The newborn black Thoroughbred lay helpless for a moment in the straw of the 12 by 12 foot stall on a spring morning in upstate New York. The bay mare who had just delivered him hours earlier kept her distance. The maiden had no experience with foals and honestly didn’t care. Her pain was over and she was glad.
The foal struggled to his feet and sought food from between her legs. She responded with a squeal and a threatening kick. The innocent and hungry foal looked bewildered and laid down.
I watched from outside the stall. I had 5 years experience with delivering and raising Thoroughbred foals before I had returned to college to complete my degree. I had started the foal watch program at Cornell and witnessed many foals delivered there. I had progressed through Cornell’s veterinary school and now had my own practice.
With all this experience, I still wondered what was wrong with this foal and his mother. As he lay in the straw, his mother ignored him. It looked like rejection but there was more. The foal started to have small seizures.
Stretching his legs as straight as they would go, his nose traveled as far back as his arched neck would allow. His eyes rolled into his head. He would then shake.
I was the vet on call in my own barn. No one to turn to in the dawn hours. I continued to think. Then I acted.
I drew up a small dose of Valium and administered it to the young foal in his jugular vein. The seizures stopped and he rested. Mom ate her hay in the corner.
An hour later, the foal found new strength and went for the spot his internal instruction manual said to go for food. But the mare returned his efforts with nastier moves. I went in to rescue him from the teeth of the mother and dragged him onto the aisle floor.
“Now what?” I asked my wife who was there by my side. We had never raised an orphaned foal but knew all the work that was ahead in doing so. I looked down the barn and saw Jeannie On The Spot, our 22 year old Thoroughbred Gray mare with her head out of the stall looking at us.
As if to say, “What are you waiting for? Bring that boy down here?” we looked at each other then moved the wobbly legged foal down to the other end of the barn. Jeannie backed away from the stall door to give us room and the 3 of us entered. Jeannie had a dozen foals and knew exactly what to do. She relaxed one hind leg and offered her teat to the foal.
She was barren this year and had no milk, but that mattered not. She was mothering and that is what counted. The newborn found the teat and started to suckle and was rewarded with a few drops of milk left inside the old gray mare’s udder.
Kathy and I took turns bottle feeding him that night. In 24 hours, we had him drinking out of a pail. Kathy named him “Oliver” after “Oliver Twist” but our horse wasn’t to suffer as the character in the book did. He was set for life here at the Tucker Farm.
His name “Oliver” stuck with him as the Jockey Club rejected every name we submitted. His star looked like a katana blade the Ninja’s use, but the Jockey Club said no to that name. He ran like the wind and was socialized by his barn mates. Jeannie took care of him and when it came time to wean him, it was a non-event. Everyone took care of him and he was loved by everyone.
His dad lived on the farm and his dad was the boss. There was no monkey business even though the stallion was kept separately. His presence was omnipotent on the farm, but one day he was found dead, grass still in his mouth. Ollie, as we had come to call Oliver, saw his chance to become the leader.
Ollie became the terror. From the perfect gentleman for 7 years, there was now chaos on the farm anytime a mare was moved about. Screaming and running, he would make working on the farm impossible. With reluctance, I performed his castration less than 60 days after his father had died. His change in personality was truly amazing.
For 24 years, Ollie never was sick, lame, or injured. With one exception. While Kathy was away and I was left in charge, he got a 1 inch long cut on his face. It looked like nothing until I pulled the edges apart and the severed artery spurt blood about 3 feet. I had to laugh. He had to wait until I was in charge to do this. I fixed him up with a large green bandage that wrapped around his head and sent a picture to Kathy saying everything was OK. I didn’t send her the picture of his head an hour later with the bandage on the ground where he was grazing.
This was the typical Ollie. Care free, don’t bother with me. I’m OK as long as I have food. DOn’t start working with power tools in the barn or I will freak. If I’m outside, I won’t come in. If I’m inside and you start to hammer a nail, I will tear up the stall.
Firework? No problem.
Then a few years ago, we introduced a 6 year old filly and the stallion came out of him as if he had never been castrated. Full erection too. What a lady’s man.
Kathy and I have been blessed with a noble horse who gave us not one bit of trouble in 24 years. I was the last one to say good by to him this morning as I ended his suffering from a rare and unusual disease. A week ago he was fine, but today as he trembled in pain, I knew it was over.
The one shot of Valium had lasted him a lifetime. He always lived his life care-free with no real worries. He was never ridden or broke to a saddle for various reasons. He was just a friend. My true friend.
Ollie, I really hope to see you again when I die. You were one of those special horses that never really connected with anyone, but you did with me. I will miss you so much, my Ollie-Berger. Rest in peace.