So You Think You Can… Be a Broodmare Manager?

“So You Think You Can…” is a series that highlights jobs in the horse industry. We speak to professionals and figure out what it takes if you’re interested in a career change. This week we discuss broodmare management.

Image by cleonowens from Pixabay

Special thanks to Chelsey for contributing to this article!

Are you qualified?

Most importantly, broodmare managers must have a strong understanding of equine reproduction, including breeding cycles, gestation periods, foaling and neonatal care. But that’s only the beginning.

Chelsey, a seasoned broodmare manager, says, “To be a successful broodmare manager you obviously need to have prior experience with foaling mares and excellent horse handling skills, especially young stock, but veterinary assistant or technician experience is definitely valued. At the very least, you need to be able to check vital signs and give medications orally or administer IV or IM injections at the direction of your veterinarian. You also need to be very detail oriented with a keen eye for change in equine behavior and the ability to identify common horse illnesses such as colic. On top of that, you need to have great communication and organizational skills. Last but not least, you definitely need a good support network and you really need to have thick skin.”

Their number one tip? Be willing to learn.

“Build your resume in the industry. Get experience in the veterinary field, get experience working with young stock, find a breeding farm near you and apply for an entry level position, apply for foal watch positions. You may have to be willing to work lower paying jobs at the beginning to gain experience in the industry. You learn as you go. Start from the bottom and work your way up. Educate yourself. Talk to people in the industry. Network. Be willing to learn and be coachable. Be a good team player. If you have the option to go home or stay late and learn something, stay late! Understand that horses are not on our schedule, and the job usually is not done when it’s time to clock out. It becomes a lifestyle.”

Image by Penstones from Pixabay

Are you willing to relocate?

Chelsey argues the ability to relocate is an absolute must.

“If it is your dream to be a broodmare manager or to be a part of raising young stock, you must be willing to relocate. Personally, growing up in Massachusetts, there was not a lot of opportunity. For Thoroughbred breeding in particular, there are states with stronger programs and incentives for breeding, which opens up a lot of opportunities. Some of those states include (but are not limited to) Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida. For other breeds, you could be working in Texas, Oklahoma, California… You’ll have to do a lot of research on programs, breeding farms and industry leaders. Facebook groups that list jobs, as well as websites dedicated to hiring horse help, will aid that search.”

Are you prepared to work overtime?

Anyone who has spent any amount of time with a broodmare knows they’re not prone to cooperating and going into labor on a sunny afternoon during normal business hours.

Here’s a quick look at Chelsey’s daily schedule:

“Perhaps unlike a lot of farms, I am the sole person in charge of monitoring the broodmares daily. I currently have 15 mares to foal this year, with due dates ranging from the beginning of February until the middle of May. The mares who are within one month to two weeks of their due dates come inside to eat dinner in the afternoon at around 2:30pm, and stay in for the evening to be monitored with cameras overnight. Wi-Fi cameras hooked to my phone alert at any motion in the stall, which is awesome because it doesn’t miss anything. It has been a blessing for foal watch.

Once they’ve had dinner and settled, I go check them around 5:00pm. I do another check around 7:30 to 8:00pm and make sure they have plenty of hay and water. After that, I am awake all night monitoring cameras, checking mares as needed, adding hay or water as needed and foaling when the big day comes. Throughout, I maintain a good relationship with all of my mares so that they feel safe around me, especially since I will be handling their babies from the moment of birth on. I groom them, spend time with them, hangout with them, love on them or just talk to them.

I end the ‘day’ by feeding the mares who are in the foaling stalls at 5:15am. At that time I evaluate them for progression toward labor and delivery. This includes checking their udders for milk production, wax, tail tension, relaxation of the hind quarters and belly position.

At around 6:30am, the morning crew comes in and the mares are turned out. I try to get some rest during the day and early evening while the day shift does their tasks.”

Image by rihaij from Pixabay

Things escalate quickly when a mare goes into labor.

Chelsey states, “After the mares foal and baby is here, there’s a lot to be done: making sure baby stands and nurses in an appropriate amount of time, making sure the mare is okay after foaling and passes the placenta in an appropriate amount of time, giving medication as needed, cleaning out any fluids from the stall and putting in new straw, tending to the foal and aiding it to stand and nurse at appropriate times.

If everything goes well, our vet comes when the foal is around eight to 12 hours old to do a new foal check and some blood work to make sure the baby has appropriate antibody levels via the mare’s colostrum, the first milk a mare produces. I try to get them turned out once we get the green light that the baby is healthy and that allows baby to stretch their legs and mom to clean out any fluids remaining in the uterus after foaling.”

And nothing slows down after foaling season.

Chelsey adds, “Most of my mares and foals stay on farm until around the 14 day mark and then head to other farms to be bred. They come back to the farm once the mom has been confirmed in foal. During my ‘off-season,’ I teach babies to halter, lead and groom, weaning, aid in yearling prep and care for layup horses on top of all my other normal barn duties like landscaping and maintaining stock of supplies needed.”

Image by Frauke Feind from Pixabay

Can you handle the ups and downs?

Perhaps more than any other equine job, being a broodmare manager can be a rollercoaster of emotions.

Chelsey says, “At its best, it is so rewarding. Helping bring new life into the world, helping it thrive, watching it grow before your eyes and a year later watching them go to sales or two years later watching a lot of them make their first starts at the racetrack. Building a bond with my babies and setting them up for success for the rest of their lives is my main goal. It’s so much fun. Watching a baby stand for the first time is nothing short of amazing every single time. Watching them turn out with their moms for the first time and figuring out their little legs is nothing short of amazing every single time. It never gets old seeing the miracle of life right before your eyes.

But at its worst, it can be absolutely heartbreaking. In a perfect world, foalings go perfectly, babies are healthy, mares do well, and things are great. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. It is not uncommon to have difficult births, loss of life, or trips to the clinic. Sometimes foals require round the clock care, which can be exhausting. Sometimes mares can be difficult or dangerous, sometimes babies can be wild. The worst feeling in the world is when it is very cold out and a foal steps on you, although they aren’t as heavy as a normal horse, they have pointy little stabby feet that are super painful when they get you.”

Chelsey’s final note to future broodmare managers: “You will be mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted by the end of the season, but it is absolutely rewarding when you see your moms and babies thriving.”

Go riding.

Amanda Uechi Ronan is an author, equestrian and wannabe race car driver. Follow her on Instagram @uechironan.