Horse Mating & Breeding: PreparationsBy Jeffrey Rolo
You've decided that you want a new bundle of joy to prance about your farm in the coming year, so it's time to introduce your stallion to some of your mares. But what is the best way to conduct your horse mating operation? Should you allow the stallion to graze in the pastures with your mares and let nature take its course, or should you consider using an assisted horse breeding methodology?
There are many advocates for natural horse mating – that is, allowing your stallion out to pasture with some mares – but I'm not one that favors this method since although it does have a strong advantage, too much is left out of your control. The major advantage to natural horse breeding is that it keeps you and any other handlers completely out of harm's reach, so for unsure breeders this may be the safest route.
The problem is the horse mating process can be rough and ugly, depending on the manners of your stallion and the objects of his affections. When an overly hormonal stallion attempts to mount an unreceptive mare, hooves will fly and there's a significant risk that either the stallion or the mare is going to get marked up, if not severely wounded. Intelligent stallions will of course know when to approach and when to lay off, and patient mares will exhibit warning signs before kicks painted with mean intentions, but unless you can fully trust both of the mating parties it's often best to take a more direct role in the procedure. Why unnecessarily risk having any of your horses getting hurt?
I always encourage breeders to fully test the receptiveness of a mare before even considering the possibility of mating the horses. Do this by walking your mare up to the stallion's stall and allowing the two to sniff and "nuzzle" each other. When a mare is in heat she will flash her vulva repeatedly, squirt copiously, and assume a mating stance. It's important to ensure all signs are present, and that they are clearly noticeable, because when a mare enters her first days of heat she may present some of the signs slightly yet still not be fully receptive to the idea of allowing a stallion to mount her when the moment of truth approaches.
Once you have ensured the mare is in a full heat and ready to proceed, take her back to her stall for some last minute preparations. At this point it is a good idea to wash the genitals of both your stallion and mare with warm water to try and minimize the insertion of dirt, dead skin and smegma during the mating process. Be very careful about doing so if you're not fully familiar with your stallion, because not all stallions are very fond about people handling their privates.
At this point you will need to decide on assisted or natural horse mating. By testing the two parties first, you have minimized the risk that an overly eager stallion will attempt to mount a mare that's not ready, but that being said there's still much that can go wrong with natural mating. The mare may decide she simply doesn't like the stallion (yes, it happens, even with mares in full heats). The stallion may be particularly nasty or aggressive and scratch up the mare's back during the process. Rather than risk injury to either, I continue with the assisted route.
Although these next two steps are not essential, I recommend them since they can make the process cleaner and easier. Wrap the mare's tail in a plastic bag and tightly circle the end of it with duct tape so that it won't slip off easily. This helps prevent the tail from getting in the way of the stallion's path during the process, which can occur surprisingly often when you're dealing with an inexperienced mare or stud. It also doesn't hurt to apply some lubrication to the mare's vulva, though since by now she was probably squirting significantly it's hardly essential.
You always want a minimum of two people involved with an assisted breeding: one to handle the mare and the other to handle the stallion. It is essential that both handlers be fully confident of their abilities to work with horses, because an inexperienced handler can be seriously hurt during the mating ritual if they are careless. Although I am a cowboy at heart and stubbornly shun riding helmets, I would be irresponsible if I didn't strongly recommend both handlers wear a protective helmet during the mating process (especially the one that will handle the mare).
Now that the stallion, mare and two handlers are ready to proceed, have the mare's handler lead her into a paddock, riding ring or round pen. Keep the stallion stalled during this entire procedure – you always want the mare to be standing ready in the ring before you walk the stallion. If a stallion is permitted to follow a mare too closely he will often become impatient and disorderly, putting everyone at risk.
All the preparations for the horse mating have been finished, and we're now ready to introduce the two in as safe a manner as possible. This will be discussed in part two of this series: Horse Mating and Breeding: The Process.