I have experienced the sadness of the nurse mare industry first hand while living in Lexington, KY. There I worked at a well known equine hospital, a large thoroughbred operation and several thoroughbred auctions. I have helped other rescues and myself have rescued nurse mare foals and other equines since 2000.
Nurse mare foals are born to mothers that are bred solely for milk production. Mares of different breeds but many times larger breeds such as drafts are bred by nurse mare farmers. After foaling, the mares are leased to a farm, typically a farm involved with the various race industries. They become a mother for a more "expensive" foal. Their biological foals were historically left to die, killed or were slaughter bound. Have you heard of pony leather or pony skin? Foals are also skinned and their hides used for high end leather products. Many times, during the time the mare is leased, the "expensive foals" farm is required to get the mare back in foal. This is why the foals usually are mixed breeds and unable to be registered, because they will breed back to whatever is available, even the teaser stallion horses or ponies. So the nurse mare farmers make a profit on leasing the mare and then also get the bare bred back for free which in turn brings him the same money next year.
Many of the nurse mares I have seen were not properly cared for. They rarely saw a farrier, had unkept coats and were underweight. Some of the farmers attempted to care for the nurse mare foals. Their conditions were not any better. At one farm I picked up a 6 week old foal that was locked up by himself in a dark stall with manure a foot deep and a bucket of human milk that he filled up once every 24 hours. There was no water and the foal had a fungal infection and hair loss. A couple other foals were acquired at auctions. An auction is no place for a couple day old foal to be. Some of these were vibrant and others were near death. Of course, not all nurse mare farms are like this. There are some that raise purebred registered foals that are well taken care of along with the mares, but these are few and far between because this is indeed an industry. These horses are not pets, they are material objects as are most of the racing industry.
There are many reasons for the leasing of nurse mares but the most popular is because the thoroughbred must be bred back shortly after her foal is born and cannot be artificially inseminated. They must be bred live cover. For insurance and other reasons, foals are not allowed to go to the breeding shed. This is when a nurse mare comes in to take over. Other reasons include; mares not accepting foals or the mares may die during or after delivery. Keep in mind horses in the race industry are bred very young, very old, when they are lame, etc. It is all about money, not the welfare of the horse.
You wouldn't think that there would be the need for that many nurse mares but think about the thousands upon thousands of mares that are bred just for the race industries every year. Then think about the thousands of nurse mares that need to support them. Then there is the foaling year after year after year of all these unwanted foals. Some nurse mare farms produce 50-100 foals per year. There are hundreds of these farms out there.
Over the last couple of years, awareness of this industry has increased and there are more rescues than ever devoted to these helpless foals but this is not enough. Overbreeding of all horses in general has become an issue recently. With the closing of all of the slaughter plants in the US, we are about to see more abuse and neglect than ever before. Horse rescues alone cannot support all of the nurse mare foals not to mention the pmu foals, retired racers, those that never made it in the race industry and all of the poor quality horses bred by backyard breeders trying to make a quick buck. The worst part of this industry is that nothing is government regulated. The pmu industry is regulated by the government but that is not to say things are done properly there either. They at least have policies and guidelines in effect and inspections.
So please when you think about buying or breeding a horse, ADOPT. Don't breed, don't support or buy from breeders, RESCUE! There are so many different colors, types and breeds available. There is sure to be one for you. Not to mention the joys and bonds of raising an orphan foal. They are the best horses I have ever owned and the easiest to train because they are so willing to please. I have not experienced any socialization issues with mine that many claim orphans have. Though proper training is key.
Listed below are websites of other nurse mare foal rescues many that have foals available year round. Some only have foals available in the spring. Please contact me or one of these rescues to adopt or to help in any way. Also please read about the pmu foals.
Dream Equine Therapy Center