Foal Time

Despite the lack of spring weather, foals have started to make an appearance – how cute!

Here are ten facts about foals for you to get your teeth into.

  1. The gestation period of a horse is eleven months, but they can be born up to four weeks late. Most breeders aim for foals to be born in the spring so that they benefit from the spring grass via the mare’s milk and can grow during the better weather and are strong enough to withstand the demands of winter.
  2. Foals stand, walk and trot very quickly after birth – ideally within two hours. This is because they’re prey animals so need to be able to flee predators from the beginning. Predators are attracted to the smell of the placenta so moving away from the birth site is important. Foals can gallop after twenty four hours.
  3. Foals with floppy ear tips are premature because the cartilage has not yet fully developed.
  4. Many foals are born with bowed legs, called “windswept”, particularly large foals born to smaller mares. Immature tendons and ligaments can also cause a foal’s fetlocks to touch the ground as they walk. The legs will straighten out over the first few days as they strengthen.
  5. Foals are often born at night, or in the early hours of the morning, and the birth is a quick process. Both of these factors help protect them from predators.
  6. After a week, a foal will try grass, starting to eat a little bit of hay and grass because by the time they are two months old their nutritional needs exceed the milk requirements from the mare.
  7. A foal’s legs are 90% of their final adult length when they’re born. This gives them an advantage as a prey animal, and also explains why they look so wobbly and leggy as newborns.
  8. If a foal grows to quickly, or is overweight then their joints swell with a condition called osteochondrosis. In osteochondrosis the boney foundation of joints doesn’t develop properly so the joint surface is rough and can deteriorate, causing arthritis and lameness in later life.
  9. Foals have certain juvenile characteristics which, in a similar way to human babies, elicits caregiving. The eyes are large, face is short and forehead is high.
  10. Foals are born with a deciduous hoof capsule, which is soft and rubbery to protect the birth canal from the sharp, hard hooves. The capsule wears down within minutes, enabling the foal to stand and move.

New Arrival

On Friday we had a new arrival at the yard, which signifies the start of spring!

We already have a young baby goat cavorting around the place. He and his twin brother were born just before Christmas and were subsequently named Rudolph and Blitzen. Unfortunately, Rudolph became ill last week and died, but we are still left with Blitzen`s cheeky brown and white face as he bounces around his corral like a pogo stick.

A couple of weeks ago the yard owner noticed that one of her mares suddenly looked heavily pregnant. None of them had been scanned, but this mare showed no early signs of pregnancy and the stallion wasn`t interested in her. Even during the autumn this mare hadn`t looked pregnant, even to the experienced eyes of the yard owner.

So it caused great ado amongst the liveries when the heavily pregnant mare came in to the yard. She was to be stabled until the birth as the nights were too frosty to risk the foal`s health.

So we have all been peering over her door impatiently, hoping to see a baby, but she kept us waiting until late Thursday night.

On Friday morning I was introduced to the little guy, and how cute is he?!

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I like the symmetry in his markings – four full up white stockings, not too much white on his body, and a little star. Very smart!

While we mucked out the foaling box we turned mare and foal out in the arena so he could stretch his knock-kneed gangly legs. At less than twelve hours old he is already showing his independent streak – by taking the detour around the yard without Mum! I led the mare, who was seemingly oblivious to her baby`s exploits, whilst my friend half carried, half pushed the colt along.

In the arena it was incredible to see him cantering around and inspecting the poles and fence, whilst all the surrounding horses in their fields looked on, fascinated. The first canter was hilarious, as he tried to co-ordinate his long legs and find room under his compact body for his long hind legs.

Now we have the difficulty of naming the foal. Everyone has given their two cents, but the yard owner wants to have a theme for this years foals.

For example, last year the foals were named after musical instruments – Cello, Flute, Marimba, … Digeridoo …

Someone suggested Buzz – of which I had two connotations, a buzz cut and Buzz Lightyear. Now he doesn`t have a spikey, coarse mane, so we experimented with the theme of Toy Story.

When choosing themes it`s important to check that they have enough scope for the number of foals you`re expecting, and both genders. Roman Gods and Goddesses are a good theme, but we think the Toy Story theme could run dry when you get to Mr Potato Head!

I`ll keep you updated on his progress! Otherwise, any themes for this years foal are very welcome.

Blemishes

Coming from a showing background, I always worried about scars and blemishes on my ponies and horses, but I am seeing more and more, particularly with my new eventing hobby, successful horses with less than perfect legs. My first pony had a scar on the inside of his hind cannon bone, from when he`d gone under the gate. I used to use black hair spray to make it less noticeable. But the judges always commented on it. It frustrated me that he was marked down for not being perfect, when really, we know he was. And no bias here!

I found this article which explains leg and foot problems quite well – http://www.horses-arizona.com/pages/articles/unsoundfeetlegs.html – And whilst I don`t particularly want my horse to get low ringbone or navicular, a couple of windgalls or a splint isn`t the end of the world. Thankfully at the moment my horse doesn`t have any.
I`m starting to feel that blemishes, all over the body, whilst you don`t want it to disfigure or hinder their rideability, it`s a bit like getting a life history and getting to know. Like our scars which show we once fell out a tree when we were 3 years old…

From what my friends have experienced I dread a tendon or ligament injury… months of box rest and a life of always watching that leg. My field companion was on box rest for 18 months, then field rest for 6 months for a suspensory ligament, but is now sound enough to hack. I once saw, and will never forget, as I felt it was pure cruelty, a polo pony brought back from a match had broken down. Her fetlock had dropped significantly. She was an older mare (mid twenties) but we tried. Cold hosing, cooling clay, bandages, bute, the full works for a couple of weeks. She didn`t see the vet though. After a few weeks like this her owner decided that she would be retired from polo (no shit Sherlock, she`s only got 3 legs) but… her owner wanted to put in foal!

Now I`m sure you`re all shouting at the screen now; she`s too old for a first foal; she can barely support her own weight, let alone the weight of the foal; her quality of life was drastically reduced. Thankfully, for the mare`s sake, her tendon completely broke, leaving her with her fetlock on the floor, and then the decision was made for her owner. She was put to sleep, and thankfully an end to her suffering.