Mare Too Old to Breed?

An owner wonders if her 19-year-old Morgan is too old to be­come a brood­mare.

Horse & Rider - - Table Of Contents - JEN­NIFER H. KOZIOL, DVM, MS Di­plo­mate, Amer­i­can Col­lege of The­ri­oge­nol­o­gists As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor, Pur­due Col­lege of Ve­teri­nary Medicine


My daugh­ter and I own a 19-year-old Morgan mare we’d like to breed. She’s in ex­cel­lent over­all health and pro­duced her only foal at age 7. Is 19 too old to breed? Does it mat­ter that she’s al­ready had one foal? ALLISON RICH, Vir­ginia


It’s not un­com­mon or un­rea­son­able for horse own­ers to wish to breed their se­nior mares, es­pe­cially mares that have been in work. The fact that your mare is in good over­all health is en­cour­ag­ing. Po­ten­tial brood­mares should also be in good flesh (but not over­weight), and main­tained at that weight with good nu­tri­tion.

Be­cause your mare has pre­vi­ously had a foal, she’s now con­sid­ered a bar­ren mare. This sta­tus, com­bined with her age, does put her at greater odds of not con­ceiv­ing. When a filly is born, she has all the ova, or eggs, that she’ll ever have in her life­time. As your mare has aged, so have her ova, and older ova can lead to early em­bry­onic death or no con­cep­tion at all. That be­ing said, it’s not un­rea­son­able to at­tempt to breed your mare.

Start with an all-en­com­pass­ing breed­ing-sound­ness ex­am­i­na­tion. Have your ve­teri­nar­ian per­form this exam well in ad­vance of when you wish to breed your mare, to al­low time to pro­vide any cor­rec­tive treat­ment that may be needed. The as­sess­ment should in­clude an over­all phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion to de­tect any un­der­ly­ing is­sues, a per­ineal ex­am­i­na­tion, and a tran­srec­tal pal­pa­tion of the uterus and ovaries com­bined with ul­tra­sound ex­am­i­na­tion. Also needed is a specu­lum exam of the vagina and cervix, with dig­i­tal pal­pa­tion and a uter­ine cul­ture and biopsy.

I’ll dis­cuss each of these in more de­tail.

Ex­am­i­na­tion of the per­ineal re­gion of the mare (area be­tween anus and vulva) can re­veal poor con­for­ma­tion that might al­low fe­cal ma­te­rial to en­ter the re­pro­duc­tive tract. If such con­for­ma­tion is noted, your vet can per­form

a Caslick’s pro­ce­dure to par­tially close the vulva, cre­at­ing a bar­rier to keep out­side con­tam­i­na­tion from entering and mak­ing its way to the uterus.

Tran­srec­tal pal­pa­tion and ul­tra­sound of the mare’s en­tire re­pro­duc­tive tract, in­clud­ing the uterus and ovaries, re­veals im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion about the shape and con­di­tion of these or­gans. Ul­tra­sound, in par­tic­u­lar, can re­veal prob­lems within the uterus or ovaries that could be un­de­tectable by pal­pa­tion— even for the well-trained ve­teri­nar­ian.

Specu­lum exam and dig­i­tal pal­pa­tion of the vagina and cervix are nec­es­sary to en­sure there are no ad­he­sions (in­juries re­sult­ing from the pre­vi­ous foal­ing) that might pre­vent the cervix from func­tion­ing prop­erly. Urine pool­ing can also be de­tected via this exam.

Uter­ine cul­ture can de­tect in­flam­ma­tion or in­fec­tion of the uter­ine lin­ing (en­dometri­tis) caused by bac­te­ria, yeast, or fungi. A uter­ine biopsy can give a more in-depth look at the uterus, in­clud­ing eval­u­a­tion of all lay­ers of uter­ine lin­ing. The biopsy should be graded and will give you a prog­no­sis for the mare’s abil­ity to carry a foal to term un­der proper man­age­ment con­di­tions.

In con­clu­sion, work with your vet early-on to ad­dress any cor­rectable con­di­tions and to come up with a plan for manag­ing the breed­ing of your mare.

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