Mares are ‘long day breeders’ meaning that they usually breed during late spring, summer and early autumn. Mares are also termed ‘seasonally polyoestrous’ breeders, which means they cycle (have oestrous cycles) many times per year but only during the breeding season. A mare’s cycle (oestrous cycle) lasts between 21-23 days. During this time she will have 3-8 days of standing heat where she would be receptive to a stallion for breeding.
A mare’s behaviour will change during her cycle. During the non-breeding or anoestrus period (winter) a mare will not show signs of “heat” or breeding as her reproductive system becomes less active. Each mare will show different behaviours during her cycle, so it is important that you become aware of your horse’s tendencies.
What are the signs of standing heat?
The signs of heat can differ from mare to mare and, to the untrained eye, can be difficult to detect. Teaser animals are often used to determine whether a mare is in season or not. Mares in season usually display one or more of the following signs:
- When approached they may squeal and attempt to kick
- Mares will often dribble small quantities of urine whilst holding their tails high
- One of the more obvious signs is of “clitoral winking” with the lips of their vulva.
As the mare reaches the peak of the heat display period, she will often “show” continuously and almost demand attention from stallions. The mare may ovulate at some stage throughout the period of standing heat but this can be quite variable. Once the mare has ovulated she will cease to display the signs of oestrous and will in fact become quite aggressive. Care must be taken at this point to avoid injury to the teaser or stallion. This stage is called “dioestrous” which lasts for 10 to 16 days upon which the mare will again commence her cycle.
Your veterinary surgeon will be able to provide further advice on breeding and cycling mares.
There are three main types of stable vice:
They generally arise from the horse being kept in an unnatural environment.
Horses are naturally free-range, grazing herbivores that live in large social groups, therefore stabling a horse is unnatural and boring for them. Horses attempt to cope with increased stress, boredom and loneliness by developing these vices because, although they are provided with food, warmth, water and shelter, their choice of food, social interactions and movement may be limited.
Crib-biting is where the horse chews at objects such as the stable door, fence etc. It can occur in both stable-kept horses as well as those at pasture. There are numerous ways to prevent or distract horses and your veterinary surgeon will be able to advise you of the most appropriate for your horse.
Windsucking is where the horse swallows air by arching its back and neck and sucking in. It may place its teeth on something to do this or can do it free standing. Wind sucking is thought to be able to cause complications such as colic, a failure to thrive and stomach ulcers. There are, again, a number of methods that can help prevent horses developing this vice, including surgery as a last resort. Your veterinary surgeon will be able to advise you of the most appropriate steps to take.
Horses that ‘weave’ move their head from side to side and will even move their forelimbs rhythmically. This is generally a sign of boredom or anxiety and can result in excessive wear of the front shoes. Unfortunately, other horses in the same yard can learn to weave. Your veterinary surgeon will best understand your particular situation and offer the most appropriate advice.
Increased turnout with companions, or even a stable companion such as a goat or pony, as well as stable toys may help to prevent these vices developing. Once a horse has learnt a vice it is notoriously difficult to cure.
Using noxious substances to coat wooden surfaces in the stable may help to prevent crib- biting. There are numerous devices for strapping to the neck to prevent wind sucking, with varying degrees of success. V-shaped grilles placed over the stable aperture will prevent visible weaving, although horses may simply retire within the stable to continue.
Headshaking is a common behavioural problem but it is, however, poorly understood. It occurs most frequently during the summer months and is often worse during sunny days as opposed to overcast ones.
What are the signs of headshaking?
The signs of headshaking in horses vary considerably. Some horses may just twitch their head from side to side whilst others will develop vigorous up and down movements of their heads. Additionally, the horse may try to rub its nose with its forelimb. The condition is more common in the summer and in horses that are being actively ridden, especially outdoors.
What are the causes of headshaking?
The exact cause of headshaking is often difficult to identify but can be due to a number of things including fly worrying, poor fitting tack, lameness, ear mites or an allergy. Additionally bright sunlight is thought to play a role, as well as more serious conditions of the head such as tumours or nerve problems.
What can be done if my horse is headshaking?
Headshaking is a frustrating condition to treat but your veterinary surgeon will attempt to identify an underlying cause and initiate an appropriate treatment. They will also advise you further on preventative measures you can take to reduce or eliminate the problem.
In addition, some things that you could try include using fly masks and/ or repellents, changing the field that your horse is usually turned out into (offering more shade or moving away from particular agricultural crops), or changing the nature of work that your horse does.