Have you ever experienced the heart-breaking loss of a mare or foal?
The New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Foster Foal Service is a valuable tool that endeavours to link orphaned foals with foster mares. The service provides support for the horses, ensuring a seamless transition in what can be a distressing time, and for breeders and owners who have concerns about their equine's physical and mental well-being.
The smooth running of this service can be contributed to the support of Phillip Smyth and Anna Miles who act as the North and South Island co-ordinators respectively. They have access to a list of approximately 120 contacts which is used in addition to social media to notify a mare’s availability or when one is needed to foster a foal. The contact list is predominantly from the thoroughbred sector, however also includes standardbred and warmblood/sport-horse breeders.
When it comes fostering foals, the equine community come together to pull through to get the best result possible for each horse.
The cost to participate in the Foster Foal Service in the North Island is $350.00+GST (for NZTBA members) and $500+GST for non-members which is charged out to foal owners by the NZTBA’s Waikato branch for each successful fostering. The South Island service is free. The service has proven extremely valuable to breeders throughout New Zealand with the 2019 breeding season resulting in 37 successful 'join-ups'. The current breeding season resulted in 24 mares and foals being joined together.
“We struggled at the end of the season when seven foals were left orphaned,” said Waikato-based co-ordinator Phillip Smyth. “A couple of farms actually had two foals at each property, so at least these orphans had company. I am confident that all stud farms make mares available and that they all certainly know the value of having the service available.”
Nick King of Brighthill Farm, who has been utilising the Foster Foal Service since his Tauwhare stud was established, strongly encourages broodmare owners to participate and said it demonstrated the importance of sustainable health for the foal and the mare.
“It improves the mare’s aspect of day-to-day life, allowing for a better chance of conceiving again,” he said.
While there is no formal contract, there are guidelines around 'who is responsible for what'. The service is is a balancing act and relies on people wanting to help each other out in good faith. As there is a high level of quality care on New Zealand farms, broodmare owners can have confidence in sending their mares to another location.
Though not every single fostering is successful there are genuine rewards when a positive outcome is achieved.
“When they take, and you get to see the foal feeding, that’s very special, so satisfying,” added King. “Is the service something we all should support? Absolutely!”
Philip Brown of Ancroft Stud has been using the service since the Matamata farm’s earliest days in 1970, and said that in those 50 years he has only ever had one non-successful take. He still finds the moment when a mare and foal take for the first time extremely special.
Brown’s most recent experience was with Luminova, the dam of recent Victorian Derby winner Johnny Get Angry, who lost her foal and successfully fostered another whose dam had died. As he points out, the service is all about contributing to participate and the balancing act involved.
“It’s a wonderful organisation,” Brown said. “I couldn’t recommend it more, no matter what side of the equation you might find yourself.”
The New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association is extremely grateful to the owners of mares, breeders and studmasters who have been involved in fostering foals through the 2020 breeding season. Although the hope is that the service is never needed, it is essential and it is heart-warming to know it is available, providing practical and much-needed support.
Anyone seeking further information on the Foster Foal Service should reference the NZTBA websiteor visit the Foster Foal Facebook Page which is managed by veterinarian Alex Leander. - by Madison Tims