Surgery & Inpatient Care - FAQ on your horse visiting SEH

Equine in-patients

Each hospitalised horse will be under the care of one of our senior hospital vets, our hospital interns and our experienced veterinary nursing team. Surgery is performed by one of our ECVS or ARCV recognised specialists, who perform a diverse range of surgical procedures. All in-patients have a thorough clinical examination performed at least twice daily by our team, and more frequently if deemed necessary by the clinician in charge.

What should I bring?

If your horse is staying at the hospital please bring their rugs and any stable bandages that they usually wear. We stock most usual feedstuffs and the nurse that admits your horse will take a note of what he/she usually eats. Additionally, don't forget your passport, insurance details and claim form. 

Will my horse need a general anaesthetic?

Some surgeries such as laser surgery, sinus surgery and laparoscopy can be performed under deep sedation with the horse still standing. General anaesthesia is required for most other equine surgeries, including arthroscopy (joint surgery), some wind ops, colic surgery and closed castrations. Whilst there is always a small risk with any general anaesthetic, we have a well trained anaesthesia team. Horses are routinely monitored during general anaesthesia with ECGs and blood pressure monitors, and blood gas analysis for critical patients such as colic.

How will I know what is going on?

Updates: One of our team will call you each morning to update you on your horse's progress. If we have performed a significant procedure or surgery, one of our vets will call you once that procedure is completed. If your horse is in a critical state, our team will always update you immediately of any significant change.
Visiting: Visitors are welcome within working hours but please call reception ahead of your visit to let us know that you are coming. 

What happens on the day of surgery?

* Horses are usually starved overnight prior to having a general anaesthetic.
* An intra-venous catheter will be placed in the neck, so a patch of hair will be clipped there. The anaesthetist will examine your horse before they sedate and pre-medicate him/her with appropriate medications, including antibiotics and pain relief.
* Anaesthesia is induced in our padded induction room using an intravenous drug.
* Your horse is then moved into the operating suite and positioned on the operating table ready for surgery.
* Hair will be clipped at the surgery site and small patches in other places on the body to allow positioning of anaesthesia monitoring equipment.
* After surgery has ended, the horse is moved back into the padded room to recover from the anaesthetic.  

What should I expect afterwards?

A vet will ring you when your horse is back up on its feet. After general anaesthetic (or deep sedation for standing surgery), horses can be very groggy for several hours, so be aware of this if you plan to visit. Your horse will be fed once he/she is no longer sedated. When your horse is ready to go home, discharge instructions will be printed and a nurse or intern will go through these with you when you come to pick them up. A report be sent to the vet that referred your horse into the hospital so that they are up to date with the case and know if any follow-up treatment is required.

Lameness Assessment - FAQ on your horse visiting SEH

What should I do before my appointment?

Your horse needs to be lame on the day of examination, so unless advised otherwise by your vet, you should keep on with light work. Shoes should remain on if your horse is normally shod.
If your horse has been receiving painkilling drugs such as 'bute', we would normally recommend not giving this for 2 days before you come into the hospital. If you are unsure, please call the clinic to discuss.
If your horse is likely to be staying at the hospital please bring his/her rugs. We stock most usual feedstuffs.
Finally, don't forget your passport, insurance details and claim form. 

What to Expect...

Lameness is a common problem in all kinds of horses, from children's ponies and happy hackers to elite performance animals.
If your horse is referred to the Sussex Equine Hospital for a lameness investigation, he or she will be seen by one of our dedicated hospital clinicians.
Lameness investigations usually start with a thorough clinical examination and gait assessment. Clinical examination will usually include observation, palpation and manipulation of the musculoskeletal system. Gait assessment may include evaluation of the horse at walk and trot in-hand on both hard and soft surfaces and lunging at trot, and sometimes canter, in both directions on hard and soft surfaces.

 Nerve Blocks

Whilst in some cases the cause of lameness may be easy to elicit by clinical examination and gait evaluation, in others, more extensive and time consuming investigations are required. This may include diagnostic analgesia ("nerve blocks") in which local anaesthesia solution is injected around a nerve or directly into a joint or synovial cavity thereby temporarily desensitising a particular area of the limb. Following injection of local anaesthesia solution, the horse's gait is reassessed to determine whether there has been improvement in lameness or performance. Nerve blocks usually start at the foot and then work their way up the lame leg. This enables the veterinary surgeon to determine which part of the limb is painful and contributing to the lameness.

Diagnostic Imaging 

In most lameness cases diagnostic imaging is used to help determine the cause of lameness, once a region or regions of interest have been identified. The type of imaging used will depend on the nature of the lameness. All imaging methods are 'non-invasive', meaning that they should not be uncomfortable or painful for you horse.
* Radiography ('X-rays')
Taking radiographs is one of the most common ways we image the horse's skeleton. Several different views of the area of interest are obtained in order to highlight all the aspects of the joint or structure being imaged. Your horse will usually be sedated for a radiographic examination.
* Ultrasound
Ultrasound is a great way to image soft tissue structures such as tendons and ligaments. The area being imaged will usually have to be clipped for ultrasound examinations.
* Scintigraphy ('bone-scan')
In many cases, including horses with suspected injuries of the neck, back, pelvis and upper limbs, or for the horses which are not amenable to nerve blocking, bone scan is the best options. A radioactive dye is injected into your horse's bloodstream and then a camera is used to image the bones. 'Hotspots' appear where there is increased turnover of bone, giving a measure of the bone activity in certain sites of the skeleton. Your horse will have to stay in the hospital for 2-3 days if he/she is having a bone scan followed by a lameness examination.


Once the cause of lameness has been established we will be able to advise you on appropriate treatment and management strategies, including whole horse or joint medication, surgery, farriery, exercise programmes or shockwave therapy.

Breeding FAQ's

When is the right time to inseminate the mare and how do we determine this?

The perfect time to breed the mare depends on the method we are going to use; live, viable semen must be available in the oviduct (the Fallopian tube section of the reproductive tract where fertilisation takes place) ready for when ovulation occurs and the oocyte (egg) is released from the ovary.

The lifespan of fresh semen can be as long as 48-72 hours, whereas chilled semen may remain viable for 12-36 hours. In contrast, frozen semen may only remain fertile for up to 18 hours, and in most cases, can lose its viability by 6 hours after thaw. Veterinary intervention using ultrasound scanning to monitor the mare’s cycle to predict ovulation and manipulation of this is necessary to achieve a high pregnancy rate. It is important to be prepared for frequent scanning when the mare is in season if we are using frozen semen on your mare. It is recommended to scan post-insemination to monitor the mare’s response to the semen and provide treatment (this may involve the use of intra-uterine antibiotics or uterine lavage) if necessary to increase our chances of success.

Are there any ways of getting my mare to cycle early?

Day length and thus light exposure is one of the main factors to influence mare’s cyclic activity. As mentioned before, mares stop cycling in the autumn as the day length reduces, into the 'anoestrous phase'. As the day length increases in the spring, receptors in the mares’ eye triggers a chain of events that arise in raising the level of reproductive hormones which sends the mare into the transitional period between anoestrous and a normal cyclical pattern. The photoperiod (the amount of light the mare is exposed to) can be manipulated by leaving a bright light on in the stable from early December. A minimum of 170Lux (i.e. 2 x 40 watt fluorescent strip lights in a 12 x 12 stable) is needed for 16 hours. This translates to turning the light on at 6am and turning off at 10pm. There is also a lighted mask product on the market which is effective but quite expensive. In addition, factors like temperature and nutrition can be used to encourage a mare to start cycling. Stabling and using rugs to keep the mare warm can assist with shortening her period of anoestrus, as can a balanced diet. Oral progesterone may also be included daily once some follicular activity is noted on the ovaries by your stud vet.

When should I get a pre-breeding check done on my mare?

It is advised to have the pre-breeding check done when the mare is beginning to cycle for the new breeding season, in the early to middle of spring. The natural breeding season of the mare is usually late spring and summer. The mare has a period of cyclic inactivity (anaestrous) when she cannot be bred during the winter. There are two transitional periods between when the mare is cycling (late spring/summer) and the anoestrous period which takes place in autumn and early spring. During the transitional period mares are very unpredictable and erratic; they will often grow follicles but not ovulate, so attempting to breed the mare during this phase is problematic and often unsuccessful. A pre-breeding check should identify any reproductive abnormalities and establish whether the mare is still in transition or has had an ovulation already which would usually suggest she is embarking on her normal cycle for the season.

How old is 'too old' to inseminate a mare?

There are mares who produce foals every year throughout their lifetime into their late teens and more uncommonly to their early 20’s. However, it’s the mare that is presented to be bred for the first time as an older mare they can be more problematic.

“Aged maiden mare syndrome” is a collection of issues that are associated with such mares. The mare’s cervix is often fibrous, it fails to relax and results in retention of fluid in the uterus. This can result in the fluid and foreign material irritating the uterine lining causing inflammation and can predispose to infection after breeding. These mares tend to need much more treatment by your stud vet before and after breeding for optimal results.

Another hurdle is the decline in egg(oocyte) quality which can lead to a decrease in conception rate and an increased risk of early embryonic death. Therefore it is best to be aware that pregnancy rates are lower for older mares. Mares will stop cycling sometime in their mid 20s(similar to ladies in menopause); this will be noted at ultrasound examination of
the reproductive tract by your stud vet.

The optimal age for breeding a mare is 3-10years old but this is also their busiest time for competing. If your mate is too busy to have time off for pregnancy, then take a minute to consider embryo transfer. If however your mare is now older and ready for retirement, a pre-breeding exam is advised no matter what age she is to get a full picture of her health and reproductive potential. It may not be too late to have a foal!

What is the mare’s breeding cycle?

The oestrous cycle is generally 21 days long (+/- 2-3 days), and can be divided into two phases, the follicular phase and the luteal phase. The follicular phase (oestrus) is when the mare is in ʻseasonʼ. This can last for 4-7 days, during this period the mare display signs that she is ready to be bred e.g. posturing to urinate, raise their tail particularly in the presence of a stallion. The remaining time is the luteal phase (dioestrus) which starts just after the mare ovulates. The mare will actively display signs that she is not ready to be bred e.g. squealing/
tail clamping or kicking out at the stallion.

Should I Breed My Mare?

Having a foal can be a big undertaking and much thought should go into what it involves before starting to prepare your mare for breeding.

Is my mare an ideal candidate for breeding?

Conformation, temperament, age and physical fitness should be taken into account. Be mindful that some traits are passed on, so try to have an objective look at your mare and consider what she might pass on to her offspring.
Are you fully aware of the potential costs of breeding your mare and are your expectations realistic? Are you willing to have your mare out of action for a considerable period of time? Have you considered the risks involved?

In the majority of cases, breeding and foaling carries low risk of injury to the mare. However, complications can arise and can have serious consequences. Therefore, you have to be sure
you are ready to make the potential difficult decisions that could arise. Ensure that you have the facilities to manage a mare and foal and you have really contemplated the associated risks.

Once the decision is made to go ahead, SEH can offer a pre-breeding health check and advice on the use of natural service, artificial insemination and embryo transfer, depending on the
specific needs of you and your mare.

Mare has been inseminated, what happens next?

In most cases, the next appointment after your mare has been inseminated and had a post-breeding check will be scheduled for approximately 14 days after your mare ovulated (not necessarily 14 days since her last scan).

It is important that this date is fixed in both you and your stud vet's diary as this date is for diagnosis of pregnancy and to check for twins. This is the best opportunity to detect and deal with twin pregnancies so should not be overlooked. If there is suspicion of twinning but only one pregnancy is seen on this appointment, a second ultrasound in 1-3 days may be recommended. If your mare is not pregnant we can discuss how we need to proceed to ensure a more successful outcome next time. This may involve taking swabs/samples, changing technique to suit the individual mare or even a discussion of stallion choice/semen
type used.