Although the horse is a seasonal breeding species, a considerable number of mares continue to cycle throughout autumn and winter. Slower equine embryo growth during the non-breeding season has been hypothesized, and because smaller embryo size is beneficial for cryopreservation, embryo collection outside the breeding season could be an interesting approach for the production of frozen horse embryos. In the present retrospective study, we have therefore analysed embryo recovery rates and conceptus size in mares (n = 30) throughout the year. Conceptus diameter was either size determined after collection with a microscopic scale (day 7-10 after ovulation) or determined by transrectal ultrasound immediately before collection (day 11-14 after ovulation). In 19 of the 30 mares (63%), ovulatory cycles were detected throughout the year. A total of 352 embryo collections with a mean recovery rate of 64.2% were performed and not affected by season. The size was analysed in a total of 165 conceptuses. Conceptus diameter significantly increased (p < 0.001) with day of pregnancy (e.g. day 7: 0.3 ± 0.04, day 10: 4.1 ± 0.2, day 12: 10.1 ± 0.5, day 14: 17.4 ± 0.9 mm), but was not influenced by season. In conclusion, successful embryo collection is possible throughout the year in spontaneously cyclic mares. Under these conditions, neither collection rates nor embryo growth appeared to be affected by season.
Animals Embryo, Mammalian/physiology* Embryonic Development/physiology* Female Horses/embryology* Horses/physiology Ovulation/physiology* Pregnancy Seasons* Tissue and Organ Harvesting/veterinary*