There are 3 categories of mares to deal with during the breeding season. A maiden mare is one that has never been bred, a barren mare was bred the previous year and did not conceive and the foaling mares as explained in our previous post. A foaling mare will come into her first natural heat cycle at around 7 days post foaling. Called a foal heat conventional wisdom on whether to breed on this foal heat differs, but there is some thought as to passing this heat cycle to let the uterus more time to recover giving a better environment for implantation.The next natural heat cycle is around 25 to 30 days.
As the farm day starts the first stop is the foaling barn to see what foals were born the night before and to access the condition of the remaining foaling mares. Mares do sometimes foal during the day so any mares that are showing physical signs of getting close will be turned out into smaller paddocks and watched closely during the day.
As the regular farm crew takes care of the day to day chores of feeding and mucking stalls the broodmare manager will be leading a teaser usually an older male horse by all foaling, maiden and barren mares to see if they are showing or in heat. If a mare is not in heat she will show it most readily by pinning her ears, charging the stall door or kicking. As the days pass and the teasing process continues a good broodmare manager will notice changes in this teasing out behavior and the mares attitude changes to a more receptive mood or teasing in. The mare will be placed on the vet list to be checked to see where she is in her ovulatory cycle.
Depending on the size of the farms broodmare band the veterinarian will come on a daily basis for larger farms during the breeding season. With the added advantage of intrauterine ultrasound coupled with years of experience a veterinarian can get pretty close to within 48 hours of a mares predicted ovulation and can advise the owner as to what date would be best to breed the mare. A call then can be made to the farm standing the stallion she is to be bred to to make an appointment for that date. It may take several checks over a period of a week to predict this date as some mares move quicker than others in their ovulatory cycle.
A good farm crew is vital to the handling of newborn foals. Mares and foals are turned out after all the vet work is complete and the process of teaching a foal to be led and handled begins while they also learn how to interact with other foals. Mares tend to move their foals away from other mares keeping close watch over them until they are about 2 or 3 weeks of age. As the foal gets older you will see it wander farther away from it’s dam (mother) and the mare become less protective. This early teaching process for foals is very important and a good handler that can teach a foal to lead easily is a skill learned over time as opposed to leading an older horse. A good foal handler will rub between the foals ears, rub under his belly, pick both front and back feet etc. to get him use to human handling.
Having management that knows the horses and their daily habits can be the make or break difference in a farm having a successful breeding and foaling season. True horsemanship is achieved only by a lifetime of daily learning and hands on experience. That education never stops though as nature has something new to teach you every day.