My phone rang early yesterday morning. My mom was calling to tell me that Gypsy, our little Arab-cross mare, was running around the pasture with a new foal at her side. We got over there as quickly as we could (after The Boy’s 3-year well checkup, where he was pronounced healthy and very tall), and found a strong, healthy filly and a mama who seems ready for the job this time.
This is Gypsy’s second foal. The first, Mississippi Mud Pie, was born May 8, 2010 and looked an awful lot like her new little sister. The same dark chocolate coat and the same huge star and snip, but without the strip connecting them.
Gypsy initially nursed her and seemed to be doing fine as a mama, but on the second day, she let the other horses push Missy off the bank into the stream, and then she just walked away. Fortunately, I was watching out the window and saw it happen. I helped Missy out of the water, and we put mama and baby in a temporary paddock together, thinking they just needed to be separated from the others.
But that night, when Missy tried to nurse, Gypsy attacked her. We talked to my former riding teacher and a veterinarian friend of hers, and their opinion was that for whatever reason, the two hadn’t bonded and we would need to raise the foal ourselves. So we did.
Missy absolutely thrived. She spent her first few months in a big chainlink pen beside my parents’ house next door, with daily jaunts out to the upper pasture where she would run in huge, sweeping circles, whinnying with pure joy and kicking up her dainty little heels before coming back to me, ready to go “home” for a snack.
After a while, the pen became too small for her, even though by then she was spending most of the day in the field. She had gotten to know the other horses through the fence dividing the two pastures, so moving her in with them went pretty smoothly. But she was kind of a loner, hanging out with her little half-brother or no one at all. For several months, though, everything worked. In the meantime, Ben and I moved from the guesthouse on my parents’ farm to our new house, seven miles away, where there was no room for horses. I drove over every day to feed them, but we really missed having them right outside.
Then one day last year, just a few weeks after Missy’s first birthday, Mom called to say that Missy had been lying in front of the stable all morning. She walked out there, still on the phone, and said that the horse looked fine, but didn’t seem to be able to get up.
Ben happened to be off that day, and we headed over to see what was wrong. Sure enough, Missy was lying there looking alert and comfortable, but no matter what tricks we tried, we couldn’t get her on her feet. In fact, we could see a trail of torn up ground behind her where she’d clearly been trying for hours to stand. We called the vet, but it was close to three hours before she could get there, so we put up a tent over Missy to get her out of the hot June sun, and then we sat on the ground with her and waited.
When the vet arrived, she looked Missy over and came to the conclusion pretty quickly that the horse had been struck by lightening the night before. What we’d thought was a bruise inside her back leg turned out to be a scorch mark, and although she appeared normal at first glance, her eyes had a milky cast and there was some blood in her mouth. She could move all four legs, but the back ones just didn’t have any strength in them.
On top of all that, in the hours we sat and waited with her, we literally watched colic set in. She went from lying upright to stretched out on her side, her belly distended and every breath a moan. After the vet’s assessment, it didn’t take long to realize that the only way to do right by Missy was to let her go. The one good part of that day was the fact that her last breaths were the first in hours that sounded painless and peaceful.
It was truly horrible, the first in a series of horrible events we went through last summer, and in comparison to the others, it was probably the least important. But it still hurts like crazy to think about that day and our utter helplessness to save that precious, beautiful creature.
So yesterday, we met this new little horse that looks so startlingly similar to Missy, and when the other horses got too close, we saw Gypsy take up the protective maternal stance that she never had before. Lowest in the pasture pecking order, she still laid back her ears and told Admiral and Calypso in no uncertain terms that they could leave her baby alone or they could get their butts kicked. And they believed her.
We saw the baby nurse and play and roll and do all the things that a happy, well-fed foal should do. And it feels like a second chance for Gypsy and for us. It feels like the story that ended so sadly last year might not be over yet, after all.