top of page

Orphan FOal ProjecT

Providing homes for the youngest and most vulnerable equines 


When one thinks of an orphan, one often imagines a situation where the parents have passed away, leaving the youngster to the care of an orphanage and hopefully adoption.  Sadly, the story of the orphan foals Lucky Horse works with is not as innocent, and is both complicated and heartbreaking. To understand the predicament of these foals, one must be introduced to the business of nurse mares. 

A nurse mare is a fertile mare of any breed that is bred every year for the sole purpose of forcing her to produce milk. The foal she ends up nursing, however, is NOT the foal that she has just given birth to, nor does her foal benefit from its own mother’s milk.


Shortly after she gives birth, the nurse mare, without her newborn by her side, is transported to a stable that has a much more valuable foal in residence that needs the nurse mare’s milk. Why? Sometimes a valuable mare has died and her potentially valuable foal needs a wet nurse in order to survive. More often, however, it is because that foal’s mother (most often an expensive thoroughbred) isn’t able to continue nursing her own foal. She is being shipped off as quickly as possible (usually 7-10 days after giving birth) to be bred again to an impressively credentialed stallion so she can produce yet another valuable foal for the prestigious breeding farm. When she goes off to be bred, she can’t take her own baby because it’s too risky and too costly to send her fancy foal along. So the imported nurse mare takes over its care.  

Two mares, separated from their fragile newborns.
One foal will be given every advantage to thrive. The other’s fate is uncertain at best. 

The nurse mare’s newborn foal is taken away from her within a few days or a few weeks of its birth. Since nurse mare foals are viewed as merely a means to an end, they have no value to the nurse mare farm beyond the price per pound. A few reputable nurse mare farms find homes for their foals, but that level of compassion is rare. Without intervention, from Lucky Horse Equine Rescue and others like it, most nurse mare foals are discarded, left to die, or dumped at auction, which means almost certain death.  

Enter LUcky Horse Equine rescue

In the hopes of rescuing as many orphan nurse mare foals as possible, Lucky Horse works with selected nurse mare farms that have agreed to keep their doors open to us. These obliging farms allow us to evaluate their nurse mares and have assured us that the nurse mare foals will stay with their mothers for their first week of life (which doesn’t sound like much but is better than the usual 1-2 days). They receive “snap tests” to be sure they are healthy enough to wean, after which they are weaned in pairs to reduce the stress.

In the spring, on a space-and-resource-available basis, we make several trips to nurse mare farms to retrieve these still vulnerable, downy-haired, and wobbly-legged foals. While we do “rescue” these fragile babies, they are not free. We must purchase the foals, procure health certificates, transport them to Bolton, Massachusetts, assign our volunteers to round-the-clock shifts to feed them milk formula, and provide veterinary care and medications.  It is a long and complicated process to get these babies safely to Lucky Horse, and then to care for them until the right adoptive family comes along. 

Please Note: Due to the existing legislation in the state of Massachusetts, we are currently unable to rescue any additional nurse mare foals. We are very lucky to have some compassionate state representatives working to help change these laws to allow for the importation of these foals into the state, but until then the Orphan Foal Project is currently on hold.  Please contact us if you have any questions about how to get involved.

Update: Success! Due to the tireless efforts of Lukly horse rescue and representative Kate Hogan, the laws have been changed to allow the foal project to begin again next year. Stay tuned!!!!


Jimmy's Story

This very special little foal came to us as a nursemare orphan in 2010. While the rest of his crew seemed to take to their new home well, Jimmy refused to eat and suffered from serious health complications as a result. Backstretch Vet, Century Mill, and a large crew of very dedicated LHER volunteers worked literally around the clock to save this baby. He was tube fed every 2 hours, 24 hours a day, and after several long weeks his strength began to return. After that, there was no stopping him! He grew and his personality really began to shine. Mikayla C. adopted him and renamed him Colby. He is now a perfectly healthy and rambunctious 2 year old! LHER is so proud to have been able to save this special horse's life, and is thankful to all the volunteers, sponsors, and his adoptive family for everything they have put into giving him the best possible life after the worst possible start.

bottom of page