Some mares are affected by being in season more than others. You might find she’s grumpier than usual, or doesn’t like being groomed or touched in certain areas, or you might notice a dip in performance.
Meeting a mare’s needs
As with any horse it’s important that all of their needs are met. The following represents the five domains model of animal welfare by Professor David Mellor:
- Correct nutrition — fibre-based and for her individual requirements.
- Environment — a suitable place to live in, with places to shelter, dry places to rest and space to move about.
- Prevention and or treatment of injury or disease — if you’re not sure, chat to your vet about any concerns you have.
- Natural behaviour — this is the ability to fulfil natural behavioural drives. These include having good foraging opportunities, being able to move freely and choose whether to play or rest. Competent handling and training that supports and teaches, and doesn’t hurt, frighten or confuse, is also important, as is good equine company — other horses that the mare gets on with.
- Mental domain — life wants to be mainly good and then she can deal with the stuff that’s not so good. We need to think that welfare is a state that’s experienced by mares. What is correct for an individual mare over the first four domains does depend on her natural adaptations as a horse and individual characteristics, and her own life experiences.
How all of these needs are met affects whether your mare is having a good experience or a bad one. Each of the first four domains generate your horse’s daily life experiences. When those experiences are mostly positive and the negative ones can be controlled and are short-lived, life can be said to be good.
Your mare’s experience over these four domains feeds into the fifth one: the mental domain that forms her welfare state.
Ways you can help
You can meet your mare’s needs, and learn to adapt to how she’s feeling and accept that some mares are just more sensitive due to their genetic inheritance.
Clinical animal behaviourist Jenni Nellist suggest the following eight things to think about when your mare is in season:
- Groups of two to four horses work well, especially where space is limited.
- Some mares are happier turned out with geldings than with other mares.
- If you do turnout in a big group, you need enough land for the horses to form splinter groups. This might be a series of fields where you have around three acres per horse and the gates are left open so they are able to roam.
- Stable companions should also be chosen wisely. Stables force horses to stand in close proximity to one another. When they can’t see one another, they become stressed by isolation, so when they can see each other it’s best that they like their neighbour. It’s worth switching things around if you can in order to find a compatible horse for your mare to live next door to.
- Consider her nutrition. Horses are selective grazers, and at their healthiest when they have access to multiple different forages. The right selection will support the gut and hormone regulation for optimal gut/brain function, easing the effects of other stressors. Supplementation and access to forage that suits her needs is likely to make for a happier mare.
- Find out where she likes to be touched. Most like a good wither scratch, but if she’s feeling really touchy that might not be acceptable. Learn to read her mood and stop if she tells you.
- Find out what grooming tools she usually likes and try to only use those when she’s in season.
- Use licks or a haynet to distract her when you need to do those essential hands-on activities, like grooming.
‘Being more sympathetic built a stronger partnership’
Your Horse’s freelance gear editor, Allison Lowther, adjusted her training schedule when she noticed a dip in her mare Wish’s performance coincided with her being in season.
“The first summer I owned Wish our training and competing was going well, but every so often she wasn’t quite so willing,” says Allison who has owned the 17-year-old Hanoverian since she was three.
“My trainer at the time suggested that I keep a diary of her behaviour as he thought it could be her seasons causing this. She wasn’t moody, just lethargic and a bit tight in her back. By keeping a diary it soon became obvious that it coincided with when she was in season.
“Once I knew this, I adjusted her training so those few days when she wasn’t quite herself were either rest days or hacking days. I would try and avoid competing too, as there was a clear drop in her dressage scores.
“As she has got older this behaviour has disappeared, but I feel that being more sympathetic to how she was feeling and giving her a few easy days has very much helped to build a really strong partnership.
“As a woman myself, I kind of understand how she is feeling!”