by Barbara O'Brien

All photography © 2011-2012, Barbara O'Brien

My most recent horse rescues are two lovely Morgan mares that came from a Pennsylvania horse auction widely known to be attended by large-scale slaughter brokers. Fortunately, a sales broker who works with the group Forever Morgans, purchased them. Forever Morgans' mission is to find good homes for horses that would have most likely ended up on a slaughter truck.
 
The first mare, Laurel, arrived in the summer of 2011. She was a 16 year old mare that had been an Amish carthorse. When she arrived, she still had on a full set of driving shoes, which we quickly pulled to let her just be a horse. Although, she had a lovely temperament, she didn’t really understand being a pet. She didn’t know what apples or carrots were and did not understand why we would just come into the pasture and brush her for no particular reason. It took awhile but she soon began to realize that she had a new life here, full of lazy days in the pasture with lots of treats and kind words.
 
In December of 2011 we rescued, again through Forever Morgans, a 17 year old mare we call Ivy. She had had some success in the show world and then had been sold to the Amish to be a carthorse and broodmare. She had been run trough the auction with her six month old filly who was sold separately and unfortunately did not make it. She was a flashy big bay with a graceful long neck and big expressive eyes. When I rode her, it felt like I was going like a freight train, but her trot was as smooth as silk. Remembering her early life as a show horse, she was appreciative of the treats and good food and lots of love so she settled quickly into her new life with us.
 
The winter of 2012 was mild here in Wisconsin and passed without a fight. Laurel did well all winter. With her heavy winter coat, and 24/7 access to hay she gained weight quickly and was looking good. But, no matter how much grain and hay I fed Ivy she did not seem to be gaining as quickly I would have liked.
 
Even though she was ribby, I noticed her belly getting wider and wider. It was then I suspected that she may be pregnant, but no… that couldn’t be. She was sold as open (not bred) so she couldn’t be pregnant… could she? So I increased her feed just in case and kept an eye on her to see how she progressed.
 
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when on April 1st, I noticed the first signs of eminent foaling. She was all bagged up, meaning her udder was developing in order to nurse a foal. I was happy and excited. We had not had a foal around for years. How fun to have a surprise one and most likely a purebred Morgan at that! I prepared a stall for her and began the waiting game.
 
After many restless nights spent checking on her every few hours, on April 10 she had a beautiful, healthy bay colt. As a firm believer in imprinting newborn foals (the practice of familiarizing a newborn foal with humans) I spent the next few hours carefully touching every part of his silky soft body and tiny little hooves.
 
Ivy proved to be an excellent mother and it was evident that she had done this many times before. She was calm and let me handle the foal with no sign of nervousness or stress. We decided to name the foal Quincy, as it seemed to suit the friendly colt’s exuberant personality.
 
Laurel, who was in the paddock with Ivy all along, proved to be an excellent auntie. She gave Ivy plenty of space with the foal but stayed near enough to make her and Quincy feel safe as part of a herd. When Quincy was a little older he naturally, as colts do, began to pester Laurel. She, being the good-natured mare that she was, would gently reprimand him and teach him important horse manners.
 
One morning when Quincy was about a month old, I was surprised to find Laurel missing. Ivy and Quincy greeted me like usual, but Laurel was nowhere to be found. There had been a thunderstorm the night before and I checked the fence to see if she was frightened by something and ran off but it was working just fine. It was then I found her behind the barn. She was covered in mud and in obvious pain. She grunted and rolled and I knew right away we were dealing with a bad case of colic. Horses cannot burp or release excess gas through their mouths and so whenever they get a stomachache or a blockage it needs to go through their whole system. I called the vet and then went back and got Laurel up and began to walk her. Walking helps get their systems moving again. There was nothing to do now but wait.
 
When our vet, Dr. Tom, arrived he treated her with medication to ease her pain and help her muscles relax. We also tubed her with mineral oil to ease her digestion. We were instructed to keep an eye on her and see if her symptoms and her pain subsided. Laurel's condition turned out to be what was most likely torsion colic or a twisted gut, a much more serious case, where part of the gut gets twisted, like a kink in a garden hose. We planned on giving her the night to allow the mineral oil to work but when I went to check on her about 8:00 that evening she was thrashing in her stall. My heart sank as I realized Laurel was not going to recover, and it became clear to me what I had to do. I called Dr. Tom and asked him to come out and put her down, as she was suffering and I knew she wasn’t gong to recover. I went back out and led her out onto the grass to wait for Dr. Tom. It was then I let out a short sob, which startled Laurel and even in her pain she leaned her head into me as if to say are you ok? Her attention made me cry even harder. She was finding it hard to walk so I just stood with her, and a moment later she lay down in the cool spring grass. She was breathing heavily as I knelt down and stroked her head. “You can go now,” I said. “You can go.” With that, Laurel looked at me one last time, her eyes soft and warm. She heaved a last big sigh, and then she was gone. I wept while I petted her, not wanting to leave her, but I knew I must Tell Dr. Tom that he did not have to come after all. I finally went inside, thinking how courteous she was, saving Tom a trip in the dark night and me an additional vet bill.
 
The next morning, I let Ivy and Quincy out into the paddock. They quickly realized that Laurel was gone. Ivy called for her but after awhile, she went back to eating her hay.
 
I noticed Laurel’s grooming kit with the extra soft brush for her face and the empty hook where I hung her halter and I began to cry again for my poor mare. As all animal lovers can attest, it is never easy to lose the one you love.
 
While I openly wept for my beautiful mare, I tried to console myself that Laurel had a good life here. There was always food, there was always pasture, there was no work or a harsh smack from a whip, and there was plenty of attention from children, who were only too happy to brush her coat and comb her mane. I had to tell myself that at least we did what we could for her and both our lives were better for having found each other.
 
At that moment, I felt something come up behind me and nibble on my shirt. It was little Quincy, trying to get my attention. He jumped and snorted as I turned and then came up to me again, cheerfully demanding to be scratched and fussed over.
 
Hey, I’m still here. He seemed to be saying. You still have me to love. And that is just what I am going to do.