Mares are creatures of mystery, and a source of infinite fascination… At this time of year, breeders’ ‘mare checking’ activities go into overdrive. Even though science tells us that it is a complete waste of time, we have ALL placed our ear on the side of our mare’s belly more than once to listen out for… well, something! And religiously, morning and night, and in between whenever the mood takes us, tails are lifted, boobs examined, vulvas stared at, and photographs of said boobs and vulva placed on Facebook (I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to all my non-breeding and, even worse, non-horsey Facebook friends – if there are any left – for quite probably spoiling their breakfast on numerous occasions).
To indulge my breeding season related mare obsession, I herewith embark on part 2 of my typology of broodmares – many thanks for the great suggestions from the breeding community after the publication of my first blog entry on the subject! For those of you who have not read that one and join us in medias res, feel free to scroll down on the blog page for mare types 1-4!
5. The Thoroughbred
So far, my mare types have not been entirely breed-specific, and I don’t really intend to go down that route, but of course – and those who are lucky or mad enough to own a thoroughbred mare will not be surprised to hear this – thoroughbreds are special, and deserve an exception. For a start, it never ceases to amaze me that they have not died out yet, despite all their very best efforts to ensure their imminent extinction. If there were a Darwin Awards for horses, the thoroughbreds would invariably occupy the top spots every year. For thoroughbred mares do not like to indulge in any activity normally deemed conducive to one’s survival, such as eating, or sleeping. In fact, a thoroughbred mare spends her entire life in hectic motion and a state of utmost alert, with even the slightest noise or disturbance destined to send her into overdrive. Until, that is, it is time to give birth. The onset of contractions, it appears, is just the very thing to make a thoroughbred mare think that now is the time to have a good rest, after all. She promptly falls into a state of lethargy otherwise only witnessed in teenage schoolchildren subjected to a double lesson in Latin conjugation, leaving the huffing, puffing, pulling and shoving to her long suffering owner who at this stage usually starts fantasising about breeding Welsh mountain ponies, instead.
As soon as the birth is over, normality (if there ever is such a thing with a thoroughbred) is resumed, as the next few months are, apparently, crucial for the passing on of the ancient thoroughbred lore from mother to child. These include:
- Running up to the fence at full pelt, throwing yourself on the ground, and slipping sideways underneath it
- Developing a digestive disorder at the drop of a hat (and I mean that literally)
- Falling inexplicably and deeply in love with the most unsuitable horse on the yard (thoroughbreds live by the principle that opposites attract, and invariably become attached to the most unlikely candidates, from wooly Shetland to giant Shire, and consequently refuse to go anywhere without it)
The next 25 years of Baby’s life are spent by the anxious breeder/owner trying to keep the little darling from killing himself in one imaginary way or another (and yes, thoroughbred’s have a very vivid imagination…)
6. The Tricky Bugger
The Tricky Bugger has a variety of names, most of which cannot be repeated in polite company. Every stud, even the smallest, has at least one (partly because they are not all that easy to get rid of, a bit like that unwanted Christmas present from Aunt Agatha that you have a vague inkling has been doing the rounds under the Christmas tree more than once…). We have all heard tales of tricky mares from exasperated riders, but all of those pale into insignificance when you consider that breeders don’t just have to pop a saddle on her and hope for the best. Have you ever considered what could happen to you if you put your hand up a tricky mare’s backside? Or perhaps tried to squeeze some milk from her udder for testing? … – well, exactly! Yet breeders face the likelihood of a sudden and painful death on a regular basis… it takes nerves of steel (and, come to think of it, toes, arms, and a skull of steel would come in just as useful) to own a Tricky Bugger.
And why do we do it? Because tricky buggers seem to make wonderful, lovely, adorable and talented children. And because there is a rumour going round that tricky mares will be mellowed by the experience of carrying a child – although this seems to be born less from evidence than from the breeders’ eternal sense of optimism. Tricky buggers are also invariably the most talented of horses who will piaffe on the spot while knitting an aran jumper and jump a 6ft hedge backwards (although, as it happens, neither movement can ever be carried out with an actual rider on her back).
7. The Good Doer
Initially, the good doer is every breeder’s dream. ‘She’ll be cheap to keep’, they say, ‘broodmares need to be roomy and content’, they say… Little do they know that owning a Good Doer carries its very own set of anxiety inducing challenges:
Challenge #1: The Phantom Pregnancy
The Good Doer will exhibit all outward signs of pregnancy regardless of whether they are carrying a child or not. Which means there is an entire industry of pregnancy test providers that flourishes in late winter and early spring, when the owners of barren Good Doers are looking at their mares from a sideways angle and think ‘better test to see if she is definitely empty, she looks very pregnant from where I am standing’…
The reason why it appears imperative to determine whether the Good Doer is pregnant or not is because of…
Challenge #2: The Right Diet
Long gone are the times when we could just feed our horses what we wanted and think no more about it. Oh no. Because ever looming are the threats of metabolic syndrome, laminitis, equine diabetes, and cushings disease, compelling every horse owner to become an expert in equine nutrition and metabolism. Hay is meticulously analysed for nutrient content, and can no longer be fed as it is. Oh no, it must be either soaked, or steamed, or sprinkled with water collected from the tears of virgins before it is deemed suitable for equine consumption. Diets must be carefully balanced and optimised, weighed out to the nearest micro-gramme to ensure the exact right combination of vitamins and minerals are consumed at the exact right rate (alas, horses are naturally messy eaters, given to spreading their feeds all over the floor and thus wreaking havoc with any attempts at nutritional exactness, giving the average horse owner their own anxiety induced set of stomach ulcers to match).
This alone is bad enough, but owners of Good Doer broodmares now face…
Challenge #3: Feeding for Pregnancy
For, we are told, pregnancy carries its very own set of dietary requirements that appear entirely at odds, nay diametrically opposed to the measures necessary to prevent the otherwise certain descend into equine obesity. Broodmare diets are packed with goodness, from the amino acids and minerals required to ensure a healthy foal development, to the calories needed to produce gallons upon gallons of milk. The slightest change in amino acid intake, we are told, causes a big, potentially life-changing, difference in foetal development. This leaves the owner of a Good Doer hanging between commandment #1: Though must not overfeed your horse! and commandment #2: Though must stuff your broodmare with all kinds of goodness!
As a result, it is very easy to spot the owner of a Good Doer broodmare. You can find them in the feed store reading the backs of feedbags armed with a calculator and mumbling to themselves as they are trying to find the solution to a mathematical equation that is simply not solvable.
8. The Lioness (aka the Lead Mare)
In some instances related to the Tricky Bugger, the Lioness is the most awe-inspiring of all broodmare types. Those who claim that there is nothing more impressive than a stallion strutting his stuff have clearly never seen a Lioness in full flow. There is absolutely no doubt, the Lioness runs the show. Signs of her presence in any field are easily spotted by the path she wears around the perimeter fence, as she is absolutely convinced it behooves her (see what I did there?) to police and guard ‘her’ herd. Seriously calling into question the widely held opinion that horses are ‘flight animals’, she will square up to anything she might consider a threat to her charges: foxes, bulls, tractors, lorries, vets, as well as unsuspecting passers by will have found themselves on the other end of a Lioness attack from time to time.
Owners of a Lioness sport an impressive array of cuts and bruises sustained when trying to get in the way, and indeed contain the – ummm – ‘energetic enthusiasm’ of their horse. On the upside, owning a Lioness comes with fringe benefits: she will invariably keep all the other horses subdued and in line, making them a delight to be around (or maybe it just appears that way relative to the strains exerted by handling the Lioness), and she will save you having to purchase a guard dog, as any new arrival to the yard will provoke a bout of whinnying so loud, it will make your average cockerel seek counselling. Followed by a frenzy of snorting and stampeding, convincing any wannabe-burglar that, after all, dragons do still roam in England, and it might perhaps be advantageous to burgle elsewhere.
Sadly, Lionesses are extremely busy with their day job, and find it difficult to achieve the kind of work-life balance conducive to the bearing and rearing of children. Nevertheless, they make a useful, if terrifying, addition to any stud.