There are two basic methods of breeding horses - natural (or live) cover, and artificial insemination (AI). The first involves taking the mare to the stallion and letting them do their… business, while the second involves a qualified practitioner artificially placing the stallion’s semen in the mare’s vagina. In this article, I will discuss the first option, natural cover.
This has both its advantages, and disadvantages (see below). The natural-or-AI decision is a problem many mare owners face, however, for some, the decision is already made. The prime example of this is the thoroughbred industry. All mares must be covered by live cover, or the resulting foals will not be registered with the The Jockey Club. This means more colts can be used at stud, because if AI were permitted, the owners would have the sperm of the best stallions shipped to them, and this would put the other colts out of business.
Advantages of natural Cover
- Much cheaper (than AI)
- It’s more traditional, and… natural!
- (If its a thoroughbred) It can be registered for the Jockey Club
Disadvantages of natural cover
- During mating, the may may kick and injure the stallion, or the stallions hooves may injure the mare as he mounts her
- The mare needs to be transported to the stallion
- There is a higher risk of disease spread
- The time of mating needs to be timed perfectly as the ovum is only viable for 24h after ovulation.
The process generally begins with the preparation of the mare. Her tail is tied and held out of the way, and her vulva washed with chlorhexidine solution, or similar to disinfect her vulva. To ensure the mare is sexually responsive, and will not hurt the stallion, she is ‘teased’. This involves using teasers, young colts of little worth to get her ‘in the mood’. This helps reduce injury.
The stallion is then brought to the mare and allowed to sniff her without getting any closer. This acts as ‘teasing’ (for the stallion) and prepares him for the covering. Now he will be sexually aroused, and his penis will fill with blood and become erect, and he will be ready! The stallions penis is washed, and he is brought to the mare. At this point, the mare may be twitched, to help calm her, as mares can become dangerously violent during matings, and the twitch releases natural endorphins which keep her calm. The stallion is then brought to the mare and allowed to sniff her without getting any closer. This acts as ‘teasing’ (for the stallion) and prepares him for the covering.
When both are ready, the mare is positioned and her handler holds the tail out of the way. The stallion is brought over, and he mounts her. If necessary, the stalliuon handler may need to grab the penis and guide it to the vagina. After the stallion finishes his business, the stallion’s penis is washed again, and he is led away.
The mare will the n be scanned with ultrasound between day 12 and day 18, and if she has taken, may be scanned again between day 25 and day 35. If she has lost the pregnancy, she may be able to take again that same year, if brought back into season with prostaglandins.