When you think of full siblings in the equine world you typically think of two foals produced by a mare in a different breeding season yet that may not always be the case. Allowing a mare to carry twins is not ideal due to the low survival rate of the foals and the potential risk to the mare. Embryo transfer (ET) and intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) have become popular procedures in recent years which allow a mare to produce multiple foals from a single breeding season. In this article we have three fascinating stories from breeders in which two embryos from the same cycle became a driving pair, unexpected twin foals were welcomed into the world, and an injured mare produced four embryos via ICSI.
Two Embryos Flushed From Same Cycle Become Driving Pair
In 2005, Dayna Gant decided she wanted to breed her keur Dutch Warmblood eventing mare, Ouija (Recruut x Absurd Hours XX), to Sir Sinclair of Iron Spring Farm (ISF). She was still competing on Ouija so she decided to utilize embryo transfer to produce a foal. You can read more about embryo transfer and competition mares in our article, “Balancing the Show and Breeding Careers of an Embryo Transfer Donor Mare.”
Ouija was bred at ISF with semen from Sir Sinclair. Using ultrasound it was determined that Ouija double ovulated so there would be a chance the flush could result in two viable embryos. When Paul Loomis of Select Breeders Services (SBS) in Maryland flushed the mare he did indeed find two embryos. He prepared the embryos for shipping and then sent them to Peterson and Smith Equine Reproduction Center (PSERC) in order to be transferred into two separate recipient mares. The embryos were transferred and the recipient mares were checked safely in foal with the two embryos flushed from Ouija’s one breeding cycle. This was a pleasant surprise for Dayna who had the goal of only having one foal and now she was going to have two!
In 2006, Bombay and Bono (two colts; photos above right and below left) were born only a few days apart. Dayna said,
“It took every piece of the team to pull this off. I had complete trust in everyone: Iron Spring Farm for breeding my mare, Paul Loomis of SBS for flushing the embryos and packaging them for shipment, and PSERC for transferring the embryos into their recipient mares. They helped make this story a success!”
However, the story doesn’t end there. Mike Keatley of Southern Pines, NC found Bono and Bombay through a random internet search. He traveled from North Carolina to Boston for a weekend to take a look at the geldings. Dayna had halter broke them but as of Mike’s visit they had never been saddled. He spent the weekend long lining them and by Sunday he had purchased them and they would be headed south soon.
Mike was not an eventer but competed in driving. He patiently taught them to drive and compete as a pair. When searching for a pair of horses to compete in driving one looks for similar gaits and a similar look. As you can see from their photo above, Bono and Bombay look very much alike. Mike said this of the pair, “Their temperament is superb. I can’t say enough about how healthy, vibrant and eloquent this pair was during the 6 years I had the privilege to own and train them.”
When Mike turned 70 years old the boys had just turned eight. He decided it was time for someone else to help Bono and Bombay reach their full potential. He sold the pair to Harmony Sporthorses and they are now being trained and shown by Paul Maye. In some of their first showings as a pair at Preliminary they placed first at both the Southern Pines CDE and the Gayla Bluegrass CDE as well as winning the Preliminary Pairs Championship at the ADS CDE at Glen Willow. Be watching for this pair in the future as these full brothers, flushed from the same breeding cycle, continue to compete at higher levels.
Surprise! Mare Foals Out Twins
In this day and age the use of ultrasound is common place when breeding mares. It gives veterinarians the ability to view the number of follicles a mare has as well as their size. More importantly it allows them to determine if two embryos are present if the mare double ovulated. If she did double ovulate and two embryos are present during the 14 day pregnancy check the veterinarian will “pinch” one of the twins so only one foal will be carried to term. Twinning in mares is not recommended because less than 10% of twins will be carried to term and of that percentage there is a less than 15% chance that both twins will be born alive. However, even with ultrasonography it is still possible a twin can be missed.
In 2013, David Searle (Equine Manager at Iron Spring Farm) and his wife, Patrice, decided to breed their mare Torieta (Lux Z x Norieta) so he could give the foal to his daughter, Christine. Patrice decided to breed her to the Westfalen stallion, Florianus II (Florentan I x Die Dame). They knew Torieta had double ovulated so all of the necessary ultrasound checks were performed to make sure there weren’t two embryos. However, one of the embryos eluded them. Towards the end her pregnancy David noticed Torieta’s extremely large belly and jokes were made by others that she was probably carrying twins.
When a mare does carry twins it is normal for her to foal very early and if the foals survive they are very weak. However, Torieta’s due date came and went. When she laid down in the stall on April 19th, 2014 to foal out the “baby” nothing out of the ordinary was expected. The birth of the first foal, Jubilee Jill, went off without a hitch. As can be expected, the mare got up after foaling but still nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Yet, it was at this point when the breeding manager of ISF, Andrea Bonkamp, noticed there was another set of legs visible from the Torieta’s vulva. That is when the second foal, Jolly Jack, was born. Although Jack was a little smaller than Jill, both foals were born a healthy weight.
Jack and Jill (photos top left and above right) made history in September 2014 when they were the first twins to ever show at Devon. They showed alongside their dam in the KWPN-NA 2 & Under breeding division. David said they still own both foals and they are turned out together as Jack is now a gelding. David said, “They have become part of the family so we might end up just keeping them both.” Jack and Jill will both be returning to the KWPN keuring at ISF and then off to Devon again in September 2015 for the breeding show.
Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) to the Rescue
Nanni Baker got her start in the breeding industry when she had saved $500 to purchase a Thoroughbred mare, Foxy Bloomers, off the track. As a member of the American Hanoverian Society (AHS) her intention was to breed the mare to warmblood stallions in order to produce quality dressage athletes. Her investment paid off when her “off the track” mare was top non-Hanoverian mare at the inspection that year. Nanni had done her homework and wished to breed this mare to the Hanoverian stallion, Diamont. The result was a beautiful filly named Diachee. The filly went on to be top foal at her inspection and was eventually moved up to the main mare stud book.
Diachee is now one of a few mares Nanni owns and breeds. Diachee produced two foals by the stallion Wonderful (Weltmeyer/Bonny). The first foal, Wunderland, she carried herself and is currently in training working on 1 tempis, passage, and piaffe. The second foal, WooHoo, was produced via ET and is being ridden by a junior rider at the 1st level and they are currently ranked nationally 4th USDF and 2nd in Juniors. Needless to say, Nanni was pleased with the foals Diachee produced and was looking forward to many more in the future.
Unfortunately, after Woohoo, Diachee sustained an injury that resulted in an abscess to her elbow. She spent several months recovering, lost a major muscle that allows her shoulder and elbow to move and has some constriction of her leg tendons. She could no longer carry a foal herself but there was still the option of embryo transfer…or so Nanni thought. She tried to flush embryos from Diachee after she recovered from her injury but she suffered a uterine infection and lost a lot of weight. At this point, Nanni thought her dream of obtaining a filly from Diachee was over and the mare’s bloodline would be lost. That is until she happened to be speaking with Suzanne Hassler of Hassler Dressage, LLC. Suzanne mentioned the ICSI process as a way to obtain foals from Diachee. Nanni said, “The more I read, the more I knew we needed to try this!”
After much research Nanni decided to take her mare to Dr. Foss at Equine Medical Services in Columbia, MO where her oocytes could be harvested. Eight oocytes were retrieved on the first attempt. It was determined that six of the oocytes were good enough to be injected with a single sperm. Nanni had previously decided she would use frozen semen from the Dutch Warmblood stallion, Lingh (Flemmingh x Gazelle). The frozen semen had been shipped to the oocyte facility from SBS in Maryland prior to Diachee’s arrival in Missouri. All six embryos were injected with a single frozen/thawed sperm which resulted in four viable embryos. Nanni decided to transfer two of the embryos into recipient mares immediately and freeze the other two embryos for future use. She headed to Missouri to retrieve Diachee and her two recipient mares when they were safely checked in foal. The entire process took approximately six weeks.
In 2014, a colt named Lancaster (photo right with Nanni) and a filly named Liberty (aka Burt and Berty; photo above left), were born just ten days apart on Memorial Day and D Day. Nanni said, “It is amazing how similar they look! I think Bert looks like Lingh and Berty looks like Diachee!” Nanni went on to say this about the entire ICSI process,
“Because of the ICSI process we were able to overcome several obstacles preventing Diachee from producing a foal after her accident. The main obstacles were that she could not safely carry a foal and she could no longer be bred with frozen semen. Next year we will try to transfer the remaining two embryos into recipient mares. If we are lucky we will end up with quadruplets two years apart! Needless to say, the process was wonderful and I would absolutely recommend it.”
Thanks to the use of modern technology it is possible for a mare to produce two or more foals from a single breeding cycle or oocyte aspiration. Do you have a similar story? We would love to hear it. Please feel free to share your story in the comments section of this article.
Many SBS Affiliate Labs offer the services of embryo transfer, ovum pickup and ICSI. To learn more about these procedures please feel free to view our articles: Ovum Pickup in the Mare, Cryopreservation of Equine Embryos and Balancing the Show and Breeding Careers of an Embryo Transfer Donor Mare. You can also feel free to contact our office via email or phone (410-885-3202) with any questions about our services.
Bombay and Bono Carriage Driving provided by Dayna Gant
Bombay and Bono Marathon Water Obstacle provided by Paul Maye
Jubilee Jill and Jolly Jack photos provided by David Searle
Lancaster and Liberty photos provided by Nanni Baker