Wed, 03/25/2020 - 09:36

By: Lenny Shulman


Just past 7:30 a.m. on an early March morning, with the sun beginning to rise over the paddocks east of Lane’s End, stallion manager Billy Sellers stands outside the majestic operation’s breeding shed, upbeat and bright as the weather. He’s wearing a safety vest over a tan jumpsuit and blue surgical gloves with plastic extensions that run up to his elbows. He is awaiting the first stallion to come to work for the 8 a.m. breeding session, the first of three sessions he’ll oversee on this day.

No detail eludes Sellers, not after 35 years on the job. So when first-year sire Catalina Cruiser is walked past on the way to his barn, Sellers takes note.

“Doesn’t he look great?” Sellers asks a visitor. “He’s really settled right in.”

Moments later, Sellers walks through the shed’s wide sliding double-doors and moves to a whiteboard just inside the entrance that lists the stallions and their mare partners for the dozen breedings scheduled for the session. Next to each pairing is a number that indicates the order in which the breedings will be done. He has already familiarized himself with the list and has made copies to distribute to grooms who are prepping the stallions.

In another part of the breeding shed, mares are being teased and sorted, and paperwork is being readied to bring up to the lab office in the shed. The mares will be bred in the order they arrived in a parade of vans that are parked outside the other end of the breeding shed.

“This (session) will take about an hour,” Sellers says, as the first mare is led from a holding area into the main, round portion of the shed. A staff of five go about their work quietly and efficiently. One places the rope loop of a twitch around the mare’s upper lip to better control her. Twisting the long wooden pole attached to the rope adds pressure, causing the release of endorphins to calm the mare. A leather cape is draped over her back for protection, and two bulky boots are applied to her rear hooves to guard against her kicking and doing damage to the stallion. A moment later, The Factor is brought into the shed, and the matings begin.

As soon as a mare is covered and a semen sample is collected and analyzed by Dr. Joseph Kamper, the mare exits through side doors, and the next one is brought in from the holding area. The process is repeated like clockwork, with Sellers remaining near his post inside the doors through which the stallions enter. The atmosphere is workmanlike, with a small amount of chatter among the staffers. Exactly 65 minutes after the session begins, the last mare is covered, and Sellers heads back to the main stallion barn. “Almost hit it right on the head,” he says of the timing, while soaking in the midmorning sunshine.

Sellers, 61, has accumulated nearly 40 years of experience working on area horse farms. He grew up just a few miles from where Lane’s End now sits, in the town of Versailles, Ky., and has lived in the area his entire life. As a youngster, he had no interaction with horses, although an older sister had a hunter/jumper she rode. In his freshman year at the University of Kentucky, he answered an ad in the school newspaper seeking someone to work part time grooming and cleaning stalls on a horse farm. Soon he had a job with Stanley Petter at Hurricane Hall, prepping weanlings for the Keeneland November sale.

College lasted one semester. “It wasn’t for me,” Sellers said.

One day he took a mare to Calumet Farm to be bred to Tim Tam and was astonished at the scope of that legendary operation. He applied for work there and was eventually hired by Dan Rosenberg, then Calumet’s broodmare manager. After several years working with broodmares and foals, as well as in the breeding shed, Sellers was hired by Mike Cline at Big Sink Farm.

“One day Mike asked me if I’d ever heard of Will Farish, which I had,” Sellers said. “He said Mr. Farish had bought some nice property here, and Mike thought I’d make a good foreman, so I came over here with him, with the first crop of yearlings in 1982. There were no stallions here at the time, so I worked with mares and foals. I’d go to the sale and show yearlings.”

By 1985, Dixieland Band, Fit to Fight, and Hero’s Honor had taken up residence as the first horses to stand at Lane’s End. Sellers accepted a transfer and was named to head the stallion division. When the new complex opened for business in 1989, there were 18 stallions in residence, the same number that call Lane’s End home today.

“I didn’t know when I came to work here that it would evolve into what it has,” noted Sellers. “I don’t think any of us did. I just came because it was an exciting new farm, and I knew Mike Cline well. So it was good luck and timing.”

Sellers’ easygoing attitude sets the tone for the Lane’s End stallion complex. Although he is required to make split-second decisions throughout the day, particularly during breeding season, he tends to downplay his role as supervisor while relying on the experience of his experienced staff.

“I try to keep things pretty light,” he says. “The guys all know their jobs and don’t require a lot of supervision. … Last year I got kicked pretty severely in the leg and couldn’t work for almost two weeks. And I got a lot of compliments about how the breeding shed ran and what a good job the guys did. They didn’t miss a beat. That made me feel good, that they’re capable and can do whatever needs to be done.”


Source: BloodHorse Daily

Read the complete version in the March 28 edition of the BloodHorse Magazine.