The Thoroughbred race horse industry revolves around money – not only the bets placed on the horses at the track, but the nearly unbelievable prices fetched by yearlings at auction, the stud fees to bring those foals forth, and the money lost when broodmares aren’t bred back right away. Enter the nurse mares. They are the wet nurses of the equine world.
Keeneland, the nation’s most prestigious Thoroughbred auction, has fetched prices of upwards of $11 million for one yearling foal. In 2013. more than 18 Thoroughbred foals sold for $1 million or more. Prices in the six figures for these very young, completely unproven Thoroughbred yearlings in these premier auctions are very common. It used to be that the stud was the major determining factor in Thoroughbred breeding, but recent genetic advances have shown how strongly the dam’s genes play in to breeding a winner.
In order for a Thoroughbred mare to produce one foal a year (gestation is about 11 months), she must be bred back very soon after delivery. The Jockey Club (the Thoroughbred breed registry) requires mares to be bred live – not artificially inseminated. This means this mare must be shipped to the stud’s farm for breeding. For a number of reasons, her incredibly valuable foal cannot go with her, but effectively orphaned foals require inordinate amounts of around the clock care, expensive milk replacers, frequent veterinary care – and yet still don’t fare nearly as well as one raised by the mother. This is where the nurse mare comes in.
Nurse mares have to be in milk, so they must have foaled recently. Nurse mares fetch a high price in leases to fancy Thoroughbred breeding farms, so the foal of the nurse mare is just cast off, often slaughtered or left to die. These nurse mare foals are abandoned, so the pricier Thoroughbred foals are protected while wealthy owners are gambling on their next million dollar foal.
To Victoria Goss, this was simply unacceptable. A lifelong passion for animals drove Victoria to take on the nearly impossible – rescuing these cast off nurse mare foals. One orphaned foal is a costly and exhausting project. She takes on dozens, scores, sometimes hundreds of these orphaned babies every year. The milk replacer alone costs roughly $150 per bag, and will last two foals a little less than a week. Additives, solid food, colostrum, veterinary care for healthy babies, intensive care for sick ones, and literally around the clock feeding and observation all add up to a staggering amount of money and time to nurture these nurse mare foals and give them a chance at life. Ms. Goss opened the 501 (c) 3 charity rescue Last Chance Corral in Athens, Ohio 35 years ago, to take in these abandoned babies. Ms. Goss’ success has been impressive. She was cautioned to expect a staggering mortality rate, but instead runs in the low single digits. She has very strident adoption criteria for the nurse mare foals that graduate from her care to ensure they come to no more harm, and the adoption fees from those babies go on to fund the next batch of unfortunates that will wind up in her care. A documentary was recently funded to shine a light on the deplorable breeding practices that drop the nurse mare foals in her lap. Activism can go a long way in decreasing the number of these nurse mare babies left to die.
Foaling season is here. For the next six months, Last Chance Corral will be inundated with these Thoroughbred industry “by-products.” Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” As the Inquisitr reported, horses help people; it’s a nice time for people to help horses. The Last Chance Corral will be spending the next several sleepless months in the barns caring for these poor orphaned foals, giving them their lives back, and seeking to find these poor babies their forever homes. (In addition to financing, the farm could use donations of colostrum from mares who have recently foaled. Visit their website here if you are able to help.)