Understanding Horses: Winter Dreams, Spring Foals

Every gardener in a temperate climate knows that winter is the season of comfort, but it is also the season of hope. That’s when seed catalogs start arriving. The garden is dormant, but once the days get longer, it won’t be too long before it’s time to plow and plant.

The same thing happens to horse breeders. With an average gestation period of 345 days – eleven months and a week is the rule for calculating the approximate due date – waiting for a foal can seem like an eternity. The clicker goes about its business most of the time, but sooner or later, it will start to show signs of something going on in there. They may barely be, or they may become so spherical that observers wonder how they stay on those spindle legs.

As for how she got to this point, it all started over a year ago. Horse breeding in our modern age is rarely a random or accidental process. There will be an accidental pardon (the stallion passes or goes through the fence, the mare tries the same maneuver, and the farm manager does not cease to believe that the miniature stallion he has put in the field to help him determine which of his full-sized mares ready to breed is also a horse, even if it is very small, And nature has a habit of finding a way), and there are backyard horse breeders just as well as backyard pet breeders. But with such a huge and expensive animal to maintain, breeding is an important decision.

Much thought goes into it. First, why breed this mare? Is she a quality mare whose character traits are worth reproducing? Are they of a respected breed and have a proven track record of producing animals that meet or exceed standards for their breed, type or system?

Once the foal is born, what will become of it? Will it be a personal horse for the breeder? Selling horses to the breeder or to the farm? Is there a home waiting for her, or is there a reliable market for foals of this particular breeding? Does the breeder hope to sell it right away, or are they willing to breed and train it until it is ready to work to the breed’s specifications — riding, driving, racing, showing at a halter (essentially, the dressage equivalent of a beauty pageant or dog show), or whatever else its type indicates Attributing it to him that it might be a good fit for him?

And that’s just half of the picture. The other half, the stallion half, is just as complex, with many of the same questions to be answered. However, stallions, in most breeds and specialties, are where the big money is.

A mare can give birth to one foal per year, and then the breeder has to feed and train this foal. Persians owners rarely get their money back. If they are only breeding one mare for a private guard pony, they will end up spending the price of a large, trained horse many times over. If they sell the foal, assuming they can find a buyer who has the desire or ability to raise and train a child, it is rare to get a price equal to, let alone exceeding the cost of raising the mare and the final foal. .

A stallion, on the other hand, may cost a lot to keep, campaign and promote, but it also brings a wage, and sometimes a large fee, for each mare that is bred. There are all sorts of nuances and hard-to-please details, and it all depends on his ability to not only produce offspring but to reproduce the traits that made him a winner on the track or in the show ring, or wherever else his breed and type would like. to excel. Keeping and advertising a stallion is not a trivial or inexpensive measure. It can pay off, sometimes dramatically, but it is a serious and long-term task with plenty of risks as well as rewards.

Horse breeders know all this, and they take it into account in their decisions. They have to take into account not only the mare and the individual stallion, but also the probability of success of this particular cross. Will breeding produce a foal that is equal to or better than its parents? Will this dowry have the qualities that the breeder wants to convey? Are there genetic issues to consider – positive or negative? If there are such issues, are the other aspects of the cross worth the risk? (And are those issues such that the breed or species registry expressly restricts or prohibits the breeding of the animals that bear them?)

All of these harsh and sometimes stressful realism factors determine the decision to bring a new horse into the world – and they should. This is to live and feel. She deserves to enjoy as much of life as possible. This begins with careful and thoughtful education.

However, like the gardener with a seed catalog, horse breeders find joy in the process. Evaluate the mare, her breed, her physical traits, and her performance record if she has them – a lot does; Many of those who do not will have at least had basic training in the specialty for which they were designed. Peruse stallion guides, glossy ads, show reports, check compatible genetic mixes, and evaluate the pros and cons of different candidates. Choosing between a proven champ with a solid track record of producing what a breeder is looking for, and a younger, less confident option whose breed and potential might be worth the adventure, may result in this dream pony that lives on in every breeder’s imagination.

Even timing is a factor. Horses in nature tend to breed and foal in the spring. Horses in the modern show and racing disciplines may have an artificial deadline: a January 1 “birthday” that simplifies the lives of show and race management. All foals in a calendar year are considered to be of the same age, and therefore are placed in the same show seasons and genders.

This is a great way to organize a display list or a race card, but it also means that a horse born on January 2nd is the same official age as a horse born on December 31st of the same year – but the former will already be a year old in the new year, and the latter will be a newborn . Even foals born in the spring, between March and June, will be disadvantageous when shown or racing against foals born in January or February. They will be months less mature, and may not be ready for competition when their supposed teammates have already started.

While many breeds and species go through a chronological age and their mares may breed in the spring when they are naturally exposed to heat, horse breeders with a January “birthday” will do their best to produce foals as soon as possible. This means artificially stimulating the mares to spawn in the winter when they are normally anesthetized, keeping them under the spotlight and possibly treating them with hormones to make sure they are ready to breed in early February – then they hope to hunt their first breed and not give birth too early. Breeders pray that the mare, due in the first week of January, does not decide to give birth in December, and thus give birth to a “week-old baby” that comes on New Year’s Day.

Optimally, all mares will give birth to a foal sometime in January, early February at the latest, to give birth in sheds sheltered from the winter cold. Fortunately, most foals are born with thick, fluffy coats, and once they are old enough to regulate their temperature – within two or three days of birth – it is a good idea to carry on as long as the weather is not severe. In the wild, after all, a March foal might catch the weather at least as cold as they might find in January. It was built to withstand.

The best part of all this care and consideration – and God knows the expenses – is the result. Each pony represents a dream and a hope, whether it’s stardom on the racetrack or on the show circuit, or a long and happy future as a lovable companion. It’s also a whole new living being, all legs, hops and bahs, discovering the world as children have for a time out of mind, and making their own mark on it.

This is a winter breeder’s dream. A strong and healthy foal first and foremost. The rest will follow in its own way, in its own time, just as spring follows winter, and the wheel turns again, year after year.

Judith Tarr is a lifelong horse person. She supports her habit by writing works of fiction and science fiction as well as historical novels, many of which have been published in e-book form. I’ve written an introductory book for writers who want to write about horses: Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Correcting them. She lives near Tucson, Arizona with a herd of Lipizzans, Claude’s cats, and a blue-eyed dog.

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