When Dr. Deb Harrison-Steele and her husband Ron Harrison decided to start breeding cutting horses, they decided to commit themselves to five yearsaEquistar_front_sign_sm to do the best that they could do. It’s been five years, “and we are just breaking the surface,” says Deb.

Of course, Deb has been breeding client’s horses for longer than five years. She owned a small animal and a mixed practice in Stony Plain since graduating from Veterinary College in 1997, but sold it in 2005 when she decided to focus on equine reproduction. Deb and Ron transformed their 80 acre farm in Spruce Grove, Alberta, into an equine breeding facility and vet clinic.

Equistar Veterinary Services spends 90% of the work year breeding mares, collecting stallions and freezing semen. Every year, they breed hundreds of mares with fresh or frozen semen from all over Canada, the United States and even Holland. Their services include artificial insemination using fresh cooled or frozen semen, fertility evaluations, stallion collection, shipping semen, freezing semen and embryo transfer.

On top of owning and running their business, Deb and Ron also compete in cutting in the aged events. They have eight mares they own and breed under the name Equistar Enterprises Ltd. “Mares are the foundation,” Deb says, “They have already proven themselves in the performance arena and are proving themselves in the broodmare band.” Deb and Ron have ridden and competed on their mares, which helps to match them with the right stallion.

aEquistar_recips_on_pasture_cropped“It’s really exciting when they are two or three years old and I get to ride them,” Deb comments. “I get to see the individuals they have become.”

Deb keeps one or two offspring each year. “They aren’t the pick of the litter, either,” Deb comments, “They are the ones that don’t sell for whatever reason. It’s a breeder’s responsibility to know what to do with the ones that don’t sell.”

That’s why Deb says she focusses on breeding conformation, so the horse stays sound and a good temperament. “You never know what they are going to be, cutting, penning, trail horse, but they need a good temperament.”

Equistar does not own any stallions themselves; they use frozen or fresh semen but it can be difficult to assess the whole stallion, including his aEquistar_wet_mares_on_pasturetemperament, in a glossy advertisement. “It’s a challenge to breed our good mares to a stallion,” Deb says. “We’ve gone down to Texas to see the stallions and talk to the owners.”

Being a vet and having a breeding operation does have some perks. Deb is able to do embryo transfers from her broodmares. One of her mares,  Bob Playin (NCHA LTE $ 36,797), has 3 year old offspring in the show pen but just had her first foal pulled out of her this year by sire Smooth As A Cat.

The fruits of their labour paid off last year with a memorable moment and what Deb considers one of her greatest successes. Ron and Deb were at a sale with a horse consigned with their brand, when a man approached them and said that he knew that brand. He had a horse at home that he loved with that same brand. 

“Breeding is one of those areas that seem simple on the outside but has problem areas and problem stallions,” says Deb, who likes the challenge. Sheaequistar_july_5th_2011_135_sm enjoys seeing the babies the following year and the ability to “visualizing your success.”

The current horse market is a challenge, but Dr. Deb lives by the motto: “Breed the best that you can breed.”