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Mirror KB Equine Article Series

A Stable Beginning
Raising a Foal in a Boarding Stable Environment
Part 2

by Kim and Kari Baker

Room to grow

     Once the foal is on the ground and found its legs, it will be looking for room to use them. Even if the foaling stall has an adjacent paddock, it probably isn't large enough for the foal to effectively exercise, so daily turnouts with its dam in a private acre or two should be set in motion as soon as the youngster checks out healthy by your veterinarian. The turnout area should be constructed of a safe, highly visible fencing such as board or post and rail. Foals tend to nap in the soft dirt of heavy traffic areas along fence lines, so be sure that the fence is low enough to prevent the foal from rolling out from underneath.

    "The lack of adequate space and turnout at most boarding stables is the biggest problem," says Barb Young of Rainbow Farm Unltd. in Montrose, Colorado. "The bones and joints of foals raised in limited spaces with little exercise and improper nutrition are seriously predisposed to Developmental Orthopedic Disease (DOD), Osteochondrosis (OCD) and Physitis."

      The more free exercise the better and all this running, bucking and playing over uneven ground is beneficial in many other ways. The foal will also develop better coordination, agility, confidence, and a positive mental attitude all while building stronger bone and muscle.

     When the foal is 3 or 4 weeks old, it would be ideal to turn the pair out to pasture with another mare and foal. In this natural atmosphere the foal can socialize and learn herd dynamics. At a small stable, where there are no other foals, a compatible mare or gelding could fill the bill, but a word of caution--care should always be taken in choosing companions for the pair.

 If safe pasture turnout cannot be achieved, a large dry lot or the stable's arena, though not completely satisfactory, can be adequate for strictly exercise purposes. Perhaps several lengthy daily sessions in the stable arena when others are least likely to be using the facility could be worked out with stable management.  

     When turnout areas are too small or barren of stimuli, foals quickly become bored so you may want to look at other exercise alternatives. Though the use of hot walkers, treadmills, lounge lines and small round pens should never be used to exercise youngsters, riding the mare in a secure pasture or arena that is not in use will encourage the foal to run and play while mom keeps in shape too.

      By the time the foal is two or three months of age, it should be leading well and if the mare is of the calm and quiet sort you can begin ponying the foal out on short trail rides as part of the exercise program.  This has the added benefit of allowing the foal to experience many new sights and sounds.

       Following weaning through the first year, more training type exercises can be harnessed such as limited work in a large round pen or ground driving. However, when forced exercise is implemented there is always an accompanying risk of injury. Pasture turnout, will none the less, remain the ultimate form of exercise for the growing youngster.

A Space of its own

     Before weaning, the foal should be long at ease with daily handling and accustomed to a supplemental feeding program. Weaning generally takes place around the fifth or sixth month and if not experienced earlier when you moved the mare into larger chambers for foaling, room and board for the pair will now undoubtedly double, putting more stress on the purse strings.

     This is also a stressful time for both mare and foal and the goal is to provide a safe separation in addition to minimizing the stress for both mare and foal as well as yourself. Under ideal circumstances, the weaning procedure you choose as well as your foal's needs and your requirements for the mare would determine the time frame for separation, but arrangements with the stable for available space may dictate when actual weaning must take place. Depending on your situation, you may very well end up having to wean as early as three months of age or much later than you had anticipated.

      If the mare is to remain on the premises, where the pair will be able to hear each other during the transition, an intermittent process or slow wean procedure will safeguard the health of both dam and offspring. By moving the mare to an adjoining box stall for growing lengths of time over a period of several days, you will accomplish a nearly stress free separation in a week or two. Once weaning is complete, the mare and foal should not be turned out together again for at least 6 weeks or more.

     Bringing up baby at a stable can certainly be full of challenges, but with an understanding of your youngster's needs and with the help of the stable management, it can be a success. In the end, you'll have raised a stable individual.

A Stable Influence

       Raising a foal at a boarding stable certainly can be a daunting experience but there are some advantages to bringing up baby in this type of environment. Here are a few comments from a few breeders. 

      * "I work, so for me, knowing someone was there, was a great 'security blanket.' At the time, I could not have given him the care and time he deserved, so having him and his mom at the stable was wonderful. I would not hesitate to do it again." - Teri Scott of Rockford, Michigan

       * " I looked at a lot of places before I made my decision. The place I chose has its own breeding program so I had great faith in the farm management, employees and owner. They handled the mare and colt well and when weaning time came, it was the least traumatic I'd seen since the colt had bonded to the other foals he had been turned out with. Another plus was that several different experienced people handled him."

     "I guess the take home message is that if you do your homework, raising a foal can work out quite well at a boarding facility." - Cheryl Farrens of Morning Glory Ranch Appaloosas in Ferris, Texas and MT Airy, Maryland

     * "When you have only one horse the social aspects for the mare and foal are much better at a stable than being isolated in the backyard. It will also get accustomed to many different people and all the activities common at a stable. In addition, the other boarders and management are a wealth of information if you're a first timer with raising a foal." - Lise' Jumper of Appaloosa SportHorses in Emmett, Idaho

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