“Breed the best to the best, and hope for the best.” An old adage but without doubt as true as it ever was. As I write this, most of us that have decided to breed this year will have completed the task (or rather the mares will!), and they will be safely tucked up at home for another 11 month pregnancy.
So as promised, here is a little more about life on our stud. For those of you that read my last blog, thanks for the great feedback – and your reward is my perhaps misguided belief that you want more!
Firstly, the decision of what is “the best” and who to send a mare to. This is achieved as objectively as possible – using statistics such as the stallion’s success as a racehorse, his
ability to produce winners, and the sales results for his offspring – the latter important if breeding to sell.
As a breeder, of course your mare can only get pregnant once a year whereas stallions can cover mares (or books) numbering 150 or more. It is important therefore to pick a good husband as the subsequent offspring will decide the reputation of the mare in the long run, and if she can produce racehorses of reasonable quality as to make her viable.
So after sifting through lots of statistics, the choice is made. In reality we look less at commercial drivers and more at the planned mating – will it make a strong, attractive horse that will race reasonably early and be of interest to our market? For us temprament and looks are more important than financial potential at the sales – although that is always a bonus! We can proudly say we keep track of all our foals, even into retirement.
Enough of the theory. There will be many reading this who know much more than I pretend to about pedigrees and equally many will want to know the details of mating! In thoroughbred breeding, all mares have to be live covered – so a physical meeting of sire and mare is required. I will keep it clean!
If the mare has foaled, she will generally come into what we call foal heat around 7 – 10
days from the birth. With her hormones readjusting, and her milk in high demand, this is not the best time to mate – although some breeders do. We allow the mare to come into her next cycle, a further 21 days after the foal heat ends, before sending her for her date as this allows her internal structures to recover and strengthen, allows the foal to grow strong so it can travel safely with mum to the stallion stud, and in our experience results in a pregnancy first time. This is important when travelling mares to the stud and “walking in” – where a mare is taken to the stud for mating and does not stay on the same stud as the stallion. A wasted journey can be very irritating.
For mares that were not in foal, the warmer spring weather will encourage the heat cycle to start around February / March. In colder weather, or for an earlier cover, we bring the mare into a stable and keep her warm and “under lights” in order to fool her
system into thinking the days are longer and spring is here. The use of electric light to perform this is almost magical – and nowadays there is even a small blue light which is shone into the corner of the mare’s eye which somehow encourages her to think it is spring in the middle of a snow storm – witchcraft!
We cannot cover until mid-February anyway as the gestation period is 11 months, but if the mare foals early, you could end up with a foal who becomes a yearling on 1st January (all racehorses official birthday) when it is in fact a few days old! We like our foals to be delivered from late February to April at Abacus Bloodstock as we find earlier foals tend to arrive in poor weather, whilst later foals may be too immature for a chance to run as a 2 year old. Therefore we cover from mid-March through to the first week in May generally.
Our stud vet will insert a scanning probe into the mare’s rectum to see if she has an egg ready to be fertilised. The image is taken through the vaginal wall and allows the vet to
sweep the probe across the mares pelvis to see both horns of the uterus. When the egg reaches a certain size, our vet will then tell us the mare is ready to walk in, and a call is made to the stallion stud to arrange the visit. Generally they can accomodate at short notice, sometimes the same day and almost always within 24 hours. If you miss it, you have to wait another 21 days! Some studs use a teaser – a horse or pony stallion who is introduced to the mare – and if he is greeted with a coo rather than a flying hoof, the mare is ready, although sadly the teaser goes unsatisfied! At Abacus we prefer the science of a scan, and avoid the crest-fallen look of a teaser.
When the mare arrives for the stallion, she will have already had blood and swab tests to check for any contagious diseases such as Equine Herpes which would infect the stallion or prevent a healthy mating. The paperwork is checked by the stallion stud and the mating can begin. Again they may use a teaser, but generally with a scanned mare, we can be fairly sure she will be receptive to the stallion’s advances. Of course we generally have a small foal being held away from the main action but close enough to reassure mum, and this can cause the mare to be a little bad tempered – although she seems to forget when it matters!
Stallions, like us men, have different techniques of courting. Some are very “wham, bam, thank you Ma’am”, others bill and coo, and even gently nibble the ears and neck (I got a little excited myself then!). One of the greatest Casanovas I have seen is Galileo’s son Telescope, standing as a dual purpose sire at Shade Oak Stud. He is a real gentleman and will even chat to the mare after the event.
It is all over in a matter of seconds and the mare is back in the horsebox within minutes. After travelling maybe 3 hours to a covering, it seems a long drive home after a disappointing climax – ladies I know how some of you must feel now!
We have the mare scanned 14 days after mating as this will tell us if there is still an egg in place – in which case it will have been fertilised,at which point we can see a small indication of the foal (generally a small dot in a black hole), or if it is gone; then it will be
another visit to the stallion. We can inject hormones to bring the heat cycle sooner, which we may do as we approach the end of the breeding season. This scan allows us to ensure we do not have twins. As horses tend not to carry twins successfully, the vet will pop one of the two sacs leaving one embryo to develop.
We then rescan the mare a week or so later to check progress and that the embryo has embedded in the wall of the womb. A further scan is taken at around 35 days from covering when we can see a heartbeat in the embryo – hopefully indicating we can expect a healthy foal, and a beautiful racehorse in 11 months time.
Once again, I hope this has been interesting and please retweet and comment as always. We hope for thise breeders who have covered this year, everyting has worked out to plan and that all of you are staying safe.