Tres is showing signs of getting ready for birthing. Her teats have filled, indicating that her baby will be arriving within the next thirty days. We work to complete the foaling shed so that she has a comfortable, dry and warm place to give birth, as she’s due earlier than I should have allowed. (That darned Flying Crow!)
Foaling season used to be my favorite time of year. Hands down. Nothing beat it. For a dozen years, this would be the highlight of my year, the moment that the rest of the year would all lead up to, or come after.
But it is different now. Now I approach foaling season with fear, with dread, with an unfortunate sense of trepidation, with a black cloud following me every day.
I would like to focus on the positive, but I am frightened, and for good reason. I will try to make this brief so you understand, and then we shall move on with positive thoughts and see that we do all we can in preparation of wonderful things.
Throughout my years of homesteading and living on ranches, I have lost many a sheep, rabbits, chickens, even older horses, dogs, cats… but this was harder for me. I thought perhaps I was hardened by my other losses. A loss is a loss, no matter what it is, I know, but I was unprepared for handling the loss of a foal. I told Bob it would happen some day. I knew it would. It is a part of life. That would not stop me from having them in my life. My horses are my extended family. They are precious to me and treasured in my life.
I had been so lucky. Fourteen babies over the years, all healthy. The worst complication involved was a retained placenta. I was thrilled anticipating number 15. It was Tres’ third birth. She knew what to do, and did it well. It should have gone well. And it did. The birthing did. Passing the placenta was uneventful. Learning to nurse was no issue. The first imprinting sessions, something we have had such good luck with for handling our foals, all went super.
But on the morning of the fourth day, the foal was down, and had that look in her eyes that I’ve seen in lambs. The look that they are leaving. They will not come back. A look of goodbye.
Isolated and remote as we are, our road was not yet plowed open for the season. We bundled the baby up in blankets and I held her down as Bob hauled us out to our truck in a toboggan sled he pulled with snowmobile; then in the back seat of the pick up, as her whole body alternated between violent convulsions and what seemed liked a frightening nothingness.
We talked to the vet on the way down. He was ready for us. We carried her in and laid her down. As he worked to put in the IV tube, she left us. She died.
I cry even writing this, I’m sorry, excuse me. This was a baby! A perfectly healthy baby! What on earth could be so horrible to do this to the baby, to me, to Tres, who that morning was standing over her baby, ever the wonderful mother, but knowing better than I knew that this was doom? She watched at the gate as I hauled her baby off. She did not call. She knew.
The vet was pretty sure he knew what was wrong, and it wasn’t good. He’d seen this ugly face before. We didn’t want to believe it. We asked for an autopsy to be done on this baby to be certain. We had two more foals on the way. We had to know what we were dealing with. We had to know what we could do.
Of course the autopsy confirmed we were (are) dealing with Clostridium Perfringens. A bacterium that lives in the soil. It could have come in from hay, straw, the nearby range cows, deer, a rabbit… anything. But once it is established in your soil, it remains there. Forever. Some years it will get the foals. Some years it won’t. A waiting game. There are few preventative measures. There is no vaccine. And usually, there is no cure. By the time symptoms appear, it is too late.
I am numb inside as I write this and think of what we are facing again this year. But in the meanwhile, I have to tell you the story that gives me hope. The story of Bayjura.
Canella (Tres’ first born, and our first foal born here at this ranch) was the next to give birth. A remarkably beautiful little bay filly, with the grace and spunk of her Arabian father, Flying Crow, and the calmness and confidence of the Quarter Horse mom, Canella. This was Tres’ first grandchild. She was perfect. A little fireball from the minute she first was free from the umbilical cord and sack. Such a prim little girl, but so strong. We struggled to hold her to administer all the hopefully preventative medications that would give her the best fighting chance in case the deadly bacteria came for her as well.
We watched. All day, all night, we watched her, sat with her or stared out the window and observed her in an uneasy silence with a sense of apprehension. She was perfect. Strong, nursing, running, playing… the feisty little fireball! We called her “The Tinkler” because she nursed so much, and therefore had to wee so much too.
And on the fifth day, Bob and I had a job that took us down the mountain for just a few hours. Upon our return, Forrest was white as a ghost and began to cry. “She has it,” he said, and my heart dropped into my stomach as my anger at the world swelled.
She wasn’t down yet, but we could smell it. Of course Forrest was right. He knows the animals as well as I do. The road was open now. We filled the bottom of the horse trailer with straw for warmth and comfort and loaded her and her mom.
It takes nearly three hours to get to the vet. By the time we arrived, the partner of the vet who saw our first foal die was ready. She was nervous. I knew she did not think we had any chance, and I imagine for a vet, that’s a terrible place to be. She shook and stumbled and tried so hard to do her best. She told us she had only seen one other foal survive… But she would do anything and everything she possibly could for this little foal. And she certainly did.
Canella stayed stoically just outside the pen where her baby lay flat out in a pile of straw bedding, plugged into the IV overhead, and with the vet pumping in oral medications, shots, and I am certain, silent prayers.
At 7:30 pm, she told us to go to the hotel and wait. There was nothing else she could do. There was nothing else we could do. We would meet back here at 9:30. We left, went our separate ways, knowing we would meet back later to tears and sadness.
Bob and I sat in the hotel room, numb and red eyed, filled with a sense of disbelief, like this was just some terrible nightmare and we’d be waking up shortly and everything would be OK. Oh, please…
And at 9:30 we returned. The baby was up! That feisty little fireball was up! She was not just up, she was pretty mad at the deal here because she couldn’t figure out how to get to her mothers teats through the bars of the pen. She wanted to nurse.
I wanted to keep this story short, so I’ll end it here. That was almost a year ago. This little spunky fireball of a yearling now is running around in the snow outside my window as I write. Her name is Bayjura. Bayjura of the Rio. She was born here next to the Rio, and may it be a very, very long life she lives before she dies here by the Rio.
I will forever be grateful for our vet, Carla, and whatever miracles she was able to perform that day. I hope we are spared this year. I hope I do not have to bring a foal into the vet this year. I hope the bacterium leaves us all alone this year, spares my babies, the mamas, and selfishly, spares me. But now you know why I’m rather apprehensive going into foaling season…
Today I smile, and tomorrow I cry. I suppose there is a little of each in every day. It’s a beautiful part of life – to feel the world around us, and to allow ourselves to be affected by it and be a part of it. I do not want to be numb, to just observe and not partake. The old, well used expression holds true for me: better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.