We have a lot of older mares in our breeding program and we consult our veterinarians, Dr. Jennifer King or Dr. Sheena Campbell-Sorensen, whenever we have an issue or need additional information. Having a vet that you trust, and that trusts you to give accurate information, is really key. It is easy to become overzealous when checking on older horses in general, so using common sense and only contacting your vet about real issues will ensure that your vet actually responds when you call and doesn’t hit the ignore button.
Sometimes older broodmares can present some challenges during breeding season. It is not uncommon for older mares to become pregnant and carry foals to term into their 20s. It is important to remember that as mares get older it is harder for them to become pregnant and owners need to understand these changes and develop realistic expectations regarding breeding potential. We have two that foaled this year that are each 25. We have numerous mares in our herd that are over 20 that look like they are much younger. We also have some mares that no longer have foals, and that is ok too. They have earned their place on our ranch and will remain. We factor in the carrying cost of those mares once they reach the point that they no longer produce.
Frequently older mares will have a delay in their first ovulation in the spring. Also, the intervals between cycles are a little longer. Older mares can exhibit irregular estrous cycles, and sometimes they can stop cycling altogether. We sometimes let the older mares just live with the stallions, since we pasture breed. When we are still foaling into the late summer months, those are usually older mares. We are also very cautious about leaving the older mares in a pen that gets lots of exercise. For instance, if there is a mare that likes to get the pens stirred up, we will not leave an older mare in that pen. Or if any of the stallions are in larger areas, like Gunner on 500 acres, the older mares do not go out there. Keeping older mares healthy, well fed and as stress free as possible is sometimes a juggling act.
Another major concern with older mares is their care. Many of our older mares come in and get grain at night with the young horses. We like their foals to come in and get grain with them, and get them started on feed as soon as possible. This takes some of the burden off of the mare for being the sole provider of food. As already stated, keeping an older mare in good flesh is key, and can be a difficult job. Another factor to consider is the economic factor. How much is it going to cost to keep good flesh on an older mare, have her milking and trying to breed her back? It may be smarter to move her to a smaller area, breed her to a stallion with fewer mares in the pen, or wait to breed her until it is clear and she can handle it.
Many times older mares come with health or soundness issues. We have been very lucky in getting a few mares that have sensational pedigrees because they came with some maintenance issues. We knew that going in, so we considered that when we calculated our care costs in obtaining the mare. Even when a mare doesn’t have obvious issues, it is important to pay attention and make sure that issues don’t develop as the horse ages. Keeping a good farrier on as regular scheduled maintenance can really help to keep these mares at their best.
Taking care of horses in general can be a bit of a struggle. Making sure to be extra diligent when assessing and caring for older mares, especially those in the broodmare herd, is imperative to keeping them on the ranch and functioning. Being sensible and realistic in your expectations is the only way to keep these older mares as happy and healthy as possible as they reach their twilight years.