My mare Zena rejected her foal, Jazira, two years ago and was extremely violent towards her. She was a maiden mare and foaled very quickly and wandered off before the foal could get up. Needless to say she had foaled unexpectedly in the middle of the day whilst I made a quick visit to the shop!
I got them into the stable but it was too dangerous for Jaz to be in with Zena, though she didn’t mind me milking her. The vet came and sedated Zena but to no avail. She was just not having a bar of Jaz. Worse still, we couldn’t get Jaz to drink even from a bottle and the vet was pretty pessimistic.
A friend and I spent the the first night out with the foal which was separated from mum by a makeshift gate at the stable door so they could sniff each other. I just had to get the foal suckling and Zena to accept her. I used a twitch to start with which pained me more than her I’m sure, and we started on a ‘pressure/release’ plan. With the twitch cranked up and a friend assisting the foal to find the teats, we managed to ensure she got the colostrum. Every time Zena relaxed, even the tiniest bit, I released the twitch slightly and made a fuss of her and every time she tensed or snarled at the foal I quietly tightened it again. By the next morning and lots of sessions with the twitch (trying to ensure the foal fed regularly) I could slacken it off quite a lot quite quickly. As Zena started to get the idea I started to replace the twitch with my hand through the loop but holding her nose with my hand and slackening off the pressure at the slightest opportunity until I was just stroking her face. By day two Zena would allow the foal to drink when I just put a little pressure on her nose with my hand. I would ensure the foal fed every hour or so. I could then let the halter off without Zena scowling at the foal in the stable and I was soon able to leave them in together. By day three they were out in a small paddock together and Zena and I were reaching an agreement: I would just put my hand on her nose and she would relax and let the foal feed. Gradually the foal risked approaching by herself and did her own advance/retreat system until Zena just seemed to give in! (Jaz was and is quite assertive and definite about things.) Within a couple of weeks the two of them were in with the other horses with Zena playing the part of protective mum. A great relief.
Whilst it did end well, I learned a couple of salutory lessons: don’t get cocky or take anything for granted when things seem to be going well and don’t put too much pressure on. I had the idea that it would be best to try to replicate the foal’s natural feeding patterns by allowing her access to Zena at very regular intervals. In fact at one stage Zena found that too much too often and I wasn’t sensitive enough or quick enough to recognise her feelings about the matter. Because she was responding so consistently, after a while I let my concentration slip and when I put my hand on her nose she bit me! It hurt and I deserved it. It was tricky deciding how often it would be best for the foal to suckle both from the natural feeding and bonding point of view but because things were going well I really didn’t need to be so persistent (I can see that now. Hindsight is a wonderful thing). Anyway Zena and I ended up mates again – and Jaz too – and I was lucky as things turned out, not to end up with an orphan foal to manage as I know how tough that can be.