Ovarian Cysts: A Source of Moody Mares

Unveiling Ovarian Conditions: Beyond Lameness in Mares

In some instances, conditions of the ovaries can masquerade as lameness issues in mares. These ovarian conditions may exhibit lameness-like symptoms, often resembling vaginitis, but each condition has its unique traits. Among the culprits are ovarian cysts and retained follicles, with ovarian cysts being the more severe form.

Decoding Ovarian Cysts

An ovarian cyst essentially represents an egg (follicle) on the ovary that fails to detach and move down the reproductive tract towards the womb. Instead, it clings firmly to the ovary and progressively enlarges, forming a fluid-filled sac that can grow as large as a hardball or even larger. As the cyst expands, it can inflict pain and potentially influence the mare’s gait.

Unpredictable Lameness

Interestingly, the affected ovary doesn’t always align with the lameness observed in the mare. For instance, mares with left ovarian cysts might exhibit lameness on the right side/rein. Importantly, mares with ovarian issues typically display a hunched appearance, setting them apart from those suffering from vaginitis.

Spotting Ovarian Conditions

To diagnose ovarian conditions, an initial examination of the mare is typically conducted. The mare may display tenderness in the area between the front of the whirlbone and the muscle between the hip and midline. However, a definitive diagnosis is made through a rectal examination of the ovaries.

Treating Ovarian Cysts

Upon diagnosis, the treatment for ovarian cysts usually involves the administration of hormones to induce detachment of the cyst from the ovary. This hormonal therapy aims to restore normal ovarian function. If repeated hormonal treatments prove ineffective, surgical removal of the affected ovary may become necessary, though this is considered a last resort after exhausting all other treatment options.

Behavioral Changes

Beyond lameness and physical symptoms, mares with ovarian cysts might undergo personality alterations. Some mares could appear to be in a constant state of heat, while others become irritable and disagreeable, showing behavioral traits more akin to a temperamental stallion than a mare. On the contrary, some mares may become exceedingly docile, displaying minimal interest in daily activities.

Aggressive Behavior

It’s important to note that mares with aggressive tendencies are more frequently encountered in cases involving ovarian cysts. These shifts in behavior may range from general irritability to displays of dominance and aggression toward both humans and other horses. Proper management and understanding can help mitigate aggressive behavior and provide a secure environment for both the mare and those handling her.


Conditions of the ovaries in mares can mimic lameness problems and exhibit symptoms similar to vaginitis. Ovarian cysts and retained follicles are often the culprits, with ovarian cysts representing the more severe form. Accurate diagnosis through rectal examination and appropriate treatment, such as hormonal therapy or surgery as a last resort, can help alleviate symptoms and restore normal ovarian function. Understanding the potential behavioral changes linked to ovarian conditions can also aid in effective management and enhance the quality of life for affected mares.


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