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A bay shire horse foal stands almost as tall as her thoroughbred ex-racehorse foster mare, Candy. They make an unlikely duo but the pair are now inseparable.

It is a delightful outcome after almost three weeks of worry about the foal, who is nicknamed Baby, and whose own mare died from a twisted gut two days after her birth at the Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre, near Tarporley, Cheshire.

Owner of the centre, Alistair King, 63, who has been breeding shires for 40 years, even slept in his car next to the orphaned foal so he could feed her on equine formula milk every two hours through the night.

Just a week ago however a surrogate mare was identified through the National Foaling Bank. Eleven-year-old Candy owned by Caroline Basnett, from Congleton, had lost a foal. Within three days surrogate mare and foal had bonded well.

Mr King said: “The mare is feeding Baby and they are together night and day. In fact the mare is ultra-protective — more than a mare is normally with her foal — and she will circle Baby all the time to keep others away.”

Three other foals were born at the centre in recent weeks. Visitors to the centre are being asked to suggest names for them on condition fillies are named after a Scottish loch and colts after a Scottish mountain.

Mr King was extremely grateful to the National Foaling Bank, based near Newport, Shropshire, which since its establishment by Johanna Vardon in 1965 has united some 17,000 foster mares with orphaned foals.