Rachael Claridge Update



Any breeder aims to produce a contented, healthy foal and the bond between mare and foal is something magical to witness.  In 25 years of breeding Arabians I have always worried  when the foal is born – will they stand? will they suckle? will they pass their merconium?  will they wee? and when they have – will they survive the first night?  first day? first week?  first trip outside? – and as they grow up you are always concerned for their safety, guiding them into adult life like any child.  We have been very lucky – we have experienced only two still-births and one maiden mare who took 48 hours to accept her foal – but our latest  experience was something else.

A beautiful young mare came to stay as a potential “Mum”, became pregnant with frozen semen first time of insemination and spent a year with us becoming part of the family.  Unfortunately she had suffered  a terrible accident as a youngster when she had entangled herself in barbed wire, lacerated her legs and had to have skin grafts.    Despite unsightly scars she was perfectly sound and enjoying life again.

We focused on handling her legs and although she was quite ticklish we avoided the waving feet and reached a compromise with her.

Over the months she blossomed and her character changed as she became more “mumsy” – all was set for the imminent birth.

4 days early she produced – a beautiful colt, that funny mousey colour that indicates a jet black coat later – we must have missed the birth by 5 minutes – she was still lying down, the foal on the other side of the stable, still wet.  She stood up, passed the placenta and looked at the foal from the safety of the other side of the stable.  She didn’t know what he was – and had no intention of finding out.  It is always difficult to know how much to intervene and the foal managed to get to his feet without our help – but when he tried to suckle she determinedly moved away from him.   When we held him still to drink she was really unhappy and after struggling for some time we called the vet for some help.  Sedated, she was milked of the colostrum and it was administered to the foal by tube.  At two thirty we were all shattered – the foal could hardly stand, he was so tired, so we left them for the night, praying that we would wake up to find him up and happily suckling.  He wasn’t.  She kept moving away from him so that they ended up chasing each other round the stable.

We restrained her and held him to drink – which he did but she would only stand for a few minutes then became agitated – that agitation increased at each feed as she anticipated what was to come and the foal grew hungrier.  As soon as we appeared the foal squeaked wanting his food, the mare knew that she would be held still and was growing less co-operative by the hour.

The situation was spiralling downwards – by three am on the third night we were faced with a mare who did not wish to continue the process, and desperately hungry foal and a potentially dangerous situation – we were all exhausted, worried and felt totally incompetent.  We separated them – putting her in the adjacent stable where she could still see him.  She tucked into the hay rack – ignoring his crying.  It was heartbreaking.

I contacted Joanna Vardon at the National Foaling Bank.  When you are exhausted and upset you need a firm reassuring voice to make you focus on the way forward.  Joanna gave us a variety of options and we went for bottle feeding for starters.  It was 30 years since I’d fed my own children – now my kitchen once again held a sterilising kit, Milton tablets and soaking bottles.  I cannot thank Joanna  enough for keeping us on track and moving forward – or rather sideways.  We embarked on a 2 hourly feeding regime – which was fine when we could share it but then my husband had to go away for 48 hours and I found it a struggle to get up in the night – but you focus and have to do it!

Add into this mix the organisational preparations for a large 2 day ride – the only bonus being the quiet early morning hours –  ideal for processing the entries!

The mare went home – without a backward glance at her baby – he was thriving on his foal milk which was encouraging.  A blood test established that he had received sufficient colostrum and that his antibodies were present to protect him.  We were relieved that we did not have to subject him to the trauma of a blood transfusion.

With a pillow for company (I was banned from ordering a large fluffy toy from Hamleys) and a great-dane “coat” to keep him warm at night “Indie” was growing rapidly.  Two weeks old and we borrowed a 9hh miniature Shetland to teach him to be a horse.  Honeybunch arrived to take up her “Auntie” duties.  She wasn’t overly impressed  but tolerated him – as long as he didn’t interfere with her hay.  Any move to warn him off though resulted in him being terrified – his early experiences of other horses had been pretty traumatic.  Eventually we decided that Honeybunch would prefer her own stable and take charge of the youngster during the day out in the paddock – she was pleased to see him for shorter periods!

So now he goes out during the day – with Honeybunch to show him how to graze, drink from a bucket, etc etc.    He’s leading well with his “foal-hugger” – an amazing contraption which makes leading foals so easy.  He’s had his headcollar on, feet regularly picked up and is generally learning what life here with us and the other horses is all about.  It is early days but we survived the first few weeks and running the Ride – the future is looking brighter now.

Thank you to all our good friends for their advice and practical help.  To my family for rallying round to take over foal sitting while we ran the ride.  To Joanna Vardon at the National Foaling Bank for setting us on the right road and sanity.  And most of all to my wonderful husband for all his support and for getting up to cover the 4am feed!  We’ve been on a very steep  learning curve – but we have a lot to be thankful for and our horses never fail to surprise us.

Jo and Peter Claridge, Phoenix Field Arabians, Brightonwater Farm, Cardinham, Cornwall PL30 4DL


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