Horse Breeding

Breeding Age

May 21, 2010

Understand that reproductive abilities are much more important than age in broodmares and breeding stallions.

QUESTION:

How old does a stallion need to be before he can be used for breeding, and can he be used for a mare that is more than 20 years old?

ANSWER:

There is no set age for a male horse to be used as a breeding stallion. I have had precocious horses that have been mounting pasture mates and trying to breed each other as yearlings. You will also see weanlings and foals trying to mount their own dams. Frequently, this is an instinctual response to pheromones or herd hierarchy rather than true sexual urges. The main thing that needs to be addressed is that if you start breeding a horse when he is sexually mature (this depends on the breed, but may be between 2 and 4 years old), he may be difficult to manage if you want to go back to using him as a show or pleasure horse. Many horses cannot shift back and forth being an athletic stallion to being a breeding stallion, and vice versa. Masturbation is a very well-documented vice, and Dr. Sue McDonnell at the University of Pennsylvania has done extensive equine behavior studies regarding male horses in this regard. As far as “Can he be used as a breeding stallion?” that is not an age question but rather a sperm-quality question. There are many cases in every breed where a championship horse is retired from performance and ends up having no or a reduced libido or has low or no numbers of normal sperm cells.

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Likewise, with mares, it’s not the age of the mare but the quality of her reproductive tract that is the issue. She needs to be ultrasounded by a veterinarian familiar with reproduction to examine the quality of her ovaries and to look for endometrial cysts or abnormalities in the lumen of her uterus. It is also wise to use a speculum to examine the competency of her cervix. Maybe most important on an aged mare is the conformation of her vulva. As mares age, the top of the vulva tends to fall forward as the reproductive tract loses tone. This allows for fecal contamination or “wind-sucking” that may be resolved with suturing the lips of the vulva (Caslick procedure). A veterinarian that is familiar with reproductive efficiency in the horse will be sure not to overlook the vulva as well as the internal reproductive tract. I hope this answers some of your questions. It’s not ever an issue of age; rather it’s an issue of how high are the qualities of the male and female reproductive tracts you are trying to combine.

Dr. Ben Espy, member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners

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