What does it take to bring new equine life, and possibly a future champion, into the world? We meet some special people who make it happen.
Image caption: Vikki Cannon with Good Standing jockey, Hugh Bowman and trainer James Cummings (Lisa Grimm, Turfstars).
Vikki Cannon can’t think of anywhere else she’d prefer to work than in a well-tended grass yard, under the stars, and surrounded by the animals she fell in love with as a six-year-old.
Vikki is Senior Horseperson at Gooree Park Stud in Mudgee NSW and her key role between late July and November each year is to care for the property’s expectant mares. This year 60 mares will give birth under Vikki’s watchful eyes.
"I rode my first horse at six and fell off and broke a leg. But my father arranged riding lessons and once you’re bitten by the horse bug, it’s with you for life."
Since she began working with horses – for the past 34 years at Gooree Park Stud – Vikki estimates she’s helped deliver around 3200 foals. And each foaling season she feels that familiar sense of excitement as she heads to work each night.
“The atmosphere at night is beautiful – the stars are out, it’s peaceful, and it’s often just me and the horses. I know all of them intimately and, in some cases, I’ve foaled four generations of a family,” says Vikki.
"Every time I bring a new life into the world I look at that foal and think ‘maybe you’re the one – you might win the Melbourne Cup or the Golden Slipper’,” says Vikki.
Image caption: Jenny Watson accepting the 2016 Thoroughbred Excellence Award at the Godolphin Stud and Stable awards (Image courtesy of Godolphin Stud and Stable Awards).
Jenny Watson feels the same sense of anticipation every time she arrives at Armidale Stud in Carrick, Tasmania, where she is Foaling Supervisor. Jenny grew up in Launceston and was horse mad from a tender age. “But 52 years later I’m still mad about horses!” she says.
"I remember my first night watch and as soon as I saw my first foal being born that was it, I loved it. Every foal I deliver is like the first foal. The amazement and joy of it all hasn’t diminished,” she says.
Like Vikki, Jenny feels that same commitment and anticipation, wondering whether any foals she helps bring into the world will go on to become racing royalty. “Any foal you deliver has the chance to be a champion, will it be an Octagonal or a Winx?” she says.
"At the end of every season I say this will be my last year. But as July arrives I always check when the first foal is due. I’ll be on a walking frame and still delivering foals!”
Image caption: The first foal for Swettenham Stud Farm as photographed by dedicated midwife Rachel Ritchie (Rachel Ritchie).
Rachel Ritchie grew up on Ra Ora Stud in New Zealand where she often attended foalings with her mother, Bev Spriggens. Watching her mother bring new equine life into the world has had a lasting impact on Rachel.
"My mother still does foaling and she’s done 16 years in a row at Waikato Stud,” says Rachel.
"I never had a second of doubt about what I wanted to do as a career. Going to foalings with Mum was always exciting. You’d watch a mare for weeks and then hour by hour and then you’d watch even more closely as the birth grew near. I’d always wonder if it would be a colt or a filly. It was always special."
She’s since delivered more than 1000 foals herself, working at some of Australia and New Zealand’s most respected establishments. She is currently in the role of Nominations and Marketing at Swettenham Stud in Victoria.
"Any foaling is special, there’s something magical about it. You can never get tired of seeing a new life come into the world. You see those horses racing three or four years later and know you were their first point of contact with the human world."