Well breeding and baby season seem to be in full swing from what this cat can tell. This time of year we suddenly start seeing the FedEx people every afternoon, the Docs are here working on mares at all hours of the day and night (this is my favorite part of breeding season), and supposedly cute baby pictures are greeted with squeals of joy. I have yet to figure out what is cute about a baby horse. I mean they don’t purr, they don’t claw you wanting a bottle, they don’t play with string. Humans are weird. I have learned more than I ever wanted to about making these babies as Head Cat at Springhill Equine. I know I talked about this recently but today I’m going to talk about how mares are weird and don’t do what they are supposed to.
There was once a veterinarian named Dr. Michelle LeBlanc. She was almost as famous as myself for her prowess at getting mares pregnant who really didn’t want to be pregnant. Dr. Lacher trained under her at the University of Florida. Cancer took Dr. LeBlanc from us way too soon but in the time she was here we did get some wise LeBlanc proverbs. Dr. Lacher’s favorite is: Reproduction is a gift not a right. And as soon as you doubt this, your mare will do something to prove how right this proverb is.
There are three main sources of frustration for our doctors: the follicle, infections, and semen issues. We will take them in order.
Follicles. A normal mare grows a follicle to about 35mm, gets some edema in her uterus which our Docs see on ultrasound, she gets a shot of Sucromate, and she ovulates 36-48 hours later. This timing lets our Docs order semen at just the right time, plan their schedules, and, with a little luck, make a baby. Because mares are mares (let’s be honest this applies to all horses), they often think it is great fun to do some part of this but not all. For instance, a mare will grow a 35mm follicle but won’t have edema, or, and this is a favorite, they will appear to do all the right things except for the ovulate part. This is where the crystal ball or Magic 8 Ball comes in. Dr. Lacher and Dr. Vurgason have to decide the best course of action. Most of this guess is based on knowledge of the hormone cycles, interpretation of ultrasound images, and what the uterus and cervix feels like, but a portion of the decision is a guess at what Mother Nature is going to do. Having spent a long time in school, and spent even more time after school keeping up on the latest research this is a VERY frustrating thing for doctors. I’m pretty sure the mares do this just to watch that frustration. I mean I would….
Next infections. Infections come from a couple of sources. The most common is simply the breeding process. Semen is seen as a foreign invader by the uterus so it tries to get that stuff out of there. The uterus does this by creating fluid and having contractions. The more I learn, the more I am seriously amazed that babies of anything ever happen. Normally, enough sperm survive this to get to the egg and the uterus cleans everything up and 14 days later our Docs see a baby. Sometimes the uterus over responds or, and this is very rare, there is bacteria in the semen. Either way, instead of a baby we see fluid in the uterus at 14 days. At this point our doctors use a special Q-Tip to determine what type of bacteria are growing and then treat the uterus directly with antibiotics.
The next source of infection is the outside world. I have heard, particularly from Dr. Lacher now that she’s over 40 (do not tell her I said that), that age is just a number. For mares who haven’t had a lot of foals this is true. For mares who have had more than five or six foals this isn’t so true. Carrying all those foals causes things to, how shall I say this, stretch. This means the normal defenses that keep bacteria out of the uterus aren’t as tight. It also causes the uterus to get larger, form some amount of scar tissue, and lose some muscle tone. Some of these problems can be corrected with surgery and some can’t. Our Docs can steer you in the right direction here.
The last source of problems is often the hardest to deal with. The boys. This is where I understand good communication between the mare and stallion owner are important. Communication isn’t something I’m good at so I claim no expertise here. I am much better at issuing orders. If stallions have issues then timing of the cycle on the mare end is even more important. It may also mean that a particular stallion and mare aren’t a good match. The Docs recommend that only one side of the relationship has issues if at all possible.
Whew, that was a ton of effort for this cat but breeding is tricky stuff and I do like to keep my adoring fans well educated. Shameless plug for my wonderful home: Our breeding packages make it easy and affordable to breed your mare. Contact my minions at the Clinic for more information.