What Is Live Cover Horse Breeding?

September 26, 2022
Horse Breeding

There are many methods commercial breeders are using to breed horses. However, most of these methods are prohibited by an organization known as The Jockey Club when breeding with Thoroughbred horses, except for the Live cover horse breeding method. So, what is Live cover horse breeding?

Live cover horse breeding is a natural breeding method whereby a stallion mounts a mare to copulate. It is predominantly used by commercial breeders who are breeding Thoroughbreds. Live cover horse breeding can occur in two ways, Pasture Breeding or Hand Breeding. 

As mentioned above, there are many breeding methods that commercial breeders use when breeding horses. However, when it comes to breeding with Thoroughbreds, the Live cover breeding method is the only one commercial breeders may use. Below we discuss in more detail what Live cover horse breeding is, why it is the preferred method for Thoroughbreds, and this method’s major downfalls. 

What Is Live Cover Horse Breeding?

Live cover Horse Breeding is a natural and traditional breeding method used by commercial breeders who mostly breed with Thoroughbred horses

In live cover horse breeding, a Thoroughbred stallion mounts and penetrates a mare to copulate and fertilize her eggs, resulting in Thoroughbred offspring. It is a natural breeding method where reproduction occurs as if it were in the wild. 

This method of breeding can occur in two ways:

  1. The commercial breeder escorts the mare to the shed of the selected Thoroughbred stallion.
  2. The commercial breeder puts the mare and the Thoroughbred stallion in a pasture for several days to allow the breeding process to occur naturally. 

Live Cover Horse Breeding: A Method For Thoroughbreds

Although there are other suitable breeding methods that many commercial breeders are turning to, such as:

These methods are not allowed to be used when breeding Thoroughbreds. 

Commercial breeders of Thoroughbred horses in the United States are regulated and overseen by an organization known as The Jockey Club. This organization requires all commercial breeders to employ the Live cover breeding method when breeding Thoroughbreds. 

However, the United States Standardbred industry allows commercial breeders to use the Artificial insemination method when breeding with other horse breeds. 

Why Is Live Cover Only Allowed For Thoroughbred Horses?

The Jockey Club organization that oversees the Thoroughbred industry allows commercial breeders to only use the Live cover breeding method for several reasons. These reasons are discussed in detail below.

  1. The Live cover breeding method increases the possibility of offspring inheriting the strongest genetic traits from the mare and the stallion. 
  2. With the Live cover breeding method, the mare and the stallion come into physical contact. The physical interaction between the two horses enhances the chances of successful conception and healthier offspring
  3. The Live Cover breeding method enhances genetic variety within Thoroughbreds. 
  4. Unlike other breeding methods such as Artificial insemination, Live cover breeding does not dilute the gene pool. When the gene pool is diluted, it results in inferior offspring.
  5. The Live Cover breeding method is a traditional method valued by breeders and the Jockey Club organization. 

The Process Of Live Cover Horse Breeding

The process of Live Cover Horse Breeding can occur in two ways, either by Pasture Breeding or Hand Breeding

Pasture Breeding

Pasture breeding is a natural way of Live cover horse breeding whereby commercial breeders allow nature to take its course. The chosen stallion and mare are placed in a pasture together for breeding to take place in their own time. 

live cover horse breeding

Although allowing them to breed naturally produces better results, such as healthier offspring, Pasture breeding is not without some risks. These risks include:

  • The stallion and mare might not be compatible, resulting in these two horses fighting and getting injured. 
  • The mare could become frightened if she sees the stallion as a threat, and as a defense mechanism, she could kick him. 
  • With Pasture breeding, it is not uncommon for the act to be done incorrectly, as the stallion might ejaculate outside the mare while dismounting her. 

Hand Breeding

Hand Breeding is a more controlled way of Live cover breeding. With Hand Breeding, the chosen stallion is placed in a secure stall, and the mare is brought to him to try and establish a physical connection between the two horses and to slightly tease the stallion. This interaction lasts for approximately 10 minutes or more. 

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Once both horses are comfortable with each other and there are no signs of hostility between them, the breeding process is ready to begin. With Hand Breeding, two people are required, whereby one is responsible for holding the mare, and the other assists the stallion with mounting and penetrating the mare to ensure the act is done correctly. 

After the act is completed, the stallion is taken away and returned to repeat the process every one to two days. 

Just like Pasture Breeding, Hand Breeding is also risky. The major risk of Hand Breeding is:

  • Suppose the chosen stallion has been used for breeding on many occasions. In that case, he might be accustomed to processes and be aware of being manipulated, which could result in him refusing the guidance of the people assisting with the breeding. 

How many Mares Can A Thoroughbred Stallion Live Cover?

The number of mares a Thoroughbred Stallion can live cover depends on which way of the Live cover horse breeding method commercial breeders choose to use as well as the libido levels of the stallion.

Commercial breeders using the Pasture Breeding way of the Live cover breeding method can expect their Thoroughbred stallion to cover up to 50 mares during the breeding season. 

In contrast, A Thoroughbred stallion can cover up to 100 mares with the Hand Breeding way during the breeding season.

However, in reality, A Thoroughbred stallion’s libido levels play a significant role, and therefore most stallions will typically only cover 1 or 2 mares during the breeding season.

What Are The Major Downfalls Of Live Cover Horse Breeding?

Although there are many reasons why the organization known as The Jockey Club prefers and advises commercial breeders to use the Live cover breeding method because of the several advantages associated with this method, this method is not without its downfalls. Below we discuss the major downfalls of Live cover horse breeding in more detail.  

It Is Difficult To Determine If The Act Was Successful 

With Live cover horse breeding, it is difficult for commercial breeders to know if the act was successful as there is no way to tell if the stallion ejaculated correctly into the mare after he has mounted her. Although the process is repeated after the first time, the only way to know if the act was successful is to wait and see if the mare falls pregnant. 

Transmission Of Bacteria Or Disease

Commercial breeders who use the Live Cover breeding method may have a stallion and not a mare who is a good candidate for breeding, or the other way around. In that case, either horse may be shipped to another commercial breeder, increasing the chances of transmitting bacteria or disease. 

The transmission of disease or bacteria could be from:

  1. Horse to horse. During the breeding act, one horse could transmit disease or contaminate another horse with bacteria. 
  2. Farm to farm. When a horse is sent to another farm for Live cover breeding, it could be exposed to any diseases or bacteria present on that farm which can transfer to the farm the horse came from when it is returned. 

Live Cover Breeding Takes A Lot Of Time And Effort 

Live cover horse breeding is a time-consuming process that requires a lot of dedication and effort from commercial breeders. There are many steps to follow with this breeding method which often have to be repeated if the first time is unsuccessful. Therefore, commercial farmers must be patient and set a lot of time aside for this method. 

It Is More Dangerous To The Stallion, Mare, And Handlers

The Live cover breeding method involves the stallion and mare coming into physical contact with one another, which might not turn out the way commercial breeders hope for as both horses could retaliate if they are incompatible. The stallion could resist performing the act and become hostile and aggressive towards the mare and the handlers. 

Furthermore, the mare could also refuse to participate in the process and lash out aggressively by kicking or becoming wild, which could result in either the stallion or handlers being injured from her outburst of anger. 


Now that we have discussed what Live cover horse breeding is, there is no doubt that this method is risky and has some significant downfalls. However, the reasons why The Jockey Club organization that oversees the Thoroughbred industry, strictly insists on this method outweigh these risks and downfalls. 

The Live cover horse breeding is definitely the ideal breeding method to use as it results in healthier and stronger Thoroughbred offspring to continue the legacy of these horses as being known for their agility, speed, and spirit.  


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