I think I want to breed my mare, now what?
As the hint of warmer weather starts spreading across the state and you look out into the pasture to see your mare enjoying the grass and you think to yourself, okay this is the year that we’re going to breed her. But now what? How do you do… it? No, this isn’t a “birds and bees” talk, but sometimes you have to ask, “Where do you get your birds and who do you talk to about the bees?” There is a lot that goes into deciding on what stallion, the logistics of getting that stallion or his… “prodigy creators” to your mare, how much it’s all going to cost and just what you’re going to do with a foal for the next 2-3 years before you even know if it was a good fit.
Let’s start with that last one first, one of my biggest questions to clients when they want to breed their mare is “what are you looking to achieve?” Foals are cute, there is no doubt about it, and there is a sense of pride to see that awkward four-legged bundle of joy running around the pasture with YOUR MARE as its mom. But what are you looking to achieve? Are you looking for your future riding horse? Are you looking for a fun project? Are you looking for a good payday selling the foal? I often remind people of the auction yards full of horses that started out as a fun project but then turned out to be something different. If you’re looking for a future riding horse, you might be better off buying one outright, there is significant cost to raising a horse for 2-3 years before you even start to put a saddle on it, and then significant training fees to get them to start riding or showing. There is an old adage about how to become a millionaire in the horse industry… start out as a billionaire.
Okay, you’re still with me, you’ve weighed your options and know this is the best thing for you and your horse. Finding a stallion can be daunting but there are a lot of resources out there; you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Reach out to other horse breeders in your discipline and ask their opinion. Now is the time of year to start asking about the logistics and to get on a stallion’s breeding book and get a contract worked out. Horses are most fertile in the spring/early summer and you want to have all of your t’s crossed and i’s dotted before then.
Once you have your list of stallions the next question is how to get that stallion to you? There are three main options here: live cover, fresh-cooled semen, or frozen semen. Live cover is a good option and has good success rates but there are risks for injury to both the mare and stallion as well as logistic impediments such as geography and travel. Fresh-cooled semen has a success rate around 75% per breeding cycle and is the most commonly used. There are veterinary costs of ultrasounding and medications. Frozen semen has a success rate closer to 50% per breeding cycle and is more labor intensive on the veterinary side, with more frequent ultrasounds required. Some stallions only have frozen semen available due to show schedules or with stallions that have passed on. There are other options out there (embryo transfer, oocyte transfer, ICSI) but we’ll save those are for another day.
“What is this going to cost me doc?” Well, that depends. A six-pack of beer may be enough for your neighbor to turn his old stud horse out in your mare’s pasture for the summer but expect to pay around $200,000 for a breeding to American Pharaoh, the 2015 Triple Crown winner. Veterinary costs are also going to depend, I would recommend asking your veterinarian on what to expect but usually between $300-$500 per cycle for a routine* breeding. Complicating factors such as fertility of the mare and/or stallion may also increase that price.
In all, there are two things that I would really like you to take home from all of this; one, there is a lot that goes into breeding your mare and two, don’t feel like you must reinvent the wheel. There are many resources out there to help get you through this process. Your veterinarian is a great start to get you headed in the right direction. There is nothing better than watching a baby horse that you helped into this world grow up, let us help you take the first step!
*caveat: there is no such thing as “routine” in horses!