Photos of Foals Remind Me Why I Miss Breeding Horses

I know spring has sprung when I start seeing photographs of newborn foals popping up in my horse friends’ Facebook pages. Seeing the squeal–worthy photos of fuzzy wee foals always causes a pang in my heart. Or is that actually a heart attack? Because I know that behind every adorable foal picture is a frazzled, sleep-deprived, half-psychotic owner whose has ceased to resemble a human being and looks more like an extra from “The Walking Dead.”

Photos like these are really the start of the horse-breeding cycle.

The Facebook foal photo is like the first hit of a powerful narcotic—it’s perfection designed solely to pull you into the madness. They are so cute, and adorable, and they carry the promise of a gloriously untold future on their fuzzy little backs. Everyone would want one, right?

But, first, you have to get the mare in foal. How hard can that be? After all, we’ve been breeding horses for thousands of years. And they’ve done it themselves for thousands of years. Ha. Maybe your mare will be a fan of the stealth heat. Or maybe she’ll ovulate so quickly that she’ll go from no follicle to “oops, too late” in the blink of an eye. Or maybe a suspicious airline employee will hold up the semen. (Yes, all of these things have happened to me).

Now let’s say that, by some miracle, she’s managed to get in foal. Now you have 11 months, give or take, of paranoid observation.

Early in the pregnancy you obsess over whether or not she’s retaining the pregnancy. Is she showing heat signs to the neighboring gelding, or is it just has an itchy tail? So you call the vet for another preg check.

Later in the pregnancy, as her body changes in ways that can hardly be imagined, you obsess about her health and the health of the foal. Is she too fat? Is she fat enough? Maybe she is too thin? Are her legs stocking up? Does she have midline swelling?

And, as the pregnancy she enters its final weeks, you wonder: Is she bagging up? Is it too early? Is it really later than you thought? Did you miscalculate the due date? (And, yes, all of these things have happened to me too.)

Now you’re in the final stage. Your mare is bagged up, and birth is imminent. Here comes the fun part. What would be most helpful is if you could suddenly develop psychic powers to tell you that the foal is about to start down the birth canal, but, alas, no such luck for you. Instead of being able to intuit when your mare is about to enter labor, you’ll act like a crazed soothsayer of old, peering in to the mists (or into your mare), trying to divine the future.

You’ll become increasingly exhausted, and increasingly shabby. You’ll live in pajama pants and comfy tops, and you’ll go days without showering, lest she do the deed the moment you’re away. You’ll have hay stuck to your hair from sleeping on hay bales, and you’ll have poop stains on your socks from not putting your shoes on all the way before running into the stall to check on a noise you heard.

People will edge away from you in the line at the grocery store.

 But then—finally—the hopefully blessed moment does arrive. Her water breaks in a gush; she looks either uncomfortable and confused or knowing and confident, depending on whether it’s her first foal or she’s done this before.

You try to force yourself to leave her alone at first, to allow instinct and biology to guide her. But you stand in the stall doorway, hovering, trying to assess the state of mare and foal through your lone functioning brain cell, ready to move in. And here the foal comes, as you carefully count legs, eyes and ears, over and over again, as he slides out, eyes blinking, taking those first breaths through his mucous-covered nose.

Now you move in with towels, to wipe the goo off, to make sure he or she can breathe, to push him or her around so the mare can like the foal, to get the circulation going.

Sometimes they look like a movie star making a grand entrance, and sometimes they look like a child’s toy. Sometimes they try to stand up right away. And other times you see in a few minutes that this one’s going to need help, sometimes lots of help.

But your worries aren’t over yet. Has the mare passed the entire placenta? Is she otherwise OK?

The next several days will not bring the blessed release of sleep, as you cannot stop yourself from waiting to see if one last shoe is going to drop. Will the mare stay healthy, produce good colostrum and milk, and be a good mother to her foal? Will the foal stand and nurse, gain appropriate control of its limbs and faculties, and will he thrive and grow normally? (I’m not even going to tell you what things have happened to me, because this blog isn’t meant to be a horror novel.)

Somewhere around the end of the first week, you’ll finally get a good night’s sleep. Hopefully it will be because all is well, but it could be just because your body has finally given out.

But before that last moment of consciousness has left you, though, you’ll fight to steady your hand, to hold up your cell phone, and take an adorable photo of your creation. And then you’ll post it to Facebook, to start the cycle all over again, letting the next line of suckers carry on the tradition.

God, I guess I do miss breeding horses.

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