This time of year, it's good to be a horse vet. The weather is delightful, and we get to see lots of healthy patients for routine things - vaccines, dentistry, reproductive work. Foals have been arriving for a few months now, and you have to admit, there is not much cuter than a newborn foal. Cuteness aside, however, deciding to breed horses is a big decision, and not one to be taken lightly. If this is something you have been considering for your mare or stallion, read on.
A pregnant mare with Cushings disease
The first consideration, when it comes to breeding any animal should be the quality of the individual. You must be as objective as possible about this. Having a lovely personality is great, but remember that each parent passes on 50% of his or her genetic material to the next generation. Take a critical look at conformation, hoof quality, metabolic condition... are there outstanding characteristics which will improve the breed, or be likely to create a foal with great potential? Or are there potential genetic characteristics that we would rather not pass on to any offspring? If you are considering breeding a mare because she is not able to be ridden, be very honest with yourself about why she is not ridable. Did a random injury occur? Or does she have an underlying conformational problem which has predisposed her to injury? Has she been unridable because of a behavioral issue? If you are not sure, a complete veterinary examination may help you decide.
The next consideration needs to be your goal for the offspring. What is the plan for this new foal? Are you looking to create your next riding horse? Will this foal be up for sale? Be very sure about what your intent is. It's a sad fact, but we must remember that we have a surplus of unwanted horses in this country - many of the foals produced end up at auction or worse. To avoid contributing to that problem, it's crucial to only breed animals with great potential, and only when there is a "future" in mind for the prospective foal. Breeding "just because" foals are adorable, or you want to experience a newborn, or you're not doing anything else with the mare, are not good reasons to breed. (This should go without saying, but we've heard it before.)
Dr. Leighton inseminating a mare
So, let's assume you have an award-winning mare with excellent conformation and pedigree, you've selected an equally outstanding stallion which will complement her genetics, and you have several people clamoring for the prospective foal. Excellent. On to the next thing to consider. Is the mare sound to be bred? Even if the mare has successfully been bred and produced healthy foals before, if it has been a while or she is new to you, it never hurts to have a breeding soundness exam performed prior to trying to breed her. (The same goes for a stallion.) If the mare has had foaling difficulties in the past, it is essential to have her fully examined before trying again.
We could go on and on, but you get the idea. Breeding horses (or any species!) is a much bigger consideration than just finding two individuals with the required parts. Responsible breeding requires time and patience, but can be very rewarding when done correctly. A healthy foal with a good future for a long happy life is a goal we can all strive for.
Drs. Ashley and Matt Kornatowski share their experiences and insights into veterinary medicine. We hope you find this blog both informative and entertaining.