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Author Susan Nusser takes readers inside the excitement and suspense at one of Kentucky’s biggest breeding farms. Every year, two hundred broodmares in the farm’s barns give birth to the next generation of racehorses. In the eighteen months following their births, those foals will meet the world’s most skilled and knowledgeable horsemen — from grooms to veterinary orthopedists — who will shape them in to the kinds of yearlings that attract the attention of the sheikhs, moguls, and magnates who prowl the ...
Author Susan Nusser takes readers inside the excitement and suspense at one of Kentucky’s biggest breeding farms. Every year, two hundred broodmares in the farm’s barns give birth to the next generation of racehorses. In the eighteen months following their births, those foals will meet the world’s most skilled and knowledgeable horsemen — from grooms to veterinary orthopedists — who will shape them in to the kinds of yearlings that attract the attention of the sheikhs, moguls, and magnates who prowl the yearling sales, hunting for their next Derby winner.
From the carefully calculated birth of the new crop of foals to the horses' debut at the world’s premier yearling sale in Lexington, Kentucky, this is a rare behind-the-scenes look at the vets, the surgeries, the long hours, and the hard work that it takes to breed a Derby hopeful. Kentucky Derby Dreams follows the lives of foals born during the 2009 foaling season and uncovers the inside drama and heartache that accompany these potential champions from the foaling barn to the sales ring. Compelling, fascinating, and fast-paced, this is a must read for anyone who’s ever watched the Kentucky Derby.
—Jim Squires, author of Headless Horseman
“Reading Nusser’s book is tantamount to visiting horse country and never wanting to leave. It’s a well-written, superbly researched narrative that will enlighten every reader and perhaps bring more people into the irresistible yet hard-driving world of breeding, training, and racing horses.”
—Ann Hagedorn Auerbach, author of Wild Ride
“Once again, Susan Nusser proves her writing skills, perception of human nature, and depth of equine knowledge…Nusser vividly recounts the daily human efforts and emotion that combine the create a perfect racehorse… Entertaining and thoughtful.”
—Sandra L. Olsen, Ph.D, Head of Anthropology, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Broodmare manager Scott Kintz is on the phone. In khaki jeans and a burgundy baseball cap and ski jacket embroidered with the name of his employer, Taylor Made, he stands with his feet wide apart and planted firmly in the middle of the lane between the two barns of Whitehouse upper. It’s 7:00 A.M. on a frosty February morning and as he’s talking, he’s watching a broodmare named Maddie’s Charm, who has just been turned out with her new colt. Only days old, the colt is already leaping and bucking at her side, puffs of steam coming out of his nose as he races around his paddock. Scott, whose family has been raising and training racehorses for three generations, lives on the farm with his wife and four children. He likes Maddie’s Charm very much; her colt, he’s not so crazy about.
It’s February 12, early in the foaling season, and the seventy-mile-an-hour winds that whipped through the bluegrass last night have left the farm looking scoured: dust blown out of the driveways, the dull midwinter grass blasted at its roots and standing upright. The sky is sparkly, cold, and clear, and, surprisingly, the storm didn’t leave any damage behind. As Scott listens to his early-morning messages, he keeps an eye on the grooms who are leading the mares out to their paddocks.
The Taylor Made Farm rolls out over a thousand acres in Nicholasville, Kentucky. The farm is divided into three divisions: stallions, yearlings, and broodmares. The broodmare division under Scott’s management has fifteen barns, all but three of which have twenty-six stalls. The fifteen barns are themselves split into sections: Whitehouse (four barns), Springhouse (three barns), Ivywood (two barns), Bona Terra (four barns), and a catchall category called Casey, which includes the barns where the maiden and barren mares are housed. In all, Scott has his eye on about three hundred mares during the foaling season. On a hillside dotted with identical brownish-reddish broodmares, he can pick out each one by name, knows their pedigree, and, for most of them, can tell you what their siblings are up to.
This morning, he’s waiting for Dr. Bart Barber from Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, one of the two largest vet clinics in Lexington. During the breeding and foaling seasons, which roughly coincide, every mare on the farm will get an ultrasound when she’s coming into heat so they can schedule her trip to the breeding shed; she’ll get another two days after breeding to make sure she ovulated, a third at fifteen days to make sure the egg was fertilized, and another at twenty-eight days to be sure it’s still there. Rounds begin around 7:00 A.M. and include the managers of the different broodmare divisions and, when they’re not taking care of horses elsewhere on the farm, two young vets from Rood and Riddle.
The barns of Whitehouse are converted tobacco sheds, and slivers of pale winter light slice though the spaces between the wide boards. The asphalt aisle, covered with interlocking rubber mats, is messy, straw from the mares’ stalls spills out as they are led to their paddocks, and their hooves make a soft whop, whop, whop on the rubber mats. Spotting Barber’s white truck coming up the lane, Scott pulls the phone away from his mouth and shouts to the groom in barn B: “Juan! We need Universal Peace in a twitch!”
Barber gets into the barn before Scott, who’s still on the phone. Juan, an Argentinean student who is part of Taylor Made’s intern program, rolls the grain bin out to him. There’s a worn plywood board over the top that converts the bin into a rolling table for Barber. On it are a portable ultrasound machine, two plastic totes of supplies, a box of latex gloves, and another box with rectal sleeves. Seeing which horse Barber was aiming for, Juan and the other groom have caught and twitched the mare—slipping a loop of rope over her lips and torquing it down with an attached pole—and she’s standing quietly, her ears flopped to the sides. In 1984, Dutch researchers concluded that the twitch was effective not because it was a painful form of restraint, but because it released endorphins—a kind of equine acupressure. It’s believed that horsemen adopted this method of controlling horses after watching wild dogs bring down zebras by first latching onto their muzzles, after which the zebras would become still and calm, allowing the pack to close in on their flanks.
Scott walks into the barn and describes how he and his nine-year-old son, Nick, stopped the family’s trampoline from blowing into the mares’ paddock in last night’s winds. Leaning back, his arms straight in front of him, knuckles white, Scott demonstrates for Steve how hard it was to hold on to the trampoline. Nick, he says, was almost off the ground.
Steve has his back to Barber while he listens to Scott’s story, grinning. The two men have known each other for twenty-five years. In the past, Scott and his family stayed with Steve when he worked for Gainesway, and Scott says the first thing he did when he became broodmare manager at Taylor Made was to bring Steve on board.
Barber pulls on a fresh rectal sleeve, squirts some lubricant on his hand, and works it inside the mare’s rectum, scooping out manure and tossing it into her stall, and then pushes in the ultrasound probe. Universal Peace looks fine, but she isn’t coming into heat, despite having given birth two months ago. Scott would like to see the mare get pregnant soon.
Universal Peace, the men decide, will need hormone injections to cycle her back into heat. Ninety percent of the mares, Scott says, are short-cycled in this way.
Whitehouse upper A and B, Whitehouse lower, Springhouse middle, Springhouse lower, Springhouse upper, Ivywood A and B. Across East Hickman Road to Gullette, Casey, Bona Terra D, C, A, then B, and finally Mackey Pike, with a stop at the quarantine barn if need be. The order is the same every morning, but rarely do they have to hit all of the barns. The mares are sorted by their due dates, so by the time Ivywood’s mares are ready to foal, for instance, the Whitehouse mares are done. Once Bona Terra C is ready, Bona Terra A is done. And they don’t deliver foals in every barn; some of the barns are the ones they move the mares to after they’ve given birth. During rounds, everyone travels from barn to barn in their own trucks—a four- or five-truck caravan on most mornings. Scott’s includes his old dog Silks, who props her feet up on the toolbox mounted behind the cab and barks joyously into the wind.
By the time they get to Casey, they’ve dropped Steve, who stays in his division, and have been joined by Dr. Lori Henderson, the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital intern, and first-year associate, Dr. Dale Brown. Lindsey Terrazas, who recently had her own baby, meets them at the big double doors, clipboard in hand.
The team gets through the mares in Casey quickly and moves up to Bona Terra D—a small barn, just fourteen stalls—housing barren mares, those who skipped a pregnancy last year and may be having trouble getting into foal this year. The mares in this barn are agitated. They pace and weave, sink their teeth into the stall ledges or their buckets, and suck in great gulps of air, called “cribbing.” They pin their ears when approached.
Lori scrubs up the hind end of a mare named Hishi Diva while Scott checks in with Lindsey about a newly hired groom.
It doesn’t have to work out, Scott says, they’d like to give it a try.
Once the mares are palpated, Barber, Lori, or Dale—whoever performs the procedure—predicts, within half a day, when the mare is going to ovulate. The divisional managers, Lindsey, Steve, or Bob White, write that down on their records, and Scott uses his radio to call Sue Egan in Taylor Made’s office so she can book the time with the stallion. The Jockey Club, the registry for all horses who want to race in North America, requires that all registered Thoroughbreds be bred via live cover. In theory, this protects the breed from having too few stallions dominate the bloodlines. It also protects the value of those stallions by ensuring that their genes remain a somewhat rare commodity. Historically, this may have contributed to genetic diversity in the breed, because up until the 1970s, stallions could only breed to about forty or fifty mares a year. Most stud fees come with a live foal guarantee, and it used to take multiple trips to get a mare pregnant. But advances in reproductive technology—the use of hormones to regulate the mares’ cycles and the use of ultrasound, common since the 1990s, to predict ovulation—mean that where it once took multiple covers to get a mare pregnant, it now usually takes just one. As air travel has become more accessible, top stallions are also flown to the southern hemisphere during the off-season. Top stallions now breed to between 150 and 200 mares a year, says Duncan Taylor, CEO of Taylor Made Farm. If they’re going to the southern hemisphere, that’s another hundred. “So you take that over ten years,” he explains. “You know there’s a lot of that blood available in the population.” To be this productive, farms can’t miss an ovulation cycle, or they’ll have to wait eighteen to twenty days for the mare to come into heat again. The universal birthday for all Thoroughbreds is January 1, and mares have an eleven-month gestation cycle, so to produce a viable racehorse, mares need to be bred between early February (breeding sheds typically open around Valentine’s Day) and late May. Researchers at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center who’ve analyzed the relationship between reproductive efficiency and the financial value of broodmares reported in a 2009 study in the Equine Veterinary Journal that over a seven-year investment period, “live foals must be produced in all but one year to yield a positive financial return.” Drift—mares getting pregnant later in every subsequent foaling season—means that for the 60 percent of mares who don’t get pregnant every year, they’ll come up barren every 3.4 years. Profitability, then, for the owners of the broodmares lies in getting them pregnant early and often. Though he’s never heard it discussed by the Jockey Club, Duncan says that there are some in the industry who think that horses might be better off if people in the breeding business were restricted to, say, eighty mares a year.
The stallion owners, says Ben Taylor, who directs Taylor Made’s stallion division, fill a horse’s book and then keep a list of people who might also want to breed a mare to that stallion. If they have an empty slot in the horse’s schedule—a Tuesday afternoon, for instance—they get on the phone and try to fill it. Sue Egan is competing against any number of people who are aiming for the same half-day window, so the farm can’t wait until the end of rounds to start booking its mares.
Scott turns down his radio and tries to get Miranda, who, like Juan, is another one of the farm’s interns, to tell a funny story about yet another intern’s early-morning mishap while leading in the foals over the weekend. It’s an elaborate story and Miranda misses the punch line, which is something about the intern lying on the ground, waving her arms and legs like a bug. Barber, who has heard the story already, tells her to go back and tell it again. Lindsey is smiling because she’s already heard the story, too. In fact, everyone on the farm has heard it, because it’s been passed around for two days. But no one has yet heard it from Miranda, who started it, and if there’s one thing this team likes to do, it’s have a big laugh.
Lori is only half-listening as she manipulates the probe inside the mare, searching for her follicles. Lori already has her veterinary degree, and many young veterinarians would have already begun their careers. But Lori, and Dale before her, have extended their training with the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital internship. The Thoroughbred industry, with its deep pockets, not only drives the technology and the treatment models for equine veterinary science, it also provides a high quality, high volume practice opportunity for interns like Lori.
The downside for Lori is that Bart Barber, who is supervising her work, is very, very good, and very, very fast, and the staff at Taylor Made Farm is very, very knowledgeable. Not only is deference to her education not automatic, it’s also part of her job to take whatever teasing Scott and Barber want to dump on her while she’s learning her job. One of her talents is her ability to handle that teasing with good humor. Lindsey is waiting on Lori.
Miranda still hasn’t gotten to the punch line because just remembering the story is making her laugh, and in the midst of this, Hishi Diva rocks back on her heels and rears up.
They give up on the punch line. Lori finds the follicles. Lindsey writes the instructions on the chart and they snap off the ultrasound and load the gear into the truck.
“You’re getting through these mares quickly,” Scott says to Lori.
“You’re welcome,” Lori reminds him, trying to prod a little gratitude out of him.
“Thank you for doing your job,” Scott replies, teasing, that gratitude not yet forthcoming.
Lindsey is done and goes back to Casey as the team heads over to Bona Terra. In his book, Joe Taylor’s Complete Guide to Breeding and Raising Racehorses, Taylor, who was the farm manager at one of Kentucky’s first huge commercial breeding farms, Gainesway Stud, before his son Duncan started Taylor Made, offers a compendium of wise farm-management practices. Not only should paddocks not have any corners in which galloping horses can get trapped but the fencing should follow the natural contours of the land. Taylor Made’s blackboard fencing gallops up and down hills, through gullies, and around trees. The barns are situated to make turnout convenient and safe, and so it is the farm’s roads that go in last, accommodating first the horses’ need for natural terrain and then the humans’ need to get from point A to point B in a straight line. The caravan motors slowly over the curving blacktopped roads that connect the four barns of Bona Terra B, then heads to the most distant corner of the farm, an older barn that fronts on Mackey Pike and is contiguous to the rest of the farm only by its back pasture. To get there, they drive down a narrow and winding public road along Hickman Creek, passing houses, where Scott’s truck is chased by a black Lab and a golden retriever who have been lying in wait. Silks barks frantically at them until Scott gets away.
Lindsey is in charge of all the odd barns: Casey, which is full of just the horses owned by Aaron and Marie Jones; Gullette and Bona Terra D, which house the barren mares; and Mackey Pike, which houses the maidens. Just off the track, these mares are sleek and fit, their manes and tails silky. Their whiskers have been shaved off and the long fur on their legs trimmed. Soon enough, they’ll look like the rest of the mares: shaggy, their bellies dropped, covered in nicks and bumps from living outside with their girlfriends, their slender legs stocked up with fluid, and, for the most part, calm and friendly. But right now, they’re racing-fit and hyperalert. The grooms, who don’t know how well they were handled on the track, can’t always catch them in their stalls. In this barn, everyone slows down. Older, smaller, at the edge of the woods, Mackey Pike seems less like it belongs to Kentucky’s leading consignor of Thoroughbred yearlings for sixteen years in a row, a farm that’s grossed over a billion dollars in sales, and sold three hundred graded stakes winners, including thirteen Breeders’ Cup champions, and more like a neighborhood barn, in which a handful of friends have gathered on a cold and sunny Thursday morning in February to sit and talk about their horses.
Barber is leaning against the wall; the sunbeam coming in through the double doors stops just at his feet.
“What would you rather do, Dale?” Dale is finishing up an ultrasound. “Win the Masters or pitch the winning game seven of the World Series?”
“World Series or winning quarterback in the Super Bowl?” Barber asks, amending his own question.
Scott wants to know if you also get MVP.
“Definitely MVP,” Barber says.
“Winning the Super Bowl or president of the United States?” Scott asks.
“I’d rather be Bill Buckner than president.” Barber shakes his head.
Someone points out that they’ve left out the Derby.
“Winning trainer/owner at the Derby or the winning quarterback?” says Scott, offering a new dilemma.
They look at their feet, silent. The other choices were between equivalent fantasies, but they know what it’s like to be a trainer. Scott has trained horses in the past, and his brother and stepbrother train them now. For these two men who’ve placed their families at the center of their lives, they understand the costs and risks of being a trainer.
“I would say trainer,” Scott begins, “except for … your life is … to be that kind of trainer…” The thought goes unexpressed, but everyone knows what he’s talking about.
Meanwhile, the grooms have been unable to get Dale’s mare back into the stall. She planted her feet on the way in and they backed out and circled her, hoping to trick her into walking right back in, but she planted her feet even farther away and is now refusing to budge. Scott and the vets stare at the grooms, who are tugging, clucking, and shoving ineffectually, mildly curious about how they’re going to resolve this dilemma.
The problem with being a quarterback, Barber explains, is that you know at some point that your career is going to be over. You know that someday you’ll throw your last pass. But being a trainer, there’s always a shot. “There’s always another horse out there that might be the one,” he says.
“My grandfather used to say,” Scott adds, “a man with a two-year-old in the barn will never commit suicide because that could be the one.”
It’s an old horseman’s story. They all tell it and they all kind of believe it. Any horse on the farm right now could be that one. You never know.
* * *
Eight P.M.: Dan Kingsland, Taylor Made’s night-watch manager and chief midwife, is patrolling the farm. It’s cold tonight, but much calmer than last night, when Dan watched a transformer in the distance pop orange and then go dark, taking with it a string of lights on the horizon, and wondered if he was going to have to deliver foals by flashlight for the second time this season. The first was about two weeks ago, when an ice storm knocked out the power and the farm’s generator. The branches and trees taken down by that storm have already been cut and stacked along the lanes, and they loom up in the headlights of his truck as he prowls the farm tonight.
An intern named Arielle opens the big double doors of Bona Terra B when Dan arrives. Dressed in flannel-lined overalls, a Taylor Made parka, and smarty-pants librarian glasses, Arielle worked at a Denver bookstore before she came to Taylor Made. She has parked two large bags in the Bona Terra office, one with her snacks for the evening and the other with books she wants to read.
The foaling kit—a red plastic toolbox with sterile gauze, pulling straps, Banamine, an enema, a thermometer, and an antiseptic naval dip—sits on the straw bales outside Marwood’s stall. There’s a stainless-steel bucket in the sink, ready for hot water and disinfectant, and plasma in the freezer, to be thawed once the foal is born. All the Taylor Made foals gets plasma when they’re first born to help boost their antibodies and protect against common infections.
Every barn that has mares approaching labor has someone sitting up with them. A barn is considered “hot” when they’ve got mares close to their due dates who are also showing the early signs of labor—heavy udders and waxed teats, dropped bellies, elongated vaginal openings. There are additional watchmen who patrol specific sections—Bona Terra on one side of East Hickman Road, and Whitehouse and the yearling division on the other. Dan keeps his eye on the entire farm and is present at almost all the foalings. On his nights off, or when he’s got too many mares foaling at once, Charlie Barron, who’s worked nights for Taylor Made since 1987 and who used to be the night-watch manager until stepping down a few years ago, picks up those responsibilities. Everyone used to keep in touch via radio, and Arielle has hers on and in its base in the office. But when the power went out two weeks ago, it took out the radio transmitter, and everyone switched to cell phones for the night and hasn’t switched back. Arielle says she misses the chatter, the friendly voices coming to her in the dark, reporting on all the activity from the other lonely quarters of the farm.
Dan is in Marwood’s stall, running his hand over her back, feeling where the muscles have gone slack over her hind end. He murmurs to her as he runs a hand over her distended belly, peers under it at her udder, whose teats are waxing heavily. Marwood’s vaginal opening is elongated, and she’s shifting her weight from hoof to hoof, but other than that, she’s calm. Her body is cool to the touch and her skin smooth and without the popped-up veins that indicate the start of contractions. Marwood leans her butt against her water bucket and sighs. The whiteboard outside her stall lists her due date and then her name, Marwood, followed by that of the sire, More Than Ready. Written that way, it reads more like a description than a lineage. For three nights now, Arielle has been convinced that this mare is going to go into labor, but Marwood is holding out. Leaning on her bucket, her head low, her lips dangling, she just looks like she wants to sleep. Dan pats her sympathetically and heads off for his rounds.
Horses generally give birth at night, and Dan would even close that down to a four-hour window between eight and midnight. He thinks it’s an evolutionary remnant—being born during that time frame gives the foal the most amount of time to gather its strength before it’ll have to get up and run away from predators during daylight hours.
The night crew works a twelve-hour shift: six to six for the crew and seven to seven for Dan so that there’s managerial overlap. The Chevy S-10 that he drives from barn to barn stays running because it’s too terrifying to imagine what would happen if the night-watch manager’s truck wouldn’t start. The interns rotate through a night shift as part of their training, and the day grooms who want the higher hourly wage switch to the overnight hours. They check the horses every fifteen minutes—Taylor Made’s goal is never to have a mare deliver alone. To trick the mares’ bodies into coming into heat early by making them think the days are getting longer, they leave the lights on until eleven o’clock. As Dan drives over the farm’s dark roads, the foaling barns loom up out of the darkness. The lights beaming out through the high ventilation windows, and the long panels outside every stall, make them look like giant spacecraft that have settled into the bluegrass hollows.
The first deliveries of the year were in Bona Terra A, whose lights Arielle can see just across the paddocks from her barn. Her roommate and fellow intern, Tailor, sits up in Bona Terra A, and she’s had a rough season so far. One of her mares had laminitis—the disease that felled Barbaro—and was so sickly that by the time she gave birth, her foal weighed only sixty pounds. Both mother and foal died. In one stall, a dark colt by Roman Ruler nurses on a draft horse.
In another stall, a Thoroughbred filly nurses on a chunky but kindly Percheron mare. Right after she was born, this filly’s mother was shipped back to England to be bred to a stallion there. The first nurse mare didn’t produce enough milk and the filly developed ulcers. Now, Tailor thinks, she’s a little needy. When she enters the stall, the filly crowds up against her, demanding attention.
In the corner stall, a big flea-bitten gray mare named Holy Niner has given birth to a Successful Appeal filly, whose right hind leg is turned forty-five degrees in its hip socket. The mare stands in her stall, relaxed, eating hay, while her dark brown filly sleeps in the corner. She won’t, Tailor explains, be with the farm much longer. The joint can’t be operated on because it’s way up in the hip, and though the filly can walk on it now, eventually the bone grating on bone will be too painful. They’re giving it time to see if something happens with the joint, she says, that will make it possible to operate, but it doesn’t look likely. The filly had a difficult delivery. They had to put the pulling straps on the foal—the turned leg caught inside. Holy Niner was so exhausted, says Tailor, “she lay back an hour before she ever got up.” It was three hours before she had the strength to stand long enough to let the baby nurse. For now, she looks pleased with her sleeping baby. “No.” Tailor shakes her head. “She doesn’t see any problem with her baby.”
* * *
Friday the thirteenth, 8:00 A.M.: Bart Barber is leaning on a straw bale in Whitehouse B, waiting for Lori Henderson to finish performing a Caslick’s on a mare named Sayitwithfeelin. Scott, standing nearby, is on the phone. It’s cold and bright, and the sunlight from the big double doors rolls halfway down the aisle, which is scattered with bits of straw that fell off the bodies of the mares and babies as they headed out to the paddock. Barber is warning Lori to always double-check information from the grooms and especially the interns, who are famously misinformed. A few years ago, he tells her, an intern told a visiting journalist that the foals who died on the farm were buried in back of one of the paddocks, even though everyone knows their bodies are sent to the lab for a necropsy. “Don’t listen to the interns” is his advice.
The Caslick’s is a routine procedure in which the edges of the mare’s labia are sewn together, closing down the opening to the vagina to keep debris from getting sucked inside by the negative pressure created by the weight of the developing fetus. Caslick’s procedures, like routine postbreeding lavages, are one of the ways that modern farms prevent infection and keep their pregnancy rate up above 90 percent. In the wild, it’s closer to 60. Lori has done these procedures before. She comes to Rood and Riddle from Texas, where she went to vet school and worked with Quarter Horses. The problem with the Thoroughbreds is that they have Caslick’s procedures so regularly that the flappy, soft tissue gets trimmed away often, leaving less room for the stitches. In a year, Lori will be able to perform these procedures quickly and routinely, but in the meantime, Scott has nicknamed the Caslick’s that Lori does “The Henderson Procedure.”
Sayitwithfeelin is bored and she fidgets and hassles Juan. Lori has given her a mild sedative and needs to inject an anesthetic into the area she wants to stitch. While the grooms get the mare settled, Lori stands a little to the side, holding the syringe. Barber taps the toe of his boot with the long foil-covered cardboard tube that they use to look all the way inside to a mare’s cervix. He suggests that Lori tuck her elbow up to her body instead of letting it flap out like a wing. That way, if the mare kicks, she won’t end up with a needle in her face like he did once, a long time ago, making his face totally numb for the rest of the day.
Scott looks up from his phone. He and Lori stare at Barber.
“Seriously?” Lori asks.
“Yeah.” Barber’s tone suggests it wasn’t funny.
Lori and Scott shoot each other a look that clearly indicates that they think it is funny.
The mare, now numb and sedated, has had the soft flaps of her vulva trimmed more than once today. There’s a pool of blood at the mare’s feet, streaks of it down her legs, and smears of it on Lori’s overalls.
“Lori!” Barber calls out. “That mare is actually leaning against the door.” Sighing with boredom, Say It with Feelin has propped her hip against the door frame while she patiently waits for Lori to find a chunk of skin into which she can anchor her stitches.
Barber wants to know what everyone is doing for Valentine’s Day. Lori, perhaps unwisely, volunteers that last year, while she was still in Texas, she and her boyfriend went to Hooters. Scott, Barber, and Juan all burst out laughing.
“I was starving,” she explains. “It was the only restaurant in town that didn’t have a two-hour line.”
Scott wants Barber to look at a mare named Kimchi, who colicked around 4:00 A.M. She doesn’t seem to be in serious pain, but she is lying around. Barber gestures to the grooms to get her ready while he sleeves up.
“The mare’s worth a fortune,” Scott comments.
With one hand in his pocket and the other feeling around in her rectum, Barber stares at the floor in concentration. “Lot of stuff going on all over in here.” He frowns.
He gestures to Lori to examine the mare. She feels the distended colon but pulls out, afraid that she’ll rupture if it she pushes too hard. By himself, Scott is keeping Kimchi and her four-day-old foal under control.
Barber checks Kimchi’s gums for dehydration and rubs her face sympathetically. She closes her eyes and pushes into his hands. Barber gives her a shot of acepromazine to relax her, and Scott tells Juan to get her out into the paddock, where she can move around. If she doesn’t get a lot better in a couple of hours, Barber warns, she’ll have to go to the clinic.
It takes four trucks to transport four people and one dog the eighth of a mile downhill to Whitehouse lower. Scott thoughtfully backs his up to the horses’ loading ramp so Silks, whose muzzle has gone gray and whose eyes have frosted over with cataracts, doesn’t have far to jump to get down to the ground.
While they’re palpating mares, Barber quizzes Lori about types of bacteria and the conditions they cause. Steve Avery, grinning, his blue eyes twinkling, keeps beating her to the answers. Barber prompts her again, and she smiles. “I’m not going to answer,” she tells him. “Because if I’m wrong, I’ll have to live with Steve being right.”
The grooms are chatting in Spanish, their conversation intelligible only to Steve, because no one else speaks more than a little Spanish. Scott is giving a play-by-play of his son’s “awesome” basketball game last night, while Barber is trying to find out from Lori, and now Dale, who’s just arrived, how other people are doing in Rood and Riddle’s diet contest. He is not winning.
Dale has one hand inside a mare and is listening as Barber and Scott retell Lori’s Hooters story for his benefit. Half-distracted by the monitor and nodding sagely, he says, “Hooters are huge in Texas.”
* * *
Before they leave Whitehouse, Scott calls ahead to Lindsey, but they still arrive at Casey before she does.
“Where have you been?” he asks, teasing her as she rushes down the aisle with her clipboard.
Tall, thin, patient, and the only one of Taylor Made’s broodmare managers who doesn’t gossip, Lindsey is a graduate of Taylor Made’s intern program. Because she’s patient, she’s often assigned the grooms who drive everyone else nuts. She met her husband, Alberto, a stud groom, while she was working as an intern, and has married into the farm’s second dynasty—that of the Terrazas family. Eduardo Terrazas first started in the business twenty-five years ago, and before he had his own farm, Terrazas Thoroughbreds, he worked for Taylor Made as the stallion manager. He was succeeded in the position by his cousin Gilberto Terrazas. Alberto’s nephew, Cesar, manages the Eagle Creek section of the yearling division. And now Lindsey and her husband have started another generation of Terrazas born on the farm, and into the business.
At Bona Terra D, the team runs into the apprentices of the farm’s farrier, Bobby Langley. If they were working with any other horses besides these Thoroughbreds, they would be journeymen, not apprentices, but Bobby Langley keeps them trimming and assisting for the first four or five years of their apprenticeship—even when his apprentices are his son, Logan, and his nephew Ben. Logan and Ben scramble to get out of the way while Dale sets up the ultrasound. After scrubbing the mare’s bottom with gauze and disinfectant, Dale, not seeing a garbage can anywhere, tosses the dirty gauze to the floor, where it lands with a splat.
They’re in and out quickly, teasing the farriers the entire time, and then whisk away like rock stars, leaving the apprentices standing in the aisle. On the floor is the clipboard that Logan and Ben failed to get out of the way before Dale tossed the gauze, and now their notes are splattered with disinfectant and poop.
“Hey,” they protest to the backs of the departing vets.
* * *
Since no one is in a rush, when they get to Bona Terra A, Barber turns palpating over to Lori. Watching her set up her equipment, he threatens to nickname her “the Great Delay.”
She looks frazzled.
“You’re probably my favorite intern,” he tells her.
“Really?” Lori smiles, pleased. “Thanks.”
Scott and Barber check on Holy Niner and her crooked-legged filly. They agree that the leg has gotten better. The filly will be fine, Scott says.
“She’ll be an athlete,” Barber adds.
Turned-around legs are not uncommon. If the foals get hung up on the way out of the mare, like this one did, their ligaments get stretched. As the soft tissue hardens up, her leg will go right back into place. All she needs is stall rest and some time.
They turn around to watch Lori. She’s still probing, trying to get something to appear on the screen.
“It’s a little like fishing,” Barber says helpfully.
“At least fishing, you catch something once in a while,” she replies.
* * *
Friday, February 13, 8:05 P.M.: A big chestnut mare named Cherry Bomb has just gone into labor in Whitehouse upper. The mare is a favorite of her owner, John Fort, who runs Peachtree Racing. He says she was the most beautiful filly he had ever seen in training but that she never quite reached her potential as a racehorse. Cherry Bomb retired two years ago, and her first pregnancy ended in a late-term abortion. This foal, sired by the sprinter Henny Hughes, is her first.
Despite the cold, she is sweating. The veins in her shoulder have popped to the surface and she’s circling her stall, agitated. Dan and Elfego, the groom sitting up in Whitehouse tonight, have removed her water and her grain. Terry Pellin, one of the night-watch patrollers, has brought out the foaling kit. Cherry Bomb’s tail has already been braided. Braiding it keeps it out of the way, and during the day, when the grooms use binoculars to check on the mares in their paddocks, they can easily see if a mare who’s close to her due date has sneaked away to give birth in some hidden corner.
Cherry Bomb props out her front feet and pushes her back down toward the ground in a pelvic stretch that eases her contractions. She acts like she wants to lie down, but she doesn’t. She’s urinating frequently, but her water hasn’t broken yet.
Elfego takes Cherry Bomb’s head, circling her around the stall. Her friend, Resplendency, who lives across the aisle and has the same due date, looks on with interest, her face pressed up against the stall’s bars, her ears pricked.
Dan slips on a sleeve and gets a hand inside the mare, checking to see if the foal is in the right position—nose first, head lying on the front legs, little hooves poking out. He’s not worried that it’s upside down, because they turn on the way out. And he wants to be sure the hooves aren’t poking up where a mare’s contractions might push one though her rectum. He’s also on the lookout for red bag—a bloody placenta pushing out in advance of the foal, indicating that it’s already separated from the uterine wall and the foal inside is without oxygen.
The thin white tissue of the mare’s amniotic sac bulges out of her vagina. Sheer and glistening, the veins run over its surface and the foal’s thin legs and small hooves are visible inside. Cherry Bomb is still circling. She moves to the wall and starts to lie down. Dan and Elfego chase her away, clucking, yelling, and tugging on the lead shank. Mares like to get right up against the wall for labor, but then their butts are too close to the corner of the stall, where their foals are mushed up against the wall when they come out.
Dan slips a hand inside her again, and this time her water breaks, pouring out of her in a great gushing stream. She lowers herself to the ground with a grunt. She rocks from side to side, her back legs held out stiffly beside her as she presses down and tries to push out the foal. Stretching and pushing, stretching and pushing, and then at 8:32 P.M., a nose pokes out of her vagina and Dan grabs hold of the front legs, timing his tugs on them with her contractions.
Cherry Bomb plants her feet in front of her and pushes up with her head and neck, pulling at the contracting muscles of her pelvis, pressing her great orb of a belly into the floor. Elfego and Terry have joined Dan and all three of them are tugging now, inching the foal farther into the world with every contraction. With a groan and a deep sigh, Cherry Bomb gives a last push and a chestnut filly sluices into the world on a slimy mat of fluid, placenta, tissue, and blood.
Because foals are usually named by their new owners sometime before their second birthday, the foals on the farm are known by their mother’s name and the year of their birth. As long as she’s on the farm, Cherry Bomb’s bright red filly will be known as Cherry Bomb ’09.
Already, she’s struggling to get up. Cold, wet, blinking in the harsh light, she’s in the uncomprehending shock of all newborn mammals who slip out of the watery caves of their mothers’ wombs and into the hard, cold light of the world.
Cherry Bomb’s legs are curled underneath her and she is staring at the baby lurching and collapsing around her stall as if she wishes she would just lie down. Terry has the foaling log and is keeping track of the labor, the delivery, and will note the time when the foal gets to her feet and stays there.
At 8:57, the mare heaves herself up. Elfego carefully folds up the placenta hanging down her back legs, tying it up to itself so the mare won’t step on it and rip it out as she moves around. With a bucket of warm, sudsy water, Dan washes the mare down gently, congratulating her. He cleans off her teats and then Cherry Bomb has one more contraction and the placenta drops to the ground.
Dan spreads it out on the aisle floor, looking for tears, discoloration, hard spots, or anything that might indicate a problem. Days, weeks, even months from now, if something goes wrong with this foal, everyone will recall this placenta, wondering if there was a sign.
Satisfied with his inspection, he folds the sloppy, wet mass into a black garbage bag. After it’s weighed, he dumps it at the end of the aisle, where the lab will pick it up in the morning.
Together, Dan, Terry, and Elfego put the stall back together. While Cherry Bomb licks her baby clean, they fork out the manure and the wet, bloody straw into a pile three feet high in the middle of the aisle. The outer window is closed to keep the wind from blowing on the baby. Once her mother’s tongue has licked off the afterbirth, Cherry Bomb ’09 fluffs out like a duckling. Her baby coat and the clean straw are all she needs to keep warm.
Forty-three minutes after arriving in the world, Cherry Bomb ’09 is up and wants to nurse. Her mother pins her ears and moves out of range, waiting for the baby to get a little steadier on her feet before she lets her latch onto her tender udder. By 9:40, the filly is still trying to nurse. Her head is bumping around under her mother’s belly, her tongue flicking in and out; she’s in the neighborhood but hasn’t yet found what she’s looking for. Cherry Bomb swings her big head back toward her foal and nickers softly. When the filly makes rough contact, Cherry Bomb squeals and moves out of the way.
“Your mommy’s a meanie,” Terry says, sympathizing with the foal.
Cherry Bomb has sucked up her belly, as if she’s trying to hide her sore udder from the foal. Terry is in the stall, holding the mare, and the filly starts nibbling Terry’s leg.
“I’m not your mama,” Terry tells her.
Cherry Bomb pins her ears as the foal gets closer, and Terry gives the lead shank a sharp little snap. “Quit,” she growls. Pressing one hand against the mare’s shoulder, Terry soothes her. “Whoa,” she says, and then, enthusiastically, “Good girls!” as the filly finally latches on and sucks.
Outside the stall, Terry makes the final notes on the foaling report, then replaces the water and grain in the stall. Everyone else is already gone, and Terry turns off the stall light, leaving mare and foal to sleep in the clean, dark stall.
* * *
On Saturday morning, Barber and Scott want to get their rounds done quickly. It’s Valentine’s Day and both their kids have games today.
They have about thirty-five mares to palpate this morning. At the height of the season, around March, they’ll have as many as eighty. No matter how many they have, Scott jokes, rounds take the same amount of time. When they have more, “we just move faster.”
Barber is tossing the dirty gauze right and left as he cleans the mares. When he’s finished, he snaps off his gloves and shoots them into the garbage can in one move. He’s using his teeth to get the sterile wrappings off his equipment faster. With the grooms already holding the mare, Barber spots the garbage can behind Juan and banks the dirty, wet gauze off the wall and into it. The splat hits Juan in the face.
“Hey!” Juan protests in a long drawl, and Barber actually looks a little remorseful.
“Well, the can is over there. What am I supposed to do?” he says, defending himself.
“I don’t know,” Juan says, wiping his face with his upper arm, never letting go of the mare’s tail, which he’s holding on to. “Put it in your pocket.”
Barber smiles and takes the pace down a notch. He has his older daughter, McKenzie, with him this morning. When he reaches for something, she has it ready.
“She’s the best tech he’s got,” Scott says, adding, “She doesn’t run her mouth.”
As they’re about to finish with one division, Scott calls ahead to the next, letting the manager on the other end of the line know that they’re on their way and that they’re in a rush. When they get to Gullette, Lindsey is ready, the mare already twitched and with her bottom turned toward the door. As they’re palpating, Scott is on the phone with Dale. A foal was born to a jaundice-positive mare last night—her colostrum will contain antibodies to him. They’ll be gone after sixteen hours, and the foal can then nurse normally, but in the meantime, he needs colostrum from the supply that the farm banks, as well as milk replacer. The mares are checked two weeks before delivery to see if they’re jaundice-positive, and this mare’s test had been sent to the lab, but the foal was premature and they didn’t receive the results until this morning. Scott and Barber are worried about how much milk the foal got, and Scott wants to see if the mare was jaundice-positive last year, in which case that information should have been communicated to the night staff.
* * *
By the time they get to Mackey Pike, they’re ahead of schedule. Barber is setting up outside the stall of a maiden named Light My Fire Baby. In the corner of the stall, the groom is struggling to get hold of the mare’s head. She’s lifted it out of reach.
“She’s kind of piggy,” the groom says. “She doesn’t like the twitch.”
“I don’t blame her,” Lindsey says. “I got my finger stuck in there before. It hurts.”
Lightmyfirebaby, Scott notes, is a celebrity. She won a race on the Animal Planet show Jockeys.
Down the aisle is another potential celebrity. Time Reveals All has returned from an early trip to the breeding shed and her date with Curlin. Horse of the Year in 2008, winner of the Preakness, the Breeders’ Cup, and the Dubai Cup, world record holder for most earnings won—$10.5 million—Curlin is this year’s most fashionable stallion, and because of the early breeding date, Time Reveals All may have been his first official mare.
Glancing at the notes that were forwarded from the breeding shed, Lindsey jokes that they got a good cover on the fourth jump.
“Well,” Barber says sympathetically. “That Curlin. He’s just learning.”
Time Reveals All gets a special congratulatory pat as everyone passes her stall.
Barber sets up across the aisle. The groom enters a stall and comes racing right back out.
“She ran you right out of there,” Barber says, annoyed, and without looking up.
The groom goes back in the stall and swats at the mare with the end of the lead shank.
“That’s more like it,” Barber tells her.
The mare pins her ears and evades the groom. “Somebody stronger than me want to take a crack at this?” she calls out.
“McKenzie?” Barber calls jokingly to his fifteen-year-old daughter.
Scott walks into the stall and in seconds has slipped the twitch over the mare’s lip and backed her up to the stall door.
Standing at the mare’s hindquarters, Barber is focused on the ultrasound screen, trusting that Scott will keep her under control.
“She’s terrified, isn’t she?” he asks Scott without looking up.
The mare has calmed down a bit, as if she’s comforted by Scott’s authority and the proximity of his big body. Her ears tip toward him. She’s not quite relaxed, but she’s not fighting him, either. Calm, efficient, quiet, the body language of both Barber and Scott says that everyone needs to focus on their jobs.
The rest of the maidens are out in their paddock already. It’s sunny and cold, the grass under their feet tramped down and brown, though in one week of spring rain and warm weather, it will bloom into a lush, thick green. As Barber packs up his gear, the mares in the paddock suddenly break into a gallop. Digging in, they tear across the grass and turn to head up the hill. Tails floating out behind them, their necks stretched, they’re racing toward an imaginary finish line; the pounding of their hooves thrums the walls of the barn.
“I love that sound.” Barber’s gear slides out of his hands and he stares out the door. The others turn to watch; Scott is in the doorway. When the girls reach the crest of the hill, they turn and tear back down it.
“It’s like the brumbies.” Scott’s talking about the horses in The Man from Snowy River.
“Or Lord of the Rings,” someone adds.
“I’ve never seen it,” Scott says.
The others are aghast. “You’ve never seen it? You gotta see it.”
The mares are racing directly for the fence. In a close pack, the lead mare is running for her life, ears back, nose stretched out, and they’re heading straight for the fence at the bottom of the hill.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Scott, Barber, and Lindsey all move forward, waving their arms above their head, trying to get the mares to turn before they crash though the fence.
The mares pop their legs out in front of them, putting on the brakes before the curve. They arch their necks, slowing to a trot and shaking their manes prettily as they scatter over the hill.
* * *
Colic and labor look a lot alike. At 8:30 P.M. on Valentine’s Day, Dan Kingsland is in the stall of Arianna’s Passion, trying to figure out which of the two she’s experiencing. Arielle called Dan around 8:00 P.M., when she first noticed the mare in distress. She was gassy and uncomfortable and Dan gave her a shot of Banamine—an anti-inflammatory that has a mild sedative effect. Arielle walks the mare up and down the aisle for about ten minutes and then puts her back into her stall. The mare is breathing hard, sweating, and her veins have popped up. This might be labor, but her udder is still small, and she’s not due for another week. She has a history of colic and has already had two surgeries.
Agitated, head down, she’s pawing the floor of her stall, scraping her toe on the cement that’s at the edge of the rubber mat. She’ll scrape her toe down doing that, and Dan and Arielle add more straw, but she just paws it up. In the stall with her, Dan is texting this information into a report. He holds the phone in front of him, his glasses propped on his forehead while his thumbs operate the keys. When he’s done, he waits and watches.
Summoning Scott to the barn at night is not something that’s done lightly. There will be a few hundred foals born this year; if Scott is summoned to every labor, he’ll get no sleep at all from January to April.
While Dan is watching the mare, Arielle chides her to stop pawing. Without looking at her, Dan tells Arielle that the mare won’t stop until she feels comfortable. The mare tries to lie down, then changes her mind and straightens up. Arielle turns her around and Dan peers into the birth canal with a flashlight, hoping to see what’s going on. Switching tactics, Arielle rubs the mare’s face.
“It’s terrible; it’s terrible, I know,” she coos.
“Something’s definitely wrong,” Dan concludes. He’s talking to himself as much as to anyone else. “She’s not pushing. She’s acting like a red bag. When I reach in there, there’s something very tight. I don’t want to reach up in there.”
He calls Scott.
The mare tries to lie down again, and Dan and Arielle clap and cluck to her, getting her up and moving. Her gums are pale when Dan checks them, suggesting dehydration and blood loss. They wait in silence for the sound of Scott’s truck. The night is cold, calm; the sound of yelping coyotes drifts in from across the paddocks. Silently, another watchman, Dave Mayo, slips into the barn and joins the vigil.
The headlights of Scott’s truck slice through the gap in the double doors. He’s wearing jeans and a parka and has a stethoscope around his neck and a vet kit in his hand. His progress down the aisle seems slow, as if he’s pushing back a wall of tension. The relief that he’s arrived is palpable. He says hello softly and nods. In the stall, he repeats Dan’s examination: checking the mare’s gums, listening to her heartbeat, listening to gut rumbles that tell him she’s digesting her food. He feels her belly, checks her bag. Arianna’s Passion submits to the exam, periodically tossing her head in discomfort. Scott checks her hooves for heat. When he opens it, his vet kit is filled with preloaded paste syringes of xylazine—a sedative that’s stronger than the one she’s had but that acts faster. He gives her some, and when Arielle unclips the lead shank, the mare is calm, but her sides are heaving. Everyone watches her in silence.
Scott calls Dale. Her heart rate is fifty-three, he tells him. Gums are pale. She’s got gut sounds. She’s had xylazine. He can’t get the foal to move. “I just can’t feel him move,” he tells Dale. “If she hadn’t had two colic surgeries already, I’d be less worried.”
“The good broodmare manager,” Joe Taylor wrote in his book, “genuinely likes the mares. He understands them and knows how to read their body language. He has the necessary devotion to endure the long hours and sleepless nights of the breeding season.”
Scott phones Barrett Midkiff, the farm’s van driver, to let him know they might need him tonight. On call twenty-four hours a day, Barrett arrives within minutes when he is summoned from where he lives on the farm, his slacks pressed, his hair combed, bright-eyed under his Taylor Made cap, his thin frame moving energetically. He’s fifty-nine and has been with Taylor Made since 1991.
“Her brother is about to run at Mountaineer,” Scott says to no one in particular as he waits for Barrett to answer. Arianna’s Passion turns toward Scott and instinctively, he props out his knee so she can rub her head against it. Barrett has picked up on his end and Scott warns him that he might need to take a horse to the clinic tonight.
When he hangs up, Arianna’s Passion raises her head toward him and he lifts her chin, looking under her lip at her gums.
“Ohhhhhhhhhhh. Shit.” He calls Barrett back and tells him to get dressed.
Arianna’s Passion has moved closer to Scott and is rubbing her head on him while he texts information over his phone.
At 10:00 P.M., Dale walks in the door in track pants, layers of shirts, and a down vest. He’s wearing glasses and looks tired. Repeating Scott’s exam, he listens for gut sounds, checks her heart rate, and looks at her gums. He wants to know how long it’s been since the last sedative.
Arielle turns Arianna’s Passion around so that her hind end is outside the stall. Dale is careful getting his hand inside of her and stares at the ground in concentration.
“I called Barrett and told him to get dressed,” Scott says.
The mare groans. “He’s down there,” Dale says, pulling out his arm. He doesn’t like the color of her gums, either.
“Could be an adhesion causing problems,” Scott suggests.
“It’s definitely not an impaction.”
The men walk away. Arianna’s Passion nickers at them.
When they return, Dale has wide-gauge surgical tubing and Scott is on the phone, summoning Barrett.
Holding one end of the surgical tubing in his teeth. Dale starts feeding the other end down the mare’s nose. Using a hand pump, he pumps in water from a bucket that Arielle has filled for him. Next to it is an empty bucket into which the fluid from her stomach is going to drain.
“She could be colicky,” Scott says. “She’s pretty stoic.”
Once Dale has gotten the water into her, he suctions it back out and fills the other bucket. It pulls up reflux, and the yellowish fluid starts to run through the tube.
“There. That feels better,” Scott says.
Arielle volunteers that the mare didn’t eat much dinner. The reflux, Dale says, is probably from the morning. He sniffs the end of the tube and says, “Phew.”
The fluid, which is getting thick and brackish, with streaks of black, is a normal color, says Dale. You just don’t normally see it coming back out of the horse. The fluid is getting too thick for the tubing, and to draw it up, Dale puts the end of the tube in his mouth and siphons up. He pops it out of his mouth, gagging and spitting.
“That’s terrible,” Arielle comments.
Dale nods. “Good for her, though.”
Fluid starts gushing through the tube and the mare lifts her head and swats her tail. “Hang in there. Hang in there,” Dale croons.
The fluid fills the contractor’s bucket.
“There you go, sweetie,” Scott says. “How’s that feel?”
The mares are so stoic, Dale says, that they often wait too long before they let anyone know they’re in danger.
The bucket is almost full, and Arielle loosens the twitch and the mare lowers her head. Her eyes are half-closed and her ears are flopped to the sides. She looks drained, but she’s clearly more comfortable. Barrett arrives, backing the trailer up into the aisle. He’s upbeat and businesslike as his long, skinny body hustles around the back of the trailer, letting down the ramp and opening the gate.
Dale pulls out the tube and Arielle leads Arianna’s Passion out of the stall and up the ramp onto the trailer.
Everyone thanks one another and Dale calls the clinic with his diagnosis. Scott lingers in the office, leaning back against the counter, his arms crossed over his chest, while Dale runs scalding water and antiseptic through the tubing.
“She’s a hell of a broodmare,” Scott says. It’s his highest compliment.
Dan has left to check on the other horses, and Arielle’s spirits have lifted. Although everyone knows better, it always feels like a horse that gets to the clinic is going to be okay. But Dale and Scott are still grave. The mare is twenty-one, carrying what is probably her last foal, and she’s already had two colic surgeries. Neither of them will be surprised when the clinic tells them that the mare is hemorrhaging. By morning, both Arianna’s Passion and her foal will be dead.
* * *
On the other side of the farm, business goes on. At 12:22 A.M., Angela’s Love ’09 splashes to the ground just twenty minutes after her mother’s water broke. Dan and Terry drag the dark bay filly off the wet and bloody straw while Angela’s Love, still lying down, snaps her head from side to side, alternately licking her baby and pinning her ears at Dan.
“I don’t want your baby,” he tells her. “Not yet anyway.”
With a shudder and a tumble of debris, Angela’s Love heaves herself to her feet, pacing around the foal, still licking. The filly already has her legs propped out in front of her, and with a push from her hind end, she lurches toward the open stall door.
“Don’t come out here, baby,” Terry tells her. “You’ll piss off Mama.”
The baby splats to the ground, legs splayed. Her mother nickers to her and the filly lurches to her feet, only to splat down in the straw again. The mare is weaving from side to side; her foal looks stunned.
Dan is forking the wet straw out of the stall while Terry gets the filly out of the way. The night has turned bitterly cold. They’ve already shut the stall’s outside door to keep the wind off the baby, and they want to get the clean and dry straw down as quickly as possible. The baby, given an enema just after birth, poops. Her tongue moves frantically, feeling the air and everything it comes in contact with. Terry writes on the foaling report, “Good foaling. Poor blood supply. Mare jumped up right away.”
Jumping up right away, for anyone who reads the report, will indicate that the mare was anxious and unsettled.
“Mare, mare,” Dan coos.
Terry is trying to sponge her off, but she’s mad, tossing her head and pinning her ears.
“Terry is being nice,” Dan tells the mare.
Once mare and stall are clean, Terry and Dan slip out the door.
“All yours, Mama,” Terry says. “Bad girl.”
In the aisle, Terry smoothes out the gray, veiny placenta. Its horns are intact, there are no tears, and its good color will be noted in the report. They flip it inside out, showing the bloody interior. Dave says that where he grew up, farmers called the inside-out placenta a “bloody pair of long johns.”
Terry sits, keeping vigil. Alone in the barn now, she’ll note the time that the foal gets up and nurses. Splay-legged, unsteady, a little stunned and uncomprehending, the filly is on her feet again. One leg slides slowly, inexorably, out from underneath her.
“You get that leg under you,” Terry promises, “and we’ll call you standing.”
The foal is mad. She’s kicking her front feet out in front of her, and when she does finally get up again, she starts inching her way around the stall.
“Look at her,” Terry says. Tongue flicking, trying to nurse on everything she gets close to, she’s taking careful steps around the perimeter of her stall—finding her balance in a new place before she moves on to the next.
“This baby is so careful,” Terry says. “Usually, they just throw themselves around the stall, but she’s just inching around.”
She’s marooned herself in the corner, face against the wall, unable to back up. She suckles the wall hopefully, then, dissatisfied with that, figures out how to get to another corner, and then seems to sense that her mother is in the middle of the stall. She takes a cross-step in her direction.
“Side pass!” Terry says. “Are you going to do dressage when you get older?”
When Terry enters the stall, the mare rocks back onto her haunches, weaving, her ears pinned.
“Don’t,” Terry growls.
Terry clips on the shank and holds her still while the foal approaches. The baby presses up against the mare’s body, and Terry keeps her from wandering away again. After forty-five minutes of trying to nurse on everything in the stall, Angela’s Love ’09 finally finds her mother’s udder and her first meal.
* * *
At 5:50 A.M., the last foal of the shift arrives in Bona Terra A. Sliding into the world on a carpet of spongy tissue and warm fluid, the dark bay colt out of Clay’s Rocket lands in the straw, lifts his head, and blinks in the bright light and cold air.
“Welcome!” says Dan Kingsland. “Good morning! Rough trip?”
Copyright © 2012 by Susan Nusser
Foaling Season 1
1 February 2009 3
2 Early Spring 2009 31
3 Summer 2009 48
4 September 2009 69
5 Christmas 2009 91
6 March 2010 124
7 July 2010 135
8 Saratoga, July 31, 2010 176
9 August 2010 202
10 Kenneland, September 2010 217
Where Are They Now? 259
Posted January 1, 2013
Posted December 30, 2012
"Well, you dont have too." She said padding in with a load of prey. "Maplejay has had me busy hunting for prey since Starclan told her about this." She said. She dropped the prey. Two starling, three sparrow, three voles, 5 mice, and two salmon. "That should hold you out for a bit." She said and troted out to spread more prey.
Posted December 30, 2012
Posted December 30, 2012
Posted December 30, 2012
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Posted January 1, 2013
Posted December 18, 2012
Posted May 14, 2012
Posted May 2, 2012