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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Oct. 19, 2007


Bravo Bull, pictured here with associate professor Peggy Miller (left) and horse farm manager Angela Chandler, is a thoroughbred stallion owned by Iowa State. Six of his 2-year-old foals hit the racetracks this summer, including Prairie Meadows Iowa Stallion Futurity Stakes Race champion Bravo Cyclone. Photo by Bob Elbert.

The business of breeding

by Erin Rosacker

Iowa State always had horses, but it wasn't until 1998 that the business of breeding them started in earnest. Despite limited facilities and a soft horse market, Peggy Miller and Angela Chandler are turning those adorable knobby-kneed colts you see every spring into sound investments.

"The program has always been [quarter horses]," said Miller, an associate professor of animal science and Extension equine specialist. "They had a mix when I came here in 1989 -- some saddlebreds and a couple Arabians. Prior to quarters, it was drafts."

While maintaining its quarter horse legacy, ISU diversified its herd with donated thoroughbreds and paints in the 1990s. Miller said these are the top three breeds in Iowa.

"We're trying to meet the needs of the clientele and also try to pick things that could at least provide some funds," Miller said.

What a stud

One of the best ways to generate funds is marketing the five stallions that are "standing" at Iowa State.

ISU's two paint stallions and the quarter horse stud are kept busy with artificial insemination requests from across the country. Stud fees range from $600 to $1,250 and shipments are $150 to $350 each. After ISU acquired one of the nation's top paint stallions (Think I'm Hot) last year, outside breeding requests doubled.

Registry rules require the thoroughbreds to be either hand bred -- one person holds onto the stallion, one person holds onto the mare -- or pasture bred, Miller said. "They don't allow artificial insemination."

An 11-month gestation period and a target birth date in January make February through June the busiest time in the horse barns. Chandler, who is manager of the horse farm, is busy fulfilling outside breeding requests (shipped on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) and coordinating the foaling and breeding of ISU's 25 brood mares.

"For the breeds that we have, everybody breeds in the spring. They're pretty particular about when they want their foals born - the earlier in the year, the better," Chandler said.

Those that are going to race thoroughbreds as 2-year-olds want them to be as big as possible, she added. "They want as close to a Jan. 1 baby as they can get."

The thoroughbreds

ISU received its first donated thoroughbred mare (Piezo) in 1998 from Suzanne Evans, a trainer at the Prairie Meadows racetrack in Altoona. A few more mares were altruistically transferred to Ames over the next couple years.

"It kept growing slowly. We'd have a few foals to sell," Miller said. "We started getting more mares donated."

ISU leased stallions to breed the mares until 2004, when Sandra Rasmussen of Des Moines donated Bravo Bull, the program's first thoroughbred stallion.

Bravo Bull, who compiled his own respectable racing resume, came from champion parents. Now, he is the proud papa of his first crop of 2-year-olds that hit the racetracks this summer. Bravo Cyclone was the top earner of Bull's six racing offspring, winning the Iowa Stallion Futurity Stakes Race at Prairie Meadows in August. His portion (nearly $55,000) of the purse translated to about $6,500 for Iowa State. The Iowa Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association (ITBOA) awards winning percentages to Iowa breeders.

"In thoroughbreds, you're considered the breeder if you own the mare at time of foal," Miller said. "We're considered the breeder for the rest of that foal's life."

Cyclone Prince became ISU's first money-winner this summer, placing third at Prairie Meadows in June and winning a July race. The 3-year-old gelding was one of two ISU-bred thoroughbreds running at the racetracks sired by a leased stallion (Political Whit).

Miller said the money coming in from ISU-bred winners is going back into the program, covering costs for things like feed, student labor and pasture maintenance. The program also earns income from selling its foals. At this year's annual ITBOA sale, one of ISU's yearlings sold for $26,500.

"Our horse trailer is pretty beat up, so I think we might be able to get a new one," Miller said.

The name game

Chandler is responsible for the mountain of paperwork required to register horses in their respective associations. Each animal needs a registered name, and she enlists the help of the students who work at the farm -- a group of about six undergraduates, including two who live in studio apartments in the barns.

"Generally, we like to choose names that let you know who the parents are -- taking part of the name from the sire and part of the name from the dam," Chandler said. "Because our thoroughbreds are making it to the track now, we like to have something about Iowa State in the name. Something that people would recognize as an Iowa State-bred horse."

The horses also are assigned "barn names" by the spring equine class in a less scientific manner. The students, who are assigned a mare at the start of the semester and follow her through the foaling process, vote on a theme. Last year's foals were named after islands (Capri, Cyprus, Zanzibar, etc.), while former themes have included cities and characters from Walter Farley's Black Stallion books.

Outside help

The success of ISU's horse breeding program is a direct result of quality donated horses.

"We've been lucky to have some extremely generous donors and supporters who are interested in seeing our program succeed," Chandler said. "Some people do it strictly for a tax write-off, some people do it because they really want our program to succeed. We get all of our breeding stock through donations."

With success comes more selectivity. Mares donated to Iowa State must have an excellent pedigree, a good track or show record, foals that have won on the track or in the ring, or a combination of those things.

"At one point, we accepted most mares," Miller said. "We've come to the point now where we can be picky on what mares we want. If they haven't done something, then we won't accept them."


"Because our thoroughbreds are making it to the track now, we like to have something about Iowa State in the name. Something that people would recognize as an Iowa State-bred horse."

Angela Chandler