Future Hunters Require Balanced NutritionBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · November 8, 2010
When most horse enthusiasts envision a hunter, they think either of the mannerly show-ring mounts that gallop courses of man-made fences, or they envisage foxhunters, the bold companions of sportsmen that give chase to foxes and other quarry across meadows and plowed fields and through forests and rough country.
For those patient, forward-thinking individuals that seek satisfaction in creating the next generation of hunters, regardless of their future use, there exists the hunter breeding division at shows sanctioned by the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). Entries are judged on conformation, way of moving, quality, substance, soundness, and suitability to become hunters, according to USEF rules.
Jane Witten of Coventryville, Pa., has been a hunter breeding aficionado for more than 20 years. Her initial foray into the sport occurred more by happenstance than design. Like so many other dedicated parents, she accompanied her young daughters to Pony Club events and other equestrian activities. When her youngest daughter's mare injured herself and became unsuitable for riding, her daughter suggested breeding the mare. “Why would I want to do that?” Jane questioned.
Eventually Jane's daughter persuaded her to visit several well-known hunter breeding stallions in the area. Two Thoroughbred stallions proved exceptional, Unfold and Dancer's Melody. The mare was eventually bred to Unfold and the family anxiously awaited the arrival of the foal. “I admit that I was getting pretty excited about the foal. I wonder now if I was suffering from empty-nest syndrome,” remembered Jane.
Tragedy struck and the mare aborted the foal, leaving Jane and her family disappointed. A few weeks later, Jane noticed a simple, one-line ad in The Chronicle of the Horse, a popular weekly publication that focuses on sport horses. The offering: a Thoroughbred mare by Dancer's Melody in foal to Unfold. “I had to have her,” recalled Jane. “Money was wired, and the mare, named Latin Melody, was shipped. She arrived in the middle of a cold February night. I had no idea what was going to come off that trailer, as I hadn't seen so much as a photograph. But she was the most gorgeous horse we ever had. I was ecstatic!”
Her college-age daughter, meanwhile, had lost all interest in breeding. Year by year, Jane's enthusiasm for breeding intensified, and through careful matchmaking on Jane's part, Latin Melody produced several outstanding foals.
Each foal lived up to the intended purpose of becoming a useful mount. Truth Or Dare (by Salute The Truth) evented successfully before becoming a gentleman's mount, and both rock Melody (by rock Point) and Whoudini (by Waltzertraum) are competing as show-ring hunters in the amateur divisions. Perhaps Latin Melody's most noteworthy produce is noble Troubadour (by Graf rossini S), a horse that earned eight Best Pennsylvania-Bred or Best Young Horse awards in hunter breeding classes during his yearling show season. True to form, he is now being used as a junior hunter and equitation mount.
Though Latin Melody was Jane's first broodmare, there have been successors. One that currently resides on her farm, a Thoroughbred named Kataclysm, has contributed heartily to Jane's breeding program, producing Kabloom (by Cabardino) and Photo Op! (by Papparazzo). Jane's uncanny ability to choose stallions that suit her mares from conformation and athleticism perspectives is unquestionable. Proper management has also been instrumental in helping her young horses develop into athletes.
For the last 20 years, she has chosen feeds formulated by Kentucky Equine research (KER) and manufactured by KER Team Member Pennfield Equine Feed Technologies, based in Pennsylvania. She purchases the feed at Pughtown Agway. Jane uses Phase II and Phase III based on what horses she's feeding; the herd dynamics change at the small breeding farm depending on the time of year. In addition to the scientifically formulated feeds provided by Pennfield, Jane feeds high-quality grass hay. Jane's longtime trainer and show-ring handler, Bridget Hanley, attests to the great condition of the horses when they arrive at her stable, usually four to eight weeks before the first horse show.
“Jane does a great job feeding them properly, and I have nothing to improve on in terms of weight,” said Bridget. “Occasionally, I have switched a horse to Pennfield Signature Plus 10/10, which is higher in fat than the Phase feeds, and this helps tremendously with the coat quality.”
Hunter breeding horses are often handled and managed with extreme care because common blemishes such as splints or spavins are frowned upon by judges. While Jane and Bridget agree that it is necessary to keep horses in safe, well maintained enclosures, turnout is important.
“They go out at 6 p.m.and come in at 6 a.m.I don't Bubble Wrap the show horses; they're in the same program as the rest of the barn. Yes, sometimes they get bumps and scrapes, but they go out with the herd and get their social lives in order,” remarked Bridget.
In choosing Bridget to show her horses, Jane selected a lifelong horsewoman with true admiration for hunter breeding. “There is something so appealing about a well-conformed horse—attractive, shiny, attentive. Add to this the hopes and dreams for a successful future, and it's a great journey.”
Though Bridget has bred her fair share of ribbon winners at Devon Horse Show and Country Fair and other prestigious shows, this year offered an unforgettable milestone. For the first time, Bridget was named the leading Pennsylvaniahandler at Devon. To earn this honor, she led her own homebred Tomcat to a win in the Pennsylvania-Bred Two-Year-Old Colts and Geldings class and Jane's Kabloom to a victory in the Pennsylvania-Bred Two-Year-Old Fillies class and reserve Best Pennsylvania-Bred honors.
Bridget's current broodmare is a registered Paint named Miss Tabby Cat. Though Bridget refers to the mare's breeding as “by nothing, out of nothing, from nothing,” the mare has succeeded in producing several show-ring stalwarts including Tomcat (by raine Dance). See Me Cat En Around (by See Me Com En) was the Pennsylvania Horse Shows Association yearling champion and is now a favorite mount of students enrolled in the equestrian program at JamesMadisonCollege.
The camaraderie and deep respect Jane and Bridget have for one another is readily apparent. In March 2008, Bridget fractured several vertebrae in a riding accident, leaving her incapable of showing her string of breeding horses.
A filly owned by Jane was considered a top class individual, and Jane received several offers from other trainers to show the filly but decided to keep her out of competition. By the end of May, just in time for Devon, Bridget had recovered sufficiently to show the filly and earn two top ribbons.
Even in the best of times, breeding horses is an uncertain venture, rife with highs and lows. These horsewomen have used their collective knowledge to breed, raise, and show beautifully conformed horses that go on to be useful performance horses.