A breeding lab is one of the many homes of workers during breeding season. • Photo from QHN archives.

Breeding & Beyond: My Unsung Breeding Season Hero

I can still remember the first time I took that exit on I-35. Driving southbound, I pulled over across from Rose Ranch in my little Ford Ranger loaded down with most everything I owned.

Mostly I just needed to figure out how to get to the other side of the interstate. If you are not from Texas, let me assure you it takes a minute to understand the road systems. Exhausted from the drive, I was still fresh and excited to start my new adventure on that day in May.

I arrived smack dab in the middle of breeding season. If you do not already know, no one is ever excited or fresh during breeding season. Sure, there’s that brief moment in January when you’re excited it’s coming. Come February, you can hardly believe it’s breeding season already. 

By March, well, you are still trying to figure out where February went. April? April is ugly.  You are sleep deprived. That eventually rolls into what I refer to as “Meltdown May.” You start to catch some air in June, and the rest of the year you are just trying to recover before it starts all over again. It only took a few years to learn that cycle, and no matter my role, it never lets me down.

The best and worst part about arriving fresh and excited that day was not knowing. I mean, I really did not know. All my youth years with horses and into my adult life couldn’t have prepared me; it was a whole new world. The reality of that slapped me in the face after a morning palpating mares and witnessing my first embryo flush. At this point, I was too scared to ask what “we” were doing.

All I knew was we were “flushing,” and I continued to dodge everyone’s sleep-deprived annoyance with me by just doing what I was told and trying not to mess it up too much. I was too excited to really face how terrified and overwhelmed I might have been. But, I will never, ever forget following everyone into the lab, “Doc” in the lead with his cup.

As the vet sat down at the microscope to look for the embryo, I was just dumb enough to open my mouth and ask, “What are we looking for?” Oops. The look alone was scary, but the piercing reply of, “A baby!” made me wonder how long until I would have to activate my back-up plan for when it didn’t work out at Rose Ranch. Looking back now, I smile when I realize that was the first time the one and only Dr. David Hartman ever talked to me.

My day-to-day routine from that day on, in my mind, was simply to survive. My real job in the beginning was holding tails for Dr. Hartman and making sure he did not run out of fresh coffee. As I came to realize, it’s really not as simple as it sounds.

I learned a lot during that time, much of which I didn’t even know I was learning until later. I was employed by Carol Rose, who was a very active breeding manager and a great teacher, but Dr. Hartman was essentially “in charge” of the rest.

At that time, he had already been the veterinarian at Rose Ranch for almost 20 years. That itself is a respectable accomplishment, but in the time I spent working with him and the rest of the team, I learned that his skills and horsemanship in the breeding barn were legendary. He might be most well known as a reproductive veterinarian, but he was good at everything he did.

I never lost my fear of not having enough coffee made for everyone, but with time, my fear of messing up turned into great respect for Dr. Hartman. It wasn’t because I felt I had to, but because he 100% earned it.

Mares came from all over, with various difficulties in their reproductive cycles. If they were not difficult, they were being bred to a difficult stallion. I know there were some, but I sure cannot remember very many pregnancies that did not come to be under his direction. Eventually, I learned to make coffee.

As I’m writing this, we are facing Meltdown May. Dr. Hartman is enjoying his first year of retirement. (Just typing that puts a little lump in my throat.) I remain grateful for my opportunities every time I see Dr. David Hartman’s name when I glance at a textbook for equine reproductive studies. I’m reminded of my invaluable working education.

While I remain friends with Dr. Hartman, I’ve met and worked with many other hard-working, talented reproductive veterinarians. I work for a great one now. As I write this, it’s close to midnight and Dr. Jerry Longworth has just made his rounds to check his midnight mares for ovulation. I’m sure he feels like he hasn’t slept since the early ’90s, but no matter the hours spent today, he will do it all over again tomorrow.

They work hard, folks; keep the coffee ready. And if it’s not too scary, hug your veterinarian the next time you see them. They probably need it.

This Insights & Opinions column was published in the May 1 issue of Quarter Horse News. To purchase this issue, click here.