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Pets Large & Small

Breeding Season

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM

(6/2013) When most people think of foals they think of cute babies out in the field running about with their moms. As a horse owner I frequently get asked if I am going to breed any of my horses. The answer is no. I purposefully select geldings so that I won't be tempted to breed. Having been called out in the middle of the night for serious birthing complications resulting in death of the foal and the mare on more than one occasion, as well as the numerous malformities, and other complexities, it makes me hesitant to want to undertake that myself.

Most people are unaware of the large amount of work that goes into getting a mare pregnant much less successfully getting the cute foal. While sometimes field breeding results in a nice foal, the majority of valuable horses are conceived through artificial insemination. Once the mare is pregnant, the number of sleepless nights for the owner only increases. Due to the risks associated with foaling, owners should be present to assist the mare or call the vet should the need arise. Mares frequently foal a couple weeks early or several weeks late, resulting in the possibility of over a month of sleepless nights for the owner.

Artificial insemination has numerous benefits. First it eliminates the risk of injury due to fighting between the mare and the stallion. Risk of disease transmission also decreases. AI permits both mare and stallion to be on opposite ends of the country as well as for them to continue to compete during breeding season. The downside to AI is trying to coordinate getting the semen delivered when the mare is ovulating.

One of my clients has two draft horse mares. She had gone through the arduous process of selecting a stallion for each mare. The selection had been based both on desirable temperament as well as ability for both in-hand showing and cart driving potential. The stallions are located at the same farm, so for ease and the convenience of having both stallion's semen sent in the same shipment, the mares were given medications so that they would ovulate at the same time.

I ultrasounded the mares on a Monday and verified that they should be ready to inseminate on Wednesday. The mare's owner contacted the stallion owner and told him to collect and ship the semen for a Wednesday morning delivery. The owner also called Fed-Ex to make sure they knew the importance of shipment and that it needed to arrive in the morning. Fed-Ex told her that wouldn't be a problem.

I called the mares' owner Wednesday morning. She told me she had just been on the phone with Fed-Ex and the semen would arrive about 9:30 that morning. I told her I'd be there between 11 and 12. When I arrived at the farm the semen was not there. The farm assistant called the owner and we were informed the semen would be there between 1 and two. I left for another farm and came back about 1:30 and waited at the farm until 2. Still no semen. I told the owner that I was sorry but I needed to leave and would not have time to come back. When the semen arrived she was welcome to drive the mares and the semen to me if she wanted them bred.

The semen was finally tracked down. Apparently it had been delivered to the wrong house. The semen was finally in the mare owner's custody and the mares and semen were driven to me and inseminated.

As part of routine breeding protocol, I check the semen under a microscope. I inspect it for quality including motility and concentration. Unfortunately when I checked this semen it was almost entirely dead. I was not looking forward to calling the mare owner. I was going to tell her that not only did she waste her money on fed-ex shipment, purchase of the semen, vet call charges, and her time driving all over, but we were going to have to try again as it was highly unlikely that either of the mares would be pregnant based on the quality of the semen. While it couldn't be determined if dead semen was sent, or if it died in transport (Fed-Ex not only delivered to the wrong address but also left it out in the sun.) She was given the option to abandon hope that the mares might be pregnant and just short cycle them, or wait and see if by some miracle they took. Needless to say I have added this entire experience to my list of reason why I won't be planning on breeding one of my own horses.

I am always delighted when I see a healthy, well bred, foal playing in a field on a summer day. Not only do I admire the beautiful foal, but I also appreciate the great efforts of the owner who bred that foal.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw