Barren Broodmares: Part 1

Pre-breeding season care can decrease a mare’s chance of barrenness.

It’s frustrating and disappointing when a broodmare, despite repeated breedings, does not become pregnant or becomes pregnant only to absorb or abort the foal. Most barren mares are older mares that have been pregnant a number of times, but have incurred insult to their reproductive system. As many as 20 to 25 percent of the older mare population are “problem” breeders. Frequently, scar tissue has replaced the healthy lining of the uterus and prevents the mare from nourishing the growing fetus. The older mare also may have oviducts that are blocked, which prevents the egg from reaching the uterus.

Natural aging in mares causes the abdomen to drop and the rectum to recede, tipping the vulva into a horizontal position. This increases the chance of uterine contamination by feces and aspirated air. Chronic uterine infections can prevent pregnancy.

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With each pregnancy, the mare’s uterus becomes larger and the ligaments supporting it stretch. The uterus then drops deeper and deeper into the abdomen. Pooling of urine and/or fluid in the uterus then occurs. The more the uterus drops, the more difficult it is for the mare to evacuate the uterus in preparation for breeding. Fluid accumulation becomes a haven for bacteria to grow and reduces the mare’s chances of becoming pregnant. Once a mare reaches her middle to late teens, she may suffer from poor digestion, teeth problems, arthritis and a loss in body condition – all of which impact her ability to conceive and carry a healthy foal. In a herd situation, a timid mare may be low in the pecking order and will continually be stressed and harassed by more dominant horses. Such stress limits the mare’s ability to cycle and conceive. Barren mares are a challenge. If they are managed correctly, however, even mares in their early and middle 20s can become pregnant and carry foals to term. I have seen at least one 26-year-old mare deliver a healthy foal. The key is to micro-manage the older mare, and the sooner the better. Check back next week for the rest of this story.

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