When Arabian mare Esscapade MOA’s milk tests indicated she was close to foaling on June 27, her owner Marie Gravel and stable owner Siri Ingebrigtsen were glued to their phones, watching the action streamed from the in-stall camera. Little did they know they’d be in for a double feature.
That night, they watched as ‘Essie’ foaled a bay colt. The women were shocked when a second set of hooves appeared – and a chestnut colt emerged soon after his twin brother. Both purebred Arab colts, sired by Aafanazi SF, were alive and healthy.
“It was an exciting and scary night,” said Marie. “When mares have twins, you usually lose one through pregnancy or during the foaling. Or you can lose all three, including the dam.”
On average, a mares’ gestation is 340 days and maiden mares often go longer. Siri, an FEI-level trainer and rider who operates Avant-Garde Farm and Avant-Garde Horse Transportation in Luskville, Quebec, was out of town. She planned to be home 10 days before the maiden mare’s estimated due date of July 7, but “Essie did not cooperate,” said Marie, and foaled at Day 320.
Marie, who lives in Toronto, was four hours away. That left foaling duties to Avant-Garde working student Arianne Fournier, 19, who had never attended a foaling on her own, let alone with twins. She followed directions from Siri and Dr. Andrea Kelly on her phone as the foaling progressed.
“Arianne managed to make everything happen correctly,” said Marie. “She stayed cool as a cucumber.”
The foals were quickly named Star (the bay) and Blaze (the chestnut). Blaze was smaller and weaker and although he latched easily, he had to be held up to nurse during the first 24 hours. It was a “wild race” said Marie, as they tried to source milk replacer from Guelph and across the country to supplement the twins. A “parade of vets” came to see the colts and marvelled at how close they were in size, which is also unusual in twin pregnancies. Blaze has nearly caught up in size to Star and both are energetic, curious and thriving at just over one month old.
The successful twin birth is not the only remarkable aspect of Essie’s journey to motherhood. Marie bought the mare, sired by Escape Ibn Navarrone-D, when she was five (she’s 10 now). She was “extraordinarily well bred,” says Marie, and had been an Eastern Canadian Champion as a yearling. The mare was unbroken, but she was started under saddle and trained to third level dressage. In 2019, she went to Dressage for Kids in New York state and earned a bronze medal.
After Essie came home, she continued in training, but seemed off on one side. When she was sent away to a breeding farm to be bred, it was discovered she had a large anovulatory follicle. A follicle carries the egg within the ovaries; an anovulatory follicle stays in the ovary for a long time and fills with blood instead of progressing to ovulation.
Plans to breed Essie were postponed for a year and she went back to work in the fall. But there was a deterioration in her performance and her behaviour. In December 2020, a tumour the size of an apple was discovered and it, along with one ovary, was removed via laparoscopic surgery. Her temperament reverted back to normal and in the summer of 2021 she was bred by artificial insemination to Aafanazi SF and caught on the first cycle. Although she was ultrasounded at day 16 of her pregnancy by an equine reproduction veterinarian, the twin embryos were missed. When Essie seemed to be unusually large in late December, she was ultrasounded again but the twin pregnancy wasn’t discovered then, either.
“The mare continued to be very large and we were very apprehensive going into foaling, thinking we were dealing with a very large foal,” says Marie. The other concern was how the mare would accept having a foal, as maiden Arab mares don’t always embrace motherhood from the start. “But Essie is a good mother and we are thrilled with how everything worked out.”
The colts are special and not only because they are twins, says Marie, as they are complete outcrosses to the over-used bloodlines common in the Arabian show world currently, yet their pedigrees are full of international champions. Their sire, Pennylane Farm’s Aafanazi, is a Russian-sired stallion that carries on the lines of Alberta’s esteemed Belarian program, out of a daughter of British National Supreme Champion *Rushan. Essie is one of only a handful of World Champion Escape Ibn Navarrone-D daughters producing in North America, and her dam line has produced a Canadian-registered World Champion now in Saudi Arabia.
Marie had had a half-Arab pony as a child and was away from the breed for a long period until 2001 when she found an older mare that had come from a well-known Egyptian Arabian breeding farm in western Ontario.
“I love finding underappreciated Arab mares,” she says. She sent that mare’s three-year-old filly to Siri to start under saddle. Although living in Toronto, Marie was spending a lot of time in Ottawa for her job (Luskville is a short distance from the nation’s capitol). She’s now retired but regularly travels to Avant-Garde.
“That mare is still there, 16 years later. I have most of my horses there. I just love Avant-Garde as Siri’s philosophy is that dressage can improve any breed. It’s very much a philosophy we share and a way of developing the horse.” The women also believe in a naturalistic approach for the horses to be out 24/7 unless the weather is bad.
Marie hasn’t decided whether the twin colts will became long-term members of her and Avant-Garde’s equine herd. “I’m not sure at this point whether I’ll keep them both and put them into training. I like to see horses develop into what they can be. They have wonderful pedigrees. Right now, I’m going to enjoy them first and foremost.”
You can visit the colts on their own Facebook page here.