Many people dream of breeding their very own horse, but with so much at stake, the decision shouldn’t be made lightly. Charlotte Taylor, owner and manager of Clements Equine, has years of experience advising clients and explains how to make the right choice for your mare.
Breeding a foal can be an incredible experience, however before deciding to breed from your mare there is plenty to consider.
Stand your mare up and assess her honestly. Does she have any conformation defects? Are they likely to be hereditary? Could they cause or contribute to unsoundness? Does she have a good temperament? There are plenty of questions to ask. It’s important to remember that while a well chosen stallion can improve on a mare, the mare will still account for half of the foal’s gene pool. Also, she will be with your foal for the first six months of their life, teaching them about the world and shaping their outlook.
If you are breeding to sell, you really do need an excellent mare with proven performance record or exceptional breeding, without this the chances of selling at a profit are slim. Whilst some conformation traits or temperament issues shouldn’t be ignored, you can be more forgiving of some aspects if you are breeding for yourself.
When to breed
Mares over the age of 12 are considered ‘older’ when it comes to breeding, which means that the chances of success can be lower, and maidens in their later teens can be more at risk of foaling complications. If it’s important for you to breed from your mare, it’s worth considering a break in a ridden career to carry a foal, as opposed to waiting until retirement.
The right stallion
A stallion should always be selected with the mare in mind, for example, if your mare is a little too long in the back, you’d be looking for a compact stallion. This doesn’t just apply to your mare’s conformation, but how she moves and jumps too.
Temperament and rideability are important considerations – some stallions may produce offspring that can be sharp and more difficult, so are better suited to professional riders. I would always advise seeing a potential choice before deciding to use him, and clients are always welcome to visit our stallions so they can be seen in the stable. Not only can you then scrutinise the stallion up close but it also gives you a great idea of their temperament, and if they are easy to handle.
Check any stallions on your shortlist have been licensed with a reputable studbook and it’s definitely worth looking at some of their offspring to see how well he stamps them and if with any particular traits, good or bad.
Look at the semen types available and enquire as to the quality and pregnancy rates achieved. For a first time mare, using fresh or chilled semen is ideal, as frozen semen requires intensive management. Also consider the cost perspective, if you’re not sending your mare away to stud, a good AI vet will be necessary, and be aware of call out charges – regular visits will be needed with frozen semen especially, sometimes over weekends or late at night and extra charges could soon add up.
AI or natural?
In modern day sport horse breeding, natural covering is rarely available. The main benefit of using AI is the increased stallion choice – you can order semen from all around the UK, Europe and even the rest of the world. AI also eliminates the risk of the mare or stallion injuring each other throughout the covering process.
Caring for a mother-to-be
At the beginning of her pregnancy, your mare can be treated much like any other horse. Your mare should be kept up to date with worming and vaccinations and it’s also advisable for her to have a course of EHV vaccinations which are given at five, seven and nine months. These will be required if she is foaling at stud but are also recommended if foaling at home.
Be careful not to overfeed your mare prior to foaling, feeding advice will depend on the type, size and breed of your mare. A stud balancer may be required to provide the right nutrients so it’s worth getting some specific advice.
Keep a close eye on your mare as her pregnancy develops; when you check her daily examine her udder for any signs of premature development and her vulva for signs of discharge, both of which can indicate placentitis and will require treatment.
Home or away?
Foaling your mare at home is a big commitment. I strongly feel that foaling should always be attended – a helping hand can be the difference between life and death. Sitting up waiting for a foal to arrive can be time consuming – whilst the average gestation is 342 days, it can vary as widely as 320 to 365 days. If you can’t guarantee you’ll have the time available to sit up, then sending her to stud is the best option.
If you are foaling at home you’ll need a big roomy box and a very young foal will need access to a small, level and well fenced paddock. You will also need a foaling kit, which contains all the essentials required for foaling – preparation is definitely key! If things go wrong you will need to act quickly so it’s imperative to be able to spot when something isn’t right and to know how to correct simple faults – sometimes you only have minutes to rectify an issue so you may need to act sooner than the time it would take for your vet to reach you. Most foaling’s do go to plan but to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
For many owners, sending their mare to stud is the preferred option. We offer a foaling service at Clements Equine, with large roomy foaling boxes and CCTV to enable close observation as foaling approaches without intrusion. We like to have the mares into their foaling boxes a couple of weeks prior to foaling – they can then build up antibodies specific to the environment, settle well and it also gives us a chance to monitor their normal behaviour so we can quickly spot any changes.
Looking at costs
The overall cost of breeding depends on the type of AI used and whether you’re successful first time or if your mare proves more complicated. I would advise not to scrimp on the stud fee and use the stallion you really want – a stud fee will pale into insignificance by the time your foal is ready to ride. You will also need a contingency fund in case of complications with foaling or if your young foal needs veterinary attention.
Questions to ask yourself
Making the right decision can take time, but answering the following questions should give you an idea if you are ready.
- Do you know what and why you want to breed? Think with your head – not your heart. Breeding comes with a responsibility to the foal you’ve brought into the world.
- Do you have the knowledge required to care for your mare and youngster throughout the process?
- Have you costed out the process and do you have an ‘emergency cushion’ available for the unforeseen extras?
- Do you have the space and time to raise a foal?
- Are you prepared for possible disappointment?
Even with the most informed choices, you are never quite certain of what the foal will be – in breeding, nothing is ever guaranteed. It’s certainly not a risk free process but I’ve yet to find one more rewarding when all goes to plan!
Meet the author:
Charlotte Taylor owns and manages Suffolk based stud Clements Equine. Working alongside her husband Rob, they have their own successful showjumping breeding programme, with five broodmares and the stallions Shannondale Delta and Renkum Radetzky II, licensed with the Anglo European and Breeders Elite studbooks, and the young stallion Renkum Olinthos, licensed with Breeders Elite.
Working closely with local show-jumpers Colin Keeling and Emily Hilton, they are producing horses competing successfully at all levels. Clements Equine offers a full range of breeding services for both mare and stallion owners, as well as rehabilitation and livery services. For more information, visit: www.clementsequine.com or call: +44 (0)1359 251233