Tower Equine

Veterinary Surgeons

 

"Tower Power!" - March 2008

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TOWER EQUINE FERTILITY SERVICES, set up by equine vet Roger Lee near Bourne in Lincolnshire, is really just a continuation of the family business. The AI service, run by Roger with the help of his partner Alex, aims to help mare owners expand their stallion choice with the use of chilled and frozen semen.

'My parents ran a stud in Lancashire when I was growing up,' says Roger. 'So our fields were always full of mares and foals. I enjoyed the work, but I also saw how much time our local vet spent on the stud, and decided that was the job for me.'

His parent's Bold Venture Stud stood a number of stallions, including Guardian, one of the first fully graded Hannoverians, and the Thoroughbreds Nomadic Way and Another Hoarwithy.

With horses as the family business, Roger learnt to ride from an early age, starting with May, an ex- Blackpool beach donkey, followed by a motley selection of ponies. 'Only the stallions were expensive, and our ponies were mostly begged or borrowed – it meant we learnt how to cling on to most things.'

Roger and Perfect Light on route to winning the North Hereford Members RaceSix years of Veterinary School at Cambridge were equally horse orientated, with summers playing for the University polo team and a season as Master of the Cambridge University Draghounds.

'I was hopeless as a polo player,' remembers Roger. 'I've never been able to hit a ball so I usually just galloped over the top of it. The drag was great fun though, and it started me point-to-pointing a bit as well.'

Roger's partner, Alex, had a slower start to her own equine career, although it went on to considerably greater success.

'My father was an RAF officer stationed in Germany,' said Alex. 'The local German riding school, ran by an ex German Army Major, wouldn't teach children and when I finally started it was on huge warmbloods – not a pony in sight. I needed about a dozen extra holes punching in the stirrup leathers!'

On returning to England, Alex made up for lost time, first with Ebony a sparky 13.2hh pony and then with 'The Pickpocket', stable name Rupert, a 14.2hh jumping pony.

'I couldn't ride him at all for the first six months,' remembers Alex. 'He just kept jumping me off.'

Once she had learnt to stick however, there was no stopping them, and the pair went on to numerous successes both in this country and abroad. Rupert is still going strong but now long retired and enjoying a new career as nanny to the couple's two year old filly.

Once qualified as a vet, Roger lost no time in looking for an equine practice in some good hunting country. 'My first job was in Dorset. The Senior Partner used to lend me his own horse and lorry to go and hunt with the Blackmore Vale – he was a great boss!'

Spells in Gloucestershire and Buckinghamshire followed, after which Roger headed off to Australia for two years.
'I was already pretty experienced in stud medicine,' says Roger. 'But I just needed an opportunity to completely immerse myself in it.'

That chance came in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, home to two of Australia's biggest industries – horse breeding and wine.

'The scale of things out there is something else,' Roger says. 'I spent a year on one stud which had over six hundred broodmares - they were rounded up each day by motorbike. It was a fantastic place to work. I was tempted to stay on, and I even found a local hunt, although the hounds kept running off after kangaroos!'

Back in England, Roger worked first in Newmarket, and then joined Gibsons veterinary practice in Oakham. When the practice split he joined the senior partner, Michael Gibson to form Gibson and Lee.

'It was a great opportunity to become established in some really good horse country,' says Roger. Plus there were some more personal reasons too.

Alex and William hacking in local Grimsthorpe Park'I had met Alex by then, who was working as a commercial lawyer in Peterborough and I certainly wasn't about to leave the area!'

The couple now have two children, Oliver who is four, and Harry who is two, plus a steadily rising number of horses.

''I've seen the dangers of breeding - its easy to start with two and end up with twenty,' says Roger. 'But Alex pointed out that since we couldn't afford to buy a decent competition horse, we had better breed one. That way at least the vet work was free.'

Finding a broodmare was easy – Roger's hunter, Queenie, who was bred by his father, is by Welton Crackerjack out of a race winning mare, and the couple already have William, a gelding from her by Nomadic Way – but finding the right sire needed a little more research.

 

 

Roger and Queenie - Cottesmore Hunt'Queenie is quite a big mare, I can't hold the half of her, and so we needed a lighter type of sire with proven performance,' said Alex. The answer was Grafenstolz TSF, a Trakehner standing in Germany. 'Grafenstolz is the first stallion to have qualified for the Bundeschampionnat in eventing, showjumping and dressage and won the World Young Event Horse Championships as a six year old at the Lion D'Angers.'

Chilled semen was sent from Germany by overnight courier, and in 2006, Towerequine Queen's Counsel was born.

'I took her showing a bit as a yearling,' says Alex, 'Roger isn't really interested until they are old enough to jump, but I think it is good experience for them.'

Alex and Queen's Counsel - Royal Show 2007Last year Queen's Counsel was second in the sport horse classes at Newark and Notts and East of England County Shows. She was also highest placed trakehner yearling at the Royal Show and finished the year as best yearling filly at the PAVO British Eventing Young Horse Championships.

'We kept getting pipped by bigger colts,' says Alex. 'She isn't showy, but she is very athletic.' In fact the couple liked her enough to put Queenie back in foal to Grafenstolz, and the next foal is due in April.

'Only this one will be for sale,' says Roger. 'We have to keep the number of our own horses down. The Practice is so busy we barely have time to ride as it is.'

Alex just smiles.

'That's what he says now,' she says. 'We'll wait and see.'

Queen's Counsel meanwhile will do a few more shows as a two year old and Roger and Alex are considering putting her in foal as a three year old before backing her. Once she starts competing properly embryo transfer is a likely option.

'Horse owners and breeders are really waking up to the advantages of assisted reproduction,' says Roger. 'Frozen semen allows stallions to compete whilst still siring foals, and embryo transfer can allow mares to do the same.'
It was the increase in clients wanting to use AI that led Roger to set up Tower Equine Fertility Services, with Alex taking a break from legal work to help market and manage the enterprise.

'Chilled and frozen semen is the future for British Breeding,' says Roger. 'And when results are good, owners can see it makes economic sense too.'

So it looks like a busy summer in prospect, and it is not just the client numbers that are going up. With Teddy the miniature Shetland and the recent addition of Lance and Harvest, two 11hh ponies, it looks like whatever Roger might say, the number of horses at Tower Farm is set to keep rising too.

       Oliver Lee and LanceOls and HarvestHarry Lee and Teddy