The mare strained, her breaths coming in soft grunts, her swollen belly arched like a cathedral dome. She lifted her head and looked toward her haunches as if wondering when the pains would stop, then lay her head down on the clean straw. I grasped the boards surrounding her stall, peered between them and leaned forward, silently urging her on with every contraction. “Is she okay?” I whispered. I was promptly shushed by my mother. I shifted on my feet, sighing. My foal was being born and I was anxious to meet it.
Most girls want a horse and needle their parents for riding lessons. I didn’t have to yearn for a horse; our family had thirteen at one time. I had my own pony at five, could put him in harness and hitch him to a buggy at six, began showing at the fair before I was seven. My mother taught riding lessons which kept me busy grooming, saddling and watering the horses in between the group sessions. I’d rather have been plodding along a trail or cantering down the road, my blonde hair flying, my pony’s breaths strong and warm. Even if I did have to cater to the rich kids who landed on our farm for weekly lessons, the horses were ours. The riders would leave the dust of the arena behind, but I would still have a strong back to sling my leg over and gallop off.
The mare’s flanks and neck grew dark under the strain. She rolled upright onto her belly, her neck arched, her breaths coming in soft, rapid puffs of air. She let out a loud groan and amniotic fluid gushed from her. She laid back on her side. A tiny hoof appeared.
My first pony was named Tippy. He’d been trained to do tricks, would bow and rear on command, could 'count' by pawing the ground on cue. He was a paint and had the sweetest temperament. Tippy taught me how to ride, consoled me when I was upset, won blue ribbons in competitions, bore me on many shaded forest trails. He was the perfect first mount.
The mare groaned rhythmically with each push of her huge abdomen. Another hoof appeared, more fluid, and now blood. Steam rose off the straw where the fluids collected, the cool spring air absorbing the raw primal work of life. “Is she going to have it now?” I asked. The quick reply was an emphatic, “Will you be quiet!”
I outgrew Tippy and began riding full sized horses. I wasn’t intimidated by the larger beasts; to the contrary, I felt completely at home perched high off the ground, even if I did have to use an overturned bucket to get up there. Horses are curious, both in the sense of being inquisitive and unpredictable. They are much smarter than most people realize, quickly reading their riders. A person who is unsure or nervous around a horse is certain to have trouble; the horse will also become unsure and nervous, testing the mettle of the rider. A confident rider instills confidence in the mount. I was only a girl, but I was confident and at ease around the powerful creatures. It was at this point that my parents decided to breed the mare with the intention that the foal would be mine to raise and train.
I held my breath, awestruck as the foal’s stick thin legs emerged in pulses timed with the mare’s grunts. The mare let out a long, hard groan, low and urgent as the head made its way into the world. The body soon followed with a waterfall of amniotic fluid. Moments later, the foal lay wet and steaming on the straw. The veterinarian attending the birth cleared the remnants of the sac from the foals nostrils. It was a colt, a big, bay colt. He lifted his head, eyes taking in his new surroundings. My foal. I was the luckiest girl in the world.
A chestnut quarter horse foal and mare