Caring For Your Horse Throughout Its Life
Like humans, horses do not have a predetermined life span. One thing is for sure,
however, a domestic animal has a far greater chance of living well into his twenties than his wild counterpart. Ponies tend to live longer than horses. However, a great deal is dictated by the care, nutrition, and workload experienced by the individual animal. Interestingly, while some breeds –like the Tarpan, which is similar in appearance to the Exmoor pony; the American Buckskin; or horses bred from wild Spanish mustang ancester -remain virtually unaltered from their “wild” profile, modern breeding has fundamentally changed the equine –lightening bone and increasing athleticism while dispensing with some of the hardy traits, such as resistance to bad weather and the ability to survive on poor –quality food. The rapid growth development of some breeds, for example the Thoroughbred, is quite unlike the natural model. For the most part, there is a fairly consistent pattern in the development of an equine from foalhood to old age.
From Birth To Six Months Old
From the moment a foal is born, it faces demands simply to survive. In contrast to babies or puppies and kittens, which can be lifted to their mother’s teats, horses and ponies generally need to stand within a couple of hours to take their first colostrum milk. Unlike other young offspring which can be carried away from danger by their mother, it is amazing to see how foals with their overly long legs can keep pace with their mares from day one. They are born with legs two-thirds of the adult length. This natural phenomenon has been one of the major factors that has allowed wild horses to do so well against their natural predators.
Before the age of six months (and perhaps for a while after in some cases) a foal will spend its time suckling, sleeping, and growing under the guidance of the mare. Apart from daily handling, we should not expect too much from such a young animal. Its growth rate is so rapid that it will have reached almost half its adult weight by the time it is seven months old. The protein requirements of a foal from two weeks to ten months are as much as 20 percent of its diet compared with about 12 percent for an adult horse. However, their fiber requirements are low- about six percent of the diet as opposed to 25 percent or more in mature animal.
For the first few days after birth,the mare and the foal should be allowed peace and quiet away from other animals to form a close bond and to allow the foal to gain in strength. The foal only has the antibodies that it has derived naturally from the mare. It takes several months to build up its own resistance to disease. Wild foals are susceptible to illness, and many are lost in this way. We are fortunate that we can vaccinate domastic foals against many diseases, like tetanus and equine influenza. It is also important to begin a worming regimen from the age of one month as foals are susceptible to worms picked up via their mother’s milk and from grazing.