Overlap: Animal science students help birth new foals on campus
On the night of January 21, Tseten Wangyal did not sleep for a second. Wangyal is the student leader who oversees the foaling process, and anticipating the birth of the first foal this year, she has been constantly woken by calls from students reporting signs of Stylish, the mother horse, possibly in the process of foaling. give birth.
But Stylish’s baby didn’t come until the following night. Even though she was exhausted from the night before, Wangyal made sure she could be there for an hour. She saw the foal attempt to take its first steps just 20 minutes after birth.
“Sometimes it gets wet and a little slippery just from amniotic fluid coming out, and so baby was trying to get up and it was super wet on the floor, and baby finally got up and then totally like fell back and slipped,” Wangyal said. “Her feet came off her and we all started laughing.”
It’s foaling season at Cal Poly’s Oppenheimer Family Equine Center, and animal science students in the Foaling Enterprise class (ASCI 290/490) are involved in every step of the foaling process. Wangyal, an animal science junior, took the course last year and this year she returned to the class as a foaling supervisor for first-time students.
Foaling is the process of giving birth to a horse. At the equine center, mares are usually bred in May, which is around 30 days after the horse is born, followed by an 11-month pregnancy and eventually culminating in the birth of foals, according to Kent Barnes, director of the equine center.
Every step of the foaling process is conducted at the on-campus equine center, and students are seen as full contributors and decision-makers at every step.
“It’s one thing to see something, but to get your hands dirty and be able to do it is a different experience,” Wangyal said.
Foaling, as Barnes explains, begins with the impregnation of mares. He said students involved in the breeding component are responsible for communicating with owners of stallions or male horses, as well as reviewing the horses’ pedigrees to determine how they should be mated with each other.
Industry-wide, about 70 percent of inseminated mares get pregnant, Barnes said, but the on-campus facility yields a higher success rate. He was unable to provide the exact percentage.
This year, 13 foals should be born. The first foal was born on January 22 and will end with the last foal expected on May 8.
Last year, the Equine Center welcomed 17 foals. The number of foals expected this year is lower than in previous years due to problems receiving semen to inseminate mares, Barnes said. The facility sources most of its sperm from Texas, and the pandemic has resulted in many delayed or canceled deliveries.
“Then we missed our window of opportunity to breed the mare because we have to breed them right before ovulation,” Barnes said. “So if the sperm comes 24 hours too late, really, our chances of getting that mare pregnant go down.”
But once the mares are pregnant, it is now the job of a new batch of students, those in the Foaling Enterprise class, to care for and maintain the pregnant mares throughout their gestation. This will also extend to the care of the foal once it is born.
The foaling business spans both the winter and spring terms. Students taking the course for the first time are paired up and each pairing is assigned a pregnant mare to care for.
Before foaling their mare, Wangyal said, students spend time with the mare to bond. She said this can be done by grooming and scratching their assigned mare, but some choose to just sit with their mare while they do their homework.
Once horse work begins, these students will assist in the delivery process. Their contribution could be drying the foal with a towel after birth to stimulate it or helping to get the baby out in an emergency, according to Wangyal.
“When horses give birth, some horses can protect their babies,” Wangyal said. “So if you have a little more connection, maybe the horse will trust you a little more. [during the delivery].”
Wangyal was a student in the course last year, and this year she returned to the course as the Foaling Manager to oversee and manage the course students through the foaling process. As one of three managers, she no longer works with specific mares but rather helps students who are. She also provides most of the medical care for the mares.
Wangyal said she took the position of foaling manager because her managers last year fostered a beneficial learning environment and she wanted to give it back to other students.
“I had the impression [last year’s foaling managers’] the responsibilities were really cool and I feel like they made this company really fun for me,” she said. “So I want it to be really fun for other people.”
Rather than just allowing Wangyal and other students to watch the foaling process, she said foaling officials facilitated a more hands-on approach to learning. She said she enjoyed this type of learning because it not only prepared her for further study at Cal Poly, but also for her future post-graduation.
Wangyal said she plans to go to veterinary school and become an equine veterinarian. Her experience at the Equine Center taught her so much she couldn’t learn anywhere else and, as Barnes said, is quite unique for an undergraduate program.
‘It’s not every day you see foaling and you can walk into the stall while a horse is foaling and help out in an emergency, or even just walk in and rub the baby because it’s coming out wet and we have to dry them,” Wangyal said. “The practical part of this course and like all animal science courses, I feel like this is the most special part.”