Humans have been breeding with horses for thousands of years for many different purposes. But have you ever wondered how many babies a horse can have? How many can they have throughout their lifetime? How many can they have at once?
Horses could technically have up to 16 fouls throughout their lifetime. Although it’s rare for horses to have more than one foul at a time, about 1 in 10,000 horse births are twins and about 1 in 300,000 are triplets.
With so many interesting things to get to when talking about horse births, especially with rarities like horse twins and triplets, let’s dive straight into the details.
A brief history of horse breeding
Exactly when we started breeding horses are still unclear and in dispute with the scientific community, but it could be that humans domesticated horses as far back as around 4500 bc.
Since then humans have been breeding with horses for various purposes like transportation, war, sports & recreation, etc.
Horse breeding is a very competitive but lucrative business to be in and the global economic impact of the equine industry is in access of about $300 billion annually.
The horse breeding industry has developed and been using many advanced reproductive techniques over the years like Embryo Transfer, Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT), Egg Transfer, and Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI).
The first cloned horse in the world was born in 2003.
Horses are seasonally polyestrus and go into heat in cycles every three weeks during periods of spring and summer. This is often manipulated with various breeding techniques, especially by the Thoroughbred horse racing industry, to have foals born earlier in the year.
After mating, the typical gestation period for horses is around 11 months, where they will foal in spring or summer when weather conditions are good and pastures are abundant.
Horses are precocial animals, which means that when they are born, they can immediately stand, walk, and even run around.
How many babies can a horse have during their lifetime?
It’s difficult to answer this question accurately because there are many factors to take into account and not all horses are the same. But in general, a horse could have about 16 babies throughout their lifetime.
Horses can start breeding from about 4 years old and their prime for foaling is from then up to about 15 years old. After 15, and up to about 20 years old, their fertility drops. After 20 years old they will experience various reproductive issues and should stop breeding.
So you could technically breed a horse to foal every year from 4 to 20 years old, which will give you 16 foals.
Can a horse have twins?
Yes, horses can have twins. But this is very rare and occurs in only about 1 in 10,000 horse births.
The problem with twin births in horses is that there is just not enough space and the majority of twin embryos abort spontaneously before six weeks. For those, however, that do survive past the six-week mark, around 80% abort spontaneously around the 8-month mark of pregnancy.
The space problem affects the foals and the twins usually have a combined weight equal to one normal, single pregnancy foal when born. These horses usually never catch up to their normal weight and size and it is recommended to terminate one of the embryos to give the other a better chance at surviving the pregnancy and growing up healthy once born.
1 in a million case
In June 2018 a 19-year old mare defied the 1 in 10,000 odds and gave birth to identical twins.
18 months later, the same mare defied the odds again by giving birth to another set of twins. Although these twins were not identical, it is still EXTREMELY rare. The odds of this happening is about 1 in a million.
One of the twins from the first set is now at a professional show-jumping home and the other twin is in preparation for going into eventing.
The second set of twins are healthy and strong according to reports. You can check out the article here.
Can a horse have triplets?
With twin births in horses being rare enough along with all the associated issues and risks to both the mare and the foals, you can only imagine how rare triplets must be in horses. So the chances of triplet births in horses are about 1 in 300,000.
Thank being said, there are some recorder instances of triplet births in horses that survived.
Recorded live birth case
There’s a recorded case of a live triplet birth by a mare from California in 1986.
Two fillies an a colt had to receive 24-hour care and it was touch and go for the triplets.
As rare as triplet births are in horses, live births are even rarer and the triplets rarely survive.
The largest filly weighed around 35 pounds while the colt weighed 28 pounds as opposed to the normal birth weight of a foal of around 40 – 50 pounds.
Horse age compared to humans
Have you ever wondered how old horses are in human age terms when comparing their ages to ours?
For the first 3 years of a horse’s life, 1 year is equivalent to 6 and a half human years. At 3 years, however, that equivalency changes to about 5 years, and from 4 years, 1 horse year becomes equivalent to 2 and a half human years.
Horses, on average, live up to 25 to 33 years of age but can grow much older. If your horse is 36 years old then that’s just over 100 years in human equivalency!
Aging in horses is determined in much the same way as with humans in terms of nutrition & exercise, genetics, medical care, etc.
I hope you’ve had as much fun learning about horses and their babies in this article as what I had in researching and writing it.
I absolutely love learning and writing about horses and although I’ve been involved with horses recreationally and professionally most of my life, I still learn new things every day and constantly amazed at how wonderful horses truly are.
If you love to learn about horses, be sure to check out the rest of our blog for more great articles on everything horses.