The winter mixed auctions that take place early in the year don't offer the best of the breeding stock, which usually is sold in the fall. But one fun thing about them is the opportunity to see some tiny little foals by their dams' sides. Whenever a mare and her offspring go through the sale ring, you can hear people going, "AAAwwww, how cute!" and often the auctioneer has an amusing comment about the situation.
At Keeneland this past January, one foal was so young that it was carried part of the way to the sale pavilion and when it was waiting to be sold, it would occasionally lie down for a rest while an attendant kept a close watch on it. The foal, which had been born the night before and was only hours old, didn't look unhappy, it just didn't have a lot of stamina, and both mare and foal since have been reported to be doing well, according to Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell.
But I wondered if it was necessary for the mare and foal together or the foal to make the trip to the sale sale ring. At one European auction earlier this year, mares that were due to foal remained at their farm and were offered in absentia.
Russell said he had never been asked by a consignor if the company could sell a mare and foal without them being present in the sale ring. But in his opinion, the mare and foal should remain together at all times - either both go to the sale ring or both remain in their stall while being offered.
"I don't think you should separate a mare and her foal at that early stage because of the stress," he said. "You wouldn't want to be separated from your mommy within 12 hours being born. If the foal isn't strong enough to come to the sale ring or the mare had complications foaling and she was too weak to come to the sale ring, we would announce that the mare had foaled whenever she had foaled and that we were selling them (the mare and foal) in absentia."
Keeneland has a screen above the sale ring on which videos can be shown, and Geoffrey said it might be possible to play a video of a mare and foal being offered in absentia if there was enough time available to put such a presentation together.
Legacy Bloodstock's Mark Toothaker agreed with Russell that a mare and foal should remain together in a sale situation.
Separating them "would stress the fire out of them," Toothaker said. "When you wean them, they (the mare and foal) throw a fit, so I can just imagine how stressful it (separating them) would be with a newborn involved. Even if you had an attendant in the stall with the foal, it would still be very, very stressful. I don't mind (taking a mare and foal to the sale ring) if you have a big, strong boy who can carry the foal so it doesn't have to walk as much. I know the little one is going to be much happier because he wants to be with his mama."
With his own mares, Toothaker said, "I probably wouldn't put one in the sale in the first place if I knew she was going to be right on top of foaling."
However, in dispersal situations or times of great financial need on the part of the owner, selling a mare pregnant on an early cover might be difficult to avoid. Also, because some foals arrive early, an at-the-sale birth can sometimes come as a surprise.