As Winter turns to Spring, signs of new life are evident on the Kylemore Estate. Buds are starting to appear on the trees and daffodil stems are beginning to peep through the soil. Spring is a season of new life and hope. We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of our Connemara foals in a couple of months. This year four of our mares are expecting foals.
While Kylemore Abbey has been closed to the public, we have been busy taking care of our beautiful Connemara ponies. It is important during the Winter months to ensure our mares are well looked after to give them every chance of delivering a healthy foal. All the broodmares at Kylemore live out for the Winter. As the nutrients in the grass decline in the Winter, our mares’ diets are supplemented with haylage, which is made here on the Estate, and some hard feed. The hard feed provides the necessary minerals to aid the development of the foal before it is born. Our mares are fed and checked twice a day.
Connemara is where the Connemara pony originated so these ponies are well equipped to deal with the harsh Winter weather experienced in the West of Ireland. They grow long hairy coats to protect their skin from the elements. The ponies also benefit from the shelter provided by the many trees on the Kylemore Estate. However, last years foals, who are now yearlings (all horses and ponies turn a year older on the 1st of January), are stabled for the duration of the Winter months in a big loose shed with a turnout yard for them to roam freely around. Having these young ponies stabled makes it easier for them to be handled daily and to learn to walk and trot on a lead. In another few weeks when the weather improves they will be let out full time to enjoy the Spring grass.
The long Winter evenings are traditionally when many Connemara pony breeders start to think about choosing a suitable stallion to mate their mares with in Springtime. Nowadays, thanks to the internet and social media it is so easy to carry out extensive research on stallions. At Kylemore we carefully select stallions to best compliment our mares. We hope these stallions will help fulfil our breeding objective of breeding true to type ponies that have the ability to compete at a high level.
As the days are getting longer, we look forward to the arrival of our foals. When the mares get closer to foaling they will be moved to the foaling paddocks to prevent any risk of injury to the mare or her foal. A closer eye will be kept on the mares due to foal. In the days before a mare foals her behaviour pattern will start to change. She will become increasingly restless and start swishing her tail and looking at her sides. Her udder will start to fill and as she comes closer to foaling wax like beads will form on the ends of her teats. This wax-like substance is the immune-supportive colostrum which is so important for the newborn foal. Careful monitoring of the mare will ensure none of these signs are missed.
This year, one of our mares and her foal will take up residence for a few months in Áras an Uachtarain as part of the Biodiversity scheme there. Hopefully, in our next pony blog we will be announcing the birth of some of our foals.
We look forward to welcoming you soon to Kylemore Abbey to meet our Connemara ponies and to experience our new Connemara Pony Trail where you will be able to learn more about our native pony breed.
Written by Niamh Philbin.