Well, this one has been a long time coming.
I’m constantly apologizing to The Eloquent Equine’s editor, Krista for my lack of posting recently. Part of it is purely personal – I’ve taken on a fulltime job I adore, so I have very little extra time for writing after family and ponies. Part of it, though, was my adventures in breeding Star.
Heh. Adventures in Breeding aka “the gong show.”
It all started back in May. After finally finding a Vet I was willing to work with, he came in and gave Star her basic yearly and tacked on a reproductive exam. She passed everything with flying colours. She was also caught at a perfect point in her cycle, so Dr. Matt advised me that we could literally bring her into heat the following week and breed her.
I was caught off guard. I had always planned to aim for June. It meant I’d likely have a foal on the ground in May; a time where we’d be safe enough from Ontario’s winter, but not into the hot hot heat of summer either. Because I’m a planner, I declined to breed her before June. In hindsight, I probably should have just let it happen. But I didn’t, and so started months of unexpected mishaps.
At first, Star was to blame. I hadn’t done any light therapy (link) with her, and she seemed to still be transitional (or irregular) in her cycle. She’d show a good start, then ovulate or reabsorb a small follicle. I think we missed two before finally catching up with her on the third. Dr. Matt said order semen. I called the stallion’s vet on a Friday, hoping for a Saturday collection. The vet declined. I wasn’t even aware that could happen, so surprise number two. The stallion’s vet asked me to recheck star on Monday, as he was collecting him already for a shipment then. Somehow she held onto the follicle and I ordered the semen shipped.
This is where the third issue came into play. I had asked the shipment to be delivered as early as possible Tuesday morning. FedEx gave me a guarantee before 10am. I took the next morning off work and went to bed dreaming about Tobiano babies.
I woke up early, as one does when one is excited about something, and checked on the shipment. I was notified of a delay, due to needing a broker at the border. Got that dealt with. Then there was a paperwork issue. Resent all my import documents. My expected delivery time kept getting pushed back, and then I was informed that the package, since being rerouted to the service center, would not be able to be delivered the same day. If I wanted the package that day, I’d have to go pick it up myself.
Since the center was basically at the airport and my office much closer than my house, I went off to work hoping to shortly receive a call. Hours later I got a call from a very well informed gentleman who advised me that it appeared that the shipping label had migrated off the box. The box was now being declared missing.
I’m not going to lie; I had a nice short cry. Updated my vet and the stallion’s vet and just generally got on with my day.
As I was picking up my husband and daughter, I got another call from FedEx. They found the shipment! Did I want to come pick it up? Of course at this point I was back to being across the city, but off we headed.
Because my vet is awesome, he agreed to travel to the barn at 7:30pm for a nighttime insemination. It wasn’t as funny as it seemed, but I was punch drunk and feeling wrung out from the drama of the day, so everything sent me into fits of giggles. We had quite an audience, as breeding isn’t something that often happens at your local hunter/jumper barn. When my coach’s husband started playing mood music, everyone lost it.
I went to bed exhausted, but hopeful.
I want to be very clear in my next words before we solider on; I do not believe that the stallion I originally chose is infertile. I say this so clearly, because the semen I received was. My personal belief is he doesn’t ship well, and the extra delay combined with that to give me basically no chance of conception.
Dr. Matt, again proving he’s exactly the kind of vet I need, gently but firmly asked that I consider using a new, more local, stallion. I looked at the amount of money I’d spent; not on the semen itself or the vet bills on my end, but the crazy cost of getting one shipment to me in Canada. It was not pretty, and the idea of spending that same amount again to receive dead semen seemed like pure stupidity. I took a few days to come to terms with the death of my well laid plans, told Dr. Matt I wanted to skip a cycle, and set about finding a new stallion.
Because I am a planner, I have a constantly evolving spreadsheet of stallions. I rate them in different categories (e.g., location, level of jumper, colour, registry(s), etc.) to give them a total score. I hid any stallion that wasn’t in Canada, and sorted by total score. Tacorde stood on top of the list. He’s a well-breed older style horse who spent years competing in Grand Prix classes. He’s also chestnut with a ton of extra white. I plucked up my courage and wrote an email to his owner.
She got back to me quickly agreeing that while Tacorde would certainly work for Star, she urged me to look at two of her other stallions for a better match. One of them was recently imported and extremely young, to the point of not having any existing approvals. I flipped through photos and videos. I noted how many names in his 4-generation pedigree jumped 1.50m or higher (8, with another that competed to 1.45m and another that did 3’11” hunters). I took a chance on the young Dutch warmblood stallion Jethro Tull.
We got the semen quickly and it was extremely fertile. Unfortunately Star ovulated before we got it in. The 14 day check showed she was still open. I honestly was ready to throw in the towel, but Dr. Matt asked me to try one more time.
At this point, I felt completely over the entire process. I could have bought an OTTB or two with the money I’d spent. Basically every warning about why not to breed seemed to be coming true. But there was one little thing keeping me sane: Star is my heart horse. I want a foal out of her, because I want to keep her essence moving forward in time.
On this past Saturday, I was having a very lazy afternoon up north at my in-laws. I got a text message notification. Not thinking much of it, I toggled open the screen and saw Dr. Matt had sent it. Prepared to hear, “sorry, she’s open again,” I was astonished to see an ultrasound photo of a little black dot (AKA a positive pregnancy). I’m not going to lie, I may have screamed loud enough to concern the entire house.
Of course, we have a long 11ish months to go. I think I’ll be a little calmer after the heartbeat check, but I likely won’t completely calm down until we pass 60 days. It’s difficult, after four long months, to actually relax and believe the good news. I can’t deny, though, that I’m extremely excited. Perhaps because it hasn’t been “easy” I’m also a lot less picky about what I get in the end. Before all this started, I wanted a blingy female, now all I really care about is a healthy foal with the potential to jump.
I will say breeding is not for the faint of heart. I’m not sure, knowing everything I know now, that I would go back and do it again. But, I’m more informed, better prepared and hopefully in the end I’ll get Star’s little jumper foal to carry on her line.
For now, I’m taking a huge breath of relief, and looking forward to this new journey with my pony. At the end of the day, perhaps that’s worth all the crazy getting here.
Christine Sharpe is a Canadian who grew up riding Hunter/Jumper in the Southern USA. Now living in Toronto, she is a thirty-something who is back to riding after taking four years off and having her first child. In 2017, Christine is planning to breed her Thoroughbred jumper mare, Star, and move to her first home on land. She struggles daily to juggle family, work, and her equine lifestyle, with occasional success.