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Raising an Orphan Foal
The Traumatic story of Little Orphan Maddie
WRITTEN BY: Margie Wolson [Sept. 1, 2000]
At the beginning of 1999 we decided to breed our mare, Hello Lillet, a beautiful gray thoroughbred. We sent her to a stallion a few hours away and, when she was pronounced in foal, we went to the stud farm and trailered her back home. Now came the long wait. Horses carry their foals for approximately eleven months. With Wings we only had to wait a few months as Lil was already very far along in her pregnancy when she was given to us. Waiting for our new baby seemed to take an eternity. We had a very dry summer. The farmer we usually get our year's supply of hay from wasn't able to get a second cutting. Our pasture grass dried up and our pond began to shrink. We got a supply of alfalfa hay for Lil to have after she foaled but weren't able to get as much grass hay as we needed. Our pasture is fescue grass and we knew that pregnant horses shouldn't graze on that type as it can cause problems with the developing foal. One month before her due date we confined Lil to a small turn out and, a few weeks later, began to live in the RV waiting for the baby's arrival.
The RV is truly a home away from home, complete with a big window that looked out over Lil's turnout. My father had built it himself and, as children, my sisters and I had many memories of family trips as far back as bringing our Chincoteague pony home in an earlier version. When my father passed away the RV was given to us. It has comfortable beds, refrigerator, hot and cold running water, stove, etc. A mobile equine baby watch vehicle!
I said to my husband, "Look at her, she is very mad, she doesn't like this at all". Each effort ended in frustration until she finally got her legs to cooperate and stood up. Once up the filly stood for an hour and nursed for the first time before collapsing into the straw. As her coat dried we began to see that her adult color was going to be gray. Her coat at birth was dark bay with many white hairs sprinkled throughout making her look like a strawberry. The only marking she had was a white crescent on her face that looked like the edge of an eclipse.
This baby was very different in personality from her older brother, Wings. She did not want to have anything to do with people. In fact, she seemed to think that humans were horses, too, just lower in the herd hierarchy than her and her dam, completely beneath her notice. We had already picked out a name for her, Proof Set, but began calling her Maddie because she was Mad at the World! Wearing a halter made her angry. Pesky flies made her angry. Grooming made her angry. Her mother walking away made her angry. She stomped her tiny feet and wrung her little fuzz of a tail in a fury. We were enthralled.
Wednesday, May 10, 2000
I still remained living in the RV and had gotten into the habit of going to the barn after work to check on my horses, then going home for a quick shower and change and returning to the barn to feed and spend the night. On Wednesday, May 10th, I arrived at the barn around 3:00 p.m. I brushed the horses and played with Maddie. I applied fly spray to Lil and gave her a carrot while noticing that Lil had dirt on her rump. I remember noting to myself that Lil had lain down at some point during the day. While cleaning her stall I saw that she had not finished her breakfast but didn't think much about that. Although it was very unusual I wasn't too concerned at that point as I had just offered her a carrot which she happily ate.
The vet arrived within an hour and saw that Lil was acting a little uncomfortable. While checking her vital signs (respiration slightly up, pulse slightly elevated, gums light pink) Lil became worse. The vet gave an additional dose of banamine by injection and explained to me what was most likely happening to Lil while we waited for the shot to take effect: torsion of the uterus, which can occur as the reproductive organs shrink back to their normal size and position. Because a horse's body cavity is so very large the uterus can get twisted just like a strangulated gut in some cases of colic.
As the vet and I went back to the stall where the assistant was holding Lil the weather turned bad and it began to thunderstorm and hail. When we got to the stall Lil was violently thrashing and frothing from the mouth. I grabbed Maddie and took her out of the stall to keep her from getting hurt.
The vet and assistant could not keep Lil on her feet and it became obvious that Lil was not going to be able to get in the trailer, much less make the hour and a half trip to Leesburg. The vet asked for permission to euthanize Lil and made sure that I knew what was happening. I said "I know, do it, tell me what to do for this baby". The vet, assistant and I were completely soaked, the rain came down so hard that water ran over the threshold and flooded the stall. The ground was white with hailstones.
I had already fed Wings and Taffy, our old pony, and let them out of their stalls into a paddock attached to the main part of our barn. With all of the commotion going on, they became agitated and began to run back and forth, neighing. Taffy had had a foal of her own, years before, and had taken unusual notice when Maddie was born. Wings was too much for the old pony and Pat did her best to separate them. Pat finally got Taffy into the barn and locked Wings out.
The vet gave my sister and me instructions for bottle feeding Maddie - every two hours until she was 10 days old and told us to get a bottle of Karo syrup to give her in case she didn't take to the bottle and became weak. They helped us to get her into a different stall. We tried to introduce Maddie to Taffy; we hoped that Taffy might take to the foal and mother her so she would not be alone, but the pony struck at her. Maddie was frantic, calling in her tiny shrill voice for her mother.
The vet left us enough powdered formula to last until the next after noon when we could purchase a supply of our own. Finally Mark lay down in the stall, Maddie, exhausted, curled up next to him. The two of them spent the night that way. The next morning we tried to get Maddie to nurse from the bottle. The vet had supplied us with an artificial nipple designed for lambs. Each time Maddie's lips touched the nipple, she instinctively raised her head to what to her was the normal nursing position.
The Surrogate Mother
That afternoon our vet's office brought us a beautiful Welsh cob mare that had already been a surrogate mother for 6 other foals. Her name was Thumper and she bonded with Maddie instantly. Thumper got off of the trailer, heard Maddie cry, and immediately set about caring for the filly. She did not want any other horse even looking at her baby. Little Maddie was no longer alone.
We handled Maddie from the day that she was born so the arrival of the farrier for her first hoof trimming was not a traumatic experience. She led nicely for him to evaluate her movement. She behaved well until the last hoof. When she found that she couldn't pull free she stopped struggling and nipped me on my thigh. After a scolding, she bit her lead rope instead. Truly a very Maddie little girl!
As the amount of pelletized formula and grain that Maddie ate was increased we began to put her and Thumper into side by side box stalls for the night so the baby was reassured that Thumper was near and could eat at her leisure.
Maddie At 2-Months
Maddie took to the bottle very quickly, maybe in part because she was only five days old when she lost her mother. Our veterinary service had a nurse or surrogate available, a critical thing to a developing foal. The local feed store special ordered large amounts of powdered and pelletized formula for us. Having a friend, Sharon, who allowed us to use her trailer more than she did, helped. It was a big help owning a RV so we could actually live at the barn. My sister, Pat, and her family assisted us in every way possible. My sister Sherry, with her love and knowledge, created an Internet web site for Maddie so we could share her development with friends and family all over.
For anyone who wants to find out how this all develops, you can watch as Maddie continues to grow. Her web address is http://www.clutter.com/maddie/index.html.
March 2001 Update:
Maddie is going to be quite gray when she sheds soon. I had her in yesterday afternoon to put on her turnout sheet (the weather report was correct, it is now POURING!). Rather than put it on her in her stall I thought to have a short cross tie session. WOO HOO! The sheet is a good thing, the cross ties are vicious, filly killing monster devices!
Maddie is growing like a weed so, after I fastened the chest straps, I lengthened the surcingles and fastened them. By now she is standing very still and I am concentrating on lengthening the hind leg straps with my back to her head, standing at her near hind. I kept up a soft conversation, telling her how good she was and the this wasn't so bad, etc., not noticing that her tail is now still.
At least she doesn't approach the ties trembling or having a fit. It is the indignity of being tied that she seems to object to and really isn't pitching a real bad fit. I am concerned that the situation frightens her so. She has been in them 4 times now and never more than 10 minutes at a time with me right next to her (I am not about to walk away from her to even fetch something, I have all I am going to use right there) Nothing bad has ever happened TO her while in the ties, either, she is just a baby and a TB at that!
Helpful Links and Other Information
Highly Recommended Foaling Books: (click on a book for more information)
Great websites for foaling kits, raising orphans and foaling in general:
www.CyberFoal.com | www.YourHorsesHealth.com | Life with an orphan foal
Foaling Kit Article | Fighting Foaling Frenzy & Surviving Foaling Season
Excerpt from "Complete Foaling Manual" | Foaling Notebook | Breeder's Guide
The Local Purina Dealer - Our local Purina dealer that goes out of it's way for me every time I have a crisis, they special ordered foal-lac powder and pellets for our baby.
Tamarack Stables Rivers Edge - Lois Majewski was a rock on the telephone when Lil died. She said "You bring me that baby right now!" and when I calmed down and decided to take care of Maddie myself, Lois gave me much needed support and advice.
Livestock Library - (University of Oklahoma) This site is chock full of excellent links and articles, I got loads of information from it. Check out the Breeding & Reproduction articles.
One thing that only a couple sites mention is to have a supply of Foal-Lac powdered formula (or a different brand) on hand. I will never leave that out of a foaling kit again. The powdered formula doesn't go bad for about a year and is well worth having on hand, along with 2-3 lamb nipples and a liter bottle or two (make sure in advance that the nipples fit the mouth of the bottle, those big mouth ones don't work). You can keep the bottle and nipples in a large freezer zip-loc bag.
I also recommend putting a brief checklist of foaling instructions INCLUDING THE VET's NUMBER in a report cover or laminated sheet (you know how dirty paper lists get in a barn situation) in the foaling kit.
Have arrangements made in advance for a truck and trailer to be ready especially if you don't have one of your own and know where the closest equine hospital is. In an emergency situation the vet CAN NOT get to your barn quickly enough to do much good. You have to be prepared to calmly do what the vet tells you over the phone.