The Mare and Foal Sanctuary has discovered that a Welsh moorland mare it rescued before Christmas was carrying a very special gift.

‘Nia’ was taken in by the charity with her filly foal ‘Netty’, who were part of a herd of 69 semi-feral Welsh Moorlands rescued from Merthyr Common in a joint operation involving several animal welfare organisations. Scant resources, fighting and unmonitored breeding on the Common had caused serious welfare concerns.

When the pair arrived at the sanctuary in Devon, the team invited its supporters to choose their names. Nia and Netty were selected from hundreds of entries in an online competition last December.

At the time, the Sanctuary Care team looking after her didn’t know that Nia was in the early stages of pregnancy. Recent tests have confirmed that she’s likely to foal in late summer or early autumn.

Netty and Nia have settled well at the Newton Abbot sanctuary since their rescue. It’s thought Nia is about four years old.

Despite the name of the charity, sanctuary births don’t happen frequently, as Head of Sanctuary Care Sally Burton explained.

“You might think a charity called “The Mare and Foal Sanctuary” would be the place to find lots of foals, but the birth of one here is quite a big deal for us,” she said. “We have a strict non-breeding policy to reduce the number of unwanted horses, so all colts, when trained and ready for treatment, are castrated at the sanctuary.

“Rescued foals sometimes arrive needing our specialist care. But only if a mare is in foal before being brought here will births happen at the sanctuary, and that’s what has happened in this case. Nia ran unrestricted on the Welsh commons, gave birth to Netty, and we estimate she became pregnant again shortly after the birth.

“The good news is that Nia is getting the very best care now at our peaceful Beech Trees Veterinary and Welfare Assessment Centre in Newton Abbot. We have a well-rehearsed ‘foal-watch’ procedure where a team of carers will monitor her carefully to make sure she has everything she needs for a healthy and successful pregnancy and delivery.”

Horse Care Team Member Kayleigh Bull has handler-responsibility for Nia and says the whole Sanctuary team is ‘buzzing’ about the news of Nia being in foal.

“We’re all trying to estimate when it’ll happen, and September seems to be the popular choice,” she said. “Equines are pregnant for about 11 months, so we think Nia gave birth to Netty and was covered very soon after.

“When Nia and Netty first arrived, we gave them time and space to adjust to their new surroundings. They settled in well and have both responded fantastically to handling and training. Nia is an absolute dream to work with. She’s calm and confident, has lots of character, responds well to attention and affection and is a great mother to Netty. She’s been so caring towards Netty but will also firmly tell her when she’s doing something wrong. It’s lovely for us to watch and I can’t wait to see Nia with a brand new foal.

“Another mare and foal, Dartmoor ponies Chandrani and Chandler, came to the sanctuary in at around the same time and we gradually introduced them. They share a field now and seem to enjoy the companionship. Chandler and Netty have been playing, growing and learning together and Nia and Chandrani both seem very settled and calm watching over them.

“As a team we’re making sure that Nia is getting regular vet checks and all the nutrients and vitamins she needs for a healthy pregnancy. When she’s ready to give birth, we’ll monitor her around-the-clock and have staff on-site overnight watching our field webcams for any birthing signs because nearly all equine deliveries happen at night. Being outdoors is the most natural environment for ponies, so the field she knows best is where Nia will feel most comfortable and stress-free giving birth.

“If everything goes smoothly and Nia is comfortable, we hope to catch it all live on webcam and give our supporters the chance to see the whole event as it happens. We want everyone to feel part of this special journey for Nia and understand a little more about equine care. I just hope it’ll be me on shift that night because I’ve never been present for a birth before and would hate to miss Nia’s!”

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