Want to breed your mare - First step is an exam
A broodmare should be examined before breeding--preferably in the fall if she's barren, and soon after foaling if she was pregnant--to make sure her reproductive tract is healthy and capable of carrying a foal (or her next one) to term.
Issues for consideration are her age, general health and body condition, and reproductive history. A lameness or chronic problem that causes discomfort should also be addressed.
A mare that is in pain may not breed successfully, and a foot or leg problem may become worse with increased body weight during pregnancy.
A breeding soundness examination can be fairly basic, or more in-depth if you suspect that a mare might have a problem. A maiden mare should at least have a rectal examination, palpating the uterus and ovaries to determine if the reproductive tract is functional and that her vulva conformation is normal.
Even an older maiden mare may have some issues, even if she's never been bred before, just from changes due to age.
If it's a mare that had foals in the past but not recently, or has been bred and didn't have a foal, she should definitely have a thorough examination.
What the veterinarian does during the exam
Rectal palpation can give an indication about the general health of the uterus and ovaries (size, shape, texture, hardness). An ovary that is small and hard may be inactive.
Enlargement of the uterus or thickening of its walls could mean the mare had an infection that left scar tissue. A uterus that lacks proper tone and is flabby to the touch can be abnormal.
The veterinarian will probably also do an ultrasound, looking for things in the uterus that may not be palpable via the rectum.
The next step is to take a sample for a uterine culture (when the mare is in heat and her cervix is open), and possibly an endometrial biopsy to examine the uterine lining.
The biopsy is a diagnostic tool that can provide a lot of important information, and also helps predict the likelihood of this mare conceiving and maintaining a pregnancy to term. It can help assess scar tissue within the uterus.
Scar tissue is permanent and lowers the probability of the mare making it through a pregnancy. The veterinarian will also evaluate the vagina and cervix while taking the biopsy, checking for injury (from foaling), cervical tears or scar tissue that might interfere with maintenance of pregnancy.
History provides important clues
The veterinarian will consider the history of the mare, the findings of the rectal exam, ultrasound, the vulva conformation, endometrial biopsy, culture results, and can give you a fairly accurate probability of this mare conceiving or why she isn't conceiving and what might work to treat her.
It helps to know if the mare just retired from an athletic career (with possible athletic injuries, or drug therapy such as anabolic steroids that might hinder reproductive performance).
Past breeding and reproductive records are helpful--her heat cycle patterns, length of anestrus and transitional heats when coming out of anestrus, number of previous foals, how recently she had her last foal, gestation length, whether births have been normal or difficult, any foaling complications, retained placenta, and so on.
An accurate history can disclose factors that might directly or indirectly have an influence on her future reproductive abilities.
Sometimes owners don't realize how valuable the history can be, for determining the future success of that mare as a broodmare. If the mare hasn't conceived and the veterinarian has no other information, then he/she must go through the whole process of looking for the problem.
If the owner can elaborate and say that the mare hasn't had a heat cycle for 8 months, the veterinarian doesn't have to spend time looking at all the other possible problems and can focus on a hormonal problem--like a possible granulosa cell tumor in the ovary.
If an owner presents the whole history, it helps the veterinarian know where to focus, with specific diagnostic tests, rather than doing all of the tests.
Records (or evidence) of previous reproductive surgery such as Caslick's repair or correction of abnormal perineal conformation can indicate there was need for correction of a problem that might compromise conception or pregnancy.
Information about any prior uterine infection and previous treatment is also important.
Earlier data will be helpful when comparing results of subsequent examinations to determine whether the mare's condition/situation has improved, remained the same, or worsened.
Evidence of early embryonic death or early pregnancy loss during previous pregnancies (the mare checked in foal early on and later was open) is also important.
Good records can help determine the cause for loss of pregnancy, when combined with an examination of the mare's reproductive tract and diagnostic laboratory findings.
Those records, in conjunction with various aspects of the exam, will give the veterinarian a picture of what's going on, and how much time might be needed to correct it.
It's always helpful to do breeding soundness exams in the fall, to give more time to get a problem corrected before the next breeding season.
If there is inflammation or infection in the uterus, the longer it persists, the more likely there will be scar tissue present.
If the mare was bred this breeding season and didn't conceive, and she is examined in the fall, the veterinarian can do all the necessary tests and find out what's wrong, treat the mare, and maybe put her under lights in preparation for the next breeding season.
Early breeders at an advantage
It is always a good idea to get a mare ready for early breeding. This can get a problem mare started cycling earlier and gives you more time--early in the breeding season--to finish correcting any problem that might otherwise interfere with pregnancy.
A breeding soundness exam helps you prepare for the next breeding season, instead of going into it with a mare that's not fertile and you don&'t know what's wrong.
In that situation you might breed her several times and by the time you find out what's wrong you've lost the whole breeding season.