Advances in knowledge and technology have made the chances of getting a mare pregnant during the breeding season as high as they've ever been, and that efficiency has shaped the breeding industry's schedules and production into what we know today. The difference in a few days for getting a mare ready for the breeding shed, and later confirming her pregnancy, can swing the size and variety of a stallion's book considerably.
When Dr. Edward H. Fallon was growing up in the late 1930s, veterinarians in Kentucky had just recently adopted rectal palpation as a way to confirm the pregnancy of a mare, and the standard time to check the mare was 100 days after conception. Stud books weren't nearly as active and regimented as they are now, but this still left little to no window to try the mating a second time if the first encounter didn't result in a pregnancy.
By the time Fallon graduated from the Veterinary College of New York at Cornell University, the state-of-the-art number was 45 days from conception. It was a dramatic improvement, cutting the first pregnancy check down from over three months to a month and a half, but the bar could be lowered further.
Fallon had the generations on his side in his pursuit to improve the efficiency of the Thoroughbred breeding season. He was the son of Harold Fallon, farm manager for Hal Price Headley's Beaumont Farm. His mother Esther was the sister of Charlie Hagyard, the third generation of the namesake family of Hagyard, Davidson, and McGee – known today as Hagyard Equine Medical Institute – to work at the practice. Fallon's middle name was, in fact, “Hagyard.”
He became the fourth generation of his family tree to work at the Hagyard practice in 1956, joining his uncle Charlie after graduating from Cornell.
In a 2007 interview as part of the University of Kentucky's Kentucky Oral History Project, Fallon said the incentive to detect pregnancies even earlier came as a function of his and Dr. William McGee's attempt to lower the rate of twin pregnancies in Thoroughbreds.
“Twins had always been sort of an enigma, and up until we tried to do something about [it], we got a set of twins, not only have you wasted this year, but it was not uncommon for, after a mare had had a set of twins, the following spring that you wouldn't get her back in foal that year either” he said. “So you lost another year. You're talking about time in this individual's life, reproductive lifespan, so it's very worthwhile and worth, eventually, money.”
When twins are detected in a mare in a timely manner, a vet can easily eliminate or “pinch” one of the embryos to better ensure the safety of the mare and remaining foal and increase the chances of carrying to a full term. However, they quickly found their standard window for checking mares wasn't cutting it.
“If we burst the vesicle at forty-five days, there was so much interference with the other pregnancy that interference mechanically, and probably from the fluids and things that caused irritation, that the other one would leave also,” Fallon said.
Using techniques he learned while at Cornell, based on cutting-edge methods being developed in Germany, Fallon honed his sense of touch well enough to be able to find a pregnancy – or two – within 30 days, lowering the turnaround time even further before the arrival of ultrasound scanning changed the business a few years later.
Fallon further advanced the breeding process as a pioneer of putting mares under artificial lights to provoke them into cycling into heat earlier in the year, thus better opening the calendar for when they can be bred.
Once again, Fallon's Cornell education came into play. In his oral history interview, Fallon said the school didn't offer specialty programs at the time based on species or size of animal, meaning horses made up only a fraction of his overall curriculum. Not only did Fallon say this made him a more complete vet, it also opened his eyes to ideas and methods from other species to use with horses.
This manifested itself best when he saw the work being done with chickens to make them produce more eggs. For years, commercial egg operations put their birds under lights to counter the natural internal slowdown in production when there are fewer hours of daylight in the winter months.
Fallon brought this idea into the Thoroughbred realm along with Dr. Bob Loy of the University of Kentucky in the late 1960s. It remains a regular part of the commercial breeder's repertoire as the breeding season approaches.
“We started at, I think Gainesway, Henry White's, and at Mill Ridge and I don't know where else,” he said in the oral history. “But then, it soon spread, and within a few years – in the middle of the night, if you were out, which we frequently were – foaling cases or something, you'd see all these barns around the countryside all lit up.”
Fallon's list of notable clients also included Greentree Farm, Jonabell Farm, Dixiana Farm, Clarkland Farm, and Big Sink Farm. Many of the farms have changed names and owners, but the methods Fallon brought to them remain similar.
For his half-century of contributions to the Thoroughbred breeding industry, Fallon joined Drs. Larry Bramlage and A. Gary Lavin as honored guest of the Thoroughbred Club of America's 2014 testimonial dinner. He died on Oct. 12, 2018 at age 87.
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