Horse Breeding

Find Reproductive Problems

February 4, 2011

Have you evaluated your mare or stallion for breeding season?

By Dr. Michelle LeBlanc from the AQHA Educational Marketing Alliance American Association of Equine Practitioners

Don't waste breeding season testing for reproductive problems; exam your breeding stock now.

Mare Evaluation
Although a breeding soundness exam is recommended, the cause of infertility still might be missed. The most common mare reproductive problems are:

  • Mares that do not cycle properly or at all
  • Mares that conceive and lose their pregnancies after 45 days
  • Mares that either don’t conceive or lose their pregnancies before 40 days

Different tests are conducted for each of the three problems. If your mare isn’t cycling properly, the hormonal signals from the brain are not getting to the ovaries, indicating that the mare has an endocrine problem.

In addition to a rectal and ultrasonographic examination of the reproductive tract, blood needs to be drawn to measure hormones. If the cause is a tumor, it can be surgically removed. Most mares will cycle back within six to eight months.

As a stallion and/or mare owner, you’re faced with many challenges when managing the reproductive schedules of your American Quarter Horses, including the use of frozen semen. Understand the processes involved with the “Equine Insemination with Frozen Shipped Semen DVD,” developed by the American Quarter Horse Association and Colorado State University.

Other causes, such as Cushing’s disease (hyperactivity of the adrenal cortex caused by a pituitary tumor that can’t be removed), administration of anabolic steroids, stress due to pain (chronic laminitis) or performance anxiety, and “cystic follicles” due to old age are not as easy to correct. Mares with the latter problems need long-term management and frequent veterinary examinations.

Mares who don’t conceive, or conceive and lose their pregnancies, have normal endocrine function, but have defects in their reproductive tracts.

Mares that conceive and abort after 45 days usually have degenerative fibrotic changes to the uterine glands. These changes interfere with the glands’ ability to produce uterine milk, the secretions that nourish the embryo until the placenta attaches between 60 and 100 days. If the glands are not functioning properly, the embryo starves. This abnormality is identified by uterine biopsy, but there is no successful treatment. These mares usually make good embryo transfer candidates.

Roll It!

Dr. Pat McCue, from Colorado State University, gives advice over the signs of foaling.

The most common mare fertility problem is uterine infection. Typically, these mares have clean uterine cultures in the spring, then have bacteria isolated from their uteri after they have been bred three or four times. Two types of mares fall into this category:

  • Mares that have had three or four foals and cannot clear their uteri of the inflammatory by-products of breeding
  • Maiden mares with tight cervixes

The older mare accumulates fluid because her uterus is lower than her pelvis and the uterus cannot drain, and/or she has perineal defects resulting in self-contamination. Maiden mares become infected because the cervix does not open and drain properly after breeding.

Mares in this category need a complete breeding soundness evaluation conducted when they are in heat, including rectal and ultrasonographic examination of the reproductive tract, vaginal examination, digital examination of the cervix, uterine culture and cytology. Some of these mares might need reproductive surgery to correct perineal defects, urine pooling or cervical lacerations. These mares should be recultured after treatment, and a second cytology exam needs to be collected before they are given a clean bill of health.

Stallion Evaluation
For normal stallions, sperm numbers drop by 50 to 60 percent in the winter, and subfertile stallions may have an even greater decrease. This makes it difficult to properly estimate what a stallion’s semen production might be next spring. For a new stallion entering stud service, it is important to conduct a breeding soundness examination before winter to determine the number of mares he can cover the following spring and to evaluate the longevity of his semen (if it is to be shipped).

Equine Insemination with Frozen Shipped Semen DVD” includes information about processing semen for freezing; how semen is stored and shipped; international requirements; and tips for successful mare insemination. Plus, AQHA members get a 5% discount!

Before stallions enter stud service, a breeding soundness examination should be performed. The exam can usually be performed in one day unless the horse has never mounted a mare. In this case, the horse can be taught to mount a phantom in a quiet environment so that he learns good breeding manners. If a horse has been used at stud, he should be rested sexually for a minimum of seven days before semen is collected.

The breeding evaluation includes examination of the horse’s libido, his breeding technique and semen quality. The volume, concentration, motility and morphology of the semen are determined. If semen is to be shipped, it is added to a number of extenders and the motility evaluated over 48 to 72 hours. Once the veterinarian has determined the best method to extend and process the semen, the farm manager or owner can be taught to correctly handle it. (A common cause of mare infertility is poor semen handling.)