The question of breeding horses…

We just love spring time… the days are getting longer; the grass has started to grow and there’s the impending pitter patter of tiny hooves as new born foals take their first steps in the world, with breeders dreaming of following them on a path to stardom.

But there’s an old saying… ‘fools breed horses for wise men to buy’. And as anyone with much experience breeding horses will tell you, breeding a good horse is not easy and breeding a profitable one is even harder!

So, if you are contemplating breeding from your mare this season, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is should you in fact breed in the first place?

We spoke to our equine veterinary expert – Nikki Walshe – to get her veterinary opinion on this important question.

Should I breed my mare?

Breeding from your mare can be a big undertaking and much thought should go into it before pursuing it.

The most important question to ask is, is the mare an ideal candidate for breeding? Conformation, temperament, age and physical fitness should all be taken into account. It’s important to remember that some traits are passed on from mare to foal, so try to have an objective look at your mare and consider what she might pass on to her offspring – both good and bad.

If you have little or no previous experience in breeding or are uncertain as to the suitability of your mare, contact your vet would be more than happy to provide you with expert, objective advice. Alternatively, try to seek the opinion of an experienced breeder who will be able to help you evaluate your mare’s strengths and weaknesses and help you to decide on the best stallion to send your mare to, should you decide to go ahead.

The next most important questions to ask yourself are: are you fully aware of the potential costs of breeding your mare and are your expectations realistic? You have the stallion covering fee to consider, veterinary fees associated with getting the mare in foal, foaling fees, foal registration fees, not to mention the additional costs should anything go wrong.

You need to also ask the question – Are you willing to have your mare out of action for a considerable period of time? And, importantly, gave you considered the risks involved? In the majority of cases, breedings and foalings go off without a hitch. However, complications can arise and can have serious consequences. So you have to be sure you are ready to make any potentially difficult decisions that arise. AND you must ensure that you have the facilities to manage a mare and foal and that you have really contemplated the associated risks.

How old is too old for breeding a mare?

The final big question you need to ask yourself is whether your mare is the right age for breeding?

There are mares who produce foals every year throughout their lifetime into their late teens and more uncommonly to their early 20’s. However, it’s the mare that is presented to be bred for the first time as an older mare can be more problematic.

“Aged maiden mare syndrome” is a collection of issues that are associated with such mares. The mare’s cervix is often fibrous, it fails to relax and results in retention of fluid in the uterus. This can result in the fluid and foreign material irritating the uterine lining, causing inflammation and possible infection.

Another hurdle is the decline in egg(oocyte) quality, which can lead to a decrease in conception rate and an increased risk of early embryonic death. Complete reproductive cessation for mares occurs in their mid-20s, so ideally the optimal age for breeding a mare is 3-10 years old. However, no one mare is the same, so a pre-breeding exam is advised for all mares no matter what age to get a full picture of her health and reproductive potential.

Please note that our veterinary articles are written to give you insights and understanding of common equine veterinary problems and are not intended to take the place of a veterinary examination by your own vet. If in doubt, always call your own vet should your horse require attention. 

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