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 Once in a Lifetime Night

    January 2, 2013
    A Once in a Lifetime Night

    A Once in a Lifetime Night

    Dr. Ashley Craig
    In my four months as an intern at Hagyard, I have been to a total of 5 different Thoroughbred sales. On November 5th, I walked onto the Fasig-Tipton sales ground expecting another “typical” sales filled with yearlings, radiograph retakes, and scoping but boy was I wrong. The moment I walked onto the sales ground, the place was buzzing with excitement. Several big named mares would be selling that night and people near and far were coming to watch.

    As the first call came in, I met up with Dr. Kristina Lu to start checking mares post sale. Depending on if the mare is pregnant or not, dictates what is done on post sale inspection. If the mare is pregnant, she needs to be rectally palpated to make sure she is pregnant, the baby is alive and to do a general assessment of the mares reproductive tract. If the mare is a maiden or barren, she needs to be rectally palpated and her reproductive tract assessed as well as having the mares vaginal vault and cervix visually inspected via vaginal speculum. Our first mare was a kind broodmare who knew the drill. After spending most of her life producing great racehorses, she stood quietly for Dr. Lu to perform the post sales pregnancy check.

    Once the first mare was done, the list of horses to check continued to grow. The entire night I went stall to stall with Dr. Lu to do post sale evaluations of numerous different mares. Sometimes we were told of the sales amount, but no matter the sales price, the routine stayed the same. Through the entire sale time, Dr.Lu and myself rarely paused but we both had smiles on our faces because we were doing what we loved.

    One of the few breaks that we did have happened to coincide with the horse of the year, Havre de Grace, selling. The best way to describe the air at Fasig- Tipton is electric. The amount of anticipation was high and everyone around seemed to pause his or her important duties to watch this graceful mare sell. I stood in the back walking ring watching the monitors with baited breath. The auctioneers started the bidding and it quickly climbed. At five million, people started holding their breath. As the mare’s price soared to seven million, the auctioneer seemed to pause. People started taking pictures of the price but the excitement was slightly premature as the price continued to climb. Once the amount reached 10 million, the auctioneer asked the audience to hold their applause till the mare safely left the sales pavilion. I personally had to hold my jaw as it had fallen long before the gavel did. I was witnessing history. Due to my location, I was able to walk back towards the walking path as HDG regally walked past on her journey to her stall and ultimately to her new home.

    While the excitement of HDG selling lingered in the cool night air, the sale wasn’t over and the post sale inspections were far from over. As we continued looking at mares through the night, the value of horseflesh that I touched climbed but it wasn’t the most expensive mare that I touched who was on my favorites list. It was the kind eyed mare whose owners parted with her so they could pay for their son’s college education. It was the big bay mare who towered over me but sweetly dropped her soft muzzle to my chest in her way of asking for love. It was the young racing mare who was nervous about the process but took it all in stride. It was the group of owners who just sold their first horse, making a profit and joyfully celebrating their success. And it was the previous owner who made the trek to watch the mare he used to own and still loved, sell to her new owner. No matter the price, it was the stories and personalities that impressed me the most.

    I was fortunate to witness history and enjoyed a night of excitement at Fasig-Tipton. It was a sale that I will never forget.