Posts Tagged ‘horse reproduction’

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.

Coco about one week before she foaled.

Coco about one week before she foaled.

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.

Correct Foaling Position

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.

Getting some hay in her ICU stall

Getting some hay in her ICU stall
















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.

Mouthful of hay with the IV tied into her mane

Mouthful of hay with the IV tied into her mane
















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.

Coco happy at home in her barn with her besties

Coco happy at home in her barn with her besties
















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.


After our last visit to the repro vet I was advised to bring Coco back in two weeks to check for a heartbeat and confirm the pregnancy. This was my first weekend at home with nothing to do in WEEKS. Maybe even MONTHS! I hemmed and hawed a few times then texted my vet asking if today or May 30 was best. His sage advice was if she’d absorbed the embryo we could re-breed, so earlier was probably better. Le sigh. Out I went to hook up the trailer etc.

After some slight, but could have been major, trailer drama we were all loaded up (Jaguar, too!) and headed to the vet . Part of me was nervous. Coco had been backing up to Sterling a few times recently, which can be an indication of a cycle. She shouldn’t be having any cycles. She never lifted her tail or exhibited any other horsey-hussy behaviour, but after my last experience breeding I am not taking anything for granted.

I got Coco and her safety blanket (Jaguar) unloaded and in the stocks. I joked with Skeet (my vet) that Jaguar needed his teeth floated so maybe he could get that done while he was there. The backstory is that Jaguar has to be nearly dead to get his teeth floated (horse dentistry) and Skeet only does repro these days so has NO interest in Jaguar’s horrible behaviour and bad teeth! Skeet got Coco prepped with some slight sedation and inserted the ultrasound machine. This time I watched. It was easy to find the larger black dot. Yay! She is still preggers!

Coco's Black Dot at 28 days

Coco’s Black Dot at 28 days

The large black dot is the inside of the placenta. The smaller white spot inside the black dot and to the right side of the black dot with the white string coming off is the embryo. I didn’t video, but inside the white dot you could see the heartbeat. This is a horse baby and I get that, but it was SO moving to see that teeny tiny heartbeat on the monitor. Nature really has a way of taking your breath away! Coco is safely pregnant with what appears to be a perfect, healthy foal.

Hopefully the rest of Coco’s gestation goes smoothly. We don’t have to go back to the vet for any more checkups, but I think we will go back one more time before they shut down for a few months. They are currently operating basically 24/7. Skeet responds to any and  all of my texts almost immediately and the poor guy and his staff will get a much deserved break mid-July. Skeet has been my vet since 2008 when he started with ESMS and hadn’t yet specialized so having this experience with him as our vet has been fantastic. He’s known my horses and me for as long as I’ve had them, with the exception of Jaguar, and I truly believe that has been hugely beneficial in this process with Coco.

Coco’s official due date is March 19. My birthday. Her birthday is March 20 so it would be extra fun if the foal is born on one of those dates. This is assuming a 342 day gestation, which isn’t an exact science with horses. She could really foal anytime between 330 and 370 days and it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. Soon we will start posting belly pics!

The Black Dot

In the horse breeding world there is a term, not really an official term, but when you say it others familiar with horse breeding know exactly what you are talking about. It’s called “the black dot”. We have  a black dot here at the farm and we are pretty darn excited about our black dot.

A little background on how you get a black dot. You may recall a couple posts back I told everyone we were going to breed Coco Chanel. On Good Friday (how appropriate, right?!) I took Coco to the reproduction vet to leave her there until she is (hopefully) in foal. About ten days after I dropped her off I got a Facebook message from the stallion owner that she had shipped semen to the vet and would be sending me an invoice. I was so excited and really nervous all at the same time. You see, the last time I tried to breed a mare nothing went right. After two years, a lot of heartbreak and an obscene amount of money we threw in the towel on breeding Noelle and I purchased Coco as a weanling. I was only going to be cautiously optimistic this time.

The vet texted me a couple days after I paid the shipped semen invoice and said that Coco had been inseminated, she had ovulated and that I could come pick her up. So I loaded Jaguar in the trailer and headed to pick up Coco. Jaguar is her best friend and since she hasn’t ridden in the trailer all that much I thought she’d appreciate having a buddy. Coco was WILD when we went to get her out of her stall. The vet said she’d been that way the whole time she was there. Most of the breeding done at the repro vet I’m using are cutting and barrel racing horses so Quarter Horses. Coco was easily 6″ taller than any other mare in the barn and I’m sure she was also the feistiest. She hasn’t been in a stall for more than a couple days since she had a minor leg surgery a year ago, she justifiably had cabin fever! She still needed a little bit of coaxing to get in the trailer, but load she did and off she went to wait for her ultrasound in 14 days.

April 25 was exactly 14 days after her ovulation and also the day Sterling and I returned from our horse show. So, I unloaded Sterling, turned the trailer around, and loaded Coco to head south. It was a Sunday so no one else was there except employees. We walked around a bit while we waited for the vet to get back from checking stallions (I presume). Coco was well behaved and I was getting more and more anxious. After about 20 minutes the vet showed up and we headed into the breeding barn to find out what our next step would be.

Coco got a little sedative to make the experience a little less uncomfortable. We led her into the stocks and the vet prepped her for the ultrasound. If you are a human (and I would venture to guess you are if you are reading this blog) and you’ve had a baby you may be wondering how ultrasounds are done on horses. I didn’t take any photos, but the vet has to put his arm inside the mare into her reproductive parts while holding the ultrasound camera. And this my friends is where you find the black dot. He had a very serious look on his face the whole time, and quite frankly I think he was messing with me, but after just a minute or so he pulled his arm out, looked up from the computer screen, smiled and said “she’s pregnant”. YYYYIIIIPPPPPEEEE!!!!!!!!!

I was too nervous and didn’t want to be “that girl” so I didn’t take any pics of Coco’s black dot, but here is what a horse black dot looks like at 14 days gestation:

A horse embryo at 14 days. AKA The Black Dot.

A horse embryo at 14 days. AKA The Black Dot.

So, now what? We wait a couple more weeks and head back to the vet to check for a heartbeat. At this stage of the game, statistics for a full term pregnancy are more in our favour than against us, but I’m not taking anything for granted! Coco is definitely eating more and her demeanour has changed somewhat. I’m looking forward to documenting the whole process and being able to look back on it when baby Cartier/Coco Chanel is all grown up and jumping jumps. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pretty excited about naming this designer foal, too.