Chris Cooper got the call around 3 a.m. The calls always seem to come around that time at that time of the year. It was foaling season and as everyone in the game knows, broodmares and their soon-to-be born foals are never on the same schedule as the humans that look after them.
Cooper got this call in the wee hours of this otherwise forgettable March 2 morning because Keikik, a then 11-year-old Aloha Prospector mare, was ready to foal. She wasn’t in distress, but there was a definite problem.
“I got the call at 3 in the morning from the student who lives here on the farm that was in charge of foaling this mare out,” said Cooper, who serves as farm manager and coordinator of research programs at the University of Florida’s Equine Sciences Center facility in Ocala. “This foal was so big he wouldn’t come out. I went out there and between the two of us we managed to get this colt out of the mare.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, this colt is something else.’ Besides being so big, you could tell how big he was just looking at him laying down even before he got up, you could tell he was going to be a heck of a horse.”
Flash forward two years and Cooper’s prediction was well on its way to becoming true.
The same colt, now a 2-year-old and a son of the popular and successful young sire High Cotton and a half brother to stakes winner and U-Florida product St. Louis City, sold for $600,000 during the second session of the OBS April juvenile sale Tuesday in Ocala. The colt was one of the buzz horses of the sale, and he was purchased by St. Elias and West Point Thoroughbreds.
The university and its equine program did not benefit financially from that transaction-the colt was sold privately as a weanling to consignor Ocala Stud Farm-but gained an immeasurable amount of publicity and attention from the colt bred on a donated season out of a donated mare.
That’s how things work at the Equine Sciences Center, which along with the Horse Teaching Unit in Gainesville make up the University of Florida’s Equine Extension. They’re always on the lookout for donated broodmares-ideally those with black-type and young enough to produce a few foals-and donated seasons.
The program consists of roughly 35 broodmares, most of them Quarter Horses but about six or seven Thoroughbreds as well.
The Thoroughbred mares are bred exclusively to stallions whose seasons were donated, and recent donations have come from the syndicates or owners of such stallions as Adios Charlie, Benny the Bull, Concerto, Gotcha Gold, Graeme Hall, Overdriven, and of course, High Cotton.
High Cotton is a son of Dixie Union who stands for $7,500 at the O’Farrell family’s Ocala Stud, one of several prominent farms in the Marion County area to support the program through the years, along with Double Diamond, Getaway Farm, Journeyman Stud, Live Oak Plantation, Stonehedge Farms South, Woodford Thoroughbreds, and Vinery.
Students participate in nearly every aspect of horse care as part of the program, everything from husbandry, marketing, business ethics, awareness, nutrition, foraging, and so much more. One of the more popular courses is the foaling practicum, which has close to 70 students and even has its own Facebook page (Florida Foaling Practicum).
Most of the programs involving foals and weanlings are popular, for obvious reasons, Cooper says.
“The weanling handling class, that’s one of the more popular classes,” he said. “There’s probably 20 students, each assigned a horse, and they’ll spend three months with them. There’s a lot of petting, a lot of loving on them. But at the same time we’ll also teach them things they might not learn at a more traditional horse farm.
“They learn how to longe around, how to walk around in a small space, walk into and out of trailers, small trailers, open trailers. It’s fun for the students and at the end of the class you can see how accepting the horses are. You’ll be able to walk right up to them in the pasture. That class makes a big difference in them.”
The high-dollar High Cotton colt wound up back in the Ocala Stud fold after the farm’s trainer, George Burrows, came out to the Equine Sciences Center to look at the operation’s crop of weanlings. He was a returning customer, liked what he saw, and told assistant farm manager David O’Farrell.
O’Farrell came out for a look and eventually Ocala Stud bought the colt, along with a filly by Concerto out of The Jickster, by Distinctive Pro, who sold for $18,000 during Thursday’s final session at OBS April.
“That filly was from a season they donated, too,” Cooper said. “I watched the sale of [the High Cotton colt] online, I actually almost missed it. It was very exciting for us and a big boost to our program. Even thought we don’t benefit [financially] from it, we sold the colt to Ocala Stud, we were really happy with the transaction. We’re over the moon for Ocala Stud, they’ve been so good to us.”