While for most of us it seems like winter is just beginning, it is the start of spring in the eyes of the equine world as foaling season begins each January. Deep inside the Large Animal Clinic at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), students have the unique opportunity to be a part of this special time of year through the Foal Watch Program at OVC’s Health Sciences Centre.

From January to June, during the North American foaling season, OVC’s board certified surgeons and medical experts offer a unique blend of specialized equine services for clients in need of care for premature or critically ill neonatal foals while providing educational opportunities for students.

Students taking part in the Foal Watch Program gain valuable experience and exposure to clinical insight, diagnosis and resolution tactics that are required within intensive neonatal care for foals. Patients and owners receive access to expert medical care, plus the necessary 24-hour monitoring, attention and nursing that is critical during the first days of a young foal’s life.

On top of a wide array of other specialized Equine Sports Medicine & Reproduction Services (ESMRC), which are focused on quality of life and health care of equine athlete and/or breeding horses, OVC’s team of specialists offer foaling specific services such as: advanced reproductive diagnostic evaluation and services, ultrasound examination, fresh chilled or frozen semen artificial insemination, embryo transfer, fertility evaluation, pregnancy monitoring, delivery and, of course, Foal Watch services.

OVC takes a team-based medical approach, which is crucial in identifying, diagnosing and developing appropriate treatment plans on a case-by-case basis.

“Much of our work is with high-risk mares, and while the number of foals in Ontario has reduced, due to recent changes in the industry, there is still a strong local need for advanced care for ailing foals” says Dr. Daniel Kenney, Internal Medicine, OVC Large Animal Clinic.

“The Ontario Veterinary College offers top notch care for mares and foals. Our team of veterinary technicians, board certified reproductive, internal medicine, surgical, and anesthesia specialists, combined with the support of our graduate and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) students, and of course our volunteers, ensures we can create well supported, customized, comprehensive care plans that match individual animal and owner’s needs.”

Learning outcomes and experience for students and future students is also invaluable. The Foal Watch Program is made up of volunteers that include undergraduate students from across the University of Guelph and those that are already in the DVM program at the Ontario Veterinary College. It has even attracted the interest of high school students eager to join the team as well.

“This volunteer program is a great opportunity for our future vets to become familiar with the processes involved in delivering critical care and gives great exposure to the demands of working within the equine field itself” says Stephanie Nykamp, Associate Dean, Clinical Program.

Foal Watch is just one part of the broad range of experiential training, education and services OVC offers to support the equine industry.

“Although the horse racing industry has faced some major challenges over the past few years, horses, both racing and performance, continue to be a major economic driver within the province, particularly for our rural communities,” says Elizabeth Stone, Dean, Ontario Veterinary College.

“OVC will continue to play a critical role to support our local and provincial partners through offering cutting edge services to our clients and training to our future veterinarians – ensuring they have the necessary skills and knowledge to support the rejuvenation of our local industry.”

What Students Say:

“This will be my sixth year as a member of Foal Watch. I’ve held a variety of positions, from rookie to paid member to captain, and no matter where you’re at its hard not to get invested in the program. I often find myself wandering into the wards when I’m not scheduled, just to check on the foal and get updates on its progress! Though at this point, for me, it’s a paid position, it has never felt like ‘work’. I’m there, first and foremost, because I love learning about neonatal care and health as well as teaching the skills required to new members” says Megan Perron, OVC Class of 2016, and Future Veterinarian.

“Foal watch is a fantastic opportunity. As a member for the past three years I’ve had the privilege of gaining invaluable and unique insight into the care of neonatal foals and the functioning of OVC. You’d be hard pressed to find the same kind of hands on experience in this area at any other facility” says Emily Zakrajsek, 3rd year Animal Biology Major, University of Guelph, hopeful OVC Class of 2018 Candidate and Next Generation Large Animal Vet.

“This is my second year on foal watch. I joined because of my love of horses, and my passion for equine medicine. Foal watch has given me the opportunity to observe and work with veterinarians, technicians and students and I have learned a great deal with each new foal. This year I have the opportunity to assist in teaching the new students to foal watch about intensive care needs for neonatal foals which allows me to have a different perspective and develop a greater depth of my knowledge.” Says Megan Neely, 4th year of U of G, Bachelors of Science/Animal Biology student, , hopeful OVC Class of 2019 Candidate.

Quick Facts:

The Ontario Veterinary Large Animal Clinic offers:

• 24/7 emergency service including neo-natal intensive care
• Specialized facilities for infectious patients in our isolation unit
• Equine Cardiology
• Poor-performance evaluations including cardiac, respiratory and neurological analyses
• Team-based medicine involving collaboration with OVC specialty services as needed
• Elective and emergency (day and night) surgery service
• Specialist supervised intensive care
• Detailed lameness and poor performance evaluation and treatment.
• Soft tissue and Orthopedic surgery

For more information on Equine Sports Medicine & Reproduction Services (ESMRC) at OVC, click here. To learn more about the Foal Watch Program click here or find Foal Watch on Facebook.