For most horse owners, the thought a home bred foal whom you can back and train yourself to become your perfect horse, is a dream come true. However, with the ever increasing population of abandoned and neglected horses in the UK, there are a number of factors that need to be taken into consideration before you decide to breed. Namely, do you really need to?
The various equine rescue centres across the UK take in hundreds if not thousands of neglected horses and ponies every year. Whilst these horses all have their own stories and reasons for ending up in the care these fantastic rescue centres provide. The fact remains that they were all brought into the world by humans in some form. Whether it be a loose stallion in a herd of fly grazed mares, un-regulated feral pony breeding, unscrupulous breeding dealers, or they may simply have started life as that home bred foal held in such high hope by the owner.
Research carried out by World Horse Welfare, has shown that collectively the ‘hobby breeder’s’, who are each likely to breed 1-5 home bred foals, on mass will produce more individuals to add to the ever increasing equine population in this country than the large scale breeder who will contribute over 100 foals. This statistic clearly shows that whilst it may seem that a single home bred foal is harmless, if the vast majority of the equestrian population thinks this way, the equine population will increase exponentially.
There are a number of different groups within the equestrian world who are often blamed for the over population of the industry. Travellers and dealers are often accused of allowing horses to breed freely and with little consideration for the future health and welfare of the animal. The Horse Racing industry also regularly comes under fire for producing too many foals, and having an increasingly high level of wastage in race horses. In addition, professional studs and breeders continue to breed at the levels that they have traditionally produced at, even as economic values decrease. As the size of the equine population increases, it becomes more and more difficult to find these horses a safe forever home, and as a result the economic value of a horse has fallen through the floor.
The reasons for bringing a foal into the world must be sincerely considered. Why do you need to bring a new life into the world? Do you have a mare who has been retired through injury, and you would like to give her a new role in life? In this instance, you need to consider from a genetic point of view, whether the injury suffered by your mare was an accidental trauma, or was it brought on by her conformation?
For example, did she have a long pastern and sloping heels, and end up with a flexor tendon strain? Or does she have a short back, and has developed Kissing Spines? If so, these conformational faults will be passed on to the foal, which could result in the same injury occurring in the new horse. A foal born with a conformational fault, may result in injuries which are career limiting, and may result in a horse that is not able to be ridden at all. If your new foal did turn out to have long term issues, would you still keep it for life? What if your new foal is perfectly healthy, but you just don’t click as a team?
Consider also, what if your foal does not quite turn out as you planned. Maybe they grow too big and you become over horsed, or they do not grow enough and you end up with your feet dragging on the floor. With the economic value of the horse being at an all time low, can you truly guarantee being able to find them that loving forever home that you promised them if they turn out to be not right for you?
And what of your old mare? Her new role in life was to produce your forever horse, what is her role now that her foal is weaned and you are away riding them? She goes back to her old life of being retired to the field, and the cycle continues, maybe you should let her have another foal? It should also be taken into consideration, that if your mare is retired through injury, will she physically be capable of carrying a foal to term? The stresses and strains of carrying a foal can be hard on her body, and if it is already weak through injury, it may not be able to stand up to these pressures without further injury.
Breeding for profit is very unlikely in the current equine market. The costs of the veterinary check ups throughout your mare’s pregnancy, during parturition, and the day to day costs of just keeping your mare and new foal thereafter, in addition to the cost of the legally required passport, and potential microchip can make just bringing your new foal into the world a very costly experience. If you then continue to keep the foal until they reach four years old before selling on, you are more than likely to have spent out well over what you may receive for your home bred on the open market, leaving you at a financial loss.
In the same thought, you may wish to breed your new foal as you cannot afford to buy a horse ready to compete at the discipline you wish to. Therefore breeding and training your own new competition prospect may seem the best answer. However, as we have already discussed, you are financially likely to loose money on the home bred four year old that you sell on, so if you go on to keep and compete this same horse you are still going to be out of pocket in the long run. Why not save your money over the intervening period to go out a purchase a young horse, with a proven track record and successful vetting, and save yourself money in the long run. This also reduces the need for a new horse to be brought into the currently uncertain equine economic climate.
As we have already discussed above, that the costs associated with breeding from home are very expensive. You also need to be prepared for all the additional veterinary and insurance costs associated with putting your mare in foal. Some insurance policies will not provide any cover for your mare if she is being used for breeding, and therefore you may have to consider taking out further separate insurance cover for this period of her life. In addition, the majority of insurance policies provide cover for horses from 30 days of age onwards, therefore you will not be covered for any issues that your new foal may encounter in its first 30 days of life.
In order to keep your mare in perfect condition during the pregnancy and to ensure a healthy, viable foal, on top of the regular care costs of your mare, she will need additional feed, veterinary fees (including the cost of having a separate source of frozen colostrum if required if the foal fails to go through the initial passive transfer to provide immediate immunity) and potential livery costs.
You will also need to take into consideration the stud fee for the stallion you wish to use, transport costs, and any associated livery costs for your mare’s visit to the stud (which may be for multiple visits if she doesn’t conceive first time). Your new foal will then be very high maintenance, and can be even more so if they experience problems in this early stage of life. You need to ensure that you are able to provide the time and commitment to this animal if the worst should occur, will you be able to be there for it through the night if it needs bottle feeding or constant checks? It must be accepted that it is possible for both the mare and foal to be lost during parturition, although most are completed without an issue.
So whilst the thought of a home bred foal might fill you with excitement and promise, please consider the points discussed above, before you make the choice to put your mare in foal.
Can you guarantee this new foal a forever home? If something were to happen and you could no longer keep your home bred, can you guarantee that they will end up in safe hands forever? Can your mare stand up to the rigours of pregnancy, and does she have strong enough genetic traits to create a sound and viable foal? In addition, can you economically afford to breed without compromising your horse’s welfare and health? Whether you are a one time breeder, or have regularly bred horses over the years, all these new foals are contributing to the ever increasing population of neglected and abandoned horses in the UK, as we are simply running out of good, safe and loving homes. So please think before you breed, do you really need to bring this new life into this uncertain world?