Even though there are several different industries that make up the whole of our farm, we are still by and large a maternity ward and nursery for thoroughbred horses. And with January through June being our foaling season, we’ve already begun to welcome our first foals of the year to the farm. We recently sat down with Hermitage’s Director of Equine Operations, Melissa Cozart, so she could tell us a little bit more about these young athletes and their prospective careers.
Feb. 16, 2022
How do you anticipate the birth of the foals?
About a month or two out from the due date, we’ll bring the mares [pregnant horses] up from the outer fields so we can monitor them more closely and look for signs of labor. I would say the most telling sign is prior to delivery, a mare will start to drip milk from her udders, and that’s usually a sign that within the next day or so you’ll have a foal. Once her water breaks, you’ve got a very short window before there’s a baby on the ground, about twenty minutes. Our veterinarians will take a look at them the next morning and make sure that all is as it should be, and then they’ll begin a normal day-to-day routine continuous throughout their time here.
How much time do the foals spend on our farm, and what does that time look like?
Our foals typically spend about 18 to 20 months on the farm, so if they’re born in January, come next summer we start preparing them for public auction. From a day-to-day basis they are outside as much as possible, because we try to keep them raised as naturally as possible. We don’t like to keep them in the stall any longer than we have to. This time of year our newborn foals are kept inside overnight until about May when the weather changes. Then once we make that switch they’re outside overnight for the rest of their time here.
What’s the process like when the foals go to auction?
Closer to the sale, we change their feeding program to include high protein and high fat feeds which will hopefully enhance their coat’s luster and muscle definition. And they start being bathed on an almost daily basis. It’s a baby step into their next career, so it weans them into what it will be like once they leave the farm. Then they go to a public sale in Lexington where someone will buy them and turn them into a racehorse. Some of our clients retain their foals for racing, so those might be here a little longer, but the ones that are sold still go into racing—they just aren’t raced by the people who bred them. And they could end up anywhere. Some of them stay in the United States. Some go to other countries. One of the horses that was born here is now running in Dubai. He’s raced in the US as well, but they sent him to Dubai for a series of races, and then he’ll come back to the States. It’s a very global industry.
Is there a certain number of foals you hope to have each year?
It depends on how many mares we have. A typical year we have between 30 and 32 foals. That’s the main way we generate income on a consistent basis, because our clients receive a monthly invoice for our care of their horses.
And those foals are considered the client’s because they own the mare?
Yes. They [the client] own the mare. The mothers reside here at the farm. The fathers, or stallions, are primarily in Lexington. We will send the mare over to Lexington when she’s ready to be bred. She’ll have her appointment, and then she’ll come back. And she’ll stay here until she delivers her foal the next year.
Do the foals born here ever come back when they’re older?
Occasionally they do. In some instances, we’ve had mares that have gone through their entire racing career and then come back here to become a broodmare. This begins their next career as a mother. We do have some of those generational type situations.
Can you tell us a little bit about how the foals are given their names?
Yes, naming is always fun. By the time the foals are about two, they should be given a registered name. As far as picking the name, it’s really up to the owner’s discretion. Some of them are very philosophical; some just pick one. [chuckles] There’s a horse named Gas Station Sushi, so I’d love to know what the story was behind that one. We’ve also had clients that take a part of the mother’s name and the father’s name and put them together, and they name all their horses like that. I would say that method is more common, because it gives you some type of connection to that lineage, but it’s really up to the horse’s current owners to decide.
How important is the lineage when it comes to the foals?
Outside of racing ability, that is the most important part. The more successful a racehorse, the more valuable their offspring will be. They often produce better athletes, and it makes them more valuable from a monetary standpoint. That’s why the breeding recommendations are so important—because you want the best chance to succeed at the racetrack.
Any last fun fact you’d like to share with our readers?
Temperamentally speaking, the foals range quite a bit. We have some that are very quiet and passive and some that are more assertive and dominant, especially out in the field—they do have a hierarchy in their herds. They start to show their own personality once they’re weaned, because at that point they don’t have their mother’s influence. Sometimes foals that were very passive or had very passive mothers instantly become the leader of their group, so it’s just like their own personality taking over. It’s really fun to see that switch.
We hope you found some surprising or interesting facts here, and if you’d like an in-person look at this process or a chance to meet some of these young racers yourself, be sure to sign up for one of our thoroughbred horse tours, offered Wednesday through Sunday.