Embryo transfer in competition horses: Managing mares and expectations

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Summary

Embryo transfer (ET) is an accepted and successful technique for obtaining foals from mares without interrupting their competition careers. Recent research, however, suggests that the potential of factors including heat, exercise, repeated embryo flushing and repeated manipulation of the reproductive cycle using exogenous hormones to have a negative impact on fertility may have been underestimated. This paper reviews the evidence base for involvement of these factors in repeated failures to recover embryos from nongeriatric competition mares without obvious clinical or pathological indications of reproductive abnormalities. It concludes that, for some mares at least, a cessation of exercise for the periovulatory period and the period between ovulation and embryo flushing, combined with careful management of flushing-induced endometritis, and minimal hormonal manipulation of the reproductive cycle, may be necessary to optimise embryo recovery rates. Mare owners may have been encouraged to request ET for their mares following high-profile examples in the media of elite mares that have produced foals by ET whilst competing. The veterinarian should educate mare owners about the multiple factors that may affect the chances of recovering an embryo from their mares, and should manage the expectations of mare owners so that they do not approach ET programmes in the expectation that there will be no disruption to their training and competition plans.

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