Research Ramblings: Horse Breeding and High-Tech

My current work in progress involves chariot racing, and given its substantial equine components, I’ve recruited the aid of horse owners Julie and The Boyz’ Mom to keep it real. (For more about them, read this post.) They love sharing about their horses, and I love learning from them, and hopefully you’ll get some entertainment out of our exchanges.

So I was discussing equine social dynamics with Julie when, as often happens, we went off on a tangent about horsey personalities. And in the conversation, she mentioned something about Elle’s surrogate mom. I instantly thought she meant an older mare that had taken a shine to Elle. That or Elle was orphaned a foal and another mare had “adopted” her. So when I asked Julie to clarify which she meant, I was in for a surprise.

By “surrogate mom,” she meant the mare that had carried and birthed Elle but actually wasn’t blood related to her at all.

Perhaps it’s just me romanticizing, but when I think of horses and their people, my mind harkens to a simpler world where computers and phones are unheard of. But the equine world’s very much kept up with technology and that includes the science of horse breeding.

Once upon a time, making a foal required both the stud and the dam to be in the same place and in the right mood. It was also a bit tricky in that horses can be rough with one another so there was also the risk of one or both getting injured. Now the two animals don’t even have to be in the same state for them to get pregnant.

I was aware of the use of artificial insemination in animal husbandry, but to learn about equine in vitro fertilization really surprised me. The procedure for humans is generally expensive, and I assumed it would be cost prohibitive for horses. It’s not. So, as Julie explained, if the dam you want is busy training or showing or whatever, assigning the task of carrying the little one to a mare that isn’t quite so busy is commonplace. Convenient, isn’t it?

That’s not the only way technology figures into modern day horsebreeding. In another conversation, Julie mentioned how Elle towers over all the smaller, stockier Morgans in her class, and I asked if people ever wondered if she really is a Morgan.

Her reply:

It is funny that you ask about people wondering if she is really a Morgan.  Here’s the thing with the breed – some breeders DID try to breed Morgan studs to saddlebred mares, which has led to the larger, lankier horses that we have today.  Guess what?  The Morgan association voted that to prevent the horse from becoming even more diluted, ALL registered Morgans are DNA tested BEFORE they are given their registration papers.

Apparently this is “a big, big deal” at the futurity shows with weanlings, and she told me how she once had to get a DNA sample from a weanling at the Michigan Futurity show.  Though she joked about being on “DNA Patrol,” it’s serious business because:

 People who are caught cheating now get banned from the sport – and I believe that it is for life. So no, people don’t question that a 3 yr old Morgan is already 16+ hands tall.  They just say she’s a freak.

Morgan enthusiasts aren’t the only ones with strict standards. According to the Boyz’ Mom:

All FHANA/FPS Friesians are micro-chipped, DNA tested and randomly hair and blood tested at Keurings. They are uber strict and seriously dedicated to each and every owner following the strictest breeding rules and regulations.

Keurings, by the way, is what they call the  inspections of Friesian horses.

Test-tube babies and DNA testing. Make no mistake, equine folks are definitely keeping up with tech’s latest trends!

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