For most folks, spring is a favorite time of year. Many parts of the season serve as a reminder of the cycle of life and its renewal, but the sight of new foals cavorting around contented mares is definitely my favorite.
If you have never been around a horse breeding operation, it is full of amazing sights and sounds that you just won’t see every day. The actual process of breeding is not that complicated, (For a technical review, see late night TV) but how mares and stallions are managed can be. The biologic harmony that functioned very well before we came along can be disrupted by our attempt to “manage” systems we don’t really understand. One aspect of this is hygiene.
Biology loves balance. This harmony becomes disrupted when we come along with a bottle of betadine and a sponge to be sure that Ole’ Buck’s equipment is good and clean before his date. What happens is that all the bacteria are wiped out. This is like putting a broad-spectrum herbicide on your lawn: all the plants are killed but only the weeds grow back. The grass that was keeping the weeds in check was wiped out when the botanical equivalent to betadine was applied. Virtually every case of venereal infection in stallions can be traced to the use of strong disinfectants (betadine or nolvasan) for genital hygiene.
The use of hand sanitizers and the rampant use of “household disinfectants” is probably ill-advised. Instead, plane water with a little detergent is probably a more balanced approach in our houses and our horses, too. This will not disrupt much of the normal flora, and that will keep the microbial population happy, but it will remove some surface debris so things will look better. It still doesn’t make Ole’ Buck the stallion real happy, but he doesn’t care about microbiology, all he cares about is…well, you know.
About the time of the great depression horses were still used for work and transportation, so breeding mares was more of a necessity than a hobby. My friend Hugh Bishop told me a story about his dad breeding a buggy horse almost a century ago.
Young Neil Bishop grew up in the vast, sparsely populated Kansas farmlands. There were considerable distances between farms and towns in those days, and a fast buggy horse was a real asset to farmers who couldn’t afford an automobile. Grandpa Bishop had a great buggy horse he called Dolly. He appreciated Dolly’s style and stamina as she swept the Kansas countryside with the smooth, effortless power of a champion.
As Dolly got a little older, Grandpa Bishop realized that he would eventually need a replacement for her. So arrangements were made to breed her to a neighbor’s stallion. As all of the men in the family were involved in the spring planting, the duty of transporting Dolly to the stallion was given to Neil. Lacking a horse trailer and a one-ton Ford diesel to pull it, the eight-year-old Bishop swung on the mare bareback early one morning and rode her to the neighbor’s farm.
He arrived in the mid-afternoon. Just like it had been at home, all the grown men were working in the fields. Only the farmer’s wife and infant child were present. The younger Bishop, not wanting to repeat the day-long journey, convinced the farmer’s wife that he could hold the mare if she could lead the stallion. Being a tough, resourceful Kansas farm woman, not even bothering to remove her apron, she stepped to the stallion’s coral and slipped a halter on him.
Neil stood with Dolly in quiet awe as the young stallion lunged toward the mare with unexpected exuberance. The surprised mare, stepped nervously to the side and the stallion, more eager than accurate, was having difficulties with the moving target. The farmer’s wife was in a position to correct the aiming deficiency, but she was just a bit squeamish about actually touching the passionate appendage. In a moment of quick thinking she would live to regret, she placed her hand under the hem of her apron and using the cloth like a pot holder, directed the stallion to the target.
That was all the encouragement he needed. As soon as he realized he was in the right place, he was in the right place! Unfortunately, the clean, dry calico of the apron stuck fast to the slightly damp skin of the “boy part” and the cloth which had so recently been an apron, became a calico condom! As young Bishop watched in dumbfounded silence, the hardy Kansas woman, still tied to the apron by some stout, cotton strings, was picked up by the ardent thrusting of the young stallion and became an involuntary member of an unlikely threesome. Thankfully, the stallion completed his mission quickly, oblivious to presence of the accidental participant. No one was injured and, miraculously, the mare conceived.
About a year later, Dolly presented the Bishop’s with a beautiful, long legged filly who would be a worthy legacy to her elegant dam. At a church social a short time after the birth of the filly, the Bishop’s were visiting with the owner of the stallion and his wife.
Grandpa Bishop commented on what a beautiful foal their stallion had produced with his mare, Dolly.
The farmer’s wife stood silently, but apparently reflecting on the truly unforgettable event of the previous year. Then she said, “Well it ought to be,” she huffed, “it was strained through my prettiest calico apron!”