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Futurity - Escobillo

The Journey To Futurity

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Spring Is In The Air

Having neither the facilities nor the experience of keeping stallions the decision to have Freddie and Barney castrated was never in doubt. The question was always the timing of the when. 

As with most things there are different views over the when. One is the suggestion that if a horse is gelded earlier in life, then it will grow taller with the closing of the growth plates in the legs being delayed.  Bertie, their full brother, who is now a five-year-old was castrated at the relatively young age of three months and has already achieved a height of about 17 hands and may well continue to grow some more!  In time, it will be interesting to compare the two foals with Bertie. However, there are other factors that may influence the ideal time to carry out the procedure, including the weather, training schedules, size of the colt, behaviour and the level of activity on the yard.  Freddie and Barney were weaned in October and the decision was made sometime before this that that I would wait until they were about a year old, in the early spring, before the flies and when the weather is hopefully better.

Whilst castration can be performed in a number of different ways, and each vet will have a different preference, my vet, David Rutherford from Fellowes Farm Equine Clinic, decided that he would anaesthetise both colts and operate with them lying on their side in the field. Freddie was the first one to be operated on followed on by Barney.

Freddie was sedated and an intravenous cannula was placed in his jugular vein. He was then anaesthetised and his upper hind leg pulled out of the way. The vet used a procedure called “open castration”, where an incision is made in the scrotum and the vaginal tunic covering the testicle is then incised, allowing the testicle to be completely exposed. The blood vessels and spermatic cord are then crushed using a surgical instrument called an emasculator. No stitches were used and the wound was allowed to drain naturally.

The procedure was relatively quick, taking around 15 minutes. After surgery, Freddie took a little longer than Barney to recover from his anaesthetic. He was quietly walked around the field until he regained balance and then allowed loose with Barney, who seemed to recover much more quickly than his brother.  Following the surgery, we have continued to check the surgical site of both foals twice daily for undue swelling or significant discharge.

To encourage the two foals to keep moving we put Toby, an 11-year-old welsh/thoroughbred cross, in with them. He is fantastic with young horses. They now had good reason to keep moving as they seek to follow him around the field. This ongoing activity has helped hugely in ensuring that the incision site is kept draining appropriately and that any post-operative swelling is reduced to a minimum. I should add that Barney and Freddie were back to their playful ways within 24 hours and a week later show no adverse signs.

Meanwhile, Roxie has gone to Groomsbridge stud to be artificially inseminated. Groomsbridge Stud is a small and highly experienced stud and AI Centre based near Newmarket run by Sally and Tom Forster. All of my horses (Bertie, Roxie and the two yearlings Freddie and Barney) were all born at Groomsbridge Stud. Pictured is one of this year's foals owned by Sally and Tom. 
The plan is for Roxie to be inseminated with Jaguar Mail semen and then to have an embryo transfer (ET), which allows another mare to carry and deliver her foal until weaning. Having ET on my old mare Molly (CAW Blimey) allowed me to breed the two lovely colts Freddie and Barney when the probability of age related endometrial degeneration was much higher and there was a risk of Molly not maintaining the pregnancy to full term. Molly was 20 years old when she had ET in 2015. Most breed societies will register foals produced by ET, however it is always worth checking first before embarking on an embryo transfer programme. The main advantage of ET is that it enables a mare to have a foal while allowing them to continue their competitive careers. In Roxie’s case it is to allow her to grow instead of diverting it to the development of a foal and also so that she can be backed this year.

Freddy & Barney Receive A Visit

Barney and Freddie are quite different despite being full brothers, following embryo transfer to two recipient mares, and being born only one week apart. Barney arrived first having had a difficult entry to the world. His mother had a ‘Red bag delivery’ which is the layperson’s term for premature separation of the placenta prior to, or during, the mare's foaling. Thankfully, Sally and Tom Forster from Groomsbridge stud were on hand for the foaling and were able to safely deliver Barney.

Initially Barney was very weak and appeared a little backward. I was aware that the compressive forces experienced during foaling as a result of mal-presentation might lead to trauma so I was very keen to look at easing any problems that may arise. The veterinary surgeon had already examined him and checked that the colostrum levels were ok, however, I was concerned about some of the behaviours exhibited by Barney. I obtained permission from my veterinary surgeon for Barney to see Oonagh Endersby, a Registered Craniosacral Therapist, Myofascial Release Specialist, Sports Massage Therapist & Equinology Equine Body Worker, who has regularly visited my other horses over the last 10 years.

Oonagh has successfully helped me with a range of issues including various repetitive strain injuries and a number of soft tissue injuries. I was confident that she could help Barney and some of the emotional and behavioural patterns he was exhibiting shortly after he came home from the stud. Initially, Oonagh saw him every two weeks and the change was remarkable. He became much calmer and appeared to be more aware of his surroundings. Oonagh has continued to work with Barney and, more recently, his brother Freddie. Freddie and Barney both now have 4-6 weekly treatments which they both love.  Oonagh is able to evaluate if there are any imbalances within the body and use a range of her well-developed therapeutic skills to relax them and thereby promote self-healing.

Bertie's Brothers

So what have Bertie’s full brothers been doing since they were weaned? The two foals were weaned the week following Osberton Horse trials, back in September. They had both travelled to Osberton with their mothers for the in-hand foal class following their success at the Futurity evaluations. Coming home with first and second place was more than we could have expected from them. We were delighted as it was a strong class with over 16 entries.They were both just approaching five months old and were more independent, consuming more grass  and hay and relying less on their mother’s milk. Recognising that the process of weaning the foals was likely to be stressful, and not knowing what the two borrowed mares would be like, I sought the advice of Sally and Tom Forster from Groomsbridge stud over the weaning process. They have been unbelievably helpful in the past and had significant experience to draw upon. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I would not approach anyone else for advice on foaling and handling young horses. It was agreed that both the mares and the foals would be given a small amount of Sedalin (ACP acepromazine) which produces sedation within 15-30 minutes to take the edge off them. They were both placed in the stable, although they could see each other through the grills between the stable.
The mares were loaded into the horse box and returned to Beaufort Embryo Transfer in Oxfordshire without any issues. The foals remained drowsy but calm after their mothers left and three hours later they were put together out in the field. They had already become field friends so the process was relatively easy. To lessen weaning stress I maintained familiar surroundings by having them in the same area they had occupied previously.They ran around for a short while before settling down in their shared field shelter together.

To ensure that they were getting the proper nutrition over the next 9 months of their life, advice was sought from Baileys Nutritionist, Henrietta Edwards. Varying components of Freddie and Barney’s nutritional environment including the temperature, day length, physical stress, growth rate and the pasture quality were all considered. The goal was to maintain a smooth growth curve. The volume of Baileys Stud Balancer was increased in line with their age and anticipated body weights. They have access to pasture at all times and ad lib hay in their field shelter. Barney and Freddie were already accustomed to the Stud Balancer so there was no problem with them still continuing to eat, which helped reduce stress during weaning.

I continue to monitor their growth. Skeletal and muscular development are clearly important components of athletic potential. This is done by measuring changes in their body weight, wither height, and body condition. The growth of all tissues in the body (fat, muscle, and bone), is tracked using a weight tape, while wither height gives a closer indication of skeletal development. The Body Condition Scoring Leaflet is a useful tool to indicate whether the nutritional needs of the growing weanlings are being met.

Daily handling has meant that they are both good for routine worming, foot trimming and vaccination. They are both on the intelligent worming programme, which takes various features into consideration, including pasture management, pasture contamination, seasonal activity of endoparasites and their life cycle, last worming, age of the weanlings and whether any eggs have been detected on faecal samples. The programme is based on a risk assessment, which means that they are only wormed when needed, reducing the risk of resistance by using incorrect doses. A personal consultant is available to discuss the horses programme and to advise as necessary. 

We will continue to update you with their progress. 

What Next?

Since the Bridge assessment in December life has been slightly slower for Bertie. He has spent time hacking around the beautiful Bedgebury Park estate familiarising himself with the different terrains. He loves his hacking and this has improved his confidence and his fitness no end and he’s stronger and more balanced in the way he goes.

Kent based Baileys nutritionist, Helen Gordon, has carried out a yard visit and evaluated Bertie’s feeding based on his workload, access to grass, amount and quantity of forage and growth rate, as Bertie is now standing at 17 hands. He lost some condition just before he moved to Georgie’s yard as the grass at home had lost nutritional value as winter started, which coincided with his work load being stepped up and a rapid growth spurt.

He is now having two round Stubbs scoops of No.21 Ease & Excel and two cups of Baileys Stud Balancer a day with ad lib access to hay. The Ease and Excel is ideal for promoting weight gain, maintaining condition and supporting performance in horses requiring a low starch diet. The high fibre content is rich in superfibres, which are highly digestible and yield large amounts of slow release energy. The fibre sources are also high in the soluble fibre, pectin, which, in acidic conditions like those in the stomach, alters its structure to one that is similar to mucus and has been shown to bind to, and thicken, the stomach mucosa thereby protecting it from acid attack.The feed contains no cereal flakes, thus ensuring a minimal starch content and making the mix ideal for excitable types as well as those with clinical requirements for a more low starch diet, like those horses prone to gastric ulcers. Outshine is included, to provide slow release calories, from a blend of soya and linseed oils, while alfalfa chaff encourages the horse to chew and has natural acid-buffering properties.

The hay is cut from old pasture in Cambridge and analysed. This is the only way to determine the actual nutrient content of the hay. Whilst you can visually review the hay to establish the stage of maturity, the fibre content, the amount of leaves and the colour, it is impossible to know exactly what its nutritional value is. For horses in hard work or that are poor doers, good quality forage is essential. There is clear evidence that horses have both a psychological and physiological need for adequate forage and failure to replicate the natural foraging behaviour may result in horses redirecting this urge into abnormal behaviour, such as wood chewing and crib-biting. There is also evidence that insufficient fibre may result in gut disorders from a disturbance of the beneficial hindgut microflora. Feeding plenty of good quality forage will help reduce the risk of colic and gastric ulcers. Conscious of this I have been keen to ensure that Bertie has adlib access to hay.

So what else has he been doing since the bridge assessment?

He has attended several training clinics including a flatwork session where they worked on his bend in walk and trot. Bertie goes well on the left but has a tendency to fall out through the shoulder on the right rein. Bertie was encouraged to walk and then trot with some counter bend to the circle and in the square turns. Close attention was paid to ensure that the shoulders did not come off the track of the circle or square. The flexion to the outside was very slight at first, and not held for long periods. He would work on a quarter circle to the outside, then change to a half circle to the inside and then returning to a quarter circle to the outside. Slowly, he began to increase his suppleness and flexibility throughout his body. The exercise was repeated in trot. Georgie then incorporated some serpentines into her schooling, working on the bend while riding the loops but also focussing on the straightness as they crossed the centre line.  This exercise was repeated on both sides, again in walk and trot. Horses are very like us, they can become restricted and only use their body in a certain fixed way. If this is not corrected over time they can lose their ability to bend and to be pliable.

Bertie is also very lucky to have the opportunity so early on in his education to receive jump training from Nick Turner FBHS (Fellow of the British Horse Society). Nick is the high Performance Manager for Eventing Ireland, helping them last year to qualify and compete at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, he has been the Senior International Selector for British Eventing and is a founding member of the Coaching Development Team, BE accredited coach and is an RoR (Retraining of Racehorses) trainer. He is superb at assessing horse and rider to determine what and how he might help them best .

The recent clinic worked on the horses gymnastic ability and seeing a stride. To avoid asking Bertie too many questions at once, they worked on an exercise involving poles on the ground and without changing the question he increased the difficultly of the previous question by then raising the same poles off the ground. Bertie was initially a bit exuberant but quickly became focussed on the job in hand and settled with the work. The exercise involved walking a small course of fences with the poles on the ground. This was repeated in trot before putting small fences up in the same place. This included planks, upright poles and a skinny across odd distances.

Once Bertie was going over these confidently he was encouraged to complete the exercise but throwing in some corners and wavy lines, serpentines and odd distances, while keeping the height of the fence. Georgie made sure that it was a question of straightness and directional control.  Bertie got cross with himself when he knocked one pole and used it as an opportunity to show how athletic he was. This was followed however by a near perfect completion of the exercise. He is quick to learn, super athletic and really enjoys the challenge.

We are always mindful of his confidence and not to throw too much at him too quickly! The exercise was finished with lots of praise. The importance of him learning what he has done right is paramount, even if this meant saying good boy in the air. Nick emphasised the importance of presenting the horse to the jump and never letting the horse run past a jump. The fences were low enough that they could be stepped over.  If running out is never introduced into Bertie’s repertoire, there is far less of a chance that it will ever be a problem when he starts jumping larger fences.
Baileys Horse Feeds, Four Elms Mills, Bardfield Saling, Braintree, Essex CM7 5EJ, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 1371 850247 | Fax: +44 (0) 1371 851269 | Email: info@baileyshorsefeeds.co.uk