Unless a mare is to be used solely for breeding, her maternity leave must come to an end as she begins, or resumes, a ridden career. But when will she be ready for work?
Lucy Brock MRCVS, of Pinkham Equine Veterinary Services, explains that the period up until weaning is long enough for the average mare to recover from the rigours of carrying and delivering a foal.
“During pregnancy, the mare’s abdomen muscles and her prepubic tendon, which runs from her sternum to her pelvis, will stretch,” says Lucy. “Her musculature will have altered from carrying the weight of the foal and she’ll have lost top line, and her ligaments will slacken during the run-up to the birth.
“Five to six months is the recommended period before mare and foal are separated, so this weaning window allows time for any inflammation to go down and for general muscle recovery to begin,” she adds. “It’s worth asking your vet to check she is ready to be ridden, however, especially if she had difficulty foaling or needed a caesarian section.
“The mare is always distracted with a foal at foot, so it would be unusual to ride her before weaning,” Lucy continues. “There’s nothing particularly wrong with starting a little sooner, as the uterus is usually back to its normal size after a couple of cycles and the blood supply should regress nicely.
“While gentle exercise will help to get any excess fluid from the pregnancy moving, ridden work is difficult if the mare is still nursing — and I would have concerns about the foal’s joint health and development if he was expected to run alongside.”
Easy does it
After weaning, Lucy suggests waiting for a week or two to allow the mare to settle before starting a gradual exercise programme.
“The saddle fit will need to be checked, as she will be a different shape after foaling,” says Lucy.
“An older mare or one who has bred multiple foals is likely to have poor conformation behind, so she may suck in air through her vulva,” she adds. “Any contamination of the uterus could affect future breeding prospects, so your vet may recommend a Caslick stitch, where the lips of the vulva are sewn together.”
How your mare bounces back from foaling will depend on her age, her breeding history and how fit she was before pregnancy.
“You wouldn’t know that some three- and four-year-olds had ever foaled,” Lucy says. “It can take time for an individual to regain the right musculature, however, so it’s important to progress at an appropriate pace.
Ref Horse & Hound; 3 October 2019