Venturing out one night during the winter Keeneland auctions, I met a friend and co worker of Lane's End Oaktree division, while she was working. I was invited to hang out and saw my visit as an opportunity to learn about the breeding process for Thoroughbred horses. Now I get the basics of breeding, as sex isn't really too hard to understand, but I mean all the other intricacies involved.
Clearly I did not know what I was getting into.
I was able to water the horses and went on a tour of the broodmare barns and the baby barns. I was shown the pastures at night with huddled horses on hills, with a backlit cloudy night sky. Oddly enough, they sat and stared at us, but would not budge when called at.
I learned that they breed small horses to large ones...for example, the smallest mare in the foal watch barn was bred to Rock Hard Ten. Now, I am positive they will get a good strong medium-sized horse out of the difference, but I felt really bad for that mare. She was very small and when I went to Lane's Ends open house, I have pictures of how HUGE Rock Hard Ten is. He is a beautiful horse that demands some respect on sight.
He's just freak'n' big people, but he is well put together...A nice triangle, good curvature on the back and evenly proportioned. By triangle, I mean you look at the shoulders and arch at the center of the back. If the lines form a straight equilateral triangle, then the proportions are pretty good. So make a triangle with your two pointer fingers and thumbs, hold it up towards the horses side, then picture that form traced on the horse.
There was one mistake I made in the barn however. I noticed there was one mare who was pretty active in her stall. Standing down at the far end of the barn, it seemed like she wanted some attention, so I venture down there. I was walking to end of the barn and I thought I heard some Jason movie theme sound, you know, that classic 80s horror echoing whisper sound. She was being lovey dovey from a distance and seemed to want me to come closer. So I did.
I wish I had the lesson from some co-worker on how to read body language on horses i.e. ear movement and position, tail movement and breathing. Thus, on reflection her ears were slightly pinned back, but moving still. She came to the door and stuck her nose to the bar and then slowly backed away a smidge, so I had to reach inside her stall to pet her nose. Alas, when I started to reach in from the side, because horses don't like to be approached from the center front of their head, she tilted her head sideways a tad. When my hand was almost at her lip, yep, her lip curled and I pulled back quick as her nip just missed my hand. She was a smart, sly, moody thing, but I learned my lesson. My friend working said, "Yeah, she can be mean"...but used some other choice words as a description.
The most fascinating and maybe painful thing I had learned in a while was the fact that mares are stitched. What do I mean by stitched? I mean they sew up the horses so they will give birth to their foals at the correct time and not prematurely. Seriously, a needled and thick thread holding together parts of the female horse anatomy. I just didn't know and was rather taken back. Most breeding is paid per live foal, so it is important to insure maturity/timely births happen. So at least there is a logical reason. Still, it has sat with me and left an impression of great new respect for broodmares.