We were legends....loving you baby it was heaven.....
It was in the spring of 2002, I was 11 years old, my family (along with the rest of the country) was still grieving over the tragedy of lives taken too soon. The rainbow on my horizon was that all the money I had saved babysitting was finally adding up and I was about to get my very first horse! I spent many hours dreaming of all of the adventures we would go on, no longer bound to time by the woman whom I leased my previous horses from, the voyages that would ensue were sure to bring me more joy than I could fathom. I was finally going to get to be the girl posed so perfectly, so happily in all of the equine books and magazines I’d collected over the past 7 years of what my parents thought was the typical horse-crazy stage every little girl goes through. They would soon find out it was more than that, I was blessed not only with a deep set passion for all things horses, western and rodeo but I was also blessed with my first horse, a 3 year old paint filly named Kickin’ Up Pebbles.
Pebbles wouldn’t have been my first name choice but it was the name she arrived with and according to official cowboy legend, it’s bad luck to change a horses name, so Pebbles it remained. However, I added the “Kickin’ Up” to the front in anticipation of the many rocks that were sure to fly out from her feet as we thundered through the country side (and the barrel pattern) at a high rate of speed. Now, I know what you are thinking, an 11 year old girl and a 3 year old untrained filly (yes, she was barely halter broke when she arrived), that’s a bad decision. You wouldn’t be wrong, it was a classic case of the inexperienced horseman’s version of “they can grow old together”. To make matters worse we found out she was pregnant, which meant putting off my training and our adventures that much longer. After much preparation in the freezing cold temperatures of late winter in Minnesota, my dad and I had prepared a stall for her. Several “Foaling For Dummies” books later (this was before Youtube was all the rage of course) and trips to our vet to try to determine a rough due date, we were “ready”.
Hurry up and wait, day in and day out I was up every two hours trudging through snow from the basement bedroom in my grandparents farm house to the barn some 400 yards away and back. The cold would sting my face, having the same effect on my shivering little body that being shaken awake during a deep sleep has. By the time I would get back to my bed and fall asleep I only had “minutes” of rest before the next alarm would go off, back to the barn I went. After weeks of waiting, still no baby, I got worried so we took her to the vet to be palpated. “I’m sorry but I believe the foal is dead” were the first words from my vets mouth, they hit me like a ton of bricks. Before I could go into an all-out depression resulting from the loss of the little unplanned miracle and my personal failure as a horse-owner (or so I would have thought then), she said “oh…wait, nope it was just sleeping, I was able to wake it up and its moving” as she pulled her gloved arm out. “I’d say she has a solid week, maybe two before this little one arrives”, music to my ears, for the first time in weeks, I was going to get to sleep through the night. I’m sure every experienced horse breeder reading this is giggling about now, yes your suspicions are correct, Pebbles foaled a beautiful chestnut filly the following morning, all by herself as her little human slept silently in the warmth of her bed…the filly was affectionately named “Pebbles Patience”.
All those years ago I vowed I would never sell my little paint mare for she had taught me more than I could have ever learned in a classroom and had blessed me beyond measure (those stories could be a book all in itself). Fast Forward 16 years….Pebbles and I have been all over the country together, we drove cattle on the great Kamrath Cattle Drive through the heart of Gary, SD, we ran barrels against some of the toughest competition in college rodeo in the red dirt of Oklahoma and partook in adventures of all kinds everywhere in between. She’s now 19 years young.
Two years ago I decided to semi-retire her from the barrel pen, I knew she loved to go but I had younger, faster horses and was really wanting to push myself and my training to the next level so I felt I needed to focus on them, consequently there wasn’t enough room on the trailer most days. Pebbles spent her days chilling with the broodmares in the pasture but noticed every time I’d take another horse out to work it and always made me aware of her disapproval. The guilt was getting to me until one day God presented me with a solution.
An old friend from the past had posted on Facebook that her daughter’s horse had passed away and she was scared to ride any of her other horses. I remembered what it was like to be her daughters’ age, wanting a trained horse I could feel safe and learn on, one that I could also win on but not having the money to purchase one. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to give back to the industry I dearly love, it’s no secret that the kids of today will be the competitors of tomorrow and it’s our duty as adult competitors to help cultivate this love for the western way of life, for the horse and all it has to offer. After screening her properly and successfully creating and signing a legally binding lease, Pebbles was on a trailer back to the north country to be this little girls unicorn.
The first year was great, I received photos and videos of her daughter showing her in 4-H, proudly displaying her many blue ribbons and pictures of her with the biggest smile while trail riding. I thought to myself “thank you God for your gracious plan”. As you have probably guessed by now, all good things must come to end and come to an end they did. After the first year of her lease things started to go down hill, the lease was breached on multiple occasions and I began to fear for the care of my horse. We were patient and cordial but diligent in trying to seek solutions but to no avail, in November of 2017 we made the long 15 hour trek to north central Minnesota to retrieve my beloved mare.
Upon our arrival, as I suspected I would be, I was disappointed in the level of care they were providing and I had another suspicion and worry that would come to head in the months to come. We were able to visit our families during the trip and got to ride around at our old stomping grounds, so it wasn’t all bad. Upon our return home I began to exercise Pebbles regularly, worried her excessive weight would cause her to founder but after two weeks of being stalled and lunged for an extended period each day, I saw no results. In January, I took her to the vet who confirmed my long-seeded suspicion, much to my dismay my 19 year old mare was bred. After conversing with the lease holder about this issue and her denying that it could have been possible and making up every pathetic excuse in the book, I severed all ties with her, still astonished that she could be so careless and disrespectful. Proof that time changes people because she was no longer the young woman who cared so dearly for her horses that I fondly remember.
The vet estimated she was due to foal April/May, the 3rd week of February she started building a bag. I brought her in to have her caslicks cut and have her checked again, thinking perhaps he had just estimated the date wrong. After her second palpation he stated he thought she still had several weeks left before foaling based on the position of the foal. I had a bad feeling, not one that’s easily explained but this whole deal wasn’t sitting well with my “gut”. Within a week her bag was full, she was waxing and streaming milk. I wasn’t prepared for the foal to come this soon as my closest due date wasn’t until the 23rd of March and found myself a little amused (and equally as worried) while I rushed around making preparations for her to foal, thinking about all the prep work I did when she had her first foal, 16 years ago.
February 28th she goes into stage one labor, pacing, sweating, up-down-up-down, rolling, pawing, biting at her belly, twitching, tails up….hours pass, too many hours, she’s this way for an entire night. I didn’t sleep a wink, watching closely on the foaling cam all night, ready to rush out and assist whenever needed. Morning comes, no foal. She starts to settle down. I get worried and call the vet. I’m given two options, bring her in and have her palpated again (recommended) or keep a close eye on her throughout the day and if she remains comfortable then she was probably just working to position the foal. I was also told to check her vulva to see if membranes were present (an indication the foal is breech), I did as I was told, no membranes and Pebbles remained comfortable, eating and drinking all day as usual so I decided to give her one more day before bringing her in to have her palpated. That evening I noticed how much her shape had changed, each time I pushed on her side, she urinated, I knew the foal was in position and she was showing signs of being ready to foal again, relaxed vulva, streaming milk, engorged teats, wax etc. She rests comfortably in her stall all night and by the following morning, still no baby.
I’m now more worried than ever. I call Oakridge, make an appointment for 11:30am and as per tradition, go to breakfast with my husband while monitoring her on the camera. He’s joking the entire time, frequently saying “has Pebbles had her baby yet”, he’s trying to be charming and get me to relax because he knows I’m worried but I’m certain he doesn’t know just how worried I am, I can feel somethings not right.
We return home from breakfast, Pebbles is laying down, I approach her and she’s resting easily and gets up in anticipation of her breakfast. I feed everyone and go in the house to change in preparation for our vet appointment. I go outside and Pebbles is down again, she ate all her breakfast and is in fact still eating her alfalfa but I can tell somethings up. I wait and watch patiently and then it starts, contractions. She’s straining, pushing, straining, pushing, I see the sac appear and immediately can tell something isn’t right. I call Oakridge while I enter her stall to break the sac, all that comes out is some hair…..I put on a palpation sleeve and palpate her, to my great dismay the foal is breech. I holler to my husband to get the truck and trailer and with in minutes she is loaded and I’m flying XX miles per hour to the clinic, thinking the entire 30 minutes that I may lose my beloved mare and most certainly her foal. I had a fleeting thought about the danger of getting pulled over while traveling at this rate of speed, I’d likely lose my license and it is unlikely a police officer would sympathize with me because to him it would just be “a horse”. I put those thoughts out of my mind and began praying, I found myself pleading and bargaining with God like most imperfect humans do when they are facing trials, tribulations and are in the wake of a great loss.
I arrive safely at the clinic, pull up by the ICU, throw my truck in park and rush to my trailer. Never in a million years would I have expected what I saw next. Trailing out from under my trailer door was a placenta, when I opened the door and solid black foal lay on the mats of my trailer with a painted mama watching intently over her, wondering what the fuss is all about. The staff at Oakridge was quick to act, ligating the foals umbilical cord on the trailer and carrying her into the ICU, mama following willingly. She was small but was a fighter, breathing well on her own, all the while trying to stand, I could see her mama’s fire in her. She was placed on a soft mat, heating pad and oxygen while they checked over mama. Determining Pebbles was good to go, they sedated her to settle her down while they turned their attention to her foal. At this point I’m covered with unmentionables and still shaking from the adrenaline rush, thinking it’s all going to be okay. That thought was clearly preconceived.
Our vet makes me aware of the greatest danger of premature foals, the lack of mineralization and formation of the lower hock bones and knee bones. Without at least 50% mineralization it is unlikely the foal will survive and live a quality life because when they stand for the first time they will crush the joint and unformed bones. My heart sinks, still holding onto a small hope she’ll be okay and she was small for some other reason. They carry her foal into another room to take radiographs which confirmed his suspicions, the bones had not yet formed. It is now up to me, although he truly hates the facts, his recommendation is to euthanize the foal.
My first thought is this foal has survived so many odds already, how can this be? She was literally born breech in my trailer while I was driving at heinous speeds and was bright eyed, breathing well and acted like she could take on the world and I’m supposed to end all of that? I took some time to clear my head, did a little research, called my husband and in the end decided it would be too cruel and inhumane to put her through the extensive treatment, she didn’t deserve that. Just after noon, Pebbles foal was laid to rest. I loaded mama and her deceased foal in the trailer, went home, put her in her stall with the foal to figure out what happened and to come to terms with it on her own time. I had a very important appointment I needed to get to and got myself as ready and prepared as I could and headed out.
Keeping a close eye on mama on the foal cam, I suffered through my 2 hour appointment and rushed home (adulting really sucks sometimes). I arrived at her stall minutes later and could tell something was up. Her hair was all standing on end, she was shivering all over (it was 65 and sunny), her gums were pale, gut sounds hypermotile, her temp was normal. I called Oakridge to see if this was normal, my vet said it was definitely not and asked what her heart rate was. I thought to myself, I’m an idiot why did I forget to take her heart rate but she seemed quiet and calm, besides the shivering, so it's most likely not elevated. Boy was I wrong, her heart rate was elevated to 82 (for those who don’t know the normal range is 24-40bpm)! I knew something was again terribly wrong, she was given a dose of Banamine while at the clinic only 5 hours ago. For a mare who was eating alfalfa while foaling breech (which speaks tremendous volumes to her toughness) to have a heart rate of 82 with a full dose of pain meds on board, told me the situation wasn’t good so back on the trailer she went and back to Oakridge we went.
Upon arrival they palpated her, ran blood work and scanned her. The trailer ride must have done her some good because she passed a small stool, her heart rate had dropped to 65 bpm and her gums had some color back in them. Her bloodwork came back normal, a good sign that she wasn’t bleeding internally. However, her colon was displaced and distended (not entrapped, thankfully (google "nephrosplenic entrapment" FMI) which meant she would be staying there on fluids for a while, getting lunged to try to get that colon back where it belongs and functioning how it’s supposed to. After 4 sleepless nights and an exhausting day, I left before they finished Pebble’s exam, too exhausted to function. I trusted them wholeheartedly and knew they would do their absolute best to care for her. As I pulled out of their parking lot I said one last pleading prayer for my mare and journeyed home. She remained at Oakridge for another day and a half before returning home, healthy.
The following morning after dropping Pebbles off at Oakridge I spent a significant amount of time in thought and prayer with God while waiting for the phone call and update on her condition. During all of this I had hatred in my heart for the girl who let this happen to my sweet girl, in addition to my stress and anxiety. I had intended on writing this story in contempt of this woman’s behavior, in an effort to warn others about people like her and guarding your treasures. However, as He usually does, He worked a miracle that morning and allowed me to release myself of the anger and hostility I held towards this person and their wrong doing. It was then I saw the opportunity to use this tragic experience as a lesson from God, make no mistake, I am far from a perfect Christian and I am certainly not a preacher, but here it goes anyways.
I can’t tell you with any certainty why this happened and am not sure if I will ever know but I can tell you it was all part of His plan and it happened for a reason. The test of a person’s true Faith is during times of trials and tribulation, not during times of blessing and wealth. The Bible says: "Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand." (Isaiah 41:10). I can’t help but think during times like these that God is sculpting us for bigger things to come, these trials will prepare us to stay humble and appreciative during our greatest achievements and highs (knowing all the while how quickly it can be taken from us) while simultaneously giving us strength when we are at our lowest, resting assured in His great power and will. "The pain that you've been feeling, can't compare to the joy that's coming." (Romans 8:18).
Think of your relationship with God as a dance, He will always lead but the better you get at following the more extravagant and beautiful the dance. It’s difficult to dance carrying baggage and in rough terrain which is why we must leave the baggage and frequently work on our footwork. Together you can two-step your way up any mountain and out of any valley. It is true, you can dance alone but similar to dancing, life, is just better with a partner.