By Judy Oldmeadow, Owner & Master Horsewoman, Samaria Creek Morgan Horses
I wean foals in autumn, giving the mares optimum time for nourishing their expected babies.
With 28 horses in the herd (comprising retired brood mares, mares with foals at foot and one- and two-year-old fillies) there’s plenty of choice for comfort and companionship.
Mares in a herd like this can relax while other mares babysit. As they mature, the foals create their own gang, only returning to mum to feed.
The yearlings and two year olds provide discipline when games get rough, while giving foals an opportunity to experiment with rules and boundaries.
To wean the foals, I remove four mares at a time and put them with a couple of retired brood mares for comfort.
The mares left in the herd with their foals provide a calming atmosphere which helps the motherless foals settle quickly.
A week later, when I remove the last mothers, their foals are tightly bonded with the earlier weaned ones.
Without their mothers to intervene, these foals quickly learn the manners and behaviour needed to fit into polite society.
I spend hours with my horses, observing their problem solving and social behaviours, so I only breed from those with the best temperaments.
The four foals weaned last week had vastly different mothers.
Bess, an aged Standardbred mare, had foaled once ten years ago. She smother-mothered her foal Daisy, keeping her well away from the herd and calling her back if another foal enticed her to play.
Though Daisy gained weight and looked well, she became shy of horses and humans. Bess lost weight and became aggressive when a horse came near.
When I removed Bess, Daisy galloped the fence line and ran to any horse or human who let her approach. She even lay down with a teenage visitor.
I returned Bess to her owner. She’s settled now, enjoying TLC and chamomile tea in her feed. She won’t breed again.
Daisy, meanwhile, is learning to self soothe.
Partbred Morgan Viv (an experienced brood mare with little human contact) joined the herd with Veto – her huge colt foal at foot.
Viv shunned contact from other mares but let Veto do as he pleased.
One day, when I was moving the herd to another paddock, Viv lagged behind.
Veto galloped back, reared and kicked at her to make her keep up. But Viv remained shut down, so Veto left her to join his friends.
When I took Viv away, she called desperately all the way to her new paddock and ran the fence line for hours before finally settling to graze with an older mare.
By contrast, Veto didn’t stop grazing or look for his mother.
Experienced mum Crystal tends to overreact to change. She came with Dapper (her colt foal at foot) and eventually settled into the rhythm of herd society.
Not long after arriving, she forgot to collect Dapper and rushed through a gate as the herd moved to a new paddock. Dapper panicked and jumped through the fence. No harm done and another lesson for me.
Dapper is confident and bossy with his peers but nervous of new things. He stays behind the others when humans join the herd.
When I removed Crystal, she screamed and galloped for hours, resuming each time she saw a human.
Dapper joined Daisy in calling and fence running, but soon tired of it and resumed playing and grazing with other foals.
Angel is a purebred Morgan from NZ. She’d had one prior foal and was so relaxed after Xelle’s birth that she remained lying down to feed her.
Xelle is friendly and respectful to all. Her curiosity and intelligence endear her to visitors. She reads the play so well, I’ve never seen her reprimanded by another horse.
Angel was last to leave. Though reluctant, she only neighed once. Dapper and Daisy followed her to the gate and relived their mother-leaving anguish.
Xelle stayed with the other mares and foals, seemingly unaffected by her life change.
Angel calmly greeted Viv and Crystal, who soon followed her lead and began grazing with the two aged mares.
Free of Bess’ out-of-control behaviour, these mares have settled and only call occasionally… perhaps due to a painfully full udder.
I’ve forgiven my parenting mistakes and am proud of how my sons thrived and survived my smother-mothering.
I use lessons from the herd to nurture my networks of supportive friends and to be an angel of a grandmother.