Infertility in mares is often due to endometritis caused by bacteria. It is essential to know which antibiotic the bacterium in question is sensitive to in order to effectively treat the disorder. Determining this sensitivity requires a bacterial culture from the inner lining of the uterus. A mucous sample is taken to that end.
Endometritis is common among mares. This is due to the very short time between the birth of a foal and the subsequent servicing of the mare: generally not more than nine days. That is also how things go in herds that are kept under natural circumstances. Perhaps this relates to the gestation period, which is eleven months for horses. So if the mare is to deliver her foal in the spring (the most favourable time), then she must be bearing her next young one month after the birth of the previous foal. But the uterus will not have recovered completely so shortly after a delivery. Particularly if the delivery was problematic, or if the afterbirth is not promptly expelled, then bacteria will still be present in the uterus during the first period of being in heat. The uterus will be inflamed and is not ready for the next gestation. An embryo cannot nestle itself in an inflamed uterus wall.
Taking a sample of the inner wall of the uterus involves bringing a sterile piece of gauze in contact with the mucous lining of the uterus. The gauze must not touch any other parts of the birth canal on its way in or on its way out. Which is why the gauze is enclosed in the hollow tip of a long tube. That tube is inserted into the vagina, tip first, all the way to the uterus. By applying pressure on the outside end of the tube, the gauze is then released from the tip inside the mare. It is moved back and forth a bit so that it absorbs moisture and is then pulled back into the tip of the tube where it is sealed with the round cap of the tube. The device is then pulled back through the vagina. This ensures that the bacteria that are cultured from the gauze in the laboratory are solely from the uterus. Nowadays, this monstrous device is made of thin plastic and intended for single use only. Back in the day, however, it was a robust tube made of galvanised iron and it had to be sterilised and equipped with a fresh gauze after every sampling.
device for taking a sample from the uterus
the tip with the gauze is shown in detail
A somewhat older mare has been empty (not with young) for two years, despite having been serviced on numerous occasions. An examination has been scheduled to take place the next time she is in heat because the cervix (entrance to the uterus) will then be open. Her cycle is regular as: ‘she is back every three weeks’. That is to say that she becomes in heat again with each new cycle. And she was serviced each time by the breeding stallion. The mare is a bit overweight and is glowing with health. During the internal examination, I feel her uterus and both ovaria through her rectum. One ovary is small and not very active. The other has a large, soft follicle: ovulation will not be long in the waiting. But the uterus seems too coarse. The vagina closes properly. Yet the inner lining of the vagina is still too red when inspected. That indicates inflammation. Which is why I take a mucous sample from the uterus. The procedure proceeds as can be expected until I remove the tube from the vagina: the cap is not on the tip. Huh? The cap and the tip of the device make up a whole; which means that not only the cap is missing, but also the steel tip of the device! And there is only one place where it can be: inside the mare.
“Could you hold the tail to the side for me please, Madam? I need to check something internally.” With my arm in a clean glove, I push through the vagina and into the uterus where I quickly find the tip of the device with the gauze. Madam raises her eyebrows when the steel ‘piercer’ appears; her eyes get big and dark; her face pales and then reddens: Well, I never! Her mare! The victim of some peculiar sex maniac! Right under her nose!
I can summarise what followed in a British understatement: ‘She was not amused.’
When the plastic version of the device is available on the market sometime later, I am one of the first to use it.
© Leo Rogier Verberne