Nurse mare foals called dirty secret of the thoroughbred racing - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Nurse mare foals called dirty secret of the thoroughbred racing world

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ATHENS, Ohio -

This weekend, horse racing fans watched the third and final race of the Triple Crown -- the Belmont Stakes.

But local horse rescue groups say before fans gather around the track they should know about what they call the dirty little secret of the thoroughbred racing industry. We spent several weeks on this investigation, following two orphaned foals as they fight for their life. 
 
At an auction in Kentucky back in May, volunteers with the Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue in West Virginia, stepped in when they found out that for the second time in matter of weeks, two foals, just days old were being sold at auction. 

The foals were alone, with no mother. The group bought them for $100 each. A volunteer from the group recorded her conversation with the person who sold the foals. She provided it to 13 News.

"How old are they?" asked the volunteer. "Six and 8 days, if I'm not mistaken."

The foals were not orphaned because their mother's died. They are products of the nurse mare industry.

"A nurse mare foal is a foal that is born so that it's mother can become a nurse mare," explained Victoria Goss, the founder of the Last Chance Corral, which provides a safe haven for nurse mare foals.  "When the mare has her foal she comes into milk and then she is leased out to raise shall we say a more lucrative baby."

The more lucrative babies are more often than not thoroughbred foals.

"It is not something that the thoroughbred industry is very proud of," Goss said.

The foals are left behind when their mothers are leased out for up to $2,000 a year to Thoroughbred breeders, so the thoroughbred mares can be re-bred immediately.

Sherri Adams was at the auction the night that two of the foals were rescued. She offered to take them to her barn in Putnam County to bottle feed them for the night. 
 
"They were licking on each other and looking for a source of food," Adams explained. "It was pretty hard to see because they don't understand. They don't understand that they were created for money."

Adams said the foals are now depending on people for a chance at life.

"Without help from their moms or human moms they are going to die," Adams said.  

After a long night of bottle feeding the two foals were transferred to the Last Chance Corral in Athens, Ohio.

"In order to stabilize them here we'll have IVs, feeding tubes, blood transfusions," Goss said, regarding many of the foals that come to her farm. She has been rescuing nurse mare foals for decades.

"When I go to the farms and they tell me they've got a free baby for me I know it is one that is probably close to death," Goss said. "But, I will take it and try because sometimes we pull those through."

Close to 150 foals come through the Last Chance Corral every year.  But those who rescue the young horses say for every happy ending there are other foals who meet a tragic fate.

"All of these delicate young lives that are being born simply to die, it's criminal," Goss said. "I don't care if it is legal it is criminal."

According to a statement provided to 13 News by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, state regulations do not prohibit foals from being separated from their mothers and sold.

"At least don't send these babies to auction," said Tinia Creamer, with Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue. Give them a real chance and let them go straight off the farm and into a rescue."

Creamer had also been caring for two other foals rescued from the same auction a few weeks earlier.

"It's not just the auction owners. It is not just the nurse mare breeders. It is the industry that perpetuates it in my opinion," Creamer said.

We contacted some of the nurse mare breeders as well.

"We just have a few mares and we try to take care of them and treat them good," said Ted Dwenger, who has been in the nurse mare business for 25 years.

He said the foals that are born as a result of the business are not mistreated.

"They stay on their mothers until we send their mothers out and then we usually sell them or give them to somebody that would take them and raise them," Dwenger said. "They turn out to be some heck of a good horses."

Dwenger said he and other nurse mare providers are just trying to earn a living and supply a demand from the thoroughbred industry.

Rescuers like Victoria Goss say the fact that the thoroughbred industry requires a mare to go to the stallion to be bred creates a need for nurse mares, because the thoroughbred foals can't travel with her. They say if artificial insemination were allowed, the thoroughbred foals would not need the services of a nurse mare.

We contacted the Jockey Club, which is the breed registry for thoroughbred horses in the United States. They say it is their belief that the welfare of the sport and the breed are best served by the current rules that prohibit artificial insemination.

One of the foals we profiled for this story almost didn't survive. Victoria Goss said it was very sick, but eventually pulled through and was adopted. The other foal was still available for adoption at the Last Chance Corral. 

As she watches the foals thrive in her care, Goss said she is hoping to continue making a difference one life at a time.

"They are meaningless to people," Goss said. "But they mean more than that to me."

The International Fund for Horses and the American Horse Defense Fund both have strong positions against the widespread use of nurse mares in the racing industry.