Q: For a horse reproduction project in my equine seminar course, I was trying to find video clips of horses breeding. Well, there were many on YouTube, and it took awhile to find the decent ones. But once I found some that were seriously educational, it was very interesting to see how many different ways people hold the stallion when taking him to breed a mare or a breeding mount. Some have the horse on a very long lead, like a lunge line, and just try to maintain enough control that he can't get away. They more or less let the stallion do whatever on the end of the lead near the mare.

Then for some others, the person leading the stallion stood rather close with their hand almost up to or even on the halter, just like you would lead a horse anywhere. In yet another video, two men were holding the stallion, one on each side, with about 10 feet of lead on either side of the horse. So, in other words, the horse was brought up to the butt of the mare as if he were on cross-ties.

My questions are: Is one of these methods better or the best? Or, if it depends on other factors, what would be the circumstances that would determine which method you might recommend? Also, is it okay just to tie the mare if you don't have someone to hold her?

via e-mail

A: Your question raised my curiosity about what type of horse breeding clips are on YouTube. So before answering your question, my plan was to go there and quickly run through the same clips you did. Little did I expect that on my first search phrase of "horse breeding," there would be hundreds of hits. And whew--talk about an education! It didn't take long before I got sick of hearing the trashy commentary. So after an hour or so I really only saw a couple where the camera focus was such that the handling style could be seen very well, and I probably didn't see the same ones you did.

Anyway, in most professional breeding sheds in North America and Europe, just one stallion handler leads the stallion, usually on the left side of the horse, the way most people in those regions of the world lead horses. They usually stay fairly close to the stallion, rather than on a long line. It requires some skill to safely direct enthusiastic horses, and to be aware and to anticipate any striking by the stallion, kicking by the mare, etc., so that you maintain a safe position, as well as keep the mare handler safe from the stallion. A lot depends on the skill of the handler and the value of the animals. The very valuable stallions that have a full book of mares to breed are likely to be bred with a fair amount of control and organization.

Having the stallion on a long line can work okay with a fairly quiet and organized stallion, but otherwise the stallion, mare, and the mare handlers can very quickly get tangled up in the line. For a handler whose skills are not adequate for working up close to the stallion, I would recommend considering some schooling of the handler with the horse so that the horse can be handled safely in the traditional manner. I would specifically not recommend the long line for a rowdy stallion. For natural cover, paddock breeding with no handlers on either the stallion or the mare might work better than handling on a long line. Of course, you need to be sure the enclosure is safe, with safe fencing, rounded corners, and no obstacles for the pair to run into.

The cross-tie approach is seen sometimes with a rowdy stallion, where one handler is having trouble safely controlling the stallion. Examples of problem behaviors are circling around the handler, rearing and coming down toward the handler, rearing and wrapping the lead around a front leg, turning into the handler, biting or tossing the head too close to the handler, or charging the mount. Some folks find it workable to have the off-side handler limit the latitude of the stallion and add some muscle to hold a stallion from enthusiastically charging a mare or dummy mount. My personal opinion is that with a rowdy stallion, the second person on the off-side can be fairly dangerous. When things go wrong, it seems to be a tangle of people and leads. It is also difficult to coordinate the directional guidance of the two handlers. So horses handled this way tend to get confused and some get more and more rowdy. Whenever possible, my preference would be to school the stallion for safe handling by a single handler. It's been a long time since I have seen it done, but for horses that have been dangerously aggressive, a variation of the cross-tie approach has been applied, in which rigid poles instead of leads have been used to ensure the distance between the stallion and the two handlers.

As to your last question about whether it's okay to tie the mare, I have seen it done and have done it myself with a mare that I knew was sensible and a stallion that I knew I could easily direct and bring up to the mare in a fairly calm manner. To do this safely, the mare needs to be in very good standing estrus so that she is not resisting and swinging around. I have never seen one used, but I have seen diagrams of breeding stanchions or chutes for this purpose. These have rounded side rails that come back to about the shoulder of the mare to discourage the mare from wiggling side to side. For the sake of the stallion, I would want to have everything well-padded. I would also tie the mare with a quick-release and easy breakaway attachment, so if the animals get entangled the mare can get away. Whatever the mare is tied to should be user-friendly for animals--it should be sturdy with no sharp edges, etc.

Tethering the mare for breeding always reminds me of the stories of how horses were first bred by man during the process of domestication. Apparently there was a phase of domestication when cultures would catch wild foals and keep them to raise them for a steady source of meat. The next phase in domestication was to tame and keep some of the more tractable females for breeding. To breed a mare, they just tied her to a tree outside their village and waited for a wild stallion to come by. It was much less trouble than keeping a stallion just for breeding.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More