From the Racetrack to the Breeding Barn

You can make the transition into horse breeding easier for your race mare.

From The American Quarter Horse Racing Journal

Any career and lifestyle change is difficult, and that’s just what moving a mare from the racetrack to the breeding shed is. Whether you are purchasing an off-the-track mare as a broodmare prospect at an early season sale or bringing a homebred filly home, the switch from running races to raising foals is tough. Here are some suggestions to help.

The Transition

Perhaps the biggest change for the mare is the social change, and it’s not necessarily what most people think of first. But it can have a huge impact on her ability to get in foal. First, every race mare is treated as an individual. Broodmares, on the other hand, are typically treated as groups, in a herd. Often mares lose weight in the transition, which can negatively influence the hormonal axis, keeping them from cycling regularly.

Andrew Gardiner, General Manager of JEH Stallion Station-Texas in Pilot Point, pointed out that fat is a beautiful color on a breeding farm – and that’s not something you see on a mare in racing condition. Like with any animal, that little body fat can cause difficulty for females in a breeding situation. It’s not uncommon for some mares off the track to need more time to make a successful transition to being a broodmare.

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Other factors can also affect a mare’s fertility, such as injury. Racehorses also face many of the same physical challenges as human athletes. They may receive anti-inflammatories or joint injections as racehorses, which can affect the mare’s cycle in the short-term. Anabolic steroids, however, will have long-lasting effects. Mares are sometimes given altrenogest, a synthetic progesterone, to keep their reproductive cycles on the track.

Making It Smooth

Planning a mare’s transition ahead of time can help make the adjustments as easy as possible. Make sure that the mare is compatible with the group and is not low in the pecking order. This could cause even more stress. These mares are more susceptible to weight loss. They eat more inconsistently and have to constantly keep an eye out when they do eat. It can also help to put a mare under lights in the winter months to lengthen her days and jump start her reproductive cycle. It is one of the few factors that can be controlled in a reproductive schedule. Andrew also recommends giving the mare down time well before the breeding season, if you can. Turn her out and let her adjust, and then worry about breeding. It’s also a good idea for any mare to get a complete reproductive exam before the breeding season to head off any potential problems. This will include a physical inspection of the reproductive tract, along with an ultrasound exam.

Breeding While Racing

If the goal is to continue to run the mare, then it is important to maintain her racing program. When mares are laid off for a month or two to flush an embryo schedule minimized changes in her routine and environment, eliminating stress.

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“We keep them in a stall, put them on a walker every day and don’t kick them out with other mares,” Andrew says. “But those mares do go on the mare feed.” The mare needs to put on some weight while trying to breed in order for her body to retain the foal. The weight will come off as soon as she goes back to the track. Sometimes mares are bred best right off of the track. “If you have a race mare you’re planning to retire, you might try to breed her before she has to go through that time and adjustment,” he says.

It may be easier to get her in foal quickly because her cycle will not be adjusting in response to the stress of the transition, loss of weight and adaptation to the herd. Andrew points out the importance of keeping in mind the mare’s future as a broodmare, especially if she’s having trouble getting in foal. “If you want to start breeding on a mare in March or April, try breeding her a time or two,” he says. “But if you get to June and she’s not pregnant, then either flush her for an embryo and leave her open, or leave her open, period. In the face of a late foal, Andrew prefers to let the mare mature and make the transition in her own time.

AQHA Member Benefit Spotlight

The AQHA Incentive Fund is a multimillion-dollar investment program that rewards horse owners for their success. The involves payback to the stallion nominators, foal nominators and owners of the competing horse when points are won at AQHA shows and events. Nominate your stud or breed your mare to an eligible stallion to become a part of this program.