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'Take Two Bad Things and Make a Good Thing'July 2008


OVC helps weave happy ending for motherless foal and adoptive mare

They look entirely mismatched — and in many ways they are. The 14-year-old mare is a dark brown standardbred racehorse. Her colt, almost six weeks old now, has the paint horse’s signature reddish-brown and white patches. But they came together after the Ontario Veterinary College played the role of adoption agency to weave a happy ending from a double tragedy one weekend last month.


OVC resident Marcio Costa, left, and clinician Luis Arroyo helped match up “stepmom” Iway Regency with Slider, a foal whose mother died during the birth. PHOTO BY BARRY GUNN

The newborn colt arrived at the OVC Teaching Hospital late at night May 9. Its mother had hemorrhaged and died during the birth. The foal needed intensive nursing care. Its owners hoped the University could help pair up the youngster with an adoptive mother.

On-call clinician Luis Arroyo knew that horses often balk at forced adoption. If a pairing failed, it could mean months of hand-rearing. Even then, the colt might not fare well and might prove troublesome later without that critical mothering period.

That night, he had already learned of a standardbred mare in Elora whose foal had died after a breach birth. The mare was experiencing complications, including retaining the afterbirth.

Now he was expecting to receive a newborn without a mother. It didn’t take long for him and the owners— and their respective veterinarians — to come up with a solution.

Says Raz MacKenzie, owner of racehorse breeder MacKenzie Farm in Elora: “I said, ‘Let’s take two bad things and make a good thing.’ Through the University, we brought the mare and the foal together.”

Because it had retained the placenta, his mare risked becoming infected. He delivered the horse to OVC on the following afternoon. Working with resident Marcio Costa and intern Marlis Blatter, Aroyo flushed the horse’s uterus to remove the afterbirth and gave antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.

They used a towel to rub the placenta on the foal’s body before introducing the newborn to the mother. It was a bit of a gamble, says Arroyo, but “it worked immediately. It took just a minute to get them together. This mare adopted the baby right away. Once the foal started nursing, there was nothing more to do.”

Although he’s seen horses adopt newborns before, he’d never seen birthing survivors paired up like this.

Neither had Sue Paget, co-owner of Pound Scots Farm, which raises paints and pintos for show in Fisherville near Lake Erie. Calling the case a “miracle,” she says: “The University of Guelph did a fantastic job. They were all in it very quickly and handled it very well.”

Named Slider, her colt was sired by Ima Switch Hitter, a world-champion paint and pinto stallion at Painted Feather Farms based in Florida.

“He’s like a diamond right now,” says Paget of the colt. “We don’t touch him. We hope he’ll be like his mom and dad and carry on the legacy.”

The “stepmom” is Iway Regency, a former racehorse that had already delivered six foals as a broodmare in Elora.

Both horses left Guelph a few days after meeting, bound for Fisherville.

“It’s a happy ending,” says Mac- Kenzie. “If not for the intervention of the University of Guelph, we’d have four dead horses.”

- Andrew Volves
reprinted: At Guelph, June 18, 2008