February 2, 2015

Foaling Story #1: Thoroughbred Baby

Back in high school, I worked on a 128 acre Thoroughbred breeding/training/racing farm for two truly wonderful family friends.  (For more on them, see here.)

They had a training barn and a breeding barn on the property, the breeding barn is in the background of this photo.

My mom had always wanted to see a foal born, and one spring morning my freshman or sophomore year of high school, we got "the call" from Kevin.  A mare was about to foal. We raced over there around 6:30 am on a school day.  When we got there, Kevin was not smiling.  Things weren't going well.  I don't remember the details of what happened, but I remember them trying to keep the mare calm as she frantically circled the foaling box with the foal hanging half out of her, scraping the baby's head on the wall at times.  It was pretty clear early on that the foal was not alive, so everything they did was with the intention of saving the mare.

Same farm, different baby.  A happy, healthy future racehorse.

The reason this otherwise sad story is worth retelling is what happened after.  When the mare was stable, my mom decided it was time for me to get to school, and since I was late, she walked me into the main office.  The intimidating assistant principal asked why I was nearly an hour late to school, and my mom loudly announced to the office full of mothers and secretaries that "We were watching a horse give birth, and the baby didn't make it."

A hushed chorus of "Aww"'s and "Oh my gosh!"'s echoed through the office, and the assistant principal was no longer arrogant but cowed.  I would have preferred that the baby make it even if it meant getting written up, but as it was, there was no way he could get after me for being late after that scene without losing face with the mothers and secretaries.  "Just get to class," he said and handed me a note to give to my teacher with no explanation on it.

Luckily the next foaling I attended was a much happier affair, but that's a story for another day.


  1. Wow that sounds pretty tough to see. But it's a funny image, the principal being cowed by everyone else being upset.

  2. That's so sad :( I've witnessed several births but haven't ever seen something go wrong. In some ways, I feel like it's something we all need to see. Breeding is serious and things can go wrong.

  3. Many years ago, I went out with a friend to her aunt's boarding barn where her aunt's horse had given birth to her foal early and then seemingly abandoned the foal in the field. The BO had brought both mare and foal into the barn when she found them early in the morning, and the foal was unable to stand and couldn't nurse, even on a bottle. The vet was quite sure the foal wouldn't make it, so we just waited around for him to pass in a warm, comfortable, safe space.

    As soon as the foal stopped breathing it was abundantly clear to us,even though we had hardly been able to see him breathing for the past hour. The mare went crazy -- she started kicking, rearing, and screaming. Despite the fact that she had wanted nothing to do with him all day she also wouldn't let the BO remove the foal from the stall.

    We left sometime thereafter but I will never forget that moment, the poignant contrast of a mare in pain but knowing that something is terribly wrong.

    I too have since witnessed happy births, of all kinds of other animals, and am very happy to have done so. The circle of life: incredibly sad, but generally more incredible.

  4. very intense... but that's pretty much how it goes with horses (and awesome moms), isn't it