Penn Vet looking for volunteers to babysit newborn horses

This past March, tens of thousands of people around the world tuned in to the School of Veterinary Medicine’s “foal cam” to welcome Boone, a leggy colt born to mare My Special Girl at the New Bolton Center campus in Kennett Square, Pa.

For these viewers, watching over the internet was the next best thing to being in the stall. But for animal lovers wanting to get more up close and personal, there is an opportunity to do so this spring.

The New Bolton’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is seeking a dedicated crew of volunteers to help veterinarians and technicians deliver and care for foals from February to June.

“To deliver the level of care that we do, we need a lot of help,” says Jon Palmer, chief of New Bolton Center’s NICU and director of perinatal/neonatal programs. “The foal sitters are crucial to our program, and they get a chance to see what we do and participate.”

The foal-sitting program began nearly 30 years ago, when Palmer and colleague Wendy Vaala started offering intensive care services for foals and other newborn large animals. They enlisted students, and then volunteers—mainly horse enthusiasts from the local Chester County area—to assist with tasks such as holding foals upright, milking mares, monitoring equipment, changing bedding, and cleaning equipment.

Over the years, the program has expanded and now includes roughly 90 volunteers each year, from 16-year-old high school students to retirees in their 60s and 70s. Second-year students at Penn Vet also perform shifts as foal sitters as part of their studies. Palmer says the job is generally quite physical, but can be adapted if volunteers have limitations.

The New Bolton Center NICU treats roughly 100 critically ill foals each season, some delivered at the center and others that may have developed complications after being born at local farms. Their patients are not just equine; the Penn Vet team cares for baby goats, lambs, calves, and other animals.

Foal-sitting shifts are from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. The third shift, Palmer says, is when most mares deliver their foals.

“There’s a lot more action here at night than during the day,” he says.

Foal sitters are not required to have any previous experience with horses, but do need reliable transportation to the New Bolton Center. Registration to be a foal sitter begins this month, and volunteers will need to attend an orientation at the New Bolton Center in January.

For more information and to register, email

Foal Sitting