How Many Foals Can A Horse Have In Its Lifetime?

Horses can have 20 foals in a lifetime safely (1)

There is nothing more beautiful than seeing a mare with her foal running in camp. Foals are such joyful animals, and they certainly take cuteness to the next level. Many horse owners want their mares to have at least one foal in her life, but how do you know what’s best for your mare? How many babies can a horse have in her lifetime? 

This is no easy question to answer, and there are many factors to consider, like breed, age, health, and fertility. A mare can have between 16-20 foals in her lifespan. It is not uncommon for broodmares to have even more babies, depending on the breed. Horses can start safely breeding at 2-3 years old and can foal every year until they are about 20 years old. If a mare has no reproductive issues or abortions, she can give birth to 17 foals before she hits a more dangerous reproductive age of 20 years old. Purebred mares are more likely to have twins and so may actually have closer to 20 foals in their lifetime.

Even though a mare could have that many foals in her lifetime, most mares do not. On average, a mare has between 10-14 foals in her life. That’s mainly because owners are not breeding them, waiting to breed until other purposes, such as showing or racing, have been accomplished. 

Breeding mares or broodmares who are regularly covered can have as many as 22 foals, and there have been recorded instances of them having up to 26 foals in their lifetime. This is the result of proper care for the mare to ensure her breeding and reproductive health, excellent management to get her covered as soon as the foal is at foot, and selecting quality stallions or frozen sperm to artificially impregnate her with 

There are many other factors to consider regarding the fertility and breeding potential of a mare. Some breeds tend to struggle more to have consistent foaling, and your horse may have other health issues or genetic tendencies that make live and unassisted foaling difficult. In some cases, such as a repeat abortion, a vet may recommend that you pause every few years to allow your mare to recover better.

If you are a first-time horse owner or have never had a mare in foal, then you are in for an adventure. There are many things to learn before you are ready to have your mare covered, pregnant, and giving birth.

Fertility And Pregnancy Cycle Of A Mare

You may be trying to make some decisions on the breeding of your mare. You may be wondering how young and until what age you can breed a mare or how frequently you can breed her to get the best return of new foals and still maintain her health.

There are many things to understand while trying to make those decisions. Let’s start with the basics:

  • Mares come into reproductive season (in heat) during the late spring and summer months.
  • In North America, mares come into season from May through September.
  • Once the stallion has covered your mare, you can check for successful insemination and conception by day 26 with transrectal ultrasound.
  • Mares are pregnant for 330 days or 11 months.
  • Twin births are uncommon, but thoroughbreds have a higher likelihood of up to 35% of twin pregnancies

When Can A Mare Have Her First Foal?

Scientifically speaking, a mare can have her first foal when she is one year old with her giving birth in her second year of life. Most horse owners and breeders will wait until she is at least two to three years old before putting her to a stallion for breeding. 

It is a good idea to have a vet examine your young filly (a young mare) before letting her have her first foal. You should not keep your mares and foals in the same camp or next to a stallion as the stallion will have a strong drive to mate with the mare and may impregnate her before the young filly is mature enough for the physical strain of being mounted by a stallion, or before you are ready for another foal. 

When breeding occurs or happens at a young age, a filly (or young mare) can be too young to carry a foal to term for a complete pregnancy successfully. This often results in a spontaneous abortion by the mare’s body. When a  mare aborts her foal during pregnancy, it is traumatic and physically dangerous to the horse. It causes great disappointment and stress to the owner. And, depending on the length of the pregnancy, it can also be costly if medical intervention is needed to save the mare.

Young mares may also be unsure of how to care for their first foal, which can cause complications for the foal to drink, and a first-time mommy may end up kicking her own baby if she is not a natural mother. 

How Many Foals Can A Mare Have Each Year?

A mare can have one single birthing, which is usually one foal, per year. A full-term pregnancy is 11 months, with some breeds carrying their babies longer, such as draft breeds like Percherons and Clydesdales that can carry their foals from the usual 340 days up to a full year. 

Weather and health are also a consideration. If your horse is not physically strong, she may abort early or give birth later as the foal may be growing more slowly. In dry seasons, mares may also hold back their foals to wait until the first rains and the flush of green grass, which helps their milk production. 

While some breeds are more known to conceive and carry twins, such a pregnancy rarely survives. One twin is usually weaker, and nature usually stipulates that the stronger twin fetus will absorb the weaker or smaller one. 

If you think a twin pregnancy is a good idea with the promise of double the sale, think again in the long run. Twin pregnancies are usually unviable, with one of the foals being physically weaker, but it is also life-threatening to the mare. 

Triplets are very uncommon in horses, occurring less than once in 300 000 births. These are usually stillborn, and explain why a vet check will help you determine whether your mare is carrying one or more foals during her pregnancy. Specialist vets can perform a procedure to terminate the life of the weaker unborn foal(s), thereby giving the larger foal a better chance at a successful gestation and birth.

Breeds that are most noted for giving birth to twins are thoroughbreds and warmbloods, with some Arabs also being recorded as doing so. Most mares are not known for repeatedly having twins, so unlike cows and sheep who may be genetically designed to have repeat twin pregnancies, it is unlikely your mare will do so again. 

Horses do not have twins without severe medical risk (1)

Which Horse Breeds Have More Babies?

Horse breeds are generally known to be equally fertile, meaning no breed can physically have more babies than another. However, some breeds can give birth successfully and on their own better than others. In general, larger breeds handle the birthing process better. 

If you want to improve the chances of your mare having more babies, then you should put her to stud (letting the stallion cover her) as soon as she has her next ovulation cycle after birthing the foal. This is when she is most fertile. 

Be sure to have your vet check her for any uterine infections that could cause complications following pregnancy before you put her to stud. Sometimes, the uterus has not fully recovered from the previous birth, or some of the placenta remains that will need to be cleared before letting her conceive again. This will ensure healthy follow-up pregnancies and balanced hormones to increase her breeding chances.

Breeders tend to have their broodmares covered as soon as the current foal is strong enough to stand on their own, and the mare shows signals of coming into season again. This is how they ensure a steady crop of new foals each breeding season. 

Another handy tip you can learn from breeders is to keep the uncovered mares close to the mares who just had foals, as this will tease the mares struggling to come into season, getting their hormones going. The same can apply to a stallion who seems to struggle with covering a new mare. Breeders will keep a tease pony around; usually, an older mare who is very receptive to breeding, to entice the stallions to produce more sperm.

How To Decide Whether You And Your Mare Are Ready For A Foal

While your mare may be physically able to have a foal, you should consider whether you are ready as a horse owner. Taking care of a mare during and after pregnancy is not easy. And, dealing with a suckling foal is harder than it seems. While foaling is a natural process, you will want to ensure better health and greater success at foaling for your mare by tending to her needs in a better way than she would experience out in the wild.

  • If you live in the north or areas of cold winters or humid summers, you need to have a stable or a barn so you can provide shelter for your mare and foal. Mares can easily abort a pregnancy in extreme heat and cold.
  • You need to increase your mare’s feed or ensure excellent grazing throughout her pregnancy. 
  • After the first five months of her pregnancy, she should be placed onto a broodmare feed to help increase her nutrient levels to help her give birth to a healthy foal and sustain her energy levels during the six or more months that the foal will be drinking from her. 
  • You will need regular vet inspections to determine her health and the health of her unborn foal. 
  • Your facilities need to allow you to separate the mare and her foal from other horses as there may be some aggression when the foal is born. Many a foal has been kicked to death when the other horses were fighting.
  • When the foal is old enough to wean, you need to have a facility to separate the foal and mom between six to eight months, which is quite labor-intensive.
  • Finally, the whole process can be expensive. Expenses include the mare’s healthcare, vet visits, paying for a stallion’s life covering services or frozen sperm, and caring for the foal. It often takes several years to make a profit after your infrastructure is built. 

Pros Of Your Mare Having Babies

There are a few benefits of having your mare conceive, be pregnant, and foal at least once in her life: 

  • It can help balance her hormones.
  • It may improve her temperament and calm her down.
  • It can give you another way to deepen your bond with her since you will be more involved in her and her fetal care.
  • You can preserve amazing genetics in her offspring. 
  • Mares from a great bloodline can produce financially valuable foals.

Cons Of Your Mare Having Babies

As with all things in life, there are also several reasons it may be a bad idea to let your mare have foals:

  • There is always a risk of infection and damage to your mare’s health through uterine infections and abortion.
  • Your mare could die during the foaling process, especially if it’s her first time foaling.
  • It is a physical drain for your mare to have foals, and if she has been ill, foaling may worsen her condition.
  • Repeated foaling can cause a mare to lose significant condition. It may also affect her bone health and can lead to other complications like colic or ulcers
  • If you aren’t prepared for the cost involved in foaling, you may have to sell the foal or give it up when you run out of available cash.
  • Foals are hard work, and if you don’t have the skills and knowledge, you may end up in a bad situation that can potentially worsen.
  • If you are a competitive rider, you need to give your mare time off to be a mommy, which can interfere with your riding ambitions. ‘

Stallions can affect the reproductive capacity of offspring (1)

How To Choose The Right Stallion For Successful Fertilization

Choosing a stallion for your mare is about more than just picking the most pretty one in the field. It would be best to keep genetics, temperament, breed, size, and past offspring in mind. Some stallions only produce male or female offspring, so if you want a filly, be sure that your stallion choice will give you the possibility of a filly. Other considerations include:

Genetics

Some stallions have greater fertility than others, and breeders or stud owners will be able to attest to how many live births their stallion can claim. Genetically speaking, your foal will owe 50 % of its genetics to its sire (the stallion) and 50 % to its dam (the mare). So, while you may be worrying about your mare’s fertility, be sure to choose a stallion who is also fertile and known to be a good breeder.

Size

While the tendency is to breed larger horses (or smaller if you have miniature horses), you need to consider whether your mare can actually carry a large foal to term. Putting your 14.2 hand mare to a large 17 hand thoroughbred stallion may produce a larger foal, but you run the risk of the foal being aborted or the mare not surviving labor. 

Past Offspring

When you know your stallion of choice is reputed to produce healthy foals free from undesirable characteristics, you can happily start them in their breeding season. A stallion that breeds defects like a club foot or box hooves may not be a good choice.

Is Your Mare Too Old To Have A Foal?

Oftentimes, horse owners will wait until their mare is older and then decide to put them into foal as they want to preserve their horses’ genetics and temperament in the new generation. However, as your mare ages, her reproductive health declines. If your mare has not been foaling at least every other year, the chances are that she will have lost the ability to produce a healthy foal.

Your vet can perform a transrectal examination to determine if your mare is suitable for breeding, but there are other considerations to keep in mind too: 

  • Is your mare in good enough health to withstand the labor process?
  • Is your mare healthy enough to sustain an 11-month pregnancy?
  • Can your mare provide the necessary nutritional requirements of a growing foal?
  • Does she have other age-related medical conditions such as poor dental health, colic, or physical impairments? 

Your older mare may have physical reasons why carrying an over 200-pound baby inside her would not be the best. Horses often struggle with stifle injuries later in life, and they may develop arthritis, meaning that an older mare being forced to have a foal may be the equivalent to having your granny mate and have babies. 

Don’t mistake a mare’s broody temperament and behavior as being a sign that she can or should have babies. Older mares will often display motherly behavior and even try to steal babies from other mares. This is pure instinct, and while your mare may even manage to conceive, she may not be able to produce a healthy foal or care for it after giving birth.

Older mares may start going into estrus or produce milk when there are other pregnant mares or mares with foals at foot around. This is not to be mistaken for readiness for pregnancy. Instead, you can think about this as being the horse equivalent to menopause. 

Are You Ready To Have A Foal Under Your Care?

New or first-time horse owners often mistake a foal for a giant puppy. This can have disastrous effects on the owner and foal. Apart from the fact that a foal grows rapidly and today is cute but maybe dangerous tomorrow, caring for a foal is costly. 

The financial costs of raising a foal include stud fees (what you paid for the stallion’s services), feeding requirements of the mare and foal, vet checks to ensure healthy growth and assistance during the pregnancy and labor (if the mare requires it), and the cost of repairing all the fences, walls, doors, saddles, and anything else your young foal may destroy while they explore their world. 

A foal also requires training from day one. While some owners are happy to let the foal grow to maturity in the camp, this is unwise. Whether you start obedience training early or not, you will have to ensure your foal is happy with picking up its feet for a farrier and standing for routine veterinary procedures. If the foal is a colt (a male horse), they may need to be gelded (castrated), and you would definitely want to train your foal to stand for being hosed and clipped if they grow a thick coat. 

This can all take quite a bit of patience and a healthy amount of horsemanship, meaning that raising a foal may not be for the faint-hearted.

Conclusion

While horses can have many babies (up to 20 in some breeds) in their life, and they can start breeding from as young as their first year of life, these are not the only factors to consider when deciding to let your mare breed.

You should keep the health of your mare and the foal and your available space and finances in mind when making this big decision. We all want the very best for our horses and having a foal increases our responsibility to tend to their care. 

Talitha van Niekerk

Hi, I’m Talitha van Niekerk, and I made the leap to farm animal ownership when I decided to fulfil my lifelong passion to own horses. Now, over a decade later, I run a public stable facility on 180 acres of land, caring for over 75 horses of all breeds and sizes. I love to write about my experiences, sharing the knowledge I have gained and helping others achieve their life’s passion to live on the land.

Recent Posts