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Equine Reproduction - A guide for farmers and small breeders

Equine Reproduction - A guide for farmers and small breeders

The market shows a proven and consistent demand for quality athletic horses. Breeders should streamline their operations to meet market demands, whether that is for show jumpers, eventers or high-end leisure horses. Equine Reproduction - A guide for farmers and small breeders, outlines the basics

Shrewd choice of breeding stock and better management techniques will improve the quality and consistency of foals and youngstock, and subsequently improve profit margins.

Breeding goal

Every breeding programme begins with a breeding goal. You need to decide what type of horse you want to produce. The national breeding goal for the Irish sport horse is: “To produce a performance horse that is sound, athletic with good paces and suitable temperament and capable of winning at the highest international level in FEI disciplines”. As a breeder you must decide where you operate within this broad definition. Do you want to breed a show jumper, an eventer, or a dressage animal and, within these disciplines, at what level of the sport concerned? Or do you have some other market outlet in mind? Having decided on your breeding goal, the next step is to identify and match mares and stallions that are most likely to help you to achieve this goal.

Market Knowledge As a breeder it is imperative that you keep up to date with what is happening in the sport/marketplace so that you can make more informed decisions in your breeding enterprise. 

Estimated breeding values (EBVs)

Estimated breeding values (EBVs) are predictions of the genetic advantage that a stallion or mare will pass on to its offspring for a particular trait. The KWPN in Holland and other European studbooks are using genetic evaluations for stallions and mares very successfully. Horse Sport Ireland has compiled EBVs for jumping, conformation, movement, temperament and athleticism. In simple terms, a stallion with a high EBV in the region of 140 is more likely to breed jumpers than other stallions. EBVs estimate how much that improvement can be expected to be in the offspring

The Reproductive Cycle of the Mare

The mare has a reproductive season and a non-reproductive season, both of which are controlled by light. The non-reproductive season, known as anoestrus, occurs in the autumn and winter when there is little natural light. The reproductive season begins in the spring when daylight hours are increasing, and continues through the summer. Mares therefore cycle naturally from March/April through to September/October. The peak of the breeding season is in May, June and July.

You might wish to manipulate the mare’s cycle for either of two reasons: 

  • to produce foals early in the year (producing sport horse foals early in the year for the purpose of having strong foals to show or sell adds considerably to labour and input costs); or,
  • where the mare has difficulty cycling naturally.

Topics covered in the book

All of the above information is covered in much more detail in the book, compiled and edited by the Teagasc Equine Specialist Unit. Also included is useful information on:

  • Bloodstock selection 
  • Reading a pedigree 
  • The reproductive anatomy of the mare 
  • Pre-breeding management of mares 
  • Gestation period 
  • Record keeping 
  • Teasing 
  • Timing of breeding 
  • Artificial insemination 
  • Post-breeding management of the mare  
  • Infertility in the mare  
  • Disease prevention 
  • Breeder skill requirements 
  • Costings  
  • Registration of progeny

View or Download Equine Reproduction - A guide for farmers and small breeders here (pdf) 

Further Information

Further and more specific information is available from the Teagasc equine specialists.

You might also like to view the Let's Talk Equine Webinar Series which include webinars on fertility, breeding, young foal management and more.

See Teagasc Equine also for further information.