Tag Archives: Horse breeding

Breeding my horse of a lifetime: Nine minutes with Royal Diva – from heartbeat to 6 weeks old [VIDEO]

Diva being a diva
Diva walking Kelly back to her car in style 😉 4th July 2017.

The youngest Academy super star mascot, Royal Diva, is 6 weeks old and growing by day. She shed her first frogs and her foal coat is slowly shedding too leaving her face slightly moth eaten in appearance 😉

She has learnt to lead for short periods of time, pick her feet up, got acquainted with an overnight stabling, learnt to eat grass and come to call 😉 You can watch her giving Kelly a welcome HERE.  Her hooves are changing as her diet is expanding and you can see the deeper rings marking her date of birth now clearly growing down.

For most part, she leads a quiet life interspersed with short moments of human visits couple of times a day.

She’s feisty at times but overall appears to have a nice, inquisitive, confident level temperament, loves people and thrives on scratches 😉 Tilly is a fabulous Mum leaving Diva plenty of space to explore and has lost some of her constant protectiveness she showed at the beginning.


The little filly is oh so alive and such a personality and yet, exactly a year ago, on 5th July 2016, Diva was nothing more than a confirmed heartbeat on the vet’s monitor.

The video below will take you on a nine minutes long emotional journey that might make you want to breed your own little diva! You’ve been warned! 😉

Breeding my little horse of a lifetime. Part 3: Moving again, preparing for foaling and udder watching

Story by Kelly Hill

Tilly now and then
Left: Tilly in her new field, free from daffodils! Right: Tilly some 8 years ago

Moving the pregnant mare

Looking at Tilly surrounded by poisonous plants in her maternity field was making me more nervous by the minute. We had spent a lot of time (2 months) doing the field up and making it as foal friendly as possible in any spare time we could find. Fields in our area aren’t easy to come by as we are on the outskirts of London and not exactly spoilt for choice.

Read part 2: Counting costs, watching Tilly grow and a drama with daffodils

It was an old orchard, so there were sycamore trees as well as the daffodils. They are a flipping nightmare as their seeds and seedlings can carry toxins that cause Atypical Myopathy. The field also had a yew hedge, apple and oak trees, all of which I didn’t know about, as we arrived in November when the trees were bare. Daffodils covered the majority of the field and I didn’t want to risk the horses consuming any of them, especially as they chose to mainly graze amongst them (of course they did!). Putting my paranoia aside, the horses probably wouldn’t have touched them, but a foal probably would. They consume anything and everything, just like a naughty little puppy, and I wasn’t prepared to take the risk with my horses or the foal. My commute to the field was also a problem sometimes as I had to coordinate with London traffic.

I suppose I should have thought about logistics beforehand, but I never think about these things until after. I just do it and then worry about it! I needed to move Tilly quickly as she was fast approaching her due date and I was advised by the lovely people on ‘The Foaling Hub’ Facebook page that, from previous experience, it would be better to move her sooner rather than later. Thankfully, there was a field available for rent just 20 minutes drive from my house and we moved Tilly together with her little Welsh Section A companion pony for what we hoped would be the final time.

Tilly new field

She’s happy and settled there now and I have the current field until August time, so I will see how things go. I will either move Tilly and the foal one last time before weaning or separate them slightly early if the foal is no longer dependant on Mum and take Tilly home. I plan to look for a grass livery option for youngsters once the foal is ready. People ask if I would rather Tilly had a colt or a filly. I think a filly would be easier, but I would prefer a gelding long term. A filly would be easier at the start because some people are funny about putting colts in their fields. I also wouldn’t have to worry about chopping the colt’s bollocks later on. Sometimes they only drop one testicle and you either have to wait for the other to drop before castrating — which means turnout options can be limited — or they can retain one which makes them a “rig”. This is when they have stallion-like tendencies but visually appear to be a gelding.

Tilly udder 3
Some of the hundreds photos of her changing milk bar that I take daily…

Getting ready for the birth

There’s a saying that “the foal picks the day and the mare picks the hour”. Knowing when mares will go into labour isn’t straightforward, so most people keep hem stabled with CCTV installed to monitor their behaviour. I’ve chosen to let Tilly foal outside with the option of a field shelter if she wishes, although I wish I could have CCTV on a drone constantly above her field .

We have no wi-fi here for any technology that I could use. What I have got, though, is a scope with night vision. I borrowed it from a friend who uses it for deer stalking at night. It means that rather than disturbing her, I can put the scope on and just look (see similar one here).

Tilly and Rosie

I’ve got my foaling kit ready. Among plenty of important things, it includes a little bottle in case Tilly rejects the foal and a tiny leather headcollar. I also bought a foaling prediction kit to test the PH levels in Tilly’s milk when foaling is due. A certain level (6.2 is the lucky number) will tell you that the mare is imminent.

Apparently, maiden mares are not very cooperative. Some won’t even bag up much before foaling and you can just come one morning and they’ve popped the bubba out! I’m hoping that Tilly will give enough indication nearer the time that I don’t have to spend too many sleepless nights camping out .

Tilly belly and KellyIf she follows the rules, which she has so far, mares start to develop an udder 4-6 weeks before their due date. Some mares leak milk before birth, which allows you to test the PH levels, although it’s not wise to force strip a mare of any milk. You should only test if they are leaking. A very good sign you are close is when they start to wax up (when wax like beads of colostrum appear at the end of mare’s teats). This tends to happen 24-48 hours before they go into labour, although this is not the case for all mares.

Other signs include the hind-end muscles relaxing and slackening off and the vulva
becoming elongated and opening a centimetre or two. Nearer the time, I’m going to watch as many foaling videos as I can so I know what to look out for and when to call the vet. I want to know how long to wait before I start worrying about something. I have my usual vet on standby. I’ll ring him first and if he can’t come there is a practice on my doorstep so it should be fine to get someone here quick.

I want to be present myself too! I’d probably be tempted to assist and help pull it out, you should have seen my dog having puppies, I practically gave birth for her! I’d be relieved if I came and the foal was just there, but I’d be gutted I’d missed it. How often do you get to see horses giving birth?
To be continued….Part 4: When Tilly gives birth! Due date in a couple of weeks! 

Behind the scenes tilly storyStory 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…

Breeding my little horse of a lifetime. Part 2: Counting costs, watching Tilly grow and a drama with daffodils

Story by Kelly Hill

Tilly in April 2010

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t do it again. Not like I’ve done it with Tilly, anyway. I have a nice Welsh mare that I’d like to breed but would like her to run with a stallion and be covered naturally.

For the kind of foal I wanted out of Tilly, I needed a good stallion. Natural covering would never be allowed with those more valuable horses.

I wouldn’t breed Tilly again. It’s too stressful. I worry that I will either lose the mare or lose the foal. Hopefully, it will be all worth it.

Read part 1: Choosing the stallion, measuring follicles and hoping for a heartbeat 

The first scan back home

Alas, we made it to the 28-day scan. I could see the heartbeat on the vet’s monitor. The baby was there! No regrets!

tilly 2 heart

It was all good so she went back into work. I rode her until the day I moved her in November last year to the field she was supposed to have the foal in.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to move her from my yard until I really had to, but a friend of mine with another pregnant mare found a field to rent that suited us both.

Cruising along

Tilly collage
Top left: November 2016, Bottom left: December 2016. Top right: January 2017, Bottom right: February 2017. She appears to be changing shape depending on time of the day. Sometimes she looks huge, sometimes her belly disappears somewhat. Apparently it is all to do with the position of the foal that can lay flat or “starfish” some days!

So far, with about 20 days to go, Tilly has had a problem-free pregnancy. She had herpes vaccinations at five, seven and nine months. People worry a lot about pregnant mares aborting their foal. Equine herpes virus can cause abortion in pregnant mares at any stage of the pregnancy.

One girl I know of had a mare who aborted at seven-and-a-half months. She was 15, the same age as Tilly. Someone on The Foaling Hub , a Facebook group I am a member of, had a mare that aborted three weeks early, so the fear is always there at the back of my mind.

Mares gestate for an average of 340 days but they can give birth from as early as 320 days or as late as 365. The foal grows the most in the last trimester. It’s all really slow and small, then it goes from a “rabbit” to a foal!

I keep a constant eye on Tilly’s changes and udder development and take photos most days to make comparisons. When mares get closer to foaling (around 4-6 weeks from delivery) their udders start to change. When they begin to “wax up” and produce milk you know you are close!

Early days…

Feeding mum

At first I grazed Tilly in a field that had been rested, so I just had her on Alfa A and Youngstock mix . For the last three months of the pregnancy I put her on Bailey’s Stud Balancer because it has all the vitamins and minerals pregnant mares need, especially in the last trimester when the foal grows the most. Tilly held her weight well over winter and is looking great.

Tilly 2 blog

If I could afford it, I would have left her at the stud to foal but I had already spent nearly £3,000.

I drive to Tilly’s field every morning and as I get closer and I get nervous that I will find her with the foal aborted. When she is looking peaceful, I think: “Oh my God, she is looking lethargic!” I look at her back legs and if they are clean with no discharge, I think “Phew”!

Scary googling

If something worries me I Google it to within an inch of its life! Google is the bane of my life. It’s terrifying what you can find on there.

I have joined various online breeding and foaling groups. The one I like most is The Foaling Hub. It’s been the best page ever. They are all so nice and helpful with any questions or worries I have had. Most of the members have a lot of experience and some have their own studs. Many have had BOGOF or “buy one get one free” experiences, which is when you buy a horse not knowing they are in foal. Then spring arrives and they pop out a foal.

Tilly from underneath
Waiting game…

Breeding costs

My first advice to someone who wants to breed their dream horse would be to check out the costs first. For me, it has been way more expensive than I thought it would be. If I knew it was going to cost me nearly £3,000 before the foal was even on the ground I might have reconsidered.

I don’t regret it at all, though. I wouldn’t have done it if I wanted to sell the foal. It wouldn’t be worth it because before the foal is born I will have spent more than its value. I would say only do it if you are going to keep the foal.

Having said that, I maybe did more than your average experienced breeder would have done. I had more scans than I needed to and I kept her at the stud longer than I needed to. Usually the mares go home straight after insemination, but I kept her there for an extra few weeks to be sure she had took and to minimise the risk of her reabsorbing the foetus. Maybe I could have cut my costs, but I knew it was something I was only doing once so I wanted to do it properly.

The daffodils


One of the most stressful moments of this entire journey was in March/April time when thousands of daffodils sprang up covering one third of the mares’ maternity field. They are highly poisonous plants and every part of them, if eaten, can kill. Daffodil toxicity symptoms can include loss of coordination, gastrointestinal upset and convulsions.

There was a sea of them in Tilly’s field and she was attached to the other pregnant mare with two months to go until her due date. I wanted to move her but had nothing lined up and we had put so much effort into making the current field foal safe.

Except, now it wasn’t safe at all.
Story to be continued…Part 3 coming Sunday 30th April 2017

Behind the scenes tilly storyStory 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…


Please see the story of Dotty, the pregnant mare that tragically might not survive giving birth to her foal. Urgent foster mare search is on (by 25th of April 2017) – please see: Dotty’s Journey


Breeding my little horse of a lifetime. Part 1: Choosing the stallion, measuring follicles and hoping for a heartbeat

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.

Swimming in the sea 

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 first thing I did once I’d made the decision was to go to The British Bred Stallion Event  at Bury Farm to look at potential stallions. I decided to go with The Stallion Company .

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.

Tilly jump
Tilly jumping at home

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.

Royaldik had a beautiful trot. Holy smokes! He wasn’t at the Bury Farm show, but I saw him on the website and looked through videos. 

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.


Photos used courtesy The Stallion Company. In France: Ken Rehill +33 789 55 33 41. In Ireland: Kim Wade +353 87 356 8539

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.

Photos used courtesy The Stallion Company. In France: Ken Rehill +33 789 55 33 41. In Ireland: Kim Wade +353 87 356 8539

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.

Tilly certificates
Good 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!


Royaldik semen
Whole morning waiting for this special delivery! 


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.

The Stud



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.

tobiano gene testing
I always wanted to know if Tilly is destined to have a coloured foal so a friend of mine paid for the test for my birthday. Tilly has a 50/50 chance of giving birth to a coloured foal.

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.


on way to Stud
Arriving back home

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


Behind the scenes tilly story

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…