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We often think of pregnancy as a delicate and fragile condition. When it comes to horses, this perception is perhaps due to the mare's relatively poor reproductive performance in comparison to other domestic animals. However, in a natural setting, the mare does comparatively well reproductively. Therefore, this seemingly poor performance is due as much to improper management as to any reproductive deficiency. Fortunately, management is something we can control.
Your mare should go into the breeding season fit and perhaps gaining weight. Severely underweight mares will have more trouble conceiving than will mares of appropriate weight. You should make sure your mare avoids stress as much as possible. Stress can cause a drop in progesterone, a hormone which helps maintain pregnancy. Illness and/or fever also can cause the mare's system to secrete prostaglandins, which may cause abortion.
The first 30 to 60 days of pregnancy are critical. The earliest days of an embryo's existence are perhaps the most precarious. During the first 30 days, there is a 10 to 15 percent chance that the embryo will be resorbed. Stress, illness, uterine infection, hormonal abnormalities, the presence of twins and other factors have been implicated in early embryonic loss. Often, the cause remains undetermined.
Because of the embryo's uncertain beginning, it may be wise to have the pregnancy reconfirmed between 45 to 90 days post-ovulation since this is the time period when resorption is most likely. Mares confirmed in foal by ultrasonography at 14 days and/or 30 days will not necessarily still have a fetus 10 months later. The ability of your mare to maintain a pregnancy through the first 90 days needs to be confirmed by your veterinarian.
To ensure a good outcome, it is wise to be cautious with your mare during her pregnancy. Things to consider include limiting travel; providing nutritious forage, but not overfeeding; making sure vaccinations and dewormers are current; and not administering hormones or other drugs not specifically prescribed by your veterinarian.
The average length of pregnancy in the mare is 338 to 343 days. However, normal gestation can range from 320 to 380 days. Don’t become overly concerned if your mare goes past due. Prolonged gestation is not generally associated with problems or extra large foals unless the mare is grazing endophyte-infected fescue grass. If your mare's pregnancy extends much past 340 days or you're concerned, ask your veterinarian to examine her to determine if the mare is still pregnant and confirm that all is well.
As a conscientious owner, you probably have many questions about caring for your expectant mare. In truth, you may be a little worried. Relax. With a little TLC, your mare should progress through her pregnancy without mishap. Following through with proper nutrition, deworming, exercise and vaccinations will help ensure a healthy pregnancy, and you can look forward to the birth of your foal with greater confidence.
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