Written by: Pam MacKenzie
Photographer Pam Mackenzie is invited to be present during a foaling.
Early last spring, Horse-Canada asked me if I had ever taken photos during the birth of a foal. Though I have been around when foals were born, discovered new arrivals in the barn, and even helped my sheep deliver lambs, I have always tried not to disturb nature, and never chosen to take my camera into a foaling.
That changed following a few emails with Quarter Horse breeder and trainer Herb Best, of New Glasgow, N.S. He told me he had two mares left to foal, and promised to let me know when they were close. On April 27th, Herb emailed to say that a new foal was expected that night. He was sure.
He said the mare had foaled several times, that she was quiet and wouldn’t mind the camera. ‘Is anyone else going to be there in the barn, or do you stay?’ I asked him.
His reply was short and simple, ‘I’ll be sleeping. They call me when they start foaling.’ He gave no more details, so I wondered, ‘Who calls him?’
I gathered up fresh batteries, some blankets and pillows and my friend, Jessie MacDonald. Off we headed to a great adventure. We were planning to sleep in the barn and await the foaling.
When we arrived, Herb showed us the two expectant broodmares, pointing out the one he was sure would deliver that evening. I noticed that they had small green devices under their tails. I had to ask. Herb explained that these were alarms designed to go off when the mare started to foal. The device would call his cell phone, he said, and he would be right out. ‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘that explains it. They – the mares – call him. How neat is that?’
We were welcomed to stay in the room off the arena, but after roaming the barn and chatting until midnight, we went to get some Z’s in the chilly SUV pulled up by the barn door. We woke at 1:00 a.m., then 2:30 a.m. We walked quietly through the sleeping stable. Nothing yet.
My eyes popped open at 3:43 a.m. and I sat right up. ‘Jess, I have a feeling this is it,’ I mumbled, as I grabbed my camera and headed for the barn. I have no idea why I was so sure. I arrived at the mare’s stall to discover the sac starting to appear. It really was time!
Jess arrived just in time for the alarm to sound right beside her in the aisle. Herb didn’t tell us about that. We were really awake then! I slipped into the stall for more photos. Herb arrived then, and just nodded.
The mare had lost her tail wrap, and soon laid down. Herb appeared and rewrapped the tail as the mare watched him. One foot appeared. She stood, then laid back down in the other direction. The second foot was just visible in the sack and the nose seemed to be caught. Before we could call to Herb, he appeared again and gave the mare and foal some assistance. You could clearly see the mare roll her head up and look to see Herb, then relax. We could see she trusted him. The foal was once again on its way, and Herb was gone. The mare sat up enough to watch the final moments of the foal’s arrival.
By 3:56 a.m., the foal was out. Soon the mare was up and nuzzling her new filly. By 4:07 a.m., the foal made her first attempt to rise. Momma mare began licking and nuzzling and ‘cooing’ to the foal. I felt it was time to shoot from outside the stall. By 4:54 a.m., the little one was on her feet, be it ever so wobbly. Momma mare nuzzled and nudged, as the search was on for her udder.
Following several unsuccessful attempts, the leggy foal began nursing by about 5:00 a.m. Wobbly attempts to get a good drink continued to about 6:30 a.m.
We decided it was time to head for home then, as the stable began to come to life. A vet quietly arrived to ultrasound, and possibly inseminate, another mare with a foal at her side. The cycle continues… It was a just another spring day for Herb and the horses of Krymsun Farms.