Trudy Andrew | Canadian Author

Horse Tails

Dragons and Lambs

Mama horses can be ever so unpredictable. The sweetest, most gentle mare can turn into a fire-breathing dragon, when she foals. It always amazed me how our quietest, most respectful and obedient mares, mares as sweet as lambs, were the ones that wanted to come through the stall door at you after baby showed up. Well, not usually straight off, but shortly thereafter. I had a couple of mares that didn’t ‘go dragon’ until shortly after they foaled. I couldn’t miss the birth, as I had limited time to check baby over, before mama dramatically forgot all about being a domesticated, sweet and loveable horse. Oftentimes, I barely had time to iodine the navel before ‘the change’. Give mama a few quiet, secluded days on her own, and she returns to her familiar, predictable self. Dragon isn’t a behaviour to punish. It’s one to understand, accept as a part of a natural, protective response. I knew from my days working with thoroughbred broodmares that this too, will pass. Time and patience are amazing things. All it takes, is allowing things to take their natural course.
I had many responsibilities in my job that came with no description. I learned to properly muck out a stall, and yes, there’s a proper, right way. I can load a wheelbarrow or manure wagon to beyond capacity, with barely the loss of a road apple, and so much more besides.
As it turned out, the horses all took to me. At least most of them did. To that end, I was given the pleasurable task of making sure that stalled broodmares, were kept as calm and comfortable as was possible, in the days and hours preceding foaling. I would keep their stalls clean, water fresh, and spent time grooming them. Even the most irritable, snarky mare was subdued, by my 14 year old charms.
There’s one mare that will always be memorable though. She was a big mare, unhappy in pregnancy, not too crazy about people, and my responsibility to soothe. After helping with morning chores, I had some time to spend with her before I rode my bicycle home for lunch. She was getting close, and I so hoped to catch her foaling. After brushing and taking many peeks underneath, to look for signs that things might be starting, I just had the biggest feeling that it was going to be sooner than later, yet finally realized that I had to get going, or I’d miss my lunch. I needed my lunch. I worked hard, long hours, and there was half the day to go.
I raced home, gobbled down my lunch then raced back again. On getting back, the first thing I did was head straight for the foaling barn, to check in on my equine charge. To my surprise, the foreman, second in command and another worker were all standing at the door to the stall. They were carefully peeking in, like there was a big secret inside. When they all turned as one to look at me, I could tell it had happened. In that ever so short, fifty minutes I’d been gone, that darn mare had gone and done it. She’d had her foal.
“When?” I wanted to know as I walked up to join them.
“We just noticed,” one answered, though all three seemed to be behaving somewhat oddly, and made me wonder if something was up, at least for a moment. Then they moved to the side and I saw the giant, leggy foal there beside mama, and I forgot about everything and anyone else. It was simply beautiful. Mama was softly talking sweet baby talk, her nostrils fluttering as she checked out her lovely baby, and I was beyond happy. There had been concerns that this mare wouldn’t want her baby, and that clearly wasn’t the case. Moving across the huge space, I stroked mama’s sleek neck and patted the baby trying to balance on wobbly, giraffe legs.
“Aren’t you being a good mama,” I happily soothed, “and don’t you just have the nicest baby ever, good girl.”
Someone quietly cleared their throat to get my attention. Turning my head to look, I wondered why they were being so incredibly quiet, what with the hushed tones and hanging out in the aisle.
“Catch the baby and bring it over here,” I was told, “we have to put iodine on the navel, and give it a shot.”
I didn’t hesitate for a moment. After all, this wasn’t the first broodmare I’d handled, nor the first foal either. Slipping an arm behind the little rump and one at its chest, I began to move it towards the stall door. Then it happened. That foal began to scream for mama, and mama immediately responded, like a fire-breathing dragon! She leapt at me, teeth bared. I did the only thing I could, I lifted baby in my arms, as a barrier between us.
Now, I don’t know how many people are familiar with the size of a thoroughbred foal, but they’re bigger than the average, and heavy. Still, adrenaline is clearly a powerful thing, as I can’t remember that part of it at all. I held that squealing foal in my arms, while dragon mare snaked back and forth inches away, and was sure I would die. Slowly, ever so slowly, I shuffled backwards through the deep straw to the door, yet my ordeal wasn’t over yet.
“Don’t put it down,” I was told though mama was bobbing and weaving at me, all the while gnashing her teeth, “We may as well get things taken care of.”
The whole while, baby never stopped crying for mama.
The second they were done with it, I half set down, half pushed the foal at mama then leapt backwards out of the stall. Just as fast, the door was slid shut. Turning to face those rotten, rotten men, I was shaking with disbelief, “You knew she was going to do that. You knew, and you didn’t warn me. She could’ve killed me!”
“We figured she’d be fine with you,” one answered with a shrug that was at least somewhat sheepishly guilty, “she was always good with you.”
“We couldn’t even step in the stall,” another added, “but you could. It looked fine. She was good with you.”
That experience is one I’ll never forget, and learned a good deal from. If a mare wants alone time with baby, she gets it.
Then there are the mares who don’t want their foals, or ones like the beautiful, Mirror Image, who was indifferent. But those are stories for other times.

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About Trudy Andrew

Trudy Andrew lives on a small farm just east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she enjoys her Morgan horses. A dreamer since she was a child, its no surprise to those who know her well that her imagination would find an outlet in writing, as it has in the past through artwork.
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 Oakbank, MB