For the Love of the Mare

    March 21, 2013

    Mares and foals running in a field

    Mares and foals running in a field

    Dr. Ashley Craig

    Its breeding season in Central Kentucky; that magical time of year when new foals are hitting the ground and the farms are busy with the hustle of breeding horses. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement that hangs in the air. As I start my first breeding season as a veterinarian, I am anticipating many adorable foals with soft noses perfect for kissing, hours in a breeding shed, a strong palpating arm, some sleepless nights, adrenaline rushes and time spent doing what I love most- practicing veterinary medicine.

    When I was in undergrad at Georgetown College, I went to work for a breeding farm. As I interviewed for the job, the broodmare manager asked why I wanted to come work there. I gave the standard answer that any younger girl would- “I love the foals”. While this statement still rings true, it doesn’t fully begin to explain what all I love about breeding farms. Foals are wonderful. Watching a healthy, energetic foal bounce around a stall or field can always put a smile on your face. But for me, my admiration, respect and affection is given to the unsung heroes of the breeding industry, the mares. These mares put up with so much and yet, they are often the kindest and most patient beings. Every year, they have a vet palpate, ultrasound, culture, re-ultrasound, and check their reproductive organs on a fairly regular basis. They are sent to the breeding sheds, where in an unfamiliar environment, they meet the future father of their next offspring. They handle the hustle and bustle of the breeding shed with ease before being loaded back onto a trailer and head to their main farm, upon which the cycle of vet checks continues until the mare is declared pregnant. If the mare is “easy” to get in foal, she will produce a foal every year. Being pregnant so frequently is what the mares are made for and what nature intended. If she were out in a herd with a stallion, a similar cycle would happen just minus the human intervention. Through all of this, the mare finds joy in her foal, and patience with the humans (and the foal!).

    Recently, during my second rotation through the McGee Medicine Center, I ran across a maiden mare, or a mare that has not had a foal previously, which demonstrated all of the qualities that I love in mares. She had just recently given birth to her first foal but the foal wasn’t doing well. The foal came into the neonatal ICU not able to stand on it’s own and having seizures. The mare followed patiently behind the techs as they carried her foal into the stall. Since some maiden mares can be a little anxious, a technician stood with the mare as the doctors worked to help her foal. The mare stood quietly occasionally nickering softly to her foal. She watched the entire time as the foal was being given the medical attention it needed. As soon as the foal was stabilized, it was propped into sternal position on a tempur-pedic mattress (yes, a memory foam bed) in the stall and covered with blankets to help to keep it warm. The tech slowly loosened her grip on the mare and let her investigate what was going on. The mare walked over gently to the foal and nickered to her new baby. She then proceeded to pull the blanket back so she could touch her baby and make sure he was all right. After investigating the foal, she then went to the IV fluid lines and nosed at them a little. Once she decided she was ok with the process, she stood next to the bed where her foal was laying and kept a watchful eye on him. As it was time to reassess the foal, I walked into the stall apprehensively, not knowing if the mare would be ok with someone handling her foal again. Instead of heading straight to the foal, I paused at momma’s head. I am a firm believer that a horse’s eye can tell you their thoughts and what they are feeling. This young mare had a kind eye with a gentle spirit radiating through her expression. As I started to kneel down to the sick foal, the mare placed her head onto my shoulder. For most horse people, this isn’t always a welcomed feeling especially when you don’t know the horse; having a horse’s mouth near such a vulnerable spot in your body can quickly turn disastrous but luckily, this mare meant me no harm, she just wanted to watch her foal. Over the several days that the mare and foal were in the NICU, the foal grew stronger and my respect for the mare became greater. She was taking to her job like a pro. She understood that the doctors and technicians were only trying to help her foal and at every turn, she demonstrated kindness to the humans and love for her foal. When the pair was finally able to head back to their farm, I shed a small tear of joy. It always great to see a baby able to overcome such sickness and its always wonderful to come across such remarkable new mothers.

    With the breeding season ramping up, I look forward to so many wonderful memories that I will be apart of. But most importantly, I look forward to spending time with the unsung hero’s of the breeding industry, the kind mares.

    A Day in the Life

    January 16, 2013

    Dr. Ashley Craig

    As a field care intern at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, no day is ever the same. A day recently was definitely not like any other! No matter how well you schedule your day, horses have a mind of their own and generally re-work your schedule.

    So at 8am, I was supposed to meet my mentor, Dr. Arnaldo Monge, and work with him the whole morning, but as I said previously, horses don’t often look at our schedules. When my phone rang at 7, I hustled through my morning routine to rush out the door to see a mare that had just aborted (gave birth early). After inspecting the fetus, placenta and then lavaging the mare’s uterus- I hurried off to meet up with Dr. Monge only 30 minutes behind my previously planned schedule. With Dr. Monge, I got to palpate late stage pregnant mares to make sure they were still pregnant. Dr. Monge is a leader in his field and his demeanor is inspiring to a young veterinarian. As I finished up with my mentor, I headed back to the clinic to assist Dr. Ernie Martinez, the up and coming dental guru. But first, I got to partake in a nice doctors appreciation lunch that was organized by the wonderful ladies in Dispatch and Billing. These ladies work day in and day out to help keep the practice running smoothly and yet they still find time to organize a fabulous potluck lunch to show the doctors how much they appreciate us. The food was great and getting all of the doctors in the same place at once provided much entertainment. As a young doctor, it also allowed me to quiz the more seasoned doctors about my upcoming charter flight for horses that I would be riding on and to pick their brain for tips and suggestions.

    With a full stomach, I headed back to assist Dr. Martinez with floating three sets of teeth. For those who are unfamiliar with the term “floating”, it refers to the process of filing down the sharp edges of the horse’s teeth. Horse teeth continually grow and can grow unevenly. This uneven growth can cause sharp points to form and pain to the horse. As the knowledge of dental issues in horses has grown, so has a veterinarian’s ability to help correct these dental issues. Dr. Martinez has made it his goal to be on the forefront of dental knowledge and it shows! His dental tool kit is exciting for any equine veterinarian to explore. Watching and learning from Dr. Martinez was a treat!

    As I finished up with Dr. Martinez, I rushed off to a more personal appointment- a meeting with Central Kentucky Riding for the Hope. This amazing program helps children and adults with mental and physical disabilities by allowing them to work around and on horses. The horses are special animals that require patience, understanding and a calmness that would shock most people. One of my own horses was a candidate for the program and that day was the day he was going to be evaluated. After putting my gelding through his paces and having a discussion with one of the riding instructors from the program, we determined my horse didn’t quite fit the need of the program. CKRH is looking for horses and with their strict requirements, it is difficult to find the right horse for the program. (Side note- if you know of any horse that might possess the temperament and personality for this amazing program- get in touch with CKRH! )
    Even though my horse wasn’t right for CKRH, my day didn’t slow. I then met up with Dr. Heather Woodruff to work up some lame horses. Seeing multiple horses and traveling across three counties kept me busy learning and driving! Evaluating lame horses takes a special eye and a talent both of which Dr. Woodruff possesses. Learning from a lameness expert was wonderful but not the end to my day! As I hustled from the last appointment, I headed to my parent’s house to grab a duffle bag for my upcoming charter flight to England. With a bag in hand, I headed back to the clinic to attend the Hagyard Lecture Series led by Dr. Jaye McCracken. This in-depth discussion of problems with foals was the finale to a day of learning from some of the experts at Hagyard and a fairly typical unscheduled day!