Vilde has been looking like she swallowed a small planet for weeks and, even though her due date was still a little ways off, I was starting to feel like she couldn’t go much longer.
I got her all bedded down in the foaling stall with fresh straw which she was absolutely delighted about. She enjoyed a nice long pee in the fluffy straw and walked all around getting it just perfect. I waited and watched her for a long time thinking, “I should probably be on mare watch tonight.” But I had planned on starting my watch tomorrow. The bugs are out in full force and so I’d been looking everywhere for a mosquito net so that I could spend the night in the barn without turning into a pin cushion. After trying three stores I had given up and ordered one on Amazon.com. The fastest shipping was overnight express and so I had one more night before I could sleep out in peace.
I paused one last time at the door while Vilde continued to enjoy the fresh straw and remembered how I’d slept out for more than a week before Hirse had her foal right on time. Surely Vilde at least had one more night. Nope.
Vilde likes her privacy and I swear she was working mind control on me because when I closed my eyes and opened them what felt like a few seconds later it was 6:00 in the morning. I was scheduled to move one of our horses to her new home at 7am so I rushed out to feed everyone. My first thought was, “how did Halle get in with Vilde?” And then I realized the sneaky mare had taken the opportunity of the fresh straw to deliver a stunning and enormous baby girl all on her own!
Even though she hadn’t seen a human before, Vesla (her name is a bit of a joke since it means little!) was instantly friendly and unafraid. Sweet and curious, she towered on long, thick legs which contrasted her petite face and muzzle.
I was worried though because she seemed a little less focused than Halle and we had missed the birth which must have been difficult given her size. I called the vet just to check up on her and at the same time my friend who had bought Gemma arrived and of course our plans for moving horses were totally null. We watched her and grew wary about her lack of interest in nursing. When she finally did nurse, it was lackluster for a fjord baby and, even worse, we noticed some thick white liquid trickle from her nose. Milk!
Dr. Helvey from Northwest Equine responded right away to the emergency call and after consulting on the phone suggested that we take her in to Pilchuck – a state of the art veterinary hospital which, luckily, is only 20 minutes from our farm.
If it wasn’t for Vilde and her infinite wisdom and patience, this would have been a nightmare. Fortunately she loaded calmly and waited while Dan carried Vesla into the trailer with her extra-long legs dangling from his arms, and stood quietly for the trip which I rode in the trailer for.
At Pilchuck we unloaded into an exam room and I sat on the floor by Vilde’s front feet in the dark and watched the screen while Dr. Mollat ran a scope down Vesla’s nose to look for the reason why she was aspirating milk. They didn’t find any anatomical abnormalities and determined that she had a weak swallowing reflex – possibly due to her early and probably troublesome birth creating some hypoxia and light ‘dummy foal’ syndrome.
They spent the night in the hospital while staff milked Vilde and worked with Velsa on drinking from a pan at knee level to prevent the milk from rolling into her airway. We picked them up the next morning and took them home. For the next 5 days we milked Vilde and fed Vesla from the pan every 2 hours, even through the night! She also needed IM injections of antibiotics twice daily.
Soon Vesla became a strong pan drinker and would whinny and come running when she saw us walk into the barn. We could see her getting stronger and hungrier every day but still milk poured from her nose if she tried drinking too quickly. She stayed separated from her mom by a divider in their stall so that she wouldn’t drink on her own and aspirate more milk.
Vilde, being extremely smart, started withholding milk from us as a form of communication. If she wanted something, like scratching or turn out or a sugar cube, she would hardly give any milk and indicate what it was she wanted. When we gave it to her, she would just let the milk stream out until it filled the pan.
Finally, one afternoon she refused to give us a single drop even though her bags were full with milk. We had to make a decision: give her her baby back or let her dry up and have to pan feed Vesla on formula every two hours for the rest of her foal-hood until she was ready to eat solid food. We decided to give it a shot since she looked so much stronger now and helped Vesla nurse by encouraging her to get a good latch and take breaks to breath and swallow. Sure enough, she got it! And soon she was happily nursing with a dry nose like a regular baby! Both Vesla and momma were so happy to be back together and Dan and I enjoyed our first full night’s sleep in days!
Vilde knew when her baby was ready to nurse again and when she needed to step back and let the humans help. To this day Vilde is the smartest horse (and quite frankly one of the smartest mammals) I have ever met.
Now we get to watch Vesla enjoy trying out her legs, play with her new friend Halle and follow mom around like the happy, friendly, sweet little girl that she is! What a rough start she had, but she’s catching up by leaps and bounds! :)