Newsworthy: Males Make Pregnant Horses Abort

I’m not a horse person, and I don’t think I ever will be. I think to truly be a horse person, for better or worse, you need to spend many years in their company. They’re not like dogs who have been so selected for companions that we understand their emotions even if we are not behaviorists. Additionally it’s harder for us to comprehend the way a prey animal views the world, much as it’s hard to understand the thoughts of people with severe phobias, OCD, or Autism (of course, if you’re Temple Grandin, this does not apply to you šŸ™‚ ). In short, a relationship, whether as master, companion, or physician between yourself and equine needs to be developed before you can operate on a “horse person” level.

Until that day, I’m limited to looking at horses in an abstract sense, an academic one. My efforts to get to know these animals through playing Polo have been mildly successful, but I still don’t feel the understanding that I do among other animals, whether it be a feral cat or an old retriever. Heck, I feel like I understand cattle better than horses. However, I am still very interested in their physiology, behavior, and interactions. I’ve greatly enjoyed riding and spending time with these animals, maybe I’m on my way.

My news browsing today led me to this article. Which was really neat because I just finished the horse maternal behavior in my behavior book (Houpt) that I’ve been reading in my spare time. Obviously traveling to use a foreign stallion to breed your horse is extremely common, as you may be paying for some race winner etc.. Protecting that investment and avoiding a needless abortion of the foal you paid for is important.

The article is interesting to me however, because the implications of messing with natural animal processes here show a direct loss of revenue from an industry perspective. I am not a holistic or natural training/management supporter, nor do I agree with any of the principals and claims made by animal rights supporters, but animal welfare is a goal everyone should strive for, and improving animal welfare benefits both the producer as well as the animals they are utilizing. The article suggests that mares who have just been bred away from home should be allowed to freely mate with stallions at home, using vasectomized stallions so that you don’t inadvertently breed a foal that you do not want if the desired breeding was unsuccessful.

This could also provide the benefit of unwanted males still having an industry job, if their genes are not desirable, they don’t need to be culled or shipped to mexico to be processed for meat (if we could once again allow horses to be used as meat in the US that would be ideal…), they could be used as the “home males” that prevent abortions resulting from their presenceĀ  following breeding.

Midway through writing this I realized I was basing these assumptions based on a BBC news report, so I went ahead and found the original article (not sure if non ONID users can use that link).

After reading the actual article, my assumptions remain supported, that mares who were in the present of home geldings or stallions across a fence (unable to solicit coitus to confuse paternity) were 7 times more likely to abort than those allowed to have direct contact with familiar males. Though I was wrong that this should be implemented as an industry practice, as housing bred mares in their own enclosure with no other males present or nearby has even higher reproductive success.

That’s enough thoughts on this particular article, but I will say this, the possibility implied in the discussion that mares may be able to consciously choose to abort their foal though an unknown mechanism, is really cool.

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