new home before we both emptied our emergency reserves (and trust me, they would have been empty) on this risky abdominal surgery. It just so happened that she was, at that moment, on the phone with Copy’s new owner. The woman was bringing Mom up to date. Copy did not settle with the first AI and she was going to be AIed again the next day. Mom read her my email and in 10 minutes, emailed me back that Ace would have a new home.

For a few minutes I felt like I was just passing my problem off to the next person. After all, who buys a rambunctious cryptorchid yearling colt who is facing a medical bill of a couple thousand with the risk involved? I sort of felt like I'd made out like a bandit. But from her standpoint it makes sense. She could continue to sink an indeterminate amount of money into trying to settle the mare (that adds up fast, ask me how I know) and maybe or maybe not get a healthy foal. Or she could cut two years off her wait and have the exact same cross she was working on ready to go into training next year. Plus, she can see what she’s getting right down to sex and color.

From our side, it also makes sense. We will not have the added expense and risk. She has experience with stallions and will be able to deal with his high spirits until the hormones are out of his system. She will be able to send him out for training which would be a stretch for us. This will give him the best opportunity to have a career as a show horse, and me the best opportunity of not getting thrown in the dust. As part of the deal, Copy, who is presumably in foal to Ace’s sire, is back here on a lease agreement. If she is in foal, we will have the next foal free and clear. If she is not, the stud fee is paid, and we can pay the resulting vet expenses to get her settled this season or wait until next spring. Are you ready to start on this horse breeding adventure with us all over again?

So Saturday Ace embarked on his first solo trailer ride and overnighter. He loaded like a good boy, and we left him loose in the two horse trailer with the divider removed. As they headed out the drive, Ace (naturally) began kicking and screaming like the baby he is. Mom looked at me and said “that could have been us all the way to Cleveland”. Whew… I hate hauling horses. By the time they had reached their house, a short half hour drive if you take it slow, Ace had settled and was behaving himself.

His new owner was very impressed with how Ace behaved. She said we had instilled in him trust for his handler and obedience. I’m sure he was excited going to a brand new place full of strange horses. The world is much wider than he has ever imagined. The next day Ace got his first water hose bath. Of course he didn’t want to stand at first, but soon settled in and coped with it. Wow, what a lot of firsts for a young man.

He has a turn out area in view of her house, and she has a window she keeps an eye on him from. She says she can’t do the same high pitched “Ace-ey” that Mom can, but she called to him out the window, and he soon figured out where she was and to watch for her. On day two he felt comfortable enough to try to bite her, and she had just been mixing dog food so she had some on the side of her hand. When he reached for her, she grabbed for his tongue (not a bad way to deal with biting if you’re quick yourself) and he got a good dose of canned dog food…. “Yuck Lady. You taste AWFUL. Phooey.”

So don’t give up on this blog. We will still have Acey updates although fewer and farther between. It’s fun to follow along when someone takes one of your colts and develops a relationship with them. Especially when that person is a trusted friend and lives so close. Ace will go for surgery in a couple of weeks. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the hormones to clear his system and for him to start acting like a gelding. We look forward to such time as his training continues and he hits the show ring. You better believe we will be there for that!


Mare said...

I'm sure the decision wasn't easy, but I'm sure it's also the right one for you. There is no sense going broke over a horse, even if you love him. I wish you the best of luck with your next foal, and I'll continue reading for sure!

Jason said...

Before she met me, Melissa enjoyed a brief and whimsical flirtation with breeding and selling horses. Given that she and her family feed wild turkeys, it likely doesn't take much imagination to figure out how well this was going to work out. I have never been known as the brightest bulb in the box, but I'm pretty sure that without vehement disagreement on my part we were well enroute to filling this (empty at the time) 140 acre property up with "net costs". Retirement boarding suits my frugal nature MUCH better and we've built a good life out of it to boot. Kudos to you for doing the right thing by your horse and your budget. I am sure it was not an easy choice to make.

Bif said...

Well, that sounds like an ideal solution for all, then.

Your thoughts on the surgery costs, makes me think of Boyfriend and the ridiculous money poured into him and still no ridable horse... I love him and don't regret the choices I made, really, but if I knew then what I know now... I would have bought him so I could humanely euth him. There needs to be a limit on what we spend for the overall health of our complete family, and our wallets.

Or, I just have GOT to start buying lottery tickets.

Kaede said...

I've enjoyed your blog so much. Please keep writing.

Kaede said...

Please keep writing, I've enjoyed this blog so much.

Kaede said...

Please keep writing, I've enjoyed this blog so much.

phaedra96 said...

Probably the wisest choice in the end. He will turn out to be a fairly decent citizen, I am sure. That said, it is not always the easiest thing to do, is it?

Leah said...

Wow, big decision, I didn't even notice this post until just now! Bad me! well, I wish you luck in your next adventures. As for Ace, I hope that he continues to grow up and impress us all- he's a beautiful colt with a ton of potential, hope to see him on those green shavings some day! :) Keep us updated, and we'll be anxiously awaiting the expected baby! Sounds like it worked out to be a win- win, if you like the breeding/baby horse part of it, which it sounds like you do. Very exciting! ;)