On Tuesday April 28th, 2009, just 7 days after giving birth to her colt, we lost our beloved mare "DKH Black Sage" to colic. Even surgery was not enough to save this mare. But in our loss, we focused on triumph as we struggled to keep her week old foal "*C-C Handsome Dark Knight" alive.
Dark Knight was old enough when we laid Sage to rest, to know that milk came from a Momma, not a bottle. Despite our many attempts to bottle feed/bucket feed this colt, he just plain refused. Time was running out, our Vet, Shelly O'Connell DVM could certainly tube feed this colt, but the logistics and reality of doing this, every 2 hours, round the clock was stifling. As soon as I knew that Sage would be lost, I knew we needed a nurse mare...Finding a nurse mare, on short notice, that would accept our foal? We needed a miracle. We tried one of our mares, "Krinkle Clown" she had weaned her foal about 1 month ago, and still had milk, that would buy us some time, time to find a mare that would be a better nurse mare candidate. Krinkles let Dark Knight nurse. It is was not without objection though, and we quickly knew that this was not going to be our answer. It was a 3 person job, to get the foal to safely nurse, and Krinkles was helpful, but her heart was not in it.
A nurse mare usually comes from the result of a mare losing a foal, they have it in their mind, that the new foal is still their own, and accept the new foal in this situation. We needed a mare that had lost a foal, OR possibly a mare that still had last years foal at her side, to better our odds of finding a suitable canidate...or as the Vets say..."successful graft"....
Our very own vet, Shelly O'Connell DVM suggested we try using her Welsh pony mare "Addy" Addy still had her last years foal at her side, and might be more willing to continue with a new foal. Shelly brought her mare to the clinic and we introduced the pair....Dark Knight saw that big bag of milk and headed straight for it! There was no stopping him...but what about Addy? Addy fussed a bit with him, a little tail switching, and little mean look, but she seemed more bark than bite...all we could do was wait. Addy was haltered and handled every 2 hours through the night...she seemed to be relaxing and accepting this situation. When the crew at the Vet clinic opened the door to the stall on Friday morning, at the scheduled 2 hour feeding time, there stood Addy with Dark Knight intensely nursing....no help required ;-) The mare and foal were then turned out on the small grass pasture at the clinic to see how they would interact outside. When I arrived Friday morning....Dark Knight was sleeping peacefully all stretched out. I had not seen him lay down since Tuesday when Sage's colic struck....Foals will not lay down unless their tummy is completely full and satisfied. When he heard my coming, Dark Knight jumped to his feet, and ran over beside his NEW MOMMY and started to nurse, Addy just kept eating grass. I had done some research on nurse mares, and one of the best ways to tell if you were going to be successful was if the nurse mare ( NEW MOMMY ) would defend the foal as her own..... I was speechless when Addy approached the other horses stall area and laid her ears back and stomped her foot...LEAVE my baby alone she was telling them! I knew then, this would be a successful graft, and Dark Knight would have an equine Mommy to raise him and teach him the ways of horsehood. I arranged to bring these two home the next day, and headed home to make arrangements. Saturday morning, we brought Addy and her new foal, Dark Knight home. I knew they were OK in a small area, but what about when they got out on a larger pasture, would the graft hold? Would Addy have some sort of change of mind and reject him? The next sight brought tears to my eyes....Addy checked out the pasture, Dark Knight was just a few steps behind her..they went everywhere, the top of the pasture, the bottom of the pasture, they checked it all out...and then, Addy stopped at the water trough to fill her need for water. As she sipped water, Dark Knight also stuck his nose in the trough, he would learn in an instant, what us humans had not been able to teach him in a week....how to drink from a tough or bucket.
Dark Knight has reminded us that a good Mommy may not be your genetic Mom, Sage was tall and black, Addy is short and white, Dark Knight does not care, he just knows that this mare will be his Mommy, will take care of him and keep him safe....she loves him enough to care for him, she even has shared her grain with him which has not been the norm for her with her own foals. She is a miracle and we thank Shelly O'Connell DVM for the chance to care for and love this mare too.