The Foal That Wasn’t
I’ve been M.I.A. for a VERY long time! I’ve felt for months that my next post needed to be the final update on Coco’s foaling event and all who follow me on Facebook or Instagram already know that it went horribly wrong. I rely so much on reading and learning from other people on blogs that I feel like I need to share our story. I don’t think we could have done much, or really anything differently that would have resulted in a live foal, but I knew enough from my research that a competent vet was needed the moment I saw Coco with that darling bay filly’s nose and no feet presented.
So here is what happened;
The vet had come over about four weeks before Coco’s “due” date to give her her final foaling vaccinations. He made the comment that she looked like she was carrying a REALLY big foal. I asked him if he thought it was better for us to take her in somewhere to foal her out and he thought that if we were comfortable with her doing it at home, then we should just foal her out at home. MOST horses don’t have any issues foaling, it really is the one health thing they are kind of good at. The thing is that when there are issues, there are usually very serious issues. At least 30 foals were born at my parent’s place during my childhood and only one time was there a problem. The mare delivered twins and both died, but that isn’t unusual. Experience told me it would be better to have her foal at home. It would also save mare and foal a dangerous trip on a horse trailer home. I don’t regret this decision for a moment and I’ll better explain why towards the end.
Beginning when Coco was at about 300 days I started checking on her at 2a every night. Boot City would check on her around midnight and I feed at around 5a so that gave her a maximum of about 3 hours unchecked. There were a few nights she gave us a good scare by lying down in her stall and groaning pitifully but no foal! Fast forward to the night of March 1 (technically the morning of March 2). Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She had been expressing milk for nearly a month. I had pH and calcium tested her milk for about 2 weeks and the result of every single test indicated she would foal in less than 12 hours. This wasn’t the case until it was so I just quit doing the tests the few days before she foaled. I don’t even really remember anything before my 2:30a check. I got out there at 2:32a and could hear her groaning and sounding very distressed. I flipped on the lights to find her standing with a dark bay foal’s face out of her vulva about to it’s eyes. Immediately I knew we needed help. Proper foaling position has the foal presented with one foot in front of the other followed by the nose.
I RAN back to the house to get Boot City to assist. If we could push the foal back in and get it’s legs out we should be good to go. Now Boot City has never been around a foal, much less a mare having a foal so this was a lot to ask. He graciously tried as hard as he could, but it was just too stuck and Coco was getting more and more distressed. I called the vet. Waiting the 30 or so minutes for the vet to arrive may be the worst 30 minutes of my life so far. Hearing Coco groan and slam her body down on the ground, get up and do it all over again is something I can never forget. Even now when she lies down and groans it makes my stomach turn. The vet, with Boot City’s help, tried also to push the foal back in and get the legs straightened out. He worked on her for about 20 minutes and while he was doing that I hooked the truck up to the trailer. I had a bad feeling about how this was going and needed to be ready. I was right. The vet told Boot City, not me, that the foal was dead. We needed to get Coco to a surgery facility as quickly as possible.
Coco had an unfortunate incident on the horse trailer last spring and had become very hesitant to get on the trailer so I had been working with her for a few weeks just in case something went awry and she needed emergency transport. I’m so glad I had done that because when, pardon my language, the shit hit the fan she got right on the trailer with not a moment’s hesitation. I was petrified with fear that now we were also going to lose Coco. When a mare gets in the situation of difficulty foaling time is of the essence. Every second the dead foal is inside her puts her nearly exponentially closer to death.
We got the ESMS in Weatherford around 4:30a. My vet had called so they knew we were coming and were ready and waiting for us. Coco got safely off the trailer, walked inside the clinic and almost immediately collapsed. You could see it in her eyes that she knew she was in a place where they would help her. The vets on call always seem to be super young and inexperienced, and this was the case that morning. They were very kind and assured me that Coco would be fine. Most likely they would just sedate her, pull the foal out and all would be well. They did need to tell me that there was a possibility of needing more drastic action requiring Coco to be completely anaesthetised, the foal pushed all the way back in and removed by being cut apart, but they had never seen it done and were sure that wouldn’t be the case. The surgical vet was coming in around 6 or 7 so they were going to make her comfortable until then. It seemed terribly odd to me that they were just going to leave her like that for HOURS, but they were the experts so we headed home to fret.
While driving home the clinic called and said that Coco was taking a turn for the worse so the surgeon was coming in immediately and they would let me know what was going to happen next. After a horrible couple of hours fretting and praying and worrying the surgical vet called with an update. They had gotten the foal out and Coco was in recovery. Good news so far. Removing the foal required a fetotomy. It really was the worst case scenario. Coco had an uncommonly high white blood cell count and had become septic and toxic while she was anaesthetised (and upside down while the removed the foal) so was requiring pretty serious meds to improve her condition. She had gotten up on her own which was good news. I was both relieved and horrified. What had I done to this poor horse?! By now it was early Wednesday morning and the vet thought that Coco might be able to come home by Friday, but it depended on how her white cell count was and how she was responding to her meds.
I spent the rest of that day mostly crying and loving on my other two horses. I was grateful Coco was still alive and showed a good prognosis, but I was emotionally spent. Later that afternoon I went to visit her and take her some treats.
As with humans, the clinic wouldn’t let her leave until she had eaten and had a couple bowel movements and all her counts looked good. She was eating her hay like a champ and behaving amazingly well for a young mare attached to four gallon sized IVs after having an extremely traumatic medical event.
Her story does have a moderately happy ending. She responded so well to her meds that she was released to come home early on Thursday, which happened to coincide with my last day at my job so I got a long weekend just spoiling her at home. When I picked her up I asked the ICU vet how often they see mares with this situation and he estimated one or two per year. This is a very large and well respected clinic with thousands of foaling mare patients and we happened into the minuscule percentage of deliveries ending in a fetotomy. Coco was on stall rest for a week, then released to being in her paddock for about 10 days before she could be back on turnout with the boys. She also continued a very heavy dose of antibiotics and banamine for any residual pain.
You know how we knew she was pretty much fully recovered from the ordeal? When she got so upset being locked in her paddock while Jaguar and Sterling were turned out that she JUMPED out! True to her jumping bloodlines she cleared a 4′ fence with nary a scratch. We kept her in her stall for a day after that shenanigan and got the go ahead from the vet to put her back out with the boys.
Lastly, this is why I don’t regret having made the decision to have her foal at home. When all was said and done every vet who saw her and her foal that day confirmed that it was in fact a very large foal, but making matters worse is that Coco has an exceptionally narrow birth canal. We have been advised to NEVER let her carry her own foal again. She can be bred, but the foal needs to be carried and delivered by a surrogate mare. Most mares’ bodies regulate the size of the foal to something that they can successfully deliver. If you breed a 15hh mare to a Clydesdale, she’s most likely going to have a foal she can deliver. Coco’s body seems to have missed that memo. My vets also assured me that this was not something the repro vet could have determined prior to her getting bred so was essentially an unavoidable lesson. Had she been at a clinic when she foaled they would have figured out pretty quickly that she couldn’t deliver the foal and I would have been faced with an extremely expensive and difficult decision to pursue a caesarean section. Horses don’t do well with abdominal surgery of any kind and a c-section is not a common surgery for horses. It is awkward, in a difficult location and there are no guarantees that the mare or foal will survive. Coco probably wouldn’t have been able to nurse her own foal had she delivered via c-section so we may have needed a nurse mare or to bottle feed the foal, had it survived. I wouldn’t repeat any of this experience for anything, but I am grateful I didn’t have to make the call on a c-section and that I still have a beautiful, healthy mare in my barn who I hope to be riding within the next 30 days.