Heart & Soul Equine

Heart and Soul Equine was established out of a real desire to help horses. I also love helping folks, through useful information, become better partners with a horse. This information provides for a happier horse, therefore a better outcome and relationship for both.

To Spay or Not to Spay; That is the Question

“Super mellow and not your typical mare,” was the wording in the ad placed for your horse’s sale.  Did you read it incorrectly or did you miss something?  Somehow, the horse in the ad is not the horse you brought home and you realize that she has fallen short of your expectations.  If this has happened to you, you’re not alone.
‘Mare days’ – those days characterized by anything but mellow behavior.
It is an unfortunate fact that the hormonal mood swings displayed by many mares has led to a ’mare day’ stigma that now sees geldings outselling mares at a rate of 4 to 1 in the world of horse sales.  So many wonderful mounts are passed over due to this ’typical’ stereotyping which is in fact a much misunderstood condition called estrus. 
 Estrus – the follicle phase, averaging 5-7 days in length, when a mare is sexually receptive to a stallion. 
If you spend a little time in understanding a ‘typical’ mare, you very soon begin to detect that these remarkable girls deserve some consideration. 
A mare displaying a strong estrus cycle is simply a mare that Mother Nature has indicated would be an excellent mother.  Granted, one might not have purchased their mare to breed, but should we spend endless time fighting with this natural situation when it occurs?  In some mares, the estrus condition is barely present – you may even wonder ‘if and when’ your mare is cycling – but in others mares it presents itself as a definite challange: a challange that can create so much friction between you and your beloved that you may even choose to sell. 
Common Behavior
The signs and ‘symptoms’ of estrus rotate on a natural 19 to 21 day cycle and will most commonly present themselves in a ‘gelding-mare-moment‘ but in some cases, the process can become a little more overwhelming to say the least.  These are;
Ÿ  Winking – this describes the mare opening and closing the lower part of her vulva. Usually exhibited near or for another horse
Ÿ  Peeing incessantly and at irregular times
Ÿ  Calling – vocalizing her need to stay as the center of attention
Ÿ  High bursts of energy, fits or even stallion like behavior 
All of the above can leave you wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into and if any of it resonates with you, taking time to analyze the options for both you and your horse would be time well spent.
If you’re in search of an answer to relieving the estrus behavioral symptoms your own ‘eternal mother’ is displaying, the following options are worth considering:
Ÿ  Herbs  These may produce a mild effect overall and can be a good option for the ‘easy’ mare with an occasional condition.  However, they may not be the answer for a strong cycler. 
Ÿ  Depo -provera or shots  these are veterinarian administered, monthly shots, of the same drug used by some women to relieve the symptoms of severe PMS.  The shots can provide a bit of relief in most cases, but the overall effect may not be significant enough in all mares. 
Ÿ  Regu-mate this is a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone which suppresses estrus and fools the horse’s body into believing it is pregnant.  However, it is a pricy option at approximately $250.00 for a 3 month supply and it also comes with its own set of precautions as absorption into the human body can produce challenges with the human cycle.  For this reason, rubber gloves for handling the product are highly recommended.  A dispenser gun can also be purchased for around $35.00, allowing the handler to coat the feed without direct contact.  On effectiveness or the balancing of cycles, it is my experience that Regu-mate provided the best overall results of the three.
Some mares are very uncomfortable during their period of estrus and they can suffer many of the same conditions experienced by women around their time of the month. Symptoms such as cramping, moodiness, and lower back pain etc. are just as likely to be suffered by a mare as they are by a woman.  These symptoms are not always alleviated by the above products as mares still ovulate on these remedies. That brings us to spaying.
To Spay or Not to Spay?
Listed below are important points to consider when making the decision whether or not to spay.
1.  15 to 20% of mares still continue to cycle during winter.  This is important for those considering Regu-mate as an option.  If your mare is one of the 15 – 20%, this would mean there would be no time off from the drug as it would need to be administered year round.  Case studies have not cleared this as safe and the cost would reach over $1000.00 per year for the remainder of your horse‘s life.
2.  There are 3 different stages of a mares cycle. Estrus is just one of three natural hormone driven stages in a mare’s reproductive cycle.  In simple terms, without the medical jargon, the stages are:
a.   Anestrus – the ‘I don’t care’ stage which in most mares represents the winter months.
b.   Estrus – the ‘Here I am boys’ stage in which winking and peeing are common behaviors, normally present for 5 to 7 days each cycle.
c.   Diestrus – the ’No, no, no, don’t even think about it’ stage when the hormone progesterone is present, lowering her desire to breed.
These are important to understand as spaying mimics the winter ’I don’t care’ stage. In effect, it generates a permanent reproduction shut down mode in a mare’s body. Regu-mate only mimics the ‘no, no, no’ or Diestrus period, meaning again, a mare will still ovulate and therefore may still suffer some of the uncomfortable symptoms of cycling.  Although a trial of Regu-mate will give you an approximate assimilation of what your mare would act like as a spayed mare, the natural behavior shown in the winter months would more likely resemble a closer approximation of spaying.  That is again if she actually shuts down.
The Spaying Procedure
For example, in Northern California, spaying is done at UC Davis in Dixon California. The cost of the procedure is quoted to be approximately $1800 to $2000 depending on after care developments and needs.  The winter months are recommended for spaying, while mares are not ovulating, although not required.  The whole procedure from preparation to completion takes about one and one half hours to two hours.  Surgery is performed by laparoscope, standing up in stocks, using drugs similar to those used in dentistry with the addition of an epidural.  Three small one half inch incisions are made in the left flank for cameras and tools and both ovaries are removed from an approximately three inch incision in the right flank.  Recovery time is minimal with a 12 x 12 box stall prescribed for two weeks and gentle hand-walking exercise only.  After two weeks, when the cut and cauterized fallopian tubes have started to repair, turnout in a quarter acre paddock is allowed and the frequency of hand-walking can increase.  After that, a gradual build up of regular work is in line.  Hormones take approximately three months to leave the mares body completely.  Your mare will come back ‘your mare’ after the procedure; she will still have all of her personality components intact without the hormonal influx she previously suffered.
If, after careful consideration and exploration of your own mare’s level of discomfort, you deem that the other available options are too prohibitive, either in terms of cost or in their level of effectiveness, it is recommended that owners of heavy cycling mares look into spaying as an option.
However, in closing this topic, it is important to note that this procedure is not a ‘fix all’ for all behavioral issues.  Many incidents of ‘typical’ mare behavior are not related to hormones at all, but are instead reflections of weak leadership that may have in fact developed from misunderstanding how to handle a high level hormonal horse.  The bottom line is that behavioral patterns or issues must be completely understood. Only with a sincere interest in learning to understand the difference, along with careful observation of your mare’s cycles and behavior, will both you and your horse be able to benefit fully from this procedure.

One Response to “To Spay or Not to Spay; That is the Question”

  1. I think you have noted some very interesting details , thankyou for the post.
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It is easy to forget in our day to day work with horses that there is much more involved than just hopping on and riding. Sandi reminds us that it is our responsibility to be the best caretakers possible for our trusty friends. It is also important not to become complacent in our dealings with horses and people connected with them… we should always strive to educate ourselves more, staying up to date with the latest news and information. Sandi’s 8 essentials are exactly that… Essential!

A. Milne – 36 Year Riding Veteran, Horse Owner and Equine Artist