It was decided early on that we would install a foaling camera in
the barn. Since there were three of us involved in breeding
Devon it seemed like a good way for all of us to be able to take
turns "foal watching." Besides it was nice to have
extra eyes (friends, family, online viewers) checking in on Devon
from time to time and alerting us if anything looked amiss.
I was introduced to marestare after reading a fellow blogger Mikael at Rising Rainbow Arabians experience with twin foals. Then last year I was held captive along with so many others watching Suerte of Glenhill Farm. Since then I have had the opportunity to be a fly on the wall of breeding farms all over the country and even a few abroad. Although until I was up into the wee hours waiting for my own mare to foal I rarely witnessed an actual foaling in progress.
The first few nights of Devon's foal watch I watched her continuously and analyzed her every move. She displayed a few general signs of discomfort but for the most part she stood in one spot with her butt pressed up against the wall. Despite the building anticipation over the past few weeks, most of the time she was incredibly boring to watch. So I began to flip back and forth watching several other mares who were a bit more committed to getting the job done. Over the course of about 10 days I was able to watch over a dozen mares foal. While lying in bed I observed a broad spectrum of mares foal, there were seasoned broodmares and confused maiden mares, experienced breeders and first timers. Some of them appeared to be to be textbook and others that were difficult to watch.
Let me preface this by saying that in retrospect I realize that it is easy to pass judgment sitting at home watching from your computer while someone is making difficult decisions in the throws of foaling. That being said there were several times I felt a bit uneasy watching mares being assisted during foaling. There were times when only a minute or two had passed and there appeared to be no complications yet the foal was being pulled out, sometimes by two people, one pulling each leg. I realize that every mare and every situation is different and perhaps there were past issues with a particular horse or complications that were difficult to detect via web cam. Either way it was not what I envisioned when I thought of how I wanted Devon's first experience to be. I wanted to allow Devon to foal undisturbed if at all possible. Of course I wanted to be right there if she needed me but it seems to me that as much harm can be done by intervening too early as too late and despite the good intention in trying to help you could possibly do more harm than good.
So that was the plan... We would watch the cam religiously and when the time came I would go out to the barn and sit quietly unnoticed and provide help only as needed. Sounds easy enough right? I had a plan of action, a foaling kit and all the books and notes a prepared foaling attendant could ever need... All I had to do now was wait...
The due date came and went and it became obvious Devon was going to milk this thing for all it was worth (No pun intended) She had constant attention, grooming, bananas (yes I really said bananas!) and every one who passed through the barn fussing over her every whim. She began showing "signs" that she was at least beginning to get ready about 2 1/2 weeks before actual foaling. She was restless a lot of the time, biting her sides, rubbing her tail, pushing her hind end up against the wall, laying down then getting back up over and over night after night. With a maiden mare it can be so difficult to to know if these signs meant she was close to actual foaling or that she was simply getting closer and understandably uncomfortable. Between the three partners involved in project Devon we managed to watch her in shifts all night every night for at least three weeks. The good news was now that as I had taken over as head worry wart of the group, I had plenty of time to do my worry wart research online while Devon proceeded to take her sweet time.
About a week after Devon's due date we finally began to see the udder begin to develop. I also started noticing a change in her shape, she was beginning to soften in the hind, and her vulva was elongated and appeared swollen. Another big change I noticed in the final week was her extreme desire to be near people. She became more affectionate than I had ever seen her before, she nuzzled me constantly and followed me very closely any time I entered her stall. Even her facial expressions were different, she had deep lines above her eyes that gave her a constant "worried look."
There were several nights I thought "Tonight is the night" during the last week based on differences in the way she was acting. I also noticed a window of restlessness when the foal seemed the most active, if she hadn't done anything by 4am I knew I could go to sleep because all activity seemed to halt. The night before Devon foaled she was very agitated at the mare in the stall next to hers. We have a divider up so she couldn't see her but she seemed to be bothered by her being there at all. Based on my reading bout mares wanting to foal in quiet and solitude I decided to put the horses out that night. It was sort of an experiment and a half hearted attempt to will her into foaling while I still had a little bit of energy left.
She seemed fine with being alone at first, I groomed her and fed her dinner then packed up my things and got ready to leave. As I walked toward the door she began to scream. I know scream probably isn't the right term but I have never heard her or any horse make a noise quite like this. It was a painful shriek followed by panic and banging on the stall door. I walked back to her stall and she rushed to the window, her eyes as wide as saucers. She snorted loudly, pushed her head into me and then proceeded to pace the stall, knocking the rest of her grain onto the floor. I went in to get her bucket and she trotted up to me Mares... "So you don't want to be alone but you don't want anyone near you either?" She pinned her ears at me and went back to pacing. I decided rather than bring all the horse back in to just get her babysitter... "Scotch" is a 10 year old Quarter horse gelding that is just a big happy teddy bear. Not much phases him so as far as he was concerned as long as I gave him a little extra hay and grain, Devon could pin her ears and lunge at him through the wall all night long and that was just fine with him. With everyone relatively happy I headed home.
I made a cup of coffee and got into bed. My foal watching shift was until 1:30 so it was time to get down to staring. At first Devon didn't seem to be doing much of anything so I started surfing and checking in on a few of my other "favorites" I'd been following on Marestare. If Devon wasn't ready tonight maybe I could find another that was. I logged on to the chat room to see if there was a particular farm that anyone was discussing that may be close to foaling tonight. No mares were ready yet but I did notice that Mikael was online too. I had also been watching her mare Lucy the past few nights as she seemed much more promising than mine. Around 12:30 I realized Devon had not laid down yet. Typically she was up and down at least two or three times by now. I was so used to looking for her laying flat out as a sign that I never considered her not doing so being THE SIGN. I noticed Lucy looking particularly agitated and commented to Mikael that both our girls were really looking restless. "Wouldn't it be something if they went at the same time? That would make a good blog entry..." Mikael agreed and commented that Devon was "looking close." I switched back to her camera just in time to see her throw a bale of straw across the stall. I had a few bales in the corner to keep her out of the cameras blind spot. She looked frantic... I wanted to go to her but If this was the beginning I certainly didn't want to give her a reason to stop. It was now 2AM and my shift was over but Devon had my undivided attention, I didn't know if she was fooling me again or not but either way I wasn't going to sleep until I saw her lay down.
Then the phone rang... Our experienced breeder friend had logged on to check Devon before bed and called to make sure I was watching. "Kelly, she just entered the first stage of labor, this is it!" I felt my stomach turn as I stumbled out of bed and grabbed my shoes. "But her water" I said "It hasn't broken yet" I was afraid to scare her out of labor but she assured me it was too late for that. I needed get out there now. By the time I reached the barn I heard a rush of water, much louder than I expected. My flashlight in one hand and notebook in the other I could hear my own heart beating. Eleven months of waiting, worrying and preparation all came down to the next few minutes...