Breeding my little horse of a lifetime. Part 2: Counting costs, watching Tilly grow and a drama with daffodils

Story by Kelly Hill

Tilly in April 2010

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t do it again. Not like I’ve done it with Tilly, anyway. I have a nice Welsh mare that I’d like to breed but would like her to run with a stallion and be covered naturally.

For the kind of foal I wanted out of Tilly, I needed a good stallion. Natural covering would never be allowed with those more valuable horses.

I wouldn’t breed Tilly again. It’s too stressful. I worry that I will either lose the mare or lose the foal. Hopefully, it will be all worth it.

Read part 1: Choosing the stallion, measuring follicles and hoping for a heartbeat 

The first scan back home

Alas, we made it to the 28-day scan. I could see the heartbeat on the vet’s monitor. The baby was there! No regrets!

tilly 2 heart

It was all good so she went back into work. I rode her until the day I moved her in November last year to the field she was supposed to have the foal in.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to move her from my yard until I really had to, but a friend of mine with another pregnant mare found a field to rent that suited us both.

Cruising along

Tilly collage
Top left: November 2016, Bottom left: December 2016. Top right: January 2017, Bottom right: February 2017. She appears to be changing shape depending on time of the day. Sometimes she looks huge, sometimes her belly disappears somewhat. Apparently it is all to do with the position of the foal that can lay flat or “starfish” some days!

So far, with about 20 days to go, Tilly has had a problem-free pregnancy. She had herpes vaccinations at five, seven and nine months. People worry a lot about pregnant mares aborting their foal. Equine herpes virus can cause abortion in pregnant mares at any stage of the pregnancy.

One girl I know of had a mare who aborted at seven-and-a-half months. She was 15, the same age as Tilly. Someone on The Foaling Hub , a Facebook group I am a member of, had a mare that aborted three weeks early, so the fear is always there at the back of my mind.

Mares gestate for an average of 340 days but they can give birth from as early as 320 days or as late as 365. The foal grows the most in the last trimester. It’s all really slow and small, then it goes from a “rabbit” to a foal!

I keep a constant eye on Tilly’s changes and udder development and take photos most days to make comparisons. When mares get closer to foaling (around 4-6 weeks from delivery) their udders start to change. When they begin to “wax up” and produce milk you know you are close!

Early days…

Feeding mum

At first I grazed Tilly in a field that had been rested, so I just had her on Alfa A and Youngstock mix . For the last three months of the pregnancy I put her on Bailey’s Stud Balancer because it has all the vitamins and minerals pregnant mares need, especially in the last trimester when the foal grows the most. Tilly held her weight well over winter and is looking great.

Tilly 2 blog

If I could afford it, I would have left her at the stud to foal but I had already spent nearly £3,000.

I drive to Tilly’s field every morning and as I get closer and I get nervous that I will find her with the foal aborted. When she is looking peaceful, I think: “Oh my God, she is looking lethargic!” I look at her back legs and if they are clean with no discharge, I think “Phew”!

Scary googling

If something worries me I Google it to within an inch of its life! Google is the bane of my life. It’s terrifying what you can find on there.

I have joined various online breeding and foaling groups. The one I like most is The Foaling Hub. It’s been the best page ever. They are all so nice and helpful with any questions or worries I have had. Most of the members have a lot of experience and some have their own studs. Many have had BOGOF or “buy one get one free” experiences, which is when you buy a horse not knowing they are in foal. Then spring arrives and they pop out a foal.

Tilly from underneath
Waiting game…

Breeding costs

My first advice to someone who wants to breed their dream horse would be to check out the costs first. For me, it has been way more expensive than I thought it would be. If I knew it was going to cost me nearly £3,000 before the foal was even on the ground I might have reconsidered.

I don’t regret it at all, though. I wouldn’t have done it if I wanted to sell the foal. It wouldn’t be worth it because before the foal is born I will have spent more than its value. I would say only do it if you are going to keep the foal.

Having said that, I maybe did more than your average experienced breeder would have done. I had more scans than I needed to and I kept her at the stud longer than I needed to. Usually the mares go home straight after insemination, but I kept her there for an extra few weeks to be sure she had took and to minimise the risk of her reabsorbing the foetus. Maybe I could have cut my costs, but I knew it was something I was only doing once so I wanted to do it properly.

The daffodils


One of the most stressful moments of this entire journey was in March/April time when thousands of daffodils sprang up covering one third of the mares’ maternity field. They are highly poisonous plants and every part of them, if eaten, can kill. Daffodil toxicity symptoms can include loss of coordination, gastrointestinal upset and convulsions.

There was a sea of them in Tilly’s field and she was attached to the other pregnant mare with two months to go until her due date. I wanted to move her but had nothing lined up and we had put so much effort into making the current field foal safe.

Except, now it wasn’t safe at all.
Story to be continued…Part 3 coming Sunday 30th April 2017

Behind the scenes tilly storyStory put together by Wiola Grabowska

Edited by Mairi Mackay

Photo: Listening to Kelly recalling all the events leading up to the current day – less than a month to due date…


Please see the story of Dotty, the pregnant mare that tragically might not survive giving birth to her foal. Urgent foster mare search is on (by 25th of April 2017) – please see: Dotty’s Journey


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