I consider myself pretty lucky to live and work in the region I do. Central Kentucky is one of the largest--if not the largest--Thoroughbred nurseries in the world, and it's hard to drive anywhere (with the sole exception of downtown Lexington) without running into stallions, broodmares, and/or babies. Just driving the seven miles from our office to my boarding barn, I pass three major breeding operations and several smaller ones with fields full of leggy foals playing, broodmares ready to pop, or weanlings and yearlings growing up.
Especially during the late summer and fall, once the mares have escaped from their foals and are spending days basking in the sun, I often notice that some individuals look decidedly older than their pasture mates. It's easy to pick out a slightly sway backed mare jogging with an arthritic gait a few steps behind her younger counterparts, or a graying mare "politely suggesting" to a younger-looking mare that she'd better move unless she wants a chunk taken out of her haunches.
I'm not a horse breeder, but for years I've toyed with the idea of breeding Sadie, my now 16-year-old Warmblood mare, to produce my next event mount.
Photo: Keith Larson
As I've mentioned before, I'm not a breeder; I will, however, fully admit to nearly driving off roads while looking at babies. I don't have any practical experience with breeding older mares. But, given my job, I've learned a thing or two in the past few years about challenges breeders face when managing senior mares.
When I see these older mares in the field, I often wonder what's going on with them. It's no secret that age along can have a negative impact on pregnancy rates, but what about other health problems? Do they have uterine fibrosis or endometritis that might make conceiving a foal difficult? Will her aging oocytes result in an early embryonic death? What treatments or therapies have her managers tried to help her conceive and carry a foal to term? Or has she had her final foal and is now simply living out her days in the company of her herd mates?
For years I've toyed with the idea of breeding Sadie, my Warmblood mare who currently resides with my parents, to produce my next event horse. But she turned 16 this year and has never had a foal; I know many people have successfully bred older maiden mare and produced lovely foals but I feel like the odds are stacked against her and, quite honestly, she possesses some traits that I'd rather not pass on to another horse. Anyway, Dorado is still as spunky as ever, and there's no shortage of horses down here when I'm ready for another mount.
Even though breeding Sadie isn't in the cards, I'd love to hear about your experiences with breeding older mares. What challenges did you face? Or was the process easy and straight forward? Please share your experiences below!