Breeding and Gestation
While horses in the wild mate and foal in mid to late spring, in the case of horses domestically bred for competitive purposes, especially horse racing and various futurities, it is desirable that they be born as close to January 1 in the northern hemisphere or August 1 in the southern hemisphere as possible so as to be at an advantage in size and maturity when competing against other horses in the same age group. When an early foal is desired, barn managers will put the mare “under lights” by keeping the barn lights on in the winter to simulate a longer day, thus bringing the mare into estrus sooner than she would in nature. Mares signal estrus and ovulation by urination in the presence of a stallion, raising the tail and revealing the vulva. A stallion, approaching with a high head, will usually nicker, nip and nudge the mare, as well as sniff her urine to determine her readiness for mating.
Once fertilized, the oocyte (egg) remains in the oviduct for approximately 5.5 more days, and then descends into the uterus. The initial single cell combination is already dividing and by the time of entry into the uterus, the egg might have already reached the blastocyst stage.
The gestation period lasts for about eleven months, or about 340 days (normal average range 320–370 days). During the early days of pregnancy, the conceptus is mobile, moving about in the uterus until about day 16 when “fixation” occurs. Shortly after fixation, the embryo proper (so called up to about 35 days) will become visible on trans-rectal ultrasound (about day 21) and a heartbeat should be visible by about day 23. After the formation of the endometrial cups and early placentation is initiated (35–40 days of gestation) the terminology changes, and the embryo is referred to as a fetus. True implantation – invasion into the endometrium of any sort – does not occur until about day 35 of pregnancy with the formation of the endometrial cups, and true placentation (formation of the placenta) is not initiated until about day 40-45 and not completed until about 140 days of pregnancy. The fetus sex can be determined by day 70 of the gestation using ultrasound. Halfway through gestation the fetus is the size of between a rabbit and a beagle. The most dramatic fetal development occurs in the last 3 months of pregnancy when 60% of fetal growth occurs.
Colts are carried on average about 4 days longer than fillies