Not the least important branch of stud-management is that which deals with the care and protection of mares during the period of pregnancy, and it is not too much to say that a considerable percentage of the sickness and mortality ordinarily prevailing in our breeding-studs results from causes of a common and preventable character. Of these, some are especially conspicuous, and perhaps none more so than the prevailing and rapidly-extending system of undue feeding, fattening, and pampering, to which mares of the heavy breed are subjected in the course of their show career.
This is an evil so obvious to anyone concerned in horse-breeding, and so universally admitted by all, that neither evidence nor argument is called for here. Were it otherwise, ample testimony would be found in the stud-books of our heavy breeds. Here it is clearly shown that the productiveness and breeding merit of our great champion mares stand at an almost irreducible minimum, and the limited number of successful produce among their offspring is such as to leave no doubt as to the pernicious effects of the "getting up" and "letting down" to which they are subjected, in the course of their show career. The obesity in which the great bulk of our show mares are found during the exhibition season is a state altogether inconsistent with the exercise of the full measure of their productive powers. With every organ in the body encumbered with fat and impeded in function to the verge of disease, it would be strange indeed if the foetus did not suffer in point of size and constitution. Nor does the mischief of this injurious practice end here, for the danger to both dam and foal where any impediment to parturition arises is multiplied manifold, firstly by diminishing the room naturally available for the passage of the foetus, and secondly by lowering the vitality and strength of the clam, and adding to the difficulty of delivery. It is not only in these immediate effects that this practice proves hurtful, but long after it has been discontinued, sterility, or a disposition to abort - one or the other - is often left behind, while the capacity to reproduce in the offspring that vigour of growth and frame which characterizes the parent is frequently weakened beyond recovery.
Good general health is unquestionably the bodily condition most conducive to productiveness in the dam and growth in the young, and this state can only be acquired and maintained in its fullest measure by a judicious system of liberal feeding and apportionment of suitable work. It must, however, be recognized that while the former may, and should, be within the reach of all who aspire to horse-breeding, the latter is, for obvious reasons, impossible of universal adoption. Mares kept exclusively for breeding purposes lead a life of idleness - in what is usually but erroneously regarded as a natural state. As to pasturing brood-mares much might be said, but it will be sufficient to note the chief points in which it may fail of success. Not the least important of these is the nature of the country. Steep hills and rough ground should certainly be avoided, and especially so where the mares are big and roomy, and in all cases when pregnancy is far advanced. Very naturally, to any suggestion of this kind may be opposed the condition of mountain ponies. Mountain ponies, however, are neither big nor roomy, nor are they highly bred, nor highly fed, nor highly domesticated. Their susceptibility to outside impressions cannot be compared with that resulting from the long years of cultivation and artificial treatment of our improved breeds. Besides, there is no evidence to show that even these denizens of the mountains do not suffer as breeding animals from the physical conformation of the country they inhabit.
Of still greater importance to the well-being of the brood-mare is the nature of the soil from which she draws her sustenance. That best adapted to stud purposes is such as will neither fatten nor starve, but supply a steady growth of herbage of a sound and nutritive character throughout the greater portion of the year. Low-lying, damp situations, where the grass comes sour and rank, where the soil is wet, and dense fogs prevail in the cold nights of spring and autumn, are alike conducive to abortion and prejudicial to health. At all times the winter grazing of pregnant mares needs considerable care and attention on the part of the manager, and the resort to dry, nourishing diet should not be too long delayed. When it should be commenced will depend upon the nature and quality of the herbage, the size of the pasture, the number of stock upon it, the state of the season, and, above all, upon the condition of the mares. The last-named should never be allowed to get low. Poverty on grass is the worst form of poverty, not only because it is usually attended with exposure, but also because of the tendency which the cold indifferent herbage of the autumn and winter possesses of lowering the temperature of the body. This kind of treatment not only predisposes to abortion, but at the same time retards the development of the foetus, and tends to impair its vitality and render the foal an easy prey to any disease that may overtake it at the period of birth.