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A guide to horse breeding

The prospect of producing a foal with qualities similar to its mother, or even better, has many attractions, and this is generally the reason a horse owner will choose to put their mares in foal.

Before any decision to breed is taken, however, prior knowledge about normal breeding behavior, what should happen at foaling, and how a newborn foal should behave and develop, is essential. For this reason, it is probably best for a novice to seek professional help with mating and foaling from a stud.


Breeding is an extremely expensive business.  First there is the stud fee of £500 plus; then there is stud livery and routine vet's bills of £1000-2000 and another £500 plus if you intend to send your mare to foal at the stud. These items do not allow for the cost of something going wrong with the pregnancy, birth or the foal's first few days.

Choosing the Mare and Stallion

When thinking about breeding there are lots of factors to take into account. The first thing being the mare you wish to breed from. If your mare has any serious conformation faults breeding would not be advisable as these faults are likely to be passed onto her offspring and may, in some cases, hinder her during pregnancy. Your mares bloodlines are also of importance as a foal with good breeding will be easier to sell and fetch a higher price.  The foal is likely to inherit its parents’ temperaments so it is important – breeding from a mare of a difficult disposition is therefore unwise. Finally consider the intended use for the foal once he is an adult, if you intend on breeding an eventer or show jumper, proven competition experience is essential in the parents.

Ask your vet to make a pre-stud check if this is the first time your mare has been bred. You will also need to supply the stud with a vaccination certificate for flu and tetanus and proof that 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 the stud. Some studs may also ask you to remove the hind shoes.

The next thing to do is to choose the Stallion. There are hundreds of studs to choose from and details can be found on the internet, the British Horse Database, and specific breed societies. When choosing a stallion it is important to search for one which will compliment your mare. You should check his performance record, his size and conformation and the terms and conditions of the stud. Most studs offer a live foal guarantee on their stud fees.

At 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; however this can prove quiet stressful for the mare even if she has been to stud before.

Firstly the mare will undergo a 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. Then teasing takes place; this is where the mare is tested to see if she is in-season. Teasing is literally that – to see how the mare responds in the presence of a stallion. If she adopts the mating posture, with her tail held up and to one side, then she is ready to be covered (mated). Teasing takes place every day until the mare is ready for covering. 

The next stage is for the mare to be covered. This is done either naturally or by Artificial Insemination (AI). Some mares may need covering twice in one season to ensure they conceive. Once she is out of season, she is scanned 16 days after her last service to check she's pregnant. If positive, your mare may go home. You may, however, prefer to keep the horse at stud until your vet has done the 28-day scan, a much more certain check of pregnancy. This option has the added bonus that your mare will be travelling at a safer time insofar as her pregnancy is concerned. A second covering only takes place if your mare comes back into season or is not pregnant after the first scan.

The availability of frozen or chilled semen, gives horse owners two further options: home covering and covering at an AI 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 AI Centre. Or it might conceivably be frozen to -196C and stored until required.

The mares workload

The mare can be ridden providing the work is low impact (ie. no jumping!) with no aerobic exertion (like galloping). 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 during pregnancy. Additional stress is placed on joints, ligaments and tendons thereby increasing the risk of injury during pregnancy. In the final week before foaling the mare's pelvic ligaments start to relax in preparation for the birth. At this point she is extremely prone to injury and not suitable for riding. 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, to encourage gentle exercise. Many mares lose condition quickly if they are not fed and cared for appropriately during lactation. Lactating takes a lot out of a mare.


 Avoid feeding your mare a nutritionally rich feed as soon as she becomes pregnant. Broodmares require very little extra feed 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.