Keith & Faith Taylor Equine Scholarship recipient Hannah Airey reports on her first week in Ireland at the Irish National Stud.
25 hours on a plane does not get you pumped up for anything except standing on solid ground, no matter where that may be. Nothing permeated my brain on the ride from Dublin to Kildare either and it wasn’t until I’d woken up the next morning (or perhaps two mornings later?) that I could fully appreciate that I wasn’t on home soil anymore.
The Irish National Stud will be home, school, and workplace to Laura and I for the next five months, thanks to the Keith and Faith Taylor scholarship, which sends a kiwi over each year (two this time round) to represent New Zealand amongst a handful of other nationalities in the Irish National Stud course. This year the course boasts 27 students from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, Ireland, the USA, France and South Africa, so I was certainly not the only person feeling jetlagged.
Ireland in the winter looks a lot how I’d expect Ireland to look in the winter - green and brown. Its been mild so far and we’ve only had one dusting of snow, although I think the mares appreciate it that way. They started off slow but with their time drawing nearer the weather has the girls dropping foals in the late afternoons and early evenings, a good chance for everyone to get in and experience a foaling before bed, regardless of when you end up on the night watch rotation (thanks girls!).
However, the stud is preparing for 250 mums and bubs to be coming through this season to foal down, so no-one will be missing out.
I, myself, got to spend my first (working) week getting to know the mares at the foaling unit, or ‘Sun Chariot’ as the yard is called, on day watch. With it being so early and the sun being around however, I didn’t witness any foaling’s. The time was spent taking them out into their paddocks for the day and then watching them like a hawk until it was time for them to come back to bed. As routine as it sounds, it was particularly interesting to see how they prepare these mares for their babies. The biggest difference of course being that they lay down to foal in a fresh straw box, rather than a small single paddock, although the mechanics of it all is very much the same. The foals are weighed when they are born, they all get blood drawn to test for antibodies and, then when it’s time for them to leave the foaling unit at 48hours old, they get a wee headcollar on! We’re only about 20 foals in, but surprise surprise, I do already have a favourite.
I’ve just finished a week at Strawhall (the name leaves little to the imagination) and Kildare yards. At Strawhall the mares due to head to the foaling unit next go out during the day, while we tidy and prepare their three halls of straw boxes for them to come back to for the night. Meanwhile in Kildare yard, which only houses four mares and foals for the moment, includes a bit of teasing, leading foals (who would’ve thought!), and a bit of vet work. One mare has even been for a ‘test jump’, which I never knew was something that happened. A test mare is essentially practise for new stallions, so that when the real thing happens, they know their job. A foreign concept to me, but maybe more common than I realise?
Goff’s held their February sale Tuesday 4th and Wednesday 5th which has kickstarted our first assessment, for which we must pick a yearling to pinhook or a mare to breed from and write about it. It’s proving to be easier said than done, and I felt for all the staff working sales in 10-degree weather, especially after I have been overrun by photos of Karaka, where the sun was shining, and t-shirts reigned supreme! On a similar note, we ventured into Dublin last weekend to be a part of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown and wow. What a crowd, what an atmosphere, and what racing. Far different to any jumps meetings in New Zealand (although just as nippy) and hopefully the first of many more outings.
Anyhow, there’s an essay to write, a nap to be had, and a covering induction all before foal-watch starts tonight so I best crack on. Until next time.