Last spring while visiting a friend, I had the opportunity to witness the birth of a foal. At around 10:30 PM, my firnd noticed on a monitor that his pregnant quarter horse mare named Careless was in the throes of labor. We along with two others raced down to the barn where we waited, anticipating the birth. The mare previously had given birth to a number of foals and it had been my friend’s experience that at this point, delivery happened in about 20-30 minutes.
The gestation period for a horse is 11 months and 11 days. Careless was right on time going into labor on her expected due date. Twenty minutes passed and soon thirty. We began to question if everything was right with the mare. Typically a vet isn’t called unless there is a problem. A quick Google search confirmed Careless was still in safe parameters for delivery. We continued to wait along with the rest of the barn. In the next stall was Careless’ pasture buddy, Honey Money. Honey Money had given birth three weeks earlier to a little filly (girl). She too attentively watched.
Finally a push by the mare produced a bubble. A normal delivery will start with front hooves appearing while still encased within the birthing sack. The bubble was a start!
Another push by the mare and out came six feet of intestines. We were all horrified including Honey Money. Careless soon dropped to the floor of the stall. As she pushed again, the legs of the foal and part of the head appeared. Additional pushing by the mare failed to bring any further movement of the foal. Everything suddenly was going wrong. The vet was called.
The two guys quickly aided the delivery by slowly pulling the foal out. The foal, still in the birthing sack, appeared lifeless. Removing the sack revealed the foal was miraculously alive. The other lady and I proceeded to wipe the foal dry. Further examination of the foal revealed it was a colt (boy). Careless rose on her feet and licked her new baby for just a few seconds and then collapsed. The colt, lying on the floor with his head up, appeared content while discovering his new world. His mother would raise her head and nicker at her foal while her new baby tested his vocal cords by nickering back. Careless, now unable to rise, continually remained focused on her baby as she laid waiting for the vet to arrive.
The vet arrived and examined the mare. I was curious as to how he would tend to the mare and return the intestines to their proper location. He went out to his truck and returned with the needed instruments and medications. He had a huge syringe containing a blue liquid reminding me of dish washing detergent. I lacked the horse experience that the others in the room had; consequently, it felt like I had not gotten the memo of what was to come. As the doctor injected the blue solution, this grand mare died within seconds. A quiet sadness filled the barn.
The little colt did not remain quiet or lifeless for long. In fact, he appeared to have more energy than expected from newborn, or perhaps it was the impact of his mother’s body lying motionless. He worked at trying to stand with no success and continued nickering, waiting for a nicker in response. He let out a heart breaking nicker that resembled more of a whimper. We were all astonished when Honey Money answered back.
We were looking at the necessity of this colt being bottled fed which falls short of being nursed. A nursing mare who lost her foal may adopt another foal, but this is rare. A mare, already having a baby by her side, and adopts another foal, extremely rare. Honey Money, a thoroughbred, has never been a real friendly mare, spending most of her time with her ears pinned back chasing anyone in her space. Honey Money now had a baby by her side, and like all good mothers was highly protective, but could she become the replacement mother that was sorely needed?
Within an hour the new colt had gained the strength to stand. It was the consensus in the barn to try to move the colt in with Honey Money. Maybe, just maybe, she would nurse this foal too. We appeared to have the manpower to make this a safe experiment; although there are never any guarantees.
The two guys assisted in walking the foal to meet what we hoped would be its new family. Honey Money’s filly was nicely protected from the guests now entering their stall. Careless’ baby stood so innocently before Honey Money. We watched as Honey Money lowered her head and touched the colt’s nose the two breathing each other in. Honey Money confirmed her approval with gentle licks. The colt having been orphaned for an hour was soon nursing at the side of his new mother. We all were joyous and astonished with maybe one exception, Honey Money’s filly, who appeared bewildered with the presence of a new baby brother.
As I am writing this, Honey Money and her family are all doing well. I will always wonder if it was intuition or loyalty to a friend that made Honey Money take on the role of a surrogate. I do know, I will always remember Honey Money and her value for that newborn.
This experience reminded me of the professional caregivers who often become the replacement family for their clients. We often underestimate the value of our caregiving in our clients’ lives. The things we do, be they great or small, like the simple gesture of a smile, can have a huge impact in their well-being.
Please never forget your importance in the role; caring for your clients.
I want to express my thanks to your organization and staff for all you do in the business of caring.