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Preparing Your Mare For Breeding Season

A mare and her foalBreeding your favorite mare can be the start of an exciting adventure. Before you start thumbing through your favorite horse magazines to find a potential suitor for your mare, it's important to make sure she is ready to be a broodmare. Your mare's overall health and nutrition will directly affect the success of your breeding efforts.

Healthy Mare

Only 60% of mares bred each year produce a live foal. Therefore, to maximize breeding success, it's imperative that you have your mare's overall health and breeding soundness evaluated by a veterinarian prior to breeding season. A good broodmare candidate will be in good physical condition and up to date on vaccinations, deworming and dental work. Likewise, basic confirmation should be evaluated to ensure the mare is sound enough to breed, foal and will not pass along any severe confirmation deformities.

A breeding soundness exam generally includes a vulvar exam, vaginal exam, rectal palpation, uterine culture and cytology, uterine biopsy and ultrasound of ovaries, cervix and uterus. The results of these exams will indicate if your mare is a suitable broodmare candidate. Many prospective breeders have their mares examined in the fall so any problems discovered during the exam can be resolved prior to the start of breeding season.

Condition & Nutrition

Recent studies show a direct correlation between body condition and conception rates. Ideally entering breeding season the mare will have a body condition score of 5 or 6. A mare in good condition will have a fleshy covering over her ribs, fat around tailhead will be spongy, and the outline of her ribs is barely visible. Breeding time is not when you want to be correcting your mare's body condition. If necessary, begin a diet or weight gain program in the months leading up to breeding.

Like poor body condition, inadequate nutrition plays a significant role in fertility, conception rates, early abortions and foal development. Feed to maintain the optimum body condition score of 5 to 6. "Many times there is adequate pasture or hay to maintain broodmares in proper body condition with supplementation of small amounts of grain or concentrate," explains Dr. Marty Adams, Southern States Equine Nutritionist.

Starting the Cycle

Horses are long day breeders, therefore they do not naturally come into estrus (heat) during the winter months. However, you can get your mare to cycle earlier by placing her under artificial lights, thus "tricking" her into thinking it is springtime. Exposing your mare to 16 hours of artificial light per day should help accelerate the cycling process. There are various schools of thought on when to start placing your mare under the lights, talk to your vet to see what they suggest.

An alternative to artificial light exposure is hormone therapy. Prostaglandins can be used to get mares to return to estrus sooner than they naturally would. Also, if you have several mares you are trying to breed at once, prostaglandins can be used to synchronize estrus in your barn. Synchronization assists in scheduling stallion services and artificial insemination deliveries. Interested in using hormone therapy to assist with estrus? Consult with your vet to get the best options for your mare(s).

Ready, Set, Go!

Deciding to breed your mare truly is a labor of love. Having a healthy foal is the culmination of all your hard work and preparation in caring for your broodmare. It's never too early to start getting your mare in optimum condition for breeding season. Best of luck in your breeding efforts!

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