05/13/2004 11:00PM

War Emblem picking his own mates


LEXINGTON, Ky. - War Emblem, the 2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner whose low libido caused problems in his first season at Japan's Shadai Stallion Station last year, has covered about 50 mares in 2004, a dramatic improvement. In 2003, his initial year at stud, War Emblem covered only seven mares, getting four of those in foal.

Shadai spokesman Eisuke Tokutake explained that while War Emblem isn't any more interested in breeding than he was in 2003, the farm has found an unusual strategy that seems to help. They let him choose his own mates.

"Basically, War Emblem is the same in attitude as last year," Tokutake said through a translator. "So it is not like we can plan his matings or select mares for him to breed. What we do is tease him by showing him many mares. If he finds a mare he likes, he serves that mare. If he doesn't find any he likes, he does not serve any. One day he finds one or two he likes, and the next day he'll find none. As humans, we can't tell which mare he will like or why."

Understandably, this makes War Emblem difficult to sell to Japanese breeders, who need some guarantee that their mare will be bred to the stallion they've booked. As a result, Tokutake said, War Emblem has been bred only to Shadai's own mares so far.

Earlier this season, Shadai managers tried arousing the stallion with a mare he liked, then quickly substituting a mare he was booked to breed.

"Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn't," Tokutake said. The farm has found it more efficient to simply let the 5-year-old stallion tell them which mares he's willing to cover.

The Our Emblem horse's fertility seems to be fairly good, Tokutake noted, because about 30 of his mares this year are in foal. Despite the troublesome and time-consuming methods that War Emblem's breeding sessions require, the farm has no plans to drop the stallion from its roster.

War Emblem's first crop, born this year, consists of four foals, and Tokutake indicated the farm might sell two of those.

"The foals are, in general, good foals," he said, "and we are happy with them."

Tokutake declined to identify any of the mares War Emblem has covered in 2004, saying, "They are all mares he liked. He selected them, and there is not much else to say about them."

Salmonella outbreak closes equine hospital

The University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center equine hospital in East Marlborough, Pa., has closed due to a salmonella outbreak, according to a report in The Kennett Paper in nearby Kennett Square, Pa.

Hospital officials expect the clinic, regarded as one of the world's leading equine clinics, to remain closed for six or seven weeks, the report said. The New Bolton Center is referring horse owners to other veterinarians in the area while the clinic undergoes decontamination.

The salmonella bacteria, best known among humans as a cause of food poisoning, can cause a number of illnesses in horses, including potentially life-threatening diarrhea. The bacteria occurs in the intestine, and horses can shed it in their manure. It can affect both animals and humans.

New Bolton officials believe this outbreak started with an unknown past case at the clinic, and part of their work during the hospital's closure will be to find the outbreak's point of origin.

Cicada swarm! Actually, it's not that scary

Entomologists have alerted residents of the eastern United States to expect a major infestation of cicadas this summer, but University of Kentucky insect specialists say the cyclical large-scale hatching should not cause problems for horses or other livestock.

"Myth and rumor to the contrary, cicadas are not poisonous and do not sting or bite," said Lee Townsend, an entomologist at UK. "Consequently, they pose no direct threat to the health and well-being of livestock or humans."

The cicada populations will be heaviest in wooded areas, and horses stabled near such areas might grow disturbed by the noise and flying activities of the cicadas. But there is little danger beyond that, according to the UK Cooperative Extension Service, and the infestation should be short lived.

The bug in question is the periodical cicada, which has clear wings and large red eyes. The cicada emerges only once every 17 years.

The particular brood emerging now, known as Brood X, includes three species of cicadas and is renowned for its vast size. Billions of the bugs are expected to emerge as part of Brood X, but the infestation is brief. The emergence usually occurs in May and June and lasts only about a month.