Bruce: WCVM’s “perfect teaching stallion”
For more than a decade, a grey-haired “gentleman” named Bruce played a key role in the hands-on training of students at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).
Bruce was a 32-year-old grey quarter horse who was “the perfect teaching stallion” for the college’s veterinary students and theriogenology residents, says WCVM associate professor Dr. Steve Manning.
“He was all stallion with a very good libido and typical stallion behaviour. But at the same time, he was very well trained, very respectful of people and could be handled by a multiple number of people,” says Manning, who was one of Bruce’s regular handlers. “Even inexperienced students could handle him without taking a huge risk.”
In mid-March, Bruce’s WCVM caregivers made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize the stallion because of his deteriorating health. Bruce suffered from several issues that often affect geriatric horses including recurrent airway obstruction (or heaves), dental disease and kidney problems.
“Bruce was also in chronic renal failure in the last couple of weeks of his life,” says Manning. “We knew his time was limited, but just like any horse owner, we had trouble deciding on the appropriate time. It was hard to let go.”
Dr. Claire Card, an equine reproduction specialist at the WCVM who worked closely with the stallion year-round, agrees. “Well, I loved that horse, and he had a special way of communicating with us. He would give us the odd nudge — or as we used to call it, the ‘look’ — whenever he was ready to go to the breeding phantom.”
Born in 1980, Bruce’s original owners were Alberta horseman Ryan Watson and his father. Bruce’s teaching career began in the late 1990s when he worked as a teaching stallion at Olds College in Olds, Alta. When he was considered “a bit too hot” for the college’s students, Bruce was brought to the WCVM for a trial run as a resident stallion.
Bruce’s temporary stay at the veterinary college soon became permanent, and he filled several important roles in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program.
Students met Bruce during their first year when they learned the basics of stallion handling. They became reacquainted with him in second- and third-year teaching labs for stallion collection and semen evaluation. During their senior year, a number of fourth-year students also worked with Bruce during the theriogenology clinical rotation.
In addition, graduate students enrolled in the WCVM’s three-year theriogenology residency program worked very closely with the stallion and became just as attached to him as Card and Manning.
“He was also used as a ‘teaser stallion’ for all of our breeding mares in the spring and summer, so he had clinical duties at the Veterinary Medical Centre as well,” adds Manning. “He was heavily used throughout the year.”
For most of his career, Bruce had reasonable sperm production, and it was only in the past few years that his sperm quality had declined. “We still have some of his semen frozen that we’ll continue to use for semen evaluation for a few more years,” says Manning.
What never altered was Bruce’s good nature — a trait that not all breeding stallions possess. “A lot of stallions don’t necessarily do well living by themselves, but Bruce was never like that,” explains Manning. “He never had any significant behavioural problems, and we could always count on him to be user friendly.”
WCVM clinicians are now working with a younger stallion for this spring’s breeding season, but the search is on for a trainable horse that could potentially fill Bruce’s teaching shoes in the fall.
It won’t be easy — just as it will be difficult to forget the gentlemanly grey horse that served his college well for so many years. For Card, Bruce’s gentle manner and his kindness with students will always be associated with his memory.
“In spite of being a large, powerful stallion, he was always good with everyone who handled him and very forgiving,” says Card. “His kind and gentle spirit will be sorely missed.”