It’s a very different ‘In my Yard’ feature this week, as Emma Cheape takes a look at what Scotland AI Services has to offer the equine industry.

This business offers various services for mares and stallions, and is run by Ben Wentink and Bonnie Greenan, from Craigton Farm, West Lothian.

Their stud farm has been running as an AI centre for the past 12 seasons and is making a name for itself by offering bespoke packages for the breeding of horses, mainly for show jumping purposes.

Back in 2003, Ben made the move from Holland to Scotland to work at Ingliston Stud, near Bishopton, then on to Balcormo Stud, in Fife, before Craigton Farm came up for rent in 2007.

“The first thing I did was put in a dummy mare and bought a caravan to put a lab in,” explained Ben. “The farm already had the stables, fields and school which made it ideal.

“We now have two girls on the yard, Nikole Ironside and Rachel Strizzi, who do everything from stable work, riding out, stallion and youngstock handling, plus many other jobs.”

In its first season, 50 mares were inseminated at Craigton, 20 of which were to the first stallion to stand at the farm, the Dutch Warmblood, Marlon.

Since then, the stud has gone from strength to strength, with last season seeing 220 mares inseminated with a 93% conception rate and 2019 will see nine stallions standing at Craigton.

Qualified as an AI technician in 1994, Ben explained that equine breeding is something that he has been around for some time.

“In Holland, AI has always been done and I remember dad taking mares to be AI’d, and he told me I had more talent for breeding horses than I did riding them.”

Always aspiring to keep improving his breeding lines, there are always new stallions at Craigton: “I have to believe in my stallions,” pointed out Ben.

“The stallions I choose have to fit my mares – if I can’t use them myself, how can I expect someone else to use them?

“We breed for show jumping primarily, however temperament and scope are always in mind. All our stallions are quiet and we have found this passes onto our foals, as they are very trainable, with most being broken in a week, showing a good aptitude to learn.”

The stallions are leased for two to three years before they are changed, however, Hemmingway was an exception to the rule. Arriving in 2009, he is still at the stud and next year will mark his 30th birthday.

Proving himself as an all-round sire, he has sired Grand Prix show jumpers, eventers and dressage horses – and last year was his busiest year yet, with 29 mares in foal to him.

With several brood mares standing at the stud, Ben breeds 10-12 foals a year which will see some produced to sell and others, especially fillies from good mares, retained for breeding replacements. Ben explained: “Conformation is a big thing I look for in our brood mares, to keep the breeding improving.”

There are now two home-bred stallions standing at the stud, Erdento and Jet Star: “All the stallions here have to have something I like about them,” explained Ben. “Hemmingway is a sire for all disciplines and he gets mares in foal, while Erdento passes on his temperament and scope, and George breeds for scope and a good balanced canter.”

For mares coming in to be AI’d, they will be scanned to see where they are in their cycle and from there a plan will be made for the breeding process. The choice of stallion and best options for the mare will be discussed with the owners and they are supported by a team with years of experience at Scotland AI Services.

“When the mare is in season, she will come in and be inseminated when she is ready, to one of our stallions or to the selected frozen semen,” said Ben.

“The mare can stay at the yard until she is scanned in foal – a first pregnancy scan will be done at 13-14 days from ovulation and she will be scanned again at 21 days, then again at 28 days, where, if in foal, the heart beat can be seen.

“Once this is seen, it is a safe time for the mare to travel and go home. Mares can be brought back to foal down when the time comes for breeders who don’t have the facilities, time or experience to foal down their mare themselves.

“All mares are kept in spacious boxes with 24-hour veterinary supervision, where CCTV and foaling alarms are used as standard. Mares can also be re inseminated during their season following foaling,” added Ben.

“The plan in two years’ time is to put in a quarantine unit where we can freeze and export semen, as there is a big market for export, especially with our native breeds, to places like America, Canada and Australia,” he concluded.