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Mare re-absorbed pregnancy

From: Sherrie

Dear Jessica, I know that you do not answer veterinarian questions, but please if you can help me understand what my vet was talking about. I own a beautiful wonderful mare that I rescued three years ago. My vet thinks that she is probably about twenty years old. The people at the rescue society thought she was eighteen or nineteen. I guess that nobody can really know exactly how old she is but my point is nobody thinks she is older than twenty! My vet said that she has had foals before but he can't tell how many. I want a foal from her so bad, she is my best friend and I would just love to have a foal that I could raise up and train and ride (my mare can't be ridden except sometimes just at a walk). So this year I wanted her to have a foal. Well we started trying to get her pregnant in June because that would be the best natural time, but she didn't get pregnant and didn't get pregnant and finally we got her pregnant early in September. I was so happy!

Now I just had my vet come out to my barn to perform a pregnancy check to see if everything was going well, and he said there is nothing there, she has re-absorbed the foal. I have heard that mares do this if they are starving and sick so if this happened when I first adopted her I would understand. She was so thin you could see all of her bones then. But that was two years ago and now she is beautiful and fat, not fat fat but just good-looking in good condition fat! My vet says she is at a good weight. So why exactly would her body need to re-absorb her foal? My vet just said "That happens sometimes" and he is sorry that everything happened so late this year but we can try again next year. I am so sad now, and I need to know if there is some supplement that I can give my mare to let her body know that it is safe and doesn't need to re-absorb her baby. It would just kill me if this happens again next year. I want that foal! What can I do, and exactly why do mares re-absorb their foals anyway? My girlfriend told me that if my mare had still been pregnant at 60 days she couldn't have re-absorbed the foal after that because it would be too big. Does that mean that if a mare makes it to 60 days pregnant she will definitely get through the rest of the pregnancy and have the foal? My vet never told me that, but my girlfriend and her husband have five mares and a lot of experience breeding horses, so they probably know what they are talking about. But they weren't able to tell me why a mares would re-absorb a foal during those first 60 days. Are there more reasons than only the starvation? Please answer me, I know you are not a vet but you are such a good explainer, and I am so sad. Sherrie


Hi Sherrie! First, let me say how sorry I am about your mare. Your vet is right, you can try again next year, and I hope you are successful then.

If you've owned her for two years and she's in good condition, it's extremely unlikely that the memory of starvation would have any effect on her ability to become pregnant and carry a foal. Come to that, I've seen rescue cases that were both starving AND pregnant, and yet, once rescued, managed to survive and deliver their foals whilst they were being rehabilitated. From my own experiences with horse rescue, I'd say that a mare that loses a foal because of starvation will typically lose it only at the point where the mare's own life is threatened by the lack of nutrition. You might also want to consider the fact that a growing foal makes comparatively small demands on the mare's body until the last four months of the pregnancy. Therefore, I'm sure that your vet is right and what happened to your mare is just something that DOES happen sometimes.

Mares are notoriously difficult to get in foal and keep in foal - other animals are much easier to manage! You should not blame either yourself or your mare or your vet. Many mares DO lose their foals in the first two months. Many mares lose foals later in pregnancy also - there's nothing magical about 60 days, and there's NO date you can reach during any mare's pregnancy and say "Okay, NOW she's safe, the foal is safe, and everything will be fine from this moment on." Alas, it just doesn't work that way.

I think that part of the reason for your confusion is the fact that your veterinarian used a term that is both misleading and incorrect. This doesn't mean that he tried to deceive you, or that he doesn't realize that it isn't correct - it's a term that is very COMMONLY used (or, rather, MISUSED), even by veterinarians. Mares do NOT "re-absorb" or "absorb" or "resorb" their foals (and just by the way, "re-absorb" doesn't even make sense from a grammatical standpoint, as you could only RE-absorb something you had previously absorbed!). The truth is that when mares lose a conceptus early in the pregnancy, they don't absorb, etc. - they simply abort, and a much more accurate descriptive term would be "early term spontaneous abortion". The tiny conceptus passes through the cervix and is expelled from the mare's body, but it is so extremely tiny that even if you were to spend those first two months sitting behind your mare, spending every second of every day and night in rapt contemplation of her backside, it's highly unlikely that you would notice anything odd.

Ask your vet to discuss the correct terms with you. Each loss is technically an abortion, whether you're dealing with an early embryonic death (EED - the term is usually used to refer to an abortion that takes place before the 15th day of the pregnancy), or an embryonic death (this term is usually used to refer to an abortion that takes place between the 15th and the 40th days of pregnancy), a fetal death (an abortion that takes place after the 40th day of pregnancy), or a stillborn foal.

As with humans, these early spontaneous abortions are often caused by a defect in the embryo or foetus - they are often nature's way of saying "This one wasn't right; something was wrong; we'll have to try again later." When that happens, again whether the pregnancy was equine or human, the humans involved will typically blame themselves or their management. Some will blame the doctor or the vet. They ought not to be blaming anyone or anything - except, of course, for Mother Nature... and there's not much point in blaming HER.

I think that you will feel much better if you'll talk with your vet, explain your dismay and your confusion, tell him about your worries that your mare's history might affect her ability to carry a foal to term, and ask him if there is anything about your mare's management that he feels you should have done differently. I'm sure that he will be able to reassure you on every single point. I know that you must be very frustrated, but you should realize that these spontaneous early term abortions happen for a reason, and that if a foal cannot be carried to term, it's easier on the mare to lose it sooner than later in the pregnancy. Since your mare is healthy and in good condition, and your veterinarian doesn't seem to have any hesitation about trying again next spring, try to relax, don't blame anyone, and continue to take good care of your mare. When spring comes around, you CAN try again, and I wish you the very best of luck next breeding season!

Jessica

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