A broodmare is quite simply a mare which is bought with the intention of breeding instead of (or as well as) being used as a riding animal. With this in mind, the broodmare can be of any breed or type; however there are arguably even more considerations when buying a broodmare than when buying a horse purely for riding.
In the days when horses were mainly working animals, there was always a market for them. Even in those days however, the best horses fetched the best prices. Because of this, those who understood how to select quality broodmares and breed them with appropriate stallions were at an advantage in terms of selling the resulting progeny.
Today the market for horses in general has shrunk. Working horses in the traditional sense have largely (albeit not completely) been replaced by machinery. Today horses are for recreation and/or sport. Just as pertinently, the human population of the UK has grown, with large areas of grazing being taken over by housing and associated facilities. This has made the remaining areas of grazing land both more expensive and more vulnerable. Grazing fields can be and are bought by compulsory purchase if this is deemed to be of overall benefit to the community. More commonly cash-strapped farmers, who own most of the available grazing land, may decide to turn over grazing land to other purposes (even if they don't actually want to). How much of an issue this could potentially be depends largely on how many alternatives there are in any local area. For those in largely built-up areas, the consequences could be serious.
All this means that anyone contemplating buying a broodmare in today's world needs to be sure that they are buying an animal whose progeny will make their mark in the world and not just add to the ranks of surplus horses, whose fate depends hugely on their luck. Today, a broodmare must be a star of her kind, whether that's an outstanding children's pony or a quality show jumper.
Physically a broodmare must be an excellent specimen of her breed or type. Ideally she should also have a pedigree of at least 3 generations and all members of her family (including siblings) should likewise have a perfect physique. If this sounds like excessive caution then consider that a horse without known ancestry could have been created though pretty much any breeding combination and that her offspring could easily resemble one of her unknown ancestors rather than the quality horse you bought.
If you are seriously interested in buying a broodmare without a pedigree then there are a few points which can mitigate this risk. Firstly if an animal has an excellent competition record then they have a decent chance of producing offspring with similar talents. It will also be easier to sell foals without a pedigree if their dam is a proven, consistent competition winner (and ideally their sire as well). Secondly if a mare has already had a foal then you will at least be able to get an idea of what sort of offspring she is likely to produce and thirdly if the mare is able to be ridden then even if she is unsuccessful as a broodmare she will still have value as a riding horse. Obviously the greater her ability as a riding horse, the higher her value as a broodmare.
Unless the broodmare in question is a competition horse of the absolute highest level, never breed from any mare who has any issues with her temperament. The broodmare will be the single biggest influence on her foal's personality. Good-tempered mares tend to breed good-tempered foals and vice versa.
Any broodmare must be fundamentally healthy and sound. Another compelling reason for buying a broodmare with a known pedigree is that not only will you be able to check the family health history but you will also be able to look for any genetic defects common to certain breeds. Some animals can be carriers of genetic disorders without showing any symptoms themselves. It is critical that any horse used for breeding (including stallions) be absolutely free from genetic defects and a broodmare should also be 100% healthy in terms of her eyes, wind and heart. Her legs need to be sound enough that she can carry a foal without injuring herself. There is however more scope for judgement in this area. If the horse has defects which were present from birth then it is a serious mistake to breed from her. If, however, she injured herself, but is still strong enough to carry a foal, then she can be given consideration. Likewise horses with scars from injuries can be considered as broodmares although this may well count against them in the show ring.
Caring for a Broodmare
Being pregnant and nursing are both severely draining on a horse's body and broodmares do need looking after. How much looking after they need depends on how hardy they were to being with. First of all a mare should be covered so that her foal arrives in spring. This gives the newborn the best chance to find its feet, in every sense of the phrase, before having to face its first winter. This does however mean that the broodmare is going to be heavily pregnant over the winter months and is therefore going to need a lot of food. Depending on her breed, she may still need fed in spring as she will need to produce milk for her foal for at least 6 months. The foals may be weaned after this time, alternative they can be left with their mothers, in which case weaning will take place naturally at a much later date. Weaning a foal is a subject which can be written about in its own right. Suffice it to say here that if a domesticated foal is to be weaned earlier than it would naturally this absolutely must be done as a gradual process with the utmost care of the physical and emotional well-being of both animals. Otherwise you may well end up with two traumatized horses, which never fully recover from the bad experience.
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