By George Newtown. Our Oldenburg stallion Balanchine knows that, whenever Dr. Bobby Hewlett locks eyes with him at stall #1 in our shed row, they are about to enjoy one of those special days. Knowledgeable visitors joke that the stallion has a thing for the doc’s baseball cap. Whatever it is, at that moment Balanchine is quick to get love on his mind. It doesn’t bother him that once again he won’t be invited to “know” (in the Biblical sense) one of his mares. And as far as the mares can make out, their baby daddy is a veterinarian in a ball cap.
First Dr. Bobby must palpate the mare in heat to see if she is ready to breed. He slips a long plastic sleeve over his arm, slathers it with lubricant, and pushes his hand into the mare’s anus. After removing handfuls of manure, he cups the ovaries one after the other through the rectal wall and gently rolls them to feel where a follicle may be about to erupt. In days gone by veterinarians made crude measurements (“three fingers and hard” or “five and soft”), and could usually predict, within a day, the time of ovulation. Today much of the guesswork disappears on account of Dr. Bobby’s expensive ultrasound machine, which measures follicles in millimeters rather than in the width of fingers.
Once Bobby has determined that now is the time to breed, he and his assistant Max unload the collecting equipment—the rubber boot (or artificial vagina [AV]), its separable navy blue padded cover, the tube of lube, the baby bottle, the box of filters. While they unpack these items I call Barbara at the house and ask her to bring out a thermos of 120-degree water—to fill the reservoir around the AV and create a temperature of about 110 degrees for the sensation the stallion likes best.
Dr. Bobby presses a filter into the neck of the baby bottle and then screws the bottle into the lower end of the AV, where it will dangle as gravity assists the ejaculate through the filter during the collection. Once Barbara arrives with the thermos, Bobby and Alex take turns (the pump is unforgivingly stiff) pumping the hot liquid through a rubber tube into the AV reservoir. As it starts to overflow, they remove the tube and quickly screw on the small metal cap—the apparatus resembles the valve stem of a tire—to hold the water in the reservoir. Then they wrap the insulating cloth cover around the boot and attach the Velcro to hold it in place.
I put a halter on Balanchine and loop a chain over his nose for greater control. Alex takes the lead shank and I walk further down the shed row to halter the mare. The doc uses cotton swabbing, mild soap, and a cup or two of the remaining hot water to wash off the smegma (crusty yellow flakes or oily black goo, depending on moisture content in the sheath) from the stallion’s now-erect penis. As soon as the cleansing materials come in contact with his sensitive member, Balanchine dances the tarantella.
“We’re ready for the mare, George,” Dr. Bobby calls. I lead her from the nether end of the shed row into stall #2, where she and Balanchine can touch noses through the wire mesh that separates them. As she approaches, he trumpets his impatience. Alex jerks the chain of the lead shank to keep the stallion straight and Bobby (in his steel-toed boots—so as to protect his feet against the rapid dance of the hind legs) approaches the near side of the large black horse and slips the AV smoothly over the now fully erect phallus. Ever the jokester, Bobby may shout encouragement to the big horse, but it’s clear that his urging is unnecessary, as the ejaculation usually begins in seconds and concludes within a minute.
At the end of his orgasm Balanchine often looks like he might swoon, but Bobby deftly avoids the staggering horse as he removes the boot. I take the mare back to her earlier station, Bobbie escapes through the stall door with the boot, and Alex removes the chain from over the stallion’s nose. Bobby carefully unscrews the lid of the now-half-full baby bottle, removes the dripping filter (“It’s mostly gel,” he says—so as to assure us that no future Olympic champions are drooling into the sand), and hands the bottle with its milky contents to Barbara. She protects the freshly collected semen from sunlight (which can quickly kill sperm) by cradling it in her cleavage until the doc is ready to use it.
He wraps the mare’s tail and washes her external organs. Meanwhile we draw a syringe-full of the cloudy liquid from the baby bottle. Then, with his arm in a sterile sleeve, the doc separates the lips of the vulva, eases his hand inside, and threads the end of a two foot glass pipette through the vagina and the cervix, deep into the uterus. He inserts the syringe into the visible end of the pipette and presses the plunger.
Once he has removed the rigid tube and briefly massaged the cervix, we breathe again, happy that the mare has not wrenched his arm out of its socket or shattered his kneecap. He unwinds the tail wrap, gives the mare a shot to bring on ovulation, and the hoping begins. Three hundred forty-five days later, after consuming a winter’s worth of round bales, a ton of sweet feed, and a gallon of supplements, the mare will emerge from her eleven-month fog of hormones to watch the foal take his first raggedy breaths and wobbly steps.
The noted 20th century Italian breeder Tesio (producer of the phenomenal Thoroughbred sires Nearco and Ribot) insisted that truly world-beating foals result only from a “love match” when the stallion and the mare can barely contain themselves during their reproductive passion. Maybe our from-the-ground collection by the veterinarian in his baseball cap creates less aggressive offspring, but we’re not complaining about the “amateur temperaments” our foals routinely inherit from Balanchine. He hasn’t complained about his role in the process either. And as long as Dr. Bobby remembers to wear his steel-toed boots he keeps smiling too.
[Diagram of a breeding mount or “dummy mare,” which Balanchine doesn’t need.]
[Image: http://articles.extension.org ]