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Breeding: The Story of Two Chicago Area Breeders

Donna Struve's Sabrina with Bucky Renolds, 2012 Best Young Horse East Coast. Photo: Susan M. Carter

Nancy Whitehead and Donna Struve share a unique insight within the horse world uncommon among many equestrians. Many riders simply see the end result of combined bloodlines that produced their horse, but Whitehead and Struve get to see behind the scenes. They are horse breeders and their horse’s names are indicative of equestrian success.

Whitehead, Richmond, IL, and her stallion, Roc USA, are at the helm of the Roc line of offspring. The Roc is a mythological bird said to have an enormous wingspan enabling it to attain great heights in flight. Perhaps a modern day Roc is seen in Whitehead’s Roc USA and his talented offspring, as evidenced by their remarkable jumping ability.  Known commonly as “Roc babies”, Roc USA’s offspring have demonstrated an exceptional bloodline matched with a willing mentality to do their job.

Nancy Whitehead's Roc USA stallion.

Whitehead purchased Roc USA, the Dutch Warmblood by Idocus, in 1999 and changed his name to include “USA” as a reflection of Olympic show jumper Laura Kraut’s horses with patriotic names. After placing Roc USA in the show ring and witnessing his success, Whitehead decided she wanted to keep him as a breeding stallion. Roc USA’s initial offspring proved to be carriers of the stallion’s skillset and Whitehead continued the breeding process.

Struve followed a similar path of inspiration to begin breeding her mare, Tapestry. 

“I consider her to be the best mare in the whole world. Her records stand for her success and she motivated me to start breeding,” said Struve of Tapestry.

Struve has been breeding the Hanovarian mare, Tapestry, for five years at her farm called Tapestry Farm, in Bristol Wisconsin.


The Process

The breeding and foaling process for Roc USA is based out of Entropy Farm in Woodstock, Illinois. Whitehead said, “it is expensive to own a stallion” but Roc USA’s breeding success “pays for his board and broodmares.” The Roc babies can be purchased in utero, as weanlings, yearlings, and older. Once a baby is purchased, the new owner works with their own trainer but Whitehead said she is still able to help as a reference when asked about particular things the horse may do with the new owner.

Whitehead reasoned, “You must remember that you are taking an animal that used to be wild and telling it to do this and do that and any horse will put up a good fight. You must be patient and firm.”

While new owners often purchase Roc babies, Struve has held on to Tapestry’s offspring.

“I’ve had so much luck with my babies. They’ve been wonderful. Tapestry is really calm and easy-going. They don’t take up too much room,” said Struve.

Both Roc USA’s and Tapestry’s breeding is not on live mares or stallions in an effort of caution. Not breeding via live cover leaves the reproductive technique options of embryo transfers using surrogate mares or artificial insemination.

 “I don’t want to risk Tapestry,” explained Struve.

Roc USA is considered to be an improvement sire, which Whitehead described as “a stallion that improves on the mare’s qualities that may be less than ideal.”  Whitehead said she will breed Roc USA as long as his semen is viable and she also freezes and stores his sperm for future breeding.


The Foaling

The most difficult part of the breeding process to Whitehead and Struve alike seems to be during foaling time.

Sabrina at home on the farm.

“I’m always praying they will be born healthy so it’s a stressful time of the year that you come to either dread or enjoy,” said Whitehead.

“When they hit the ground you just hope their legs and head are all in the right place. Right away, I have a pretty good idea of how the horse is going to turn out. I just want them to have good careers,” said Struve.


The Success

After the baby’s are born and the waiting period is over, the fun begins. Whitehead and Struve have watched their breeding efforts result in excellent success.

Roc USA has produced five national champions and numerous zone, state, and regional champions. Whitehead described Roc USA’s offspring as horses that “have a nice canter stride, are of good size, are careful, jump with scope, and are born knowing to do their job. Roc USA and his offspring are a joy to own.”

Struve described Tapestry’s offspring as “athletic horses with nice dispositions. I have bred as much athletic ability as I possibly could.”

Roc USA’s offspring are suitable for rider’s across the board from children to adults, amateurs to professionals, and those who want to show competitively and those who want to ride for pleasure.

Tapestry’s two-year-old filly, Sabrina, by Cabardino, was named Best Young Horse at Devon this year.  Bucky Reynolds, of Warrenton, VA handles the youngster for Struve.

Struve's Sabrina at Devon winning Best Young Horse.

“I was terrified. I was just hoping and praying. I was so anxious to see what the judges thought of her,” said Struve about her experience at Devon.

Sabrina has also won Best Young Horse East Coast, Overall Grand Champion 2012, the Sallie B. Wheeler/National Hunter Breeding Champion and is the Winner of the Dave Kelley Perpetual Trophy for Overall Champion.  Struve also won the J.Aurthur Reynolds Memorial Trophy for breeder of the best young horse.

Breeding horses, of course, includes significant trials and tribulations but is an unmatched and rewarding experience.

“I’m going to keep breeding if they keep doing what I want them to do. Watching them grow up is so rewarding,” said Struve.

 Whitehead said one aspect she cherishes most about the process is “bonding with the horse that you raise and knowing that it will go to the ends of the earth for you.”