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Inspection Day Primer

This is it - the day you've been waiting for since seeing your foal for the first time on an ultrasound screen. Now she's a big, rambunctious four-month-old, and inspection weekend is just around the corner. What should you expect?

First, there's a lot of preparation. Hopefully you have a signed breeding certificate from the stallion owner, the mare's original registration papers and 4-generation pedigree plus one photocopy of each, as well as a health and coggins (if required for travel or by the host site), tucked away in a safe place. And you remember where that safe place is� If your horse is lacking paperwork, or being presented already weaned, you will need to fill out a DNA application and will be instructed on how to pull mane hairs from your mare and foal.

You should have downloaded, filled out and faxed or mailed your reservation form to the RPSI headquarters by June 30th, keeping a copy to bring along as well. If you have decided at the last minute to present your foal, don't panic - many sites can accommodate last minute entries, and the registry will do it's best to fit your mare and foal into the schedule. Be sure to call the host farm, though, for information. Some sites are busier than others, and there may be an order of go already established for the day.

Your foal should be broke to lead by her mother's side, and the mare should be trained to walk and trot in hand, in a bridle. A diagram of the judging triangle is available on this website, and it is recommended you practice at least once with your mare and foal - those corners come up a lot faster than you expect, so your mare should be trained to step out smartly into the trot at your first cue.

Mom and baby should be current on all required vaccinations and de-worming, and have been seen by the farrier within the last month, though not in the week just before inspection, ideally. A practice ride or two in the trailer may be a good idea if your mare and foal have never been away from home, though safety is key when traveling with a mare and foal, so be sure the trailer is set up securely even if the journey is just a practice run down the driveway.

Depending on how far you have to travel, you may choose to arrange overnight stabling for your mare and foal. Many keuring sites offer stabling, and those that don't should know where you can find a suitable barn. It is important to contact the farm hosting the inspection well in advance to arrange for day or overnight stabling for your mare and foal. Many sites have stalls or pens available, while at others you will have to groom and prepare your mare and foal in or around your trailer.

Braiding is optional, but highly encouraged. After all, this is your foal's "big day." Your mare and foal should be clean and shiny, with well-groomed socks and tail as well. Your mare's bridle can be brown or black, with any suitable dressage-type snaffle bit acceptable. Try to suit your bridle to your mare's head - if she has a delicate face, she may look overpowered in a massive padded and lined dressage bridle, preferring to show in a simple hunter style bridle instead. Because mares and foals are also judged at liberty, be sure to use reins or a lead with snaps on the ends, and be prepared to remove your foal's halter for safety, while at liberty.

And how about yourself? A little bling is acceptable, but don't go overboard! Hair is best neatly contained in a ponytail or bun, and the same subtle makeup you would wear in the show ring, or to a meeting, will do nicely at an inspection. Overall a clean, organized look is best, with handlers encouraged to wear a solid, dark polo or collared shirt and light khaki or white pants along with comfortable running shoes.

Helpers with long whips are permitted in the ring with your mare and foal, but be sure you have practiced together at home on the triangle with your extra handler as well, as some mares and foals become intimidated or frightened by the extra handler or whip. Many handlers bring noise makers such as rattles, plastic bags, etc. to spark their mare and foal's best movement and expression. A little of this goes a long way, though, and you should know your own mare and foal's preferences and disposition (as well as your host's!) before going all-out with the percussion instruments in the middle of their big moment.

After your mare and foal have strutted their stuff at liberty, the judge will signal you to catch your mare and foal as he begins his oral evaluation. This is the moment when your heart leaps and your breath catches in your throat. Just remember to breathe, smile, stay open-minded about the judge's comments, and have fun! Remember, foals are judged just on this one day in their lives - they may shine now, or be ugly ducklings who will grow into beautiful swans.

The final excitement (or insult, depending on who you ask!) of the day is the foal branding, which will take place near the stabling. Each foal will be branded with the RPSI brand - foals from Main Mare Book mothers and Stud Book 1 sires will receive a full brand with crown. All others (Pre-Mare Book mothers, Stud Book II sires) will receive a half brand. All foals will be branded with the last two digits of their life number under the RPSI brand, which will serve as a lifelong identifying mark. Believe it or not, the branding doesn't seem to bother the foals too much. The hot iron is applied for only a fraction of a second - by the time the foal notices what's up it's all over. Most of them seem to think they've been bitten by a particularly annoying fly!

In the end, the best advice about inspections is to have fun, and to think of the day not only as a chance to show off your breeding program, but also as one of the best learning experiences of your year.