The art (and precision timing) of breeding

Date:

Glanvilles Stud is deep in covering season’s intricacies; Lucy Procter unravels it while stud visitors delight in heartwarming foal cuddles

Images: Courtenay Hitchcock

As usual, the BV’s Courtenay arrived a couple of days pre-publication to enjoy his monthly foal cuddles (that’s not actually what he’s there for – Ed).
We always enjoy showing visitors round the stud and share their enjoyment in watching the foals just being foals – galloping around, playing, eating and snoozing. To see the horses through a fresh set of delighted eyes gives us a new perspective on what can otherwise become day-to-day grind.
This month, as well as Courtenay, we have welcomed owners and their families, old friends, past employees and Clare Roberts, our nutrition expert from Saracen Horse Feeds. Clare is an invaluable visitor, walking round the stock with us every few months as the seasons and nutritional requirements change, discussing how our young horses are developing and advising on any adjustments to the type and quantities of feed in order to help optimise growth and condition.

Richenda Ford and family having a cuddle with their 4-week-old Golden Horn colt whom they plan to train and race once he is old enough.
Image:
Lucy Procter

Horse on holiday
Some of the older foals, whose dams are back in foal, are now living out – our thick hedges and trees providing shelter. April has still been cold at night, so when it has been wet and windy we have either rugged the foals or brought them in to give them a break from the weather.
The mares are left without a rug – it would be dangerous to put a rug on a mare with a foal at foot. While feeding, the foal could easily become tangled in the rug’s belly straps.
Two of the horses that are in training have also been turned out to grass, literally with their shoes off for a six-week break. They will be brought back into work again in mid-summer, but for now they are thoroughly enjoying their holiday with their friends.

Lady Stanhow’s 10 day old Jack Hobbs filly, having a snooze in the early May sunshine.
3yo Rinjani Bay enjoying her holiday breakfast with a friend.
Image: Lucy Procter

Four mares a day
It has been a busy month for covering mares (getting mares back in foal). The Thoroughbreds have to have ‘live covers’ – the mare has to actually visit their chosen stallion. Rather than boarding at a stallion stud, our owners choose to board their mares with us, and we carry out what is known as a ‘walk-in cover’. Our vet, Paul Legerton, carries out ultrasound scans of each mare’s uterus and tracks their cycles as they come into season. As soon as a mare has a well-growing follicle and increasing oedema, we phone the stallion stud and book a slot, usually in the next 24 to 36 hours, for us to bring the mare, with her foal if she has one, to visit the stallion. During the covering season – which starts on February 14th. Who says horse breeders aren’t romantic?! – a popular stallion can cover up to four mares a day, with six hour gaps between. As Doug prefers to travel early in the morning when there’s less traffic on the road, it has meant several 3am starts in the lorry to get a mare to the first cover of the day at 6.30am.

Act Now and Everlanes and their foals – two mares from Robert and Sarah Tizzard who came to foal at the stud. Lucy and Doug try to keep mares and foals from the same owners together in their friendship groups when they are at stud, helping minimise any stress in the mares.
Sambac. A certain photographer’s favourite and most photographed foal

Watching the clock
We have also started covering the sport horse mares boarding at the stud. These mares are covered using artificial insemination (AI), where our vet inseminates the mares here at the stud at the point of ovulation with chilled or frozen semen. If chilled semen is supplied, it is couriered from the stallion stud 24hrs prior to insemination. Frozen semen can be stored for several months in our nitrogen tank. As smaller quantities of less-fresh semen are inseminated than is the case in a ‘live cover’, insemination of frozen semen has to take place as close to ovulation as possible, within 6 to 8 hours. If chilled semen is being used then it should be within 24hrs pre-ovulation or up to eight hours post-ovulation.
Once covered, all mares – regardless of covering method – have an ultrasound scan two weeks after ovulation to determine if they are pregnant. It is important to know when ovulation occurred and to be exact with the timing of the pregnancy scan because if a mare scans with a twin pregnancy, one embryo will need aborting, and the vet needs to perform the abortion once the embryo is large enough to detect but before implantation in the wall of the uterus; the optimum timing for this is 15 days post-ovulation.
If both foals were left to grow there would be a far greater chance of the pregnancy failing or of the foals being born small and weak.
With three new foals taking their first steps into the world for their owners this month, and several new mares arriving either for foaling down and getting back in foal, or empty mares arriving to be covered, it has been a busy month on the stud.
We’re all now very much looking forward to the warmer months when all the stock will be living out and we can dig out the stables and have a good summer clean and deep disinfect … ready to start all over again next winter.

Paul Legerton, the stud vet, artificially inseminating Black Swan, one of the sport horse mares.

Exciting late news, just in, the recently retired Honeysuckle has been nominated for an award at the Thoroughbred Breeders Association Dinner at the end of May. Fingers crossed!

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