Why Him?

How to choose the best stallion for your mare
by Barbara Aitken Jenkins

Choosing the right stallion for the right reasons can be a daunting task. Do you breed for bloodlines, color, or conformation? What is more important? How do you know you have made the right choice? There are so many questions that mare owners ask themselves when it comes to making one of the most important decisions in the business.

Two successful women in the horse industry, Jane Backes and Mary Kay Steyskal are professionals when it comes to matchmaking, equine style.

Jane Backes of Tioga, Texas, owns one of the leading stallions in the Western Pleasure industry, Good Machinery. However, before Jane was a stallion owner, she was a mare owner. Mary Kay Steyskal of Papillion, Nebraska is one of the foundational influencers of modern Western Pleasure bloodlines as she has owned stallions such as Tiger Leo, Iron Rebel and has produced Good Version, Natural Iron, and many more.

For both women, conformation is a top priority on their list when it comes to choosing the right match for stallion and mare. “Conformation faults can be anything from long back, long pasterns, too much slope or too straight of pasterns, short necks, too thick or a wrong tied in neck, homely head, bad natural tail set, fined bone and muscle, shallow heart girth, crooked legs and high set hocks,” explained Jane.

Likewise, conformation is also number one on Mary Kay’s “Breeding Selection” list. She advises everyone to “be a student of correct conformation,” and also believes that “many lamenesses in the industry today are a direct result of confirmation,” which can result in a number of issues that Jane described.

To be ahead of the game, and to ensure that the match will result in positive qualities like good conformation, both Jane and Mary Kay preach studying bloodlines.

Jane shared her background in this practice and how it has influenced her breeding program, which has led to much success. “I have always loved studying the bloodlines and conformation of horses since I was a child, reading all of the Quarter Horse Journals from cover to cover. This led me to my passion for breeding. My goal was always to improve the individual and not just to reproduce it.”

Mary Kay underscored her beliefs by saying, “You must be a student of the breed and constantly strive for improvement. Do not make excuses for negatives and decide if you can live with them.”

She continued, “Inbreeding and line breeding set a type both good and bad depending on how the genes line up. It is very important to educate yourself in order to understand the process. Outcrossing renews hybrid vigor. Too much of anything is not good!” She continued, “Be aware that you breed to the whole family, not just one individual or another.”

Mares also play a huge role in both women’s breeding philosophies. In fact, Jane is a big believer in the power of mares when it comes to creating good crosses. “I coined the phrase ‘The Magic is in the Mare’ which is the backbone of my breeding program. I believe the mare passes on at LEAST 65% of the foal’s attributes. When picking a broodmare, I always look at the first two to three generations of the maternal line. By using this philosophy consistently, I have raised AQHA Reserve World Champions, Congress Champions as well as multiple World and Congress Top Tens, NSBA World and Reserve World Champions, AQHA Honor Roll top tens, Multiple Superiors and ROM’s and two Justin Rookie of the Year Horses.”

Mary Kay added, “When I look at a stallion to breed to, I ask myself if I would be happy with ten mares that will look, move and act just like he does. These same criteria are also used in my selection of broodmares. We have raised most of our broodmares and I feel more comfortable doing this because in knowing so many generations there are very few surprises. I truly believe if I cannot raise a filly that is at least as good as, or better than, her dam, I am not doing it right to start with!”

In any breeding, it is important to make the best decision based on what that particular mare and stallion will produce.

“Many people base breeding decisions on ‘the flavor of the month’ stallion or on the stallion their friend picks, NOT on what complements their mare for the best resulting foal. You have to look just at your mare and decide what you would want to improve in her. Then pick a stallion that is strong in that area,” explained Jane.

Mary Kay advised that anyone who is breeding must “have a vision and breed the horse that satisfies you first and hope it will satisfy others.”

When it comes to the final decision on making stallion and broodmare selections, Mary Kay has four items on her list:
Confirmation and overall balance.
Athleticism and movement according to the discipline.
Pedigree. Study the pedigree using it as a guide for breeding selections. Study the statistics of family history both sire and dam. Look for consistency in type and longevity of performance in families where several individuals have excelled in their discipline.
Disposition and trainability. Although they are listed last on the list, they are key to her final selection of any horse! Without these two things, nothing else matters!


At the end of the day, it does not matter what stallion is on the top of the trending charts or which stallion matched best with someone else’s mare. What is most important for both mare and stallion owners who are trying to find the best match up is researching bloodlines, conformation, show records, and disposition will ensure that you make the most educated decision, and will help you to be pleased when the foal is born and in the years to come.

As Jane shared, “Most of all, ENJOY the foal you helped bring into this world!”

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