The Memories Came Flooding Back

Willowtrail Farm Fell PoniesThe memories came flooding back.  The worry about a life on the line, the anxiety about whether the vet’s approach would work, the frustration that all had not gone as it usually did, the appreciation for the vet’s consultation, the gratitude for my husband’s travel first one direction and then another filling prescriptions.

The memories were triggered by an article in Equus about a maiden mare rejecting her foal.  When the first intervention didn’t work, they moved onto the second, just like we did.  What was news in the article was a third intervention which fortunately we hadn’t needed.

Foal rejection wasn’t something I was prepared for.  I’d had seven foals uneventfully up to that point.  In this case it was the first born of a daughter of a stellar broodmare, so I had absolutely no inkling that rejection was a possibility.  Now I know that good mothering instincts aren’t necessarily passed on.  We were fortunate by comparison to the owner in the article.  Their foal was unconscious when it arrived at the vet hospital.  We never had to transport, and our foal fought right along with us.  The descriptions of the vet techs milking the mare and then feeding the foal colostrum (which I now keep at the ready in my freezer) all made our experience seem like yesterday instead of many years ago.

The first intervention when faced with foal rejection is of course to restrain the mare to give the foal a chance to approach and suckle without threat of injury.  Ideally a fencing panel or chute would keep the mare in one place while having an opening to let the foal nurse.  The second intervention is to sedate the mare so that she hopefully learns that the act of the foal nursing relieves the discomfort of the swollen udder.   I was thankful that this intervention worked for us.

The third intervention that was described was the result of some creative thinking by the vets involved in the Equus story.  “As the veterinary team brainstormed, someone mentioned alprazolam.  A psychoactive drug, [it is] sold under several brand names, including Xanax.  Often prescribed for people with panic and anxiety disorders, the drug is also used in cats and dogs to treat separation anxiety and related disorders….  Finally, nine days after the pair arrived at the clinic, [the mare] allowed her foal to nurse without showing any signs of aggression.”(1)  What an ordeal that must have been!  Ours felt horrendous, and it was only 36 hours long before we didn’t need to intervene (pharmaceutically or otherwise) any more.

My husband’s first prescription run was for the sedative.  Like the foal in the Equus story though, our foal developed a fever, so his second run was for antibiotics for the foal.  I developed a very close relationship with that foal over the first few days of its life, first teaching it to nurse then convincing it to let me give it its medicine.  I was both frustrated and thrilled with its strength in resisting my attempts to administer medicine!  The dire predicament of the foal in the Equus story makes me thankful once again for the strong foundation my nutritional program gives my foals (click here for more information).  I doubt we could have saved that rejected foal without that foundation given our distance from a veterinary hospital.

Foal rejection is not something I wish on any breeder.  It is incredibly stressful and frustrating.  It’s fortunate that mare owners now have a third intervention at their disposal if they need it.

  1. Barakat, Christine. “Mother’s Little Helper,” Equus, #451, April 2015, p. 30-33.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015


About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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