Foal Rejected then Accepted
Tess, the reluctant first-time mother rejected her foal and presented a whole new learning opportunity for me that has been very time-consuming but incredibly rewarding.
We think because she was a maiden mare who’d probably never seen a foal, she rejected her beautiful palomino colt with savage bites. New research does suggest there could be other reasons with this study showing it could be a drop in hormones.
Fortunately, her owner had handled her teats, so I was able to milk her and get some vital colostrum into the foal. Through the milking, she was able to accept him drinking while she was restrained.
Getting him fed
At first, we held her with a bucket of feed in front to keep her occupied, shielding her view of the foal which worked but took two people initially every hour then every 2 hours.
We then worked out a stall to enable the foal to drink safely while Tess was tied and eating.
After a few days of this, she was able to accept him without needing the stall but had to remain tied and supervised for every feed.
She was also not producing much milk so, from the first night onwards, we supplemented the colt with a milk replacer which was initially Divetelact then we gradually switched over to plain Carnation tinned milk over a 3-day period.
He started by drinking from a bottle then we taught him to drink from a bowl with the aim of being able to leave milk available for him during the night when we wanted to extend our sleeping hours!
For the first week, he was fed every 2 hours during the night and more often during the day when we could as we tried to stimulate Tess’ milk flow by more frequent nursing.
We also ‘clicker trained‘ Tess to bond with her colt, named Dakoda, by first getting her to ‘target’ or touch his bottle while he drank, then getting her to touch him through the bars of the stall.
There were several incidents where as quick as lightning she lunged at him, connecting twice, so as we didn’t want to risk this type of contact I made a muzzle from a plastic flower pot with holes cut in for her nostrils. That way we could start to leave her with him for longer periods of bonding and this worked very well.
By using the clicker initially, we got her to touch him with the muzzle on and follow him around. It didn’t take long for her to finally accept her baby and even become interested in him. Within a couple of days, we could remove the muzzle, trusting that she would no longer try to bite him savagely.
Dakoda was still requiring extra milk but after 2 weeks we managed to cut the night feeds down to one very late and very early morning feed but kept the frequent day feedings going. He learned to drink from a dog bowl with an automatic water dispenser for his milk but we still needed to supervise him drinking from Tess as she wouldn’t stand for him unless we were there.
Unfortunately, after three weeks her milk dried up and she became frustrated at not being able to provide for him, even though she was very bonded and now protective of him.
A New Foster Mum
Luckily for Dakoda, a foster mare became available so at three weeks old, he was trained to drink from a new mum, Amber, who within four days was accepting him as her own.
We went through the same steps with her as with Tess to get her bonded as initially, she pulled faces at this ‘other mares’ foal.
Tess was separated into a nearby yard where she could still see her foal however this distracted both Koda and Amber from bonding properly so we had to remove Tess from the scene.
She walked away without looking back or calling so I guess she really wasn’t fussed about being a mum.
Amber was then able to focus on bonding with Koda and looked upon him as her own in a very protective manner. It was wonderful to see them together and know that Koda will be raised as a horse rather than thinking he’s a human.
Mind you, he still calls out to us and follows us whenever he gets the chance, much to his new mum’s concern.
Koda now has a slightly older filly, Amy (and her mum) to play with who is like a big sister at keeping him in line. They will eventually join the rest of the herd where he’ll learn more social behaviors to have the best chance of being a well-adjusted young horse.
Here are more posts about orphaned and rejected foals: