Tests or procedures used by your vet to determine what is wrong with your horse, in order to reach a diagnosis.

Cost: Under $100

These cost ranges are approximate and may vary from region to region.
Additional charges may also apply.


Rectal Palpation, Mare Reproductive Tract

Cost: Under $100

These cost ranges are approximate and may vary from region to region.
Additional charges may also apply.


Rectal palpation is an important and common diagnostic procedure in equine reproduction and equine practice in general. It is one of the only ways to reach the non-pregnant equine female reproductive tract and allows a unique perspective on the reproductive tract.

The rectum is a thin-walled, moveable and stretchable tube located directly above the reproductive tract. The veterinarian's hand and arms fits in most mares' rectums. So the rectum is a perfect access point for examining the mare's reproductive tract.

Although ultrasound is now widely used for assessment of the reproductive tract, palpation (feeling with the hand) is still needed and adds key information. Unfortunately, the use of ultrasound has resulted in palpation becoming a less practiced skill, so key diagnostic information is sometimes no longer gathered.

PROCEDURE: First, the veterinarian needs to be comfortable handling and restraint of the mare, for the safety of all. For experienced palpators, sedation is usually not necessary, but the clinician makes that choice based on their own comfort level. Some situations may warrant the use of a twitch and/or sedation.

The veterinarian carefully inserts a lubricated, gloved arm into the rectum. They carefully remove all manure from the rear part of the rectum. This can take a few minutes. Then, through the rectal wall, the vet gently opens the hand and uses the fingers and hand to feel the cervix, uterus and ovaries for their size and characteristics.

The cervix is judged based on its width and length, and softness. The uterus is judged based on its size, position, presence of pregnancy, and tone (firmness). The ovaries are judged based on their size and presence of follicles or other structures. Follicle size and firmness can be estimated, which provides key information about the stage of the mare's cycle.

Rectal palpation is an important tool for pregnancy examination and assessment. Changes in the uterus suggesting pregnancy can be felt as early as 14 days. Pregnancy itself is reliably palpated at 21 days.

Why A Vet Chooses This Diagnostic


Related Observations

Your vet might choose this diagnostic test if you were making these observations.

Very Common
Less Common
more observations

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

This test could rule out or confirm any of the following diagnoses.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses
Before reproductive ultrasound is performed, palpation allows the clinician to know the rough position, size, and feel of the cervix, uterus and ovaries.

An experienced clinician can perform pregnancy diagnosis and evaluation of reproductive cycle with rectal palpation alone.


Tiny horses, minis, and some ponies have a rectum too small for this diagnostic to be safely performed.

Unlike ultrasound, rectal palpation is not as helpful for "deeper" examination of the mare reproductive tract.

Palpation is not as precise as ultrasound with respect to early pregnancy diagnosis and the diagnosis of twins.

Like all aspects of veterinary clinical examination, rectal palpation is only as good as the examiner. Rectal palpation takes lots of practice.

Any time a hand is introduced into the rectum, there is a chance for rectal tear, a potentially fatal injury.

your role

Questions To Ask Your Vet:
  • How experienced are you at rectal palpation of the reproductive tract?
  • Do you use this in combination with ultrasound?
  • What are the risks of rectal palpation in my horse?

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP