It’s spring now and the breeding horses at my trainer’s farm are either anxiously awaiting babies or getting knocked up. There’s something so exciting about getting to be a part of the process, getting to know the mares and stallions and then waiting to see which qualities and quirks manifest in the offspring. I find the breeding industry almost as fascinating as the training industry, and it would definitely be a dream job to be able to work at a stud and get to learn all about the process.
Yesterday, my trainer called me out of the blue to ask me if I’d be willing to go to the airport to pick up some cooled semen for her Oldenburg mare, Angel. The flight came in at 10:20 PM, and the airport is about forty minutes from my house, so this made for a very late night. Though I would have done it for her anyways as a favor, she offered a few free lessons as a bonus in exchange for my time. So I set out for the airport about the same time I would normally be rolling into bed.
This is not your average joe sire. He’s a fabulous purebred Oldenburg stallion that’s been through the ringer of Oldenburg stallion registration, including a mandatory training period in Germany and several dressage and conformation tests that he passed with flying colors. He’s a big shimmery chestnut with beautiful movement. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a chestnut colt.
I took two semesters in college on equine health and first aid (two subsequent units on breeding) and had this explained to me countless times by the breeding manager, so you’d think I would be able to produce a more detailed outline of what happens when a mommy and daddy horse really like each other.
A quick review: All I can say off the top of my head is that horses are not highly efficient reproducers. They have about a 65% success rate, which is not great in the world of mammals, and explains why we have so much trouble during breeding season (the more expensive and fancy the horse the more problems you have, of course!). Mares are seasonal breeders, so their reproductive ability changes according to the season and the amount of daylight. When they are ready to breed, they go through an “Estrus” cycle, or as it infamously known by mare people, “heat.” This is the time when they are receptive to the stallion when he teases her. Her ovaries, which are hard to the touch in her anestrus cycle, will soften and enlarge in the spring and summer months. The ovum in the follicle will grow until it is ready to rupture, then a little structure called the “infundibulum” will grab the egg when it pops out and gently help it into the oviducts, where (hopefully) it will be met and fertilized by the semen and hustled into the uterus to be implanted and grown into a cute little baby. You only have to wait a whopping eleven months to see the finished product.
The cooled semen was collected at 10:00 AM, and had 70% percent motility (basically a gauge of how many good swimmers there are in the sperm). I briefly debated holding a sign in the airport reading “HORSE SEMEN,” but I though better of it. All I had to do was go up to the counter and sign for it. It came in a big blue fiberglass canister with all the information about the breeding facility that shipped it.
Next it was off to the vet clinic, where my favorite large animal vet was to perform Angel’s insemination. This was the first time in my horse career that I’ve been happy to be at the vet’s office at midnight.
The mare was already ready in the stocks with her tail wrapped up in pink vet wrap.
The cooled semen came in little baggies, which the vet suctioned out into syringes and pushed through a long straw into her uterus. Angel was a pro, since this is her third time doing this. The vet took the remainder of the semen into the next room to check it out under a microscope. He graciously let me take a peek as well. It was pretty cool to see the little sperms waking up in the warmth of the microscope slide and starting to swim around.
In the vet’s words: “The semen is excellent, the timing is perfect, and the mare has no excuse not to get pregnant.”
Hopefully I’ll be blogging next year about this new gorgeous foal! In the mean time, I’m watching over another mare (a typey Arabian bred to an Oldenburg cross) that is ready to throw her foal any day now. The poor girl looks pretty miserable and giant so I try to give her lots of love and treats when I check on her. I haven’t seen any signs of imminent labor yet (small crystals of wax forming on the nipples, restlessness, etc.), but I predict that she will foal within the next week since she’s already overdue.