Orphaned foals are no picnic to care for, but when Ashley Weems, a Peabody-Burns High School senior, learned about a situation where a newborn colt needed help she did not hesitate to act.
“The person who owned this baby’s mother has some medical issues and couldn’t care for him,” Weems said. “I have a lot of experience with horses and have raised a foal with its mama. I thought this would be good experience for me because some day I want to be an equine vet.”
The now two-week-old foal, called Gunner by Weems, is part Quarter Horse, part Friesian.
“His dam was a rescue mare that had been bred by accident,” Weems said. “She had the foal OK, but died two days later. Since he was premature, he was in pretty bad shape when I got him.”
Weems said Gunner’s health problems had a lot to do with mismatched genetics and poor nutrition on the part of his mother.
“He was just skin and bones,” she said. “He was born with contracted tendons and couldn’t walk right. His eyes were sunken in from dehydration too. He didn’t look good.”
Weems, under the guidance of Animal Health Center veterinarian Rebecca Erwin, began feeding Gunner goat milk every two hours, except during the night, when she provided a 1 a.m. feeding.”
“The nighttime feeding is the hardest,” she said. “During the day I have him in town at a barn that is only two blocks from school. My teachers are letting me go take care of him as I need to.”
At first, Gunner drank only a few ounces per feeding, but on Monday, he was already up to 20 ounces each time.
“He is really taking off,” Weems said. “I have got him to drink from a bucket now, so that is easier, and we are working up to more each feeding.”
Weems said Gunner was getting more mobile every day, thanks to the splints on his legs, which she changes with the help of Erwin every other day.
“If we didn’t put these splints on he would grow up to always have a bum leg,” Erwin said. “It’s important to get those legs to grow out at the right angle.”
Weems said the colt walks better with the splints on than without.
“They don’t bother him at all,” she said. “He can even run pretty fast, considering all his problems.”
She said one of the more difficult aspects of raising an orphan foal was remembering to treat him as a mare would treat her offspring, not as a human would.
“I really have to keep reminding people not to cuddle him and kiss him,” she said. “If you do that too much they get ornery and full of themselves. A mare would nip him and kick him to make him behave. I have to keep that in mind when I interact with him.”
Weems, who has been accepted into Kansas State University’s pre-vet program for this fall, said her experience raising the foal has been a lot of fun.
“He is scheduled to go back to his owner on June 1,” she said. “I will be sad to see him go, but happy that I have been able to get him off to a good start. He had a couple of marks against him from the get-go, but he is getting stronger every day and will turn out to be a big, strong horse some day.”