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  • The Horse Lady

The Maternity Ward

Everybody loves a baby horse, or foal. With their long spindly legs and their adorable facial expressions it's hard not to go a bit soft when you look at them. But to many horse owners, foals are a way to make money. For draft horses especially, there is a market for draft crosses. When crossed with thoroughbreds, they make fabulous hunter-jumpers, and some grand prix horses have draft blood also. There is also something called a "commercial" horse, bred specifically to pull carriages and wagons for show and for business. On Facebook, find your way to Ottawa West Horses and tack for sale. There are many of these horses changing hands. (Clydesdale foal photo from Pinterest)

Up until now, we have resisted breeding our horses, because the market is pretty full of draft crosses. But I have been thinking. Suzy is 16 years old, and she is strong enough for at least one more pregnancy. Also, mares enjoy an endorphin boost in pregnancy and so they love being pregnant. And finally, Duke is thirteen years old. By the time a purebred foal, could be born, come of sufficient age and be trained, it would be five years from now. Ideally, Duke could then teach his heir apparent.

Of course that plan could be useless if the little one proves to be of inappropriate temperament, or somehow unsuitable for the carriage. In that case, there is a market for purebred draft horses, for sleighs, or simply for riding (like riding a couch) so would could at least get some of our money back. And it is possible to sell a horse with buyback conditions if the buyer cannot keep the horse for some reason. And of course, if I can't find a buyer I am absolutely in love with, maybe I won't sell at all.

According to the plan, Suzy will go to the farm of her birth in the spring. She will be bred to a big black Clydesdale stallion named Luke. I have met Luke, and he has a typical draft stallion temperament: "I could step on you and squash you like a bug because I'm a stallion but I would really prefer that you scratch that spot just behind my right ear". He is big, about the same size as Suzy, or a bit bigger. She will not have a problem carrying his foal. So this winter is all about strengthening Suzy, improving her fitness, and her overall health. So I am combing coconut oil through her mane, rubbing it on her udder (which is a bit chapped at the moment), putting Vaseline on her chestnuts, and continuing with hoof care. When the time comes, there will be no reason, no little infection or annoyance, no challenge to her immune system, why she should not conceive.

And then there is Shannon. With her gorgeous white coat, her long white eyelashes and her placid disposition, she is an ideal candidate for breeding. Her last foal is now four years old, a gorgeous big black Percheron of about seventeen hands.

In France, there is a stunning breed called the boulonnais. (Photo courtesty Lynn Gennrich)

Not so tall as our draft horses, but extremely stocky, like a cross between the most beautiful and graceful ballet dancer and a body builder. There is a small group in the US trying to rebuild the breed in North America, and there are now a stallion and a colt owned by one person (the only intact males in North America of that breed). The pictures of her horses make my knees weak (the photo at right is her stallion, Ben). To rebuild the breed, it is currently acceptable to use Percheron stock. I contacted her about Shannon. The price she quoted was extremely fair, but much to rich for our little operation right now. But Shannon is young, the boulonnais breed still needs rebuilding, and we will be in a better place a few years from now. Shanny has work to do for the next year or so, and so we will focus her energies on that.

It is in our blood to want to breed, either ourselves or by proxy. The Bible exhortation to "go forth and multiply" was not a new instruction, but merely a reflection of the urges of mankind at the time of writing. We will always breed carefully, with much thought and planning, and through contract terms we willl ensure that no horse we breed will ever end up on the meat man's truck. But breed, selectively and with restraint, we will.

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