Basic Behavior Pregnant Mares Imprinting Foals Basic Training 101


Breeding horses is a dangerous business and not for novices, so learn all you can and speak with other breeders and vets to help you make a well informed decision before investing a lot of money and time becoming a breeder. Since it is so dangerous, safety must be the primary concern for horses and people alike.

When breeding in the wild, the older mares in the herd will teach the young stallions proper manners. Since most horse ranches isolate the young studs when the testosterone starts coursing through their veins, proper manners becomes your job. In the wild, stallions are the herd protectors, however, on your ranch, that also becomes your job. The stud must respect and look up to you for leadership. Since they will fight to the death, you will be responsible for their physical living space to keep them away from the other stallions. Some subdominant (younger) studs won't even be able to breed if they are within sight of an older, more dominant "herd" stallion.

Wild stallions "tease" the mares to see if they are in heat (estrus) as the mares will not be at all receptive if they are not. On the ranch, you will need to be observant, and expose the mares to the stud in a safe place to see how they act around him.

Training breeding stallions takes confidence and patience while gaining their trust and respect. In the stallions' minds, they have one purpose in life, to procreate. We have to teach them when we want them to breed and when we don't, and to be a gentle riding horse that is quiet and mannerly around other horses when not breeding. It is best to start all this training as a weanling or at least a yearling. We must have them listening to us as their surrogate herd leader they can respect and trust.

Stud colts need a lot of socialization and should not be locked away from "family activities" in a stall or pen. As young boys, they need to play fight with other colts just like real boys like to wrestle and fight with each other. It's healthy for the colts to learn about themselves and others in the herd. Fillies and mares will teach them manners and discipline, which prepares them to be disciplined by you if they start "play fighting" with you! Rearing up on you, striking, and biting are all part of their built in instincts that are used to protect the herd or to tease the mares prior to breeding.

We have to teach them like the stallion or their grandmothers and aunties would in the herd so they won't do these things to us! They understand discipline when socializing in the herd and from you at a young age since they are neurologically mature at birth and ready to learn. The younger they are, the easier it will be to teach them.

Never discipline while you are angry. You must first understand the mind and nature of the stallion so you can train him with respect and appreciation for his instincts. It's not wrong for him to be nippy and biting as he's programmed to do this to bring mares into heat and to bite the withers, helps him to balance and keep the mare from moving when he is on her.

To stop his nipping and/or biting, you can make a fist and "Bop" him in the teeth, saying "NO" while sternly looking him in the eye. When leading him keep a "wand" (like a carriage whip without a tail) in your left hand and in front of his legs below the knees and when he goes too fast or wants to strike or act up, or is getting too close to you, then "smartly" swat his legs a couple times below the knees. Use the same wand between you and his left shoulder/leg to keep him a safe distance away from you. He must learn to respect your space and learn to maintain a safe distance from you while being led.

You can teach him to lead around mares and other horses without screaming or pulling you around by using a similar method. If he screams or turns toward you give him a swift short tap against the side of his muzzle followed immediately with a stern NO! After he becomes calm again, proceed with your walk. He must be taught manners around both you and other horses at all times with a consistent program that is carried out with confidence and authority that he respects and understands. His mother loves him also, but will not hesitate to correct his bad behavior with a swift kick or well placed bite! Love and discipline must work together.

Stallions must be able to stand on their hind legs to breed, however, this rearing is not acceptable while you are leading him. If he is allowed to keep moving forward, he will be less likely to rear up in the air. Leaving him somewhat loose will also help if you have taught him to respect your space while leading (above). If you jerk him or hold him tightly, he will use the balance you just gave him to go up! If he does, a long cotton rope will allow you room to safely hold onto him and then to start walking again. Don't jerk on him when he is in the air.

If he continues rearing excessively, try leading him in a barn aisle with lower ceilings so he will want to avoid rearing and he will become accustomed to behaving while you are leading and/or standing still.

I have started many stallions over the years for hand breeding and A.I. collection. I prefer a separate "special" halter for my "breeding" rig that has an extra long, thick soft cotton rope and a 30 inch long, closely linked chain on it. The chain must be long enough to go over the stud's nose and back under his jaw to be clipped to the left side ring of the halter. It allows you safety and clearance during the breeding process. It is also least abrasive and most gentle on the stallion.

When he is in this "rig", he knows that we are going to breed and acts appropriately. The chain is not usually needed unless he misbehaves. He should have been taught proper behavior when he was younger, however, remember, you are not handling a "gelding" either! You must be in control at all times for the safety of everyone. The stud knows what the chain is for and no - it's not for abuse, but used for discipline without anger.

Whenever he is breeding a mare, don't jerk on the chain or discipline him, but, carefully pull him off her and start over. If you can't get him under control, you can try putting the chain through his mouth. Only use this method when changing the unacceptable behavior, not as an ongoing technique as it can be very severe on the stud very easily, so use it very carefully.

When I'm riding a stallion or showing him at halter, he knows that he is not allowed to holler or act up as he has been taught that this is not a breeding situation, therefore, he knows that he must be a gentleman on a regular halter or bridle. They can learn the different manners and expectations for different activities with patience and consistent training.

As a two year old, I keep stallion prospects in a stall and run that is near other horses (preferably mares), so that he has company, but now no longer runs with colts or older mares and geldings for socializing. I must become the dominant herd member who heads his pecking order and has earned his respect and trust.

His pen should have plenty of space for exercise. It should have tall rails with hot wire inside and outside to keep him from climbing or leaning over the fence. The hot wire will keep other horses and mares on the outside from backing up to the outside of his pen. This will allow him company at a safe distance, yet allow mares to be close enough to show a heat naturally.

Teasing is very important for bringing the mare into heat. I have a safe area for bringing mares in to tease from outside his pen to see if they are in heat, where he can sniff nose to nose and sniff their neck and flank area.

Younger mares that have never been bred or mounted may be so afraid of the teasing, that they will kick and jump around even if they are in a good heat. Due to their inexperience, they probably won't show much either. Sometimes, I let the stud "dry mount" her a few times before he is fully extended to desensitize her to the actual mounting from the rear. Stroking her and speaking calmly to her also helps her become relaxed and ready, making breeding an enjoyable time for her.

One of the most important factors in safe, successful breeding is a "chute" for the mare and foal to be kept during breeding. I designed one for my operation that is safe and has no restrictions on the mare. Mare owners may bring a mare that is not very well trained! My breeding chute resembles a set of "stocks" (3' x 6' for the mare) with a small pen (6' x 6') in front for the baby. There are cross ties for mom, with a "chest board" in front and a "kick board" in the back. There is a teasing wall that is about five feet tall at the front tapering down to about three feet in the rear for the stud to tease her neck and flank from the side.

When the stud is fully extended, I lead him around the wall behind her so he can mount and breed. If she's nervous and kicking, I leave the kick board up. If she's receptive and standing quietly, I pull it out from my side after he has mounted. After he has dismounted, the mare handler pulls the chest board, unclips the cross tie safety snaps and leads the mare and baby out through the front and walk them for five to ten minutes. This short walk promotes semen retention and helps settle the mare.

You should teach the stud to gently tease and nip at her flanks and sniff under her tail rather than being allowed to mount right away before he's ready. Using patience here just like everything else, teach him that he is not allowed to mount before he is fully extended and ready to breed. It is very helpful to practice this in a safe area like a set of stocks where it is easier to control the teasing process.

It is acceptable for him to bite the withers while breeding, as this helps him keep her still and balance. He shouldn't hurt her or break the skin. If he begins to "ravage" her, that is not acceptable, so you should gently use the chain to pull him off her saying "NO" in a stern voice. Allow him to remount and repeat the above until he learns not to bite her indiscriminately with an angry viciousness.

If you can't stop his biting or ravaging, try putting the chain in his mouth or use a quirt to tap against the side of his muzzle and say NO. He will learn to be a gentleman if you are clear what is expected of him, and then he won't need any more discipline. There are some stallions that will continue ravaging mares. If working with one of them, (and you still value the other traits in his offspring), try putting a heavy neck collar on the mare from head to withers, so he bites the cover rather than her.

Never sharply jerk the chain or beat your stallion before, during or after breeding. He will learn to associate breeding with an unpleasant activity (pain) and become too timid or too angry to breed. Stallions don't deserve being beaten, or having the chain jerked repeatedly. The chain should be used only for leverage to help you pull him off gently or to back him if he charges the mares or gets ahead of you.

The mare handler should understand the danger in holding them while teasing or breeding. A mare will rear, strike, bite, kick, and spin around instantly to kick at the teasing stud. You should have a solid wall where you can tie the stud and the mare on opposite sides where they can tease at a safe distance (about 6' high and 10' wide) and where you can watch from a few feet away.

It may take quite a while for young mares or maiden mares to show, so allow them plenty of time to meet and tease every other day. During the first and second day of heat, most mares won't "show" or be receptive to mounting, but they will cautiously talk to the stud without spinning, pawing, or kicking as often. Watch and see if they "wink" their vulva, then squat and have a liquid discharge that is thicker and milkier than urine. One mare in heat can often get other mares in her pen to show.

If she pins her ears and swishes her tail, wanting to kick, but winking and squirting fluid, she is probably upset and urinating from anxiety. Urine has an obvious odor. The "estrus discharge" does not smell like urine. The mare should come into a ""standing heat" where she will stand still when being teased. She is ready to breed when she will squat discharging fluid and won't readily move away from the stud.

You shouldn't breed a mare that is kicking because she is angry at the stud. If she has been thoroughly teased, she will be ready. It usually works best to start breeding on the third or fourth day of heat, so it behooves the breeder to be very observant and maintain accurate records of the mare's actions around the stallions.

To understand the actual conception process, timing is critical. When the mare ovulates, an egg leaves the ovarian follicle, rolls down the Fallopian tube and drops into the uterus where the egg and the stallion's sperm make contact. Sperm from a fertile stud lasts about 48 hours in the uterus; so breeding every other day will be sufficient to ensure pregnancy.

Typically, the mares' heat cycles last 21 days, where they are in heat for 7 of them and out for the other 14 days. They will ovulate at the end of their cycle, around the end of the 5th day or beginning of the 6th day of heat and most of them are totally "out" on the 7th day.

A mare may carry a chronic uterine infection, making it difficult to conceive without the use of antibiotics. It is best to have a vet examine the mares prior to breeding to know whether they are clean and have their ovaries and uterus in good working order. It is not uncommon for mares to appear unable to conceive as a result of a minor infection. It is advisable to culture a mare even when fertilizing with Artificial Insemination.

A mare's uterus will naturally clean out any infections every 24 hours. If you breed more often than that, you may reintroduce foreign material into the uterus, increasing the possibilities of a uterine infection. I like to wrap the mare's tail and wash her vulva with mild soap and water as well as the stud's penis after he has dropped. Clean rather than sterile is an important rule of thumb to remember here.

Without a breeding chute, you can use well made breeding hock hobbles or side line a front and rear foot on the same side, twitch a mare, (I prefer hand twitching) or hobble the front left leg by bending it at the knee and holding it tightly against itself, using a leather belt buckled around it or a nylon hobble. It can be released after the stud has mounted and entered her. All of these methods will help protect your stallion from being injured.

It helps to have a pen next to or within a couple feet of the stud's pen, so the mare and foal (if she has one), can tease on their own in a relaxed manner. When she is in heat and going over to the stud and squatting, you will know she is ready and can breed in his pen area while leaving the baby in her pen close to the mare if you don't have a chute with a baby pen for breeding. It is best to establish a breeding and teasing area so the studs and mares know what is expected of them while they are there.

Tie the stud in his pen, walk the mare in and get her ready (facing her baby) for breeding. The mare handler could hold her from outside the pen on a second rope for that person's safety. Then the stud handler can unclip him when they are both ready to breed. Stallions are generally more docile immediately after breeding and will dismount and need a moment to regain themselves. Then clip him again and lead her out to go for a pleasant walk with her baby and the mare handler. These walks help her to settle as she settles down psychologically.

I start breeding on the 3rd and 5th day of heat or the 4th and 6th day and then I can be sure that they are covered at the end of their cycle. If they are still showing a good standing heat on the 7th or 8th day, I have bred them and find they tend to still "take" on the normal 7-day heat. Sometimes, mares have longer cycles in early spring and some have 4-day cycles in mid to late summer, so I start breeding on the 3rd day of heat to be sure and catch her in time.

In the northern hemisphere, most mares won't have a normal, fertile heat cycle until March or April unless they are under lights in the winter for 16 hours/day from November until February. It takes increased daylight to fool the mare and stallions' bodies into believing it is springtime if you want to breed early in February and need a fertile heat for successful conception.

Their heat cycles are controlled by the pituitary gland that is more or less active according to how much light is taken in by the eyes. That is why they go out of heat in winter and come back in during spring and are most fertile in mid summer. Recent studies have shown that the amount of daylight also affects the stallion's fertility in terms of the number of daily erections and number of sperm produced per ejaculation.

Mares may have a "transition" heat in February or March (a long heat cycle lasting up to 2 weeks or more) as they are coming out of their dormant (anoestrus) or infertile period and transitioning into "estrus". They will "show" as described above, however, they may not produce a follicle that will ovulate and conceive. I have found that it is a waste of time to breed during a "transition" heat and prefer to wait until their next cycle, which should be a fertile 7-day heat. Your vet can also palpate the mare to see if she has produced a viable egg, and how far along she is so you can calculate the best breeding schedule for conception.

Older mares 12-20 years are more likely to conceive in mid to late summer. Your vet can ultrasound the mare around 14-15 days after the last breeding date to see if she's pregnant or in heat again, or you can tease her with your stud during that week. She will only show if she is open and didn't conceive during the last breeding cycle.

A mare can be palpated after 40 days from last breeding date to see if she is pregnant. I like to check all the mares for pregnancy 2 months after the first pregnancy confirmation. Since it is possible for the mares to "absorb" the fetus, then can be re-bred while there is still enough time if they are found to be open. If they are still pregnant after 60 days, they will most likely stay pregnant. Twins can be hard to see with an ultrasound or by palpating, so they can slip by, but are fairly rare to go past the 60 day check back date.

You can short cycle a mare by giving her a prostaglandin shot 5 days after she has gone out of heat. She will come back in heat 3-5 days later. Some maiden mares won't show a heat unless they are palpated first and the hymen is broken.

Young stallions (age 2 and 3 years) should be monitored carefully not to breed too often (8 to 10 mares/year). During the breeding season, they should be kept on a good nutritional feeding program for health and fertility. Breed the youngsters once every other day and try to give them weekends off.

To keep a stallion's libido (sex drive) active, he will need plenty of daily exercise. Ride, longe, or turn them out in big runs where they can exercise themselves. Stallions aged four and older can breed up to 3 times a day (early morning, noon and later that evening), up to 50 mares in a season without artificial insemination. I would recommend that the aged stallions (15-20) should breed less often and have rest days.

If you want a high semen count for artificial collection, you may want to breed every other day. In the wild, they may breed many times each day, however the sperm count per ejaculation wouldn't be high enough to ensure the high quality long distance shipments required by your customers. You can render a stallion temporarily infertile if you breed them too often without feeding them properly and giving them plenty of year round exercise.

You can create a very frustrated and angry stallion if you try to take him totally out of his natural environment that allows him to be the leader of his family and watch over them. Stallions are happiest when they are within socializing distance of mares or young, Stallions are least happy when locked away, abused or stressed out.

The key to a successful breeding program is patience. Keep your breeding and teasing program as close to natural and comfortable as possible for both mares and studs to allow conception to happen. Avoid anger on your part, and allow plenty of teasing until the mare is comfortable and showing willingly with a stallion that is not afraid of you and quietly enjoys the mannerly breeding program where he knows you will be kind, but will also protect him from harm.

Shipping semen is becoming popular because of the safety factor and for the ability to breed to a stallion that stands too far away for you to feasibly transport the mare. There are many different technical procedures to teach the stud and handlers. The stallions must learn to mount a dummy or be collected with a hand held artificial vagina on a live mare and the handlers must learn to handle many instruments while maintaining a clean environment and constant temperatures so they don't chill the semen. I won't go into those processes in this article since there are many books and seminars available on that subject.

Pasture breeding can be a safer alternative for people, but may not be as safe for the horses. Horse breeding is not for the novice horse owner, rather is a highly technical and complex profession that requires experience to be learned.

Wendy Malone, dated Jan. 20, 2001