"I was absolutely devastated to lose my mare 'Fattie' due to colic when the foal, by Mr Big Cat, was two weeks' old. Sadly there are no facilities here in the north to perform such a major operation so we had to drive two hours to Kildare where the mare underwent surgery. They did everything to save her, but she subsequently died of a heart attack. She was 18 and this was her third foal."
Within hours of the mare dying the team began the process of sourcing a suitable foster mare. Most equine veterinary clinics retain a list of people specialising in the business, but quite often word of mouth or social media can be just as effective.
"Once the mare was found and collected they began the process of getting her to bond with the foal. This was completed within two days, after which we took both of them home. Thankfully the foal is absolutely flying and 'Petal' is doing a great job. The deal is that we can keep the mare for as long as needed as long as she is returned in foal. We will probably use a local teaser stallion," Ms Donnelly added.
Many of the foster mares commercially used to rear these foals are coloureds with little or no pedigree.
In many cases their own foals are bucket-fed from a very young age and donated to people by their owners. Some high-profile stud farms also hold auctions of these foals each year. "This idea of all these foals being shot to accommodate the business is total nonsense," Mark McRedmond commented.
Tom Carney has been providing a hugely respected service of foster mares for over 25 years and currently has a herd of some 100 at his base in Fethard, Co Tipperary. "Most of them are used in the thoroughbred industry and their own foals are all given away to be reared. My daughter is actually hunting a few, and others are also hunting in the area."
In his case owners who have lost mares are requested to take the foal down to the farm where the bonding process takes place. The mare and foal are then returned a few days' later.
Numerous methods to get mare and foal to bond are known to be used, with some smearing the mare's milk over the foal, while others use Vicks on the mare to eliminate all scent present.
When Laura Snow of Drynam Stables in Swords lost her sport horse mare recently, she and the team at Troytown Grey Abbey took to social media looking for a foster mare.
"The mare had ruptured her pre-pubic tendon and sadly there was no saving her. The foal was delivered and the mare then euthanised. It was a very big colt foal by Cobra and after they gave him colostrum he was in ICU for 24 hours. It was touch and go if he would make it but after 24 hours he was standing."
A search for a foster mare soon ensured and vet Warren Schofield was inundated with offers.
One came from an owner of a thoroughbred mare who had lost her foal in an accident. "It was thanks to the loyal followers of the veterinary clinic and the team at the clinic itself that the foal was saved. The mare has since proven to be a fantastic foster mum to the foal we have now named 'Troy," Ms Snow said.
She will keep the mare until the foal is reared. In the meantime she has agreed to drive her to Kildare to have her covered by the stallion chosen by the owner.
While the majority of cases involve foals who have lost their dams, owners with mares who have rejected their foals are also resorting to foster mares before it is too late.
Breeder Jennifer Haverty found herself in this position when her Irish Draught mare began to reject the foal within 24 hours of it being born.
"We couldn't understand it as she even stopped letting down milk. We tried everything but she would have killed the foal if we had left it with her.
"Straightaway we put the word out looking for a mare and luckily found one within a few hours. It was owned by Pat Cross in Limerick.
"Some people are surprised at the cost of a foster mare but to be honest we would have not done it any other way in order to save the foal," she concluded.