Pennsylvania's Walnut Green Thoroughbred operation needed a little help, so office manager Grace Meagher launched the Foal Futzers program. Photos by Anne Litz.
While light-hearted in name and nature, the idea is to make sure foals born on the farm are handled, checked on and otherwise associating with humans. With the farm staff tackling sales prep and other yearling work, a squad of volunteers took up the job. The team includes Jen Eccleston, a pre-vet student at the University of Delaware; Corinne Militana, an animal science major at Delaware Valley College; and high school students Melanie Anderson and Haley Sweet. Each became a devoted caretaker with a new connection to the Thoroughbred industry.
Grace Meagher is the ringleader. She grew up eventing in Massachusetts before graduating from the University of Delaware in 2008 with a degree in Animal Science. While at UD, she interned with Dr. Thomas Bowman, who introduced her to the Reids. Since being hired in October 2008, Grace has been involved in all facets of the farm from foaling and attending sales, to scheduling veterinary appointments and record keeping. Now, she has moved into the office full time and has taken over all office operations.
Mark Reid, owner of Walnut Green, lends his expertise and skills to the students as well, teaching them how to take a temperature, how to handle a foal on the ground, how to respect the atheletes they will become. Working with the foals throughout the summer taught these students more than anyone ever could in a classroom. Experience is everything, and to Jen Eccleston, who had no interest in the Thoroughbred industry previously, it changed her entire perspective. According to Jen, she "Just fell in love with it (Thoroughbred world)" this summer.
Jen, who is alread having separation anxiety as foal futzing season comes to an end, says she learned patience while working with the foals. "You cannot just go up to every foal and touch and handle them as you would like. You have to be patient. Sometimes I would have to sit in the field for 20 minutes and wait for that stubborn foal to come up to me. But when they did, it was very rewarding." Jen will graduate with a pre-vet degree from the University of Delaware this spring.
Melanie Anderson is a student at Technical College High School, Brandywine Campus, aiming for a Veterinary Science degree. This is her first experience with both Thoroughbreds and foals, but she's caught the bug.
A field trip with Future Farmers of America brought Corinne Militana to Walnut Green initially, and from there she made the connection to Grace. While she's ridden horses throughout her life, this was her first exposure to Thoroughbreds. On her experience, Corinne said, "Babies have good and bad days and none are the same, each has its own thing going on." She learned to pay attention to cues from the foals on what kind of day they were having.
Haley Sweet, 17, is a senior at Avon Grove High School who rides dressage and owns her own off-the-track Thoroughbred. Her focus in the future will be a degree in Animal Science, maybe with a minor in foal whispering.
It just takes a few minutes with a foal, or a racehorse, or a track pony, or a broodmare, or an off-the-track Thoroughbred, to feel like you're part of this industry. These students had an entire summer, and all plan to keep tabs on their foals throughout their careers. What if there were more programs like this, exposing young students with the interest and the intelligence to provide some basic care and in return, we gain a lifetime Thoroughbred fan? We know, it's scary to let new people onto your farm, your pride and joy, your livelihood. Just maybe though, it's worth it.