Putting foals under pressure

By Connie Orcutt • Published: February 1st, 2016
Category: Animal Airwaves

Foals with maladjustment syndrome — or “dummy foals” — mystified horse owners and veterinarians for years. These foals look healthy but act dazed and confused, seemingly unable to recognize mom or the need to nurse. Most come around — but only after days of grueling intensive care.

So researchers studied the inner workings of horses to solve the mystery. Normally, a foal is calm in the womb because it produces natural sedatives called neurosteroids [neuro-steroids]. During birth, pressure from the mare signals the foal to stop producing these sedatives so it can be born on full alert.

But persistent neurosteroids in dummy foals keep them zoned out, so they need more pressure. To this end, one researcher has utilized a soft rope harness over the foal’s chest for about 20 minutes. When the rope is removed, most foals get up, nurse from mom and never look back.