Mare owners' guide to breeding

By: Horse Deals

Mare owners' guide to breeding
Mare owners' guide to breeding

To breed or not to breed? That is the question many mare owners should ask themselves at this time of year. There are so many different reasons why people breed horses, so it’s important to decide why you’re doing it and realise what you’re letting yourself in for.

First, let’s look at three good reasons

• Financial. Professional breeders aim to find well-bred, proven mares and then choose stallions which in addition to being a good matches are also "names" that will attract buyers. To make money, you need great skill in matching mare and stallion and you must accept that it’s a high-risk investment; not every mare will produce a valuable foal but by investing in several mares the chances are that some successful sales will cover the losses.


• You wish to retain the genes of the good mare who has given you success. You want to compete the next generation and while this will cost you money, it may be less expensive than buying a horse with form. You might need to breed several foals to have any chance of producing a top competition horse, but the satisfaction is many times greater if your name’s in the programme as "breeder and owner".

• For fun and the experience of breeding and rearing a foal. You must go into this with your eyes open. Breeding horses is a rewarding process with satisfying times and stressful moments but potentially enormous job satisfaction. Some people will tell you not to breed from your mare unless she’s an achiever, but I think that’s nonsense. Providing she’s sound, with acceptable conformation and no hereditary defects, you could have your experience of a lifetime. The good things in life do cost, so instead of a nice holiday why not spend the money on breeding a foal?


Now let’s look at three reasons why you
shouldn’t breed

• If your mare didn’t stand up to work or was retired early through unsoundness. Similarly, it’s unwise to breed from a mare with a poor temperament. Too many mares in these categories are bred from, resulting in poor quality youngsters and not enough good homes.

• If you don’t have suitable facilities. To foal your mare at home, you’ll need a large stable, ideally at least 16x16ft. Ideally, the box should be painted white so there are no dark corners and if you plan an early foal, an electricity supply for a heat lamp is advisable. Alternatively, you can send your mare to a stud experienced in foaling.
You must also have a well-fenced turnout pasture with no barbed wire; make sure the foal can’t fall into a ditch or watercourse.

• Finance. Breeding does cost money and if you can’t afford it, don’t do it! How much it costs depends on your ambitions, but even on the smallest budget it’s likely to total more than £1,000. The cost of breeding a foal and rearing it to weaning is more likely to be between £3,000 and £5,000. The stud fee is often the largest item — anywhere from £300-£3,000.

Choosing a stallion

The breeding season is almost upon us; mare owners will be considering which stallion to use and whether to have the mare inseminated at home or sent to a stud for natural covering or artificial insemination (AI).

Choosing the stallion is in many respects more difficult now than ever, simply because the options have increased tenfold, maybe a hundredfold, through the use of AI.

Another modern aid, the Internet, gives you much more detail about stallions; excess of information creates more decision-making and some logical thinking is necessary to choose a short-list and make the eventual decision.

The search starts with having a really good look at your mare. What are her strengths and weaknesses? If you say she has no weaknesses, you’re allowing sentiment to cloud your judgement, which isn’t the best way to choose a stallion. If your mare has bred previously, examine her progeny. Has she siblings you can see or, even better, can you see her sire and dam?


Here is my order of importance

• Soundness. Has your mare completed her working life sound? If not, was this due to a conformational weakness or the result of injury? If it was the former, ask yourself if it’s wise to breed from her. If she was a brilliant performer, there may be grounds, but if she was no star other than in your imagination perhaps she’s best left.

• Temperament. This is increasingly important because more people are taking up riding later in life. They are less likely to have natural balance and "stickability", so will need a horse who will put up with mistakes. If your mare isn’t that type, put "very good temperament" at the top of your requirements for a stallion.

• Did she fit the bill for you? Was she fast enough to event, had she the scope to jump big fences, did she have the looks and charisma to win a show class, was she comfortable to sit on for five hours in the hunting field or on an endurance ride?

• Had she conformation weaknesses that didn’t make her unsound but if magnified in the next generation might do just that? Does she have good feet? Does she have a straight shoulder? Is she too long in the cannon bone for her size? Have these faults very much in mind when narrowing down your search for a stallion.

• Ask yourself what you want to breed and what you intend to use the progeny for? For instance, a specific discipline could narrow the choice of stallions.

One of the most common and, I believe, justifiable reasons for breeding comes with the comment: "I’ve had a most tremendous amount of fun with this mare [and, possibly, her mother too] and I want to breed something for my children to ride."

Whatever the children’s age, it’s likely soundness (the young want to ride and compete as often as possible) and temperament will be high priority, plus an ability to take part in several different disciplines.

An eventing stallion with a good temperament could be ideal because he’ll bring a breadth of talent. You should be able to avoid very expensive stallions unless your children are already heading for national teams and if you want the mare’s offspring to carry extra weight, look for more than 9in of bone. As well as warmbloods, you could therefore consider breeds such as the Irish Draught.


• To sell on. Good looks and movement are important and a well-known sire’s name always helps at sale time.

• Colour. For me, no good horse is a bad colour, but people are becoming increasingly choosy; coloured horses are back in fashion, while some people don’t want greys or prefer bays to chestnuts. You need to look back at least two generations if this is an important factor.
The search is now on and the pages of Horse Deals are a good start. Use the logical steps I’ve mentioned to narrow your choice and then visit the websites of that "long-list".

At this stage you must have in the back of your mind some practical considerations:

• How is the mare bred? Examine her pedigree and make sure you drop any stallion from the long-list whose name appears in it.

• Make a decision about the stud fee you can afford and ensure the terms are acceptable. Although "No foal free return" is the most common condition, it does have its snags. The important thing is to understand the terms and conditions of each stallion you consider, since each is likely to be different.

• Location. If you want the mare covered naturally, this cuts down your options but if the right stallion’s nearby and you can "walk in" with your mare, you will reduce your costs.

• Artificial insemination. If you’re considering AI, will it be fresh, chilled or frozen? What age is your mare? There may be a drop in conception rates of maiden mares over 14 if using frozen semen. Mares with a history of being "difficult breeders" usually have the best chance of conception with fresh AI.

• Quality service: it’s important that if you send your mare away to be covered you have every confidence in the stud’s standards.


If you’re contemplating using an overseas stallion, the stud may supply a DVD. Many UK stallion owners also make DVDs, which could save you many miles of driving.

You should now be at the short-list stage and it’s time to use the phone. When speaking to the stallion owner or stud manager, some relevant questions might be:

• How many years has the stallion stood at stud?
• How many mares has he had each season?
• What has his stock achieved?
• Can I see any of his progeny?
• What has his fertility been? What proportion of mares did he get in-foal and what was the average number of coverings or inseminations per conception?
• Has he the correct health papers for the current season?

If you want chilled semen, ask if the stud can collect and send semen out seven days a week. If it can’t, you risk missing a cycle due to not getting the semen on the day it’s needed to optimise conception.

The final move, having reduced your list to no more than three stallions, is to see them in the flesh. Please make an appointment and don’t be disappointed if the stud doesn’t want you there before 10am or after staff have gone home in the evening. Remember, they may have had foalings the night before!


Twemlows Hall Stud

This family business in Shropshire is owned by Richard Matson and his sons Edward and Tullis and is one of Britain’s leading AI and embryo transfer centres. The stud also runs AI technicians’ courses, taken by renowned specialists led by Jonathan Pycock, plus instruction on foaling and care of the foal. The business has been in operation for more than 17 years and in excess of 400 mares pass through each year for insemination. In the next five issues of Horse Deals, the Matsons and their resident vet, Noelle Lowry, will assist breeders with their choice of stallion, help them obtain the best chance of conception and try to make breeding that foal as stress-free as possible.