Jenny Pearce

Think twice about how you deal with that orphan foal.

Boots with the wonderful gelding Copper, who mothered this orphan foal so thoroughly. A story for another time…

When I see those heart warming photos of people cuddling orphan foals in the stable, I could just about throw up.  I feel teary even writing this article.  I’ll tell you what’s prompted me to write this blog today – yet another tragedy of an orphan foal done wrong by good people with all the good will in the world.

I haven’t used her photo for this blog, because it doesn’t feel fair.

She’s older now, shoved from pillar to post, because she’s not capable of being what people need her to be.  She’s neither horse nor human – her need for a herd rising up from her genetics and yet she’s not at all interested in horses.  It’s humans she was over- imprinted to so thoroughly as an orphan foal.  Her brain is scrambled – neither fish nor fowl – neither horse nor human.

I can still see her in my mind from when I knew her long ago – standing in that small paddock, staring in the window of the house, yearning to be in there with her herd of people.

But the humans were not her herd.  They weren’t out in the paddock keeping her company on the dark nights when the bushes were rustling in the wind, hiding the sound of what might have been a predator creeping up on her.  The humans weren’t out there in the paddock with her so that she could relax, lay down and sleep with the safety of knowing that someone was watching over her – that’s another horse’s role.  And this mare doesn’t like horses, she has no interest in them at all.   She’s probably not had a good sleep in her life – chronic, exhausted tension has been the result.

The first sale was a done deal when the video showed the kids crawling all over her and her so quiet and still.  What it didn’t show was that there was no understanding about what she was doing – understanding on how to be a horse did not come easily to such a confused mind.

Too hard to deal with, the second owner sold her off again to the third and clearly the third sold her off again too.  And since they were kind people, I have to wonder what’s happened to her since.  I lost track of her until the person who rescued her came into one of my workshops this week.

The sadness and loss is imprinted in her eyes, the fear is so strong that she’ll strike with her front feet if you’re silly enough to try and touch her. And do you know, she probably wasn’t tortured or abused to get this “difficult”.  It’s probably just a lifetime of loss and accumulated confusion and misunderstandings.  How are we going to help her untangle that?

We’ll start by finding out if she WANTS us to help her untangle that.

What you should do if you have an orphan foal

Get a foster mother if you can.  It’s not so easy getting a mare to take a strange foal, but there’s some old farm tricks that can help.

Rear them with another horse. If you can’t get a foster mother, then rear them with another horse who is willing to teach them how to be a horse and get them into a herd environment with that horse as soon as practicable.


Keep your handling to a minimum – feeding and happy scratches are all good, but I hope from this story you’ll get the idea that you don’t want to over-humanize any foal.

Have a vision in your mind of everything that tiny foal does, being done by a 500 kilo grown horse and get some very gentle and considerate and knowledgeable training help.

Make sure they get enough of the right kind of food.  I once saw a horse that had been an orphan foal brought into a clinic (not one of mine), with Big Head, which is a bone deformity caused by  mineral deficiency.  Between the enormous behavioral and physical problems they decided to put him down.

I’ve heard some vets will say you can feed them twice a day for 3 months and then wean them onto hard feed.  What a load of crap.  Sure they might SURVIVE.  The horse with Big Head SURVIVED.  But will they grow into healthy adult horses with a tiny fraction of the food their mothers would have given them?

Powdered milk suitable for horses is incredibly expensive and cows milk doesn’t do the job – it’s way too high in lactose and gives them the runs. We reared our orphan foal with a mixture of lactose free and high protein milk from the supermarket.  It was still an enormous commitment – financially as well as in time and he was worth every bit of it.

I’ll tell his story another time…  Sad rant over for the time being… 🙂








  1. Anne-Marie 10/12/2017, 9:54 am Reply

    So sad, but if anyone can help, you can.


    • jennyp 10/12/2017, 12:17 pm Reply

      Actually the lady who rescued her is very special – I think I’m just a bit of a support act. 🙂

  2. Kathy 10/12/2017, 4:20 am Reply

    That is a very sad story Jenny. Hope you can somehow help?
    Sounds like a huge challenge for this poor confused mare and all those who want to help her. Best wishes to all concerned – including the best outcome for this mare, whatever that may be.

    • jennyp 10/12/2017, 7:32 am Reply

      Yeah well, somehow I jumped in her whirlpool yesterday and I’m not much use to her there!

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