It’s that time of the year that breeders are waiting for — the foaling season. It is a fact, however, that not all pregnancies will have a happy conclusion, and some breeders will be facing difficult decisions.

It is not pessimistic to be prepared for the worst — equine births that are not progressing normally can go wrong quickly, leaving little time to ensure a positive result.

A 24/7 job

The most heart-breaking outcome is the death of either the mare or the foal — something for which most people are totally unprepared — but the possibility should be thought about and planned for.

For the past 50 years, the National Foaling Bank has offered guidance and solutions to the problem of what to do with an orphan foal, or a mare who has lost her foal. Run since its inception by its founder, the indefatigable Johanna Vardon MBE, the National Foaling Bank has organised tens of thousands of fosterings as well as providing 24-hour advice over the phone.

But even Johanna acknowledges that the time has come to find a replacement to run the organisation, even though she says she will be at the end of the phone “till her dying days”.

“I do need cooperation from the breeding industry and I do want a replacement,” she says. “The National Foaling Bank has to go on.”

Vital service

In order to enable Johanna to help carry on there is currently a membership, for which sport horse breeders pay a nominal sum of £20. It is a cost that few pay or think about until they need the help of the foaling bank, and Johanna’s records show that only eight of the most recent 200 users were paid-up members — not that she turns anyone away, but it seems a small price to pay for a vital service.

While Johanna’s experience is invaluable — she really ought to write the book — the need for a central database of available mares and foals is vital. The National Foaling Bank is still the place that most people call when the need arises. Perhaps it is something the new national British Breeders’ Network could help Johanna with? In the meantime, perhaps all those expecting foals in the next few months could send in their £20 membership — it might be the best £20 you spend.

Johanna will give a talk on orphaned foals and the work of the National Foaling Bank as part of a foaling the mare course to be held at Twemlows Stud on 21 March.

Deadly diseases come closer

Another wake-up call for breeders is the case of the horse in Lower Saxony, Germany, who tested positive for the fatal and notifiable disease, glanders (www.eurodressage.com, 28 February).

Although it later appeared to have been a false positive, Germany lost its “glanders free” status as a result.

The disease, which is not one associated with Europe, is zoonotic, meaning that it can be transferred to people. Prevention involves restrictions on transport, quarantine and strict biosecurity.

Australia, a country hot on who or what arrives on its shores, has currently issued a six-month halt on imports from Germany, including frozen semen — something that would not be good news for British sport horse breeders were the UK to enforce restrictions.

The case once again highlights the increasing possibility of the arrival of deadly diseases in the UK.

In the meantime we must take the threat of diseases we know we have seriously, particularly during the breeding season — peak time for the movement of semen and stock, especially vulnerable foals.

All breeders should check the health status of their mares and foals well before going to stud, and all studs should be asking for the relevant paperwork and, of course, that for imported semen. Breeders need to think twice if nobody asks for, or shows, evidence of current health status.

Ref: H&H 12 March, 2015