Fifth generation horseman Alex Jayne of Our Day Farm dipped his toe into the breeding industry nearly 25 years ago when his children were young and he began crossing elite ponies. By the time his daughter Maggie was born, he had almost 50 young ponies in his field, many of which went on to find success in the pony hunter ring and were sold as competition ponies.
“I had always bred one or two horses along the way, but I never really thought of it as a way of making money,” Jayne said. “It was more a romantic idea of ‘lets breed this to this’ but never turned out so well. I found horses didn’t breed as true as ponies did.
“If you bred a good pony to another good pony, it produced a good pony. I’ve bred many good horses to good horses and ended up with donkeys. I can’t say I was discouraged, but I wasn’t as encouraged when breeding horses.”
When excellent horse bloodlines became available to him through his son Charlie’s successful international competition horses rather than just “good” bloodlines, Alex began discussing embryo transfers with the Palm Beach Equine Clinic. An agreement to create ten “super babies” later turned into 22 foals born the next year, and the tides of horse breeding changed for Our Day Farm.
Flash forward to 2018: Jayne has about 60 young horses in his program, being raised in a manner similar to the breeding programs present in Europe.
“We can feed one horse for about $200 a month and we let the young ones roam free,” Jayne explained. “We don’t put them in stalls and bed them with shavings. I’ve managed to keep the costs down with a routine we do everyday.”
The horses in Jayne’s program are all bred with the purpose of becoming international competitors for his family. Although there has been a great deal of interest in his young horses, he tries to keep them until they are at least 7 years old. In the event that he does decide to sell any that he believes in, he has contracts ready that would allow him to keep a share of them.
Jayne detailed how each of the horses are haltered and tied to be fed and groomed, handled like mature horses from the time they are young. By the time they are yearlings, saddles are put on them while they’re eating.
“We climb on and off of them while they’re yearlings, kind of like they do at the racetracks,” Jayne said. “By the time they are 2 years old, we put them in a round pen with tack and throw someone on, so by the time they are 3 years old and we’re ready to ride them, we can just get on and ride them. There’s no rodeo or breaking. By the time we go to load them, there’s no jerking or anything, they just follow the rope. It’s something I am a big believer in, and it makes training them much easier.”
Jayne stressed the importance of starting a breeding program with excellent bloodlines of international winners on both sides, and explained that regardless of how a horse’s pedigree appears of paper, some are just better producers than others.
“I had one mare that was a full sister to a world champion,” Jayne said. “On paper, she should’ve been my best broodmare. We bred her to four different stallions and got four donkeys. I sold the mare and sold all the babies as 2-year-olds. None of them were athletic and none of them could jump. That shouldn’t have happened, but it did. She just wasn’t a good producer and you’ll find those.
“I’m very lucky that Athena produces fantastic babies,” he continued. “Valeska produces fantastic babies. Both of those were some of Charlie’s international horses and they have outstanding bloodlines. Valeska is by Vigo, who won the world championship in Kentucky, and Athena is by Toulon, who is probably the hottest broodmare there is. All Toulon mares seem to have good babies.”
So what factors should be examined when selecting a mare and stallion for breeding? Jayne says performance record should be the heaviest deciding factor.
“We just happen to own the most successful breeding stallions in the world. Dulf van den Bisschop’s babies are second to none. Last year, he produced more international winners than any other horse and had more 5* winners than any other horse, not to mention he’s here in the United States.”
Jayne hand-picked Dulf van den Bisschop for Pony Lane Farm’s Thatcher family, with whom he works closely in the breeding program. The year he was purchased, he was the most used stallion in Europe as a 6-year-old, and all of his offspring from that time have gone on to reach the international competition ranks. Just last year, he had seven different 5* winners.
“Anyone who wants to breed to a jumper should be breeding to him,” Jayne said. “There are really no other choices in the U.S. He rides beautiful and he produces better than any horse in the U.S. at the moment. He has size, a great disposition and soundness — everything you’d look for to create a program. To have him as a solid foundation sire is really a stroke of luck. We knew he was a great horse but we didn’t really know he was such a great producer until these last two years. Every single one of his babies are careful and can jump. It’s truly a great thing to have here in the U.S.”
Jayne explained that by the time the young horses are 2 years old, he normally has a good indication as to whether or not they will be successful. The ones he identifies as not having the potential to develop into international competitors, he sells or even gives away to pony clubs or fox hunters, under the condition that he receives half of the payment if the horse is later sold.
“I have to keep my costs in control,” Jayne said. “Illinois is huge horse country. There’s a lot of market for horses that aren’t going to be the next big international jumper. I’ve raised some that should have been international jumpers, but are now beautiful hunters, and that works too.”
Jayne offered some of his best advice for those hopeful about starting their own elite breeding program: Start with the absolute best genes you can get — it costs the same to raise a young horse with lots of potential as it does to raise one with no potential. Beginning a breeding program with a retired show horse who was mediocre in the ring will produce mediocre offspring at best, so start with champion bloodlines.
“You should start with the absolute best genes you can get because it does cost the same to raise a bad baby as it does a good one. You have to start with some champion bloodlines, and have to either have an ‘in’ with some mares or find people who sell eggs off their top mares,” Jayne continued. “That’s a good segway into it without having to own a million dollar horse that’s gone to the Olympics. Sometimes you can buy eggs from an auction. You just have to start with some real quality on both sides if you’re going to raise quality — there’s no way around it.”