By Gayle Carline
My reasons for breeding my 6-year old quarter horse mare, Frostie, were marginally rational. Horse friends had convinced me that if I bred her and sold the baby, that it counted as a business and I could write my mare off on my taxes. And my trainer, Tina Duree, thought that motherhood might be good for my mare’s often jittery temperament. So as 2002 came to a close, my journey began.
First, I had to choose a stud. I wanted to stay in the breed, so I got a copy of the December Quarter Horse Journal (QHJ) and began pouring over photos of stallions. I eliminated horses that share Frostie’s bloodlines, and horses that weren’t bred for the same events. She is short, so I looked for a taller stud. And since she is an excitable gal, I wanted a quiet disposition. Armed with my checklist, I looked for Mr. Right.
Then my friend bought a brood mare that was in foal to a stallion named Artful Investment. I looked him up in the QHJ and saw a beautiful, 16.2 hand bay that does english and western events, has been five-time World Champion, two-time Reserve Superhorse, and could probably bring world peace if he just had opposable thumbs. People who knew him confirmed that he was also a gentleman. In December, I requested a form, wrote a check and sent everything off to Aubrey, Texas.
Now there was nothing to do but wait for Frostie to be in the mood for love. I’d like to say that the whole experience was just that romantic, but if I’d been asked to conceive a child like this, I wouldn’t have had my son.
In the quarter horse world, a lot of breeding is done by artificial insemination (AI) so I spent some time at the United Airline counter in Ontario, picking up cooled semen. It took four packages and three months, mostly because the airline lost the first two shipments. The oddest experience was standing at the counter while they searched for my first lost canister. I looked over at a ten-year old boy who was waiting for his grandmother.
“Waiting for horse sperm?” he asked casually.
Apparently it’s not the specialty item I thought it was.
By Memorial Day, Frostie was finally pregnant, and I had two grainy pictures showing a large black circle surrounded by grey static. At the top of the circle was a small white dot. They looked just like my son’s first ultrasound. I put one on the refrigerator door and took one in my purse to show everyone.
It took a long time for Frostie to show her pregnancy physically, but mentally, she became a different horse instantly. My spooky mare who jumped at trash cans was now barely raising her eyebrows. Although I had owned Frostie for three years, it was during this time that we finally bonded. Having her less jumpy made me trust her more, and gaining my trust made her trust me. As she grew rounder, I spent time riding her bareback around the arena with a little snaffle bit, something I never did before.
At other times I put her in the turnout to stretch. She would drop with a groan into the soft dirt and roll, then wobble to her feet. Afterward, she would stand by me at the fence. I’d stroke her neck while she held my shirt in her mouth; it was a feeling of complete contentment in the moment for me.
I knew that horses typically foal in the middle of the night with no one around, so I thought I would miss the blessed event. I was wrong. On Wednesday evening, April 28, 2004, I was watching Frostie pace around her stall. Tina joined me, saying that Frostie looked ready to pop. I asked if a horse’s water breaks and Tina said yes, that it looks like they’re peeing, but it doesn’t look like pee. As if on cue, Frostie’s water broke.
Horses’ births are so quick (within thirty minutes) that a vet isn’t usually called, unless there’s a problem. So Tina and I just waited and watched.
One dark hoof appeared quickly, followed by a few minutes of Frostie standing up, turning around and lying down again. She seemed to push with no noticeable results, so Tina went into the stall to see if she could feel the other hoof.
“Oh, yes, it’s right behind the first one,” she said, wiggling it out.
Frostie pushed the front legs out to the knees, then got stuck on the head and shoulders. Although she didn’t look distressed enough to call for the vet, Tina decided that it was time to help. Holding both legs, she pulled each time Frostie pushed. The baby was big, so Tina told me to help, too.
Both excited and clueless, I grabbed a large, wet leg and followed Tina’s lead. When she pulled, I pulled. I was surprised that there was no “rest” period in between pushes. My mare contracted and pushed at a quick, rhythmic rate. Less than five minutes later, the head and shoulders appeared. The baby’s eyes were closed and its tongue hung limply out of its mouth. I was a little freaked out that it looked dead, but Tina wasn’t alarmed, so I trusted her. The rest of the baby slid out and around Frostie’s tucked feet. Suddenly, the head jerked into movement and began to wave about unsteadily.
Amazingly, my focus went from making sure Frostie was okay to making sure the baby was alright. He was more than alright, he was beautiful. Within 30 minutes, she had given me a big dark colt with large gentle eyes. We rubbed him down, took pictures, called people, and finally stood back and just watched them together, mother and son.
The plan to sell him disappeared after that. I now have a yearling gelding named Snoopy who is learning his ground manners and will be started next year. His mother and I have continued our bond and are improving with every ride.
Although I’m glad that motherhood has calmed my mare, I’ve realized that babies are not my business. In the end, the only good reason to breed Frostie was if I knew I’d be happy to get a horse that’s as good as she is. And I think I may have.