How to Breed Horses

Breeding horses is most definitely not for the faint hearted. It is a complex process that really needs to be planned and thought out well. The reproduction process involves a Stallion (the ungelded male counterpart, known as the sire for horse breeding purposes) and a Mare (the female counterpart, known as the dam). Consideration of safety needs to be made for handling both. Stallions are generally very difficult to deal with and would usually require an experienced horseman or horsewoman to handle them. They can be strong, fiery and aggressive which can leave handlers in a potentially dangerous position when handling them. Mares in season (a requirement for horse breeding) can also be difficult to deal with. They can be very vocal, anxious and also display signs of aggression.

Reasons for breeding horses

One of the first things you need to ask yourself is, why do I want or need to breed horses? Is it necessary for your business? Are you looking to breed for your own riding benefit? It’s not a decision that can be taken lightly and careful thought should be in place before deciding to start the horse breeding process. You must have a clear plan for breeding horses and a reason for doing so. There is no point in breeding ‘just because’ or because you can.

One of the most obvious reasons for breeding is for equestrian sporting purposes. Each discipline has their own unique requirements of the horse. This could be strength, speed, endurability, temperament or some other unique trait that will allow the horse to excel within that discipline.

Let’s take a look at some of the equestrian sports that horses are often bred for.
  • Horse Racing – most commonly flat racing and jump racing (National Hunt)
  • Show Jumping – Riding a horse over a course of fences in an arena
  • Eventing – Usually a 3 day event or triathlon that involves show jumping, dressage and cross country
  • Dressage – Lateral flatwork movements that are carried out in the form of a memorised test (sequence)
  • Cross Country – jumping over natural fences and obstacles outdoors. Testing speed and endurance
  • Endurance Riding – Long distance racing over various terrain
  • Polo – A mounted team sport, using a mallet and ball
  • Carriage Driving – Paired as a team of 4, navigating the carriage and horses around obstacles in the quickest time
  • Showing – Various classes (competitions) with a judging panel deciding the outcome, either ridden or in hand

This is by no means an exhaustive list and horses are regularly bred for many other disciplines. It’s important to have an understanding of what your horse is being bred for. There needs to be a clear purpose and plan to get the desired results you are looking for.

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Potential for horse breeding

Once you have figured out the purpose of your horse breeding activity, you need to decide which combinations of breeds would be best to do the job successfully. For example, you wouldn’t choose to breed a 12hh native pony with a 14hh Connemara if you were looking for the offspring to be 16hh + and go into the racing industry. You would ideally want to breed 2 pure Thoroughbreds. Likewise breeding a Thoroughbred and an Arabian may not be suitable necessarily for a novice rider looking for their first horse. Getting the right combination of breeding is very important in the selection process.

Lets take a look at some of the common breeds below
  • Thoroughbreds – Are popular horses to breed and tend to bring speed and athletic ability. They are popular breeds for both the racing and jumping industry.
  • Warmbloods – Warmbloods such as Trakehner’s and Hanoverian’s’ are popular breeds of horses for dressage. They are both hot-blooded and cold-blooded which allows them to have a good mix of athletic ability and a balanced temperament.
  • Quarter Horses – Quarter horses are regularly mixed with Thoroughbreds to produce fantastic polo ponies. The sport requires a horse with agility, speed, and stamina to be successful. They are used frequently used for Western riding and can make great all-round riding horses
  • Arabians – Lots of endurance horses tend to be Arabian breeds, either purebred or crossed with another breed, such as Thoroughbred. Stamina, toughness and sure-footedness are key to this sport. It takes a special kind of horse to excel at endurance riding
  • Irish Breeds – Irish Draughts and Irish Sports horses are regularly used for various equestrian disciplines. They would be considered to be good all-rounders whether that be jumping, dressage or cross country thanks to their sensible temperaments. They stand athletic and elegant and can make great general riding horses
  • Driving Horses – The American Standardbred makes a wonderful driving horse. They are a breed with a willingness to learn and can pick up smooth ambling gaits such as the stepping pace with ease. Heavy breeds are also used for carriage driving such as Clydesdales, Shires, and Percheron’s. They are not likely to be used in competition in the same way a Standardbred would.

Obviously there are many additional breed combinations you may want to consider, but this just gives you a general idea of some breeds most commonly used for various disciplines.

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Horse Breeding Methods

There are 3 main methods of how to breed horses. It’s best to consider all options before making any final decisions. One deciding factor could be the skills that you have to carry out such a big procedure. Another could be the facilities and horses you have available to you. One big important one is the cost factor and how necessary horse breeding is, to you and your circumstances. Let’s take a look at the 3 most common breeding methods:

  • Pasture Breeding – This is possibly the easiest, safest and most cost effective way of breeding horses. They key benefit of this method is that you don’t have to get too hands on (at least during the conception phase). Once you have decided which horses you will be breeding you will need to ensure you have a well-fenced paddock away from other horses. It is also vital that your mare does not have a foal at foot, and if they do, it is a wise idea to wait a bit longer until the foal is not so reliant on the mother. You also need to make sure your mare is in season or the process will not follow through.

Turn your stallion out with your mare and literally let nature take its course. They may end up with a few lumps and bumps between them, but all in all, this is by far one of the safest methods of conception. Not only for your horses, but for you too! Check out this video showing what to expect the first time you send your stallion and mare out for pasture breeding – Click Here

  • Hand Breeding – Hand breeding horses may sound easy enough, but trust me, it is not! Handling both a highly sex-driven stallion and a mare in heat is neither easy nor safe. If this is something you are a newbie to, I can’t advise you enough to seek professional help with this process. The professional help you receive will stand you in good stead in the future, when you may feel comfortable to do this without help from a pro. You will always need a minimum of 2 people present when hand breeding and ideally those individuals will have already built up a relationship with the stallion and mare beforehand. Safety is the most important thing here. Be aware of your positioning and keep a close eye at all times as to what is going on.
Lets take a look at the process for hand breeding horses
  • Put a halter on your mare with a lead rope attached and have your dedicated helper hold her throughout the process. You can try to tie her up, however having a person holding her is preferred. Make sure there is plenty of slack on the lead rope and your helper is standing at a distance
  • Halter your stallion and place a stud chain either under the chin or over the nose. Then attach at the very least a 20 foot long lunge line. The person holding your stallion must be someone they are completely comfortable with and trust. This is a very dangerous process.
  • Lead your stallion to your mare and allow him to mount her off his own accord. Do not interfere with the process and be sure to stand well back away from the action.
  • It may take your stallion several attempts to mount, but give him and your mare space and time. Try to avoid getting the lunge line in the way.
  • It is possible there will be be plenty of noise and kicking made by your stallion, but this is completely normal and part of the whole process
  • Once your stallion has finished, still remember to give him space and remove himself in his own time. When all is complete, immediately walk your stallion back to his stable or stall (or field if he lives out)
  • Untie your mare and lead her on a 10 minute walk. You will notice she will be trying to squat a little and push out the semen. Keep her walking for a bit to prevent this from happening
  • Then it is just a waiting game. Symptoms of pregnancy in horses can show as little as two weeks after conception, but the only sure-fire way to know is to call out your vet for an ultra sound
Check out this great video showing the correct way too carry out hand breeding. They make it look so simple! Click here
Artificial Insemination

Horse breeding of this nature should only be carried out by a qualified vet. As you can imagine the process is costly and isn’t necessarily more successful than pasture breeding. You can however be sure by using this method that your mare is 100% in season, that conception will definitely take place and you are under the watchful eyes of a qualified vet. It puts you in less danger as the handler too. So in a nut shell, here’s how this process works:

  • Choose where about the artificial insemination takes place. For instance, have you thought about where semen will be collected from your stallion? Where will conception take place for your mare? You could choose to do this at your own barn, particularly if your mare suffers from separation anxiety from her foal or doesn’t like to be in unfamiliar surroundings. You could however opt for a reputable horse breeding facility to take her to. It is highly advisable that semen collection from your stallion takes place offsite at an experienced facility. I can’t emphasise enough how dangerous the procedure is for collecting semen
  • The process of collecting semen is a pretty straight forward process.
Check out this great video taken at the Brendon Stud UK – Click Here
  • When your stallion’s semen is collected it can be frozen and used at a later date. If the artificial insemination is taking place within a couple of days the semen is likely to be chilled. If facilities permit, it may be possible to collect and inseminate your mare there and then.
  • Your mare will need to be prepared for artificial insemination in a similar way to how they would be if they were going for an operation. Your mare’s tail will be neatly wrapped up so it is out of the way and the perineal area will be fully cleansed with a surgical preparation scrub.
  • Providing your mare is ready, a pipette will be filled with your stallion’s semen. Your vet will insert the pipette, using a sterile lubricated gloved arm into your mare’s vagina. They will be trying to identify the cervix at this point and find the opening to the uterus
  • Your vet will introduce their finger into the opening of the uterus and carefully insert the pipette, squeezing out the semen carefully. Your vet will then slowly remove their arm and pipette out through the mares vagina

For a professional, this process is reasonably simple, but for a breeder this can be a very costly option and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Prices vary greatly for artificial insemination and semen collection so it is best to check this out with your vet directly. You also need to consider the ongoing costs of keeping another equine such as feeding, stabling, vets fees and any external training that may be needed.

Why not take a look at this great video – Click Here

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Final Thoughts

  • As a new breeder it is always best to get professional help from a qualified vet for the horse breeding process. It can be complex and fiddly to handle if you don’t know what you are doing
  • Make sure if you are to carry out hand breeding you have built up a relationship and some trust with the horses in question. It can make all the difference between success and failure
  • Even though you are familiar with the horses you are dealing with, remember to keep your distance during the conception process. This is a very dangerous task that requires proper management on your part
  • Horse Breeding can be expensive business. Be sure you can afford to take this route, not only during the process, but after the process has taken place
  • Be sure you really want or need to breed. Horses are widely available to purchase and rescue centres are overrun with unwanted equines. Could you be adding this problem?