Mating in Horses
As with all animals, horse mating is necessary to help protect the horse population. Typically, mating occurs once both the mare and the stallion have reached sexual maturity around 3 or 4 years of age.
While mares are able to mate when they are as young as 2 years old, this is not recommended. At this age, their reproductive system is not yet fully developed which can lead to complications and even the need for emergency equine vet care.
There are three stages to the horse breeding process: courtship, mating, and postmating behavior.
How do horses mate?
The mare's reproductive organs are situated behind their hind legs and beneath their tail. This means that in order to mate, a stallion must mount the mare from behind.
The stallion will mount by wrapping his front legs around the middle (barrel) of the mare. He will then rest his head on her back.
The stallion will only be mounted for around 15 seconds. During this time both horses may vocalize to some extent.
How long do horses mate for?
The process of mating horses can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. The length of time depends greatly on the connection between the mare and the stallion.
The mating process itself is quite quick leaving wild stallions with the incredible ability to mate with two different mares within 7 minutes!
While the average amount of time is fairly quick, this can change depending on the pairing. Some mare and stallion pairs may take longer.
Mating season is generally in the spring and fall each year. The longer days during the warmer months help initiate the estrus cycle in mares.
There is an exception for Arabians, Thoroughbreds, and the American Quarter Horse which owners breed through the winter and spring in order to have foals as early in the year as possible.
This is due to the fact that all horses share a January 1st birthday!
How does horse behavior change after mating?
The behavior that is exhibited after mating is referred to as postmating behavior.
During this time the stallion may attempt to re-mount the mare. Unfortunately, these repeated attempts may lead to a damaged relationship with the mare.
Once mating is complete you may witness both the mare and stallion fall over. Here are the main reasons why this happens:
- It's their first attempt at mating: The aggressive behavior from the male and the stress of the entire process may lead to falling over.
- Hormone Imbalances: If there is an imbalance in the hormones of both the mare and stallion they could fall over once mating is finished.
- Stress: If the mare and stallion have a lack of space during mating they could become stressed and fall over.
- Syncope: When the mare or stallion experiences a lack of blood flow to the brain after mating, they could experience fainting and fall over.
Your horse falling over after mating is not an ideal situation for any horse owner or breeder and could lead to a veterinary visit for diagnostics. By knowing why this happens you can help prevent it from occuring.
When is horse breeding season?
Horses are seasonal breeders, meaning they breed at specific times during the year. The natural breeding season for horses is from early spring into late summer.
Horses are generally seasonal breeders due to their gestational period being 11 months and they prefer to raise foals during the nicer weather.
The lack of sun during the winter months can also have an effect on the mare's reproductive cycle and can cause it to shut down entirely during this time of year.
How long does a horse stay in heat?
On average, mares will go into heat every 21 days. A mare’s estrous (heat) cycle can last anywhere from 4 to 10 days. This can vary between mares.
How do wild and domestic horse mating differ?
The mating experiences between wild and domestic horses have some key differences.
The main difference is that wild horses rely entirely on instincts for breeding and domestic horses have humans to encourage each part of the process in a controlled environment.
Wild Horse Mating Behavior
Wild horses will breed in the late spring until midsummer, typically in a group consisting of one stallion and several mares.
The stallion will display both courting and mating behaviors along with harem formation.
Harem formation is when the stallion keeps his herd together and safe.
If there are young colts who are not the dominant males then they may form what is known as a bachelor herd to find mares to mate with.
Domestic Horse Breeding Behavior
When horses are bred in a domestic setting they will experience the mating process but usually lack the courting and social aspects.
Typically the stallions and mares are hand-selected as breeding pairs. Most breeders or horse owners have a focus on a single breed of horse.
In these domestic settings, the stallions and mares are usually kept separate and only allowed contact when it is time to mate.
There are three different types of breeding methods for domestic horses:
- Natural cover pasture breeding: The stallion and a few mares are placed together where they will have the opportunity to engage in courting and mating behaviors.
- Natural cover in hand: The stallion will be haltered by the handler and presented to the mare on the days that the mare is in heat.
- Artificial insemination: Semen will be collected from the stallion which will then be followed by intrauterine infusion of the semen into the mares of choice.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding animals or professional advice regarding equine regulations. For the diagnosis of your animal's condition and help to navigate rules governing the care and transportation of equine animals, please make an appointment with your vet.