Birth Rates & Foaling Season

Every year around this time there are still one or two foals waiting to be born in the Pryors. When this happens, every year like clockwork, there tends to be a flurry of people concerned for the foals’ well-being. There’s always the concern that the youngest members of the years’ population won’t make it and a whole bunch of worrying about the glass half empty.

Don’t get me wrong, I live in Minnesota where the phrase Spring Semester is used figuratively when you consider that more classes tend to be canceled the second half of the year than the first. There are days where the lack of wind can make below zero balmy and wind can make a day above zero miserable, so I get it winter is tough here. Common sense would tell me that it’s tougher in the mountains. If I really wanted to I’d worry about each and every horse all winter long, but common sense also tells me the horses are tough too.

Granted, this was still early in the semester, but this photo was taken last year.

Granted, this was still early in the semester, but this photo was taken last year.

The rational part of me tells me that fall births happen and will continue happening. I also know that there’s no guarantee that all the horses will make it out of winter. That’s why we call it natural selection. It’s also what I mean when I say glass half empty, but I also think it has everything to do with perspective. Because, when you consider that foals have been born in December and still survived a late season birth is not the worst thing that could happen.

While we’re on the subject of common sense, it could also be reasonable to generalize that the longer something lives the more chance it will survive. So you’d think after surviving their first winter people would worry less about a late season foal. However, there seems to be a misconception that size is indicative of health for all foals of the same year, but when foaling season is spread out from May to fall that doesn’t always mean the comparison will be fair. Also just like humans, horses are built differently. Even if two foals born around the same age are compared, size may not always be an indication of health.

Morning Dove was born latter in the season and this photo was taken in May. Since she was not yet a year old, her size is not comparable to the other's in her cohort.

Morning Dove was born latter in the season and this photo was taken in May. Since she was not yet a year old, her size is not comparable to the other’s in her cohort.

While it’s true late season births are common, someone could also argue that more foals are being reported missing. If I were a glass half empty person, I would say it indicates the health of the horses, but just like size there are a lot more factors to consider. While some of them have to do with equine health, some of them may have to do with people.

The first factor is that the birth rate itself has decreased. There are two factors for this that cross my mind. It could be that the PZP program is taking effect, but the last removal was in 2012. True, it was a smaller bait trap removal, but the horses removed were also 1-3 years old. Although PZP can be effective, I believe the decreased births at the moment have more to do with the mares that have been removed. Also, considering it hasn’t been that long since the last removal I have a feeling it might take another year or two for the effect to be less noticeable.

Several of the mares removed latter had foals. One perk of bait trapping is at least then the mares aren't run into a trap by helicopters.

Several of the mares removed latter had foals. One perk of bait trapping is at least then the mares aren’t run into a trap by helicopters.

With careful management a decrease in population doesn’t necessarily mean decrease in herd health. However, there have been some instances the last few years where foals have been reported missing. One factor could be the age or experience of the mare. There have been more two-year-olds having their first foal which is a bit of a concerning trend. It’s a bit like teen pregnancies, and while most two-year-olds are able to raise foals, sometimes the mare doesn’t have enough resources for both herself and her foal.

Pictured as a yearling, Maia had her first foal this year. She's been able to raise it with the help of the experienced mares in her band, but not all two year olds are as lucky.

Pictured as a yearling, Maia had her first foal this year. She’s been able to raise it with the help of the experienced mares in her band, but not all two-year-olds are as lucky.

Band stability is another factor that influences how healthy a foal may be. Larger bands mean more horses to watch for danger, but it is also important for all the members of the band to get along. Also, if a band spends a lot of time moving large distances, the foal may have a hard time keeping up. Like the other examples discussed, there could be different reasons why a foal has a hard time keeping up with a band.

Jacinta was in a band where the mares were close, but the two stallions were working out dominance. While no one reported seeing her foal it is likely she lost hers that year.

Jacinta was in a band where the mares were close, but the two stallions were working out dominance. While no one reported seeing her foal it is likely she lost hers that year.

I’m obviously not saying the horses give us nothing to worry about. They do a lot, and it’s always hard when a beloved horse goes missing. However, as I’ve been trying to reiterate throughout this post is there’s more than just one component of wild horses’ lives. Also, considering they’ve been living in the wild for generations, for every bad thing that might happen, there are probably many more ways they are adapted to overcome those obstacles. Maybe I’m naive, but if a horse is healthy, I don’t really see the point in worrying about all the bad things that could happen. Personally, if I’m constantly worrying about the horses, it distracts from all the positive things about them, but I could be wrong.

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2 Comments »

  1. Joy Vancos Said:

    I am in total agreement with you…

  2. Clarissa Said:

    An excellent way to put it 🙂 It is a concern, but they have done it before and have succeeded.


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