I love horses almost as much as I love my collies. I follow Thoroughbred racing, not as avidly as I did some years ago, or even when I was a teenager, but I still follow Thoroughbred racing. Because I write western historical romance, and I own a horse that I trained by myself, I have to know a bit more than the average person would know about horses.
Even though there is a lot of glamor in what the public sees in Thoroughbred racing, there is a very ugly, dark underbelly to this industry. I’m not talking about the “catastrophic breakdowns” that occur on far too regular a basis where a green sheet is drawn around the fallen animal on the track and a merciful, humane end is achieved with a massive overdose of barbiturates, either.
I’m talking about the “nurse mare” industry and the foals that are left behind. A nurse mare foal is a foal which was born so that its mother might come into milk. The milk that its mother is producing is used to nourish the foal of another mare, a more “expensive” foal. Primarily these are thoroughbred foals, though certainly nurse mares are not limited to the thoroughbred industry. The foals are essentially by-products of the mare’s milk industry. A thoroughbred mare’s purpose is to produce more racehorses. A mare can give birth to one foal each year provided she is re-bred immediately after delivering a foal. Because the Jockey Club requires that mares be bred only by live cover, and not artificially inseminated, the mare must travel to the stallion for breeding and may be shipped as soon as 7-10 days after giving birth to a foal, but a period of 3-4 weeks is generally allowed.
In general there are a number of reasons why a nurse mare may be called upon. Traveling is very risky for these newborn racing foals, and insurance costs are prohibitive for the foal to accompany the mother to the stallion farm. At this point a nurse mare is hired to raise the thoroughbred foal while the mother goes and gets re-bred. In order to have milk, the nurse mare had to give birth to her own baby. When she is sent to the thoroughbred breeding farm, her own foal is left behind. Historically, these foals were simply killed. Orphaned foals are difficult to raise and no one had tried to raise large numbers of them. These foals do have value, however, their hides can be used as “pony skin” in the fashion and textile industries, and the meat is considered a delicacy in some foreign markets (copied from http://www.lastchancecorral.org/foal-rescue).
Last Chance Corral is a non-profit rescue organization that tries to save as many foals as possible from the nurse mare industry. The only way to save the foals is to purchase them, and the foals cost between $200 and $400 each. Then, there is the cost of milk replacer, veterinary care, transportation costs, stabling, bedding, and later—feed costs.
Several of my friends on Facebook have had fund raisers to help Last Chance Corral. You can help, too. Go to their web page, found at Last Chance Corral. Read up on the work done here. If you feel so moved, help out with a donation. Even a donation as small as $5 can help.
I’m calling on all my fellow western historical romance writers and western historical writers to go check out Last Chance Corral. If we’re writing westerns, we’ve got horses in our novels. Even if we never name a single equine in our novel, we have these magnificent animals in our works. They carry our heroes, pull the wagons and stage-coaches and buggies of our characters. Let’s give something back to the animals that have so influenced our characters.
Support Last Chance Corral.