Breeding

To Breed Your Mare or Not to Breed Your Mare?

Christy Fleener tackles this time-honored question.

(Courtesy of the author.)

Breeding your mare is a huge decision and commitment. Ever since I owned my first horse, I have always wanted to breed horses and raise my own. This story is based on my own personal experience from the first time I bred one of my mares. Let’s just say that at times, it was an eye-opening, trial-and-error type of operation!

My hope for this post is to help others know what to expect and to understand all the factors that go into breeding and raising horses. Luckily, I had lots of advice from my former 4H leader who breeds Morgans, and my trainers who have bred mares in the past. I did some research and read books and magazine articles for advice. I also consulted with my veterinarians and the stallion owner, who was very knowledgeable. My father also had some experience birthing calves when I was younger, so that was also helpful.

About a year after I bred my mare and raised her foal named Rascal, I worked at a reining horse training facility as an assistant trainer. I learned a lot more about reproduction and about raising and training foals. I had intentions on keeping Rascal, but life got in the way when I moved to work at the horse training facility. I ended up selling him to a wonderful home who plans on using him for high school and college rodeo in the future. Once I relocate to a more permanent horse facility, I would love to start up a small breeding operation.

Breeding, raising and training horses is a lot of work, but it is a very rewarding experience. Here are a few things to consider when making that important, initial decision.

The Mare’s Value

A lot of people tend to focus on the stallion’s quality and leave out the importance of the mare. Your mare is a huge factor in producing a foal. Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Why do I want to breed my mare? 

What makes her stand out compared to other mares? 

Seems like an easy answer to this question, but it is best to think on the question of why you really want to breed your mare. Don’t just breed your mare because she is pretty. Make sure you ask yourself—what traits, demeanor, and athletic abilities do I hope my mare passes on to her foal?

One of the reasons why I bred my mare, Spree, was because of her integrity and passion to compete and work hard. She had a lot of confidence that many other mares and geldings lack.

 

Does my mare have good conformation? 

Does your mare have any big faults that could be passed onto the foal?

In my opinion, this is one of the most important questions to ask yourself. For instance, does your mare have a club foot? Small hooves? A long back? I recommend consulting with a veterinarian about breeding your mare before you commit, especially if she can’t pass a veterinary check. You need to find out the reason behind it. Some things are caused by old age or are considered blemishes—such as arthritis, wind-puffs etc.—but some could be structural and hereditary.

Like humans, not every horse is perfect and it is very rare to find one that has all-around perfect conformation. Take time to analyze your mare, pick out all her qualities and faults, and try to search for a stallion that has qualities to make up for the areas where she falls short.

(Courtesy of the author.)
(Courtesy of the author.)

 

What are my mare’s bloodlines? 

Are they currently “in fashion” in the horse industry? What bloodlines would cross well with her?

Bloodlines always seem to be a controversial topic, but they are something to consider, especially if you plan on making a profit off your foal. Trust me, I’m a firm believer that bloodlines are not the only thing that makes a horse. But I do believe that good bloodlines can help to improve the value of a horse immensely. Plus, if you have been around horses for a while, you may have learned that certain bloodlines work better for you as a rider/trainer than others.

I will admit that I love looking at the pedigrees of horses that are excelling in the barrel racing industry. I find pedigrees and special crosses to be very interesting. It is always good to be aware of your mare’s bloodlines and to choose a stallion who will complement them and who can give them a “boost” if your mare is lacking prominent lines. This will help the re-sale value of your foal and give them a good foundation for the discipline you are breeding for.

 

How large of a money or point-earner is my mare?

Do I need to find a stallion that has more money/points earned?

Has your mare been competed? What are her lifetime earnings/points? These are things to consider when breeding your mare. Not every good broodmare has earned money and points but it is another factor in the value of her foal. Back when I started showing, I never kept tabs of my horses’ earnings and I deeply regret it. I didn’t show in breed shows but I went to a bunch of local jackpots and open shows. Nowadays, I keep spreadsheets on my competition horses and track their earnings. Databases like Equistat help, but if a show producer does not turn in the results of that competition, your lifetime earnings might be less than they actually are.

If your mare has not earned a lot of money from competitions, I recommend you find a stallion that does have a good lifetime earnings or points resume to help boost the value of the foal.

End Goals With Your Foal

What are your future plans for your foal? Are you planning on selling or keeping him or her?

When considering breeding, looking into the future is a wise game plan. There are a lot of factors to consider about the future of your foal. Are you planning on keeping your foal for a while or are you set on selling it shortly after it is weaned? What type of discipline do you want this foal to be bred for?  Who is going to train the foal? Who is going to ride it later on? What hopes and dreams do you want this foal to accomplish? There are all kinds of questions to ask yourself. It is also handy to set a timeline for your foal’s training and competition goals.

(Courtesy of the author.)
(Courtesy of the author.)

Finances

Do you have the proper finances to breed and raise a foal? 

Breeding a foal and raising a foal is expensive. Not only are you paying for the breeding contract fee, but there are many other factors to consider. Extra fees go along with choosing to breed your mare through live-cover or artificial insemination (AI). Most seem to vary when choosing the stallion. You will also have extra veterinary fees to go with ultrasounds and vaccinations, and you might spend more money on supplements, grain and hay during your mare’s pregnancy. Once the foal arrives, the expenses continue to add up. Considering your finances is a major step when deciding to breed and raise your foal.

Facilities

Where is your mare going to give birth and raise the foal initially?

Do you board your mare or have your own property? If you board your mare, make sure you check with the barn owner before breeding to make sure they have room and safe accommodations for your future foal. If you own your own property, where are you planning on keeping the mare during the foaling? Which pens/pastures do have for turnout for your mare and foal? There is a lot of controversy about the proper place to allow your mare to birth its foal, but most people recommend a large stall or a large, dry pasture area. You also need to make sure the pen/stall is foal-proof, meaning that there are no holes, cracks or spots that a foal could get stuck under, poke its leg through, or cut itself on something sticking out. Pasture fencing should follow the same guidelines.

Time Commitment

Flexibility is really important when considering breeding your mare.

From the start, you need to be able to have time in your schedule to take your mare to the vet for checkups, ultrasounds and be able to rush her to the vet (for AI), or the breeder when she starts her heat cycle. One thing to remember is that horses have their own calendar. They don’t consider avoiding weekends and holidays! You, as their owner, have to be aware of this and have flexible plans. For instance, I had one mare who went into her prime ovulation for AI on a holiday. Since it was a holiday, we were unable to ship the semen and breed her. We had to wait till her next cycle. Man versus nature—nature wins, period.

After she is bred, you need to have time to take her to checkups with your vet, prepare the foal’s pen/stall and be able to keep an eye on your mare during her expected foaling time. Being flexible during foal watch is important, especially if it is your mare’s first foal or if your mare has had complications in the past. Mares can go quite far past their due dates, so it is always a guessing game about when your mare is actually going to give birth. You also need to be aware that your mare will likely give birth during the wee hours of the night and early mornings. Be prepared to be tired at work the next day!

Lastly, imprinting the foal takes some time once it is born. I found it handy to just spend a half hour to an hour a day, just being around the foal for about a month, initially. Obviously, as your foal gets older, your time commitment for its training will begin to grow. Factors on how you will manage that time in the future are important, especially if you have other horses you are riding and responsible for.

(Courtesy of the author.)
(Courtesy of the author.)

In Conclusion

As you can see, there are many questions that you need to ask yourself before deciding whether to breed your mare and raise a foal.

Here is a quick summary of the main factors to consider:

  • Your mare’s value
  • Your end-goal with the foal
  • Finances
  • Facilities
  • Time Commitment

Producing and raising a foal can seem intimidating at first, but if it is done wisely, it is a very gratifying and educational experience!

Are you planning on breeding your mare? Which factors did you consider when breeding your mare? Tell us about it in the comments section!


About the Author

(Courtesy of Christy Fleener.)

(Courtesy of Christy Fleener.)

Christy Fleener is a small town farm girl with a passion for training and racing barrel horses. With 20 years of horse experience, she has trained and competed in numerous western and English disciplines with many different trainers. Christy also runs an equine and lifestyle blog called, “New Dirt and Old Boots”, as well as her own photography business.

Read more from Christy Fleener.

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