MSU breeding program creating quality horses
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Horses have been part of Mississippi State University programs for years in teaching, research and the student equestrian team, but breeding has not been a significant aspect until recently.
In the eight years he has been with MSU, Clay Cavinder, Extension equine specialist, has made equine breeding and sales a priority. The average price for yearling and 2-year-old horses has increased steadily over the years to $8,600 in 2022.
“When I came to MSU, my strategy was twofold,” Cavinder said. “I wanted to create industry-acceptable, high-end horses, and I want a nationally recognized program here at MSU.”
MSU already had a few good mares, and Cavinder began looking for others to add to the stable.
“People who have good mares are not just going to give them away, and they are quite expensive,” Cavinder said. “I began to look for good mares that were older and maybe had some reproductive challenges that our College of Veterinary Medicine specialists were able to address.”
Cavinder saw significant success with this strategy with Invested In Pine, a then 23-year-old mare that was the last offspring of the top-notch horse, The Investor. With CVM expertise, MSU was able to get two foals from this horse.
Next, he turned his attention to high-end stallions, and finding them was a simpler matter.
“Stud fees are from $1,500 to $4,000 each, but I went to my friends and connections and every one of our stallion breeding services has been donated,” Cavinder said. “One person wanted to support our program, and she paid for the breeding from one stallion a year.”
The stallions that have been bred to MSU mares and produced foals include Lil Joe Cash, Magnum Chic Dream, Metallic Rebel and VS Code Blue. These stallions are among the best in the industry.
With better quality foals being born at MSU, Cavinder turned his attention to marketing. MSU horses are primarily sold for show competitions, but the goal is to expand into other areas, as well.
“My first strategy was to sell 2-year-olds that were in a marketing program I teach,” Cavinder said. “The students were saddle breaking the horses, and we sold them as riding horses.”
Cavinder then changed strategy and had his students work with yearlings, teaching them to lunge, accept a saddle and bridle, and take professional photos. The majority of MSU horses are now sold in December as yearlings.
“These horses have never been ridden, and I’ve found the yearlings are sold for the dream,” Cavinder said. “The new owners know they could make that horse into something great.”
Another change in the program was making the switch in 2020 to online sales.
Before then, potential buyers would bid on a horse in an informal, unscheduled way, with the high bidder getting the horse. With the COVID-19 restraints that changed business in 2020, Cavinder reluctantly moved to online bids, and the results were fantastic.
"I didn’t think online sales were the way to go, but as we moved online, we realized the value,” Cavinder said. “Through national exposure, our horses have been seen by a greater volume of clientele, many of whom have the intent of investing resources into training and potentially competing.
"Once our horses are routinely competing in a national spotlight, the visibility of our program is going to be enhanced even more,” he said.
A certain level of horse sales is required to maintain the program. These numbers are an easy measure of the profitability of a program, but Cavinder said his top priorities are students and the university mission.
“Our breeding program that is producing more valuable horses benefits the equine program and the entire MSU Animal and Dairy Science program,” Cavinder said. “We have horses to support the equestrian team and horses for research and teaching, and the students who come through our program learn how to become better equine producers.”
Ashley Glenn, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station Equine Unit facilities supervisor, said MSU students do not ride the horses in the breeding program, but they do benefit from the sales.
“With better horses to sell, it allows us to have fewer horses on property, which means less expenses and we’re able to meet our sales requirement with much fewer head,” Glenn said.
Cavinder teaches a sales preparation and marketing class, in which students are responsible for writing up a sales ad, making a sales video and doing the hands-on work with the horses. When the sale is held in December, students get to network with buyers and make connections in the equine industry.
“Our students get exposure to the horse industry, and they learn what high-quality horses are like,” Glenn said. “Quality horses have a high mental capacity and physical ability that allows them to be successful as show prospects.”