Blog Update: Making a New Mom for a Rejected Filly

This is a test. As you'll find out, it's a test in more ways than one.

For the next few weeks, I would like to share a little bit of my life with you. It's a story that you won't find in a veterinary text, but I think it might help save a few foals' lives. In Spring 2007, the excitement and joy of a newly-arrived foal turned into the heartbreak and struggle of watching the helpless little filly get rejected by her mom. But the story doesn't end there--in fact, that's only the beginning. Have you ever heard of inducing lactation in a mare that doesn't have a foal? The idea seemed sort of crazy to me. Have you ever bottle-raised a baby on milk-replacement formula? Do you know about nurse mares and nannies, and the bond between a mare and her foal?

What you're reading is a little different from the award-winning news and features that you've always found on TheHorse.com. There will be several in-text links to topical articles--if you haven't already done so, get your free registration now for full access to all online articles. I'll be updating this section periodically--about twice per week--for a while, and will let you know how the filly is developing, and how this little test turns out. I can't guarantee a happy ending--success or failure hasn't yet been determined. But I hope that it will be informative and will introduce you to a few new ideas.


JUMP TO THE BEGINNING OF THE STORY:
Post 1: Imminent Arrival

 

Epilogue--August 26: The Next Adventure

It's been four months since I signed off, and I'm not sure whether to characterize this stretch as "mundane" or "extraordinary."

Scratch here please
Jo's Magic enjoys some "people time."
Hermione and Jo's Magic have led a common existence as mare and foal, without any snags, leading up to last week's weaning. No character quirks, no health concerns, no problems of adjustment. Jo wasn't abnormally attached to Hermione (at first I worried that she would be, as a reaction to being a rejected foal), but she also wasn't any more likely than other foals to let her mom get too far away. I'm convinced that Hermione didn't realize that anything was unusual about the situation: she'd had foals before, she had another now, what's the big deal? And from afar, that's how it appeared: the two were just another mare and foal in the herd, indistinguishable from the rest.

A closer inspection, of course, revealed a few distinctions. In the broodmare pasture, Hermione alone was no sleek Thoroughbred. At 22, this fat little Quarter Horse was by far the senior horse in the broodmare pasture and didn’t bear much resemblance to the Thoroughbreds.

Mare and foal
Weaning Day is here.

Jo separated herself in other ways. Her height (14.2 hands at five months) made her the tallest foal, and put her within inches of equaling Hermione. More noticeable, though, was her personality. No one could repair a downed fence board, or clean the waterers, or cut through the pasture, without our filly pressed up against his hands, begging for attention to some itch, real or imagined. She was never overbearing or poorly behaved, she just reveled in proximity to humans. That, I happily realize, is a positive legacy from her dam; all of Exotic Blue's foals have been this way.

On Aug. 18, our six-month test came to an end. It was time for weaning. For the record, Hermione's milk bag was full right up until the end, and Jo was still enjoying a liquid snack several times each day. The two behaved as any mare and foal during separation: the usual frantic whinnying, some depression, and then resignation. In the week since then, Jo has settled down nicely and has cemented her friendship with another weanling to fill the gap created by Hermione's absence.

What's next?
Something new around the corner.
For those readers who have requested a follow-up to the story, here are a few "where are they now" notes:
  • The process of inducing lactation in a non-pregnant mare deserves to be promoted as one of the most useful breeding innovations of the last several years. When widely implemented, it will save the lives of untold foals, will give new purpose to older or barren mares, and will present an economical alternative to the nurse mare industry. This is not a process that is limited to prosperous farms or to clients of top veterinary hospitals. It is the best hope for breeders and for horses, everywhere, who must deal with rejected or orphaned foals.
  • Exotic Blue has moved on to bigger pastures. Literally: she has the run of an 800-acre farm in eastern Kentucky while she’s being prepared for her new career as a Western pleasure mount and trail horse.
  • We're undecided on where to point Jo's Magic. The filly is big and correct and tears across the fields the way you'd expect a future racehorse to do; prepping her for a future yearling sale is a possibility. She’s also gentle and smart and has a graceful athleticism that would make her a natural dressage prospect, and we've decided that if we receive interest in her for a sporting career, we will consider selling Jo this autumn. Her half sister, 2-year-old Summer Weekend, is already in training as a hunter-jumper and when prospective purchasers come to see her, they often inquire about Jo. Wherever she goes and whatever she does, I know she'll be a star.
  • And that leads us to Hermione. Here's a mare who was always a favorite, always willing, always dependable... but it wasn’t until age 22 that she became a hero. What can she do for her next adventure? In my small neighborhood, there are young children in every house, and more on the way. Hermione will be that first ride that will live forever in the memories of these kids. She'll be the horse who forgives her young riders' bad form and heavy hands, and instructs them to be better equestrians the way only a wise old horse can do. She'll be the mare who stands quietly as she is groomed, yet again, and quite unnecessarily, by the next generation of horsemen and horsewomen. In the late summer each year, I'll try to reclaim this remarkable little horse to nanny the newest weanlings, to comfort them and teach them manners. In short, Hermione will be loved.


Post 25--April 21: Unqualified Success

Just under ten weeks ago, I was heartbroken and scared because I had a rejected newborn filly and didn’t really know what to do or how we could provide adequate care for her. Today, I can’t imagine Jo in any situation other than the one she’s living: carefree, well-nourished, and happily paired with a loving mom. Actually, I don’t often stop to think of the situation as being unusual, but there’s no question that the events of the past two-odd months have been extraordinary.

I returned from vacation today to find that Jo’s Magic has seemingly doubled in size in the past week. I was astonished by the amount of height, weight, and muscle that she was able to increase in only seven days. She’s a solid foal who’s really grown into her frame. Her potential is limitless, whether she goes on to race or becomes a sport or show horse. Jo still relishes the time that we spend handling her, so I feel confident that no matter what she does as her “first” career, she’ll be the type of horse who will always find a loving home as a pleasure mount later in life.

Exotic Blue has recovered fully and is officially “breeding sound.” She’s still being pointed towards a new career of her own, however, and I’m slowly getting her used to being saddled and ridden. We’ve had some interest in her from several readers, and I think she’ll be ready to find a new home within a few more weeks.

I’ve enjoyed chronicling this little adventure, and am ready to claim success on the experiment. While Jo and Blue played major roles in the story, the real central character has always been Hermione. I am going to call this test a complete success because of her.

Hermione is still producing a full bag of milk, and is raising Jo like her own. At this point, the filly could survive without milk if necessary--but that thought is only a nice little consolation. You can be sure that she won’t be weaned until she’s quite a bit older, probably at about five and a half months. The way things are going, I fully expect Hermione to produce milk right up through weaning.

What’s more, I think that the experience has been good for Hermione. The mare has lost some weight (she needs to lose more…) and has gained a great deal of muscle. The filly keeps her moving around a whole lot, and at speeds that I bet Hermione hasn’t attempted in years! And let’s not forget, Hermione is in horse heaven, getting two meals every day--and pretty hefty ones at that. Combined with all the extra attention and grooming and care, and the ability to raise a foal without having to go through pregnancy, this is probably the best Hermione’s ever had it. Life has to look pretty good through her eyes these days.

With success realized, I am going to take this opportunity to thank the many readers who have followed along on the journey, with special thanks to those of you who have written with suggestions and encouragement. I think that the terrific feedback from our readers has made it clear that this type of journal has a place on TheHorse.com, and you can expect to see more blogs on the site in the near future.

I’ll post any significant updates as they arise. In the meantime, please pass on the link to this article (http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=9048) to any horse owners who might benefit from the knowledge of the wonderful procedure of inducing lactation in a non-pregnant mare. Running around in my paddock right now is proof that the procedure can save a foal’s life.


Post 24--April 1: The Cool Mom

Spring has arrived in the Bluegrass and the two foals have stopped tagging along quite so close to their dams. They now venture off impressive distances across the field, darting back to their moms only when some horse eater approaches. (On our farm, a leaf blowing across the paddock, or a dog barking at the neighbor’s, or a particularly strong gust of wind can all qualify as horse eaters.)

At some point during these excursions, Jo met up with our Honour and Glory colt and struck up a fast friendship. The joys of horseplay were quickly embraced, and the two are now inseparable.

Complicating this camaraderie is the fact that the two mares aren’t on good social terms. Sometimes the two foals will find common ground halfway between their dams, but just as often, they frolic around Hermione, who stoically accepts two youngsters rearing and dancing and generally carrying on around her. And--you can probably guess where this is leading--I’ve caught the colt nursing on Hermione a couple of times during the play dates. I get a real kick out of watching this old mare with her two foals, neither of which share her genes.


Post 23--March 28: A Matter of Character

Jo is going to be a “people” horse. I really picked up that feeling for the first time tonight. She’s done well with being handled and has always seen people as a pleasant source of good food, but tonight she played around with us just for the fun of it, and I sensed that she’ll turn into one of those horses who really enjoys human interaction.

Jo jogging
A turn around the pasture is all in a day's play.

Our other foal, though, seems only to tolerate people. Truthfully, he’s sometimes better behaved than Jo, but the colt just exudes a sense of dissociation. He’ll do what he’s asked without argument, but he doesn’t want to be your friend.

Neither of those attitudes is really a surprise, but both are fascinating for me to see in action. Jo’s two sisters are both friendly. Her 2-year-old sister, Summer Weekend, has a perfect attitude: she’s happy when she’s running in the field with other horses, and equally content to go through some one-on-one training in the round pen. I try not to oversimplify their individual characters, but I really see a lot of the same qualities in Jo as I noticed in her sister when we raised her. Which is a good feeling, because the Summer Weekend is something special, and the prospect of another like her is heartening. As for the colt…I’ll be plenty happy if he continues with good ground manners and goes on to a successful race career, even if he never warms up to people very much.

Tabitha conducted a test tonight. While Hermione was eating her dinner, Tabitha prepared a bucket of formula and presented it to Jo’s Magic. After a bit of playing around with the liquid, Jo raised her wet muzzle and shook herself dry, leaving the full contents of the bucket for Tabitha to discard. The filly isn’t going hungry!


Post 22--March 22: Getting to Know Each Other

Watch any mare as she interacts with her foal, and you’ll see her nip and push and generally physically dominate the foal to put it in line.

There’s a short window of opportunity when people have a physical advantage over young foals, and can teach lessons the same way their dams do. After the first few weeks, “who’s in charge” becomes a matter of outsmarting and outlasting the horse--and, often, cheating. I believe that these lessons need to start right from the beginning.

Footloose
Jo comes running when she sees one of "her people."

I believe in handling foals every day. Let me be clear--handling is not some long, challenging chore that will upset or bore the foal. For the first couple of months, it usually means just getting the foal used to having a hand run everywhere on his body, all while eating a few handfuls of grain. A handling session might last five minutes, and include a once-over of touching the ears and the back and all four legs. It might be only two minutes, during which all four feet are picked up and lightly rapped.

Jo started out a bit differently, with multiple daily visitors bringing buckets of milk, and frequent veterinary appointments, and generally being handled constantly. She has had more of a normal routine for the past week--I handle her while Hermione is having her morning and evening feed--and she has adjusted pretty well to the schedule. Jo objects to having her ears handled, and really dislikes anyone touching her back legs, but is generally happy to have people around and thinks she’s in heaven when anyone will scratch her rump.

Hermione’s bag has shrunk a bit, and is sometimes dry when I check her. We’re all watching closely to make sure that she’s providing enough milk for the filly. Jo hasn’t given any indication that she’s hungry (no back-and-forth trips to Hermione’s udder, which would indicate that she’s hungry but unable to nurse; no listlessness or loss of condition), so we’re still going forward with the idea that everything is working the way it should.


Post 21--March 18: Moving Day

If you ever want to see horses in motion, just switch their fields around. It’s good for at least a half hour of excitement.

The farm where Jo is growing up is divided into four main pastures. The way the land lies, the first and second pastures are most visible from the house. The second and third pastures have run-in access, and are usually the fields where the broodmares reside. Today, Hermione and Jo’s Magic, along with our other broodmare and her colt, moved from the third field to the second so we could watch them more frequently, since we won’t be up at the barn quite as often.

Two geldings had been located in the second pasture, so we just switched the residents of the two fields. Of course, that meant that every horse on the property suddenly had different neighbors. What a thrill it is to watch nine horses running and bucking and tearing around as they process their new situation. It seems that even horses who aren’t normally demonstrative will let loose and kick it up for a while.

The broodmares aren’t quite friends yet. They’ve always done well together before, but this is the first time they’ve been around each other with foals, and both are single-minded mothers--very protective and uninterested in socializing. There’ve been plenty of squeals, bared teeth, and flattened ears, but it’s mostly a show, and I know they’ll all settle down together soon.

The mares and foals still have the geldings in an adjacent field--just on their left now instead of their right. And they now have a new neighbor: Exotic Blue is in the next pasture over. It’s been long enough that probably none of the horses make any connection between Blue and Jo, but it sure makes an interesting sight for us human observers, to have Blue and Jo and Hermione all grazing sometimes within a few feet of each other.

Today’s been an eventful day for the foals, especially. They both received new halters--Jo outgrew hers and the colt had slipped out of his two days before while I was handling him. We generally keep a foal halter on our foals until they’re willing to let us remove and reattach a halter several times, and then after that we only halter them during lessons or feeding time.

The foals also have full-time access to a new creep feeder now. Hermione had figured out how to remove the restriction device from the feeder previously, and even when she left it on, her small muzzle allowed her to get to most of the grain. Hermione has always been on the wrong side of “rotund,” so it doesn’t come as a surprise that she’d try to cheat the creep feeder out of an extra meal--but that wasn’t especially good for either her or Jo. The new set-up involved manually bending the metal cross-pieces so that they’re closer together and bowed up a bit, plus the whole affair is screwed down to the fenceboard. Let’s see Hermione get by that!


Post 120--March 16: Second Month

Jo didn’t seem to notice that her supplemental feedings were becoming less frequent. In fact, the longer we waited between feedings, the less interested she was in the formula. The filly still whinnied at our approach and would convince Hermione to amble over to the barn, but it was more for Jo’s curiosity and amusement than for the meal. She would put her muzzle into the bucket and play around a bit, only occasionally taking a gulp.

Taking this as a good sign, we dropped down to three feedings yesterday, and just two today. Jo remains perky and energetic. She’s nibbling more of the mare and foal feed, but she’s not overtaxing Hermione (I tested the mare after watching Jo suckle today--there was plenty of milk remaining after the filly had drunk her fill).

It’s a few minutes after 11:00pm and I’ve just finished giving Jo her last feeding of the day. Unless she tells us otherwise, it’s also her last formula feeding ever.

One month ago tonight, Hermione felt the jab of her first hormone injection while Jo’s Magic attempted fruitlessly to nurse her new mom.


Post 19--March 14: Pellets, Schmellets

Jo is thriving.

We suspect that Hermione is producing enough milk to keep the filly well fed, and that the formula we're providing is just a nice dessert. A week ago, we dropped down to five daily feedings. Today, we lowered that to four. Within a week, we're going to stop supplementing altogether unless we see some indication that Jo needs the additional nourishment.

Exciting? Definitely. But it's also terribly scary. What if we're moving too fast? What if Jo goes hungry or loses weight? What if we're making the wrong decision?

Foal pellets
A new creep feeder and some foal pellets bring Jo into eating solid feed.

Having prepared meals for the foal dozens and dozens of times now, it's hard to step back and let Hermione take over completely. It's so much better to just keep feeding formula and not taking any chances. Right?

Well, maybe not. Foal formula does an excellent job, but no matter how many advances scientists make, it will never be as good as real mare's milk. And the more formula she drinks, the less Jo is going to nurse, which means decreased natural milk nutrients. Worse, a mare's milk production will usually decrease if her foal isn't nursing regularly, so we might actually be causing Hermione to produce less milk by feeding Jo more formula. And while it's nice for us that Jo needs only two minutes to drain a bucketful of formula, I can't help but worry that it's not natural for a foal to drink so much in such a short period of time.

We'll continue to watch closely to catch any problems as early as possible. One thing that gives me some peace of mind is that Jo's Magic has started to consume a good bit of solid food, so I know she's picking up some extra nutrients and calories that way.

Jo has been mouthing hay for a while now. Recently, she started to play with Hermione's grain as well. I've encouraged her and have used handfuls of grain as an enticement when I handle the filly. I found out right away that she didn’t think much of the pellets that are formulated for young foals. She would sniff them for a moment and--apparently deciding that the stuff wasn't edible--would then refuse to even taste the pellets.

Mixing the foal pellets with some sweet feed (the mare-and-foal formula that I give to the broodmares) made everything more appealing, though, and Jo will eat a couple of handfuls over the course of a day. Hermione and Brush Back would be only too happy to help her eat those handfuls, of course, so we've set up a creep feeder to give Jo exclusive access.

It's going to be odd, not going to the barn so often to feed. I hope we're making the right decision.


Post 18--March 11: The Company We Keep

Hermione and Jo were upgraded from the small grass pen to a three-acre pasture when our new colt was born four days ago. The original plan was to keep the colt and his dam in that same small pen for the first 10 days, and then introduce the two mares and two foals. We speeded up the process for a couple of reasons.

First, the wet and cold winter made the small enclosure a real mud pit, which was no fun for anyone--horse or human. Second, a main reason for the initial alienation was to give the new colt time to get comfortable on his feet before having to contend with a filly three weeks older than him. Watching Hermione and Brush Back shepherding their foals, though, it was pretty obvious that they were both plenty protective and it wasn't likely that the foals would play too rough anytime soon. So we changed the plan and now they're all pastured together. The two mares haven't gotten within 20 feet of each other, and their ears get pinned back when the distance drops under 30 feet.

The horses' familiarity and companionship will build quickly enough. I'm already looking forward to watching the filly and colt racing each other around their dams and playing little foal games.

In the meantime, there's plenty of farm work to keep us busy. The run-ins can really use a good mucking-out. ... Every horse on the farm needs a thorough grooming, which is a real chore now that they're heavily shedding winter coats. ... And I've been saying all winter that I need to clean up the hay loft. ... The riding arena needs to be leveled and cleared of the weeds that popped up last fall. ... Oh, and I guess it's warm enough to do some much-needed fence repair....


Post 17--March 9: Whither Blue?

Blue walking
Exotic Blue is slowly regaining condition.

I have greatly enjoyed the daily letters of support and encouragement from readers of the blog. Thank you all for following along on this little adventure, and for your kind words.

I've got to admit, I've been overwhelmed by readers' interest not only in Jo's Magic and Hermione, but also in Exotic Blue. Someone called her the "evil villain of the story" (and I still grin when I read those words), but many have wanted reassurance that the mare is recovering, and they've asked what the future holds for her.

Well, that's a good question. As for her recovery, she's well past the point of any lingering concern. Blue spent the first few days post-separation under close observation. She lived in her stall for a week, hand-walked a couple of times each day, to keep her from overexerting herself and worsening the uterine tear that could easily have become a serious condition.

Following that initial period of observation and containment, Blue was granted a little more freedom each day until she was back to full-time pasture living. For a while--during the dregs of winter's cold and snow--Blue shared a field with my riding horse--a grey/roan off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding named Dumbledore who, at 17 hands, is the only horse on the farm bigger than Blue.

Several days ago, as the worst of winter started to taper off, we moved a newly-purchased pleasure horse from his off-site quarantine into the field with Dumbledore, and I separated Blue into the neighboring pasture. She's alone, but she can hang out over the fence with Dumbledore and the new gelding.

Blue's medical prognosis taken care of, it's about time to consider what we're going to do with the mare now.

Blue in motion
Blue picks up the pace in her pasture.

We're not completely ruling out her future prospects as a broodmare--it's unlikely that the mare would reject another foal, and she does produce healthy and gentle-mannered offspring--but we have dismissed it as an option that we would consider pursuing. If she is ever bred again, it will be under a different owner.

The main option that we've been considering is whether to try to sell Blue immediately as an untrained pleasure/sport prospect, or if we should wait to sell her after she's already had some training. Keeping her is not a good long-term solution. We already have several riding horses, and I really think Blue has the potential to be much more than a trail horse for pleasure rides, which is the only riding we do.

So if a new career is before her, what are the challenges she'll face? Two years ago, Blue had a late foal (May 27) and took the year off from her broodmare duties. I took the opportunity to reacquaint the mare with a saddle and bridle. Back when she was 2 years old, she spent a couple of months in race training, but this was her first riding experience since then. Throughout the summer and fall that year, I took Blue (with suckling foal by her side) for an occasional short ride in the farm's outdoor arena and through neighboring farmland. She was certainly green, but she proved to have a light mouth and was quick to understand all the riding aids, so it wasn't long before I was asking her to pick up her trot and do some basic training routines. Her gentle, fluid motion impressed me at the time, and encourages me now that she'll transition nicely into an excellent mount. Additionally, being young, tall, quick, spirited, and a flashy dapple grey, she has many qualities in her favor.

Later this spring, when she's had another six weeks or so to finish healing, I think I'll dust off that saddle again and start to get her used to being ridden regularly. We'll see where things go from there.


Post 16--March 7: A Case of Mistaken Identity

It was early evening, about eight or nine hours after the new colt had been born, and Tabitha and I were waiting at the barn for Dr. Friend's arrival. This would be his fourth visit in the past three weeks--he had seen Jo's Magic when she was born and on her second day of life, and then again just before she turned two weeks old. Today, he was coming to do a routine first-day exam of Brush Back and her new foal.

The new colt
Another bay foal with a white star--but this one's only a couple of hours old.
The little pen where Jo and Hermione spent so much time is right at the front of the barn, and is the first thing farm visitors see as they get out of their cars. It's a convenient place to keep horses when they need to be easily accessible, but when being outdoors is preferable to being stalled--and is perfect for turning out a mare for her first few days with a new foal. 

When Dr. Friend arrived, he walked straight over to the enclosure and regarded the mare and foal with a look of obvious concern. He glanced over to Tabitha and me and said that something was wrong, that the foal looked like it hadn't gained any weight and that its small size was troubling. My heart dropped into my stomach. I had been quite pleased with the new colt's size and appearance.

Tabitha was quicker to pick up on the misunderstanding. Here we were, looking in "Jo's paddock" at a scrawny little bay foal with a white star on its head--Dr. Friend didn't realize that we'd switched the pastures around, and he was looking at the tiny newborn colt instead of at three-week-old Jo's Magic. No wonder he was concerned!

After we'd cleared up the confusion, we headed out to the broodmare pasture and Dr. Friend got to see the real Jo's Magic. Now, he was pleased. The filly is growing and gaining weight every day, and appears to be thriving.

I mentioned that we had dropped down from eight daily feedings to six, with the hopes of slowly eliminating additional meals. The veterinarian suggested cutting back more quickly, so Jo is now down to five meals per day.

The filly is enjoying the run of the big pasture, and we're enjoying the sight of her galloping along the long fenceline. She's now acquainted with several additional horses--four geldings in accompanying pastures--and I think life looks pretty good through her little foal eyes.


Post 15--March 7: Pasture Birth

When I walked in the barn this morning, I was a little disappointed that another day had arrived without a new foal for our now-overdue broodmare, Brush Back. Last night when I brought her in from the field, she had given every indication that foaling was imminent, including heavy waxing and a relaxed, elongated vulva.

She had that look that broodmares get towards the end of gestation--the one that tells you she's not at all amused and she suspects that somehow you're at fault for this heavy, bloated feeling that she's experiencing. The look that says, Just give me my dinner and don't mess with me tonight.

So I made quick work of preparing Brush Back for the evening. I did a pre-foaling wash, wrapped her tail, double-checked that the stall was clean and knee-high with straw, and then removed the mare's halter before closing the stall door.

I had my alarm set every hour overnight to get up and monitor the in-stall camera, and Chris checked the mare while he was at the barn for Jo's late-night feeding.

But now it was morning and Brush Back was as big and as grumpy as she had been the previous evening. It was apparent that she was going to do this on her own schedule. I accepted that there would be another night before me of hourly checks--and then didn't give it any more thought as I finished the morning routine. After all the horses were through with feeding, I released Brush Back into the broodmares' large pasture, brought Hermione and Jo to their familiar little pen, and rushed off to work.

When my cell phone rang during a late-morning meeting and I saw that it was a call from the barn, I guessed what the news would be. Brush Back had held on for some freedom and privacy, and had foaled out in the pasture. We had a good-looking new colt! (And a protective mom who didn't want anyone anywhere near her new baby.)


Post 14--March 4: No Comparison

What a difference a couple of weeks can make. Or even days.

Jo's ribs have stopped showing. She's not getting fat by any stretch of the word, but she's filled out pretty well. I see the difference every time I see her, which is at least twice daily. Chris and Tabitha have noticed the same happy development on their feed runs.

Jo and Hermione
Hermione keeps eating, but Jo takes a moment to greet the photographer.

This filly is the largest foal we've had. Exotic Blue is 16.2 hands, but her previous two fillies are both much smaller-framed than their dam, and we were beginning to think that Blue was just going to produce small foals. Jo looks like she'll be the exception.

Several readers have asked about Jo's breeding. The filly is a Thoroughbred and the mating was intended to produce a racing prospect. Jo is by the stallion David Copperfield, a graded stakes winner, who excelled at distances of just over a mile. Combined with Blue's breeding, we expect that Jo will be a good sprinter.

We're used to bigger Thoroughbreds on the farm--Exotic Blue is impressively large for a mare, and Dumbledore, a gelding racehorse-turned-trailhorse, is a full 17 hands. Our other broodmare, Brush Back, stands right at 16 hands but has her sire's stocky stature--Broad Brush was built like a bulldog. But while we are accustomed to handling bigger Thoroughbreds, we're new to having such a large foal. Jo's Magic is almost ready to graduate from her first halter, a leather figure-eight halter meant for the foal's first month.

I should mention: all this time that Jo has continued to gain weight and stature, she's done so without any additional formula rations. We've stuck to the 24 cups per day that she's gotten since she was born. I'm still not positive that Hermione's going to be able to produce enough to sustain Jo long-term, but she must be providing her with something substantial to contribute to the filly's growth. Time will tell, I suppose.


Post 13--March 2: A Foal's Life

Jo's Magic is meeting all kinds of fellow "critters" on Chris and Tabitha's farm. There is a big grey tomcat ("Fraidycat") who calls the barn home, and who likes to follow the horses and sleep wherever they've been lying down. Fraidycat thinks it's terrific to have the mare and filly in the usually-empty front pen, so close to his barn.

Sydney, the farm Blue Heeler, is Jo's introduction to dogs. Sydney and Fraidycat are best friends--unless Chris comes anywhere near, at which point Sydney pretends to harass the cat. She isn't pretending to harass the horses, though--she thinks it's her duty to keep them herded in a small corner of their pastures. Sydney's a house dog, so at least they don't have to put up with her too much.

At night, Jo gets to listen to the constant howling of what seems like dozens (but is probably only three or four) of coyotes in the neighboring woods. The broodmares always let me know if the coyotes are too close--they pace their stalls at feeding time and leave half their dinner in the bin. I haven't heard of any problems with horses or other livestock in the area, but it's one more reason that I'm glad our little rejected filly has a new, protective guardian.

Jo also knows a raccoon that's made his residence in the barn's hayloft, and that scampers around the rafters when I lead the horses through the barn aisle to their stalls. I've seen cars pull up to the area and release raccoons from "safety" traps, so I guess it's not surprising that we're dealing with this unwanted resident. Fortunately, other than tipping over the feed containers every once in a while, he hasn't caused any real trouble.

Another wildlife friend also hasn't caused any problems yet, but I really don't want to wait around and see what happens. A skunk has decided that the horse pastures are a gravy train, and he comes along to clean up the spilled grain from the outdoor feeders. I've been giving Hermione some of her grain mixed into hay flakes (to slow down her consumption--a good trick for laminitic horses) and so the skunk has become a frequent visitor to Jo's little paddock.

Add to the list cattle from neighboring farms, birds of all kinds, snakes and rodents that Tabitha vehemently denies are anywhere on the property, and at least one fox sighted in the area, and Jo is getting exposed to a whole menagerie of other species--not to mention the nine other horses on the farm and several more in the neighborhood.

I'm not sure what Jo's future holds. Maybe she'll overcome her adverse start at life and will develop into a winning racehorse. Perhaps she'll be suited to a career as a sporthorse or hunter-jumper. Whatever prospects she has, I know one thing: she won't ever have a good excuse for shying away from other animals.


Post 12--Feb. 28: Highs and Lows

The weather hasn't cooperated. Nor has our other broodmare.

Jo will be two weeks old tomorrow, and she still lives in the pen that's attached to the barn. She and Hermione spend the coldest nights in a box stall next to our other broodmare, Brush Back. Ideally, the weather would be 10 degrees warmer and Brush Back would have foaled by now--two factors that would make me feel better about moving Hermione and Jo to the larger pasture that will be their long-term home.

Jo's favorite time of day
Jo knows the feeding routine pretty well by now.
Dr. Friend, the veterinarian who helped out so much when Jo was first rejected by her dam, came out to the farm tonight to do a routine health cert for a boarder's horse. He was more eager to see Jo, though, and spent about a half-hour talking to me about the filly's growth and about Hermione's progress. He indicated that Jo was still underweight but thought that within a few weeks she would catch up. He was enthusiastic about Hermione's heavy udder. His comments encouraged me and I felt better about our potential for success.

Over the past couple of days, I've gone through countless moments jumping from frustration (the foal is hungry and Hermione appears dry) to elation (Jo refuses dinner, one squeeze produces a jet of milk from Hermione) and back again, each time I make another feeding trip. It's too early to worry about failure, but that doesn't make the worries stop.

Jo's Magic continues to pick at Hermione's hay and to mouth her grain. I'm not sure if she's getting much nutrition from it, but I'm offering handfuls of foal pellets and sweet feed to the filly, and she at least enjoys moving it around her mouth.

Dr. Friend had warned me early on that some mares will appear to respond to the lactation induction triggers, but will dry up within a couple of weeks. He encouraged me to introduce foal pellets early so that Jo will have a head start on solid foods if Hermione stops producing. But tonight he was encouraging: Hermione's coming along well, and her udder looks like a broodmare's. Now that she's let down, she should start producing milk like crazy. Mares that let down like this will usually keep producing as long as the foal continues to suckle. I was elated.

As Dr. Friend was leaving, he stopped and turned to me. "You're giving her pellets, right? Just in case?"

Seems that every step of this process has highs, and then lows, and then highs again….


Post 11--Feb. 25: Stimulating Activity

I never know what to expect when I head up to the barn at feeding time. Usually Jo greets me (or, at least, the milk bucket) with an excited whinny, but occasionally she's disinterested. Knowing that her lack of interest means that she's already full, I would prefer the latter more frequently.

We've pared down the number of daily meals offered to Jo. We started at 12 feedings, each consisting of two cups of formula, and cut that to eight three-cup meals after the first week. Now we're down to six four-cup feedings each day. What do all those numbers mean? Well, for Jo, it's easy--she's getting a consistent 24 cups of formula each day. For her owners, though, the difference is huge. At 12 feedings per day, someone was going up to the barn every other hour. Four o'clock in the morning is a bleary-eyed, foggy-headed time of day to have to pull on a pair of muddy boots, hike up to the barn, prepare a bucket of sickly-sweet-smelling milk replacer, and then go stand out in the cold while a little filly dribbles the sticky liquid on your cold hands. Two in the afternoon isn't much better, though--when everyone's working, the mid-afternoon is about the least convenient time to drop everything and take a 20- or 30-minute break from work. Repeat that every two hours through the workday and see how much you get accomplished! So being able to drop down to six daily feedings has made for three much happier horse owners.

But... you quickly point out...a 10-day-old foal needs to eat more often than every four hours, and a filly as big as Jo really needs more than the six quarts of liquid we're providing.

Now, before you get the idea that we're starving the poor filly…we definitely are keeping close wraps on her, watching for any decrease in energy, signs of dehydration, and weight fluctuation. The cut-back in formula is strategic: we want Jo to get a little bit hungry when we're not there. Jo's playing an important role now in Hermione's treatment--she is providing the "suckle stimulus" that is crucial to promoting lactation. It's important for her to continue nursing, both for the nutrients that she consumes, and for the benefit that Hermione receives.

Hermione began the final stage of hormone treatment yesterday: five-times-daily injections of oxytocin, which acts to increase milk production and "let down" the mare's bag. A nice reader emailed me about another possible advantage of oxytocin: it might act to increase maternal affections. If you could see Jo and Hermione together, you'd know that wasn't a concern in this particular situation--the two are inseparable--but it could certainly help if this lactation induction technique is used with a less enthusiastic mare.

At this stage, I don't know what to think about the long-term success of the induction technique. Hermione is producing some milk, which is providing Jo with at least some of her nutritional requirements. But it doesn't seem to be a whole lot of milk, nor a consistent output. It's not fair to be disappointed yet, because all the experts have indicated that the process could take as long as two weeks or even 20 days before maximum output is realized. We're forcing ourselves to think positively--but we're also trying to come up with fall-back options if this doesn't work out.


Post 10--Feb. 21: Udder Surprise

When my cell phone rang a bit after 9:00am and I noticed the caller ID, I braced for bad news. Tabitha was calling from the farm--something must have gone wrong.

Jo feeding
Jo digs in now that Hermione has started to produce milk.

Her voice was talking into my ear and I knew she was trying to tell me something important, but all I processed was, "The filly didn't eat. She ignored the bucket."

Tabitha's tone was wrong. She should have been concerned, but she sounded giddy. It took a moment to register that this was good news: Jo wasn't eating because she was already full.

Hermione had started to bag up overnight. It was subtle, but there was no mistaking that her udder had enlarged. She had made it through the first several days of P&E and sulpiride injections, and now had only five days left of the sulpiride. She also had two more days of P&E shots, and then would come the single dose of lutalyse, and several days of oxytocin. So theoretically, this was roughly the half-way point of the treatment procedure. Dr. Steiner had suggested that many mares will start to lactate by Day 7, but here we were on Day 5 and Tabitha was able to confirm a steady stream of milk. Jo’s Magic had to work a little harder (she could drink four cups from the bucket in three minutes flat), but she was getting the real thing now.

A coworker told me that Hermione should be sainted. I'm starting to agree.


Post 9--Feb. 19: Laminitis? Hermione in Pain

One wince was enough to convince me that something wasn't right. Hermione tensed up with pain just shifting her weight before she even started to walk towards me. She'd seemed a bit stiff this morning when I fed her--she has arthritis, and I hadn't given it much thought--but 12 hours later, there was no mistaking her agony, and it frightened me.

It was about 6:00pm and I had just returned home from work to feed the filly and give Hermione her evening shots. As the mare approached, her every movement was deliberate, and she only moved about six inches with each step. My first thought was that she probably had a laminitic episode.

While Hermione hasn't had any trouble in the seven years that Tabitha's owned her, we were aware that the mare had suffered from laminitis sometime in the past--and a horse that's had laminitis once is prone to repeated difficulties. Hermione's an easy keeper (which is a nice way of saying she's fat) and so she never gets more than a handful of grain at a time. But now with her new role as a potential nursemare, we had started to give her increasingly large portions of a mare-and-foal feed. While we were careful to spread the feed across several meals to avoid giving her a large quantity all at once, Hermione was still eating a lot more than her body was used to.

A thorough examination turned up no heat or swelling in her feet or legs, no specific sensitivity, no lacerations or bruising--in short, nothing that would suggest that her discomfort was caused by laminitis or injury. Tabitha confirmed that Hermione hadn't shown any significant pain during the other mid-day feedings. I was puzzled, but I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe a combination of factors--her arthritis, the weather fluctuations, and the hormone injections--had caused the soreness. Her body was going through some big changes--at this point, she'd been on the therapy three days and the hormones were fooling her into thinking she was pregnant.

We would want to watch for any worsening of her condition, but there didn't seem to be anything to do immediately.

Hermione and Jo returned to the stall for the evening, where it would be dry and a bit warmer. Judging by the way she rattled her feed bin, Hermione didn't think it necessary to cut back so drastically on her dinner ration. It's usually a good sign when a horse is hungry, so I allowed myself the first smile of the evening, scratched her withers for a minute, and left the mare with her little one.


Post 8--Feb. 18: Pens and Needles

I've never put too much faith in "equine understanding." Horses just don't see things the same way humans do. But the past few days have convinced me that one horse, at least, sees the bigger picture here. Hermione seems to understand that the frequent injections she's receiving are related to her having this new filly. Hermione's neck has started to look a bit like a pin cushion, between the P&E and the sulpiride shots--but she doesn't shy away when she sees me approaching with the big syringes. She looks at me warily, then sighs, walks over, and waits for the two needle jabs.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that I also have a scoop full of sweet feed.

Hermione's medications
Hermione will receive 4 hormones and a total of 48 injections in the 10-day lactation induction procedure.
Over the past couple of days, my father, friends, and I have made about 10 trips to various pharmacies and ag supply stores to pick up all the medications, hormones, syringes, needles, foal formula, and other essentials for taking care of Jo's Magic, Hermione, and Exotic Blue. If I ever have to do this again, I'm going to remember to buy double what I think I'll need--that way, I'll only have to go back half as often!

To facilitate the frequent feedings, we've kept Hermione and Jo in a small paddock that's attached to the barn. I was worried that Jo would go her first couple of weeks without having the ability to really get up to speed--but I should have saved my concerns. Today, I watched as the filly ran laps around her new mom. The sight really lifted my heart. Here she was--a three-day-old filly, only a couple of days removed from being rejected by her dam, living off of formula out of a bucket--and she was having the time of her life, jumping and bucking and running circles around her old nanny in this little pen on the first sunny day of her life.

I think Jo liked being out in the pen. She was about to spend her first full night outside. For the past couple of cold evenings, she'd been put up for the night with Hermione in a stall that backs up to the pasture where my riding horse, Dumbledore, lives. The first time Dumbledore came over to visit, he stuck his head into the stall and Hermione let him know in no uncertain terms that of the three horses present, he was the low guy on the totem pole. Dumbledore and Hermione have been together for four years, and even though he's two hands taller and a hundred pounds heavier, he's never dared to question her judgment. Jo seemed to get a kick out of having another horse around for company--even if he was separated by the stall's dutch door. But dry and relatively warm weather would allow a night outdoors, so Jo would stay in the little paddock, and I would be able to avoid mucking the stall for one evening.

All in all, things are going well.


Post 7--Feb. 17: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

Blue's behavior was puzzling. While maiden mares will occasionally reject their foals (the Mar. 3 issue of The Blood-Horse includes an article mentioning that the dam of Kentucky Derby hopeful Stormello rejected him as a foal—he was raised by a nursemare), it's quite unusual for an experienced broodmare to do so. Exotic Blue had been an attentive and protective mom twice before. I still couldn't grasp what was different this time. Sure, the foal was a bit slow to find her feet—but once she did, why did Blue refuse her?

Blue receiving fluids by intubation
Blue is intubated for treatment--suffering from uterine bleeding and postpartum stress.

While that thought was at the back of my mind--and honestly, I was still rather annoyed with the mare--I was starting to become concerned about Blue's condition. After nearly a year of carrying a large foal and then the physical trauma of delivery, Blue had been subjected to a couple of days of heavy sedation, multiple IM and IV medications, and stall-tying. We had really stressed her out while trying to unite her with her filly. When I came in to the barn the day after the final separation, I started to realize how much physical stress she was feeling.

Blue stood there, shivering and glassy-eyed. The tranqs should have completely worked their way out of her system, and even though it was bitterly cold outside, Blue had never shivered like this in any weather--and certainly not when stalled. More worrisome, she had not defecated in the last 12 hours. A vet visit--my regular veterinarian was back and came this time--confirmed that the mare was mildly impacted, and shed some light on the larger situation. Blue had uterine bleeding. A small tear had opened, almost certainly during foaling two days earlier. The blood loss and the pain must have contributed to Blue's refusal of her foal. While that realization didn't make the current situation any easier, it did allow me to forgive the mare for what she'd done.

Blue's prognosis was good--if she got through the night. Assuming no complications, a few days of IM penicillin and stall rest would be the only treatment necessary. (I should probably mention, we'd decided already that Blue wouldn't be bred back this year--and maybe never again.)

So, Blue got a bit of an excuse for her behavior. Mentally reviewing the whole event, I also resolved to be a lot more careful in the future--I won't remove the placenta from the foaling stall or refresh the bedding until the foal is up and nursing. Even with an experienced broodmare, it's best to avoid messing with nature until it's apparent that the maternal bond has been allowed to develop.


Post 6--Feb. 16: Bottles (and Buckets) for Baby

So Jo and Blue weren't going to be re-introduced. Deciding to go this route was the easy part, and I think all parties--especially Blue and Jo--were happy with the choice.

But actually following this course, I soon realized, was going to be a challenge. Jo's Magic had stolen her last drink from her dam. Whatever the future held--whether or not we could get Hermione to produce milk--the next couple of weeks would continue to rotate around those every-other-hour trips to the barn. That little filly might be only a couple of days old, but she was going to have an appetite like… well, like a racehorse.

After a trip to the equine pharmacy, we started Hermione's hormone injections that evening. Twice each day to start, I would be giving her an intramuscular (IM) shot of progesterone and estradiol ("P&E"). Additional hormones would be added at a set schedule--the next 10 or 12 days would include a tight timetable of multiple hormone injections, actually, that would force Hermione’s body to feign pregnancy, and would theoretically lead to milk production.

We found a lot of options for powdered formula to feed the filly. Based on the feeding chart listed on the formula tubs, it was going to cost about $8 per day to nourish the foal. We picked up all the necessary equipment, and decided on a feeding program.

If anyone ever tells you that a foal's natural instinct is to suckle, and therefore any nipple-like feeding device should work fine--it's a lie. Some rubber-nipple-manufacturing company somewhere thinks this is a great joke.

Jo's formula bucket
Attempts to bottle-feed the filly weren't successful. She took to the bucket pretty quickly, though.
Jo would happily suck on my fingers for hours, if I'd let her. She was content to suck on the stall door, the empty feed bin, or (her favorite target) Hermione's equally-empty teats. But she acted insulted when anyone brought in a bottle of formula with a plastic nipple. We tried everything. We squirted a little milk on the bottle tip to let her know what it contained. We held the bottle against her lips, we squeezed it to get the milk flowing. We even got down behind Hermione and held the bottle so that the nipple protruded between her two teats. Jo switched from one dry teat to the other… over, and over, and over. When the rubber nipple got in her way, she shook her head a little and tried to nose it aside.

For the next two feedings, we tried a big two-liter soda bottle, then an infant bottle, and finally a small glass rootbeer bottle, and met with abject failure each time. We used fake nipples with small holes and others with large openings, we offered them cooled and warmed and every other way we could. The filly must have felt hunger pangs, but she never yielded. She got a few ounces of nourishment in her when we half-squirted, half-poured it into her mouth. I was worried that she would aspirate the liquid, but equally concerned that she was going to become dehydrated.

At the midnight feeding, I went through this routine yet again, and had as much success. A boarder at the farm came by to do a late-evening check on her horses, and I told her, with considerable frustration, that I was about ready to pour the bottle into a bucket, leave it in the stall, and hope she figured out how to drink it! Kate went over to her supply closet, pulled out a new rubber pail, and basically told me to give it a shot. Figuring that it couldn't get much worse, I emptied the three cups of formula (by now it was cold--it had been warm when I started 45 minutes earlier!) into the bucket, and held it out to the filly. She lowered her head into the container and started to slurp. Within 90 seconds, Jo was through. She raised her milk-mustachioed face (boy, I wish I had a shot of that for the "Got Milk?" ads!) and went to the corner of the stall to lie down and sleep.

The other middle-of-the-night feedings took about three minutes each. Jo's Magic would whinny excitedly when the barn door opened, would watch the bucket as it was carried through her stall door, and would make short work of its contents. Hermione quickly got used to the interruptions, too--she received a couple of handfuls of sweet feed every time we disturbed the two. She'd need the extra nutrients if she was going to start producing milk….

In the meantime, she and Jo were quickly forgetting that they hadn't started out together. Hermione's opinion was clear: she loved this filly and she was going to be her mom. Jo agreed wholeheartedly.


Post 5--Feb. 16: Orphan Options

While Hermione and Jo got to know each other, I talked with Chris and Tabitha about where we were headed—with a day-old filly who needed to eat every other hour, we'd have to come to a decision pretty quickly. Bottle-feeding would be time-prohibitive, since we all work long hours and our schedules wouldn't be conducive to the foal's feeding schedule.

Tabitha made inquiries about obtaining a nurse mare while Chris looked into local organizations that might be set up to provide care to an orphan foal. As luck would have it, my research was easier: I just called my boss. Kim Brown, editor of The Horse, has a lifetime of experience with horse health issues, and I knew she would be able to suggest ideas that I wouldn’t find elsewhere.

Feeding
While Exotic Blue is heavily drugged and restrained, Dr. Woodrow Friend helps to point Jo's Magic towards one of the few meals she'd get from her dam.
In addition to sharing advice on bottle-feeding methods and giving me contact information for a local nurse mare provider, Kim reminded me of a research report that was recently featured in the magazine and on TheHorse.com. The gist of the report is that veterinarians have been successful at getting nonpregnant mares to produce milk. Dr. Steiner (John V. Steiner, DVM, Dipl. ACT, of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky.) had significantly modified an earlier experimental procedure (from a study led by Peter F. Daels, DVM, PhD, of the Equine Embryo Transfer Center in Passendale, Belgium) and his new protocol was showing a high success rate. I'd seen the article a month earlier (in fact, I think I proofread the report before we published it), but now I went back and carefully reread the information.

Wow! Within a couple of weeks, it might be possible to take an idle mare out of the pasture and stimulate her to produce enough milk to raise an orphan foal. The idea that this could be done at all--much less with the regularity reported by Dr. Steiner--seemed phenomenal. Thanks to my work connections, I was able to speak directly with Dr. Steiner for a brief consultation, and he reiterated the information in the article. He cautioned that, at 22 years old and five years removed from having her own foal, Hermione was not an ideal candidate for this procedure--but also thought it was promising that the mare had already started to accept the filly.

While we were busy researching our options, Jo was busy getting hungry. Hermione seemed to have forgotten that the filly wasn't really hers, and was even letting Jo suckle. Of course, Hermione had been dry for several years and the foal wasn't going to get any reward, no matter how hard she sucked or how many times she switched from one teat to the other. We decided that we'd give Jo one last meal of "real milk" before switching over to an all-formula diet since Exotic Blue was still sedated from the morning feeding.

While Jo was ushered into Blue's stall and Hermione was led to an adjacent stall to wait for her, the barn rang with whinnies of protest. The filly wasn't too pleased to go from a loving companion to her hateful dam. Normally-sedate and complacent Hermione didn't agree to the separation, either, and she was going to let us know it. In fact, she paced the floor and jostled the stall door for the duration of the eight-minute separation, and she never stopped screaming. Having met the filly only a couple of hours earlier, we were surprised by her degree of possessiveness. But her reaction helped seal the deal on our decision. How could we separate the two now?

We spoke with our veterinarians at Rood & Riddle and made it official: we would play the odds and see if Hermione could make the transition from nanny to nursemare.


Post 4--Feb. 16: Resignation, and Back to Work

Exotic Blue never wavered from her decision.

Overnight, we trekked up to the barn every two hours to make sure that the filly was getting nourishment. On the first trip, we had to readminister the tranquilizers (Acepromazine and Dormosedan) in addition to restraining the mare with hobbles and a stall tie. She appeared sedated at first, but when the filly latched on, Blue jumped a foot off the ground and came down with all four legs thrashing. We resorted to using a chain lip twitch to contain her for the duration of the feeding.

On our next few trips to the barn, we were encouraged to find the filly up and nursing on her own—maybe the two had reconciled and the troubles were behind us. Sure, Blue was still sedated and restrained, but she didn't seem to be offering any resistance. Fingers crossed, we left the two alone.

Old mare, new purpose
The two look like they belong together--even if Jo's Magic does look pretty big next to the 15-hand Hermione.
At daylight, we tried a test. We'd stopped administering additional sedatives, so Blue was more lucid than she'd been in 12 hours. As I monitored the mare, Chris led the filly from the stall and out of sight. A protective mom would prance and whinny and generally carry on in this circumstance. Blue never glanced over. A moment later when the filly was brought back into the stall, Blue pinned her ears and tried to kick out with her rear legs. Blue had failed the test.

This mare was not only a danger to the foal, but also to any handler when the filly was nearby. After one more consultation with the veterinarian, we made the decision to separate the foal permanently. I led the filly to her small paddock—she still needed exercise to counteract those contracted tendons—and resigned myself to defeat.

Without saying anything, Tabitha walked over to one of the larger pastures, haltered her riding horse, and led her through the barn to the filly's turnout area. Hermione is a 22-year-old Quarter Horse mare who has been a terrific nanny to the farm's weanlings in recent years, and she'd had a couple of foals of her own in the distant past. Maybe she could provide companionship while we try to think what to do with the filly, Tabitha thought.

The two ladies—old Hermione and new Jo's Magic (as Tabitha had started to call her)—nickered a moment and sniffed at each other. Hermione looked mildly perturbed for a total of perhaps three minutes as "Jo" poked and prodded, and then seemed to accept her new charge.

I didn't know it at the time, but Hermione was about to become the most important horse on the farm. At barely over 24 hours old, Jo's Magic had just found her new mommy.


Post 3--Feb. 15: Rejection! (and Sedation)

Dr. Friend administered some sedatives so that Blue would calm down. After the tranquilizers had started to take effect, we guided the filly to her long-overdue first meal. Even sedated, Blue reacted harshly to the filly's presence. I've already mentioned that this mare has a quick-trigger rear kick... well, she put it to use and added some new dents to the stall door. More sedatives, plus securing Blue to the tie-ring in her stall, bought us enough time to satiate the foal's appetite. All that to get a mare to feed her foal--things weren't looking promising.

Rejected filly, day one
Exotic Blue's filly at six hours old--she's a big girl! The foal has started to prefer human company, here shown with co-owner Tabitha Dotson.
Blue started to regain her senses about an hour later (all those sedatives had made her kind of loopy) so Chris and I led the mare and foal out to a small grass paddock. We hoped that the new activity would bring the two together. We released them and retreated to give the horses some time alone to bond.

The paddock we used is just a semi-circle with a diameter of 48 feet. Blue made it a point to stay at least 35 or 40 feet away from the foal at all times. Any time the filly approached, Blue would pin her ears, bare her teeth, and hurry off to the opposite end of the enclosure. That went on for a couple of hours, and I thought it was a bad sign. Unfortunately, it got worse. At one point, the foal started towards her dam, and Blue wheeled around and "double barreled" the filly. It wasn't a warning--the kick sent the filly flying 20 feet across the paddock.

Whether out of bravery and perseverance or hardheaded ignorance, the foal hadn't given up yet. She tried again to sidle up towards "Mom" and was rewarded with a savage attack. Blue bit at the foal's back, and then picked her up, shook her vigorously, and threw her to the ground. Fortunately, the cold weather had caused us to blanket the filly, so the mare's teeth had grabbed hold of fabric instead of skin and flesh.

More sedatives followed, with forced, supervised feedings necessary. Even "doped up" to where she could hardly stand, the mare was a danger to her foal. By now, the filly was exhibiting signs of fear. She needed a lot of urging to go anywhere near her dam, and was starting to bond with her human handlers. An uneasy feeling started to settle in: we were dealing with permanent rejection.

Dr. Friend returned later in the evening to intubate the foal and administer colostrum, because IgG test results had confirmed that the filly hadn't taken in sufficient antibodies during her first hours. The veterinarian also located a set of hobbles for us, and we set up the mare in her stall--hobbled, stall-tied, and sedated--so that the foal could feed safely throughout the night.

Tomorrow would be a big day. If Blue wouldn't allow the foal to nurse freely, and if she still exhibited violent behavior towards the filly, we would have to consider our options. And to be frank, the options for a rejected foal usually aren't pretty.


Contracted tendons
Contracted tendons prevented the filly from standing normally.
Post 2--Feb. 15: Signs of Trouble

Two hours later when the foal hadn't yet stood or nursed, I started to worry. The filly's only attempts to stand were hampered by contracted tendons in both rear legs. She couldn't plant her feet squarely, and couldn't manage to steady herself upright. Another two hours later, I had spoken to my veterinarian, Dr. Tom Daugherty of Rood & Riddle in Lexington, Ky., and he had sent a fellow practitioner to evaluate the situation. Dr. Woodrow Friend arrived just as the new filly managed to plant all four feet for the first time.

Dr. Friend urged Chris and Tabitha and me--the co-owners of the mare and foal--to release Blue and her filly in a small grass paddock outside the barn as soon as the foal had nursed. The exercise and motion would help to correct the fetlock contraction. But before that next step, the filly would need to get her first meal.

Now that the foal was up and moving around--albeit shakily, on unsteady legs and walking mostly on the points of her hind hooves--it was becoming clear that Blue's attitude had shifted, and she was looking at the foal less as "my new filly" and more as "that pain-causing stranger." Around hour five of her life, the filly started to search purposefully for her mom's udder, but Blue made a beeline for the other side of the stall as soon as her filly approached. At first it seemed like she was just sensitive and maybe nervous, but then her ears started to flatten each time the foal came near. Blue's body language started to scream "stay away if you know what's good for you."


Post 1--Feb. 14-15: Imminent Arrival

Valentine's Day was another frozen day in an unusually long cold spell in Central Kentucky. My seven-year-old Thoroughbred broodmare, Exotic Blue, looked comically distorted, with a belly that stuck out dramatically on both sides and fell so low that I had to crane my neck just to locate her udder. At 16.2 hands tall and with a rangy build, this pregnancy was the first time I'd ever thought "Blue" looked like a broodmare, even though it would be her third foal.

Body language
Exotic Blue seemed to accept the foal at first, but her body language soon indicated a change of heart.
There was no mistaking the situation on that Feb. 14 evening: foaling time wasn't going to be far off. Once I did sight the mare's udder, I could see it had bagged up quite a bit since that morning--and it had already been filling up a lot over the previous two days. She had a large cap of milk crust on each teat. The frigid temperatures had helped to make it obvious that she was waxing up, freezing a layer of the dripping milk over the head of each nipple.

Blue has the type of attitude that gives broodmares a bad name. She is especially sensitive near her flank, and anyone brave enough to reach for her udder will be rewarded with a cow kick that several times has knocked veterinarians to the other side of the stall. I did my best to clean her in preparation for foaling, then led her into the broodmare stall and latched the door for the evening. Even if she did show irritable temperament during examination, Blue was generally a friendly mare and had been a terrific mom to two prior fillies. I was confident that she'd soon have another foal by her side and the months of waiting would be over.

Our in-stall wireless video camera wasn't functioning properly in the cold weather, so every 90 minutes that night, I bundled into several layers of clothing to make the two-minute walk to the barn. Each time, Blue seemed a bit more distressed, and made it obvious that she wanted to be released to her pasture. When I went up to the barn at 6 a.m., I wasn't surprised to hear an additional little whinny coming from Blue's stall. I peered through the barred window down to the straw-covered floor and saw a large bay foal with a big white star on the center of its forehead. Blue had cleaned the foal and the mare's placenta was still hanging: an apparently successful delivery.

About the Author

Scot T. Gillies

Scot Gillies is Editor, Professional Products at Blood-Horse Publications. Outside of the office, he trail rides with his off-the-track gelding, breeds and races Thoroughbreds, and is a terrible handicapper, invariably losing money (but still having fun) at the racetrack. He is a former photo/newsletter editor for The Horse.

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