Foaling trouble for the world’s biggest breed – 23 March 2016

Harmony, a four year old prize winning Shire mare (Shires are the largest breed of horse in the world), foaled a lovely black filly with four white socks for her proud owners at Ingleside Shire Stud.

The birth went smoothly and the mare was bonding with her new foal Aria. Harmony had retained her membranes and her owner, Ineke Kuiper, was watching the mare and foal when Harmony’s hind leg caught a portion of membranes and pulled them suddenly before they were ready to come.

Ineke, who is an experienced foaling attendant, said when the membranes started to come away it was clear that something had gone terribly wrong.

“I was only a few meters away when I saw a large red mass emerge from her vulva that was clearly not foaling membranes – I knew straight away she was beginning to prolapse.

“Harmony became agitated and started spinning and treading on the membranes even further.

“I raced forward and caught the uterus before it hit the ground. I tried straight away to see if I could get it back in, but she was straining too hard and the uterus was entirely out and already bleeding profusely,” she said.

Uterine prolapse is a rare condition in horses with a poor survival rate – it is considered a life-threatening emergency. Survival is greatly dependent on the length of time that the uterus is prolapsed and the degree of damage to the blood vessels that supply the uterus via the broad ligament.

One common sequelae to uterine prolapse is fatal hemorrhage from these vessels. If mares survive this initial risk they are left with a risk of death from endotoxaemia related to the contaminated or compromised uterus once it is replaced into its usual position.

Recognising the seriousness of the complication, Ineke phoned Camden Equine Centre for veterinary assistance immediately. She restrained the mare in a breeding crush and attempted to brace the prolapsed uterus to keep it from getting damaged and heavily contaminated on the ground. This was extremely difficult as the mare was uncomfortable and agitated. A great deal of blood was being lost from a tear in the exposed uterus.

Dr Ed Annand, Camden Equine Centre’s reproduction and ambulatory vet, raced to the farm immediately on receiving the call and arrived within 20 minutes. Local Picton mixed practice veterinarian Bo Bjorkland arrived 10 minutes sooner and, working with Ed over the phone, administered sedation to the mare.

Ed’s initial assessment was not promising.

“It was apparent to all of us that Harmony was in big trouble,” Ed said. “She had collapsed and was lying in a pool of blood with almost white pale mucous membranes, a rapid heart rate (100 bpm) and a weak pulse. “It seemed at that time that Harmony would be unlikely to survive.”

Ed administered pain relief and performed an epidural anesthetic. He then spent the next 40 minutes cleaning and lavaging the uterus, before replacing it carefully (and with some difficulty) with the aid of a handy bottle of white wine that Ineke had been given the Christmas prior.

Ed returned twice daily for five days and then regularly for another week administering intravenous and oral fluid therapy, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory medications as well as performing regular high volume uterine lavages as required.

Ineke said she was very impressed with Ed’s veterinary care throughout both the emergency and in the following weeks.

“Treating a mare that we all thought was moments from death and a dire emergency, Ed was cool, calm and collected and was extremely particular as he worked on her to replace the uterus as clean and with as little trauma as possible in the circumstances.

“Harmony is a great show mare and despite her young age had already been hugely successful as a riding horse.

“We really couldn’t believe that Ed managed to save her. While not in foal this year, we are hopeful that she will go on to successfully breed again in the future. If not we still have a fabulous horse to show and ride that certainly would not be here if not for Ed’s great care.”

Ed said that this emergency call out, not long after he started at the Camden Equine Centre, was the start of a busy working relationship with Ingleside Stud (which is Australia’s largest and most successful Shire stud).

“Harmony was the first mare to foal at Ingleside that year. Over the course of the breeding season I went on to assist the stud with a dummy foal, regular ultrasound pregnancy tests, semen collection, and successful frozen and fresh semen insemination as well as other non-breeding related veterinary care.

“While it has been a busy and successful partnership, we wish Ineke and her husband Byron Biffin a less eventful foaling season next year!