Many horse owners are tempted to breed from their mare once she's retired from ridden work. After all, what could be more exciting than your very own home-bred foal? Unfortunately however there are a great many unwanted foals bred each year which find their way to the auctions and into the food chain. So before you take the plunge, do make sure that you really can care for and afford the foal once it arrives and remember that you won't be able to do anything more than ground work with it for at least three years. Think carefully about what your mare has to offer her progeny in the way of ability and temperament. If she's a talented dressage horse or show-jumper with good confirmation and a nice nature then you may decide to put her to a stallion with similar bloodlines and hopefully breed a future superstar.
But is your mare "fit" to be a mother? Always have your vet give the mare a physical examination before you commit to sending her to stud or investing in costly frozen semen. An internal examination and scan will reveal any reproductive tract abnormalities which could prevent a healthy, trouble-free pregnancy and will also reveal whereabouts in her season cycle she is.
You should also have your mare tested for serious diseases which can be spread during mating. Make sure that the stallion has also been screened and cleared too. The most serious of these diseases are:
Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM)
This is a highly contagious bacterial infection. It can be transferred during covering or AI and can also be spread from the mare's genital tract via veterinary equipment and from the mare to her foal. CEM can cause infertility and often presents no symptoms meaning that without screening it can go undetected. Testing for CEM is done by swabbing. Other venereal diseases can also be detected using this method; Kiebsiella and Pseudomonas for example. All these organisms can be treated relatively simply but the bacteria can be stubborn to clear and can remain active in the reproductive tract for quite a while.
Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA)
EVA is a viral infection spread by mating and AI or via the respiratory tract and aborted foetuses. EVA causes abortion, swelling to face and limbs, conjunctivitis and nasal discharge. Recovering horses can sometimes act as "shedders" meaning that they disperse the virus into the environment around them causing others to become infected. Horses to be used for breeding should be vaccinated against EVA. There is no treatment for the infection once it has been contracted.
Equine Infectious Anaemia (EIA)
EIA is another viral infection. It causes fever, lethargy, elevated heart and respiratory rate, weight loss, bloody diarrhoea and abortion. EIA is transmitted via infected blood, biting insects and through the placenta to foals. There is no vaccine for this disease and blood tests should be carried out of both mare and stallion to ensure both are free from infection.
Once your mare has been tested for the above diseases and given the all-clear, she should not travel abroad or be exposed to potentially infectious animals prior to covering. You will only need to have her tested once at the beginning of the breeding season. The results of the tests usually take about eight days to come through. This is because the CEM swabs will take seven days to be cultured prior to being posted to the laboratory where the tests are to be carried out. Blood test results are usually available more quickly than this.
When you've chosen the stallion you wish to use, make sure that he has also undergone testing. The stud should be happy to provide you with certification to confirm that the tests have been carried out and that the results were negative. Imported chilled or frozen semen should also be accompanied by a test certificate and this should be dated the day that the semen was collected.
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