When Carlene Barton was forced to euthanise her young mare, Ally, she had no time to dwell on how devastated she felt. Moments before Ally's death, the mare had given birth to a foal who urgently needed a foster mum.
'It was absolutely devastating... They are not only our business, they are our lives. Our horses are everything to us," Ms Barton said.
"She was in a pretty bad way. There was always a chance we were going to have an orphan foal. She had a very complicated delivery. We had to put her down pretty much straight after the foal was born.
"We thought we would come out of it unscathed but with animals you never know."
Despite the complications that had emerged in the final stages of Ally's pregnancy, her owner had hoped she would survive. But when the difficult birth exacerbated things, Ally was put to sleep before her foal could even get her first drink.
Then, in the early of hours of the morning, the new-born filly - named Athena - was hurried to Central West Equine in Springside outside Orange from Ms Barton's property in Wellington where she breeds warm-blooded horses for eventing.
Then she turned to Facebook to make a desperate plea for help to find a foster mare. For, as Ms Barton explained, even with the best veterinary care, a foal cannot fully develop without a mother to both feed and nurture it.
"A proper mum... is really important for their social behaviour and the way they act," she said.
It's a belief shared by Central West Equine's senior vet nurse Jamie Thorne.
"[Without a mother] she won't learn that natural horse behaviour. Foster babies that are raised on a bottle or a bucket grow up, I suppose, being the alpha or the boss - like a spoilt kid... Because they haven't had mum teach them [what's ok and what's not]," she said.
"If you see a horse that's one or two years of age... and it's spoilt - they bite you, they're all over you -, I would be able to tell you that it's been hand-raised.
"They need that social interaction with other horses and other foals."
In less than three days Ms Barton's post about Athena was shared over 8,000 times.
"It was unbelievable," she said. "The overwhelming response to our call out for her foster mum was humbling indeed."
And it lead to not one but two mares for Athena. The first, Bella, unfortunately ran out of milk within the first few days of taking on the foal but Ms Barton's call for help had also come to the attention of Kim Hagon from Quirindi near Tamworth.
Her mare, Madam, had lost her own foal after just a few days. Madam was promptly collected by Ms Barton from Ms Hagon's property and taken to Central West Equine to meet Athena.
The pair hit it off immediately and a huge sigh of relief was collectively breathed not only by the foal's owner but also by the nurses and staff caring for her - as well as by the hundreds of people on social media who had been following her story.
"She absolutely adores that foal," Ms Barton said of Athena's foster mum.
"She's a very natural mum," Central West Equine's senior nurse added. "She's a good mum, she's not bothered by us doing stuff to her. It makes it easier for us to intervene and help out... She's a good girl."
Despite the hard start Athena has had to life, which has resulted in her being underweight and very unsteady, Ms Thorne said the foal was "very friendly" and "very independent".
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