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.

Failure of passive transfer

When your mare is having a foal, it can be a very stressful time for you and the mare. It is important that you know what to expect so that you can pick up any problems early on. Foals can become sick very quickly so it important to watch them closely and consult your vet if you are at all concerned. If your foal fails to stand or suck within 2 hours of birth this is a serious problem, and you should call your vet immediately as this may result in failure of passive transfer.

What is failure of passive transfer?

When a foal is born it doesn't have any antibodies capable of fighting infection. It can only get these antibodies by drinking the milk which the mare produces in the first 2 days after foaling. This milk is different to normal milk because it is full of all the antibodies the foal needs and is called colostrum.

If the foal does not receive these antibodies it will be extremely susceptible to infection and can become seriously ill. This is called failure of passive transfer. Sometimes the foal will receive some antibodies but maybe not enough for example if the mare's milk does not contain the right amount; in this case the foal is still susceptible to infection and this is known as partial failure of passive transfer.

Why would my foal get failure of passive transfer?

Anything which prevents the foal from sucking within the first few hours of life can cause failure of passive transfer, eg:

  • If the mother rejects the foal and does not allow it to suck.
  • If the foal is unable to latch on.
  • If the foal has difficulty standing because it is already weak or because of conformational deformities.
  • The mare may not produce enough colostrum.
  • The colostrum may not be of good quality and the foal may not receive enough antibodies. 
  • The mare has been running milk prior to giving birth and all of the antibodies may have been lost in this milk.

How do I know if my foal has failure of passive transfer?

It is important to observe the foal carefully and monitor it to make sure it has sucked properly after birth. If you are concerned at all you should contact your vet immediately.

If the foal becomes unwell in the first few days of life it may be that it is due to failure of passive transfer and your vet will take a blood sample to check the foal's antibody levels.

How can failure of passive transfer be managed?

If blood tests show that your foal has not received adequate antibodies, or you know that it has not sucked there are several things your vet may do. If it is within the first 2 days of life and the mare has adequate, good quality colostrum the vet may take the colostrum from the mare and administer it to the foal via a stomach tube to ensure the foal receives it all.

If colostrum from the mare is not available a foster mare or commercial colostrum preparations may be used.

If the foal is very sick your veterinarian may decide that it requires a plasma transfusion. Plasma is a component of blood containing lots of antibodies and can be bought commercially or harvested from the mare's blood. It can be given to the foal through a vein for rapid administration of these important antibodies.

How can I prevent failure of passive transfer?

There are lots of ways to prevent and check for failure of passive transfer:

  • If your mare starts running milk prior to giving birth this milk can be collected and frozen and then given to the foal when it is born.
  • Foals should be monitored closely in the first few hours of life to make sure that they suck properly; it is however important to give the mare and foal time and space in order to bond.
  • The foaling environment should be kept very clean so that the chances of the foal catching an infection are reduced.