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What are the first days of a foal’s life like?

The Normandy is the first French region in terms of horse breedinghistoric land of many breeds such as the French trotter or the Percheron.

Mainly, the farms are located in Orne, Calvados and Manche but some farms exist in the former Haute Normandie. This is the case of Gerald Gevas, breeder in Seine-Mairitime, north of Rouen.

His breeding has several hectares, mainly pasture for his thirty horses, and a structure with boxes to bring in the horses when necessary.

This year, six mares are “full”, ie waiting for a foal. The time toa gestation is estimated at around 11 months and 11 days.

In this May is high season for him.. Three foals have already been born. “But they don’t have names yet“slip Gerald”this year, it’s the year of the M… So there will be a lot of Mister or Madame names that are a bit basic“.

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These are all French trotters, historic breed of the region, and the French Institute of Horse and Equitation closely monitors the names given to the foals each year. A name cannot be given twice, it must indicate the sex of the horse and must begin with the letter of the year of birth. In 2021 it was the N’s, so this year it’s the M’s.”I hope to find something that stands out a little from the lot, something a little original“he adds.

The trotters are a French breed used in trotting races but which can also makeexcellent riding horses when they don’t have the capacity to become champions. A breed renowned for giving generous and reliable horses.

Birth, between joy and anguish

A mare that reaches term and is pregnant well can give birth at any time of the day or night. (and they often prefer the quiet of the night!). The due date is determined according to the day of mating.

Once term has come, there are a few signs to watch out for:the dilated vulva“is first, next” 24 to 30 hours before foaling, the udders which fill with milk, in a very clear way. So there, you can tell yourself that the foaling is imminent or almost. Usually it happens overnight or the next day“.

When the signs are there, Gerald installs a sensor on the mare, a foaling belt, which will send her a notification when she goes to bed. He can then wake up and go check if everything is going well, in this case, Gerald does not intervene: “It is better to avoid disturbing a foaling mare“.

Foal taking a nap © Radio France
Milena Aellig

And it is better to go quickly, because when the mare is ready, she lies down and can deliver her foal in just 5 minutes. It is first the forelegs that come out, then the head, the shoulders, and finally the rest of the body.

As with humans, a birth can become more complicated when the foal does not present the right way or if the cervix is ​​not dilated enough, or both.

In those moments, the life of the mare and foal may be at stake. It is therefore necessary to help the mare to push by putting the foal back on the axis, by helping him to take it out and by calling on a veterinarian. You have to go fast because otherwise, Gerald testifies to it “this can have dramatic consequences“It is not always possible to save one or the other. A tough time for a breeder who often has a long and ancient knowledge of his horses and develops a strong bond with them.

Moreover, the time is not for mourning because if accidents can happen, we must still take care of those who are there and ensure that each birth goes well.

The first hours after birth

When the foal arrives in the world, in the first hours”we leave the mare alone with her foal, so that she can soak it up, lick it, take care of it a little bit”.

Then Gerald steps in to inject a trivalent serum, against childhood illnesses in foals, and an anti-tetanus serum. Finally, it cleans the cord, so as not to risk bacterial infection.

The next step is very prosaic: then you have to make sure that the foal manages to get up and go suckle. And there, some are not always decided: “A foal who does not suckle enough to drink the colostrum, the protection that his mother gives him in the milk, it can quickly get complicated! There you have to probe the foal with a veterinarian and milk the mare so that he can have a sufficient dose of colostrum to survive.

And to suckle, the foal must stand up and maintain its balance… Sometimes it’s not easy on their long legs to keep their balance, so Gérald helps them a little by holding their hindquarters if necessary. There are risks of falls, but fortunately the foals are relatively flexible and there is not too much risk of breaking their bones.

Filly stooping to graze, an unstable balance
Filly stooping to graze, an unstable balance © Radio France
Milena Aellig

Finally, it must be ensured that the foal can poop normally. Even if it means sometimes helping them with laxatives, when it’s too complicated for the foal whose exit orifices are not always finished.

It’s important oversight early on, but “a foal that is off to a good start, generally everything goes well. But as soon as it gets complicated, it usually gets complicated everywhere.

The first weeks

After these first hours, the foal will then live glued to its mother for several weeks. He becomes emancipated and moves away from it a little after the first few months.

Weaning usually takes place between six and ten months.

It is also during these first weeks that the breeder can sometimes dream a little:

Each new generation is a reborn hope. Maybe there’s one in there that will stand out.

It is also during this period that it is necessary to do “handling” on the foals from time to time, ie to get them used to being handled by humans.

In those moments, Gérald approaches the foal and takes him in his arms. At first the foal fidgets a little, then calms down very quickly. He then caresses the foal quietly, for thereassure him and get him used to not being afraid of human contact.

Gerald Gevas, breeder, accustoming a foal to the presence of man.
Gerald Gevas, breeder, accustoming a foal to the presence of man. © Radio France
Milena Aellig

It’s not the most unpleasant part of the job: “It’s a sweet foal!“confirms Gerald”But you have to be careful because an inch is quickly returned“Even worse because sometimes the mother mare is not quite cooperative and a kick is quickly gone… A day ago left a patellacracked right through.”

It is also about pass a halter to the foal, a kind of nylon or leather piece around the head, which allows it to be attached or guided more easily. Must also accustom him to “give his feet” that is to say to lift them when asked because it is also during this period that theThe farrier can come and correct faults in the feet which can then handicap the foal throughout its life..

From regular care but which should not be abused. Another risk would be to accustom the foal too much to humans and then there would be confusion between humans and their congeners. the young horse can then become dangerous because when he wants to “play” with the man, it can be very impressive: he rears up, shows his teeth, even kicks… A horse can weigh up to 600 kilos so this way of “playing” for the horses usually results in accidents in humans.

So we cuddle the foal about once a week, enough for his education. The rest of the time, his mother takes care of him. He also has a busy schedule to follow, laughs Gérald: “a foal lasts three-eight… eight hours to sleep, eight hours to eat, eight hours to play!“.

Holy program, indeed!

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