Horses are part of an ever growing industry, with over 600,000 horses in the UK, 1.4 million riders and 5 million people with an active interest in the equine industry*. Most people acquire a horse out of choice, so if you make this decision you should think carefully before going ahead. A horse needs lots of love and care, including regular worming, vaccinations and dental care. Owning a horse is time consuming and can be costly; not only will you will need to consider where you will keep your horse, you must also consider the ongoing costs of owning a horse which include accommodation, bedding, feed and healthcare.
In the unlikely event that your horse goes missing it is going to be very difficult for anyone to know who it belongs to, unless your horse carries some form of permanent identification. It is wise to get your horse microchipped or freezemarked, this will avoid heartache in the long run, should your horse go missing or is stolen.
Horses are herd animals, and thrive on being together with other horses. Don’t forget that your horse will need somewhere to graze, a stable for warmth in the winter time, a constant supply of water, feeding daily and regular exercise. It can cost hundreds of pounds a month to care for a horse, including accommodation, food, veterinary care and insurance; there will be other costs, including buying tack and rugs and extra livery charges when you go on holiday.
Horses can live into their thirties, over this time your horse will need lots of care and attention. Being able to provide all of this will ensure you and your horse make the most of your time together.
* Research conducted in 2004 by the Henley Centre for DEFRA and the British Horse Industry Confederation.
It is unfortunately sometimes the case that a foal needs to be fostered on to another mare; this can be a difficult time for all concerned. The main reasons why this might be necessary are; the mare is very ill or dies shortly after giving birth, the mare rejects the foal, or the mare does not have sufficient milk to feed the foal.
What makes a suitable foster mare?
A suitable foster mare can sometimes be difficult to find as they must have certain attributes:
- They must have a suitable temperament for handling and ideally a history of having been a good mother in the past.
- They must be able to produce enough good quality milk to feed the growing foal.
- They must be in good health and vaccinated against tetanus, influenza and ideally Equine Herpes Virus.
How do I find a foster mare for my foal?
A foster mare only becomes available when they lose their own foal. At this point the owners may decide that she can become a foster mare.
The owners may advertise the mare as suitable for fostering. In the thoroughbred racing industry these adverts usually appear in the racing newspapers and on racing websites.
Social media is also another option to help you find a foster mare.
How do I introduce my foal to the foster mare?
Before the foal and foster mare are introduced it is important to ensure that the foal has received enough colostrum as this is a very stressful time for it.
If the mare that is being used has only just lost its own foal, she should be left with the dead foal for a period of time before introducing her to a new foal.
When introducing the foal to the foster mare it may be necessary to sedate the mare or employ the use of a twitch to keep her calm. The foal should be introduced to the mare calmly by experienced handlers; some people advocate using something very strong smelling such as Vics Vapour Rub to mask the foal's own scent and others suggest rubbing the dead foal's skin or the placenta over the new foal to try and prevent rejection.
The mare should be held at all times during the introduction until her reaction to the new foal can be assessed. The foal should also be held towards the mare's head so that the mare can see and smell the foal. Mares can react very unpredictably and sometimes aggressively to a new foal, so it is important to monitor her very closely, she may even require further sedation.
Unfortunately, some mares will not accept a new foal and attempts at fostering to that mare should be abandoned so that the foal and the handlers do not get hurt. Even if the mare does accept the foal it may take several hours before she is comfortable with the foal and can be left alone. The whole process can take some time in which case the foal may need to be supplemented with milk replacer.
Fostering foals can be very rewarding and worthwhile but it is a difficult process, and you should seek advice from your vet or other experienced people before attempting it.