Mother Nature at her VERY best.
|The day was dark; the sky filled with heavy storm clouds. Far away and high above the land, lightning flashes traced the progress of the heart of the storm—thankfully not too close yet.|
Our large Bay mare, Tiny, was pawing the ground and snorting through her nose and lips, as horses do when agitated. It wasn’t the threat of the impending squall that worried her. Tiny hadn’t fussed at all about the distant thunder - or the wind that blew in sudden gusts of ever-increasing intensity.
Tiny’s restlessness was because she was about to become a Mother for the first time. Our experience with our many ‘brand new’ mother cows had taught us that Tiny now shared the same confusion they always exhibited.
“She couldn’t understand what was happening…” I feel my eyes glaze over as a solemn procession of mind pictures click by. Sometimes she tried a half-hearted kick at her stomach and laid her head back to have a lick and to voice a rumbling whinny. As if asking her own great belly—“Why are you hurting me so much? What is wrong?”
Kanute and I stayed with her, fondled her face, whispered in her ears and blew gentle, warm air into her nostrils. She loved the attention, and normally it would be enough to make her eyes soften and shine like liquid chocolate. Gentle harrumphs would quiver her lips as they rolled out from deep in her throat. Normally. But not this time. Now her eyes stayed worried, in pain — and fearful, too.
Briefly she would lie down, swishing her tail vigorously and stirring up mini-dust storms with her hooves. Then up again, walking around, slashing her tail viciously through the air, stopping only to paw angrily at the ground. There was no comforting her in those moments. Her head swung strongly from side to side, and now and then she tossed her mane impatiently. Finally, she awkwardly lowered herself to the ground and started dedicated heaving, with great whooshing sighs between contractions. Her stomach looked a monstrous size when she was on her side, straining so hard.
Kanute leans his head to one side and tightens his mouth in a lop-sided grin as he remembers. “You always had stomach pains too, when anything was giving birth. Remember?”
As if I could forget! I would tighten and loosen my stomach muscles in unison (and empathy, no doubt) with the poor mum, whatever her gene pool. This time, with Tiny, it was even worse than usual. Strange, but watching this horse give birth was as equally intense as the first birth I ever assisted—our little Candy dog, delivering her eight puppies.
It seemed like forever passed until, many heaves later, something barely poked out of her — just a glimpse of something — only to disappear as suddenly back inside again. And out again with each heave, and in again with each enormous sigh between contractions. But it was enough for us to see it was a little hoof. Slowly… ever so slowly, more came out and stayed out - soon followed by another hoof! Tiny was straining and puffing hard now. Her body had taken the reins, miraculously knowing what her baby needed to come into the world.
“And then her struggles changed completely.” Kanute’s words change my inner picture completely.
Now it was time to get back up on her feet, with the nose and legs of her baby hanging out of her. For a few minutes, she stood with legs spread wide.
“She was bracing herself for what would be the toughest part,” I say, and still feel a shudder deep inside. This was indeed the toughest part—the head and shoulders were the widest part of the foal. With several more giant heaves, the nose of the foal emerged. More straining and there came the whole head, ears flattened tightly against its skull as though taped there. Like all newborns, the foal was still in its umbilical sac—a membrane that resembles a balloon, filled with fluid to keep the baby protected against bumps and jabs.
Now Tiny gave the biggest push so far to force the shoulders of the foal out. Nearly impossible, when she was already so exhausted, but the birth itself was the driver. Tiny was just the vehicle.
“God, how we worried it was taking too long.” Kanute’s face shows a glimpse of the distress we’d felt as we waited and strained with her, feeling such a terrible helplessness.
I’ll never forget the desperation… seeing how the foal could not breathe with the sac still over its face, and its head hanging out of big Tiny. Unimaginable, we could have lost the babe after all this strain and pain. Then, just as we were feeling most nervous, a few enormous drops of rain fell from the black thunderclouds overhead. As if on some secret command, the birth suddenly went much quicker, as well.
The shoulders came out and then the entire rest of the foal followed, and because Tiny was still standing, the foal slid down in a soggy fashion and floppily plopped onto the ground. But then it didn’t move, and it was as if our hearts stopped, as well. Despite her exhaustion, Tiny turned around and immediately started chewing through the umbilical cord and roughly licking the baby. Once again, we witnessed Mother Nature dealing with a problem. The mother’s vigorous action promotes the blood circulation of the newborn to return to normal after the trauma of birth.
“But… look!” I remember saying. “Tiny is concentrating on the baby’s body, and the sac is still over its mouth. Ohh no… NO! It can’t breathe.” As we watched in horror, we could see the skin of the sac being sucked in and out of the baby’s mouth, becoming slower and slower.
“Oh, God!” Kanute’s voice was desperate. We couldn’t lose the baby now. “Christine, what was that trick the Vet showed you?”
“A straw of hay. Dried grass. Anything like that is what I need.” We immediately looked around us, hoping against hope, and there, right at our feet, was the answer to our prayers - a short length of hay.
How incredibly lucky it was only a few weeks before I had witnessed the Vet break the sac of a calfie in the same deadly position. He had quickly wiped out the mucus from the newborn’s mouth; taken a little stiff piece of straw and gently inserted it into a nostril whilst twirling this irritant around. The natural tickling is unbearable—forcing the baby to sneeze. That tremendous explosion of air clears the lungs and the breathing tubes, and the mouth and nose as well. The rescuer will inevitably receive a thorough spray of fluid, but at that moment there’s nothing better in the world. Now the baby is breathing normally... usually proclaimed by a huge bellow of outrage. Here, it was a shrill whinny—the first and most welcome sound we ever heard from this special babe.
At last Tiny knew which end to concentrate her attention. And we could take a moment to discover the foal was a little boy… a colt. By the time he was barely 10 minutes old Tiny had licked him all over, fur standing up like a halo around his whole body. He sat with his legs tucked up, looking as if posing especially for a front cover photo of a magazine. Guess his mother and her two human midwives were just a little prejudiced—but to us, he was a perfect treasure.
“How long do you reckon before he was trying to stand up?” Shaking my head in wonderment, I can’t help a laugh as I think of newborn foals with their enormous heads, tiny bodies, and giraffe-like legs.
“Not very many minutes, at all,” Kanute answers. His voice is full of amazement and admiration. We’d thought the birth of calves was great, and watching ewes with their new lambs—but a horse is really special. Maybe it’s the foal’s monumental struggle to get his especially long and gangly legs to work. I don’t know. It’s simply one of the most beautiful experiences in the world to share.
“Those impossibly long legs just would not behave for him.” I chuckle.
“I know. He’d get two working at one time, but not all four at once. And how about when he raised himself up on his back legs, and couldn’t get the front ones to co-operate at all?”
Now I laugh out loud. “Poor little boy—all he managed was a somersault over his own nose, and we couldn’t decide between being frightened he’d hurt his neck, or laughing at the ridiculously funny sight.”
“… and then next time it would be the opposite — head over heels backwards. A powerful gust of wind could even have toppled him over... he was SO wobbly and out of control.”
Many attempts later, he made it — up on all fours — trembling from head to hoof with the effort. With a sway sideways; a couple of staggers forward; another head over heels somersault… again and again. It felt like we watched and willed him up forever. But it was only 45 minutes after birth he took his first successful (if wobbly) steps. Most times it was only because of falling against the great strength of his Mother’s legs he stayed upright, but finally he was walking... or maybe staggering was a better description.
“… and now for the Milk Bar,” his twisting, searching lips and bunts from his noble head clearly said. But he did not know which end of his Mother was the milk bar. He nuzzled and pushed around every part of her underbelly, trying to find her teat. Another of Nature’s amazing gifts—the incredible instinct to find food and where it comes from, and then suckle. Fantastic that all baby mammals have this inborn instinct after only receiving nourishment through the umbilical cord… until this moment. Simply miraculous.
I screw up my nose. “Hmm… I know we try not to touch the newborn in case we confuse the smell for the Mum, but… there was not too much choice this time, was there?” I admit we helped a little by guiding his head to the right place. He would have found it on his own eventually, but to be honest—we couldn’t stand the suspense until everything fell into place and he latched onto the teat, sucking greedily to fill his little belly. Tiny accepted his undivided attention gratefully and gracefully, twisting herself nearly in halves to keep licking him as he fed.
And his name? The threatening weather all around us at his birth dictated that we call him Stormy. He was a truly beautiful horse—a buckskin. As Tiny licked him over and over, his wonderful creamy coloured coat emerged. With the darkest grey mane and tail, dark points to his ears and nose and huge sweet eyes with great long black lashes, he was one of the loveliest babies we’d welcomed into the world.
He grew to be taller than his Mother. We believe Tiny was 16 hands tall (or 64 inches from the ground to top of her shoulder), and so Stormy would have been over 17 hands. A BIG boy… but not so big that first day of his life. He became a gentle giant of a horse capable of great love, faithfulness and obedience—one of the best we ever owned and the only horse we shared the first moments of his life with. How blessed were we?
And as if the heavens smiled as well, the big heavy storm clouds parted, and the sun shone down on this new baby—God’s latest miracle.