GENERAL INFORMATION FOR BREEDERS

BREEDING THE MARE

Those who arrange to breed their mare to a stallion owned by someone else deliver the mare to the owner of the stallion, planning to leave her for 30 to 45 days - sufficient time for two heat cycles. Many breeders "pasture breed"; that is, they put a stallion with certain mares, leaving them together for the spring and early summer. The conception rate is usually higher, but one seldom knows exactly when to expect the foal. Some stallions will reject some mares, and vice versa for reasons known only to them-selves. This happens more frequently when a mare is added to an existing band which has already coalesced - exactly the situation which occurs when a new breeder "books" a mare to a stallion at another location.

No matter how the mare is to be bred, or if she is to be bred, a health maintenance program is a necessity. The mare must be wormed regularly, certainly biannually and perhaps as often as quarterly where the probability of parasite contamination is great, a condition which frequently exists when too many horses are kept in a limited area, year-round. The beginner needs to choose a vet, get acquainted with him/her, and rely on that vet's advice. Keep a report, because sometime when you least expect it - midnight Sunday - you are going to need that vet if you stay in the horse business very long.

If you are booking your mare to be bred to someone else's stallion, the stallion owner will advise you as to what he requires with respect to health examinations, vaccinations, and cultures of the mare's reproductive tract. These are technical medical procedures to be performed by your veterinarian.

BREEDING CYCLE

The gestation period of the miniature mare is 330 days, plus or minus fifteen days, just like the big horses. Some mares will foal in ten months and some will carry a full twelve months, and such abnormal gestation periods are characteristic of that particular mare. The shortened or prolonged gestation period will probably be repeated. As might be expected, the "premature" foal is likely to be small and delicate, requiring special attention, while the 12-month foal may be born measuring 23 inches instead of the average 18. Within six months, heredity will be the determining factor - the 10-month foal and the 12-month foal may well be the same size.

Foals may be born any month of the year, but under natural conditions most will be born from September through December. That is because mares cycle normally in the southern hemisphere during the spring and early summer as the day length (and light) increases. The heat cycle is dependent on the number of hours of light - natural or artificial. The reproductive process usually begins in August-September, but the heat cycles are irregular. The highest conception rates in horses is recorded in October to January and therefore, birth will be from September to December the next year.

Once mares begin to cycle normally, there is a fertile time when the mare will accept the male for breeding. This period of estrus, "heat" or "season," occurs every 21 days on the average. Most mares are "in heat" for about 5-7 days and most mares will come in season five to seven days after foaling, in what horse people call the "foal heat." Unless the mare experienced difficulty in foaling, or for some other reason, there is no reason why she should not be rebred at this time. The most unique feature of a mare's cycle is that she ovulates 24-48 hours before the end of estrus. In order for conception to occur, the male sperm must be present at the time of ovulation. Therefore, the timing of breeding or insemination is very difficult in the mare. Most importantly, you must know your mare. She may cycle every 24 days or perhaps the duration of her heat cycle may only be 3 days. You must be observant and recognize when your mare is in heat. A mare coming into standing heat will show signs of increased activity and excitability. She will urinate frequently, carry her tail raised and occasionally show a "vulva winking," opening and closing the outer lips of the vulva. Once the mare will stand to be bred (standing heat), she will often back up to the stallion, as opposed to when not in heat, she may have kicked or bitten at him. The reproductive tract becomes a brighter reddish color as the circulation is increased, mucous excretion becomes more active, and the cervix is open. It is essential to tease a mare daily with a stallion or sometimes even a gelding to detect the onset of estrus. This is one of the biggest problems for the mare owner who plans to breed to a stallion located elsewhere.

MARE PREGNANCY

Pregnancy can be ascertained after fourteen days by a variety of tests available to your vet, the most certain of which is ultrasound, but a confirmed pregnancy does not insure a foal every year. The mare may abort, undetected, or may reabsorb the fetus. Most breeders are guided by the heat cycle: if the mare is serviced by a stallion and does not recycle in about 24 days, they consider her to be in foal.

Most mares will begin to show signs of being "in foal" at about eight months; while some maiden mares may keep their figure a little longer. Udder development will be discernable about four weeks prior to foaling. During the last week, the foal will drop in the abdomen and this change in the mare's appearance will be noticeable. At about 48-72 hours before foaling the mare will begin dripping milk - actually colostrum - from her teats, and this fluid will dry and harden on the teats - known as "waxing over." Usually in the last 24 hours before foaling the mare may show signs of distress. She may stay apart from the other horses, bite at her flanks, paw, lay down and get up frequently, whether in a stall or paddock. She is best observed, but left alone. She should be put in a stall of adequate size, at least 8' x 8', at night with just enough light so that she can be observed, but the stall should not be over bedded; a soft bedding can prevent the sac from tearing away from the foal. Shavings and sawdust can be dangerous, both to the mare and the new foal. Generally, mares prefer no human company during foaling, and how many owners having stayed awake all night, gone to the house for a cup of coffee, and returned fifteen minutes later to discover a tiny baby struggling to its feet.

BIRTH OF THE FOAL

The actual birth process usually takes no more than twenty minutes and sometimes as few as five. In a normal birth a balloon-like membrane will first appear. That will break and release about a half-gallon of fluid. Within a few minutes, one forefoot should appear, the front of the hoof uppermost, then the other forefoot. This sequence means that one shoulder at a time is passing through the cervix, which is much easier on the mare. Then the head appears, tucked between the forelegs. Once the head and shoulders are clear, the rest is quickly passed. The birth track is circular and down, and any assistance given the mare should be within that track. Never try to pull a foal straight out or up, and don't try to use a calf-puller or other traction device on a mare. If the mare is having difficulty, call your veterinarian! A delay, even of several hours may risk losing the foal, and the mare as well. If all has gone well, the foal will be on the ground, still attached by its umbilical cord to the placenta. The head should be free of the sac and the foal should be breathing. If so, let them alone, for the foal is still receiving blood from the placenta, and the mare is resting. If the nostrils are not clear of the sac, tear the sac open so the head is free. In five to ten minutes, the foal will begin trying to stand. Leave it alone. It will struggle and fall several times. This is normal. It will be on its feet in about fifteen minutes, probably before the mare stands. During its struggle to stand, the umbilical cord will break, and the foal will be free, but the mare will not have expelled all of the placenta, and may not do so for another half hour. Do not try to help. If the placenta is not expelled within four hours, call your vet. The foal's umbilical stump should be disinfected with an iodine solution or other prescribed disinfectant.

Normally, the foal will nurse within two hours of birth, but ensure that it does. The colostrum it will get during the next twenty-four hours contains the anti-bodies necessary for the foal's immune system. For most mares, and foals alike, nature will take care of everything, but if this is your mare's first foal, she may be bewildered. Another mare may attempt to steal the foal and she may not have milk, so the mare and foal are best left in a well-bedded stall for at least the first twenty-four hours.

HEALTH OF THE BREEDING STALLION

Accustom the young stallion to having his umbilical, scrotal, and sheath area handled during the normal grooming process. Some judges check the testicles on the miniatures by feel rather than sight, particularly on very small stallions, and of course, the genitals are usually washed prior to hand-breeding.

Health is vital for a breeding stallion. He must be disease-free, and should be free of parasites. An effective worming program is essential, as is a daily exercise program 'for stallions kept in a stall. The pent-up energy, coupled with the frustration of being stalled, can lead to behavioral problems and refusal to perform in the breeding shed. The easiest form of exercise (for the handler) is free exercise - turn him loose in a spacious paddock, and watch him run, mane and tail flying. Watch him buck and cavort; he may continue for thirty minutes. Then work him for another thirty minutes on a lead line or lunge line, or put him on a hot walker.

Many Miniature Horse owners pasture breed, that is, they put one stallion in a pasture with the mares that are to be bred to him. Most stallions perform well, but the stallion must be in excellent condition when turned out because he will lose weight worrying about and herding his harem from one area to another, keeping them rounded up and together. That is but one reason supplemental feeding is recommended.

STALLION FITNESS AND TRAINING

The top priority is discipline. The stallion is by nature more aggressive and has more fire than a mare or gelding, but it is just as easily trained. That training, whether he is to be used in a hand-breeding or pasture breeding program, must include the meaning of "whoa," the proper response to a lead rope, and allowing the genital area to be washed. The stallion will be handled more often than mares because even in a pasture breeding program, the stallion usually receives supplemental feeding and must thus be handled daily.

The first essential is a well fitting halter, usually of nylon for miniatures. That halter should be used only when the horse is being handled; never left on in the stall or pasture because of the inherent danger of becoming entangled and causing injury. From early halter training through subsequent lungeing work, teach the horse to understand and respond to the verbal command, "whoa." Lungeing and halter training should be conducted in an area apart from the breeding area. The stallion must not associate the halter and lead shank solely with breeding.

A vigorous exercise program, in addition to physiological soundness and control, will increase the libido or sex-drive without causing control problems. It is the unexercised, undisciplined horse that causes problems, and not because his libido is high, but because he is out of his stall and intends to make the most of it. The exercised stallion works up an appetite and usually consumes his total daily ration. Whereas, good nutrition increases the number and motility of the sperm and exercise reduces boredom and the resultant stall vices such as cribbing, eating bedding, and masturbation. Additionally, exercise increases owner satisfaction because the horse looks better due to increased muscle tone, adequate sunlight, and that air of well-being which results.

A mutual understanding and respect between the owner and horse is essential. The horse should not be badgered or confused with nagging. He should not be reprimanded unless it is a thorough, comprehensive and vigorous reprimand. Determine at the outset what you will and what you will not accept, and allow no deviation. Half-hearted discipline measures only aggravate disciplinary problems.