True Equestrian: Foals frolic at Fresno State through the spring and summer

Photo by Lauren Mueller Three-week-old Cash is curious about people and the camera.
Photo by Lauren Mueller
Three-week-old Cash is curious about people and the camera.

By Lauren Mueller, Reporter

Spring has sprung at Fresno State. The flowers are blooming, trees are bright green, and out in the fields of the Quarter Horse unit, newborn foals romp and play, calling out to each other and their mothers in the warm afternoon sun.

One of the foals born this year is a chestnut colt called Cash. At a mere three weeks of age, he is already trained to the halter and allows the students who work out at the Quarter Horse unit to play with his ears and feet — the two most sensitive parts of a horse’s body.

Stephanie McKenna is the Equine Enterprise Manager for the Quarter Horse Unit and Student Horse Center at Fresno State. She is responsible for the wellbeing of foals like Cash and is present at every stage of their development.

Fresno State does not have any stallions of their own, so McKenna and her students do everything from selecting a stallion to purchasing semen from that stallion, to artificially inseminating the mares, to foaling. Eventually, students also train the home-breds.

McKenna said her students do much of the work when it comes to breeding and foaling the mares.

“As a student you can do everything from breeding a mare to foaling it out to training it as a weanling,” McKenna said.

McKenna teaches her students how to train and handle the horses in the equine science classes that are offered. She says she won’t turn anyone into a horse trainer in two semesters or even four years at Fresno State, but she will give her students “the ability to learn how to confidently handle horses and be comfortable.”

Photo by Lauren Mueller Three-month-old Codi nurses from mom Bodi at the Fresno State Quarter Horse Unit.
Photo by Lauren Mueller
Three-month-old Codi nurses from mom Bodi at the Fresno State Quarter Horse Unit.

McKenna walked into something of a legacy when she took the position at Fresno State two years ago. The university has had its hand in the Quarter Horse business for a long time.

Fresno State has been breeding Quarter Horses for over 50 years, and has received the Legacy Award from the American Quarter Horse Association, or AQHA. According to AQHA’s website, this award is given to those who have bred and improved the breed for 50 years or more, registering at least one foal per year consecutively.

This year alone, there are already six foals on the ground. McKenna has plans to breed six more for next year. Currently, there are eight broodmares at Fresno State, but two are being left open for next season, one for medical reasons and one for age. Eventually, McKenna wants to breed as many as 10 mares at a time.

To do this, though, a new breeding and foaling facility is in order. This facility is currently being built at Fresno State, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of the summer, 2016. It will cost the university just shy of $300,000.

As for now, the current breeding and foaling facility is sufficient to finish out the season. Besides, none of the foals really seem to mind as long as they have fields to play in and friends to keep them company.

Sarah Plowman, a graduate of Fresno State, is proud of the work that is being done at the Quarter Horse unit. During her time at State, Plowman competed on the Rodeo Team and interned for Dr. Troy Ford, a local veterinarian.

“The reproduction process in livestock is going more towards A.I. rather than live cover,” Plowman said. “It’s good for students to experience the technology of the future and the more traditional ways of breeding. There will always be the demand for reproduction in our livestock. The Quarter Horse Unit does an excellent job of teaching students about the process from start to finish.”

All of the foals at the Quarter Horse unit are for sale, and their price tags are based off the stud fee of their sire. That price can range from $500 to upwards of $5,000. All of the stud fees are donated to Fresno State.

Most of the Quarter Horses at Fresno State are bred in the Cutting bloodline, though a couple of the foals this year are Reining-Cutting crosses. Some of the bloodlines include Highbrow Cat, Hollywood Dun It, Smart Little Lena and Hickory Holly Time.

The foals stay with their mothers until they are 4-6 months old. Then they are removed from their mothers — weaned — and the real training begins. The young horses will remain at Fresno State and be trained until they are sold. Once someone buys one of the foals, it must leave Fresno State behind and begin its own life and career.

As for Cash, he and the other babies have no idea of all the changes about to come their way. For now, they are just foals enjoying the springtime sunshine.