The foals are arriving…
(Photos : Leigh Willson)
“…1st of August is the statutory birthday
of every member of the breed in the
We’ve never quite understood why the regulating authorities (or Jockey Club’s, as they are popularly known,) of the world decreed such unseasonal birthdates for thoroughbreds. The 1st of August is the statutory birthday of every member of the breed in the Southern Hemisphere, while the 1st January marks the occasion in the Northern Hemisphere. In nature, animals are programmed to calve or foal in the season of abundance, which is the time of warmth and usually moisture, the most conducive conditions for raising offspring. That means, in an environment such as that of the racehorse, foals in our part of the world should be landing in numbers in November, December and January. Man’s interventions demand that we start foaling around the 1st August, and if you live in Mooi River, you only have to look up from your desk to see a snow-laden Drakensberg in your back garden, and temperatures on your way to work that regularly read -3º or -4º C.
So we’ve had to devise ways and means of assisting in the process. Nature is a powerful intervener in herself, and has her own ways of upsetting the process, if you don’t take measures to massage her. We’re lucky in our region, because we have a generous environment and a wonderful climate, which ensures that, if you have the infrastructure, you can guarantee your mares an assimilation of conditions which is as close to spring as you can find. Summerhill has more than a 1000 acres under irrigation, and that ensures a bountiful stock of emerald green oats, ryegrass, fescue, cocksfoot and clover in a variety of forms, and we have our heating systems in our stable blocks to assist the mares in the belief that this is indeed, an appropriate time to deliver.
We have a busy season ahead, so it’s no surprise then that we already have six bonny youngsters on the ground. No, no Brave Tin Soldiers yet, as he only arrived well into September last year, and as a result, his first progeny are only anticipated in the third week of August. We have a team of 14 (including our night watch team) on foaling duty this year, headed up by the Broodmare Division’s Manager, Annet Becker, Ilze Schmidt, recently promoted Delani Mtshali, our seven students from the School Of Excellence (all accomplished in their own rights), Sam Thomson who comes to us from an endurance horse stud in Australia, as well as Izzy Obolensky from the UK. They’re as fresh as daisies at the moment, but “Black Monday at Black Rock” as it was known in the old days at the height of the season, comes on the 21st October (three months after people have been up and down several times at night catching the foals), and their eyes are out on stalks. That’s when the “happiness” acid test kicks in.
As a matter of interest, for those who are relatively new to what happens in the season, like their cousins in the wild, thoroughbreds foal the vast bulk of their progeny in the dark hours, and that has to do with the predator factor. Unlike human beings, animals are on their feet within hours of foaling (usually within 40 minutes, in the case of a racehorse), and so by the time we get to our morning meeting around 7am, the reports are already in, and the foals are in prancing mood.
It’s hard to beat life at Summerhill from now thru’ December. This is the season of expectation, when the fruits of our plans come together. Do yourself a favour. Come and see us, but if you can’t, go to our Facebook page and keep up with the team.