April 26, 2010

Spy Games

The night was so dark that even the moon did not dare show herself. She lay low on the horizon, barely peeking her russet top over the trees. As I stepped outside into the darkness, I paused a moment and waited for the familiar slap of crisp air to strike my cheeks. I inhaled cool and smelled night. Then I let out a warm breath- carrying away the sleep shroud that surrounded me a moment before. I was on a mission and must not be distracted by this sharp assault to my senses.

I slipped my bare feet into the worn tennis shoes which were lying on the covered porch just to the left of the doorway. I had left them placed just so earlier in the evening and now my feet found their mark with ease in the darkness. Feeling the familiar sensation of my toes against the rough fabric inside the Nikes, I stepped lightly across the concrete porch then down to the earth at its edge. Noiselessly, my old tennis shoes carried me through the dark and toward the yellow light glowing at the corner of the foaling barn.

Before I reached the source of the light, I came to a familiar barrier. Stealthily, I grasped the cold link of chain which held the gate closed and lifted it from where it rested on the red metal. Expecting a squeak, I pushed the gate open slowly and carefully and was surprised by the silence. My mission called for complete secrecy- I must become as invisible as the mist which likely was swirling around the pre-dawn ground. I stepped forward placing each foot onto the concrete path with care.

I momentarily empathized with a large cat stalking its prey. My sense of urgency to reach my goal battled my mind's call to remain silent and invisible. I was a spy and on an essential mission. Many people depended on the success of this venture. Quietly, I lowered each heel then allowed my weight to roll forward onto my toe. Each step silently carried me closer to the open doorway of the barn and to the information I sought.

Upon reaching the doorway, I noted that my shadow followed me into the opening. Together, we entered and walked the few feet to the  the mare's stall. My eyes were still adjusting from the darkness of the yard to the brilliant flourescent lighting above her but my other senses were keen- I heard the mare's steady breathing as my pupils played catch up.

There lay Delilah staring back at me. She was a creamy palomino mare with a penchant for a secret. She had evaded being caught in labor for several days now. Her craving for privacy did not satisfy my need to help her deliver her foal. We had played out this game of cat and mouse more times than I could tell over the past few days. She would seem to be uncomfortable and lie down to rest- but when she realized that I approached the barn, she would jump up and nonchalantly nibble her hay. The cameras mounted above her stall were my ally in watching her secrets. And they were my only link to her clandestine activities.

This time, however, I had foiled her plan. Using my best ninja walk and with the music to Mission Impossible resounding in my head, I had slinked and sneaked until I was upon her. I had been successful and reveled in the knowledge that I had achieved my goal of observing Delilah in labor at last. Then, I realized that I was observing Delilah in labor. And my spy games were over- it was time to deliver a foal!

April 25, 2010

Top Ten List...

for a Sunday morning. These are the top ten things that I am thankful for today...

10.Breeding season is almost over,
9  There are more mares waiting to check in,
8. Delilah had a gorgeous palomino colt last night,
7. Ringo is almost finished with rut,
6. The $1.00 menu at McDonalds,
5. Everyone showed up for work yesterday,
4. Everyone showed up for work today,
3. All of my kids will be home and together for the first time in months next Sunday,
2. Foaling season is almost over,
and the #1 thing that I am thankful for today is...
my health, family, friends, horses, businesses and life.

April 24, 2010


The big brown mare towered over everyone and everything around her. As long as she could remember, she looked down upon the rest of the world. In the manner of man and his inclination toward measurements, she was determined to be 17.3 hands tall. In the manner of horses, there were few American Quarter Horses (even those with some Thoroughbred heritage like her who were as tall as she). Although she was a veritable giant, Tilly was a kind and childish mare. She had spent a brief part of her life as a show horse carrying a rider in refined English garb mounted on a tiny postage stamp leather saddle. But, now she was going to be a dam. Her first foal would be arriving tonight and she was apprehensive.

Tilly paced back and forth in the stall- trying to relieve the nervous tension as well as the tightening band around her midsection. Over the past few weeks, she had seen the other mares take their turns becoming mothers. One by one they had foaled in the stalls around her, some easy but some difficult, and Tilly had become unsure. She knew that her time was approaching and because she was a maiden, she did not know what to do or expect in the next few hours.

The band of muscles tightened again around her belly and Tilly's knees buckled for a moment. Suddenly, she felt very tall and thought to lie down. She circled the stall to find a spot that suited her and settled upon an extra fluffy area in the back corner. She paused for a split second, then curled her front and hind legs simultaneously and landed rather ungracefully in the yellow pile of straw beneath her with a "whoosh".

This time the band tightened more harshly and she noticed that it was more painful. She turned her head backwards to look at her sides trying to determine the source of her discomfort. Curling her knees ever more tightly against her body, she let out a long breath. Brittney snapped a lead rope to the brass ring at the base of her halter and asked her to rise. Tilly disagreed with the plan and lay down flat on her side- this time feeling an overwhelming urge to push. With each contraction, she strained hard and arched her back. With every push and stiffening of her hind legs, her rear end moved closer and closer to the wall behind her.

Soon, both foaling attendants were insisting that she stand. Tilly was focused on the singular urge within her body which demanded that she push NOW! She bore down with the band of muscle and hormones now and was barely aware of the people. She had unwittingly shifted her three quarters of a ton body until her rear end was wedged firmly against the wall of the stall. With each tremendous push, the unborn foal was pushed against the unmovable oaken barrier. Brittney frantically tugged and pulled to encourage Tilly to stand so that the waiting foal had room to be born. Khris dangerously squeezed past the large mare's large hooves as they rammed backwards with each strong push to grasp the tiny white hooves which were trying to emerge from the mare. Between the mare's buttocks, there was a small area which she began to manipulate the foal into. Pulling downwards with each heavy contraction, she brought the foal out of the mare and down between her  hind legs until the chest was exposed and only the hips remained inside the mare.

Then, there was no more room. The already tight area between the mare, the wall, and the empty space between the mare's buttocks were all full of foal. Now, if the mare were to rise, the foal was at risk of being injured. Her hind limbs were still imprisoned in the mare and could rip, tear, or damage her delicate rectal tissues which lie just above the birth canal. Exhausted from the effort of pulling the squeezed foal halfway out of the mare, Khris moved to her head to ensure that she did not rise and Brittney phoned for backup. The mare must be moved and this was not a job for two people. They waited and rested- humans, mare, and foal alike for more help to arrive.

Within moments, Wayne entered the stall and a plan was formulated. Tilly still felt the strong contractions and knew her job was not finished. She continued to strain and push- unaware of the scrambled activity around her. Wayne and Brittney attached a cotton rope to her hind legs and with a huge effort, pulled Tilly's rear legs forward trying to gain any free space. Then, Wayne was able to pull the foal's hips from the mare. The entire group stood gasping from effort, adrenaline, and exhaustion. The tiny red and white foal began her life's dance as her long limbs flailed in front of her.

Tilly closed her eyes in relief and breathed deep heavy breaths- relieved that the force and pain were gone instantly. She noticed the small horse in the straw beside her and nickered a faint greeting. The filly nickered back memorizing the sound of her mother's voice. The people jumped into their routine of releasing the foal's  umbilical cord, harvesting colostrum for the foal's first nutrients, and other intrusions that seemed necessary to a person. Soon, mother and foal were lying nose to nose and meeting one another for the first time.

(This is the accounting of Tilly's delivery. She foaled against the wall and we were unable to get her up to reposition her body. Although Tilly would have delivered the foal easily, her proclivity to lie in corners and against the wall would have been the demise of her filly if this foaling was unattended. She was hell bent on pushing and likely because she was a maiden mare, actually thought to push her rear end against the wall to relieve the discomfort. As you watch our foaling cams, you will notice that mares in labor often push and rub their tails against the stall walls in an effort to rub away the pain. As a side note to foaling attendants, maiden mares often get themselves into precarious positions during foalings and it is important to try to get them up and repositioned before they begin the final stages of labor!)

April 23, 2010

I Can't Feel My Legs

Skippa was an unusually large Quarter Horse mare. She came to our farm with a checkered past- large pieces of her life had been lost as she was transferred from one owner to the next over the course of fourteen years. She checked into Fields Quarter Horses on a Sunday afternoon just a month before she was due to deliver her maiden foal.

She settled into the routine of the foaling farm quickly. She watched the weather change from dull Winter to bright Spring as the foal in her womb grew larger and closer to insisting on freedom. Perhaps due to her size or maybe because she was just a bully, Skippa often intimidated the other mares in the foaling barn. She was quick to sneer as they passed her stall front and even quicker to turn her giant haunches toward them if they dared step into the space she claimed.

The big red mare was irritable and quick to anger and grew tired of waiting. In the way of an animal, she did not know what she waited for, but knew that something was impending. There came a day at the foaling barn which was very busy. The people fussed about with a strange mare for long hours and then there was a hush. A tiny voice at the far end of the barn called out for a mother- but no one recognized it and thus did not answer. Then, as the evening drew late, another large mare named Tilly foaled in the stall across from her. There was more bustling about, and it seemed there would never be any peace in the barn.

Skippa had been feeling a tightening band around her abdomen since dinner. It clamped and released, clamped and released. With each passing moment, the band closed harder and harder around her. She kicked her hind feet. She bit at the wall. Showing her displeasure did not cause the discomfort to ease. After a while, the people left and the barn became quiet again. There were rustling sounds as mares nosed the floors of their stalls for strands of green hay. The orphan foal called quietly into the night but there was still no answer- no one recognized his voice. Across the aisle, Tilly cooed and nickered to her newborn filly in the stillness.

Skippa was overcome with an urge to lie down as the band closed so hard that her breathing became labored. She turned her head to look at her bulging side. Just as instinct told her to push, the people came back into her stall. She briefly noticed them but her pain caused her not to care.

Khris saw the tiny feet protruding from the big mare but noted that they did not move forward as the mare pushed. Quickly, the team of three formed a plan to help deliver the foal. Brittney snapped a brown lead rope onto Skippa's halter and Khris and Rachel began to pull with each hard contraction. With each pull, more of the imprisoned foal was exposed. Soon, they had two legs and a little pink nose beginning to protrude from the mare. Inside the mare, the foal's shoulders hit Skippa's pelvic wall as she pushed down hard. Khris felt the block and began to shift the foal's legs to help ease the bulky shoulders through the bony opening. Pulling one leg even farther forward, she pushed the second leg back into the mare to slant the foal's elbows ever so slightly- then she and Rachel pulled hard. A loud pop sounded out of place in the stall but the attendants knew from experience that the elbow lock had released. They pulled with the mare's contractions one more time and the newborn's chest rushed forward from the mare. The red roan filly lay partially contained in her amniotic sac with her hind legs still inside her mother. The umbilical cord connected them- as it had since her embryonic state many months before. It pulsed the final gift of life and blood from dam to foal.

Skippa felt the release as the foal spurted out in her final push. Instantly, the pain eased. In that moment, she became aware of the wriggling creature at her hip. Overcome with exotic new feelings, the mare reacted and in a large movement, swung herself upright to stand on all four feet. In the way that nature intended it to, the umbilical cord snapped and the foal was released from its mother. The amniotic sac fell away from the foal and was left hanging from the rear of the mare. The placenta would need more time and contractions to detach from the mare's uterus and it was important that Skippa not step on the gossamer tissue she was dragging behind her.  Brittney stepped away from Skippa's head to retrieve string to tie the placenta and Khris stepped in to hold the lead rope. At the same time, Skippa thought to turn to inspect the tiny wet being on the floor of her stall.

During the difficult delivery, the foal must have pressed upon a nerve in Skippa's spine. The mare was paralyzed and her haunches did not obey. She willed her legs to move but they did not respond. The big mare began to panic- there was a wet, smelly tiny horse in her stall, there were people (and she really didn't like people all that well), and she felt intense pressure in her haunches. She struggled to gain her balance but her hind limbs were giving way under the heavy weight of the horse.

In a moment which was chaos, confusion, and coordination combined, Khris pulled the mare's head forward giving Rachel and Brittney room to whisk the foal from beneath her. Just as they cleared the doorway of the stall carrying the squirming minute-old foal, the big mare fell hard to the floor of the stall. She landed on her hip and the air whooshed from her lungs. As the people assessed the situation, the foal was moved from the aisle of the barn to another softly bedded straw stall. There, she was dried with soft cotton towels and began to flail her legs in the age-old command to stand just moments following birth.

Back in Skippa's stall, the situation was much more grave. Her pulse began to race and her breathing became labored. She was scared and showing signs of shock. Quickly, she was sedated and given medicine to help her relax. Then, carefully, the people began to milk her streaming udder and hand the rich colostrum over to be fed to the waiting foal. Skippa warily watched the process and would like to have moved away but her legs simply did not cooperate. Skippa fought the fear that welled in her throat as she helplessly watched from her position. Once, she curled her front legs tightly and looked like a foal herself. After a bit, she began to relax and did not feel the crushing pain in her hip. She closed her eyes for a short time and dozed from exhaustion. Then, the people brought the damp roan filly and laid it in front of her. For a moment, she forgot that she could not stand. She tentatively tasted the top of the filly's head and was overcome with yet another nameless emotion. She could not stop licking the foal- she did not want to stop.

After an hour or so, Skippa's udder was becoming uncomfortable and she wanted to move. The people came to steady her head and moved the foal safely to the doorway of her stall. She parked her forelegs out and braced herself as she heaved onto her feet. She weaved from side to side and commanded her left hind leg to move outward to brace her weight. It obeyed! Carefully, she shifted her weight to stand on the leg and it supported her. With the same tiny steps of her foal, she tentatively moved in small steps testing to make sure her wobbly legs would support her heft. Soon, the filly stood nursing from her middle-aged mother and the people stood quietly by smiling and thankful that the paralysis had only been temporary. Occasionally, a foal will press upon a nerve in the mare's spine during delivery causing the mare to lose the use of one or both hind limbs. In Skippa's circumstance, the condition lasted almost two hours but she had no lingering effects.

April 22, 2010

Things that go bump...

I'll be brief today. Last week, I spent almost every night all nght in the foaling barn alone. It was just me, the mares, and the occassional foal. In the wee hours of the night, a person's mind can play tricks on them. Did I see someone outside the door? Did the horses nicker a welcome to a stranger entering the barn? Am I dreaming or awake and which state is reality?

Those are the imaginings of my mind in the 3:00am hour. It's a lonely time- well, Kathy is on the other end of the cameras and phone. Sandi may be there as well since she works the late late. But, oddly enough- for a few moments in those longest hours of the night- it was easy to imagine that the mares and I were alone and defenseless against my late night visitor. As if time ceased or became very small in his presence, I shunned my dark hour visitor and closed the barn doors.

I suppose I'll never know who he was, or from whence he came as I did not let him into the barn. I lay down on the straw next to the tiny twin foal who would pass away in the coming hours and Nona lay down beside me. The three of us lay there waiting- we knew not exactly what for but I did not think it was him.

April 20, 2010

My Imaginary Friends

Foaling Season at Fields Quarter Horses comes with many changes in habit. Our sleep patterns become erratic as do our feeding patterns- human and horse alike. Day and night blend together based upon the needs at hand. And our staff becomes a little larger and more broadly based.

For several years now, we have included Kathy and Judy in our fold during foaling season. This fine pair of ladies provide a service which is critical to the health and well-being of the horses. They are the primary camera watchers overnight while we sleep. They selflessly volunteer to sacrifice their daylight hours and lives to become beings of the night, creatures of the shadows, and keep the solitary vigil over the mares who are waiting to deliver foals.

Thanks to the evolution of technology and the marvel of the internet, Kathy in Florida and Judy in California have sat up with our mares for several years now- night after night- honing their watching skills and our singular lifeline to the well-being of the mares here.  Kathy is a storehouse of knowledge when it comes to the personal habits and behaviors of each mare. She and Judy are the usual voices on the other end of my phone line waking me from a deep sleep with a call to action.

When my cell phone rings tugging me back from whatever dreamscape I am exploring, I answer robotically and Kathy begins informing me in a concise and scientific manner of the situation. In less than a minute of hearing her voice, I am usually dressed and sprinting through the crisp night air into the foaling barn. All the while, she gives me up-to-the minute details as well as information regarding the mares labor that may be useful. By the time I reach the barn, the sleep fog has worn off and I am ready to deliver a foal and make harrowing life and death decisions.

I spoke to Kathy on the phone yesterday morning and she was so sleepy she could barely speak. I noted that we were in a bit of role reversal. Sometimes I wake in the morning and try to decipher if I spoke to her at 3:00am or just dreamed it. I've always been one to talk in my sleep so there's really no telling what conversations I may actually be having with Kathy in the middle of the night.  In fact, it would be easy to call her my imaginary friend.

She's disappears in the light of day, no one ever really talks to her except me, and she only comes in the deepest part of my sleep. Or, maybe she's more like a guardian angel- I know that I rest well knowing that Team Chevy has such an experienced night shift on duty!

April 17, 2010

New Beginnings

Times like these serve to remind me that life is a series of cycles. I'm sure there is an ancient Chinese teaching somewhere that discusses this but I would rather learn it from a horse. In fact, I think that my best life lessons have come from horses- humility, pride, obedience, joy, sorrow, accomplishment, patience.

The past days have been beyond physically demanding- sporadic sleep, intermittent meals, and phycial challenges that determine life and death. Above the physical, however, they have been emotionally challenging as well. The cycles of emotion have ranged from despair to overwhelming hope. In the course of the past week, I have experienced every emotion within the human range and to the enth degree.

The ups and downs of breeding horses and delivering foals parallel the greatest treasures in nature- from mountain ranges to the deepest canyons, caverns, and beyond. I think that anyone who chooses to own a horse can appreciate the emotional experience which is connected to that process.

So, as I write this, it's a sunny new day. Nona's twin foals are frolicking in green pastures on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, she has stayed behind to become the mother to an orphan foal whose mother passed in Lexington, and most of the mares at the farm are bred to deliver 2011 foals. Noel delivered a wonderfully healthy large beautiful colt yesterday evening. Chevy is looking more and more like the remarkable sire that he is- the boy has grown into a man. And, I am thankful for both the highs and lows which were dealt to our staff. They serve to remind me that I am here for the total human experience. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

April 16, 2010

Double Trouble

Well there now. It finally happened. I cannot say I wasn't expecting it. In fact, I've had a premonition for  months now about the event. It's almost a relief that it has come and gone so now I can move on from the dread. We have foaled a set of twins at Fields Quarter Horses.

The odds are long and even the best bookie would approve as the likelihood of a mare carrying a twin (even just one) to term are a discouraging bet. Mares are not designed to carry, deliver, nor raise multiple offspring at the same time. Their reproductive systems do not approve nor do their foaling attendants.

Yesterday, Nona Bay, a seventeen year old Quarter Horse from Vermont began what would become the most difficult delivery of my career as a mare midwife. Nona has been suspicious since arriving back at the farm several months ago. She was larger in foal than her gestation dictated and her condition was quite poor. Now we know that she was attempting to feed two foals in utero, not just one.

Several weeks ago, she waxed which is a sign of impending labor and delivery. It is the production of colostrum which will nourish and protect the foal once born. The development of colostrum is triggered in the final stages of pregnancy by hormones. When Nona did not go into labor, we began to expect trouble was afoot. Little did we know what was in store for us.

I received the call that Nona was down and had begun foaling I entered the stall and saw that the water had already broken- it was pungent and not the correct color so I watched the mare for one contraction and examined her. At that time, I found an amniotic sac. I thought that was odd since I observed a huge amount of dark colored amniotic fluid already in the stall. I examined the mare to determine the nature of the problem she was experiencing.

I felt a large muscle but could not trace it to anything recognizable. Then, I felt a spine that was very small and counted ribs. I immediately knew that this was a job for hero/superperson/ninja vet Dr. Mather and got her headed to the farm in emergency drive fast mode. Then called Nona's owner Lucy and informed that we may have a breech delivery and that I had a gut feeling there may be more than one foal (because of the size of the mare, the size of the rib cage, and I had been dreaming about twin foals for a week). I then began to attempt to identify body parts. All foals must be delivered with their feet first so it was going to be necessary to find them. Amber and Rachel both took turns so that we could all confer and reach a decision. We then removed the mare from the stall and began trotting her. This is the very best way to keep a mare from pushing and causing more problems when trying to reposition a foal.
Dr. Mather arrived and we moved the mare to a larger stall as we knew that this would be a team effort. She examined Nona and informed me that the muscle was the foal's neck bent completely back around over his hips. There were no legs present. We took turns reaching in and looking for knees. All the while, we also were pushing the neck and thus shoulders back down and deeper into the mare. The vet found the first knee and moved the foot forward out of the mare. The effort to do this is tremendous. She rested and I took a turn for the second knee. (We were now at 35 minutes since the water had broken). I retreived the knee and was able to bring the leg forward. Now we had two front legs but no head. Dr. Mather located an ear and I followed her hand into the mare (it's important when working as a team that everyone communicate position to each person who is helping turn the foal- the seconds can save the foal). I found the foal's ear, then jaw, then mouth but did not have the strength to bring it forward. Rachel had fresh arms so she took a turn and quickly followed my hand to the mouth, hooked her fingers into it and under the jaw, and with a rush of adrenaline, pulled the head forward while Dr. Mather pushed the shoulders back. The colt is only about 40 pounds so it was easy at this time to deliver him from the mare. They held him suspended him upside down still connected to the mare and thick amber fluid drained from his lungs. He was unresponsive.

Rachel and I began to administer emergency CPR, Amber held Nona, Wayne ran support with oxygen, drugs, towels, and supplies, and Dr. Mather delivered a disgusting mound of rotten flesh that she called the placenta. A few curse words were uttered and she called over to where we worked on the now gasping newborn that there was a second foal. She delivered it from the mare. It was a non-viable filly who had likely died a week or so ago when Nona began to drip milk. I left the stall at one point during that part of the delivery and became sick. The rancid smell of the rotten corpse filled the entire barn.  It was sickeningly sweet yet pungent.

Photos of the both foals are below. There are areas where flesh is missing from the deceased filly. It sloughed off during the delivery in large chunks. It is likely that although Nona was flushed immediately and checked for large debris, there may be pieces of the dead foal's tissue left behind. She will be watched carefully in the following days.

The survivor is a colt. He was born at 328 days and is a premature foal. His legs are not quite fully developed and his skin/hair/ears are that of a premature foal. The dead filly weighed approx 30 pounds so she was near his size.

As I write this tonight, the colt has just returned from a late night visit to a hyperbaric chamber used mostly on racehorses. It is our last hope to save him. His life thread is stretched thin and he hangs in the balance right now. His owner is debating names for him- I hope he survives till morning to accept a name. The mare stands quietly over him as if she knows that he is not well. She seems depressed and somber and I can't help but wonder if her heart is heavy with either worry or grief.

April 13, 2010

Growing Up Wendy

There is a red roan Chevy filly and her name is Wendy. She was born at the farm 2 years ago and was the first roan foal Chevy produced. As if that were not special enough, her mother was my last show horse Please Glow Slow and a remarkable individual herself. From the beginning, Wendy was a unique foal. Her dam, Nikki, could be hard to catch in large pastures but Wendy loved people. When it was time to come to the barn for the evening, Wendy would wait at the gate for us while her mother snorted her disdai, tossed her head, and begged the foal to follow her deep into the woods. Wendy spent hours waiting at the gate for people to come visit and found her favorite time was spent in the barn where she was nearest to us.

Wendy experienced the usual trials and tribulations of any teenage horse. When she heard that she may be sold, she even made an attempt on her life. She belonged at the farm and was determined that she would never leave.  In the Summertime, she enjoyed the children who visited for day camp. In the Fall and Winter, she looked forward to treats which the lesson students would bring her. In this manner, days and months passed and Wendy grew up.

Recently, Gary and Amber decided that it was time for her to begin school. She attended lessons most days in "How to be an obedient horse" and "You are grown up, now let's find you a job". She was a great student and soon matriculated to a higher stage of learning called "Now that you are 2 years old, you can carry a rider".  And today, Wendy graduated from that class as well. She had her first independent ride with Amber. She walked, turned, bent her head softly to the bit, stopped on cue, and looked quite grown up doing these things.

For those of you who have met Wendy, you understand her sweet unassuming nature and will rejoice with me that she is one step closer to filling her mother's shoes as my next show horse. A surge of happiness fills me as I realize that the tiny little furry bundle of horse who was born in my arms two short years ago is now grown up. Wendy is embarking on the next step of her future as she becomes a show horse and learns the intricate language spoken between horse and rider. I'm just pleased- given her propensity for accidents- that she grew up!

April 12, 2010

A Dingo Stole My Baby!

Ella Riva dropped her head into the grain bucket and began to greedily gobble the contents of the bucket before her. Just as she filled her mouth with the fourth large bite, she remembered that she had forgotten something. She chewed noisily and ground the grain back and forth. It made a gnashing sound as her large oval teeth pulverized the pellets.

Suddenly without warning, the heady feeling of eating the rich grain cleared and she jerked her head upwards. Ella was a dark bay mare- tall for a Quarter Horse with the look and physique of a sleeker animal. She came from a mixed heritage, part Quarter Horse and part Thoroughbred. With her head high in an alerted pose, the image slammed into her brain chasing away the warmth and comfort of dinner. Her foal was gone.

She had given birth to Quincy several months before. She was an experienced mother by now and quickly settled into the familiar routine of motherhood. Long days in the sun eating rich grass meant that she would produce thick heavy milk for her chestnut son. She tended to him absently, watching over his playful antics with the other foals in the large paddock. He was independent and social and often visited the corners, the wooded area, and explored his new world.

She could not quite remember the details but recalled that she obediently walked out of their stall in the afternoon and stepped onto the black horse trailer tethered to the red farm truck. The door at the rear of the trailer closed and she missed the familiar lean of Quincy at her flank. He was not at her side. She whinnied but only thought she heard his faint cries as the truck crunched the gravel beneath its tires leaving the driveway.

In just a few minutes, the assemblage stopped at the other farm. She was familiar with this place. She walked beside her handler but craned her head and neck high hoping to spot the place she had left her foal. As the afternoon wore into evening, Ella became frantic. The foal was no where in sight and her udder was becoming uncomfortable. She wanted him to nurse. She tried to remember his chestnut face but it was already fading.

She spent the next day walking the paddock with the other mares. Ella nibbled at the green grass and noticed the bright sun. She asked each mare if they had seen her foal but none responded. They were too interested in gobbling mouthfuls to make idle conversation. She walked 20 miles or more from one end of the paddock to the next but soon found that she was forgetting what she was looking for. And then the humans brought her into the barn for dinner.

As she stopped eating and remembered her foal and the events of the last day, Ella felt a faint stirring within her womb. A soft look filled her eye and she dropped her head back to grab another mouthful of grain. She forgot the she was worried about something. She felt like a mother again as the tiny horse inside her kicked and stretched its legs. And Ella finished her dinner.

April 11, 2010


Yesterday I learned about sacrifice. Each of us has our own idea about what it means to sacrifice for another.
I ponder this and wonder if life could even be measured from one small sacrifice to another- we are all interwoven and our ability to give something for the best interest or desire of another is a profound part of living together on this planet.

But, yesterday I was witness to a sacrifice that will leave a groove on my soul. A mark that when time ends, and my character is judged, will be a notch by which I feel I may be measured.  A mare sacrificed her life at our farm so that her unborn foal may have a chance at his. I didn't know the mare as she belonged to a neighbor but that is neither here nor there. Compassion and humanity dictated that I played a small role in the end part of her life. I was a supporting character in the unscripted drama that unfolded, not in a position to make decisions, only to support and assist the leading players.

Our neighbor Mr. Cook had a mare who was bred to Chevy. Here name was Sara.  She had gone into labor (at their farm) around 7:00am yesterday morning. At 9:00am, Mr. Cook stopped over at our place and asked me to take a look at the mare as she was distressed and he could not determine the reason she had not foaled yet.

Team Fields leapt into action and we crossed the street to his farm to examine the mare. I immediately determined that the foal was upside down and covered in a red bag placenta. We teleconferenced with Dr. Mather and she advised that we trot the mare to attempt to help position the foal. Since her amniotic sac was not broken- it became a game of wait and see for us.

The Cooks suggested that we bring her to our farm (they trotted her down the street to our foaling barn) so that we were better equipped with drugs, oxygen, etc. The mare was moved to our place around 10:00am. She trotted dutifully behind their Kawasaki Mule down the street. Her hoofbeats could be heard on the pavement as she neared the foaling barn.

We monitored her progress and trotted her off and on for the next few hours. Her water had still not broken. Around 2:00pm, the mare was beginning to falter and the foal (inside the unbroken sac and placenta) was showing signs of becoming lethargic.

We spoke with Dr. Mather (for the umpteenth time) and the owner decided that it was time to take drastic action. Dr. Mather suggested we go ahead and break the sac and bring the foal out of the mare. There were 9 able bodied experienced horsepeople standing by for the event with Amber and I assuming lead on turning the foal and lots of fresh pullers to get him out. The stopwatch was set and we began. Unknowingly we stepped into the downward spiral that had been set into motion for Sara months ago.

The foal was upside down and both front legs were back. We could not break the sac (too thick) so we used scissors to break the placenta away and again to break the amniotic sac. Then, we were able to retreive the front legs and tried to turn the foal to a better presentation. With front legs through the canal and the nose at the opening of the pelvis- we tried to pull the foal out of the mare. The precision and communication was constant as we tried to remove the foal from the mare. He wiggled and kicked his front feet. He pushed his head from inside her but could get no farther forward than the opening of her pelvic bone. So close to freedom but yet a prisoner in what was fast becoming a watery tomb. Sheer exhaustion and frustration began to set upon us after 30 minutes of pulling, pleading, cajolling, praying, and turning. Dr. Mather arrived and quickly assessed that it was necessary to choose between saving the mare or foal. She did not feel that it was possible to save both and the owners did not feel that hospital care was an option for them.

A pall settled over everyone assembled as we faced the gravity of mortality. Our team does not accept failure nor defeat well. The reactions ranged from disbelief to tears to robotic as we prepared for the next few minutes.No one was really ready to stare down reality and the raw cruelty that Nature can sometimes thrust upon us.

The decision was made to save the foal and an emergency C-section was performed in the grassy entrance to the foaling barn. It seemed distant and vague as the sunshine surrounded us and the birds of Spring chirped happily.  The mare was sacrificed for the life of her colt. He was unresponsive upon delivery from her abdomen and after approx 7-8 minutes of emergency CPR, he took his first breath. I know Sara walked across the bridge to another place yesterday, she looked back and told Will to stay with us a while. As she took her last breath, he took his first.

He was named Will.  He was given the life-giving colostrum milked from his mother- her final legacy to his life.  He spent his first night in a stall alone with humans offering nourishment and company. As my daughter Brittney trekked into his stall for nightly feedings, I overhead him nicker to her in recognition- even orphan foals seem to want a mother.

His owners opted to teach him to drink from a bucket (bucket baby) and he has learned to do so quickly. We will be passing a tube into his stomach at each feeding to make sure he gets the most nutrients possible.

Please join us in praying that this little bay colt survives. He sure proved that he had a strong desire to live and has beaten the odds before he ever took his first breath. And no one would wish to believe that his mother's final sacrifice would have been in vain. He survived because of the decision to let her go. She took a long last breath and closed her eyes in the sunny spot. He nickered and tried to crawl toward where her body lie but was surrounded by his caretakers.

As a quick side note, the delivery was tragic, gruesome, heroic, horrific, and life-changing for each of us. I am now surely convinced that we have a superhero for our farm vet- she went so far above and beyond her responsibility today to save this life it was miraculous. She was as determined as the rest of us that there would be a survivor from this tragedy.

I expect Will to return home in a little while. After all, he's just our neighbor and we can visit him often. Prayres for his safe-keeping in their hands. We spent a long night's vigil helping him to become adjusted to the harshness of life. I know that he was worth her sacrifice and believe that somehow, Sara would not have wanted anything else yesterday.

April 6, 2010

Top Ten List of...

Things that went wrong today!

10. I overslept.
9. Sheri had to clean the foaling barn stalls alone.
8. Tiara (who foaled in the wee hours of Sunday morning) wasn't feeling well.
7. Brittney was sad.
6. Someone broke a gate post which was set into concrete.
5. A mare did not foal during daylight hours.
4. The Malamute I shaved tried to bite me.
3. Gary went to pick up a horse for a customer and the horse was lost.
2. The front wheel fell off of the Gator during stall cleaning.
and the #1 thing that went wrong today was...
Wayne was sick and threw up all day long.

April 5, 2010

Burnin' Down The House

And I almost burned my house down today. No kidding. Not just a little smoke-alarm-going-off, singed-something, smoke-signal type blaze, I'm talking a sirens-a-blaring, three-engine-screaming, fire-ball style event.

For the sake of the story, I'll rewind a couple of hours. The day started in the usual manner. Alarm. Breakfast. Feeding and Stalls. I groomed a Brittney Spaniel and worked in the office until lunch time. Actually until this point in the day, the day had taken on an easy tone. There was plenty of work to do but the tasks were getting checked off the list.

We had been forecasted for thundershowers today but in an unexpected turn of events, they bypassed us and the afternoon turned off sunny and warm. I looked over my mental checklists of jobs and the most appealing ones were those which should be performed out of doors. Mowing the grass. Spraying the yard and fences for weeds. Cleaning the flower beds and gardens of winter debris to prepare for Spring.

I chose to begin spraying for weeds surmising that it would take a week or better for the remedy to take effect. As I sprayed, I became distracted by the oak leaves and dead vines woven into the flower beds around my house. I remembered that Wayne had burned these last year and the clean up seemed effortless. I found a lighter near my gas grill and began to set various small fires around my deck in the flower beds.

I smiled to myself as I watch last year's growth disappear and the new tendrils of green from this year were left behind. This was working marvelously. I was simultaneously applauding my firestarter skills as I lit yet another area of dried debris against the red brick of my house.

Just as I clicked the ignition on the lighter and saw the flame lap greedily at the leaf in front of my hand, my eyes trailed upward and I saw the trellises- both of them. I stood up and surveyed the flame as it creeped upward not yet realizing the gravity of what was about to happen. As the flame reached the base of the first white trellis, it shot upward and engulfed the entire side of the brick wall. Quickly, the flame jumped to the second trellis and gobbled it up as well. The plastic trellises burned bright and hot and melted quickly into piles of gouey carcinogens. I ran into the house through the back door and grabbed a pitcher and began filling it. I envisioned what I may find when I returned but my vision was off the mark. By the time I had reached the original sight of the plastic fireball, there was nothing but a black charred ring on the ground and creeping up the brick wall.

I tossed the contents of my water pitcher absently on the charred ground and side of the house. It just seemed unfinished if I didn't. I noticed the melted outdoor plastic cover for my dryer vent and made a mental note to add purchasing a new one to my checklist. As I cut down the wires which held the now unrecognizable trellis I began to formulate a plan. There was a 1 in 4,000 chance that my husband would miss the trellises for a day or two. There was not even a glimmer of hope that he would not notice the large black ashy mark on the entire side of the house.

April 4, 2010

The Easter Bunny Killer

 Easter morning peeked over the horizon onto a sleeping world. The dawn promised a gloriously shiny day for egg hunting, Easter dress wearing, and rejoicing. The large dog padded quietly from his station at the end of his master's bed. Stepping into the hallway, he tuned his keen senses toward the closed bedroom door to his left and located the familiar slumber sounds of his girl Kalen. Quickly determining that all was well with his people, he moved silently down the stairway to the lower level of the house.

More of habit than necessity, he patrolled the first floor- first the family room, then the dining room, and veered into the kitchen. He paused briefly to lap a drink of water from the ceramic bowl sitting on the floor. Next, he moved down the long line of kitchen cabinets and into the laundry room. A fleeting memory of sleeping there when he was a pup played across his mind as he ducked his large frame to exit the well-used doggie door.

Squeak. squeak. The flap of the pet door sang softly as he stepped out into the early morning light. Although it was nearly 100 feet from the doorway where he stood to the brushy undercover at the edge of the woods, everything in the grove ceased to breathe as the mountain of canine inhaled the brisk morning air.  They had been alerted by the faint swinging of the flap but it was not enough warning to plan an escape into the deep cover of the thickets.

The dog was keen. He instantly categorized the scents which filtered across the delicate membranes of his nose. He noticed who had passed through his yard last night as well as who may still be within range now. As he filed the information into his large mental storehouse of memories and scents, his black eyes scanned the perimeter.

He exhaled and stepped down three steps until all four feet were standing on the grassy earth. The small ones in the underbrush did not breathe even yet. They knew that his wide smiling mouth contained white jaws which could crush their bones in a single bite. They knew that he was fast, strong, and lethal. He had hunted their kind for many generations. It was the Order and the Way of Nature.

He noted the small ones in the bushes across the yard. He knew the smell of rabbit anywhere. For as long as he could remember, he had enjoyed the exhilaration of chasing them. He particularly enjoyed the primal feelings that surged through him at the end of a hunt. Rage filled him up as he realized that the rabbits had dared to nibble the clover in his master's lawn during the night. Had he not warned them? Had he not proven that this was no place they belonged? Anger rippled across his spine and his hackles raised. A low guttural growl rumbled in his throat.

The rabbits knew from the instinct inherited from their ancestors that the husky was displeased. They knew- each of them- that the time to hide was nearing an end. As if an unheard signal sounded an end to the charade, the rabbits panicked and simultaneously dashed toward the thicket.

Instinct took over and the large dog felt his muscles ripple with power. Then, just before he leaped after the mass exodus of prey, he was tugged by an invisible string. It closed around his heart and tightened like a noose. Rather than race after the rabbits, he sat down on the lawn. The invisible string tugged again and he looked toward the direction it emanated from. As he glanced upward, back toward the house from whence he had come, he noticed the curtain on the upstairs bedroom had been moved aside. There, looking down upon him, was the small round face of Kalen.

She smiled a wide grin and called down from her post, "Oh, you found an Easter Bunny! Good Dog!"

He felt the noose tighten slightly more and obeyed its command. His heart belonged to the girl. He would spare the bunnies today.