Yearling Sales

By Wendy Talbot on 14 March 2017

Preparing the Thoroughbred for yearling sales: what goes on behind the scenes?

Thoroughbred yearling sales are big business, with some of the most finely bred stock changing hands at internationally renowned sales such as Tattersalls or Goffs for hundreds of thousands of pounds, hopefully destined for successful careers in racing. Preparation of these youngsters involves hard work, dedication and experience to ensure they are presented in the best health and fitness. 

We take a look at how the professionals do it and how we might be able to benefit from their expertise when it comes to producing your own youngsters.

Caring for the pregnant mare

At a professional stud, careful preparation begins with the in-foal mare. As she reaches the later stages of her pregnancy, she is separated from all other classes of stock on the property and moved to the foaling facility, usually around a month before her due date. 

Brood mares are kept up-to-date with vaccinations to ensure they have the highest levels of immunity. Foaling facilities should be clean and spacious to provide an airy, healthy environment. Many diseases are associated with organic matter, such as faeces and urine, so before and after each foaling the stables are usually emptied, fixtures and fittings such as hay racks and feeders removed and absolutely everywhere is wet-scrubbed with detergent and then disinfected. Ideally mares are wormed at this stage to reduce pasture burdens with a wormer licensed for use in pregnancy.

New-born foals

At most big studs the new-born foal and its mother will be examined by a vet within 24 hours of being born. The placenta is inspected as it can indicate disease in the foal and a blood test is taken to check immunogobulin status, which indicates the amount of colostrum the foal has ingested. As soon as the foal is born the mare’s udder, perineum and the inside of her hindlegs are washed to reduce disease transmission to the foal whilst suckling. The foal’s navel will be routinely sprayed with a 0.5% solution of chlorhexidine. 

Growing up

Mares with foals at foot are usually kept in groups at a big stud. Ideally, the foals in each herd are within a few weeks of age of one another, which means they will have the same healthcare and management requirements and will also benefit from socialising with their own age group. Their limbs and feet are routinely assessed by the farrier and the vet to make sure growth and balance are correct. 

Herd health

Timely vaccinations and worming are crucial for good health and optimum development rates of foals and youngsters.  Worming commences from around two months with appropriately licensed wormers and vaccinations at six months, for influenza, tetanus and EHV 1&4. 

EHV protection 

EHV is one of the most common infectious respiratory threats and can be particularly serious for foals and youngsters.

EHV is transmitted from horse to horse through the respiratory tract, by inhalation of the viral particles shed by infected horses. Vaccination can play a pivotal role in helping to minimise the severity of the disease itself and, importantly, will also help to reduce the amount of infective virus that is shed to other in-contact horses. It is important always to consider all the horses as a herd - they are better protected by the health of the herd than as individuals.

Worm control

Foals and youngsters, with their limited immunity can be especially vulnerable to large worm infestations, which can, at worst be fatal and at best slow growth and compromise good health. Foals at a big stud are ideally wormed from around two months of age and the mares are monitored using faecal worm egg counts then treated accordingly to prevent re-infection of the pasture. Keeping grazing as clean as possible also helps to minimise the worm challenge.


Youngsters destined for the yearling sales are fed to maximise growth but with without exacerbating the risk of developmental skeletal problems such as osteochondrosis, flexural deformities and physitis. Constant access to roughage, in the form of hay, haylage or grass helps to maintain a healthy, well-functioning gut while supplementary feeding provides vitamins and minerals to counter any shortfalls in the pasture.

A well-produced yearling is not only likely to fetch a better price at the specialist Thoroughbred sales but it is also an asset and a flagship for any stud. Most important though is that it has been given a first class start to life, which will give it the best chance of a healthy and useful future.

(Box out)

Producing a healthy youngster:

  • If you are buying a foal from a stud ensure the mare is in optimum health and that the premises are well-managed
  • Ask about worming and vaccination protocols for both the foal and the mare
  • Consider vaccination for EHV, especially if the course has already been started at the stud and particularly if you plan to show or compete the horse as a youngster
  • Ensure good, regular farriery to maintain good balance and correct development as your youngster grows
  • Consider your youngster’s environment – make sure the health of the herd is managed properly to minimise disease threat, particularly while he or she has limited immunity
  • Make sure your youngster has constant access to forage and is supplied with the correct balance of vitamins and minerals



Wendy graduated from Bristol University in 1999. She then went on to complete a residency at Liverpool University and holds a European Diploma in Equine Internal Medicine. After working in practice for 13 years, she joined Zoetis in 2012 as the National Equine Veterinary Manager.

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