Continued from Part 1: All night Kimberly, Pepper and I tossed and turned on the air mattress in the tack room. We were awakened constantly by Macy and Sacha who came in to eat from their feeder, but were confused by the pile of sleeping animals. Macy walked on us, sniffing and purring while Sascha simply meowed, perching in a glassless opening among the wood-framed grid of small window panes in the tack room door. Sacha’s hourly perching and meowing made her a “small pain,” to say the least.
Though we checked on Mandy throughout the night, no foal arrived. Kimberly, Pepper and I were exhausted when the sun rose. When we opened the tack room door, Pepper simple threw herself down in the grass by the barn and went to sleep.
Kimberly and I brought the other horses in and put Mandy back out. It was recommended that we allow Mandy the opportunity to walk around as much as possible before the foaling, and we trusted the statistics that told us nearly all mares foal at night.
Kimberly took Pepper inside to put her in the new dog bed we bought for her, and I stepped into the riding ring with some flakes of hay for Mandy. Before I even had a chance to put them down, she walked over and grabbed a big mouthful.
“Yes, thank you,” Mandy responded between chews. “I am totally starving. Is there more hay?”
“Probably,” I answered. “Is there a baby?”
“Tonight,” she added before taking another huge mouthful of hay. “Oh, heavens! Mmmmm. Is this hay ever good!”
“Tonight? What happened last night?”
“I wanted a closer look at those new doors,” she said casually.
“You faked your labor to see the doors?” I asked, exasperated.
“Have you looked at those doors?” Mandy responded with wide-open eyes and raised brows. “They’re as pretty on the inside as out! If you’d seen some of the schlocky barn doors I’ve had to endure. Oh! Mmmm.” Her eyes closed as she chewed another mouthful of hay. “Can I get some more of this stuff?”
She snatched up another giant mouthful. With nearly half a flake in each bite, the hay I brought out was about gone.
“Sure,” I said, “but what did you think of the rest of the stall?”
“Hmmph,” Mandy shrugged. “It’ll do.”
“Glad you like it, your highness. I’ll be right back with that hay.”
“Thank you,” Mandy said with a full mouth. “And this time I’ll take it over there in the shade, if you don’t mind.”
Back in the house, Pepper had fallen asleep on the floor with only her head on her dog bed. Jack was curled up in the center of the dog bed, fast asleep. Knowing that we’d be on the tack room floor again that night, Kimberly and I followed Pepper and Jack’s lead and crawled into our own bed.
It must be a cat thing. Jack woke me up, though at least he allowed me a few hours of sleep. Kimberly was still asleep beside me.
“Time to get up!” Jack whispered. “There’s a lot to do.”
“Like what?” I asked, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
“Like pet the cat.”
I rubbed Jack behind his ears and scratched between his shoulders. He maneuvered his head around so I could reach all the itchy spots. It was a wonder his purring didn’t wake Kimberly. I was still petting Jack when we both fell asleep.
I actually felt pretty rested when we awoke a few hours later. Jack stayed in bed while Kimberly, Pepper and I went out to check on Mandy, turn the other horses out and muck the stalls. Pepper pitched in with the cleaning, eating a few pieces of poop from the barn aisle. Note to self: Stop letting the dog lick my face.
The day was beginning to cool off a bit from the near-hundred-degree high temperature. A light breeze moved in from beyond the surrounding tobacco fields and the sinking sun gave the landscape a soft golden glow. I may never get used to the heat of eastern North Carolina, but I know without it there would be no lush green pine and oak groves, thriving gardens or flourishing pastures.
I don’t know if the human eye simply developed a love for the color green during our millennia on this earth, or if people and chlorophyll were a match from the beginning. I do know that I feel supremely content sitting in the shade of our woods, looking at our garden and pastures.
I’ve always thought of myself as a traveler with more exotic places in my future. Perhaps I’m just getting older. Perhaps I’m just happy. Perhaps I’m also a little worried that I may never want to leave this place.
Kimberly and I made a homemade, cast-iron skillet, deep dish pizza for dinner before bringing Mandy inside. Then we gathered our folding chairs and a cooler of beer and planted ourselves in the barn aisle. The imminent birth made us both a little giddy. A few months ago I was a bit nervous and overwhelmed by our having a baby; now I was just excited. With help from Mandy, Claudia and Jack, I was fairly sure we could do a fine job as new parents.
About 10:30 p.m., Mandy began lying down and getting up, pacing and breathing heavily. We called Jack and Claudia, who arrived about 10 minutes later. Mandy was lying on her side in the foaling stall when they walked up.
I entered the stall and petted Mandy’s head.
“Pretty comfy, eh?” I remarked. “Not a bad foaling stall after all.”
“Shut up and help me get rid of this giant baby!” Mandy barked.
The foal’s feet were soon visible beneath Mandy’s tail. She lifted her head every so often to glance behind herself before sighing deeply and allowing her head to fall back into the deep, straw bedding. Claudia joined me in the stall and showed me how to gently pull the foal’s front legs each time Mandy pushed.
Though I was instructed to stop when the foal’s shoulders were out, the entire foal just popped right out. Claudia asked me to tear the sac so the foal could get a first breath–but the sac was much stronger than I had imagined; Claudia had to get it with her fingernails. She helped the foal clear its nose and soon the newborn was breathing on its own.
Kimberly and I just stood there, looking at this slick, wet baby horse. What had we done? Another horse? What does one do with a baby horse? Sometimes I feel like I can barely take care of myself! Jack and Claudia reassured us that we would be good parents and didn’t need to worry. I was still a little overwhelmed.
Claudia gently lifted one of the baby’s back legs.
“It’s a boy!” she exclaimed.
I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. I wouldn’t be playing catch with the little guy. I don’t really follow football, so that’s out. And he would never need me to give him dating advice.
He would help Vander, little Jack and me balance out all the women on the farm, though we would still be outnumbered. And though I love all the women on our farm, maybe guys–whether equine, feline or human–share a perspective about life that might give us a uniquely rewarding bond.
Now that I think about it, Vander is the moodiest member of the entire family. Well, maybe we don’t really need any “male bonding” after all.
For this baby boy we had picked out the name “Just a Star.” Like his father, Just the Best, the little guy had a star on his forehead, so the name seemed to be a perfect choice. And, like his father, our baby’s barn name would be “Justin.”
Despite the differences among the mothers, Justin was the spitting image of several of his siblings. And time will soon tell if the young boys will be the spitting image of their father.
At 45 minutes old, Justin was walking and shortly thereafter tried nursing. Kimberly and I helped him find the milk once or twice, and after that he had the hang of it.
Kimberly’s trainer, Robin, had asked that we call her with updates, and when we did, she asked if she could come over to meet Justin. I have to add that it was considerate of Mandy to give birth early enough for our friends to come over. I don’t know how Robin would have felt if we called her at 4 a.m.
As the group of us stood pressed together in the doorway to Mandy and Justin’s stall, the magnitude of our foal’s birth was starting to sink in with me. You’d have to be a hard person not to be touched by the experience.
Every time I think I have a handle on what it means to be married with horses, something else–like Justin’s birth–completely blows me away.
We eventually tore ourselves away from Mandy and Justin to give them some peace and quiet and give ourselves a few hours of sleep. I was happy about the successful foaling and glad we didn’t have to sleep in the tack room again.
We rose early, but in the few short hours that passed since Justin’s birth, he had turned into a fuzzy, coordinated, little horse. Kimberly led Mandy out to her pasture, and though I stood by ready to guide Justin, he followed right after his mom.
I suppose it’s a sign of the times that our friends were immediately pestering us to get Justin’s pictures online for them to see. We didn’t mind at all; we were very proud of our new baby. We even tied a giant, blue ribbon to our mailbox by the road.
As I uploaded the pictures of Justin, I was feeling a mix of “how absolutely amazing” and “what the heck have we gotten ourselves into?” Yes, deep down I knew things would be fine for our growing family. Besides, I couldn’t stop smiling. It sounds cheesy, but it was truly a wonderful, wonderful day.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
Read Jeremy’s other columns in EquiSearch.com’s Humor section.
BONUS! View this PHOTO GALLERY of Justin’s first few days, and watch the video below of his first trip around the pasture.