I hope everybody enjoyed one of my most popular annual Come See Tony events last week: the Breeding Seminar! I was honored to be joined by the team from Etalon Diagnostics who explained genetic testing for everything from color to heritable diseases to athletic ability. Did you know that by just pulling 30-40 mane or tail hairs and submitting them to Etalon, you can test your horse for 15 color traits, and over 15 genetic diseases for just $99? That’s amazing! If I were breeding a horse this year, I would definitely start with a DNA MiniPanel from Etalon.
Getting your mare ready
In addition to genetic testing to ensure you aren’t perpetuating any known heritable diseases, there are several more hurdles to clear before getting on with the businesses of making your own customized baby horse. At Springhill Equine, we have all of these tests and procedures rolled into an easy, convenient Pre-Breeding Soundness Exam.
This comprehensive evaluation includes an ultrasound to determine if your mare’s reproductive system is anatomically normal and whether or not she is cycling. One new thing I learned last week is that mares are seasonal ovulators. This means that during the winter they stop cycling and go into a phase called seasonal anestrus. The pre-breeding ultrasound is also an excellent opportunity to map the uterus for cysts, which could cause problems down the road.
In addition to an ultrasound, it is standard to perform a culture and cytology of the uterus, looking for signs of inflammation or infection within the uterus. Here at Springhill, we use the latest technology including a cytology brush and a low-volume uterine lavage culture to make sure we get the most complete sample possible of your mare’s uterus.
The final piece of the Pre-Breeding Soundness Exam is the uterine biopsy. This procedure involves taking a tissue sample from the uterine lining and submitting it for microscopic evaluation by a theriogenologist. Another tidbit I learned last week: theriogenologists are veterinarians who specialize in reproduction! This uterine biopsy will tell us if the mare has any fibrosis, or scar tissue, within her uterus that could interfere with conceiving and carrying a foal to term.
Getting your mare in foal
When it comes time to breed, it’s important to start with a healthy broodmare. Healthy means in good body condition, pasture sound, and ideally, young. The older the mare, the lower her conception rates. Mares over 8 years old have about a 33% per cycle conception rate, and mares over 18 drop to about a 2% per cycle conception rate. This translates into a lot more money and time invested in unsuccessful breeding attempts when dealing with a mare who is past her breeding prime.
Once the perfect mare is chosen, she has passed her Pre-Breeding Soundness Exam with flying colors, and she is healthy as, well, a horse, it’s time to breed her. Using daily ultrasounds, the docs will monitor your mare as she grows and then ovulates a dominant ovarian follicle. They will time her insemination as close to ovulation as possible. Since sperm only survive about 24-48 hours in the oviducts, this precise timing is essential.
After ovulation and insemination, the docs will want to monitor your mare for the development of PMIE, or Persistent Mating Induced Endometritis. This is another great design flaw of horses if you ask me: some mares will have almost an allergic reaction to semen and seminal fluid. Their uterus fills with fluid and inflammatory cells, which is not a happy environment for a growing embryo. But don’t worry! Our docs have dealt with this issue more times than they can count, and they have several remedies and tricks up their sleeve to get the uterus back in working order before baby comes to settle in.
Maintaining the pregnancy
Once your mare has been bred, it is very important to keep up with her ultrasounds and vaccinations to ensure delivery of a healthy baby. This is the easy part, but it is no less essential. Most importantly, you must have an ultrasound performed at 14 days of gestation- not 16 days, not 18 days. The 14 day check serves to both confirm the pregnancy, and to check for twins. One more handy Tony tidbit for your tool belt: twin pregnancies in horses almost always result in 0 live foals. Our only chance to reduce a twin pregnancy to a single embryo is at that 14 day check. So whatever you do, don’t push back that appointment! We also recommend ultrasound at 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, and 7 months of gestation. The 7 month ultrasound is primarily to check for placentitis, which if left untreated will likely result in abortion or stillbirth.
The only other appointments you need to remember are those for your mare’s rhinopneumonitis, aka Pneumabort, vaccines. These vaccines are due at 3, 5, 7, and 9 months of gestation. Piece of cake, right?
Remember, if you follow these simple instructions, you should be rewarded at the end of 11-12 long months of waiting. Seeing your foal being born will make all the hassle and worry worth it!
Happy Breeding Season!
P.S. The BloodMobile also showed up to my event, but they wouldn’t let me donate! Some ridiculous thing about “wrong species.” They’ll be receiving a very strongly worded letter in the mail. Nonetheless, thank you to everyone who was able to donate on Thursday. You are awesome!
P.P.S. Want more info on breeding? You can search my past blogs by clicking on the magnifying glass up top, and you can also listen to a podcast that my docs did on this topic! Just go to SpringhillEquine.com/podcast
and scroll down the list.