Are you thinking of breeding this spring, but you’re not sure where to start? Or maybe you’ve just always been curious about what it’s like to run a breeding operation, be it small-scale, or a bigger operation. Maggie Fullington runs a medium-sized breeding operation outside of Palm Beach Florida—Marabet Farm–where she is hard at work improving the American sport horse bloodlines, and had a lot to say about how she got into the business, and what goes into running a breeding farm.
Maggie Fullington has been breeding fence-jumping, bedtime-snuggling, in-the-sprinkler-playing warmbloods at Marabet Farms for 13 years now, but she was bitten by the breeding bug long before that. In 1982 Fullington bought her then four-year-old daughter her first (adorable, welsh) pony. “She went for a pony ride and that was it. So I thought we could breed the pony and bring up the foal until she was ready. Of course once you start breeding you get hooked, so I bought more ponies and bred those and so on.”
But the pony phase was temporary.
“We quickly realized my children would only be on ponies so long, so we started breeding thoroughbreds.” Once Fullington’s operation moved to Palm Beach Gardens just outside of Wellington, she began breeding warmbloods, and has since grown her operation to four stallions standing at stud year round and three to four of her own foals being born on the property every year.
An operation of this size keeps Fullington and her staff busy from sun up to sun down. Beyond the standard feeding and turnout, each day is filled with tasks involved in running her breeding program. “We have to organize each day to figure out which young horses need to be worked with, and which mares need to be looked at for breeding. In the afternoon we collect from stallions to send product out to mare owners. It makes for a long day because we have to do it later so that everything gets to the mare owners more fresh, and so that it is not as hot for the stallions.” She also adds that because of the hot Florida summers she often has alarms set to go off throughout the night so that the stallions can all get playtime over night when it is cooler rather than during the day.
It’s not all work and no play at Marabet Farms however; Fullington’s young horses know how to have fun and fortunately she has a sense of humor.
“The boys were romping and playing, and the colt from Germany came ripping around the corner heading right for the fence. I thought ‘it’s OK. He’s going to turn.’ He didn’t turn. He jumped out of the pasture and cantered down the driveway to the grass at the end. As I headed down to get him one of the other colts jumped out and joined him. They didn’t run around like crazy; they just decided the grass was greener on the other side.” Even Fullington’s “grown up” stallions have quite a play drive. “Bliss is the funny guy; he has to have a myriad of toys in his stall and at feed time he will hold his feed bowl in his mouth at the door. Whenever you turn him out in the arena the first thing he does is jump all the jumps in one direction, and then turn around and jump them the other way.”
Fullington had a lot to say in the way of proper care and sanitation practices as well, and if you go to the farm to meet stallions or see babies, prepare to learn. “You have to be extra careful with the stallions. They get their own separate pastures with higher fencing, and we have to be careful to make sure they don’t get overheated because that is detrimental to semen quality.” Even though she stresses the importance of being careful with stallions, Fullington also emphasizes the importance of love and affection. “They’re still horses. Some people are standoffish with stallions because they are afraid, but we don’t believe in that. We treat our stallions the way we treat all our horses—with kindness and affection.”
Where sanitation is concerned, Fullington’s attention to detail is again obvious, and Marabet Farms is well equipped to keep the entire breeding process as clean and safe as possible. “I always clean and sterilize everything I’m about to use before I start, including beakers and surfaces,” she explains. “When collecting, the semen goes through a filter that catches any dirt and then goes into the collection bottle which has been sterilized ahead of time.”
Christine French, a trainer who recently relocated from Florida to Virginia where she runs her own small training and breeding program–Still Waters Farm–now has two foals on the ground by one of Fullington’s stallions. Though she’s been in the business since she was a teenager in the 80s, French said that she had limited experience when it came to caring for a pregnant mare and what was involved in the breeding process. “I’ve done a lot of reading, and I talk to Maggie a lot. I’ve asked her I don’t know how many questions, and she’s been very generous to share with me,” she said. “ I asked other people in the area in Florida and my vet. I’ve really used the experience of other people.”
French also went into the work that is involved with training young horses and preparing them to show in hand speaking specifically of the older of her two foals who is currently a yearling preparing for Devon. “I worked with her several times a week when she was first weaned to teach her how to walk, trot and stand nicely. Usually I only work her for about 15 to 20 minutes before I lose her brain and focus, and that’s pretty normal. She had to get groomed a lot and she’s even on a special diet to help her look good. She’s still learning to wear a bridle—that’s hard.”
While French also explained that she would not keep stallions on her property because they are too much maintenance and there is too much risk involved, Fullington says that even though there is nothing like a baby, she loves keeping the stallions, especially the ones she has raised. “The great thing about the stallions is they are the base of the business, and the most gratifying. I’m trying to bring good bloodlines to this country and produce nice, amateur friendly horses; I’m breeding for good athletes with great brains so that they are suited for any discipline.”
You can also visit Marabet Farm on Facebook, and Maggie is always more than happy to answer any questions you may have about her stallions, or the breeding process. All photos borrowed from Maggie Fullington and Marabet Farm.