Breeding the Horse

    Each breed has its distinctive conformation, due partly to random natural factors, and partly to the practice of selective breeding, whereby a horse type acquires the characteristics it needs for peak performance in its particular job.  I would like to note here something that a friend of mine pointed out (and as much as possible this will be in her words):  Breeding should be done strictly by professionals in a structured breeding facility and that “backyard” breeding be discouraged, not only due to running the risk of putting less than perfect specimens into different breeds and diluting the pure blood that history worked so hard to attain, but also the risk to one’s mare and future foal.  There are no guarantees.  People need to be aware that it's risky and they could lose the mare they so love, or the foal they have put so much time and money into already.
    In addition to the above comments, my friend also pointed out that people looking for a horse should consider adopting a mustang, helping out someone who needs to get rid of their horse(s) for financial reasons, and/or adopting a PMU horse.  You can find out more information about these things on other sites, such as  These are all great ideas and would definitely be better options than casually trying to breed a backyard pet.  (Thank you, Liz!)

    A foal will first attempt to stand within 30 to 60 minutes after its birth; it can keep up with the herd within 24 hours.  Most foals are born at night, when the herd is least likely to be on the move and there is less danger from predators.  Newborn foals can't eat grass because their legs are too long to let them reach it.

    Many modern warmblood breeds excel in jumping and dressage.  Warmbloods represent careful mixing of heavy draft horses with light riding horses of desert origin, especially Thoroughbreds.  Among the principal warmblood breeds are the Hanoverian, Holsteiner, Trakehner and the Dutch, Danish and Swedish Warmbloods.

Natural Factors

    The horses that evolved in colder climates tended to be heavy and coarse; such was Equus robustus, a lumbering horse native to the forests of Europe.  Descendants of these cold-climate horses are today called cold-blooded horses and include such different animals as the great draft breeds and Shetland and Icelandic ponies.  In contrast, hot and arid areas produced small light horses such as Equus agilis, the horse of the North African plains.  These species became the ancestors of today's so-called hot-blooded breeds, which include the Arabian and the Barb (Moroccan) horse.

Selective Breeding

    High-class horse breeding is a science.  No horse is perfect, and much rests on deciding which sire or dam, by heredity and conformation, may counteract faults transmitted by the other.  There are many experts on bloodlines in this country who will gladly give assistance to the breeder just starting out.
Thoroughbred stallions are often used for improving other breeds, but Arabian sires have even greater potency.  Centuries of pure breeding have "fixed" so many of the best "warm blood" characteristics, that Arabian blood has an enormous effect--as long as there is some analogy of type.  Unsoundness of bone or wind is almost unknown in the desert horse, so that the use of Arabian sires on breeds with such hereditary defects, is especially good.  In Europe, particularly, stallions of different breeds are used with the same foundation stock to produce a different type of the same strain, and to be used for different purposes.
    Breeding usually starts when the mare is between 3 and 4 years old; the young horse being carried for 11 months before being born.
    Many people with a favorite old mare like to breed from her.  This is fine, as long as her conformation is that of a possible brood mare--and she is free of hereditary disease, or of any to which she might transmit a tendency.  Accidental unsoundness is immaterial.  A suitable stallion may counteract her worst points.  Good temperament is essential.
Thoroughbreds are so valuable that the mares normally foal in special "foaling stalls," under constant, unobtrusive supervision.  Many humbler animals, and certainly ponies, usually prefer to make their own arrangements in their own field--if the weather is permissible.  Call the vet if foaling seems unduly prolonged.
    Foals born in April or later thrive, running out with their dams, but there must be a shed for shelter.  At eight weeks the foal may nibble its mother's oats, at six or seven months it may be weaned, but will need a companion - another foal, or good-tempered pony or donkey gelding.  An abundance of good food, plus cod-liver oil, lays the foundation for a good horse or pony.  Handling from birth and an early introduction to a foal's halter are sensible steps in a foal's education.  Unchecked nipping or kick-outs spell trouble when your amusing little foal grows to a hefty yearling, and must therefore be checked from as early an age as possible.

Developing the Breeds

    "Breeds" within the horse family mean those strains that have been cultivated by man and which reproduce true to type from generation to generation.  Horses such as the Mongolian ass and the zebra are not breeds but wild species.  Almost all the so-called "wild horses" now existing, such as the American Mustang and the many uncultivated pony races, are descendants of once domesticated animals that returned to the wild at some time in the past.
    Breeding--the gradual improvement of an animal type through selective mating--has been practiced by horsemen for many centuries and is now a highly sophisticated science.  The breeder seeks to produce foals that are sound, vigorous, and good specimens of the breed's characteristics.  He selects animals to be mated on the basis of their good health, the quality of the offspring they have already produced, and any special characteristics he may hope to see passed on to the foal--for example, speed, jumping ability, or a docile temperament.  He avoids breeding a stallion and a mare that have the same fault of conformation, soundness, or disposition.  The breeder also takes into account the horses' bloodlines--their ancestries--which are given in the stud book or registry of the breed.  He notes particularly the qualities of the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents on each side and the quality of their descendants.  This process of selective breeding has developed many of the modern breeds.

Breeding the Race horse

The making of a Thoroughbred race horse begins even before he is born.  His parents are chosen with care in the hopes that a crossing of their bloodlines will produce a foal with just the right mix of characteristics to win races.  Only two out of three Thoroughbreds foaled in any one season actually make it to the turf.  The sire is regarded as the more important contributor to the quality of the "get," but the dam is very important, too, not only because of her genetic contribution, but because she is the guardian and example of temperament to the foal in the first months of life.
    Spring is the time for foaling.  All Thoroughbreds have their first official birthday on the January 1st after the actual day of their birth.  Thereafter the youngster is known as a yearling colt or yearling filly until it is two years old, when the yearling designation is dropped.  At age five, the male will be called a horse, the female a mare.  According to the current practice, the Thoroughbred begins its racing career at least two years before its maturity at age four or five.
    A Thoroughbred is named while it is a yearling.  The owner offers a name for registration with the Jockey Club, the organization that maintains the breeding records of American Thoroughbreds.  To be acceptable it must not be more than 16 letters long, nor conflict with the name of any other living, registered horse, nor be in poor taste.  The name cannot be changed, even if owners change.

(Note:  I chose to take the entire section below from its source—The Young Specialist Looks At Horses— because it was an older publication and had a lot of information that was somewhat unfamiliar and very interesting to me.  It may be noteworthy that this book was published in England.)

Breeding Horses

As far as most of the well-known foreign breeds of horses are concerned, such as the Lipizzaner, Trakehner and Anglo-Norman, the breed has become fixed by continual, systematic planning and selection.  The more consistent the selection of the breeding material and the more constant the demand for performance over long periods, the more homogeneous does a breed become, the more thoroughbred is the individual progeny, and the more constant the characteristics which it possesses.
    The most suitable type of horse for breeding purposes is one which is, as far as possible, free from faults, and is true to type.  The mare and stallion should possess those characteristics which it is hoped to reproduce in the final product.  If both parents have proved through training that they themselves are sound in wind and limb so much the better.  This is the general practice when breeding Thoroughbreds and also for the well-known Continental breeds.
    The native pony breeds of Britain have proved by generations of usefulness or by survival under all weather conditions on a minimum of food that they are sturdy, hardy and possess all those qualities required in a good pony, so that today they are bred more to conformation and excellence of type; which in some breeds has meant a consistent admixture of Arab or Thoroughbred blood.  The danger here lies obviously in the fact that the old true pony type may eventually be lost unless breeders breed back to it to obtain future breeding material.
    One basic principle in breeding which is often neither understood nor appreciated, and is consequently neglected, is that a good brood mare need not necessarily be a good riding horse, and a good hunter mare often falls short of those qualities required of a brood mare.  The stallion should show definite masculine character and the brood mare a distinct feminine one.  Too often these principles are overlooked, and in young stock classes as well as Premium stallion classes the animals are generally clearly judged only on their possibilities, or their breeding potentialities, to produce winners of saddle classes.  Beauty is only skin deep and a beautifully made stallion—no matter how much he pleases the eye—is not bound to produce beautiful prize-winning foals, unless he also has other qualities such as proved soundness, courage, good temper and, most important, fertility!
    An unblemished pedigree is most desirable for the continued excellence and high standard of a breed.  A mediocre horse with an excellent pedigree is more valuable for breeding purposes than the finest chance product.
    On the Continent, the stallions of the recognised warm-blood breeds have to undergo twelve months' training during which they are broken to saddle and harness; they then complete a three-day test which includes dressage, show-jumping and cross-country, and they are also required to trot a given distance pulling a sulky or a load, according to the breed.  Mares have to prove themselves in harness in certain agricultural gears.
    In Britain,
Thoroughbreds are tested on the race-course, and some of those stallions which are not required for breeding purposes in Thoroughbred studs are awarded Premiums at the annual Stallion Show at Newmarket, held under the auspices of the Hunters Improvement Society.  The Premium stallions are then allocated to different districts, and are available to serve mares belonging to local owners.  Half-bred stallions, of which there are very few, have to hold a Ministry of Agriculture licence.  They are subjected to a very thorough veterinary examination before being awarded the licence.  Pony stallions are also carefully inspected and passed for registration in the appropriate Society's Stud Book.
    As in humans, cattle and swine, the sexual cycle of the mare is repeated more often than twice a year unless she is pregnant.  The interval between one season and the next, known as heat, is 21 to 28 days, or even less.  The duration of the heat extends from five to seven days (including pre-heat and post-heat) during which the actual preparedness to mate lasts only one to three days.
    The period of heat is easily recognised from the behaviour of the mare; frequent neighing, sometimes a refusal of food, increased intake of water, exaggerated friskiness and ticklishness (or even apathy and insensitivity).  Also discharge of mucous secretion from the vulva, seeking out the males, and general readiness to mate.  But the mare should only be allowed to mate at the peak of her season.  The period of gestation is approximately 336 days, and the mare comes back in season five to thirteen days after the foal is born.

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