A newborn foal being born on the New Forest National Park is what makes living in this lovely area very special. I didn't realize that my friend Joyce and myself would become New Forest pony midwives!
Update: we've bought him to stop him going for slaughter like so many of the young colts (boys) each year on the New Forest National Park. Also because we like him!
Just to warn you if you're reading with younger visitors the photos do go through the whole birth from start to finish so you may want to scan through them first?
Yes, it was a truly memorable experience to see a New Forest pony have a newborn foal right in front of us. We both feel we know much more now about this midwife role and next time wont be quite so scared or worried that all was going well.
I'm going to share with you just some of the photos I managed to take whilst this newborn foal was being born and give very brief descriptions of what and why things were happening all around us.
It was a fascinating experience for both of us and when we eventually left after over 2 hours to go home we were both tired and strangely very, very hungry - nervous energy and emotion I suppose?
One of the reasons I love living here (and sharing this wonderful experience with you!) is being able to study animal behaviour, often from right outside my window or door. This experience was even closer to hand, but I came away with a much greater insight into the New Forest ponies and how they interact with each other.
What was going on here was something that the New Forest ponies take in their stride every year - they have to. Apart from the actual birth process, I was able to see just how curious all other members of the herd were to see, smell and investigate this eventual birth.
As you can see by this photo, the New Forest foal survived the birth, having legs wrapped in all directions, being unable to stand, not knowing which end of mum to suckle and a cold night, to look as fit and healthy as this!
This is how I first found the mare when out on what should have been a relaxing New Forest walk. She was stressed and in discomfort and kept lying down then immediately getting up again.
At this stage she was getting quite stressed and I was concerned that the little leg and part of the head you can see in this photo may be damaged.
The newborn foal process was slowly starting to bring her a bit more relief. She should have ideally been standing to allow gravity to play a part. As you can see the head is now more clear which is good news as it meant there was no danger of breaching. At one stage the sac was tightly over the nostrils and that also concerned me.
The newborn foal process is going much better now!
The next worry. Usually New Forest ponies and also New Forest cows and donkeys go off to a secluded part of the forest to give birth. They don't do it in the middle of the herd who are grazing all around. This gelding (male castrated) pony was keen to investigate. As he approached I was very worried that he could so easily harm the little foal, who at this stage wasn't even fully delivered - his back legs were still in mum.
The New Forest pony mare (mum) is much more relaxed now and having a rest. Another onlooker has come up to see what is happening. During this time there were a few tussles going on as many ponies wanted to see what was happening although the herd hierarchy thought differently. The newborn foal remained safe in the heathland wondering how many legs it had and how they all worked!
Getting the newborn foal to this stage took quite a long time. I said to Joyce who was with me, thank heavens there are no natural predators on the New Forest now - I was thinking of the wolves I'd seen at the New Forest Wildlife Park. They would have found this little chap very quickly. When I visited they had unnerved me and I was behind a fence!
The newborn foal is encouraged to get up by gentle prompting by mum. We had become a bit worried both by its breathing and also lack of energy before this photo was taken. It had collapsed in the grass but was just recuperating its strength for the next big hurdle - getting up on those long, gangly legs.
How do these legs work??
As you can see it wasn't an easy thing to master for this little chap. We were worried that because the New Forest mare had been thrashing about so much and had at one time had her backside wedged up against the heathland mounds on the forest, that a leg may have been damaged. We waited to see all 4 legs were working.
At last! All 4 legs work and although balance was an issue and with lots of rocking back and forwards - success!
Progress is being made but believe it or not it took over 45 minutes for this little New Forest foal to find the source of milk. This included a futile attempt at trying to suckle from her sister who had come along to investigate what was going on. You can see that the birth is complete as the birth sac has at last come away from the mare and is on the ground. This was another source of curiosity from all the surrounding ponies.
Can you see why at times we were concerned? Luckily it turned out to be harmless curiosity.
Here is our newborn foal the next day. I took this photo barely 16 hours after the birth. He has grown and strengthened and now looks like a healthy, steady little chap.
This newborn foal is now a member of a herd on the New Forest National Park. As I see him out and about I'll update you with photos of him, after all that's why I love living in the beautiful New Forest surrounded by New Forest animals and wildlife.
As a fully fledged midwife(?) just a word of warning. New Forest mares are protective of their foals and so please don't ever go too close. We knew all these ponies and even owned a couple of them and so made sure we didn't endanger ourselves or them.
This time of year is also when animal accidents happen to newborn foals so please take care. They love to run around with joy and speed at times but have no idea about cars or roads so please always slow right down. Many thanks and I hope you enjoy this very special time of newborn foals and other animals in the New Forest National Park.