Taking Care of the Family

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Nothing livens up a training or boarding facility like the birth of a foal. Clients and staff alike can’t stop buzzing about the new baby, often stopping by its stall to visit. But is boarding a mare and foal good for business? It can be if you know how to do it right.

DOING IT RIGHT

When it comes to boarding foals, it’s important to decide up front what your arrangement will be. Knowing how you plan to handle the situation of a mare that is going to foal will enable you to communicate clearly with clients interested in boarding.

“If I did not breed the mare, I want her here at my place for a month before foaling,” says Kim Wright, owner of Wright’s Walkers of Lakeport, Calif., a breeder of spotted Tennessee Walking Horses. “I have to establish a degree of trust between myself and the mare, so I need to either work with her where she lives, or she needs to be here with me.”

Wright notes that many mares—and horses in general—don’t trust easily, so she works with outside mares daily by grooming them, talking to them, working with their tails and cleaning between their teats.

“We are very hands-on here,” she says. “I believe that the more comfortable the mare is, the easier it will be to foal her.”

All this bonding is not easy work, so Wright charges $500 to foal a mare, in addition to the regular $250 monthly board. If a vet is needed to to assist with foaling, the client pays the vet separately.

Wright says that her regular veterinarian can attest that foaling typically goes smoothly at her ranch. “Our place is rural, and is a very quiet, peaceful and a relaxed environment for breeding and foaling,” she says. “I even use essential oils for relaxing mares and calming them down, if they need it.”

Accommodations are important to mare owners, who want to know that their horses will have the right supervision when close to foaling time. At Serpentine Farm in Grass Valley, Calif., where owner Jane Apgar Sommers breeds Andalusians, Oldenburgs and Iberian Warmbloods, pasture board is one of the benefits to clients with mares in foal. “I offer pasture board for broodmares and their offspring,” she says. “The main broodmare pasture is 30 acres, and mares being bred or near foaling are brought into one of five two-acre pastures where they can be monitored more closely.”

At Serpentine Farms, mares are foaled in large stalls with video monitors, and are returned to the smaller pastures as soon as the foal’s vigor and weather allow—usually within a day or two of birth. “I keep the mares in pairs, based on their due dates, so there are only two mare/foal combos per pasture, and no one is left alone,” says Sommers. “There are two foaling stalls so the mares foal with their buddies next door.” Foals are weaned by returning the mares to the 30-acre pasture, leaving the foals in their familiar surroundings with their pasture-mates. Eventually, the foals are put into larger groups for the winter.

Mares who are close to foaling can also be boarded at Winner’s Circle Horse Farm, a Thoroughbred breeding and training facility in Oakhurst, N.J., according to owner Susan Dollinger. “People can bring mares to birth a foal at our facility,” she says. “We have a special broodmare barn with larger stalls to accommodate the mare and new foal.”

Dollinger notes the farm has monitors and closed circuit televisions so mares can be closely watched for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without being disturbed. The barn is heated, so a client’s mare can safely foal early in the season.

“We have a qualified staff and all the necessary implements to provide a safe birthing atmosphere,” says Dollinger. “We have had experience with all types of birthing, from difficult to easy.” Before taking on the responsibility of boarding mares and foals, Dollinger says it’s important to assess your qualifications. “Are you experienced enough to handle difficult situations that may arise in caring for and foaling these mares?” she says. “Do you have a good reproductive veterinarian on hand that will be there when you need him or her, especially in an emergency? Is your facility adequate for accommodating mares and foals? Do you have individual, separate paddocks and large stalls? These are all questions you must ask yourself.”

Sommers notes that protecting yourself with a good contract and liability insurance are vitally important before offering mare and foal boarding. “Make sure you have a comprehensive contract between you and the mare owner, outlining exactly what your responsibilities are, as well as the responsibilities of the owner,” she says. “This includes a release of liability.” Sommers also carries $2,000,000 of liability insurance plus Care, Custody, and Control insurance specifically for boarded horses. “It’s expensive, but worth it should the unthinkable happen,” she says.

PROS & CONS

According to farm owners who offer boarding for mares and foals, business owners stand to reap financial benefits from offering quality service.

“I’m surprised at how few facilities provide adequate mare and foal care, and I can imagine how frustrating that is to a mare owner,” says Sommers. “Having a larger inventory of foals for sale each year certainly helps my own sales, rather than providing competition, as one might presume. And occasionally, I can sell a breeding to one of my stallions when the mare is ready to breed back. It’s nice having a captive audience.”

Dollinger finds that offering a specialty that isn’t available at every boarding farm sets her farm apart from the competition. “Most farms are providing a service to individual horseman and their private riding horses,” she says. “They don’t offer mare and foal care.”

Return business is another positive effect of offering mare and foal boarding, according to Wright. “When you offer this service, you get return business and happy customers,” she says. “And they tell their friends, so pretty soon, you are very busy.”

Although the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, some problems do come along with boarding mares and their babies. “The only real disadvantage to boarding broodmares is that it is a lot of responsibility,” says Sommers. “Each mare represents a huge investment by the owner, and they expect me to protect that investment for them.” Linda Gordon, former owner of All Happy Horses, a now-defunct boarding facility in northern California, used to provide boarding for mares and foals and found it to be a lot of work. “It was a labor of love,” says Gordon. “I spent endless nights monitoring mares, and hours holding 150 or so odd-pound babies half-in, half-out-of-a mare that did not want to lay down. The extra money is nothing compared to the hours and days of sleepless nights, if you are responsible. You have to love it, and have an abundance of both natural energy and the ability to wake up and go back to sleep easily,” she says.

Loving it is why, regardless of the disadvantages, some farm owners take in mares and foals. “I’m just really in love with broodmares and the foals,” says Sommers. “When they reach term, it’s like Christmas over and over again.”