Mares

Well, first of all, bless your heart for bravely clicking on this link to read my opinion on mares. Since I AM one, of course I will give you the best information on the subject, although it might come off as a little biased….

Many people say they don’t like mares, but I think it might be because those people are either uninformed or perhaps have poor horsemanship skills...or both! You have to be a more sensitive and patient person to get along with females of any species, and why should horses be any different?

What mares want…

Like all horses, mares are mostly interested in the best things in life – eating, playing, socializing with our friends, and being comfortable. (Eating would be one of my personal favorites – whether it is nice green spring grass, alfalfa hay, or treats, you have to remember as a baby I was a starvation case, but anyway…). We don’t like to be alone, and we prefer certain friends to others, just like people. We look different from male horses with our less cresty necks, more feminine features, and usually very sweet personalities.

Leadership

Other things mares have to do include providing leadership to the rest of the herd and our foals such as where to go to eat, when to go to drink, when to rest or sleep, and where to get to shelter. Mares are usually the leaders of the herd, even in the wild, the stallion is not the alpha horse in the herd. People often misinterpret our efforts at leadership as being mean – when all we are doing is enforcing the will of the herd for the good of the herd. When we pin our ears, we are using our body language to politely tell the other horse(s) to move or back off. If we actually have to reach out to bite that horse, that simply shows that horse was not respecting our space, nor our polite invitation to move. We rarely have to actually bite or kick to get things done, once a horse knows their standing in the pecking order (hrrmph! we are NOT chickens!) of the herd, they normally acquiesce to their leaders easily.

Estrus cycle

Mares are subject to a similar hormonal cycle to all other female mammals – the difference from people is that we come into estrus or “heat” about every 21 to 28 days. This means that we are receptive to a stallion for reproduction purposes. It does not mean we love the stallion, simply that Mother Nature has prepared our reproductive tract to be able to maintain a pregnancy if inseminated at this time. (Geldings have it easy – they don’t have to worry about breeding, or being bred, or raising foals. They just eat!)

Raising foals

This is a huge responsibility that many people take for granted. (Just let them have to raise an orphan some time and they will have new respect for how much WORK it is to feed, direct, and protect a foal!) We have to make sure that our foals learn all the behaviors appropriate for a member of a horse herd, like manners around other horses, how to groom, who goes first or last in the herd to eat and drink, etc. Much of our reactions (kicking, rearing, spooking) are instinctive since we are prey animals, but the rest the foal must learn from its mother.

Make a better mare out of us

The best thing a person can do to make us more valuable is to spend time training, riding and playing with us so that we are good partners to our humans. If we understand what you want, we will give it to you. Make us stand out in whatever our discipline is – get points and ribbons on us so that we have a job to do and are more valuable both to you and to any potential buyer. (That guarantees to keep us out of the vicious cycle of killer buyers – please see my article about horses and dying). That will also help you determine if you should breed us later on – if we can’t cut it in the performance ring, maybe you shouldn’t think about breeding us.

If you want to make better potential mothers out of us, you should spend a lot of time with us working on ground manners and interacting (grooming, feeding, relaxing, petting us) with us, so that when we have our foal it will have a more positive opinion of humans by watching us – every time we come to you when you call the foal is learning to come, too! You should spend a lot of time getting us used to having our vulva rubbed in case you have to help us with the actual birthing, and touching our teats like the foal will when it is born so we don’t kick at him from the pain, especially if we are maiden mares.

Mareish behavior

Sometimes people think that we mares are overly sensitive or “witchy” during certain days during our estrus cycle. A lot of this is uninformed stupidity and anthropomorphism to people, but sometimes it is valid. Fortunately for us and our people, there are several management strategies for helping us get over it. There are some mares that get a tumor on their ovary that makes them VERY aggressive and dangerous to handle, like a stallion – these mares should be spayed.

  • The first is to be patient with us, maybe we are a little more sensitive that day. Do you feel wonderful every single day? Probably not. Try grooming us more and giving us time to focus on the task you want us to accomplish. Don’t get into a fight with us over the task. (In other words, don’t blame our hormones for YOUR bad horsemanship!)
  • The next is to use a hormonal regulator to prevent us from coming into heat – this is common in show horses and essentially is a method of temporarily spaying your mare using chemistry. (I’m sure you can understand – sometimes at a show we will be looking at the same stallion that makes YOU catch your breath – and you don’t want us stopping to raise our tail, squatting to pee, or generally not focusing on our job!) There are herbal products that may or may not work for you, and there are proven drug products (Regumate is the most common) that you would get from your veterinarian.
  • The last is a surgical procedure that is being more and more commonly used in mares that are either not good breeding prospects, injured, or the person just wants to enjoy the mare and not have to worry about the emotional rollercoaster of their estrus cycle. Spaying a mare requires that the ovaries must be removed either thru a flank incision (makes a 4 inch scar on the flank) or thru the vagina, or for mares with a tumor on the ovary that makes them dangerous. See Cherry Hill’s excellent details for more information

NOTE: One of my rescued friends, named “Blackberry”, in Marietta, SC was spayed because of her extremely aggressive behavior, otherwise she was going to have to be put down. Now she is happy and being ridden and spoiled rotten!

Choosing a stallion

Horses do not mate for life, we mate to produce offspring. However, we have opinions, too. Since humans are usually making (often poorly informed – whatever happened to breeding for the quality of the feet and legs?) the breeding decisions for us about to whom we will be mated, this sometimes leads to problems, especially for hand breeding. If we don’t like that stallion or he scares us, we may not tease to him, or stand to be bred, maybe you should consider Artificial Insemination? See pictures and a discussion of this procedure for more information.

Please choose a quality stallion to breed us to, the best you can afford – not just the stallion that lives down the road. There are over 50,000 horses a year that cannot find a good home and go to slaughter, and for every one of those, there are 2 or 3 more that are standing in the back of someone’s home like I was as a foal – unwanted, unkept, neglected, and hungry.

Do not breed your mare unless you can take on the responsibility of keeping up with that foal for LIFE – that is the only way to ensure that it has not become among the lost and lonely. Note: For example, my mom sold her Arabian horse, “Buddy”, over 10 years ago to a woman in NC who loved him, with a contract first option to purchase him back if she ever decided to sell him. When that woman died of cancer, her friend contacted my mom about purchasing “Buddy”, and they entered into the same contract. Each year this woman, who absolutely loves that horse, sends pictures of her son and “Buddy”. My mom can sleep at night knowing he is safe.

Is your mare an OUTSTANDING example?

One last thing - Come on, people! NOT EVERY MARE can be an excellent breeding prospect. Be choosy. If your mare isn’t going to improve anything and has obvious faults – please don’t breed her. Way too many people have mares that can’t be used for show or performance due to injury or poor conformation, etc. and they just throw them out to be broodmares. This is irresponsible.

My Big Secret:

I am a VERY GOOD EXAMPLE of this concept. I am so beautiful and cute with my blue eyes and medicine hat Tovero pattern Paint coloring to so many people, they often ask my mom if I am going to be bred someday. She looks at them like, are they CRAZY? Genetically, I bring nothing to the table except my color and personality.

I have hooves that are only OO (double ought) and should be on a pony half my size, TINY feet and legs that still have to support my stock-type horse body weight, I am back at the carpus (knee) on both front legs, I had to have surgery to correct the club foot in both of my front legs as a baby, and my neck is short. Why would someone breed me and get the same or worse as me? My mom plans to have me spayed next winter when my ovaries should be small and have less blood supply. Just like with dogs and cats, it will make me a better pet and a happier one, too!