On the night of Jan. 21, Tseten Wangyal didn’t get a second of sleep. Wangyal is the student manager who oversees the foaling process, and anticipating the first foal to be born this year, she was constantly awakened by calls from students reporting signs of Stylish, the mother horse, possibly going into labor.
But Stylish’s baby didn’t come until the next night. Even though she was exhausted from the night before, Wangyal made sure she was able to be there for an hour. She watched the foal attempt to take its first steps just 20 minutes after being born.
“Sometimes it does get wet and a little slick in there just because of the amniotic fluid that comes out, and so baby was trying to get up and it was super wet on the ground, and the baby finally got up and then totally just like fell back and slipped,” Wangyal said. “Her feet just went from under her and we all started laughing.”
It is 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 has returned to the class as a foaling manager for first-time students.
Foaling is the process of a horse giving birth. At the Equine Center, mares are typically bred in May, or approximately 30 days after the horse gives birth, followed by an 11-month pregnancy and ultimately resulting in foals being born, according to Equine Center Manager Kent Barnes.
Every step of the foaling process is conducted at the Equine Center on campus, and students are seen as integral contributors and decision-makers at every point.
“It’s one thing to see something, but to get your hands dirty and get to do it, it’s a different experience,” Wangyal said.
Foaling, as explained by Barnes, starts with the impregnation of the mares. He said that students involved in the breeding component are tasked with communicating with stallion, or male horse, owners as well as looking at the pedigrees of the horses to determine how they should be bred with one another.
Across the industry, about 70% of mares who are inseminated become pregnant, Barnes said, but the facility on campus yields a higher success rate. He was not able to provide the exact percentage.
This year, 13 foals are expected to be born. The first foal was born on Jan. 22 and will conclude with the final foal due on May 8.
Last year, the Equine Center welcomed 17 foals. The number of foals expected this year is lower than previous years due to issues with receiving semen to inseminate the mares, Barnes said. The facility sources much of its semen from Texas, and the pandemic has led to a lot of delayed or canceled deliveries.
“Then we’ve missed our window of opportunity to breed the mare because we have to breed them just prior to ovulation,” Barnes said. “So if the semen arrives 24 hours too late, really, our chances of getting that mare pregnant goes way down.”
But once the mares are pregnant, it’s now the job of a new batch of students, those from the Foaling Enterprise class, to take care of and maintain the pregnant horses throughout their pregnancy. This will extend to also caring for the foal once it is born.
The Foaling Enterprise spans both the winter and spring quarters. Students who are taking the class for the first time are paired up and each pairing is assigned a pregnant mare to take care of.
Leading up to their mare’s foaling, Wangyal said, students spend time with the mare to build a bond. She said this can be done through grooming and scratching their assigned mare, but some choose to simply sit with their mare while they do homework.
Once the horse’s labor begins, these students will aid in the delivery process. Their contribution could be towel drying the foal after it is born to stimulate it or assisting in pulling the baby out in the case of an emergency, according to Wangyal.
“When the horses give birth, some horses can be protective of their babies,” Wangyal said. “So if you have a little bit more of a bond, maybe the horse will trust you a little bit more [during the delivery].”
Wangyal was a student in the course last year, and this year she returned to the course as a foaling manager to oversee and manage the students in the course through the foaling process. As one of three managers, she no longer works with specific mares but rather helps the students who are. She also delivers most of the medical care to the mares.
Wangyal said she opted for the position of foaling manager because her managers last year fostered a beneficial learning environment and she wanted to give that back to other students.
“I felt like [last year’s foaling managers’] responsibilities were really cool and I feel like they made this enterprise really fun for me,” she said. “So I want to make it really fun for other people.”
Rather than just allowing Wangyal and the other students to watch the foaling process, she said the foaling managers facilitated more of a hands-on approach to learning. She said she appreciated this type of learning because it prepared her for not only the continuation of her education at Cal Poly, but also her future post-graduation.
Wangyal said she is planning to attend veterinary school and become an equine veterinarian. Her experience at the Equine Center has taught her so much that she could not learn elsewhere and, as Barnes said, is fairly unique for an undergraduate program.
“It’s not everyday that you get to see foalings and that you get to go into the stall while a horse is giving birth and help out if there’s an emergency, or even just getting to go in and rub off the baby because they come out wet and we need to dry them off,” Wangyal said. “The hands-on part of this class and like all the animal science classes, I feel like are the most special part.”