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Managing Heat Cycles in Mares

Mares are often protective of their feed, especially when pastured with other horses, but they can become especially crabby when they're in heat.

For horse owners with mares, heat cycles in mares is an entirely different element of equine management. Regardless of whether you plan to breed your mare, her heat cycles will affect her--and subsequently you. In order to better understand and care for your mare, you need to understand her heat cycles. The last thing a horse owner wants is for heat cycles to interfere with riding and training and horse safety. Horse health care is extremely vital with a cycling mare, so these horse tips from the horse experts will help you and your mare stay healthy, safe and productive.

Reproduction is the most basic, strongest drive your horse has - even to the point of taking precedence over eating. Small wonder then that your mare's reproductive cycles may produce pretty obvious signs, and her attention when in season ("heat") is not primarily focused on you. Understanding what's going on, and the timing, can help you deal with it more effectively.

Mares typically cycle regularly between April and early September. For a few months on either side of that, the ovaries are in the process of either gearing up for spring or slowing down for winter and may produce one or multiple follicles at irregular times. During these spring and fall transition periods, the mare may or may not show signs of being in season. Reproductive behavior is most likely to be noticed during the fertile period between April and September.

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A mare's cycle is shorter than a woman's. The average length is three weeks, with most falling within the range of 18- to 23-day cycles. The mare will be in season ("show heat") for an average of five days during each cycle, with a range of three to seven or eight days. Many people complain that their mare is in season every two weeks and think that's abnormal, but it's not. The normal cycle is for the mare to be in season for the better part of a week, followed by two weeks out, then another week or so in.

When a Mare's in Heat

· Avoid approaching the mare from behind.
· Begin grooming at the neck and shoulders before working back to the sensitive flanks.
· Ovulation can produce pain, so give the mare some Banamine if her
irritability is extreme.
· Try to interrupt the heat-cycle symptoms only during work or riding sessions. Don't pick at her.
· Consider focus-type lessons, such as ground poles and changes of speed and direction.

Typical signs that the mare is in season include holding the tail elevated, "winking" (opening and closing) the lips of the vulva and variable amounts of squatting and squirting of urine and mucus. A mare's level of activity usually slows down a bit, and she often seems preoccupied. It's more difficult to get and hold her attention, because frankly you're not the most important thing on her mind at the time. These are the signs of being in full-blown "heat," which will intensify gradually over a few days, then stop abruptly after she ovulates.

Just before coming into season, and often for the first few days they are showing signs, some mares are very irritable and sensitive to touch. They may threaten to kick or even bite. Part of this is because the hormonal changes are making her focus elsewhere so that she is more easily startled. Pressure-like pain from the enlarging follicle and/or pulsations in the ducts that will carry the egg to the uterus are also likely involved.

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