It's all systems go at Brendon Stud as the breeding season gets underway


It is the busiest time of the year for studs and despite these unprecedented times, it is still full steam ahead for mares visiting stallions, AI and foaling. And it is no exception at Brendon Stud based in Sussex

They have a total 12 stallions standing and a further six available with frozen semen alongside their own mares.

“It’s been absolutely manic,” said co-proprietor Shirley Light. “We stopped using natural cover 18 years ago but we’ve used the time to train the young stallion onto the dummy mare – and that can get pretty frantic at times! I think I have got myself a Puissance horse anyway as one tried to take on an 8ft fence as he thinks the real mare is more appealing. Said fence is now 10ft high!”

Shirley has also used the time fruitfully re-padding areas in the collecting barn.

“I’ve discovered that baby cot mattresses are often free on FaceBook marketplace and they make great padding – but no, I’m not having a baby!”

Brendon Stud has been established for over 35 years on the picturesque Sussex Downs and Shirley is a qualified Advanced AI technician with more than 18 years qualified experience. The stud is known to specialise in taking on problematic mares with known breeding difficulties and they collect semen seven days a week regardless of bank holidays and weekends.

This year is nonetheless different from previous years.

“It’s horrible,” states Shirley. “But we are so lucky as we are still outside most of the time. Most of the jumping horses are turned away and we only have three members of staff. That said, we have 12 stallions in work and two mares.

Restrictions are in place due to Covid-19 and are strictly adhered to.

“Hand sanitiser is everywhere,” says Shirley. “I’ve concreted some fencing posts into buckets and have screwed the big sanitiser dispensers to them. They are moveable around the farm although we’ve made so many now we don’t have to move them! And luckily, we are well stocked up with disposable gloves as we use a fresh pair to unload every new mare arriving. Social distancing is being strictly done – I’ve got to protect my Mum [Valerie Light] as she’s over 70 (sssh!) and asthmatic.”

Copious amounts of bleach in spray bottles is also readily available to spray the stocks, mucking out tools, door handles, etc.

Rules regarding visiting mares are also in place with Government departments understanding breeding must go ahead. Can you imagine a year in the future where there are hardly any five-year-olds, for example.

“Thank goodness the RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) and BEVA [British Equine Veterinary Association] have now relaxed the rules and breeding work has been given the all-clear to go ahead,” said a relieved Shirley. “I hate to think of the implications if it couldn’t – it would badly affect the industry for several years. We can also do Embryo Transfer and that’s great with the top mares not being away at shows.”

Provisions are made for visiting mares on livery.

“We have mares in for grass keep and stabled if injury means they cannot be out. We also have mares for ET in that are kept in ridden work while they are here,” explained Shirley.

Recipient mares are chosen to match the donor mare.

“As long as the recipient mare is similar in size and build to the donor mare and is good health, the breeding of her doesn’t matter – eg, even if she has the same sire, that’s OK,” explained Shirley. “The recipient mare is just supplying blood to the foal, the DNA is already there in the embryo when it is transplanted at seven days from the donor mare.”

A good relationship with the veterinary practice is essential for a stud and Brendon Stud use Sussex Equine Hospital.

“In full flow stud season, the vet visits every day and sometimes several times a day if we are tracking a mare to ovulate with frozen semen,” says Shirley.

“We aim to inseminate within four hours of ovulation with frozen semen and we use an implant drug to induce ovulation 36 hours from implanting it. For example, if we gave this at 6pm Tuesday evening, we would scan her on Wednesday to check progression then see her at 6am Thursday morning to inseminate. But of course, mares don’t read the rule books so she may not be ready. Then we would re-scan around 11am and maybe later in the afternoon and/or evening.

“Any problems with foaling mares, the vet is called immediately. Most foalings are straightforward but when it goes wrong it usually happens very fast and time is critical.”

Coverings for stallions can vary enormously.

“A busy stallion can do 90+ mares but a younger, less-known stallion might only cover three or four mares in a season,” says Shirley.

One little tip is always worth paying heed to – “Always remember to avoid the baby bottles at Brendon Stud as it is never milk in them!”

A typical day usually starts at 7am. Shirley explains.

“We usually start with feeding and field checks are done straightaway, but if we have a mare in for frozen semen then we start earlier. If it is just one mare we would usually keep her in overnight and I’ll get up early and deal with her myself along with vet Ed [Lyall] and then he’ll come back later to scan other mares. We could have anything from two or three to 25 mares to scan! This gets trickier when the mares have a foal at foot or are tricky to catch – and there is always one!”

Mucking out, hay and sweeping the yard is completed before the staff break for breakfast.

“We normally collect semen straight after breakfast and again this can vary depending how many stallions need to be collected from and whether we are posting it out, the mare owner or courier is picking it up or if we are using it on site.

“The on-site mares are AI’d with fresh semen straight after collecting and evaluating under the microscope. Otherwise, it is evaluated, packaged up and put in chiller boxes to send out.”

And this is all in a day’s work. In normal years, the stud runs alongside the competition horses travelling to shows while Brendon Stud hosts their own shows throughout the summer – from one day to five-day extravaganzas – and runs a café and busy saddlery store. Where do they find the time to sleep!

This year 18 stallions are available to mares with a huge choice of bloodlines and range from four-year-olds to older, experienced stallions up to the age of 23.

“Some are available fresh/chilled while others are frozen only. Competition sires available include:

Don VHP Z (Diamant De Semilly/Voltaire) DOB 2004. Bought as a two-year-old and produced in Britain, this exceptional stallion qualified for HOYS in the newcomer and Foxhunter finals and won the HOYS grade C championship. Jumped double clear in the King George V gold cup to finish fourth as an eight-year-old before going to top 5* level with Harrie Smolders.

Unbelievable Darco (Darco/Grandeur) DOB 1887. Won the Hickstead five-year-old, Scope five-year-old and the prestigious HOYS Foxhunter final as a five-year-old and went on to jump at 1.50m level.

Caretino Glory (Cheenook/Glorieux) DOB 1998. Won the HOYS young horse evaluations and jumped to 1.60m. Progeny include Sussex Caretino and Glory BV jumping to 1.50m.

Fabrice Van Overis Z (For Pleasure/Diamant De Semilly) DOB 2008. Placed 5th in the HOYS Foxhunter final and jumped to 1.50m.

Noble Warrior (Warrior/Casantos) DOB 2009. A home-bred son of the Tangelo Van De Zuuthoeve stallion Warrior who competed at the London 2012 Olympics. Multiple wins as a young horse and jumped to 1.60m.

Warratino (Warrior/Caretino Glory) DOB 2010. Another home-bred Warrior son jumping at 1.40m.

Noble Warrior (Warrior/Casantos) DOB 2009. Multiple wins as a young horse and stepped up easily to 1.60m with wins and placings at this level including Hickstead, Helsinki, HOYS and Gijon.

Lord Don (Don VHP Z/Hamilton III) DOB 2011. 17hh home-bred with the characteristics and looks of his sire jumping at 1.40m.

Envoy Merelsnest (Elvis Ter Putte/Voltaire) DOB 2013. Young stallion bred from the same mother as Don VHP Z and Carlos VHP Z – the only mare to have two offspring in the top 10 of the world.

Usher Van Overis Z (Untouchable/Ahorn) DOB 2013. Another young stallion showing great promise in young horse classes.

Klaris Giddy-Up (Don VHP Z/Caretino Glory) DOB 2013. Home-bred by European silver medallist and Global Champions grand prix winner Don VHP Z. A double clear round machine showing great trainability and attitude and a winner in young horse classes.

Regal Don (Don VHP Z/Sebastian III) DOB 2013. Another home-bred by Don VHP Z and out of a mare by Sebastian – who jumped to 5* level with Scott Brash. Now jumping young horse classes.

Pandito Van’t Merelsnest (Plot Blue/Larino) DOB 2015. By Marcus Ehning’s prolific 1.60m winner Plot Blue with the grandsire on the dam side also a 1.60m winner. Competing in young horse classes.

Genius Contender (Brainpower/Corland) DOB 2011. Standing 17hh and tracing back to great sires Contender, Guidam, Cor De La Bryere and Acorado and jumping up to 1.40m.

Creevy Pacino Cruise (Pacino/Cruising) DOB 2013. By Ireland’s Clem McMahon’s 5* superstar Pacino who sadly died before his time and out of a daughter of the world-renowned Cruising. Jumping well in young horse classes.

For more info go to: http://www.brendonpyecombe.co.uk/brendonstud/

Text and Photos © Jumping Around & courtesy Brendon Stud

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