Considerations Before Deciding to Breed
Breeding from your mare can be an amazing and rewarding process. Although there is limited potential for breeding to be profitable, it can be very satisfying to watch a progeny you bred go on to have a successful competition career or become a reliable leisure horse. Careful consideration needs to be taken before deciding to breed.
To ensure the process is as positive as possible and is the right decision, it is essential to take an honest look at your mare and situation before going ahead. If anything goes wrong, the experience can be hugely traumatic for the people and horses involved.
Taking the time to ‘think before you breed’, planning ahead and having your mare clinically assessed by a vet before making the decision to breed, will give you the best chance of a positive outcome.
Breeding indiscriminately and without consideration for the long-term future of the foal has important welfare implications. There are more horses in this country than there are knowledgeable
and experienced people willing and able to care for them. The number of horses in sanctuaries nationwide proves this, as the cycle of neglect continues to be a major problem in the UK.
It is somewhat of a myth that breeding your own foal will be cheaper than buying a horse. The costs involved for the breeding process and then keeping of the foal until it is old enough to be backed, soon add up. It’s important not to cut corners as breeding a poor-quality foal can predispose them to health issues that could affect their future use and quality of life.
We all have a responsibility to think carefully before breeding a foal. Even if you plan to provide a home for the foal for life, you should consider whether the foal is likely to have any commercial
value. Even with the best of intentions, we can never predict what lies ahead and your circumstances could change almost overnight. As horses nowadays frequently live well into, and beyond, their twenties, breeding a foal is a huge commitment and you must consider whether someone else is likely to want your foal if you find yourself no longer able to care for it.
Thinking about breeding?
If you are thinking about putting your mare in foal the first consideration must be asking the question ‘what is the aim of breeding from this mare?’
- Are you aiming to breed a competition
- Is the horse being bred as a recreational
- Do you intend to sell the foal?
- Do you intend to keep the horse to ride
Each situation will impact on the decisions you will have to make.
Other considerations include:
- Is the mare suitable to breed from?
- What costs are involved?
- Do you have access to the facilities required?
If you are breeding with the aim of selling the foal, you will need to look carefully at the costs involved and whether you are likely to profit. Cost is less of an issue if you are intending to keep the foal, however it is still an important factor and should be carefully considered to ensure the correct level of finances are in place.
Above all there must be one resounding aim, which is to breed a horse that is healthy, sound and of good temperament for training regardless of its intended use. The underlying focus of any decision to breed is that welfare is key. Breeding
horses that are predisposed to later lameness issues due to conformational faults, or that aren’t suitable for their intended purpose, is considered a welfare issue. These horses are difficult to rehome and may end up in unsuitable homes.
Want to know more?
World Horse Welfare have produced a short film and a leaflet supporting their ‘Need to breed?’ initiative. This encourages horse owners to consider the impact of breeding
from the perspective of a welfare organisation.
Is your Mare suitable to breed from?
Your mare must have the
correct qualities to be suitable
to breed from. Things to
think about include:
- Why you are breeding
- Her conformation
- If there are any previous
or current injuries or
- Her temperament
- Her age
Start by assessing the mare’s conformation
and making a list of her strengths and
weaknesses in relation to soundness and
also her ability to potentially carry and
deliver a foal. Does she have any
undesirable conformation traits that
could potentially be passed onto the foal?
Ask your coach or vet for help and advice
to do this objectively.
Did you know...?
There are a number of unwanted
hereditary conditions that must not
be present in a breeding mare,
examples of these include; sweet
itch, sarcoids, equine asthma and
any chronic heritable lameness.
If your mare has any medical conditions
speak to your vet to check these
cannot be passed on to the foal.
If a mare is injured and is no longer able
to work in the short or long term, it can
be a tempting proposition to breed from
her, however there are a number of
factors to consider. If the mare’s
conformation predisposed her to injury,
she shouldn’t be bred from. The mare
shouldn’t be put in foal if the added
weight of pregnancy will be detrimental
to her recovery, or worsen her injury and
cause further pain. It is also important to
consider how long the breeding process
will take, especially if the mare is a
competition horse as there will be a
window of time where the mare will be
out of action.
Choosing to breed from a mare because
she cannot be ridden should take careful
consideration. If she isn’t ridden because
she is difficult or dangerous to ride,
consider whether this is linked to any
physical attributes of the mare or her
temperament. There is a chance this trait
could also be present in the foal and the
same problems may occur as they mature.
The optimal age for a breeding mare
is 3 – 14 years old. Many mares will
successfully produce foals well in to
their 20’s however after the age of 14
there may be a reduced chance of her
conceiving. If the mare is maiden she is
to some extent an unknown quantity,
whereas a mare who has had a foal
before presents less risk as you will
know she has carried and delivered
a healthy foal.
Did you know...?
A mare who has never had a foal
before is called a maiden mare.
Knowledge and Time
Before deciding to breed
it is important to do your
research as to what is
involved. This will highlight
the amount and type of
help you may need, the
time commitments and
the costs involved.
Take the time to fully research each
step and highlight any areas where
you will require support. You can
then factor this in when you are
considering the costs.
Areas to research include:
- The number and type of vet visits
- Stud fees, terms and conditions
- Routine care of a pregnant mare
- Care of the mare and foal
The vet will need to carry out scans to
find out where the mare is in her cycle
before insemination and then again later
on to confirm the pregnancy. This can be
time consuming if you have the mare at
your yard especially if multiple visits are
required. Many owners choose to send
the mare to a stud, whilst there is a cost
to this, there are staff on site so scanning
can be done as frequently as required
and the mare then inseminated at the
There will be certain parts of the
breeding process where you may require
professional help, namely the birth of
the foal. There are risks involved with
this and whilst most mares foal without
any complications, you must be aware of
the risks if the birth doesn’t go to plan.
You can send your mare to a stud to give
birth, if you are not experienced this is
often the best option. A stud should have
facilities designed for this purpose, such
as, foaling boxes with CCTV so the mare
can be observed from a distance, and
experienced staff on hand who will be
able to identify any problems should they
occur and act quickly.
Alternatively, if you wanted your mare to
foal at home there are courses available
that you can attend so you are fully
prepared and educated as to the risks
involved, what to observe for and how to
react if there is a problem. The mare will
need 24 hour monitoring as she gets
close to her due date, this can mean
several days or weeks of regular checking
for signs of foaling which is a big
commitment for any horse owner. Consider how you would manage this
and what help you might need during
Want to know more?
Twemlows Stud Farm offer a
‘Foaling the Mare’ course.
Consider whether you have the
knowledge, experience, skills and time to
provide the best start in life for the foal.
Correct, safe and consistent handling and
training throughout the early years will be
the owner’s responsibility. It is essential
that there is a mutual respect between
the foal/young horse and handler, so the
foal grows to be confident and well
mannered. It is important to consider the
length of this education, to produce a
ridden horse you are looking at consistent
training and education of the young horse
up to 5/6 years old. There is also the
future consideration of backing and
training the horse to be ridden, and
whether you intend to do this yourself
or send the horse to a training yard.
You must consider the extra costs
involved with this, and the cost of any
Foals may seem cute, but even at
a young age horses are powerful
animals and are potentially dangerous.
They require consistent correct
Want to know more?
You can find information from a variety of sources:
- Your vet will be able to provide advice specific to your mare and situation.
- Studs provide a wide range of advice, as well as providing information about their
own stallions and foaling down livery services
- Feed companies are able to provide free advice about the nutritional requirements
for your mare and foal throughout the breeding process. Independent nutritionists
can also be consulted for advice.
- Breed societies may also be a point of contact if you have a specific breed of horse
- The Rare Breeds Survival Trust do important work to help preserve rare breeds
and will be a good point of contact if considering breeding a native or rare breed
of horse or pony.
- The British Breeding website is a very useful site with a wealth of information.
Do you have the facilities
required to look after a
mare and foal safely?
You may be able to make
adjustments on your yard
so it is suitable, but this
may come at an extra cost.
If your facilities are not
suitable you may need to
find an alternative yard or
Have you got enough good quality
grazing? Good grazing is essential for the
mare in foal and usually the main source
of nutrients for the mare after she has
given birth. Turn out is required for the
mare and foal as a source of exercise,
and 24 hour turn out is preferable in the
spring and summer months. Turn out
areas need to be checked for small gaps
or holes in the boundary that a foal could
fit through. If post and rail fencing is used,
consider whether the bottom rail is low
enough to stop a foal from rolling
underneath. Streams or ponds can be
hazardous to a foal and should be safely
If your mare is foaling at home, you will
require a stable which is big enough to
accommodate both the mare and foal,
but most importantly provide enough
space when the mare is foaling. A square
14ft by 14ft foaling box is recommended.
Whilst 16ft by 12ft boxes are large
enough, if a mare decides to foal laying
across the stable 12ft is often not wide
enough to deliver the foal and it can
become stuck against the wall. The size
of the box is relative to the size of horse,
so smaller boxes would be appropriate for
smaller horses and ponies. It is essential
that all stabling is draught free but with
Another aspect to consider is the
company available for the mare and foal.
Having at least one other mare and foal is
desirable as the foal will then have a
companion of a similar age to play with.
This is also beneficial later on at the
The Potential Costs
There are many costs
associated with breeding
and not all of them are
obvious. Taking the time to
work through the potential
costs is essential for
anyone who wants to
breed from their mare.
In the interest of the welfare
of the foal and its future,
you should not breed if you
cannot afford to.
The basic cost of breeding from
conception to birth, (based on a mare that
conceives on the first attempt) is about
£2500, but could range anywhere
between £1000 - £5000. This figure
doesn’t include livery, feed, farrier costs
or other fees relating to the general care
of the mare and foal. If it takes more than
one attempt for the mare to conceive or
there are complications during the
pregnancy or birth the cost will increase.
The following are the types of costs you
will need to consider:
- Pre breeding assessment of the mare
with a vet. Approximately £150.
- Stallion/stud fee. Be aware of the terms
you are purchasing the stud fee on,
options include; no foal no fee, no foal
free return (this may be one attempt or
could be up to three attempts or more),
live foal guarantee or the fee may only
include one attempt/covering.
Stud fees usually range between £500 -
£1500 but can be more depending
on the stallion.
- In addition to the stud fee you will also
need to factor in further costs in relation
to the delivery of the semen, this could
include postage, delivery and/or
collection costs. Approximately £100
- There will be a cost for Artificial
Insemination (AI) and if this is done at
a stud there may be additional costs
for boarding the mare. Cost will vary
according to the type of semen (fresh,
chilled or frozen) and ranges between
£300 - £450.
- Vet visits during pregnancy. Most vets will
provide a pregnancy package with a
single cost to cover scans – but there may
still be further costs to consider outside
of this. Depending on the package,
costs range between £100 - £250.
- Facilities – do any of your current
facilities need to be adapted?
For example, a larger stable for foaling
or adaptations to fields/fencing.
- Grazing availability – do you have
enough grazing? If not, you may need
to seek additional grazing at a cost.
- Foaling down (all the below will incur
- At a stud with experienced
Approximately £400, plus boarding
at £10 per day for grass livery
(stabling could be up to £30
- At home or livery – you may need
to call a professional to come out
at an additional cost
- At home or livery – you may need
to attend training to ensure you
are aware of what to do. Training
package approximately £200.
- Vet fees for a post foaling check and
Immunoglobulin test (IgG). There may
be further vet’s fees if there are any
- Livery cost increase (extra cost once
foal is born). Check with your livery
yard how much extra they will charge
for the foal.
- Consider all the costs involved with
keeping your horse, most of these
will also apply to the foal so general
monthly/yearly expenditure will
increase; livery, worming/targeted
testing, farriery, vaccinations,
- Consider the continual increase of
costs from foal to riding horse.