For the First Time

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The maiden. Potentially a breeder’s worst nightmare. With no experience in breeding and no prior exposure to stallions, this often young and anxious female can be a real challenge to deal with during a live cover.

But maiden mares don’t have to be difficult if you know how to prepare them for their day in the breeding shed. Experienced breeders have found ways to get these apprehensive mares ready for their first breeding.

“The biggest problem you’ll have with maiden mares is nervousness,” says Mellanie Burkhart, owner of Confetti Farms, an Appaloosa sport horse facility in Bakersfield, Calif. “They don’t know what breeding is all about. They see a stallion coming after them and don’t know what’s going on. As a result, they won’t stand still.”

Jackie Edmonds, breeding manager at Three Oaks Arabians in Swansea, South Carolina, has also seen maiden mares show strong resistance to being bred. “The mare will not stand for the stallion to mount her,” she says. “She may move to the side or rush forward.”

When maiden mares refuse to stand for mounting, they not only prevent the breeding from occurring, but can also pose a safety hazard to the stallion and humans in the breeding shed. “Safety for horses and people is very important when trying to breed a maiden mare,” says Edmonds. “It’s important to use knowledgeable mare and stallion handlers in this situation.”

Getting to Know You

According to breeders, one of the main reasons inexperienced mares resist breeding for the first time is because they are not familiar with the stallion who is trying to mount them.

“People often do not take into consideration that horses in the wild are running together and know each other for long periods of time before breeding,” says Laurieann Marona, owner of Shireland Stables, a breeding and training facility in Puyallup, Washington. “This is not the case with domestic horses. You are breeding strangers to strangers, which will aggravate a stallion’s aggressive behavior and amplify a mare’s fear of her aggressor. The most well-behaved horses can become unruly when put in this intimidating situation.”

One key to acceptance is to give the mare time to get to know the stallion first, according to Burkhart. “Stable the mare near stallion she will breed to,” she says. “The mare will be more receptive if she has been near him for a while. Let them have a love affair first.”

Burkhart also recommends teasing the mare for a long time before presenting her to the stallion. “Tease the mare until she’s so ready, she will agree to stand,” she says. “With a maiden mare, use a quiet stallion for teasing so he doesn’t intimidate her.”

Edmonds notes that proper teasing can be the key to getting a maiden mare to cooperate. “We use a 3 foot by 12 foot teasing wall for our live covers,” she says. “The wall is between the stallion and the mare, and is a safe way for the stallion to touch the mare. This wall keeps both of them out of harm’s way should either mare or stallion become aggressive with the other by striking, charging, etc.

“We tease maiden mares longer than experienced mares so that they can get used to the stallion’s breeding behavior. When we are ready to cover the mare, we put her chest up against the wall, with the mare handler on the other side. This way, the mare cannot rush forward or move to the side very far when the stallion tries to mount her. In more difficult cases, you can use restraints such as breeding hobbles, twitches and sedation. But we have had great success with just being patient with maiden mares.”

For mares that still won’t relax, Burkhart falls back on some of these other methods. “I always use hobbles when doing a live cover because one kick could seriously damage the stallion, and this is especially important with maiden mares,” she says. “If the mare is still too nervous to stand, I will twitch her if necessary, or give her some ace to take the edge off.”

Edmonds also points out that maiden mares who are not showing heat signs to a stallion can be even harder to breed. “Some stallions are very vocal when they tease, and this may intimidate or frighten a maiden mare, and cause her not to show heat signs to the stallion,” she says. “If possible, try a quieter stallion or a gelding to tease a mare like this. If you do not have access to another stallion, try moving the stud away from her until she gets used to how vocal he is. Then move him back closer to her to tease.”

When this method does not work, Edmonds uses drugs to bring the mare into a strong cycle. “We give Regu-Mate for eight days, then give the mare Lutalyse to bring her in,” she says. “The Regu-Mate shuts her cycling down and the Lutalyse will start it again. This gives us a good strong heat cycle. We have had a lot of success with mares showing heat signs doing this. If the mare will still not show heat signs, she should be checked by a vet. The vet can determine when the mare should be bred—live cover is usually not possible.”

Good Moms

Maiden mares can sometimes have unacceptable reactions to their foals after birth because of lack of experience. But a lot can be done to help first-time mothers accept their babies.

“Maiden mares that have flighty temperaments tend to be scared of their own foals at birth,” says Marona. “But if a mare is kept in a paddock next to new foals where she can safely observe them, this can better ready her for her foal to come.”

Burkhart reports she has had great success with maiden mares raising their foals, although has seen some that are not accepting of the new baby right away. “If the mare gets aggressive toward the foal, put a halter on her and work with her,” she says. “Reprimand her when she acts aggressive toward the foal, and praise and reassure her when she is calm. She will eventually come around. Some mares take six hours for this to happen, some respond instantly.”

Burkhart notes that pain in the udder is often the reason young mares will refuse to allow new foals to nurse, and recommends putting the mare against a wall so she can’t spin around. “Put the mare where she can’t get away,” she says. “Milk her down, too, so the fullness is gone. This will make it hurt less when she is nursing. Sometimes with maiden mares, they are so swollen, they don’t even have a teat. Get that milk down so the foal has something he can grab on to.”

According to Edmonds, it is important to be present when a maiden mare foals. “Put a leather halter and catch rope on the mare before she foals,” she says. “This will make it easier to catch her if you need to after she foals. If the mare is afraid of the foal and does not go near it after foaling, put a lead rope on her and take her over to the foal. If she has not smelled the sack that was around the foal, take some of it and rub it on her nose so she gets her foal’s scent. Let her smell and lick and even nibble on the foal if she wants to—these are all ways of bonding.”

Burkhart points out that maiden mares often get a bad rap. “Just be quiet and patient with a maiden mare, and she will come around,” she says. “If you get to a point where you are fighting with her, this isn’t good. If she refuses to stand no matter what, think about what else might be going on with her.”