Students Get Hands-On Experience Helping Mares Foal

Written by: Sabrina Workman

Spring is upon us, and with it brings new four-legged friends on campus, specifically south campus’ Markovitz Breeding Center. Home to DelVal’s broodmare herd, which is the band of mares that the University owns. The breeding center is the epicenter of cuteness in the spring. Jenna Reigle, the breeding center manager, oversees the entire barn and helps the students. She’s been managing the program for a few years now and loves the hands-on training the students get.

“The program was started in the 80’s, I believe, so it’s a pretty reputable program that’s been going on for quite some time,” Reigle said.

Students get hands-on-experience with the horses, doing everything from choosing the mares and their partners, to breeding them, checking on them, and eventually helping the mares through the birth. The students then get to raise the foals until they’re about 18 months old, when they go to the Annual Standardbred Sale to be sold to new homes to become harness racehorses.

So, how does one get to work with mares and their babies and receive college credit? It’s one of the classes in the breeding sector of the equine department called Mare and Foal Management. Senior Jordyn McDonald, who is pursuing a degree in Equine Science with a specialization in breeding, recently got to assist her assigned mare, Armbro Dancer (Dance), as she gave birth. McDonald had been responsible for the care of Dance since the beginning of the semester, but her work started earlier when she bred Dance and ensured that she was pregnant.

“Once the mares are confirmed pregnant then we track them for a few weeks to make sure all is developing normally. Then we just keep a close eye on them for the next 340 days of gestation until they foal. We have our eyes on them the entire time and keep good track of each mare’s progression every year,” said McDonald.

Dance has already had a few foals at DelVal, so McDonald was at least expecting something similar to previous years. McDonald was also responsible for checking Dance and making sure that all signs were pointing to a successful labor and delivery of the baby. She was on foal watch, or high alert for the baby, for a few nights.

“The students are alone on foal watch but once the water breaks, we call our manager Jenna (Reigle) and wait until she arrives to go in the stall and start pulling. The only exception were to be if there was an emergency, and then we would get in there before Jenna arrives,” said McDonald. “We talk about these situations in class and practice for them so that if they occur, we know what to do and how to help.”

“When she foaled, it was my job to pull the foal out and ensure health and wellness of both mom and baby,” McDonald added.

Jordyn McDonald with Armbro Dancer and her newest foal, McCormick. 

She helped Dance deliver a beautiful colt, a male horse, on March 21 named McCormick, following the theme of spices for the baby names this year

“The mare and foal management class picks an overall theme with the Breeding Center manager, Reigle. As the foals are born the students who foaled them out are allowed to pick the name, but Jenna has to agree!” she said.

McDonald knew about the hands-on experience, and it was a major factor in her choice to come to DelVal.

“I want to manage a racehorse breeding facility one day, so this hands-on foaling experience really prepares me to fit into a position like that with ease because by seeing many foalings, I will have a lot of experience under my belt that my new employers won’t need to spend time teaching me,” she said.

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