I want to breed from my mare

foal gallopingWith Spring in the air and young foals starting to appear in the fields, many people turn their thoughts to breeding their own foal. Perhaps you have a much loved mare close to retirement or you just want the excitement of seeing your own foal born and growing up. If you are serious about turning your dream into reality, where do you start? How should you assess your mare and choose a stallion? What will breeding cost and is breeding a good idea?

Why breed a foal?
Before you start you should carefully examine your reasons for wanting to breed. With horse charities currently struggling to cope with the number of unwanted horses, and ponies fetching as little as £5 at market, do you really want to add to the horse population?

Some of the reasons people give for breeding are:
1) a cheap way of getting a horse, or to make money
NO! If this is your reason for breeding, give up now. Breeding may sound like a cheap option, with the stud fee for many top class stallions (especially showjumpers) at less than £500, but take a look at the cost guide below and you will see that the stud fee is just for starters.

2) your mare can't be ridden and you want to find another use for her
You need to consider both whether the reason she can't be ridden affects her breeding potential and what you will do with the foal. If the mare has been injured in an accident this may not affect her ability to produce a sound and healthy foal. However, if the injury is lameness, or any other problem due to poor conformation, then the foal may suffer from the same weakness. You should also bear in mind that the weight of carrying the foal (about 90 kg at full term) may worsen any pre-existing leg or back problem.

foal lying downOnce she has the foal do you intend to keep it yourself or sell it on? There are many foals and young horses on the market so you need to breed a quality foal if it is to be saleable. Even if your current plan is to keep the foal, you may need to sell it at some time in the future e.g. if the foal does not turn out as you hoped or your circumstances change.

3) you want to train a youngster
It is great to start with a clean slate when training an animal but you need to honestly think about whether you have the time and expertise to train a horse. All foals are cute and it is very easy to let them get away with being cheeky - but a foal can quickly turn into a strapping, stroppy youngster with no respect for people.  If you do have problems is there someone you can turn to for help?

Assessing your mare
When it comes to breeding it is very easy to let your heart rule your head - but is your mare really good enough to breed from?. A good pedigree and/or performance record is a good starting point. If she is just an 'average' riding horse of unknown breeding then you need to be particularly careful to select a stallion which will inject some quality.

1) conformation
Broodmare with young foalTake a hypercritical look at your mare. Use a pictorial conformation guide (many books are available) to compare your mare to the 'ideal' shape and note any weaknesses. Try to get a second opinion. If the mare has any defects which could result in unsoundness (e.g. poor feet) you should be wary about breeding from her, even if she has always been sound herself. No mare is perfect but provided there are no major problems then a stallion should be chosen who could offset any weaknesses.

2) age & health
Fertility starts to drop off when a mare reaches about 14 years old. Although mares can breed into their 20s, the older your mare the more difficult it may be to get her into foal. This is likely to result in additional vet's fees and an extended visit at the stud - and may still not result in a foal. It is not a good idea to breed a mare for the first time if she is 20 or over.

If your mare has any health problems these may well be passed on to the foal. A mare that has suffered from respiratory problems, laminitis, navicular, lameness, sarcoids or sweet itch is not a good candidate for breeding - and this is by no means a comprehensive list.

3) temperament
Although a foal receives half its genetic makeup from each parent, temperament is mainly influenced by the mare. A foal learns from the mother and if the mare is flighty or aggressive the foal is likely to copy this behaviour and develop a similar character. If temperament is the reason for the mare not being ridden, breeding from her would be ill-advised.

4) performance
Mare jumping brush fence If your mare has a performance record the foal will be more marketable - less important if you plan to keep the foal. Even if she hasn't competed you should consider how well she has performed her particular job and how well she moves. If you want to breed for jumping, how good is her technique over a fence? A careless jumper may have an attitude or conformation problem that could be passed on to the foal. If your mare has previously had foals, how well have they performed?

Breeding exam
Having decided that your mare is suitable to breed from, you should ask your vet to carry out a breeding exam to check that the mare has no physical problems which will prevent her from getting into foal. You could also ask the vet's opinion of her conformation. 

Studs require certificates that a mare does not have a venereal disease so you can combine the breeding exam with taking the swabs to check for EVA and CEM. Be aware that studs normally require the certificate to be less than 30 days old, so you need to be careful with your timing and may want to choose a stallion first.

Choosing a stallion
Thoroughbred stallionThe main priority is to choose a stallion which will complement and improve on your mare and is likely to produce the type of foal you want. Although the stallion 'down the road' may be the most convenient or cheapest option he is not necessarily the best for your mare. It is worth starting your search locally but, with frozen semen available from stallions worldwide, there is a huge choice so don't limit yourself.

If your mare is lightweight and lacks bone use a more solidly built stallion. Choose a taller stallion to increase height (although it is generally thought best not to have more than 4 or 5 inch height difference between mare and stallion).

You should view a stallion as you would a potential purchase. This is how your foal may look so is he really what you want? Unless you specifically want to use a dressage stallion it is probably best to choose a stallion with some jumping ability as this should make the foal more saleable (even if your immediate intention is to keep the foal). Using a well-known stallion can also increase the foal's value.

Look at the stallion's progeny - are they well put together and do they perform well?

Your choice of stallion may limit your options for whether to use natural cover or AI (artificial insemination). Although AI is more expensive (as it requires more intervention from the vet) it can be a better option for older mares who are prone to uterine infections when covered naturally.

Mare with foal feeding If you want to breed a particular colour you need to have some understanding of the genetics which produce that colour. For example, to produce a skewbald foal at least one parent must be coloured. If a stallion is advertised as homozygous for skewbald then you are guaranteed a skewbald foal. If a stallion has produced 75% skewbald foals then he cannot be homozygous and putting a solid coloured mare to him gives only a 50% chance of producing a skewbald. Putting a skewbald mare to him will increase the chance to 75% - which is presumably the reason he has produced such a high percentage.

If your are a one horse owner, and especially if this is a first attempt at breeding, it is worthwhile finding a friendly stud which will allow you to visit your mare and see more of the breeding process. Breeding should be an enjoyable experience for you, and the more you can get involved the more interesting it will be.

Breeding costs - a rough guide
Costs vary considerably depending on the stallion, stud, vet, etc. so this is only intended as a rough guide to indicate the costs you are likely to incur.

Some studs allow walk-ins i.e. the mare arrives at stud, is bred, and goes home the same day. This avoids the costs of keeping your mare at the stud but you need to be very certain of your mare's seasons to ensure she will be ready to mate on the day.

Typically a mare is kept at stud for around 40 days. This allows about a week for the mare to settle in and come into season then, after mating, to have a scan at 14 and 28 days to check she is in foal. If she does not take at the first mating she will be bred again when she next comes into season - which will extend her visit for at least 3 weeks. The cost for keeping a mare at stud is usually £5-15 per day.

Studs usually offer a veterinary package which covers the the routine vet's fees (for scanning, etc.) while she is at stud. This helps you to budget but will not cover any additional treatment if she is difficult to get into foal.

You will probably want another pregnancy scan in September to check she is still in foal - especially if your agreement is to pay the balance of the stud fee on 1st October.

Normal insurance does not cover foaling so you may want to take out additional insurance.

New born foal - standing for the first timeFoaling tends to be either very quick and easy or an emergency. If anything goes wrong there is very little time to help mare and foal. Many first time breeders return the mare to stud for foaling to ensure that experts are on hand in the event of problems (and to avoid the sleepless nights!). This will obviously incur additional costs.

If the mare is to foal at home then, assuming all goes well and there is no need for an emergency call out, the mare and foal should be given a health check by the vet the following day. Hopefully the foal will be healthy but a sick foal may require intensive care and incur a large vet's bill.

To summarise the approximate basic costs:

Breeding exam & swabs £100
Transportation £100
Stud fee £800
Stud boarding fees (40 days @ £10 per day) £400
Vet fees at stud £250
September pregnancy scan £100
Additional feed for mare £50
Post-foaling vet visit £100
Total £1900

Although there are ways of economising, you are probably looking at a cost of around £2000 just to get a foal on the ground. You then have 3 years of upkeep (vaccinations, worming, farrier, insurance, feed, etc.) before you can think of backing your youngster and start to see whether your gamble has paid off. Would it be better to buy a young horse for £4000 and be able to see what your getting for your money?

A numbers game
Breeding is a numbers game with no guarantees. There are an increasing number of showjumpers with the Billy prefix - but the Billy Stud has produced hundreds of foals and if every foal had turned into a top class showjumper British showjumping would be swamped with Billy horses. The majority of foals have no doubt been nice quality horses who have gone on to do a variety of jobs, yet only a few have become top class jumpers. This is not a failure of the stud but just a fact of the 'random' element in breeding. Breeding 'the best to the best' maximises the chance of a successful outcome but it is just that - chance.

It follows that the chances of a one horse owner breeding an outstanding foal (in any sphere) are small - the statistics are against you. The best you can realistically hope for is a healthy foal of similar or slightly better quality than your mare.

So you still want to go ahead?
Contented mare and foalBreeding a foal is not cheap and the outcome is unpredictable. Horse charities are urging people to breed responsibly to reduce the number of unwanted horses. If you cannot offer your foal a lifetime's home (regardless of how it turns out) you should think carefully about how desirable other people will find it. Will the foal become another in the unwanted statistics?


If the above has not deterred you and you still want to breed from your mare, then the very best of luck. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your own foal scrambling to her feet for the first time and then watching a healthy mare and foal contentedly grazing together in the Spring sunshine.

More information

Posted on 21 March, 2012

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