Saturday, April 14, 2012


Statistics say that if you roll the dice, there is a reasonably good chance you might win, and there is also a pretty good chance that you will lose. If you never try, though, you will experience neither. I have won, and I have now lost. I have been a horse breeder for almost twenty five years now, on a small scale, keeping it at a size I could handle, with a few mares dropping two or three foals a year. In all of that time I have never had a mare have any real problem delivering a foal pretty much by herself, with little interference or help from me. I have been very lucky, until now.
I have always been asked why being on “foal watch”, being vigilantly staying awake for the blessed event to happen, is so important. “Can’t horses have a baby by themselves?” is the question. Answer is yes, of course. But then those pesky statistics get in the way. It has been said by a wise person that 99% of the time, yes they can, But, in the 1% of the time if you have an uh-oh, you have 100% of a big problem. My time finally came to that 1%. Thursday night was Joline’s last attempt to deliver a foal into this place and time, but it was not to be. 
At my last check before getting a couple of hours sleep, Joline was quietly munching hay but had beads of shiny colostrum dripping from a full bag, so I knew the evening had come. When my alarm woke me a while later I checked my cell phone which had a camera shot of her stall down at the barn. Joline was laying down. I dressed and headed that way.
Things were looking so well, first one foot showed, then the second, and then, it was like contractions stopped. I could see her massive muscles moving but there was just not any progress in the presentation of the rest of the foal. The two perfect black legs remained in the same place and would not be budged. I cleaned up and went in to check the head and not finding it I went further in, and found it turned downward and to the left. The little ears and the crown if its domed poll were pressing firmly up against the pelvic arch in the mare’s birth canal. The face and nose were turned back towards the mare’s right side. My heart sank then and there.
I will refrain from detailing the rest of the night. It was simply the most horrific and sad events I have ever witnessed and been a part of. That, was something that will never be erased from my memory and will weigh on me from hence forth. “All the King’s horse and all of the King’s men, just couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again”. There are some bridges past that can not be gone back over again, and as much as I wish it were different, and just a really bad nightmare, it was reality in its worst form. 
I know I did the best I could to help, which was little, but I was helpless in my attempts to right the un-rightable. My arms are deeply bruised from trying to reposition the foal between her powerful contractions, but to no avail. There is little consolation in the second guessing game, either, that my vet said that had he been here from the start that the outcome would have most likely been the same result. A bad presentation, brought on by one tiny glitch in timing in the magical process of being born and it meant death to both the foal and the poor mare.
In the final moments of Joline’s life, her character and trust remained so strong and true.  There are some intangibles that define a soul and if pressed to define Joline, I would say that my reverence for her was because of the depth of her intensely strong character and her intelligence. When the inevitable pronouncement was made to euthanize her, Joline lay in her foaling stall in the deep shavings, as she had done for so many times before, this time with no sweet foal to reward her hard efforts. Being a practical person I did know that we needed to get her outside the stall to let her go. I grabbed her halter and between the thrashing, put her halter on one last time, and encouraged her to rise. The incredible mare looked me in the eyes and did so. Wobbling and weak she bravely walked with me to the grassy area behind our barn and stood stoically waiting for the vet’s needle to relieve her,  and then silently, Joline left this life. 
As we stood there stunned in the predawn darkness, it occurred to me the irony of the date. It was the morning of Friday the 13th. Though not a overly superstitious person, I am one that believes it bad luck to not pick every four leaf clover that I see and regard it as a gift to be thankful for. My breeding handbook that has been with me for over the decades is full of these dried and flattened green leaves. A part of me believes that they have weighed heavily on the side of bringing great luck and fortune in my years of attempts to bring nice horses into this world, and I have been very lucky, whether by their influence or not. But, as statistics go, there is the ying and there is the yang, and this was my time for a whopping portion of bad jos.
In this I have lost this wonderful mare, my friend, her unborn foal, but something more. When my children were small, one of them asked me if Santa Claus, or something similar, was real and my answer was that if you no longer truly believed in magic, there would be no more magic. All of my belief in the good mojo that has carried me through my breeding career vanished in Joline’s last breath, and I am not sure I will ever find another talisman strong enough to recover that spirit of optimism.
Before he left, my vet gave me the name of a man, who I called later in the morning, and I asked this man if he could come and bury Joline’s body. He told me he could be there after “dinner time” or lunch time, using a term I mused that I had not heard since I was a child. He arrived as said with his big yellow equipment for digging a substantial grave, and I showed him where Joline lay behind the barn next to the little pond, looking like she was comfortably resting in the warm morning sunlight and would rise if awoken. I retreated to the house after showing Mark where to tell him where to bury her. 
Mark told me that he had asked the man how much he charged for this job and he said the man told him that he did not want to be paid. Mark insisted on him taking something, which was a mere pittance compared to the time, effort, and diesel he very kindly spent. I was glad that for this job, there was a saint of a good man to gently lay Joline’s body to rest, and so now, there is yet another, new set of bones in the ground now on the farm. 
We returned her to the pasture that was hers for all of her years here, and where she raised all of her wonderful foals. After the dirt was tamped and the man was gone, I put Frank, her last colt, in her pasture, where he too, had spent his baby time with her there. I closed the gate and looked away and then heard the sound of galloping hooves behind me. I turned to see him, absolutely floating across the field, and realized she was not totally gone, but here in this marvelous colt, was her legacy continued.   

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Frank's Reaction

A fairly routine day with spring inoculations planned for the horses, the same shots given to them since quickly things can turn upside down when things don’t go right. It began with the arrival of my long time vet to boost the immunity of the various bad bugs that can threaten a horse’s well being and life. I had them all in their stalls awaiting their turns with the syringes, and first to go was Frank.
Frank is my two year old gelding, officially known as Fandango but known around the barn as Frank because my vet had trouble remembering such a fancy title for the boy. Frank is typical to most teenagers, a male horse of almost two being somewhere likened to a human boy of a close-to-pubescent age of twelve or thirteen, sometimes full of himself, sometimes a real whimp, curious about everything, growing but not sure which direction to go next, still part baby on the cusp of growing up. Frank is also one of the best horses I have ever bred. He, is special.
Frank is the last son of Joline, my elderly brood mare who is currently waiting to deliver me a full sibling to this lad in the next few days. He is rich carmel color, the same of that of the square candies that used to pull my teeth when I ate apples covered with their melted gooey-ness as a kid at Halloween time. He sports a large white blaze down his face and onto his nose, three socks of chrome white, and his locks are an interesting Oriental punk rock star, tri-color melding of black, white, and carmel. 
Frank cringed as the vet stuck him in the neck on his right side first, then the next one went into the left, and the final one landed on Frank’s right rump. He was not happy about being accosted by these needles. My guess is that he associated these shots as being stung by a very large horse fly put on him by the vet. Being the good boy he generally is, he semi-stoically survived and we moved on to the next victim, or horse.
Once all of the horses at the main barn were covered, checked out and done, we moved over to see the ancient one, Limerick, who lives at her own private domain at the little barn, with her personal shelter and several acre pasture. She took her shots with no notice but had a bit of a sore and weeping looking eye. Upon further exam it looked that she had a good scratch on her right eye which would require a bit of medicine for a few days. Not sure whether my supply was up for that, my vet and I drove back to the big barn where I keep my stash for such occasions to resupply if needed.
As soon as I walked into the barn, I happened to then see Frank, still in his stall yet to be turned out, now drenched with sweat, literally pouring freely from around his eyes and face, his neck, and all over his body. Another quick look showed pronounced raised whelps on his neck and running down his shoulders. His head was low and his breathing was labored, rough, and very fast. All of his muscles rolled with spasms and he shook uncontrollably. This colt was strangely enough, a suddenly very sick boy. He was apparently allergic-ally reacting to the shots given and he was in a major distress, just like that. With a non-event track record for taking the usual shots bi-yearly, this was a real and suddenly serious surprise to us both, and as I stood by cluelessly watching this sick colt, my vet scrambled to find counteracting drugs to stabilize the poor fellow.
To follow the initial insult with further injury, my vet placed a large syringe in the large vein of Frank’s neck full of steroids, pain relievers, and such, this time a prick not as happily received. Then it was time to watch and wait to see its effect. I turned Frank out into the small paddock to let him move around and work out his frustration of being a GREAT BIG GIANT ITCH. Frank shook himself and trotted around to escape the stings, but sadly couldn’t escape his own body’s defensive reactions.
Gradually some of the meds began to give some relief to the itching but not the racing heart and labored breathing just yet. Another attempt to get some tranquilizer in a neck vein was a challenge, but finally enough got put in to start taking effect. Once Frank was beginning to settle down a bit, my vet told me what to expect if things went well and what to look for if improvement did not follow. He also left me with a syringe full of epinephrine, for the later scenario, just in case. It was possible that the allergy part would return and also, with the stress of the event, the lurking possibility of a colic situation loomed. 
It was a long afternoon and even by midnight at my last check, Frank was still a very ill boy. This morning, though, I was glad to find him bright eyed and busy tailed once again. He had ridden through a scary encounter that happened to have been caught in time luckily because of Limerick’s eye injury. I would have never suspected such a huge reaction to the shots and my vet said it had been decades since he had seen such. I have had a very seldom localized heat and swelling but never a systemic anaphylactic occurrence.
We talked about vaccines and the things that are put in the shots to effect their stability, and how they create immunity, and it is wonder that more horses, and any animal/human given the toxic load added to the vaccines doesn’t react every time or more often. Drug manufacturers intentionally include preservatives, some that breakdown into mercury, which kills potential bacteria that would jeopardize the vaccines, but which also is not very good for the host. There are toxins included as well designed to increase the reaction to the shot to better build an immunity. So basically they try to make you sick to make you not get sick. What a trade off? If one goes by statistics, they are safe, but when you or your loved one, or horse, is the unlucky one percent, it sucks. 
In the past this system has not been so big of a deal because there were so fewer shots given and spacing of them was farther between, so lower the toxic load given. As in yesterday, the now usual bank of viruses and germs we gave shots for was a very long list, whereas in years past, we may have given one or two at most to cover only the basic of equine bugs. 
Children now are give similar phalanxes of batteries of shots at very early ages, and their little bodies may or may not be able to deflect the long term effect of the mercury and other toxins designed to help them build their immunities. It is a scary world and the ramifications of what we put in our bodies we may not know of for a long time, or in poor Frank’s case, almost immediately, this time his body said “REJECT” to these vile concoctions. 
From here on we will split his doses into days and weeks apart and hope for no more reactions. I will no longer take it for granted that, because it comes in a little sterile bottle, it can do no harm. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rolling Along

Days go past in a steady course, rhythms repeating from year to year, nearly the same, but with, always, new twists. This year includes new members to the cast and crew with a new grand daughter seeing her four month old mark with a road trip to the beach for Easter, and the addition of Gracie, the diminutive new puppy here on the farm.  Easter has come and gone again, and the drab grays and browns of what the calendar said was winter have given way to the thick lush greenery of another spring on the farm. 

With the arrival in my life of this new puppy, my mornings have shifted to allowing play time for her first, before incarcerating her in her box, so that I can go ride the horses later, or garden, or do whatever on the farm that needs to get down, without the worry of “where is she now?” So we spend coffee time on the front porch and from this vantage point the news of the farm for the day unfolds.
In the earlier hours before the sun has established itself fully, the pond shimmers with the rising mist that floats and swirls from the warmer water into the cooler air above. First sounds that greet my morning ears are of Canadian Geese squawking about whatever geese find to squawk at, and the Purple Martin colony is a lyrical jumble of clicking noises, fussing and hissing, and also pure, sweet song. Gracie chews on leaves and anything that has found its way to the porch, tries to provoke the sleeping shepherd into play, unsuccessfully, and she wanders around her new world discovering and learning. 
The air is also full of the annoying sounds of the buzzing hordes of Carpenter Bees, large bumble bee shaped flying miners of any wood structures that they can find. They fly the length of the porch searching for the right piece of wood trim to chew their way through, followed by the curiosity of a small dog who gives tentative and cautious chase to their buzzing.   
When the first cup of coffee is done it is time to head to the barn, the morning ritual that really begins the day. The impatient horses who have spent the night in the stalls bang on the gates and whinny to me to hurry my self up. 
We are now on official “foal watch” again. Joline, my ancient broodmare is once again closing in on another birthing, and hopefully another safe delivery of a wonderful foal. Last weekend Mark set up a camera that allows me to watch the mare via my cell phone or computer from the comfort of my bed, instead of the old way of up every hour to check on her. Technology and geekish husbands do have some pretty high values and uses on occasion. This is one of them. Joline really doesn’t care about that at this point and only glares at me and waddles her swollen belly from her stall to the paddock for the day’s outing, waiting.
This weekend we happened to have not been able to miss a particularly large yard arrangement laid down by the shepherd between the porch and the barn. On the way to feed the horses, this pile stood tall and ample in the morning dew, glistening with its freshness. We gave it wide berth as we walked by. It was on return to the house afterwards that we noticed a very strange thing. Parts of this pile had been scattered, and, one segment that was approximately an inch and a half in diameter by a good several inches long, was quite rapidly rolling towards us. This unexplained phenomenon had our rapt attention as we stopped to observe this rolling dung, and then stepped aside as it made its way past us heading towards the barn.
As this seemingly self motivated and mobile piece of dog dung came past we were able to see the source of the motion. Two jewel toned beetles were behind it pushing and rolling this monstrously huge part of the former pile, dwarfed in proportion to it and struggling, but pushing with speed non the less. These two bugs were seriously motivated and were taking their over sized prize with them. 
Later we saw that once they had it near a small hole in the sand, they dismantled it and took the chunks down the hole with them. 

Recycling here, in its purest form, one animal’s waste becoming another’s treasure. The thought gives me pause, and I am glad that I do not have their job and lot in life, but in reality, everybody and every creature is just trying to make a living and get by. Some just have weirder jobs than others.
My second cup of this morning’s coffee has cooled and it is time for me to try to get some work done on the tractor. I will do battle today with the pasture grasses and attempt to temporarily make the place tidy and also in doing so, try to scare some of the snakes, that I know stare at me from hidden places as I walk about the farm, into finding refuge anywhere else but here. Then there is weeding and planting in the veggie garden, re-bedding of stalls, followed by a continued cleaning up of the barn of the things that accumulate around them over the course of a year or decade or two. It is another spring and life is doing its thing just rolling along, and that, is a really good thing.