The Answer To Two Maidens' Prayers

by Tina Burton

birth 9

A photographic essay of the beautiful wonder of new life

For those of you expecting your mare’s first foal, I can fully understand your worry and the need to feel prepared for every possible scenario. I was staying awake all through the night in my car with a baby monitor camera for two weeks prior to the birth of my first foal Echo! I was determined to be there for my mare Bella and the newborn.

Bella had been waxing up on and off for about a month before she foaled, and on the night of 13th June 2009, after 345 days gestation, she was dripping milk. I collected some (just in case!) and at about 8 p.m. I gave her her evening feed and got in position in my car, as she seemed settled in herself. My other half was ready with camera and my mother had joined me to assist if needed. The night went by as the others had - short periods of Bella eating hay, lying down, looking at her belly, getting up. On she went until just after 3.30 a.m. on 13th June 09, when as she was looking to lie down again, I noticed the white amniotic membrane appearing from under her tail... Bella was well underway to giving birth!

Bella was down and pushing, but was finding getting the head out hard work; she wanted to get up again. I reassured her and she stayed down, but looked a little worried.
With the amniotic membrane broken, I could hold the forelegs, taking care to pull one leg slightly more than the other to help the foal’s shoulders take up as narrow a profile as possible in the birth canal; I was also careful to pull at the angle advised in one of the numerous books I had read. With Bella still pushing hard, the foal then came out easily. I cleared the foal’s nostrils and mouth of any mucus

And then sat back a little, encouraging Bella to say hello to Echo. Echo took a few moments to recover from the big event of her birth and to wonder what on earth her legs were for!

The afterbirth slipped out very quickly, which I understand is not always the case. I later put this in a bucket of water for the vet to examine, to ensure no sections had torn away during the birth and had been left inside Bella’s uterus or birth canal.

The umbilical cord did not break away from Echo straight away, and from all my reading, I’d learnt it was best left to break on its own. Meanwhile Bella got up for a better look at her baby.

 Although she was a little weak, I was conscious of the importance of Echo receiving her colostrum as soon as possible after birth, so I started to encourage her to get up. Bella helped, and was keen to start washing her baby to stimulate her.

When Echo did get up and try to drink from Bella, unfortunately Bella was scared of her and tried to run away or squealed when she tried to suckle – not untypical for a maiden, I gather. That meant a further 24 hours holding Bella, initially holding up one of her front legs to give Echo the chance to latch on. It didn't help that Echo had no idea where to go, so my able assistant held onto Bella's leg while I helped Echo find a teat.
After a while, Bella was letting Echo feed unaided but was still a bit scared of her when Echo had her typical urges to skip and leap around the stable. I knew that normal newborns will drink, run around and sleep all in quick spurts, many times within each hour, so we watched from outside the stable, making sure Bella was going to be ok on her own with the foal. Suddenly, as if by magic, she was fine, and never looked back, becoming an excellent mother.

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