Returning Broodmares to RidingBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · April 12, 2011
How quickly can a mare return to riding and training after she has a foal? Just as with new human mothers, the “rocking chair to riding ring” timetable depends on several factors.
First, was the mare in good physical condition before her pregnancy? Fit mares, especially those that continued to be ridden throughout the early and middle months of gestation, will be ready to return to work much sooner than obese, out-of-shape mares or “career” broodmares that have not been ridden in many years.
Second, what sort of birthing experience did the mare have? If she delivered easily without injuries, she will put the stress of parturition behind her fairly quickly. However, if the mare experienced tearing of tissues, excessive bleeding, a retained placenta, or any sort of infection after foaling, it may be several weeks or months before she recovers her strength and condition.
Last, a postpartum mare, no matter what sort of birthing she had, needs a little time to undo the physical changes that came with being pregnant. She must rid her body of the extra blood supply, tissues, and fluids that nourished her fetus. This accumulation of fluid may be seen as edema in the legs and lower belly for a period of time after birth, but it should disappear as the mare moves around in the weeks following foaling. Her internal organs, pushed into a smaller space by the growing foal, need to resume their normal locations, a process that usually goes well but leaves the mare somewhat more susceptible to colic for a brief time after foaling. Her abdomen will also resume its trim outline in the weeks after she foals, though this happens more quickly in fit mares than in those that are obese before pregnancy.
Putting a mare back into work is somewhat more complicated if she begins training while she is still nursing her foal. Separating the mare and foal is guaranteed to be stressful and noisy, and especially with a first-time mother, the mare will find it nearly impossible to keep her mind on her work. Allowing the foal to tag along in an enclosed ring or arena is usually not a problem, and some owners feel comfortable letting foals accompany their dams on short trail rides over familiar ground. If the foal must be separated, try to find a babysitter such as a quiet gelding that knows the foal. Weaning somewhat earlier than usual may be an option if it is essential to return the mare to work before the foal is four or five months old.
Be aware that mares need more water than usual while they are producing milk. Adding exercise will increase her liquid requirement, so be sure to keep the mare properly hydrated as she goes back into training.
As a general rule, allow six to eight weeks after foaling before getting back on the new equine mom. Evaluate each mare's condition on an individual basis as to when she can return to work after foaling. Ask a veterinarian for advice if the mare has sustained injuries during foaling, and as with any training program, begin with short, easy work periods and gradually move into longer and more strenuous training sessions.