Suzy finally went into "season" last Friday night, and the next phase of my animal husbandry education began. Early Saturday morning, we loaded her up into the trailer and drove down to Mountain Meadows Clydesdales. Barb and Dave Finlay have been part of a Clydesdale breeding dynasty that spans three generations. Their quiet farm, nestled in between rolling crop fields, houses about ten horses at the moment, two of which are foals.
It would help if I shared that fact the Suzy Q was born at Mountain Meadows. When we dropped her off there, she was guided into a big, clean, well dressed box stall, which was the same in which she was born seventeen years ago. Did she remember? It's hard to know. She was distracted by Luke, their junior stallion and her paramour for the week.
Luke is just four this year, but he is not unlike other teenage males, and his desires are carnal to say the least. The picture above shows their first meeting, and established that everybody knew what they were there to do.
There are two ways to breed a mare to a stallion, Artificial insemination (expensive but often used for mating between valuable horses at a distance from one another), and live cover. What follows here is an explanation of how live cover is done.
There are still horse breeders out there who will simply put a mare and a stallion (usually several mares) together in an enclosure and let nature take its course (one of them being a close friend to our family). And it does - as Jeff Goldblum said Jurassic Park, life will find a way. However, it is not unheard of for a reluctant mare to react violently to the stallion's first approach. Maybe she has only just started her season, or maybe she objects for other reasons. Valuable stallions have had to be euthanized because of a broken jaw, or other head injury. Most breeders will now opt for a sort of controlled live cover, especially those whose stallions have significant monetary or breeding value (rare breeds etc ).
So here is what is done. The mare is moved into a specially made rack, or other position where she will be unable to kick should the desire arise. The humans, who are helping, will hold/tie her in place, and when all is ready, the stallion will be led in. This is done every two days, until the mare makes it clear that she is NOT INTERESTED in being serviced any more. For Suzy, this happened yesterday, Friday May 26. I got a note that Suzy was ready to go home.
The big brown truck and the big red trailer (and me) arrived at Mountain Meadows last evening. I left the rig up on the road and walked down the driveway, waking the dogs and thus the entire neighbourhood. Dave brought Suzy out of the barn to meet me and she was VERY eager to go home. And I remembered all over again how exquisitely beautiful she is and I was deeply touched at how happy she was to see me.
Incidentally, almost every horse I saw at Mountain Meadows, including Luke, has the same eclipse on their forehead as Suzy, even though she is generations and several seconds, thirds, fourths and fifths removed from them.
As well as being happy to see me, Suzy was impatient to go home. I talked to Dave for a few minutes while holding her rope and she started circling me. At a run. Once I got her in the trailer, she started using her weight to rock it, so I decided I had better get us moving. She gave me a look that said "what were you waiting for?"
She was very quiet on the way home, presumably munching from the hay net and watching the world go by outside the trailer. When I pulled into our driveway and opened the trailer door, she was like a coiled spring. I didn't know what to expect, but I decided to trust her, and she didn't betray my trust. She was polite all the way into the barn, through the gate, and into the stall area. By then she was trembling, so I let her go. She stepped out the back of the barn and trumpeted loudly "I'M HOME" Within seconds she and Duke had their necks wrapped around each other and Shannon was sniffing her and gently nickering.
But all was not right in the State of Denmark. As soon as Duke got over his initial joy, he started noticing something..........."sniff, sniff, sniff, hey, you smell funny.........hey where have you been anyway?..................sniff, sniff, sniff.............and what on earth have you been doing?.....sniff, sniff....hey, you smell like -" With a squeal worthy of a whole herd of pigs, she whirled around on him and kicked him in the shoulder. She didn't hurt him, at least not physically, but the betrayed look on his face made it clear that she had never done that before. She has always coddled him, mothered him, and been gentle with him. He tried a couple of more times to sniff, to get close, and both times, he got the squeal and kicks that did not connect. He wasn't dumb enough to let that happen twice.
Mares that have been bred will often rebuff the even innocent attentions of male horses in their lives immediately after having been bred. I'm not sure if it's hormonal, emotional, or the need to protect a fetus just beginning to take hold, but it's probably all of them. But as of this morning, all was well again, and all enjoyed the grass in one happy group.
Is Suzy pregnant? Dunno, guess we all have to wait to find out.