What will you do with your mare when she becomes difficult to get in foal? When she has a complicated foaling and it becomes dangerous for her to carry another foal? When you have a change in your breeding direction? When you decide to take a year or two off from breeding, or cease breeding altogether? Even if none of the above applies to you, have you given any thought to your mare's eventual retirement? Owning horses means accepting responsibility for the life and comfort of the horse which you own. Breeding horses increases these responsibilities exponentially. So what are the options when your mare reaches the end of her useful breeding life and needs a change of career?
If you own a valuable mare whose foals are always in demand, but you no longer feel she can carry a foal, you might consider using her as an embryo transfer donor mare. Her genetics would remain in play, but with none of the risks associated with pregnancy and foaling.
Rita Jennings of Avanti Stud has taken this route with her mare, Avanti Gregarious Gloria (RID). Aged 11, Gloria was retired from breeding due to difficult foalings, however she has won Three Counties Show five years running, received a very high Hornby Premium of 131 out of 135, and has produced two foals. Her first foal, Avanti Rannoch Morr (RID), by Young Prospect (RID), was a winner at County level in-hand, and won the Novice Heavy Weight Hunter class at EquiFest 2011. Her second foal, Avanti Justintime, by Tobias Corbett (RID) also enjoyed success in the show ring as a foal, as well as being awarded Supreme Champion Foal at the IDHS annual breed show. He is being kept entire by his owners as a stallion prospect.
Above: Avanti Gregarious Gloria
Similarly, if you own a mare who is reproductively sound, young, and not too small, but doesn't produce the quality expected, loaning her out as an embryo transfer recipient may be a viable option. If you have a mare who is a great producer, and you have the resources to do embryo transfer, you might even consider having two foals out of the better mare by transferring an embryo from her into the lesser quality mare.
Equine-Assisted Therapy or Learning
Well-handled mares who are happy living in a herd situation and are reasonably sound may be suitable for an equine-assisted learning or equine-assisted therapy group. Contact with animals is widely-acknowledged to be beneficial for mood and health, and many groups are now providing horses to facilitate therapy sessions, as well as leadership coaching. Some of these groups provide riding experience, but many simply provide the opportunity to observe, interact and bond with their horses.
Amanda Keech of Orchard Coaching likes to use former broodmares in her equine-assisted learning programme. She prefers horses (mares or geldings) in a mixed herd which are capable of living out comfortably. This way, trainees can observe natural herd dynamics and leadership in action. In her programme, the horses are also handled by trainees in order to establish a working relationship with the handler, as well as occasionally being led in hand while the trainee rides bareback without reins in order to experience a real feel for the horse. Amanda also notes that while many people find geldings "easier", mares require much more two-way communication - a real plus in a coaching situation.
Above: Katie, one of Amanda’s mares, in her new teaching role
Back in the Saddle
There is no reason that a sound mare could not be brought back into work as a riding horse. In fact, many broodmares in this country would probably command a much better price as a good, solid riding horse than as a broodmare. If you need to sell your mare, and she is sound, healthy, and rideable, do her (and yourself) a favour and get her going under saddle to give her that extra edge towards finding a five-star home.
Julie Hammond's mare, Porsche, enjoyed a change of career aged 11. After Julie stopped breeding so that she could work on backing and bringing on the youngsters she had already produced, she decided to sell Porsche to a friend. Porsche had earned BD points previously, and is now back working happily under saddle in a successful showing and riding club setting. Julie still owns Porsche's three-year old gelding who she recently backed.
Cate Ellis retired her TB mare from team-chasing at 19, and bred her last foal at 24. After weaning in 1997, Cate thought she was choosing the kindest option for Jenny by retiring her altogether, only to find that this met with her previously very healthy mare’s decline into an apparent depression, which had physical implications too.
Above: Porsche enjoying motherhood
Left: Jenny with her foal and Above: back under saddle
“Bringing her back into light work was like waving a magic wand over her; once she was back with a focus in her life, she returned to the lively, interested, cheeky mare she always had been”. Jenny continued happily under saddle for several more years, teaching a friend of Cate’s to ride, and she even hunted gently on home turf just after her 30th birthday, fighting hard against her rider’s decision that it was time to go home after a brisk two hours. “Knowing she was still important, even needed, if you like, made an enormous difference to her mental well-being. It was the very least she deserved after all the pleasure she'd given me over the years."
Home Sweet Home
Breeders with the resources and space may choose to allow their mares to retire at home, and live out their days in the herd or as a companion to future youngstock. Older broodmares can provide an invaluable education to younger horses in a herd setting. This is a popular option for smaller-scale breeders with their own land, as a way of giving back to a mare who has produced several foals. In fact, in an informal internet survey, most breeders questioned stated that they would retire and keep their mares as long as they are comfortable.
Sue Horn of Narramore Stud plans to retire her mares in this way when they fail to get in foal, however she owns several now in their late teens who continue to conceive easily. Her mare Cracklin' Rosie (by Frere Jacques xx), a showjumping mare who excelled especially at hunter trials, produced winners in dressage, show jumping, hunter trials, working hunters, and two of her foals are now part of the stud's broodmare herd. Cracklin' Rosie had her final foal at 18, and was retired simply because she'd been such a good broodmare, and they felt she deserved an early respite. Sadly, her retirement was cut short after four years due to a field accident which resulted in her euthanasia.