Raising a foal? | TheUnion.com

Raising a foal?

Three foals from Blue Fountain Farm in southern Nevada County stretch their legs.
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Spring is in the air, and as we pass through rural Nevada County, new lambs, calves, foals and other little critters are sure to catch both our attention and admiration. Most of us think about how nice it would be to raise a foal to have as our dream horse. Why, then, is breeding horses such a gamble, expense, and yet one of life’s greatest pleasures?

Here at Emigrant Springs Ranch, we raised thoroughbred horses for more than 40 years. It was a commercial operation, as was the Loma Rica Ranch. Today, Ferguson’s Golden F Ranch, Harter Thoroughbreds and dozens of others raising many breeds are active in Nevada County. Those who raise horses for the open market, whether it be racing, showing or using horses, have a tremendous investment. The majority of horses sold do not meet their breeder’s expenses, let alone training costs.

In Europe, there are programs that allow only the best-qualified horses to remain breeding stallions in order to carry on the best blood lines. Today, artificial insemination with frozen semen allows for international matings.

The thoroughbred industry does not allow artificial insemination, thus prohibiting one fashionable line from dominating the breed. However, it is fairly common practice for California breeders to transport mares to Kentucky or other destinations in order to book to their choice of stallions. Another option is for Australian and New Zealand stallion owners to lease their horses to Europe or America during the spring breeding season, allowing for income-producing breeding fees during their “off” season.

To raise your own foal in Nevada County, consider the following: You should have the best mare you can afford, with good conformation and gaits, sensible temperament and good breeding health as determined by your veterinarian. Mares can reproduce into their twenties, but breeding an older mare for the first time can be very risky.

You need to have a suitable place for your mare to foal with someone in attendance. Great care should be taken in choosing a suitable stallion. Commercial breeders look at pedigrees and performance as well as conformation. Breeding fees vary from a few hundred dollars to five figures.

Usually there is a nonrefundable booking fee, board for your mare at the farm where the stallion stands, or artificial insemination fees through your veterinarian. This can cost several hundred dollars, not including the charge for the semen. Gestation is 11 months, the early part of which your mare may still be ridden.

Horses are very delicate, and once the birthing process begins, must deliver within 30 minutes, or both mare and foal may be in jeopardy. On the other hand, few miracles are as wonderful as a newborn foal, up and nursing within an hour or so, and then galloping with mom before it’s a day old! Daily handling begins immediately, with many foals being “imprinted” at birth to ease training.

Having a 3- or 4-month-old unhandled foal is hazardous for the horse and you. Even tame foals can hurt you just “playing.” Our grandson got kicked in the face last year by a filly just being frisky.

And how long will it be before you can ride that colt or filly? It will take a year or two before mounted training, then another two or three years before the young horse might be safe for a child.

Think about the costs of feed, veterinarians, farriers, facilities or board, registration fees and training. This is a long-range project. Commercial thoroughbred breeders cut their waiting expenses by selling many of their young horses as early as weanlings or yearlings. Even that can run into thousands of dollars.

It is a gamble that can be worth a million, for real or for fun!

Felicia Schaps Tracy is a Certified Horsemanship Association advanced-level certified instructor, an American Riding Association certified instructor, was a founding instructor for the Northern Mines Pony Club, and lead the horsemanship program at Ojai Valley School. Write her in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.

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