In the winter of 2004 my husband, Dave and I decided to breed our mare, Miah. We had owned the mare for several years and used her as a riding horse. Our kids were at the age that they were going to start showing more and needed better horses. We knew that our time and energy would have to be spent on them and our riding would be put on hold for awhile. Aside from the potential to develop high quality horses with the resources we had, we also thought that the experience of breeding and having a foal would be good for the family.
As we started down this road, I felt confident that we could be successful. My parents were successful breeders of Trakehner horses in the 1970s and 1980s. Therefore, I thought that I could remember the important details. I was wrong. Not only was my memory not as good as I thought but the technology had changed a lot since that time.
Before you pick a stallion, you need to have a long conversation with a veterinarian who has experience with your breed. A vet can tell you what your chances are of getting your mare in foal. After looking at the mare, the vet may tell you that your best and least expensive chance of getting a foal is to buy one. You would do well to listen to them.
Breeding is neither cheap nor frequently successful for the amateur. With that said, if your vet in fact tells you that your mare is a good breeding prospect, then I say go for it.
Our next step was to choose a stallion owner who worked for us. We were very lucky to be able to work with Iron Spring Farm on our project. ISF provided DVDs of all its stallions and some foals. They also sent out written material for us to review. Our family had a good time discussing the information and making a selection. They were very friendly and helpful when it came to our many questions. It didn't take us long to pick our stallion: we all agreed that based on temperament, conformation, and way of going, Sir Sinclair was the horse for us.
Also, the ISF contract was easy to follow. We decided that the ISF artificial insemination program would be our best option.
We started our breeding program in February, by using fluorescent lights to get our mare to cycle early. We left them on 12 hours daily. By April we were ready to start. With the vet checking our mare closely, we were able to determine that she was ready to breed. I called and had the semen shipped. All seemed to be going well, however, when the shipment arrived and I found that my vet had left for a week of horse showing. In hind sight I should have called another vet, but at the time I was so shocked that I was speechless. A veterinary technician was sent to inseminate the mare, but she was unable to determine whether the mare was ready or not. We had hit our first road block. Needless to say it was a wasted breeding.
We soon learned that our mare had an unusually short cycle. To offset this, we used prescribed drugs to cycle her at least 6 times, but with no success. As the summer progressed, we gradually lost the advantage of natural daylight and our efforts felt progressively futile. By July, we had accrued over $1000 in veterinary costs, and several hundred dollars in semen shipping costs. Our chances of successfully breeding our mare in 2004 appeared all but gone.
At this point we were approached by Dr. Jennifer Hren Gaffney, a veterinarian whom we knew through the local Pony Club, who heard about our difficulties. She had just hired Dr. Gebhart who had recently graduated from the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine. Together, they were looking for opportunities in horse breeding and offered to evaluate the mare and see if they could help salvage the year. We had nothing to lose at this point so we gave her a chance.
Dr. Gebhart showed strong interest in our project. She took in all of the information we gave her and decided to take a slightly different approach. She used Lutalyse to get the mare to come into season and then ultra-sounded her daily to document the growth of follicles. Because of our mare's short cycle, this was the only reliable way to determine the right insemination time.
Dr. Gebhart's approach was successful. She was able to get our mare in foal on the first try. Unfortunately she lost it at around 40 days. However, we were encouraged by two things: 1) It was possible to get our mare in foal, and 2) we had found a perceptive veterinarian who maximized those possibilities. Although we would have no foal in early 2005, we felt a sense of victory.
In spring 2005, we were back at it and Dr. Gebhart successfully inseminated the mare. As the months went by, waiting and wondering if the mare would carry the foal to term kept us in anticipation. I sometimes wished for a little window to watch and monitor the foal myself. But Dr. Gebhart did a fine job of programming vaccines, monitoring the foal's development, and answering of my many first foal questions. Although I was raised on a breeding farm, it is a different experience when you take on such a project. A good support team is a must.
When March arrived and the time grew closer, I could start to see our mare go through changes. Her legs would swell more and her udders began to fill. It became apparent that she was having more trouble just getting around. We watched her carefully and at the end of the month noticed that a small glob of waxy substance had formed on her teats. I also noticed she was pawing out in the field. These proved to be signs that foaling time was very near.
On March 30, Miah became very restless and we could tell she was having contractions. As luck would have it, my husband was out of town and the kids and I were left to deliver our foal. We stayed up all night and kept a watch, but nothing happened. In the morning when I went out to feed, she stood eating as usual. Our son, Andy, went to school that day, but our daughter, Ariel, who stayed up with me the night before stayed home.
We decided that she would ride her horse then I would take her to school later. Of course you horse people know that you have to ride before anything else! Around 9:00 AM, while Ariel was tacking up her horse, Miah's water broke. Ariel ran to the house and told me the foal was coming. Dr. Gebhart was there in about 15 minutes. By 9:30 we had a lovely filly, healthy and sassy.
In spite of the difficulties and the expense, our first breeding experience was a great one. We found a veterinarian we worked well with. We had a great stallion owner to help us with that end and we ended up getting to see our beautiful Bella born on a bright spring day.
She is almost a year now and we are waiting for her full brother or sister to arrive at the end of this month. I guess I feel a little easier knowing what a great mother our mare is and having gone through it once before, but we are still anxious and excited to go through the experience again. From my point of view it is a fabulous thing to do!!!!
I'll let you know how the next one turns out!