So this is a blog about a foal. This isn’t just any foal, but a foal who had the misfortune to be bought by people who thought it was acceptable to abruptly wean by removing him from his mum at just a few months old. Foals should be weaned at between four to six months of age, and to decide if foals are ready they should be showing signs of independence from their mum.
In an ideal world weaning would take place closer to six months, when the foal is mentally strong enough to cope, when their immune system has been given lots of mum’s antibodies to make them strong to fight infections and when they are eating well enough to support the development and growth of their bodies.
This foal’s weaning was not to be so thoughtfully approached. He was ripped away from mum and deposited in a field with only horses for company, no additional supporting forage and grazing that was poor and parasite infected from long term overstocking. Any attempts to fend for himself were thwarted by the larger, pushy, also very hungry horses. His outlook seemed decidedly bleak.
How do I know this foal’s story? Luckily for him there were two good Samaritans living nearby who had seen his plight and realised time was of the essence if he was to survive. The foal’s owners weren’t interested in providing for the foal, in their eyes he was alive therefore he was perfectly healthy, he was just a lucky token to have around and hopefully he’d live.
Support from the caring couple started by emptying one of the sheds on site, again without help from the owners but with their permission - there were numerous potential shelters but the equines couldn’t access any of them as they were all full of scrap and rubbish.
One was cleared and made accessible for the foal but kept the larger equines out, so at least the foal could feed and rest in peace. They phoned me to get foal feeding and care advice. I told them that the owners were legally liable and were failing in their duty of care, we knew if we pursued it the foal would magically disappear. So the carers cared and the foal grew.
Not large, he would never be a large donkey, he’d missed out on too much of his mother’s milk, and not strong he’d missed out on useful doses of antibodies to support his immune system. Living in the environment he did, his immune system was being repeatedly tested, something that would ultimately become both his downfall and then his liberation.
A year passed with lots of communication between ourselves. Until I got the phone call I was dreading. “He’s really ill, I think he’s going to die.” The foal, now called Fruitdrop, had been suffering from a chest infection which had taken a long time to clear to a residual cough, now he had a wound on his leg that wasn’t healing.
He was going downhill rapidly. Could we help? The owners wouldn’t pay for a vet, the carers funds were overstretched after paying for repeated vet visits and we didn’t know what we were dealing with or how much it would cost. The owners were pleaded with, they finally relented to allow Fruitdrop to be taken to an equine specialist practice when they realised he was dying. They washed their hands of him, he was no longer of any use, the luck in the mascot was fading, they didn’t want to pay and they certainly didn’t want him back.
Fruitdrop, weak and barely standing, was rushed to the equine practice where they treated him for days. Finally a breakthrough, he was picking up. The wound was still infected but he was starting to fight. When he was finally strong enough to be moved he was taken to our emergency holding base in South Wales for care and recovery. The wound took weeks to heal, his immune system was so weak.
But it healed and he became stronger, put on weight, and his personality shone through. The carers came to visit him many times, they still do, each time he recognises them and comes rushing over. He’s now been castrated which means he can go in with other donkeys, no longer the lonely life of a stallion. He’s also made a very special friend, but that’s a story for another day.