Mud, rain, mud …

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Lucy Procter is in the midst of the highs and lows of managing a rain-soaked foaling season

All images: Courtenay Hitchcock

‘I’m just so over this wet weather! When will it end?’ It’s a common refrain this winter – and never more so than from those trying to make a living from rain-soaked land.
This month, we have had to sacrifice several fields to the ravages of hooves, hoping that the ground will dry up later in the spring and enable us to roll the poached ground flat once more.
The youngest foals spend their first few days finding their legs in the all-weather turnout for short spells. Once the foals are turned out in a field, we are careful to continue to restrict their time out – squelching through muddy ground for too long could pull at their joints if they were left out all day. Also foals are less inclined to lie down and rest if the ground is wet.

All images: Courtenay Hitchcock

In the early part of the breeding season, if it’s raining, the foals go out with special waterproof foal rugs, because if they get wet, the wind will quickly chill them and make them very cold. Once the weather improves and they are older, bigger and stronger, they can withstand moderate rain, but would be brought into stables for a rest if heavy rain persisted for more than a day or so. THowever, once the mares have a foal at foot they have to stay without rugs, as the foal could become tangled in them.

All images: Courtenay Hitchcock

The foals quickly get used to being led in and out of the field, and it doesn’t take long for a single member of staff to be able to lead a mare and foal together. We use well-fitting, leather headcollars for the mares and the foals, and lead the foals using a ‘slip’ – a length of soft webbing which slips through the headcollar, without fastening to it. If a foal is being difficult, the handler can safely let go in the knowledge that if the webbing is stepped on, it will just pull free and will not get tangled around the foal’s legs.

All images: Courtenay Hitchcock

Next year’s foals
March has been busy, with a total of seven new foals born. Most of our owners want their mares to visit a stallion again this year so that they produce another foal in 2025. This involves our vet scanning each mare ten days after foaling to check whether she is in her foaling heat. Mares usually come back into season just a week after foaling, but we prefer not to cover on this first cycle as conception rates are quite low.
Once we know she has finished this ‘foaling heat’ we can count forward to when the vet should start tracking the next cycle. However, the longer after foaling that a mare’s foaling heat is, the greater the chance of getting in foal: if it goes beyond 14 days, we might consider covering on a foaling heat.

All images: Courtenay Hitchcock

Tracking a mare involves ultrasound scanning the uterus and ovaries to measure the size of the follicles growing in the ovaries and the amount of oedema (thickening of the lining) in the uterus. Once the vet determines that a mare has grown a follicle that is anywhere between 3.5cm and 5cm and that the oedema score is high, we will book a covering within the next day or so and drive a mare to the chosen stallion.
The foal always travels to a cover with the mare. Removal of the internal lorry partition essentially turns the lorry into a mobile stable with a lovely deep straw bed, and the foal is free to feed, wander around or lie down and sleep whenever it chooses. At the stallion stud, the foal is held by a handler in the covering shed, so the mare can see her foal at all times and does not get worried. Then they are both loaded to return home.

All images: Courtenay Hitchcock

Honeysuckle grandparents
In other news, we were delighted to hear that Honeysuckle, the TGS-bred multiple Grade 1 winning champion mare, safely delivered her first foal, a Walk In The Park filly, on 29th March. In the same way that we are always excited to follow TGS-bred foals, we feel rather like ‘grandparents’ to Honeysuckle’s filly.

All images: Courtenay Hitchcock

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