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AskHQ: Exercise in pregnancy

Q: Can you exercise a pregnant mare?

A: Many owners are very concerned about riding a pregnant mare, for fear they may harm the mare or growing foal. Vets generally, however, disagree apart from in the first and last months of pregnancy. Vets generally feel that as long as the mare is healthy, and the pregnancy isn’t considered to be a high-risk pregnancy (for example an older mare, repeated previous abortions, or a complicated pregnancy history) then you really can saddle up and have a ride. Many vets in fact believe that exercise is good for the mare.

The only real exception is, as mentioned above in the first month and last month of pregnancy.

Some vets feel that in the first month to six weeks of pregnancy it can be worth being cautious with exercise. They would often prefer to see the pregnancy well established before exercise begins. However, in the vast majority of cases, it should be noted that riding should not cause any real issues, even in these early stages, but it is better to be safe than sorry!

At the eight-month mark, most would agree that the work-out, whilst it can still continue, should step back in intensity. The growing foal at this point starts to put a lot of strain on the mother’s body – most of all on her lungs, as her diaphragm is displaced by the pregnancy so she struggles to take in as much air as previously. To exacerbate this issue, the placenta of the mare is reasonably inefficient in its transfer of oxygen to the foal. Therefore, any additional demands placed on the respiratory system of the mare (for example through exercise) can result in oxygen deprivation of both mother and foal. This can, in rare instances, lead to abortion or damage to the foal. Therefore, intense exercise should definitely be avoided from month eight.

However, some exercise is still important in that last couple of months, as heavily pregnant mares have a tendency to stand very still, which means they are prone to developing swollen legs. Hacking at a walk is the best option at this point. The mare may become so heavily laden in the last month of pregnancy, however, that even hacking becomes overtly uncomfortable due to the presence of the saddle and the additional weight of the rider. This is obviously an indication that it is time to stop riding altogether and to begin hand-walking. Twice daily hand-walking for 10 minutes at a time is recommended in these instances.

Remember: It goes without saying that the mare should have plenty of paddock time throughout her entire pregnancy. The above Q&A is dealing with exercise quantities above and beyond the standard paddock time.