I’m not sure how many people can actually say that they know exactly when their horse was born. I have and have had lots of horses, and can only say with 100% accuracy that I know of only one of my horse’s birth stories. It’s a bit of doozy.
I adopted (purchased) a horse named Annie from a dealer in Ireland sight unseen. I do not recommend this and it has taught me to never do it again! Annie, who’s story you will be told in due course, arrived one dark and stormy night in December 2018. I was not sure about accepting this horse, but did not think it would be good to have her abandoned on the side of the road. I had paid for a horse that somewhat looked like this one, so I took her even if her passport said her name was Betty.
I looked Betty/Annie over the next day in the daylight and the vet did too. I had my concerns about her distended teats, but Dr Laura was sure that Annie had foaled recently had just been separated from that foal. We did decide that Annie was unfit, had no topline, no rear quarter development and would take some time to make strong. So, Sunshine as a team began to work to develop this horse. Annie did become strong. She had a topline and the most amazing floating trot. But she kept getting fatter.
On Sunday, 9 June 2019, in the middle of my Lower Novice Flatwork Class Annie laid down. This was odd. She then began dribbling milk everywhere. This was beyond odd – this was wrong. I wanted to call Dr Laura immediately. Simon, our yard manager, reminded me how much a vet call-out on a Sunday would be, so it was agreed that we would make her comfortable and have her checked in the morning. After all we had been assured on several occasions that she wasn’t pregnant.
The call came at 6:30 in the morning.
“Kim, we have a problem.” Simon said with a bit of shake to his voice.
“What?” I snarled back (I’m really not good in the morning so he had reason to be worried).
“We have foal.”
Now I am not going to repeat here what I said, but it did start like foal and ended like duck. I jumped into some clothes and tore down to the yard. It was raining and windy, and for June it was cold – 16C. Before I left the house, I yelled to Beowulf that we had an issue. Obviously I sounded upset so I had no back chat, just assurance that he would be down in a “mo”.
I walked up to Annie’s stable. Annie was standing with her head dropped and looking a bit tired. She stepped out of my line of sight. “Oh my god!” I cried. “Oh. My. God. You are beautiful!” I had fallen in love instantly. There stood a shaky, long legged, curly haired piebald foal.
I was relieved that the foal was standing. It is vital that a foal stand up within the first 20 minutes of life. The foal, who hadn’t yet showed me if it was a he or she, tried to get close to Annie. At first Annie wasn’t having any part of it, but on the third attempt, Annie allowed the foal to suckle. Again, I was relieved because my worst fear would have been maternal rejection. I had read many articles and stories about how this can destroy a foal. It was at this point, 6:45am, that I realised I knew nothing at all about raising a foal.
I called Fiona, my Senior Teacher, who had spent a year working with foals and yearlings at a previous stable in the area. She advised me that Annie and the foal would need to be moved to the quarantine stable since that was the largest we had on site and to fill it with a big, deep straw bed. I can, if nothing else, follow instructions. Fiona told me not to move them until she got there and that she was on her way.
It was at this point that Beowulf, Simon and myself found out that this was a little girl with a quick flick of her tail. She was cold and starting to shiver, so she went and laid down. Simon covered her with a rug to help keep her warm. Annie was becoming protective, so he moved both calmly and quickly. There was not going to be any rejection here.
Beowulf, Simon, and now Huw and myself made the new stable ready. I remembered the corral runs my family had built when I was teenager to move animals. So using jump wings, fillers and poles, we were able to make a protected walkway across the yard from the birth stable to the new stable. It was 8:00am and I called the vet.
Dr Laura was a bit surprised by my call and information that there was a new foal. She was also immediately on her way over. Upon Dr Laura’s arrival, it was obvious that we had to move the foal immediately. I was given Annie to lead with help from Huw while Fiona, Laura and Beowulf made a sling from a rug to help support the foal as we went across the yard. Annie, like a good mother, kept spinning around to check on her baby. A normal 5 second walk seemed to take an eternity as Team Foal had to move slowly and Annie wasn’t sure what everyone was doing with her child. Simon had to help convince Annie to walk into the new stable as she was not going into any space that did not include her foal. We finally got mother and child into the new accommodation and immediately the foal began to feed.
Dr Laura was very happy to see our little girl, who we decided to name June Storm, drinking in such a lusty manner. I was feeling guilty because I had worked Annie up to the point of birth, but Dr Laura was of the opinion that because we had made Annie so strong and healthy, she was able to deliver without complications on her own. That being said, I still feel bad about it. I would have liked to supplied them with more neo-natal care. Simon had collected the placenta as soon as he had seen June, so it was able to be checked and deemed all was present. Dr. Laura gave June her first full check-up and pronounced her to be fit. She was sure that June’s desire to nurse was going to give her all the vital nutrients and proteins a new foal would need. We were to keep an eye on her, but there really wasn’t anything to worry about.
I spent time with June and Annie for the rest of the morning. I put out the birth announcement. Our teachers Kat and Izzy went to the feed store and purchased the correct feed for Annie as well as the tinest head collar I had ever seen. Annie spent the morning lying down and relaxing – she now looked very proud of herself. June slept on and off. When she wasn’t sleeping she was drinking or being petted. June learned early on that petting was good and still demands lots to this day. That afternoon I went off to study what I could about raising foals. I am still learning to this day. I also watched our CCTV. I saw that Annie was standing at 6am and laid down at 6:08. I saw Simon on that yard at 6:25am and the look on his face at 6:27am. Although I didn’t see June’s physical birth, I know that it was fast and, quite frankly, textbook.
June had her first foray out into the wide world on the 12th. We made sure that all our boys were secure – especially Charlie who had been a father 3 times in the past. We created a Figure 8 harness from a lunge line and with Wulf and Simon supporting June and me leading Annie, we put them out in the arena. June looked around, unsure of where she was in this big space, and with a nod from Annie, June had her first run around. Annie watched for a bit and then went in search of grass for herself. June bounded with amazing energy. She tried a bit of a trot, but she found that she loved to canter. It was beautiful, balanced, rhythmical, coordinated. Beowulf declared right then that June was his eventing horse.
Over the next 6 months we have had so many firsts. It is just like being a human parent. June’s first time in the field when she learned that Auntie Magic was going to protect her no matter what. The first time June saw Magic next to Annie wasn’t sure which one was her mother (we did have a serious giggle about that). The first time June tried to eat grass. The first time June ate feed. The first time June had a groom. The first time June took a jump – and loved it. The first time June wore a rug. The first time we presented June to our larger Sunshine Family. And pictures have followed nearly every moment of her growth.
Annie had decided in late September that she had had enough of her daughter trying to suckle. June was now a strapping 128kg and her head was above the door. Following Annie’s lead (as I had read I was supposed to do), we started the process of separating them. I didn’t want the separation to be a traumatic event. I had decided that they were going to live in adjoining stables anyway, so I wanted this to be as easy as possible on them with as little calling out as possible. I knew that this was not going to happen instantly. We decided to use grooming as our method of separation. We began grooming them further and further apart. Yes, there were some set backs, but this did seem to work as June learned that being apart from her mother, although scary at first, meant that she would be the centre of all attention. June likes that.
By early November June wasn’t nursing at all, or if it did happen it was more of a rarity, so we began feeding her hard feeds in her own bucket. June does like to eat. We began to feed June in a separate stable from Annie (who did like to steal her daughter’s lunch!). Again, the purpose was to make June feel secure about being away from Annie. The big test came in December when we had to move them to their permanent stables. June was now 12/2 hands high and 232kg. She is a big girl. In the beginning it was hard. We had to put bars on her window because she did want to be with her mother and we were not going to have her jumping out of her stable.
I think it was good that we have June and Annie close together. We are now working Annie in-hand to bring her back into shape (again) so she can restart on the school this Easter. We are walking June behind her mother in these exercises so that June can lean what she needs to be able to do and still have that motherly support. June and Annie spend time together in the field, but June is confident enough now that she will also go to other mares, especially her Auntie Magic. June is fond of her friends, Callie and Rosie. They are all the same size, but June is growing rapidly and will soon tower over her besties.
We have now applied for June’s passport. We don’t know who her father is beyond he is a big Irishman. We think June will grow to be about 17 – 18 HH as she is currently 129cm at the withers. She is intelligent and curious. She is brave and occasionally bolshy. She strong in both body and will. She is loving and lovely. We are enjoying watching her grow up. June will never leave Sunshine as she is “Sunshine’s Own”. What she will eventually end up doing is still a mystery, but I would not be surprised if she does become Beowulf’s eventer, Huw’s dressage diva, Simon’s challenge and my first full grown, home raised mare.