It doesn’t matter how you feel about animals, it is impossible to deny the lovability of a brand new baby horse. From their spindly little legs to their frisky spurts of energy, they draw you in from the very start.
That cuteness is on overload at the Southern Illinois University Farms, with foals Dublin, Ivy, Hunter and Sahara joining the family this spring.
Welcoming the new babies
Much like taking care of a child, foals require a good amount of attention before they arrive, during their birth and the several months after their arrival. Thanks to Samantha Wuest, equine manager, and her host of equine science students, the cute little animals were welcomed into the world with care and vigilance.
From April 3 to May 1, thoroughbred Lotus, quarter horse Sugar, paint Cayanna and quarter horse Sheza gave birth to four perfect little foals, all by the quarter horse black stallion Licious. All four deliveries were smooth and uneventful, with several students on hand to oversee during the “foal watch.”
A filly, Ivy, was born first to Lotus on April 3 around 5:50 a.m. A mix of thoroughbred and quarter horse, Ivy is an appendix with brown coloring that will soon turn black. She is the 8th foal to come from Lotus, and is already showing her spunk in the pasture.
Just three days later, Hunter entered the world around 9:50 p.m. to Sugar. A full quarter horse, the tiny colt has bay coloring with a little star on his head. The first foal for Sugar, both baby and mama are adjusting well to life on the farm.
Baby Dublin joined the group on April 23 around 5:30 p.m. to Cayanna. Although a mix of paint and quarter horse, the colt is black in color and considered just a quarter horse. So far, he is good friends with Ivy, just learning the ways of his new world.
The final addition to the farm family was little Sahara. Born May 1 around 2 a.m., Sahara is still adjusting to life, spending more time inside her stall under the watchful care of her mother Sheza. A full quarter horse, the filly has brown coloring with a white streak on her head and four white stockings on her legs.
While all four foals are growing and acclimating to their new life of adventure, their journey started long before their little eyes saw the light of day.
Preparing for the new arrivals
For horses, the gestation period lasts 11 long months, with all SIU horses giving birth in the spring. Not only does this follow the natural breeding pattern, but it also protects the pregnant horses against fescue toxicosis, a harmful fungus found in perennial grass.
Breeding season on the farm usually lasts from March to the beginning of June, allowing a mare to foal once a year. With 26 mares living on the farm, the goal is to breed six to eight for this season. Currently, three are confirmed pregnant, with two others still waiting to verify.
During the final trimester of the pregnancy, the team feeds the mares an alfalfa mix to ensure it provides a healthy dose of nutrients for the foal’s development. As the mare gets closer to delivery, a group of student’s join the “foal watch,” watching the mares every night from 8 p.m.-6 a.m.
As soon as a mare begins to show signs of labor, the students are on hyper-alert. Once the water breaks, those on foal watch call Wuest, who usually arrives on the scene within three to five minutes.
“We try to let the students do all the work,” Wuest said. “But if they need help, we are there. I pretty much just coach them through the process and assist as needed.”
After the birth, the goal is for the baby to be up and standing within one hour, and nursing within two hours. By the next morning, the foals usually venture into their new world outside of the stall.
The babies usually stay with their mothers for four to six months, before weaning and selling them. The horse sales are one way for the farms to re-coup some of their costs and keep moving forward.
Hands-on experience for students
From the breeding to the foaling, undergraduate students are vital to the success on the farms. All equine science majors are required to join the foal watch as part of their senior class, but many other students opt in to the exciting adventure as well.
“This experience helps the students significantly as they prepare for their future careers,” Wuest said. “Even if they are not going into breeding or reproduction, it helps with overall horse handling skills and knowledge.”
Students learn more than just how to assist in delivery, they learn all sorts of practical horse skills as well. When a mare becomes a mom, her personality can completely change, Wuest explained. Even if the handler previously had a great relationship with the mare, once she has a foal everything changes.
“The whole process definitely keeps us on our toes,” Wuest said. “But at the same time, you have to be alert and ready for anything.”
When dealing with the horses, the biggest key is to stay calm, think on your feet and deal with the situation as best as possible, Wuest explained.