Live Cover Management

No one method for managing live cover breeding is foolproof. Handling of the mare and stallion should be individualized to minimize injury and optimize success.
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Many breed registries still require breeding be done by live cover–the stallion physically covers the mare. The actual mating process is an awesome spectacle, but can be dangerous to the mare, stallion, and handlers when done in hand-breeding situations. It involves the stallion mounting the mare, inserting his penis into the mare’s vagina, and vigorously thrusting until he ejaculates, then dismounting. If mishaps occur, the mare may not become pregnant, or injuries (to mare, stallion, or farm personnel) might occur.

No one method for managing live cover breeding is foolproof. Handling of the mare and stallion should be individualized to minimize injury and optimize success.

Natural and In-Hand Breeding

There are two traditional types of natural breeding: Pasture mating and hand-mating. In the wild, horses breed in a relatively stable social group or harem.

Stallions in the wild will interact with a mare (and vice versa) for hours or even days before mating. Pasture mating most closely mimics breeding of wild, free-roaming horses (with some exceptions). In pasture breeding, the stallion is allowed to run with one or more mares in a field. The stallion is responsible for determining the readiness of each mare for mating (i.e., he is responsible for estrus detection). In general, once a stallion gains experience in pasture mating, he is unlikely to attempt to breed a mare that is not in estrus. Exceptions do occur, thus some mating-related injuries can follow

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Written by:

Jonathan F. Pycock, BVetMed, PhD, Dipl. ESM, MRCVS, operates Equine Reproductive Services, a first opinion and referral private equine practice based in Yorkshire, England. He has published many papers and book chapters on a variety of equine reproductive topics, and edited the book Equine Reproduction and Stud Medicine. His main interests include ultrasonography, breeding the problem mare, and artificial insemination. Currently, he is evaluating the use of oxytocin and depot oxytocin as a post-breeding treatment for mares.

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