Mare Power & Casey’s Ladylove
January 3, 2019
The quest for a top-selling horse begins long before that foal is born. In an industry where broodmares sometimes sell for less than the cost of a single stud fee, it's easy to get distracted by the top side of a pedigree.
But those whose names are attached to some of the top sires in the business know a mare can help or hinder a brilliant stallion, and that it truly does take two to tango.
Jeremy Barwick, a partner in the Brazos Valley Stallion Station, saw more than 2,000 mares come through the barn doors last year.
"I'm a big believer that the mare is probably 90 percent of the foal. You have to start with a mare that is conformationally sound. I really believe they have to look the part before they can be the part. If the mare doesn't look the part, she's not going to have a foal that does."
Barwick believes that even if the mare doesn't have a performance record, if the pedigree is sound and the conformation is there, the mare can produce standout offspring. "But if they don't have the conformation, it's going to be hard to produce that."
While conformation is the foundation of a foal, pedigree can be a good indication of what to expect. "What's worked in the past is going to give you a good shot at success," he says.
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But he's not counting on "magic crosses" to consistently produce top-of-the-line horses.
"How often do you see full brothers and sisters that are equally successful? You might get one, but how often do you get another one?"
In his job he sees it a lot—a certain cross produces a great horse, so the owners breed the same mare to the same stud over and over. "You may have some good ones, but you're not going to repeat that one great one."
Rather than concentrating on breeding a specific stud to a specific mare, he sees more success in finding bloodlines that are complimentary, and matching those up. "I think you should always diversify, because there are always new, upcoming studs. Breed the very best with what's the best in your mare. Do your homework and look at what you're breeding to. You have to be open-minded."
At their stallion station they stand some of the top studs in barrel racing, cutting and reined cow horses, and see the best of the mares in those disciplines come through. When Barwick has input into the breeding decisions, he is completely candid about the mares that get bred, believing the end goal is always to produce get that's better than the sire and dam.
"There's a weakness in every horse and there are strengths in every horse," Barwick says. The ability to see both is essential for producing better horses. "The idea is to build on the weaknesses to make them stronger, and find the stallion that will help the strengths."
While he works with horses that have performance records in the six- to seven-digit range, with prospects bringing tens of thousands of dollars, he recognizes that not every segment of the industry is that caliber.
Whatever your budget, he says, the best advice he can give is to find the best mare you can, within your budget. That budget is going to vary based on your goals for the offspring, but it's not realistic to expect the stallion to fix the mare's flaws in the offspring. "If we're honest with ourselves, that probably works only about 2 percent of the time," he says. You're better off to find the mare with the strongest weaknesses, and a stallion that will improve them, keeping in mind that improvement may not happen. The key is to know what you can live with and what will accomplish your goals.
A Ladylove Story
When it comes to the power of a mare, few know that value better than the Loiseau
"It is our belief that in order to promote a stallion, you HAVE to have good mares," said Lis (Loiseau) Hollman. "A great stallion will, in our opinion, do a lot to help an average mare. But a good mare will do a tremendous amount to help any stallion."
Frances Loiseau, Lis's mother, saw the potential in Casey's Ladylove when she was a two-year-old in a sale ring in Walnut Grove, Minnesota in 1963. Frances waved the winning number while her husband was outside, taking home the buckskin filly with appendix papers for $720 (about $6,000 today). Bred by Virgil Ningen of Porter, Minnesota and sold through Ted Faltinson's horse sale, the Loiseau family had Casey's Ladylove inspected by the AQHA in 1963 and she was officially registered as a Quarter Horse. More than 50 years later she was inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame, based on the progeny she produced.
On the top side Casey's Ladylove can be traced back to Poco Bueno, and on the bottom side she was double-bred to Joe Hancock.
After seeing her potential in both the show ring, the Loiseaus bred Casey's Ladylove for the first time as a 3-year-old to Laughing Boy, an AQHA-registered grandson of Three Bars, a 1940 Thoroughbred.
That pairing produced four foals, one of which was Frenchmans Lady, who, at age 15, produced a palomino stallion by Sun Frost. They named him Frenchmans Guy. Today he's the number two barrel racing sire in history, with 813 offspring that have earned more than $8 million in barrel racing alone, according to Equi-Stat. He also made the list for roping sires*, coming in at number 57, with two offspring in that discipline that earned more than $10,000 each.
Of the fifteen foals Casey's Ladylove produced, three were by Tiny Circus. Two were geldings and the third was a mare, Caseys Charm. Caseys Charm was bred to Sun Frost, owned by fellow South Dakotan Pat Cowan, and the pair produced French Flash Hawk, "Bozo," who sold for $400 as a 2-year-old, but three world titles, three reserve world titles, five National Finals Rodeo average titles and four Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo titles later, he was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2018.
"We've seen time after time, crossed a lot of different ways, these mares produce stallion-quality colts and broodmare-quality fillies," Hollman said.
Today, three and four generations removed from Casey, six barrel horses at the 2018 WNFR—all mares–can trace their roots back to the buckskin mare from Minnesota. At the 2018 Calgary Stampede, 61 percent of the barrel racing money went home with barrel racers mounted on Casey's progeny.
"The common denominator in all these stallions is that their dams were daughters or granddaughters of Casey's Ladylove," Hollman said.
Part of the strength of the program today can be attributed to the eye for horses Frances Loiseau had, which she passed on to her kids. When her husband James died in 1977, leaving her with eight kids and a herd of horses, Frances made the decision to keep the mares and carry on the business.
"My mother was extremely particular," Hollman said. "She had a great eye for horses. She could look at a horse and say instantly whether she liked it. She either liked it or she didn't. Somebody once asked, 'How do you know if it's a good horse or not?' She replied, 'How do you know if a man is good-looking or not? You just know.'"
The family has never been afraid to make tough decisions when it came to keeping stallions and breeding mares. "We geld an awful lot of horses," Hollman said. "People would always ask, 'Why did you geld that horse?' My mother always said, 'The world needs good geldings more than it needs one more stud.'"
Those that remained stallions had to be outstanding in three areas: disposition, conformation and athletic ability. Their mares had to have solid conformation, a good mind and kind disposition. "We've had the advantage of having ridden, raised, trained and been around several generations of these horses. Chances are, our trainer has ridden their mother and grandmother," Hollman said.
While the mares carry a lot of strengths, it's the stallions that make usually make history, primarily because a mare's productivity is limited, compared to a stallion's. "Historically, a mare produced a foal a year, if you're lucky," Hollman said. "A stallion could breed dozens of mares a year. People promote their stallions, and justifiably so. Mares aren't in the forefront of advertisements and programs because they've only been producing one colt a year. That's perhaps why people didn't realize what a big part the mares played."
While embryo transfer has increased a mare's potential production, it's still limited. "For some mares, it's maybe doubled or tripled their production. Because of that I think it's easier to recognize a strong maternal line," she said. "There's more opportunity to capitalize on those maternal genetics than there was in the past because of embryo transfer."
Lis and her husband John have been raising horses for most of the 39 years they've been together, but they've decided it's time to slow down a little and see what else life might bring. Last year they had about 27 foals, but they sold eight broodmares on the Open Box Rafter sale this year, and plan to sell a few more at the same sale next year. "Not because we don't love it and want to keep doing it, but we're reaching a point where we need to back off," she said.
While the decision to sell some young mares was difficult, and she hates to part with any of them, she says it's gratifying to see how excited people are to get these maternal genetics.
"It really worried me to sell these mares, but it was great to see the homes these mares have gotten. There's no reason they shouldn’t be as successful as we were, because these mares continue to produce great performance horses, great broodmares and stallions generation after generation."
Of the eight mares that sold, the high seller was Oh La La Frenchgirl, bringing $34,000 and the low seller brought $15,500. Three 2-3 year old mares each brought between $25,000 and $33,000—a long way from a $720 filly in a Minnesota sale ring.
They're keeping all the mares that are age 14 or older, and will gradually retire them, so they aren't getting out of the breeding business completely.
"That's why we believe so strongly in the maternal genetics. You'll see that played out time and time again, not just with Casey's Ladylove, but with other great mares."
While the legacy may have started with Casey's Ladylove, it hasn't ended there. All eight of James and Frances Loiseau's children still own offspring of Casey's, and either breed them or perform on them.
*Equi-Stat has been tracking roping earnings for ten years, compared to 30 years for barrel racing.