Jane van Lennep answers:
Mares are usually very devoted mums, and the best way to have a happy, contented mare and a calm, confident foal is to leave them together uninterrupted. The Riding Establishments Act makes it illegal to use a mare for hire or reward (ie, to work in a licensed riding establishment) until the foal is three months old.
This can be a guide as to the minimum that is reasonable. I think that only when the foal becomes more independent, and the intervals between its feeds are longer, is it reasonable to start working the mare again.
When to wean…
Weaning time is a better time to start riding her, as this will take her mind off her foal and help her milk to dry up as she gets fitter again.
Weaning is best left until at least 7½ months, as it is not until this time that the foal’s gut microbes are working well, digesting food, and producing vitamins B and K.
Until this time, the foal needs to consume these vitamins and will get them from the mare’s milk. Late weaning avoids the physical, emotional and behavioural problems that can arise with earlier weaning – such as separation anxiety, weaving, cribbing, ulcers and weight loss.