As I sit to start writing about this course, sponsored by Char-O-Lot Ranch, and provided by Equine–reproduction.com, I am struggling to decide how to summarize what was basically a college level equine science course into a succinct article.
A few months ago, Sue Schembri tossed out a question on Facebook. Would anyone be interested in attending a three-day repro course? As a first-time stallion owner who knows the impeccable reputation of Sue’s work, I did not have to think twice about reserving my spot. 16 other horse owners from around the country felt the same way. While we were mostly Appaloosa owners from as far away as Oregon, we were joined by Quarter Horse, Warmblood and POA owners as well. If we thought this was just going to be three days hanging out at the ranch, we were wrong.
The first day focused on the mare. A full day (8:30 to 5) of lecture covered everything from basic mare reproductive anatomy, to the endocrinology of conception and pregnancy, to problems that can occur that can influence a mare to have a problem to either conceive or carry a foal to term. Day two started out at the lecture hall in the morning as well, where we discussed pregnancy, foaling and the possible issues that can arise in that process. The highlight of the second day was the commencement of the wet lab at Char-O-Lot Ranch.
As a decades long Appaloosa owner, I am embarrassed to say that I have never been to Char-O-Lot Ranch and my first visit did not disappoint. Upon first glance, it is obvious that this is an operation set up for maximum efficiency to produce quality work. Our time there was focused on the breeding barn. The breeding barn is housed immediately next to the phantom where they collect the stallions and right next to the mare barn that houses the mares who have already foaled. The lab is a small room in the breeding barn so that everything can be immediately analyzed.
Day one in the wet lab started with a demonstration of an ultrasound on a mare that was not to be bred while we were there. Swabs were taken to allow the students to create a cytology slide, stain the slide and then observe the cells under the microscope. As this was a first time for many of us, quite a number of the slides lacked enough stain to be clearly readable, but we were able to read the better stained slides.
The next step for wet lab was for each student to practice their insemination technique on a very patient mare. While no insemination was taking place for this mare, each student learned to put on their glove without contamination, hold the insemination tube, and, in the mare’s vagina, learn the feel of the cervix, and placement of an insemination tube. This process was both exciting and a little anxiety provoking as it was a first time for many of us.
The final day of the course started out rainy and in the lecture hall again. Day three focused on the stallion. Again, everything from reproductive anatomy, to hormones, to phantom training and collection. Lecture also focused on analyzing semen which was super helpful for this writer, as I now can understand the breeding stallion report that I received from Select Breeder Services!
The final day ended with the second wet lab back on the farm. The Schembri family demonstrated the collection of two of their resident stallions. The first stallion was not going to be bred that day, so his semen was used for teaching. Students were back in the lab to look at the semen under the microscope for morphology and motility.
The second stallion that was collected was being used for insemination that day, so the class was privy to the entire process from start to finish. The stallion was collected. Sue took the semen to the lab to analyze, determine concentration and extend it. The mare was brought in and bred with the freshly collected semen. The entire process was efficiently done both safely and quickly.
As a bonus for observation, Sue needed to place a foal alert monitor on a mare which the class observed.
Learning about equine reproduction from lecture is super helpful and creates the foundation for knowledge. The ability to immediately put that knowledge into practice with a wet lab using real animals is priceless. The wet lab portion took the course from theory to reality and allowed the class to observe the inner workings of a long-standing breeding farm that breeds anywhere from about 75 to 100 mares a year and stands multiple stallions.
If this course sounds intriguing, please let Sue Schembri know. Char-O-Lot and the instructors are thinking about bringing it back again for 2023.
This class is something that is a must for anyone who is thinking about breeding their own horses, or even breeding their mares or stallions using a breeding facility. It provides both basic knowledge as well as the knowledge needed to be able to run a small breeding program on your own.
As with anything that involves our Appaloosa family, the bonus of this course was to spend concentrated time with other Appaloosa owners and get to know them better. We often don’t have the opportunity to spend that amount of time together at horse shows since everyone is super busy when horse showing.
Many thanks to Char-O-Lot Ranch, Equine-reproduction.com and all of those involved in both operations for initiating and planning the weekend and conducting an interesting and informative breeding workshop.