Made-In-Mare: A Real Owner’s Story of Breeding Their Mare for the First Time
When an injury ended Ladybug’s performance career, Jessica Summerford wasn’t quite ready to give up on the dream of Ladybug or “Bug”’s future, specifically, within her genetics. “It has always been a dream of mine to breed my mare and then compete with her baby.” Jessica said.
In 2017, Jessica decided it was now or never and was ready to take on the task of breeding Ladybug. Now that Ladybug was 13 years old, Jessica was warned that it wouldn’t be easy, especially since this would be her mare’s first foal. Undaunted, Jessica accepted the challenge as the idea of a Ladybug foal on the ground filled her heart with “pride and joy.”
The first few steps were easy. Jessica had selected a Quarter Horse stallion who not only complimented Ladybug’s genetics but also stood at one of the best Quarter Horse breeding facilities in the world. Ladybug would be in good hands. After passing her initial vet exam and uterine culture swab came back clean, the veterinarian determined Ladybug would have a 70% chance of carrying a live foal. The next thing the vet prescribed was a high fat diet for Ladybug to let her body know that she would have enough energy to carry a foal. So semi-retired Ladybug got a higher grain ration, more hay and even a few alfalfa flakes mixed in. Now that’s living!
The next month Jessica continued to monitor Ladybug’s heat cycle. When she was close in her heat cycle Jessica took her into the vet for an ultrasound confirming the results. When a mare is close to estrus, the average mare’s follicle will grow 3mm per day until it was ready to be released, usually within 3 days. Of course, Ladybug had other plans. Even after receiving a deslorelin injection to help encourage ovulation, Ladybug’s follicle had hardly grown. The decision was made to leave Ladybug at the clinic for close monitoring of her progress. On the third day of Ladybug’s vacation at the clinic, her follicle tripled in size overnight after minimal progress the day before, of course. Semen was collected on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and guess what day the follicle grew? Tuesday.
Heroically, Jessica got her hands on a leftover sample from the day before and made the trek from Austin to Pilot Point and back for what she hoped would be the nick of time for the follicle release and nope, Ladybug decided to hold onto the follicle a little longer.
The next day, Wednesday, (and 500 driven miles later), it was the day. Jessica ordered two more samples and had them flown from Dallas to Austin. “I am still trying to figure out how I, a human that takes up space and requires attendance, can fly from DFW to AUS for about $100, but a box that is about a foot across in all directions and can be stacked underneath the cabin (without any access to soda or peanuts) costs $400 to fly.” Jessica said.
After what appeared to be perfect timing with Ladybug’s follicle release and the new samples luxury arrival via air, Jessica got her first restful night’s sleep in a week. The following day, Ladybug got a uterine lavage and was ready to be taken home. Jessica said the next two weeks were the longest of her life.
“When we returned to the clinic, I was a nervous wreck.” Jessica said. As soon as Ladybug began unloading from the trailer, a technician walked by with a mare followed by a wobbly foal and Ladybug locked in on the baby and began to nicker obsessively. Beyond the sheer adorableness of the moment, Jessica thought it was a sign of good news. “With crossed fingers, sweaty palms, and a racing heart, I was told what I have been waiting to hear for over a decade… Ladybug is expecting!” Jessica said. And like that, the first attempt to breed her 13-year-old maiden mare was successful, but not without time, effort, lots of money and Ladybug’s health.
There are so many resources go into bringing a foal into this world—a lot of restless nights, long hours at the vet clinic, and serious financial commitment. As an individual horse owner working to get a single mare pregnant while also working a full-time job and maintaining a home, it was no walk in the park for Jessica. “The miracle of bringing a living, breathing creature into this world—whether they become the next performance horse to go down in history or they turn out to just be exceptionally average—is something that cannot be replaced.” Jessica said.
Jessica said she will forever be able to look that horse in the eye and be fulfilled knowing that dedication and being a reckless dreamer sure pay off. For this reason and more, NIGHTWATCH® was an absolutely vital component of her foaling plan. Throughout the year, her NIGHTWATCH® halter will become fine-tuned to her mare’s unique biometrics and behaviors. After months of learning and data, when the mare is ready to foal it will alert caretakers to the distress that comes with labor so they can high-tail it to the mare’s aid should she need it.
“Whether that results in positive health outcomes for the mare and the foal, or simply allows me the breathtaking experience to be there as this long-legged miracle comes into this world, it’s worth every penny and then some.” Jessica said.