Sick feral foals recover thanks to dedicated team effort

The six weanlings, rescued from auction, received vital emergency care at Marion DuPont Scott EMC

Six weanling foals were transported last year to the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center (EMC) in Leesburg, Virginia, for emergency evaluation and treatment after being purchased at an auction by Colby’s Crew Rescue, based in Keswick, Virginia. 

Treating a sick foal is a challenge in itself, but when foals arrive one after the other in quick succession and are completely unhandled and feral, it adds a whole different level of complexity.

Fearful and in poor health

These feral foals are the offspring of formerly domesticated animals that had either escaped from or been set free by their owners. They had been held at a slaughter holding facility before being offered at auction, an experience that left them fearful and suffering from numerous life-threatening health issues.

Veterinary professional with two foals.
Megan Marchitello, clinical instructor of equine medicine, with two of the weanling foals
Photo courtesy of Marchitello/V-MCVM website

The first two foals to arrive at the EMC, which is a teaching hospital of the Virginia-Maryland College Veterinary Medicine, were referred by Gary Kubala of Littlestown Veterinary Hospital in Littlestown, Pennsylvania.  

Janice, a 3- to 4-month-old filly, was suffering from bronchopneumonia and an umbilical hernia. Morocco, a 4- to 5-month-old filly, had swelling on her left hind limb and other minor scrapes and scratches, as well as a disfigured right ear tip, thought to have been caused by frostbite. Morocco also showed signs of facial trauma. 

As they were recently pulled from an auction, the foals were taken directly to the isolation barn due to the likelihood of exposure to several highly infectious diseases. 

Two by two

The remaining four as yet unnamed 3- to 4-month-old foals arrived soon after, all suffering from bronchopneumonia and superficial wounds; one also had the added complication of an orthopedic issue. To reduce their stress and promote their emotional well-being, the four foals were placed in isolation stalls in pairs.

The foals were initially received for emergency treatment by Krista Estell, DVM ’09, clinical associate professor of equine medicine, and transferred into the care of Elizabeth MacDonald, M.S. ’15, clinical instructor of equine medicine, for continued care.

The entire EMC medicine team worked together to ensure that these fragile patients received the best care possible.

Special handling

It became apparent early on that EMC staff would need to spend time each day handling the foals to make treatment less stressful for them and create a positive interaction with humans. During their extended period of treatment, staff worked on general handling, picking up their feet and leading. 

“The care and compassion that the weanlings received from EMC staff during their treatment and the dedication of their owners gave them the best opportunity for making a full recovery,” MacDonald said.

Once stabilized, the foals continued their recovery at Always There Horse Care in Haymarket, Virginia, under the care of licensed veterinary technician Malena Brisbois. “Each goodbye was bittersweet, but knowing we contributed to their remarkable turnaround made every effort worthwhile,” Brisbois remarked.

Janice’s surgery

After a couple of months, with her pneumonia resolved and her general health and body condition improved, Janice returned to the EMC for surgical repair of her umbilical hernia. 

Sophie Boorman, clinical assistant professor of equine surgery, repaired the hernia under general anesthesia. Due to Janice’s history of pneumonia, she was carefully evaluated prior to surgery to ensure that she was healthy enough to safely go through the surgical procedure.  

Repairing Janice’s umbilical hernia now will reduce the risk of the intestines slipping into the hernia and getting stuck, which can lead to colic. 

Partnerships work

The partnership between the EMC, Colby’s Crew Rescue and Always There Horse Care highlights the remarkable outcomes possible when skilled medical expertise is combined with compassionate, dedicated care.  

The EMC was uniquely equipped and staffed to successfully treat all six of these weanling foals for a myriad of injuries and illnesses. Their successful treatment involved both the medicine and surgical teams and the dedicated support of all of the EMC clinical staff. 


Adapted from a news release written by Sharon Peart for the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Landing page image courtesy of Megan Marchitello/V-MCVM website

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