If you are involved in the horse business, chances are you’re connected to breeding in some way or aspire someday to breed a horse of your own and raise the baby. Even if you don’t want anything to do with breeding, it is nearly impossible to walk by a foal in a paddock without stopping for a few butt scratches and some embarrassing baby talk. After an injury that ended her performance career, it has always been a dream of mind to breed my mare (“Ladybug”) and then compete with her baby. This year, I decided it’s now or never and booked my mare to a stallion. As a 13-year-old maiden mare, I was warned it wouldn’t be easy, but accepted the challenge as the thought of seeing her foal filled my heart with pride and joy.
Step one was relatively easy. I found the stud that I thought would make the best cross and inquired on his breeding contract, schedule, fees, etc. Luckily, the stud I chose is owned by one of the best breeding facilities in the quarter horse world. This means they are a well-oiled machine and the process of putting the deposit down and signing the appropriate documents was simple. Next, I had to bring my mare in for a breeding soundness exam. This consisted of a general wellness check, including a breeding conformation exam, an ultrasound to rule out any fluid in the uterus that would prevent her from carrying, and a uterine swab to confirm the absence of infection that would delay insemination. After a positive exam, the veterinarian gave her a 70% chance of carrying a baby—which are pretty goods odds for a maiden mare of her age! The only thing she recommended was to fatten her up some in order to signal to her body that she has more than enough energy to carry a foal. Mind you, Ladybug lives the semi-retired good life of light riding and heavy treat intake. As per suggestion, we upped her grain and hay ration, and even added some alfalfa to her daily routine—where can I get this kind of diet?
For more than a month we monitored her heat cycle before returning to the vet clinic. After an ultrasound, they determined she was close to estrus and gave her a deslorelin injection to further convince her body to ovulate. At that time, we were educated that the average mare’s follicle should grow about 3mm a day until it was ready to be released, meaning she would be ready for insemination in roughly 3 days. But she is no average mare and she loves to cause loads of drama. Three days passed and we took her back in. Hardly any growth…ugh! We waited a couple more days and decided to board her at the clinic for about a week so the veterinary staff could have all-day access to her and more closely monitor her progress. The third day in, after very slow follicle growth, her follicle tripled in size overnight. Thanks, mare. If semen is collected from the stallion on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, take a guess what day of the week her follicle had an “Incredible Hulk” moment. Yep, Tuesday. Lucky for me, there was a single sample leftover from the previous day’s collection so I hopped in my truck and made the glamorous semen delivery road trip from Austin to Pilot Point and back in the same day. Feeling like a super hero there to save the day, I pulled up to the clinic to hand off the sample at (what I thought was) the nick of time for her follicle release. Nope, she decided to hold onto it a little longer.
Naturally, the ultrasound on Wednesday morning confirmed it was the actual day (thanks, mare) so we order two more samples and have them flow from DFW to AUS. Side note, I am still trying to figure out how I, a human that takes up space and requires attendance, can fly from DFW to AUS for about $100, but a box that is about a foot across in all directions and can be stacked underneath the cabin (without any access to soda or peanuts) costs $400 to fly. Mind you, this is just days after the United airlines fiasco and part of me wondered if I could fly the sample cheaper on United at the risk of it being tussled around some. If I figure out this mystery, I will let you know but I have small hope. After what appeared to be perfect timing with the two new samples and her follicle release, I had my first restful night of sleep in a week. The following day, I returned to the clinic and, after a quick uterine lavage, Ladybug headed home for the longest two weeks of my life.
When we returned to the clinic, I was a nervous wreck. As I began to unload Ladybug from the trailer, a technician walked by with a mare and she casually looked over at the passerby. Then a wobbly foal came into view behind the mare and Ladybug locked in on the baby and began to nicker obsessively. Beyond the sheer adorableness of the moment, I hoped to myself it was a sign of some good news we would soon hear. With crossed fingers, sweaty palms, and a racing heart, I was told what I have been waiting to hear for over a decade… Ladybug is expecting! A huge feeling of relief flooded over me and my eyes welled up with happiness as I hugged my sweet girl. Our first attempt to breed my 13-year-old maiden on her first heat cycle of the season and we have a growing embryo to prove it—what a miracle this little baby is already proving to be!
The moral of this stressful story is that a great amount of resources go into bringing a foal into this world—a lot of restless nights, long hours at the vet clinic, and serious financial commitment. As an individual horse owner working to get a single mare pregnant while also working a full-time job and maintaining a home, it was no walk in the park. I can’t imagine the toll it takes on large breeding operations. However, when I think of this time next year, I am rejuvenated. The miracle of bringing a living, breathing creature into this world—whether they become the next performance horse to go down in history or they turn out to just be exceptionally average—is something that cannot be replaced. I will forever be able to look that horse in the eye and be fulfilled knowing that dedication and being a reckless dreamer sure pay off. After all of the hard work put in by myself, my mare, and our veterinary team, I will not risk any hiccups during foaling and you can bet my hefty vet bills that I certainly won’t be missing that baby’s first wobbly hours. For this reason and more, NIGHTWATCH® is an absolutely vital component of my foaling plan. Throughout the year, my NIGHTWATCH® halter will become fine-tuned to my mare’s unique biometrics and behaviors. After months of data, when she is ready to foal it will alert me to this distress and I can high-tail it to my mare’s aid should she need me. Whether that results in positive health outcomes for the mare and the foal, or simply allows me the breathtaking experience to be there as this long-legged miracle comes into this world, it’s worth every penny and then some.