CORVALLIS - The horses kept for student education in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University just took a big step up in class with the arrival of "Ski Run Lady," a valuable thoroughbred that officials say may reinvigorate their equine breeding and reproduction program.

Although the college has had some other thoroughbreds in the past, none compare to this chiseled, 12-year-old brown mare with rippling muscles and the look of a champion.

"This one is spectacular, she's very special," said Michelle Kutzler, a clinician with the college and director of their horse reproduction program. "We'll use her primarily as a teaching horse, but because of her obvious physical attributes there's also the opportunity to do some registered breeding."

The horse is a classic thoroughbred, sired by Sir Session out of Rutkoski. Her racing career was okay but unspectacular, with four victories, and she was donated to the college by her owner for a tax deduction and to help the college improve its equine education program.

Ski Run Lady could, of course, be bred to another thoroughbred stallion, but the college has other plans. They've registered her in the Oldenburg mare book, which by the rules of that organization allows any foals she conceives with an Oldenburg sire to be considered purebred Oldenburgs. To become registered, Ski Run Lady recently had to undergo a detailed inspection at an Oldenburg show, where she scored 99 out of a possible 110 points, based on a wide range of physical characteristics.

"Oldenburgs are a different breed, very popular, and often used in jumping or dressage competitions," Kutzler said. "They have a bigger frame like a draft horse and can be bred to thoroughbreds or Arabians to add some refinement. A good Oldenburg foal, we've been told, should be worth at least $9,000."

The college will soon breed Ski Run Lady to an Oldenburg sire by artificial insemination - also donated and worth about $2,000 - and breed foals for sale, using the income to help expand and improve the college's program in equine reproduction.

There's a lot to learn, Kutzler said, such as reproductive surgery, artificial insemination, obstetrics, gynecology, and neonatology. Procedures done on Ski Run Lady have already helped students learn about muscle biopsies, a naso-gastric intubation, ophthalmic exam and episioplasty.

Part of the problem in veterinary medicine, Kutzler said, is that students have to work with so many different animals and sometimes the knowledge learned with one species doesn't translate all that well to others.

"A lot of what we know about animal reproduction, in fact, evolved from work with farm animals such as horses or cows, because that's what humans have been working with for the longest," Kutzler said. "But a dog is not a small cow or a large cat. So in the larger field of animal reproduction there's still a lot of knowledge to be gained."

Kutzler's specialty is companion animal theriogenology, or reproduction. For some time, she said, the reproduction program at OSU with horses had been largely dormant, with the training focused more on other animal species.

"With the arrival of Ski Run Lady, were going to change that," Kutzler said. "Now our students will be able to care for and assist the horse in her pregnancy from start to finish - and learn a lot from the process taking place in a healthy animal. So often, the only animals we work with are sick. But equine breeding and reproduction is a major industry, and it will be very good for our students to learn more about it."

The college ultimately hopes to have a complete herd of horses to breed, Kutzler said, and would welcome more donations of high quality mares. For now, however, there's clearly one horse in the stable that stands a cut above the rest.

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Michelle Kutzler, 541-737-6952