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.