Although I occasionally breed dressage foals as a hobbyist, I found it interesting to delve deeper into the breeding of show jumping foals. It struck me that the approach to breeding a dressage foal and a show jumping foal significantly differs. The biggest difference is that show jumping breeders more often opt for proven stallions instead of young liscensed stallions than dressage breeders. The underlying notion is that breeding a Grand Prix horse x Grand Prix horse increases the likelihood of producing a Grand Prix horse, and it's hard to argue against that logic....
Because of that it also seems that if you don't breed with a mare that has competed at the highest level, your breeding efforts may not be as highly regarded, or that it will be easy to market the show jumping foals you've bred. So, the question that pops up in my mind is: For whom are we breeding show jumping foals?
Let's take a look at some important considerations and target groups in show jumping foal breeding:
1. Top-Level Sport and Professionals
For many breeders, the goal is to produce show jumping foals capable of excelling in top-level sport. These foals are bred with the aim of participating in international show jumping competitions, the Olympics, and other prestigious events. It's often not the riders themselves, but primarily the sponsors and horse owners behind these riders, who are willing to make significant investments to acquire talented foals with the ultimate goal of reaching the highest levels in show jumping. At first glance, this target group appears to be quite extensive. In 2023, the top 50 countries had a total of 38,813 FEI-registered riders across all disciplines, with approximately half of them being show jumpers, around 20,000 in total. It is estimated that this group, supported by sponsors and owners, owns between 5 and 10 horses per person actively engaged in the sport.
While some of the top-level riders and professionals may also engage in horse trading, this isn't immediately a group that purchases many foals. Some of them may prefer breeding with their own mares that have competed at the highest levels in the sport or are still active. Consequently, the group of top-level riders/professionals who are willing to buy foals for the succession of their top horses seems to be relatively small. However, the sponsors of these riders do invest in foals and embryos, primarily acquiring them through various elite auctions. The chance that this group purchases a foal directly from a breeder's stable appears to be present but rather limited.
2. Amateur Riders
Determining the size of this group of riders worldwide and their average level is challenging. This group is expected to be significantly larger than the group of top-level riders and professionals. Most riders in this group are not expected to jump much higher than 1.30m to 1.45m. They are also likely to own fewer horses per person, estimated to be between 1 to 5 horses actively involved in show jumping. Some of this group may breed one or more foals for personal use. They are less inclined to buy a foal from abroad and are more likely to limit their choices to their own country or neighboring countries. The more enthusiastic amateur rider is willing to pay an average to slightly higher price for a good foal and may prefer a foal from a young stallion with a moderately strong mare lineage, as this option tends to be more cost-effective. Exceptions aside, they are expected to be willing to pay a price ranging from €5,000 to €10,000 for a foal, and they are likely to acquire these foals through regular auctions. This group is also open to purchasing foals directly from breeders' premises.
3. Recreational Riders
This group, estimated to be quite large, consists of individuals who enjoy jumping with their horses or occasionally participate in local competitions. The number of horses per person in this group is relatively low, with an estimated range of 1 to 2 horses per person. Members of this group are less inclined to purchase show jumping foals, instead opting for well-trained, well-behaved, and easy-to-ride mature show jumping horses with a relatively low purchase price. If they do decide to buy a foal, it typically falls into the lower price range, and the pedigree's sporting background is of lesser importance.
For professional traders, it is essential to maximize revenue while minimizing costs. Most traders who buy foals attempt to acquire the best quality for the lowest price. The cost of raising a foal for a trader with sufficient facilities for rearing and grazing is relatively low. The risk of loss or depreciation in value remains significant for traders, just like anyone else purchasing and raising a foal. Therefore, traders often buy larger quantities of foals to diversify risk. The good foals must compensate for the less successful ones.
5. Stallion Owners
Looking at stallion owners, it's notable that large stallion owners of show jumping horses often breed a significant number of foals themselves. Examples include Paul Schockemöhle, VDL Stud, Team Nijhof, Joris de Brabander, Hendrix, and others. However, some of them purchase young (approved) stallions to introduce new bloodlines to their breeding programs and expand the options for their breeders. Although some of these stallion owners will also purchase colts for rearing, the amount of foals they are buying seems to be relatively small.
6. Other Breeders
Another niche market includes other show jumping breeders. Within this group, there is a demand for mares with proven pedigrees featuring strong sporting backgrounds. If you want to excel in the top tier of breeding, acquiring a mare with a track record in international top-level sports is highly appealing. However, it's well understood that such mares aren't readily available, and you might find yourself searching for a needle in a haystack. On the other hand, purchasing a filly from a promising proven dam line is a more achievable option. The best chances are through auctions, but diligent searching and having the right connections may lead you to acquire them directly from breeders at an attractive price without commission.
Future of Jumping Horse Breeding
Now that we have identified various target groups, it's interesting for you as a jumping horse breeder to reevaluate the specific audience you are breeding for with your existing mare stock. Does it align with your vision, or is an adjustment needed?
The landscape of jumping horse breeding is undergoing significant changes, and this evolution puts pressure on hobbyist breeders. The pinnacle of breeding appears to be reserved for top-level riders, professionals, stallion owners, sponsors, and horse owners who possess mares with a proven track record at the highest level and who raise their bred horses to the highest attainable level themselves.
To deliver high-quality foals as a hobbyist, it seems necessary to ensure that these foals find their way to the right places, so they will be trained up to the highest level possible and allowing them to excel in sport. If you lack mares with a pedigree that has sufficient sport in it, acquiring one or more fillies from proven sporting lineages could be an option. For small-scale breeders, it's advisable to strive for the highest possible quality and exercise strict selection in your horse stock.
Regardless of the path taken, substantial time and financial investment is required to compete at the highest levels as a hobbyist. Concentrating on the broader groups of amateur riders and traders seems to be the most viable option for most breeders. As a small breeder, always keep in mind that it's crucial for your breeding products to find the best possible placements, ensuring they receive the right training and ultimately perform at their best in sport. With this approach, you may find yourself among the very best in the field someday.