From the Foaling Barn

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The Older Broodmare

Ice Cold Dunnit and BH Song and Dance

The last two Chatsberry mares to foal this year happen to be my youngest and oldest mares. They are both duns and if you didn't know better, you'd think they were mother and daughter, or grandmother and granddaughter. I've recently written about the problems of maiden mares, and right after I wrote that post, one of my two maiden mares demonstrated one of the problems admirably, by refusing to feed her foal. So I think you can understand, why I'm a bit worried about writing about my old girl. Like almost all serious horse people, I'm superstitious. But in the interest of education, I'll give it a try.

BH Song and Dance is twenty-three years old and is due to deliver her sixteenth foal April 13, although since I've owned her, she has been three to twelve days early each year. BH, by Be Aech Enterprise and out of Melody Jac (Hollywood Jac), is one of only a handful of mares to have won the NRHA Open Derby. Her LTE is $29,000 and her offspring earnings are in excess of $110,000. But if you saw her, you'd never believe these statistics. BH is a small, fine-boned mare, and ever since I've known her she as been significantly navicular. She shuffles along in the pasture, and she definitely looks her age. Last year, she had a foal in mid-May. We bred her once to Gunner with shipped semen and got her in foal.

BH is an exceptional broodmare, but I have a number of older mares, and while it is challenging to keep them going, with good maintenance practices and a little medical detective work, I've been able to get most of my mares in foal every year. A mare's peak fertility is reached at ages six or seven, and fertility begins to decline significantly after age fifteen.

Keeping a regular maintenance schedule, is crucial to keeping older mares in good breeding condition. All of my mares are seen by our excellent farrier, Dave Jacobson, every eight weeks. Navicular mares like BH especially need frequent trimmings. I also have three mares that require special shoeing to stay sound. Dr. Brian keeps dental records on the mares and we usually float their teeth every two year. However, I keep special watch on the old girls, because I don't want them to drop weight because of dental problems. Speaking of weight, I probably like my mares just a bit heavier than Dr. Brian likes, but with our extreme cold, I like a bit of extra padding on my girls. I feed free choice hay (a grass/alfalfa mix), Assurance Alfalfa Balancer, and oats. I adjust the latter two depending on where the mares are in their gestation, upping amounts substantially for the last two months of pregnancy and the first three of lactation.

Even when you do everything right, breeding issues become more numerous as mares age, including, cervical tears, uterine scarring and cysts, urine pooling, inflamation and difficulty clearing fluids after breeding, etc. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate many of these issues, including post-breeding lavage, Casslicks, hormone therapy. And if all else fails, there is always embryo transfer. A good vet like our Dr. Brian will be up-to-date on all the latest breeding technology. I also learn a lot from the internet--it's amazing what you can find on-line.

One of the best ways to make sure an older mare gets in foal, is to try to make sure she stays in foal every year. The more years an older mare goes without having a foal the more difficult it becomes to get her in foal. Mares are meant to have foals, and their reproductive tracts are healthier when they are being used as nature meant them to be. My little, navicular mare BH miraculously seems to become much sounder right before she foals and during the months she has a foal at her side.


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