Newer reproductive technologies give horse owners and veterinarians many options when it comes to breeding their mares and stallions. These techniques have improved and widened genetic pools available for breeding equines and have provided additional freedom of choice for horse owners.
With these technologies available, it is still the foremost consideration of true breeders to realistically appraise their responsibility to care for their "babies" and to assure that they do not enter the world of unwanted horses.
Equine artificial insemination
Artificial insemination became popular among horse owners during the late 1900's when the use of cooled semen proved to be successful and ways to successfully freeze semen were developed. With same-day or over-night transportation readily available in many areas, semen collected from stallions around the world can be used to impregnate mares wherever properly timed connections can be worked out.
To breed or not to breed your mare
Before deciding to breed a horse an owner needs to seriously consider whether the investment of time and money will be worth the effort. The horse owner needs to consider the following factors:
- Does the mare have valuable genetic qualities to be passed on?
- Is the mare in good physical health, fertile and able to withstand the rigors of carrying a pregnancy to term?
- For what purpose will the foal be used?
- Does a market exist for the foal if the owner cannot keep the foal for its entire life?
- What is the anticipated economic benefit, if any, to the owner of the new foal?
- Does the owner of the mare have the expertise to properly manage a mare through gestation and parturition?
- Does the owner of the potential foal have the expertise and resources to properly manage and train the young foal?
Without careful thought and planning, foals bred without a potential market, may wind up being sold at a loss, abandoned when the owner can no longer take care of them, or sold for slaughter as horse meat.
It's your business
Of course, some horse owners may simply want a foal for the pleasure of raising and training a young horse either as a pasture ornament or for personal pleasure use. As long as the horse owner has the resources and time to produce a well-cared-for and trained horse, it is strictly that person's business.
Before deciding to breed a horse, it is important to understand the costs. Minimum costs of breeding for a mare owner include:
- The stud fee
- The cost of proper nutrition for the mare,
- Veterinarian care of the mare throughout gestation and parturition,
- Care of the mare and foal up through the weaning of the foal,
- Provision for additional veterinarian and farrier services
Current methods of equine breeding
In the past, most breeding was accomplished through live cover of the mare by the stallion. Artificial insemination became popular during the late 1900's as improved techniques allowed horse owners more choices.
Presently, in addition to live cover, an owner can choose several methods of artificial insemination, or my use advanced reproductive technologies.
Artificial insemination (AI) has several advantages over live cover and the conception rate is usually as good or better than that of live cover. Advantages of artificial insemination include:
- The mare and stallion do not have physical contact with each other, thereby reducing breeding accidents.
- A mare doesn't have to travel to a stallion so the process is less stressful on her.
- AI allows more mares to be bred from one stallion.
- The chance of spreading sexually transmitted diseases decreases.
- AI allows cooled or frozen semen to be shipped across continents so horse owners can more easily choose stallions with desired traits when good local stallions are not available.
- AI allows mares or stallions with health issues such as sore hocks to continue to breed.
- Frozen semen may be stored and used to breed mares after a stallion is dead or incapacitated.
A disadvantage of using artificial insemination is that some organizations such as the Jockey Club require that all registered foals must be bred through live cover. Some organizations forbid artificial fertility treatment and foals bred using AI can be registered only if the stallion's sperm was collected during his lifetime and used no later than the year of his death or castration.
In addition to artificial insemination, several advanced reproductive technologies are now available.
Advanced reproductive technologies include the following:
- Gamete Intra Fallopian Tube transfer
- Embryo transfer
- Egg transfer
With Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer, the mare's ovum and the stallions sperm are deposited in the oviduct of a surrogate mare. This technique is very useful for stallions with a low sperm count because the ovum and sperm are brought together in a relatively small space in a timely manner.
Embryo transfer is a relatively new method which involves flushing out the mare's fertilized embryo a few days following insemination, and transferring the embryo to a surrogate mare. Synchronizing each step of the process takes patience, skill and careful determination of both the surrogate mare and the donor mare.
Various horse breed registries have restrictions and requirements regarding foals that result from embryo transfer. Before considering use of this technique, if a foal is to be registered, the owner should make sure that the procedure and documentation will be acceptable to the breed registry.
Egg transfer is accomplished by removing an oocyte from the mare's follicle and transferring it into the oviduct of the recipient mare, who is then bred. This is best for mares with physical problems such as an obstructed oviduct that prevent breeding.
The idea of cloning horses is still in its infancy, with the first cloned horse produced by Italian scientists in 2003. Since then several more have been created.
According to one veterinarian, an investment of $150,000 would be necessary to successfully clone a horse. One company engaged in cloning horses in Texas, reportedly gives horse owners a $60,000 discount on the price of a second clone of the same animal.
The major advantage of cloning is that it takes the guesswork out of breeding. If successful, the clone will have all the positive characteristics of the cloned horse.
None of the breed registries currently allow cloned foals to be registered, although some horsemen and veterinarians maintain that eventually some registries may accept cloned horses.
As with live cover, none of the techniques for producing foals work each and every time. In some cases, several attempts must be made before a mare becomes pregnant, and then, the foal must be carried to term and be healthy upon arrival.
For most people, economics drive the decision making process and it is important to gather all pertinent information about possible choices when considering the outcome of those breeding decisions.