Woodrow’s Story

What else could happen to a foal?

A 6-year-old maiden mare foaled unattended 25 days prematurely on a cold February night. The colt was found early the next morning lying in a snow bank with the mare standing nearby. The farm manager wrapped the foal in a blanket, put him in the back seat of an SUV and headed to the clinic. Since a truck and trailer were not readily available, the mare was left at the ranch.

The foal was hypothermic, dehydrated, shocky and had a very weak suckle response. Initial treatment consisted of warmedintravenous fluids, plasma, antibiotics and navel disinfection, as well as nursing care (circulating warm water pad, overhead heat lamp, blankets and plenty of attentive students). After a couple of hours, the foal became more responsive to his environment and to stimulation. Frozen-thawed colostrum was administered through a nasogastric tube directly into his stomach. Milk replacer was fed by a bottle every one to two hours once the foal could stand and suckle.

Take an in-depth look at horse hoof health and some of the common hoof problems many horses face in AQHA's Equine Hoof Health report.

A blood sample collected the following morning revealed an antibody (igG) concentration that was just above the level considered marginally adequate for immune protection. Due to his rough start in life and the continued risk of infection, a second liter of plasma was administered to the colt, who was nicknamed “Woodrow.”

No, Thanks

In the meantime, a trailer was located, and the mare was transported to the clinic to be with her foal. Unfortunately, she had no interest in little Woodrow, and each attempt to reunite the pair met with increased aggression on the part of the mare. Restraint and sedation of the mare were all unsuccessful. After two frustrating days, the mare was judged too aggressive. Fortunately, Woodrow took to suckling milk replacer from a bottle quickly. He was subsequently introduced to a bucket lamb feeder at 3 days of age, eliminating the need for a bottle. We still wanted him to have an equine mom, but no nurse mares were available in the region. We chose a mare that had given birth the previous year with a history of being a good mother and successfully stimulated her to come into milk with a combination of hormone treatments administered over several days. Manual milking was incorporated to increase stimulation for milk production. The mare was housed in the stall next to Woodrow as the daily lactation therapy continued.

Roll It!

Colorado State University's Dr. Patrick McCue explains how to care for a newborn foal.

New Mom

Woodrow was eventually introduced to his surrogate mom, and a bond developed almost instantly. Her maternal instincts took over, and she allowed the orphan colt to nurse unimpeded. Supplementation with milk replacer continued for several weeks until the nurse mare began lactating adequately. Our star pupil had moved from a tube to a bottle, to a bucket and then to a real mare. Radiographs of Woodrow’s knees and hocks at 4 days of age revealed incomplete ossification of the bones of those joints, probably secondary to his premature birth. He was fitted with a set of splints, and his exercise was temporarily restricted to protect his joints. The colt wore the splints intermittently for almost three weeks. He could still move around the 12-by-24-foot stall, and would lie down and stand up with ease. We thought we were beyond the major risk period, but at 12 days of age, his umbilical stump, which had been dipped with disinfectant multiple times, began to increase in size, and urine was noted to dribble out the end. Woodrow had developed a patent urachus and an umbilical infection. Medical therapy was unsuccessful, and surgery was performed at 18 days of age to remove the affected umbilical stump. Woodrow was finally discharged from the clinic along with his adopted mom at 30 days. Thanks to an attentive staff, a small army of students and a compassionate owner, Woodrow now roams a 40-acre pasture outside of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Learn the safe ways to handle your horse’s feet and how to deal with a horse who’s reluctant to let you pick up his foot. AQHA's Equine Hoof Health report will also teach you causes and treatments of navicular syndrome, laminitis, white line disease, cracks and flares. Get your copy today!