Tag Archives: foals

Breeding my little horse of a lifetime. Part 3: Moving again, preparing for foaling and udder watching

Story by Kelly Hill

Tilly now and then
Left: Tilly in her new field, free from daffodils! Right: Tilly some 8 years ago

Moving the pregnant mare

Looking at Tilly surrounded by poisonous plants in her maternity field was making me more nervous by the minute. We had spent a lot of time (2 months) doing the field up and making it as foal friendly as possible in any spare time we could find. Fields in our area aren’t easy to come by as we are on the outskirts of London and not exactly spoilt for choice.

Read part 2: Counting costs, watching Tilly grow and a drama with daffodils

It was an old orchard, so there were sycamore trees as well as the daffodils. They are a flipping nightmare as their seeds and seedlings can carry toxins that cause Atypical Myopathy. The field also had a yew hedge, apple and oak trees, all of which I didn’t know about, as we arrived in November when the trees were bare. Daffodils covered the majority of the field and I didn’t want to risk the horses consuming any of them, especially as they chose to mainly graze amongst them (of course they did!). Putting my paranoia aside, the horses probably wouldn’t have touched them, but a foal probably would. They consume anything and everything, just like a naughty little puppy, and I wasn’t prepared to take the risk with my horses or the foal. My commute to the field was also a problem sometimes as I had to coordinate with London traffic.

I suppose I should have thought about logistics beforehand, but I never think about these things until after. I just do it and then worry about it! I needed to move Tilly quickly as she was fast approaching her due date and I was advised by the lovely people on ‘The Foaling Hub’ Facebook page that, from previous experience, it would be better to move her sooner rather than later. Thankfully, there was a field available for rent just 20 minutes drive from my house and we moved Tilly together with her little Welsh Section A companion pony for what we hoped would be the final time.

Tilly new field

She’s happy and settled there now and I have the current field until August time, so I will see how things go. I will either move Tilly and the foal one last time before weaning or separate them slightly early if the foal is no longer dependant on Mum and take Tilly home. I plan to look for a grass livery option for youngsters once the foal is ready. People ask if I would rather Tilly had a colt or a filly. I think a filly would be easier, but I would prefer a gelding long term. A filly would be easier at the start because some people are funny about putting colts in their fields. I also wouldn’t have to worry about chopping the colt’s bollocks later on. Sometimes they only drop one testicle and you either have to wait for the other to drop before castrating — which means turnout options can be limited — or they can retain one which makes them a “rig”. This is when they have stallion-like tendencies but visually appear to be a gelding.

Tilly udder 3
Some of the hundreds photos of her changing milk bar that I take daily…

Getting ready for the birth

There’s a saying that “the foal picks the day and the mare picks the hour”. Knowing when mares will go into labour isn’t straightforward, so most people keep hem stabled with CCTV installed to monitor their behaviour. I’ve chosen to let Tilly foal outside with the option of a field shelter if she wishes, although I wish I could have CCTV on a drone constantly above her field .

We have no wi-fi here for any technology that I could use. What I have got, though, is a scope with night vision. I borrowed it from a friend who uses it for deer stalking at night. It means that rather than disturbing her, I can put the scope on and just look (see similar one here).

Tilly and Rosie

I’ve got my foaling kit ready. Among plenty of important things, it includes a little bottle in case Tilly rejects the foal and a tiny leather headcollar. I also bought a foaling prediction kit to test the PH levels in Tilly’s milk when foaling is due. A certain level (6.2 is the lucky number) will tell you that the mare is imminent.

Apparently, maiden mares are not very cooperative. Some won’t even bag up much before foaling and you can just come one morning and they’ve popped the bubba out! I’m hoping that Tilly will give enough indication nearer the time that I don’t have to spend too many sleepless nights camping out .

Tilly belly and KellyIf she follows the rules, which she has so far, mares start to develop an udder 4-6 weeks before their due date. Some mares leak milk before birth, which allows you to test the PH levels, although it’s not wise to force strip a mare of any milk. You should only test if they are leaking. A very good sign you are close is when they start to wax up (when wax like beads of colostrum appear at the end of mare’s teats). This tends to happen 24-48 hours before they go into labour, although this is not the case for all mares.

Other signs include the hind-end muscles relaxing and slackening off and the vulva
becoming elongated and opening a centimetre or two. Nearer the time, I’m going to watch as many foaling videos as I can so I know what to look out for and when to call the vet. I want to know how long to wait before I start worrying about something. I have my usual vet on standby. I’ll ring him first and if he can’t come there is a practice on my doorstep so it should be fine to get someone here quick.

I want to be present myself too! I’d probably be tempted to assist and help pull it out, you should have seen my dog having puppies, I practically gave birth for her! I’d be relieved if I came and the foal was just there, but I’d be gutted I’d missed it. How often do you get to see horses giving birth?
To be continued….Part 4: When Tilly gives birth! Due date in a couple of weeks! 

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…

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


That Dream In which You Buy a Foal and Bring It On to Take on The World


Do you think it is safe to say, that at least once in a life as a horse person we thought about buying a foal and train it by ourselves to create the perfect equine friend just for us? I certainly remember my 13 year old self having such a want and had I the conditions to bring on a foal I would probably succumb to my teenage dream at the earliest possible moment 😉

Fetas, my super boy on a training trip in the summer 1995 (I think!)

There was a time when I was very much into breeding knowledge. I loved reading everything about genetics and studied various lines, mostly jumping ones at the time, wanting to know what crosses created what offspring. I owned a licensed Trakehner stallion in my teens (the perfect schoolmaster I learnt a lot from) and was a member of regional club of Polish Horse Breeding Association that met quarterly and chatted about all things, well, breeding.

I always looked through the photos of the mares thinking which one would make a good match for Fetas and as he was an older horse, my plan was to breed a youngster by him to keep and compete.

Alas, my knowledge hunger moved from breeding to actual husbandry and I realised very quickly that I had no conditions in a sports oriented stables to rise a healthy, well socialised foal.

Interestingly, Fetas did go on to a stud to breed but proved infertile. I was somewhat surprised as he covered a mare on a yard I was at one day (due to stupidity of youth and two girls letting a mare and a stallion go for a “run” in the same field – “since they always travel to shows together just fine”…yes, I know..we were severely lacking common sense it seems!) and she did breed a foal (she didn’t accept it and it died a few days after he was born).

But I digress.

My fascination with training of young horses got me to various dealing yards where I backed and ridden different breeds and witnessed handling of weaned foals and yearlings. Those experiences taught me that to bring on a foal so he/she becomes a great adult horse requires few basic elements…


1. The best mare we can afford to get…

By this I don’t mean she needs to have a Grand Prix/top record in whatever discipline we want to flourish. Taking on the World means something different to different horse people and the mare needs to shine the qualities we are after. Good stallion is important but the right mare is the key.

Personally, I want the mare to be strict but caring, patient but confident in what she likes and what she doesn’t, people friendly and brave. I will say here though that I once took on a mare with her 2 year old filly and an unborn foal. The mare disliked people immensely. It took me 4 months to even be able to groom her without having to constantly monitor her front and back…


She disliked being touched or even looked at. However, her 2 year old filly was a dream to handle, became friendly very quickly and was the easiest horse I ever backed. The later born foal also grew into a confident, extrovert people oriented youngster so nervous and distrusting mare could have become so due to her previous environment rather than her real make up.

Oops, digression again. Exceptions aside, I prefer a mare with friendly outlook and level headed approach to life. Good conformation and movement are high on my list too due to soundness that usually goes with both.


2. The right place for the foal to grow up in

My preference is rough but safe lifestyle for a foal and youngster. The manicured lawns for thoroughbreds look fabulous on the photos but I’d rather see youngsters being challenged balance and movement wise. There is a place I go to in Cheshire where I see foals grazing on hills and on different terrain – that’s what I would be personally after. Sand, grass, woodchip, gravel, unlevel ground – all this develops proprioception and athleticism both of which are the key to a good riding horse whose muscles, ligaments and tendons are to be ready to carry the rider safely and in a healthy manner.


3. The right company

Image source: http://www.bellingarastud.com.au/images/welsh/Mares-Foals.jpg

The best weanlings and youngsters I have worked with came from breeders where mares graze together with offsprings of similar age. I do believe this is vital for how our relationship with the horse develops later in the horse’s life. There are of course exceptions where hand reared and single kept youngsters grow up without any issues but on the whole, I prefer that the horse learns his equine etiquette from the herd he is in. He can get reprimanded, accepted, rejected, played with and groomed by and all this shapes character and trainability.

Many cocky youngsters who disrespect personal space and don’t accept “herd rules” come from environment were they did not experience those vital first lessons.

bacco and foals

There is also the play factor. Playing is learning, training, stimulation and contentment all rolled into one great activity. Interaction with others of the same or similar age can rarely be matched by addition of other animals like goats or donkeys.

So there, I look forward to breeding or buying my own foal one day when I can fulfil those 3 key factors . Do you? 🙂 What’s your take on buying a foal to bring on?