Story by Kelly Hill
Oakham Veterinary Hospital Stud welcomed us with fields full of mares and foals. Mares that looked much more expensive than Tilly, who I worked for three years to call mine. I had thought about breeding her for years, constantly weighing up the pros and cons. I always thought of the worst case scenario. Every time. But I finally made the decision.
I came off the trailer with my little coloured cob and the manager’s facial expression dropped. I told him I knew her breeding was nothing special. “The pony is special to you,” he said, “that’s the most important thing”. The pony he called her! At 14.3hh my very special mare was there to breed to Royaldik, an Oldenburg licensed stallion known to refine and improve many mares.
It had taken me a long time to get to that day, with many ups and downs, and even longer from then until now, the final stretch of Tilly’s pregnancy. She’s due in 26 days and I’d like to take you on this stressful but exciting journey with me, from when I started looking at potential stallions to the day I will meet Tilly’s baby.
Decision made, now to find a dad
She’s basically my dream horse. I love her. I’ve always wanted to breed Tilly but couldn’t decide on the right time as you have to sacrifice riding them for a whole year, really. But, it was good timing last year, she got arthritis and had on and off soundness issues. I had Una, my other horse, and wasn’t doing much with Tilly.
The stud fee was €900 Euros plus vat (nearly £1000) and it comes with a live foal guarantee. That means that if the foal doesn’t live past 48 hours, you can access more sperm from the same stallion with no fee and use it on any mare. This mattered to me when choosing the stallion as I knew it would be harder for Tilly to get pregnant because, at 15, she is older. So, being able to try again on Tilly or another mare was a good safeguard.
I wanted to breed something big and was looking for a stallion that would complement Tilly’s faults. She doesn’t have the best paces, so I wanted something with very good movement. A good trot, strong canter.
I eventually got to see him in real life but I chose him before I met him. I don’t think he’s done that much but his young stock is proven. Mary King used him last year and late superstar eventer Headley Britannia was covered by him.
I emailed the company about his temperament. They told me how lovely he was. And he was. I met him while Tilly was at the stud and they let me spend some time with him. I went into his stable with him and he was very friendly and quiet.
Some others at the stallion showcase I was allowed to see before and afterwards were jumping all over the place. They were nippy, too much testosterone. Considering Royaldik was jumping on a dummy every other day he was really chilled.
The mare check
The first test Tilly needed was a pre-breeding conformation test. Some horses have very bad vulva and hind end conformation and shouldn’t carry a foal as they struggle with giving birth. She then had various tests done to detect any potential diseases endangering pregnancy. They all came back clear. She was ready to go.
The next thing was to have her scanned to predict how far along in oestrus she was by measuring the diameter of the follicles. Once they reach certain size (35-40mm) you know the mare will ovulate. When the vet said Tilly’s looked like she was going to ovulate within 24 hours I ordered the sperm. It’s costs £140 each time to order it because it is delivered by a special courier and charged for collection off the stallion. I waited all the next morning for it to arrive!
The vet I used is not my usual vet. My vet of 12 years is based quite far away and independent so was unable to commit to multiple scans of her follicles and be able to be there at the exact time I would need him to inseminate her so I opted for another vet I knew that was familiar with the breeding process.
On re scanning Tilly her follicles hadn’t quite reached the diameter he predicted. It meant she wasn’t going to ovulate. The vet inseminated her anyway. I didn’t know it at the time, but it can cause infection. All I knew was she didn’t take.
My usual vet warned me that Tilly might be too old to take. I knew I was running out of options as ordering sperm each time was really expensive. So, I thought I might as well go all in and send her to a stud, somewhere where they know exactly what they are doing, and have her inseminated there.
I went for Oakham because Royaldik was already standing there and his fresh semen could be used. I was told that using fresh semen increases chances of successful insemination.
Tilly was at the stud for nearly three months and that was expensive: £12.50 a day plus a package to include all scans etc.. at £220 per cycle (season)+ £120 in foal fee (payable if mare scans in foal at 15 days). She was there so long because a uterine infection was discovered after the second time she was inseminated. She had fluid on her uterus and the problem was most likely caused by the first attempt when she was inseminated and hadn’t ovulated. She was treated with antibiotics, then a long wait of six weeks for the infection to clear and for her to come into season again. By that time, I decided that it was to be the last try. If she didn’t take, I was going to bring her home as it was getting too expensive.
When the stud manager phoned and told me they had successfully inseminated her I didn’t believe him! It was 7th June. I’ll never forget that. Two weeks later Tilly was scanned to check if she took. I was waiting for that phone call and the whole day was a killer, but she had conceived and scan didn’t show any signs of twins. I will never forget that feeling.
I brought her home and waited. On 5th July she was booked for the “28 day heartbeat scan” and I was sure the baby wouldn’t be there!
Story to be continued…Part 2 coming: Monday 24th April 2017
Story put together by Wiola Grabowska
Edited by Mairi Mackay
Photo: Listening to Kelly recalling all the events leading up to the current day – less than a month to due date…