I’ve often been asked the ? of “How soon after foaling can we ride, drive, work or show our mare”? and “How soon can we show the foals”?
I believe it really depends on your set up, your program, your mare and your foal(s) AND what shows you are looking at going to.
When we arrived in NC, we brought our bred mares with us – from Montana. Then we acquired more and continued to breed them. These mares were the ponies our 3 daughters and I were riding – often daily. We trail rode, did lessons, used them for lessons for others and showed – with foals as young as 1 week of age right beside the mare.
The mares were used to the foals being handled right from day one, they were used to foals being 1 – loose running with them; 2 – tied up or held outside of the round pen or arena while “mama” was working or 3 – being stalled with a same year playmate in either a pen or in a barn or if actually at a show, in the trailer. The foals penned up had access to creep feed buckets, hay and water and mare’s milk replacer. They often seemed to enjoy this time that they spent w/o their mom’s and once they got used to it – everyone was happy.
While we did haul to shows from 1997 to now – they were open or 4h shows – 1 day type affairs and usually less then 250 ENTRIES (not horses. Horse/handler/rider often entered much more than 1 class) w/i 2 hours’ drive from us. Several per year were on the premises of the barn we leased our 5 acres from for 7 years. The barn and arena were 2 miles from our pasture – the mares often got ridden up to the barn/arena and the foals were led by my husband or i or a friend. Our oldest daughter was able to “pony” babies off of most of the ponies/horses she was riding. OR they were loaded into the trailer with the other young ponies and allowed to nurse when the “mama” made it to the showgrounds. Those 7 years the fewest # of ponies we had at a show was 4 and one of those was just a week old. Sometimes we’d have as many as 10 ponies tied around our 4 horse (14′ long) stock trailer!! That week old foal, due to the scorching heat, spent part of the show day in the cab of the truck in front of the air conditioner and would hop out of the cab – surprising anyone close by. Depending on number and which show we were at, we’d be parked in the back and sometimes the foals could be turned loose to lay down while their moms stood tied. This was just on “our” show grounds.
On other show grounds we didn’t turn the foals loose unless we were right there (such as eating or changing clothes or resting) and then they had a well fitted halter and proper lead rope on. That made it easy to “police them up” if necessary. A couple of times, we did plan ahead and hauled mares w/ foals to the showgrounds the day before – the mare and foal were stalled together and when the two mares were shown the foals were put in the same stall. The two foals were also shown in foal/weanling halter classes – that was 2001 and the foals were both born in April and the show was in June so they were 2 1/2 months old (one was 1/2 Arab, the other pure Arab – both by the same Arab stallion).
The mares’ were kept well vaccinated (w/ the hurricanes that swept thru in 98/99/2000, they often got EWT 4x yr dependent on mosquito populations in our area), the foals received vaccinations as soon as old enough and also kept up on boosters. While they were led around the showgrounds, they weren’t “allowed” to nuzzle at other horses and were usually kept quite separate. We used our own hay/water and feed buckets – not a communal one (it now drives me crazy to go to some of the Draft Horse Events and the only water available is from a huge stock tank that every one drinks from! I’ve learned to carry my own in 5 gallon, lidded buckets). But yes, spectators and other competitors that came to “ooo and aaawwweee” over our ponies were allowed to pet/handle them (could be bad). Hauling those ponies to shows and other events are part of what helped us sell them – often to other show competitors that then continued to show/promote them but sometimes not.
It never occurred to us that it was wrong to take foals to shows until I got involved with several breed organizations here in NC and especially with Shetlands and Minis. We showed mares and foals in the 60s thru the 80s when I was growing up – at H/J shows, breed shows, overnight camping/trail rides and rodeos. Not all of our babies went (we didn’t have nearly as many then as we have had since getting into the ponies) nor did every mare get bred – but they were used to being handled and moved away from each other. We culled based on how the mares/foals did – from working under saddle in a “job”, how easily they got and stayed in foal, easy to foal out and all the way to how they did when a foal at foot. A mare that was ugly about being handled after she foaled LEFT our small place in a hurry. We simply couldn’t, and didn’t need to, deal with that type of attitude.
For us, now, Shetland and Mini shows are a minimum of 1 state away (well a couple are here in NC sometimes). I don’t know if I would haul current year foals now or not – but part of that is simply logistics. The girls are no longer at home. The young granddaughters don’t have the exposure to the ponies that their mom’s had and they are scared and have a tendency to totally ignore what they are told and I spend more time dealing with that. Makes it really hard to deal w/ mares and foals or indeed ANY ponies at a show venue – especially now that I’m working so many more hours than I used to and the ponies aren’t handled anywhere near the way they were at one time.
All that said – I’ve hauled up to 8 ponies by myself to Draft horse events since 2010. In 2012, I hauled 2 mares w/ foals + an extra mare. The mares got split up and each drove w/ their daughter and the extra mare (double duty girl!).
These girls (2012 fillies – Classy & Shamrock) are overdue to be started in harness. Hoping to get them going this summer. I’m looking forward to it and expect it to be rather easy and think they will be fun, to boot.
One of the lesson mares – not shown while with us. But used for lessons and personal riding during her pregnancies and after the foals arrived.
Several people have let me know that they feel that it’s wrong to work a mare after she foals and a couple have informed us/our vet(s) that in their country, this would be grounds for animal cruelty/possible fines & jail time. All I can say is this – the mare above (black minimal sabino overo) was in her teens when we purchased her as a broodmare only. She was sold to us as not being able to be ridden due to fused vertebrae in her neck (several exrays of her neck from University of MN – confirmed by NC State U). We did a lot of work with her – to include modified chiropractic and equine massage. She was always happiest when she was running with her foals, but over the years she also did better when she was fit and in condition. She had 5 foals for us – the last one when she was 24. She was sold as a riding pony at the age of 26 and lived as a beginning 4H mount into her 30s…
That foal above is now 16 yrs old. Unfortunately, when our computer last crashed several years ago, I lost info and pics on her that weren’t online. At that time, she was sound, well adjusted and well trained to drive and ride – western & english.
And the foals that went out with their dams all became tremendous performance ponies as well as trusted family riding/driving ponies. We bred and raised 32 of them that way sired by our first shetland stallion (10 were purebred shetlands). Here’s the 2000 son of the mare above – that went on major trail rides with her/us.
My numbers tell me we did something very right and I wish we could go back to doing it that way! Miss the pony crew we put together for a while. I’d love it if/when our grand daughters develop an interest!
Here’s a group trail “walk” – after taking all of these babies to a show. only 2 were shown – the rest just went to hang out… and then went on this walk.
One of the ones who was shown and her 6 month old filly didn’t go on the walk – they are in the trailer, loose, until we get back. WE did these trail walks on a regular basis – riding, driving and walking like in the above pic. This is one of the trails the foals went on with their dams when ridden – but I don’t have any pics of those…
Several of the current shetland mares that we own were shown before I purchased them. They were shown with their foals. Here is a picture of Eclipse. I’m not sure what year or which foal this is.
One other note from me – I’ve NEVER had colic or ulcer issues on foals/mares that were “worked” throughout their pregnancies and weaning.
Both mares and foals learned, gradually, that it was OK to be separated from that baby. Babies learned it was ok to leave mama – they came back when they were small and needful. Later, as foals losing interest in mama and mama not so happy about nursing that baby, weaning was easy, almost stess-free and ultimately “QUIET” – with only a few calls/screams to each other. Generally very little crazy running around.
I’ve had stress colics and treated for ulcers on both mares and foals that weren’t gradually separated throughout the foals’ first 6 months. Weaning was NOISY and stressful – on not only the ponies but also all humans w/i sight/sound (and we’ve raised our shetlands in urban settings with neighbors all around) of the VERY UPSET mares and foals. We killed one baby – she tried to jump the gate and broke her neck on impact with ground on the other side (after both bouncing off the fencing and getting hung up in it while running crazy/wild) – I NEVER want to deal with that again if I can prevent it. I have actually been turned in to Animal Control by neighbors that were highly upset by the weaning process and investigated (it was fine, several of our local AC folks also have horses they’ve had to wean – one recommended that I do it “gradually” the next time and we had a good laugh).
I found that situation scary, disgusting and VERY preventable by the techniques my sister and I had grown up with.
Even w/o showing, I prefer to take either the mares out for “walkies” (can’t ride the shetlands – but now doing lead line work w/ our granddaughters), work on the farm and driving or we take the babies out away from their dams. NO, it doesn’t start w/ hours at a time. It starts with just minutes and builds up. Especially on the mares who have never foaled or been officially worked. And for us, that is just what works.
I have seen lots of pics of European Draft horse mares working the fields w/ foals at their sides (where I got my idea in harness to do it, actually) and I know that the POY shows (at least for Welsh in GB and in Wales) have classes for “suckers”, “weaners” & “foals at foot” – or at least they used to.