breed.3Breeding the very best quality horses relies on not only using good bloodstock, but also ensuring the health of both mare and stallion at every step. Veterinarian Dr Pia Randleff-Rasmussen covers all the necessary health topics for breeding: from venereal diseases to deworming schedules for pregnant mares.

Ensuring that your breeding programme goes well means starting way before you pair up a mare and stallion for the act. The first step in ensuring a good outcome is to get your horses as healthy as possible. While this is a general aim for every good-intentioned horse owner, it becomes even more important before breeding.

How to choose a healthy horse

When choosing a mare and stallion, aside from a good bloodline and performance, it is a good idea to look at the following:

  • The medical history of each horse.
  • The medical history of the horses’ parents, brothers and sisters.
  • The medical history of the horses’ offspring.
  • The age of the horses.
  • Test results for venereal and genetic diseases.
  • The deworming and inoculation schedules for both horses.
  • Any outward signs of health problems (a rubbed tail, skin lesions, dull coat, hot legs, and so forth).
  • The reproductive health of both horses (a vet can check this).

“Horses who have chronic conditions such as laminitis should preferably not be bred, as the pregnancy can exacerbate clinical signs,” says Dr Randleff-Rasmussen. “Before attempting to breed a mare, she should be examined by a veterinarian. This evaluation will include such factors as vaginal conformation, and uterine and ovary activity.”

breed.2Maintaining good health: the basics

Once you’ve chosen your mare and stallion, the next step is to maintain and bolster their good health. Food is a major factor in ensuring a healthy horse, and when it comes to a horse you want to breed with it could be a good idea to ask a nutritionist to assess your horse and help you come up with a good eating plan.
As with any equine diet, plenty of good quality roughage is absolutely essential. Access to fresh water at all times is equally important. For the mare, a balanced feed aimed at broodmares will round the diet off. Remember, when changing food type or quantity, always do so slowly. Reduce in small increments over the course of a week or two and introduce new feeds the same way.
Allowing your horses access to grazing is not only good for them nutritionally, but also good for their state of mind. Movement while grazing and the ability to socialise are essential for a happy, healthy horse. Allow your horse to graze freely for as many hours a day as possible, only restricting it if your grass has a very high sugar content (a nutritionist can help you with this as well).
Regular exercise, access to protection from the elements, well-fitting tack and a kind, fair handler round off the list of what makes for an environment conducive to health and happiness.

Venereal diseases

Some, but not all, venereal diseases can be tested for before breeding. Contact your vet to get your horses tested. The most important diseases to be tested for in South Africa according to Dr Randleff-Rasmussen are:
• Contagious equine metritis (CEM)
CEM is tested in stallions by swabbing the penis and the sheath. This venereal disease can be passed on to the mare during intercourse and can negatively affect the pregnancy. It causes a uterine infection which can lead to poor conception or abortion, explains Dr Randleff-Rasmussen.
• Dourine
A blood test will confirm whether a horse has dourine. This disease is also passed from stallions to mares during breeding. “The disease is caused by Trypanosoma equiperdum, and causes a wide range of symptoms, ending in the death of the animal,” says Dr Randleff-Rasmussen.

Other venereal diseases, which are also carried on the penis and passed on to the mare, are not controlled and therefore cannot be tested for. These diseases can cause endometritis (infection of the uterus which can cause poor conception or abortion) or placentitis.

“The most common causes include Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, andStreptococcus equi subspecies Zooepidemicus,” says Dr Randleff-Rasmussen.

Viral venereal disease equine herpes virus 3 (equine coital exanthema) is characterised by small blisters on the vulva of the mare or sheath of the stallion. Animals with this disease should not be bred!

How to prevent and treat diseases

First and foremost, good hygiene is essential. Dr Randleff-Rasmussen advises that the mare’s vulva is washed and dried prior to breeding and that the horses’ tails are bandaged. For stallions, the penis and sheath should be cleaned with warm water and dried. “It is important not to use disinfectants on the penis, as these interfere with the normal flora, and can allow pathogenic organisms to ‘take over’,” she warns.

Endometritis in a mare is treated with a uterine lavage (rinsing of the uterus, done through the vulva) and antibiotics administered through a douche.

Genetic conditions

Genetic conditions are another very serious health issue to consider when breeding. Many of the conditions that exist are breed or coat colour specific, explains Dr Randleff-Rasmussen. Some of these diseases related to colour include:
• Lethal white syndrome: Most common in the American Paint Horse, lethal white syndrome is an autosomal inherited disorder. Foals who have this syndrome will be born with completely or almost completely white coats and blue eyes. They look normal externally, but the syndrome affects the colon, making it completely non-functioning. Colic will occur within a few hours and within days the foal will die.
• Congenital stationary night blindness:: This genetic disorder affects sight by preventing horses from seeing in the dark. There is no cure and it affects mostly Appaloosas.
• Anterior segment dysgenesis (ASD): ASD is a disorder where the front half of the eye (including the cornea, iris, lens and ciliary body) does not develop properly in the mare’s womb, leading to problems with sight.

Some abnormalities related to breed include:
• Quarter Horse hyperkalaemic periodic paralysis and glycogen branching enzyme deficiency, both of which cause the horse to tie up with hard work, and equine recurrent uveitis, which causes a chronic eye condition requiring life-long treatment.
• Arabian lavender foal syndrome. Also known as coat colour dilution lethal, lavender foal syndrome affects mostly horses of Arabian bloodlines. The syndrome presents with a light coat colouring at birth and neurological problems like the inability to stand.

This article appeared in the August 2014 issue of HQ Magazine. For subscription details visit