Lessons Learned Along the Way – Part 3
Be on time.
I came to Kentucky from Maryland and had another stroke of good fortune being hired by Lars la Cour, a master horseman and farm manager who became my mentor, my surrogate father, and my friend. I learned myriad lessons from Lars. Lars sent me to the breeding shed with the mares, which exposed me to all the major farms in Kentucky and to grooms and van drivers from all over Central Kentucky. He sent me to the pathology lab to watch postmortems so I could learn more about anatomy and the disease process. He taught me how to motivate and handle personnel. And he gave me exposure to every part of the farm, from cutting weeds and picking up rocks, to broodmares and yearlings, and to the office. Some of his lessons were particularly valuable. By this time, I thought I had a lot of experience and that I was a pretty good horseman. Starting time at Clovelly Farm was 7 a.m. I would roll into the parking lot at 7 or 7:01 or 7:02. After a few days of this, Lars came to me and said: “We start work at 7. That doesn’t mean you arrive at 7. It means at 7 you are in a stall with a pitchfork in your hand. No matter how good you are, if you can’t be on time I can’t use you. If you are one minute late tomorrow, just turn your car around and go home.” I got the message.
Keep a teasing chart.
I had been teasing at Glade Valley for three seasons, but Lars told me I was to keep my own teasing chart. He showed me how he kept his, and he would go over my chart with me every day. While some mares are obviously in or out of heat, it was Lars who helped me recognize very subtle changes in a mare’s behavior. We had a maiden mare that had been off the racetrack for a while. When teased, she would spin around the stall kicking at all four walls. This had gone on for some time, and she had never shown signs of heat. Going over our teasing charts one day, Lars, said: “You’ve got that mare marked as ‘out,’ but I think she’s ‘in.’ I’m going to add her to the vet list today.” I said: “Lars, she’s kicking like crazy, just like she always does.” To which he responded: “I think she has a gleam in her eye.” And sure enough, she was in heat. We bred her, and she got in foal.
There is only one thing for sure.
This brings me to another important lesson I learned from Lars. If you breed a mare, she may or not get in foal. The only thing you know for sure is that if you do not breed her, she will not get in foal. When in doubt, breed. Over the years, Lars’s words often came back to me while standing in the aisle with the veterinarian debating about whether or not, or when, to breed.