My father loved equine reproduction. He was at the forefront of the epic rise in the evolution of information, techniques and manipulation of the reproductive cycle in horses. His mentor and ally in all of this was his classmate, best friend and colleague, Dr. John Hughes, who taught and did the basic research of the mare’s reproductive cycle and the hormonal changes that we all now know.
The cool part was Dr. Hughes had limited access to mares, while my dad had almost unlimited access in his Sonoma County equine practice. My father received drugs that were ahead of the curve in helping mares get in foal in the late 50s and early 60s and well beyond. My father’s practice took care of some famous stallions with large service bookings.
To accommodate the number of mares which would be over 100, the cycles and ovulations had to be timed to maximize the number of mares that a stallion could accommodate from a single semen collection. I was recruited to the program when I was an undergraduate at UC Davis.
One of my father’s great stallions moved across the state from Potter Valley to Grass Valley. His every-other-day drive to collect semen and inseminate mares went from 1 hour each way to 3 hours each way. (Yep, call my father crazy, or dedicated, or possessed.)
During the breeding season, he would leave Santa Rosa in the late afternoon and travel across the state to Grass Valley, check mares by hand as there were no ultrasounds then. He administered injections to the mares who should ovulate, to ensure they did and then he would collect the semen from the stallion, Sizzlin Hot, and inseminate mares, have dinner, and drive home.
To ensure he would not kill himself with long hours, he would drive to Davis, pick me up and then he would sleep while I drove the second half of the trip. I watched, but with no visuals, I would usually study for my college classes or fish in the trout stream next to the barn.
The property was magical, and I loved the owners Al Cox and Lois Cleary. My second job was to take the semen that my father collected and count the swimmers to see how many mares could be inseminated from the collection. We usually wanted 300 million swimmers per insemination.
After the mares were done, we would go up to the house where Lois would have a roast dinner. Lois always had a salad, and she introduced this new magical salad dressing. It was appropriately called Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing… I would then drive my dad back to Davis and arrive around 11 PM or so. My father would then wake up and drive the next hour and a half back to Santa Rosa. My father, like me, could sleep anywhere, anytime, anyplace.
His most notable occurrence happened in Cloverdale when he stopped to eat dinner after a long vet call and fell asleep in a restaurant with several friends and fell face forward into his mashed potatoes. But I digress… So, I was attending my junior year in college and driving ~3 hours every other night so my father could sleep. Who was the sleep-deprived crazy person in my family? It’s genetic. Don’t ask about my grades in those days. Both my father and I were power nappers. It’s a gift.
In my veterinary practice, reproduction was one of my interests. Times changed and the stallions came to us. We collected stallion, and shipped the semen to the mare owners. We chilled semen and even froze semen. Some of the semen is still being used today even though the stallion died two years ago. I thank my dad and john Hughes for their pioneering work. God, I loved my job…