Horse Breeding Explained

 Should I breed from my horse?

There is absolutely no point in breeding a foal which ends up at a meat auction and is sold for a fiver. Or, to put it another way: would you want the foal yourself or the grown up horse?

  Here are some of the FAQ’s you’ll want to have answered :

 Well, should I breed from my horse or not ?

To answer this question consider these points:

1. Conformation – are there any serious conformation faults?

2. Bloodline – a horse with good breeding is easier to sell.

3. Performance – what do you want the horse to do or become when adult? If a show jumper or an eventer a proven competition history is essential.

4. Temperament – Would you like to see your foal have the same temperament as his mother. Remember characteristics are passed on by both parents. If the answer to all these questions is positive – you do feel confident in breeding from your mare, the next issue is whether you want the mating to take place at a stud or at home.

These are some of the issues:

1. What does a new foal cost?

First there is the stud fee of £500 plus; then there is stud livery and routine vet’s bills  and another £500 plus if you intend to send your mare to foal at the stud. These items do not allow for something going wrong with the pregnancy, birth or the foal’s first few days.

2. Get the best stallion for the job

Do not go to the cheapest one or the one nearest to you. Make a short list of stallions you wish to see – studs have photos and details – then go and look them over.

3. Looking for a stallion.

You may want to consult the British Horse Database which publishes a list of registered competition stallions or if you want a particular breed make a point of contacting the appropriate breed society listed in the British Equestrian Directory.

 4. In preparing your short list of stallions bear in mind :

 (a) Breeding Record. Has the stallion sired a suitable foal before?

(b) Performance Record. Has the stallion been successful in your chosen field?

(c) Conformation. Make sure you don’t select a stallion with the same faults as your mare. (d) Size. A larger sire should yield a taller foal.

5. Stallion shortlist. You can probably make a short list from all the photos and details provided by the studs and your other research.

6. Checking out the stud. When you visit each stud check out the venue, staff, general ambience and the cost. You then need to balance the looks and character of the selected stallion with the perceived quality of the stud. The next question which needs to be resolved is :

Do I take the mare to the stud  or  Do I breed at home?

 At this point you may not have made up your mind whether to opt for the hassle free option of foaling at a stud or experiencing the full drama and the sleepless nights of a home birth.

Horse Breeding Explained

Foaling at Home

In Labour. You will sense when labour has started by your mare’s restlessness. She will start pacing round her box. She may peer at or kick her stomach, and lift her tail.

Birth. Lasting between 20 minutes and half an hour and the following is what takes place:

1.Breaking of the waters – call the vet if nothing else happens after 15 minutes.

2.The amnion – a balloon-like bag – will appear. Normally this is broken by the foal’s front feet. If it doesn’t tear normally break it and clear the foal’s nostrils.

3. Appearance of the foal’s front feet – call the vet if any other part of the body comes out first.

4. Head, shoulders and rib cage and last of all the hindlegs. If the mare is struggling – ribcage and shoulders can cause problems – hold the foal’s front legs above the fetlocks and gently pull it down towards the mares hocks as she pushes.

5. The umbilical cord should break naturally, turning white as the blood ceases to flow. Treat the stump with antiseptic. If it breaks early whilst still red pinch the stump to stop it bleeding and treat with antiseptic.


1. Expulsion of the afterbirth. A retained or incomplete afterbirth may lead to a dangerous infection in the mare. So when it’s finally expelled lay it out and inspect it thoroughly. If there are any holes other than the one out of which the foal emerged or the bag seems incomplete call the vet.

2. Cleansing. When the foal starts to suckle you know the mare has cleansed – cleansing can take as long as six hours. At this point leave the pair in peace but remain vigilant until the foal has passed his first droppings and can lie down and get up again on his own.

3. The next day ask the vet to do a check and give the foal his anti-tetanus injection

Covering at home or at the stud?

The safest and most popular option is a stay at the stud, in the hands of experts who will be around if there are problems.

The new arrival has 24 hrs to settle in before teasing commences the next day.

1. Teasing. This the process whereby the mare is tested for being in-season. A stallion is put in her presence and if she holds her tail up and to one side this is the mating posture. Teasing takes place everyday until the mare is ready for covering.

2. Vet Inspection. A cervical swab is taken by the vet as soon as the mare comes into season to check for infections which, if present, are treated by antibiotics.

3. Covering. This is done either naturally or by A1 and some mares may need covering twice in one season to ensure they conceive.

4. Out-of-season Scan. Your mare, once she is out of season, is scanned 16 days after her last service to check she’s pregnant. If positive, your mare may go home. But, you may prefer to keep the horse at stud until your vet can do the 28-day scan, a much more certain check on pregnancy; and it has the added bonus of it being safer for your mare to travel. A second covering only takes place if your mare comes back into season or is not pregnant after the first scan.

5. Walk In, Walk Out. Thoroughbred breeders often prefer this. The mare, when in season, travels to the stud, is covered, and returns home immediately thus avoiding stud fees. But, if the mare doesn’t conceive she has to return for a second covering. This ‘quicky’ procedure is much more stressful for the mare.

6. Home ‘Covering’ and at A1 Centre. Availability of frozen or chilled semen, gives horse owners two further options: home covering and covering at A1 Centre or Stud. Both methods employ artificial insemination using frozen or chilled semen from the stallion of your choice. The semen is obtained from the stallion using an artificial vagina.

The semen is then mixed with nutrient under the beady eye of a laboratory technician and if everything is deemed OK it is either put straight into the mare if she is in season or chilled to 4C and sent to the recipient vet or A1 Centre. Or it might conceivably be frozen to 196C and stored until required.

Home covering is now quite popular. The cost of the semen is generally the same as the stud fees but you have to allow for vet’s fees and the costs of collecting and packaging the semen. The other alternative, A1, allows you to take your mare to a centre where she is inseminated thus cutting down on travel. Sexually transmitted diseases are avoided because the mare and stallion don’t meet; and conception rates are similar to natural covering.

7. Surrogate Mother. Owners of competition mares often use surrogate mothers so the the mares can go on competing. This is what happens. The fertilized egg or embryo is removed from the mare seven days after insemination and transferred to a surrogate mother which carries the foal until birth. The Thoroughbred industry forbids artificial insemination or embryo transfer.

8.Pre-Stud Check. Get your vet to make a pre-stud check if this is your mare’s first time breeding. Plan well in advance of the spring breeding season. You will need to supply the stud with a vaccination certificate for flu and tetanus and proof she is free from infectious diseases, like Equine Herpes, Equine Viral Arteritis and Contagious Equine Metritis. As mares tend to live out at stud make sure yours is roughed off before you take her to stud. Some studs may also ask you to remove the hind shoes.

9. No Results No Fee. Find out from the stud what terms they offer if there is no foal by October 1st.A full or partial refund of the stud fee is one option used, the other no foal, free return whereby you are offered a free covering with the same stallion the next year. In both cases you will be expected to provide a vet’s certificate to prove the mare isn’t in foal.

The Workload for Mares

Before the town and cities grew to dominate our environment, agricultural communities relied on the working horse for a whole range of activities. A break from work to give birth to a foal was seen as an expensive luxury and the foal could be seen trailing behind its mother in the fields.

Carry on the Same as Usual Prior to Foaling.

The advice for horses is carry on as usual prior to foaling until the body tells you otherwise. The foal is a relatively small burden until the final stages of pregnancy. When the mare starts to develop the characteristic dropped belly and swinging movement she is ready to slow down.

Before they were domesticated and in the wild horses experienced a long steady low impact type of activity with no aerobic exertion like galloping or high impact activity like jumping. So don’t put to much stress on your in-foal mare. The mare’s centre of gravity shifts backwards to the rear of the body and more strain is placed on the body as the mare grows in weight. Additional stress is placed on joints, ligaments and tendons so increasing the risk of injury.

In the final week before foaling the mare’s pelvic ligaments start to relax in preparation for the birth. At this point she is prone to injury and not suitable for riding.

1. After Birth. A return to gentle activity after the foal is born is advised provided both mother and foal are in good health and they should be turned out for as long as possible if the weather is suitable. Many mares lose condition quickly if they are not fed and cared for appropriately. Lactating takes a lot out of a mare. If she is coping well you can work a mare but allow her to remain in sight of her un-weaned foal so that the foal avoids upset or risk of an injury. Getting your mare gently back into shape should be preceded by a check up of her back and pelvis which have undergone a lot of strain during pregnancy.

2. Food & Nutrition. Avoid feeding your mare a nutritionally rich feed as soon as she becomes pregnant. Broodmares require very little extra until the last three months before foaling. If a mare gets too fat she may be at risk of getting laminitis. Stud feeds are nutritionally balanced for both your mare and her foal until weaning.

Cutting back on stud feed because your mare is overweight may induce a vitamin or mineral deficiency in both the mare and her foal unless remedied by the addition of a suitable supplement. In most cases it’s a good idea to keep the hard feed going until weaning. Thoroughbred foals can gain up to 1kg of body weight everyday. Providing the necessary milk takes it out of a mare. However, the requirements of native ponies is a lot less. After weaning the mare may return to her normal diet.

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