Horses tend to be born overnight. Mares seem to like privacy and almost seem to wait until everyone has given up on their watchful vigil and leaves to get supper or some other interruption. Mares usually foal quite easily and quickly and they seldom have any trouble, unlike the cow who is prone to calving problems. Yet when a mare does have difficulty it is often quite serious unless help is at hand, while cows may need assistance they can endure a lot of trouble before it becomes serious.
I remember one early spring morning when we had a young mare named Heather ready to deliver her first foal. We kept her in the barn because it was quite cold and this was her first baby. There is more danger in a stall because of the chance of the mare foaling too close to the wall and injuring the foal so we were carefully watching her. Heather began to labor just as the driving group appeared to take our children to school. Love, our daughter, was down at the barn with us hoping to see the seldom seen sight. Thrilled at the thought of getting to see a horse come into the world, the driving group poured into the barn. We let them climb up in the hay loft where they had a bird’s eye view of the event as they leaned over the rafters in rapt attention.
Shortly the foal appeared, enclosed in a “cellophane” bag. Its little feet wrapped in a padded substance lest it poke a hole in the wonderful “see through” sack it was packed in, came first, one ahead of the other. Then the nose appeared. Another contraction and the shoulders positioned one ahead of the other appeared. Almost instantly the whole foal was safely on the straw still imprisoned in his protective bag. He looked pretty dead at first- which always gave me a fleeting moment of concern. He was wet, his eyes closed and his ears were flattened against his neck in sort of an odd way. Almost immediately the placenta dislodged from its connection to the mare’s body, the sack broke and fell away from the tiny nose and the foal convulsed as it took its first breath of air in the new and strange world from which it had just entered. Instantly processes that had never worked before were in full operation. A valve closed forever in the foal’s heart and the oxygen that had been supplied by the placenta suddenly began to be supplied by the foal’s own lungs as it gasped for its first few breaths.
The mare who had never foaled before, or even read a book about it, or talked to the older mares about this process, lifted her head to sniff this creature in the stall with her. As she sniffed new and wondrous processes began in her brain. Suddenly all the “knowing” she would ever need to feed and care for this new creation began to activate within her. She nickered low in her throat to tell this miracle baby that had just cost her great pain, that somehow she knew he belonged to her alone. She was prepared to defend him with her life and that somehow she loved him as she licked and crooned to him with soft little knickers. She rested a moment along with the foal as all of the exchanging blood in the placenta drained into the foal’s little body. Suddenly she lounged to her feet, her nose caressing her little one.
The foal lifted its head, made a soft little bleat and unfolded one long foreleg. Soon another leg that had never been straightened out since its conception in the womb of the mare was in position to attempt the most wonderful feat I could ever imagine. The foal that had appeared to be dead less than thirty moments before, had raised its long neck, looked around at the world he had never seen minutes before with eyes that had never seen and was attempting to stand up on long legs that had never unfolded before. His first attempt was a disaster and he fell forward on his face. Undaunted he tried again, this resulted in a somersault. Then began my struggle to refrain from helping him. But I had learned that all these falls and beginnings were designed by the Creator to help the blood oxygenated by lungs that have never been used until moments ago to circulate and strengthen muscles that have never been used before. The thrashing was also designed to break the attachment of the umbilical cord on the “dotted line,” close to the foal’s body where it had been designed to break. The rough thrashing of the foal would crush the cord in such a way that there would be no leakage of blood as was probable if I had cut it. After many attempts the foal was on its feet balancing in an awkward fashion, looking very much like a daddy longlegs spider and attempting to stagger through the straw.
Another amazing process began; he was hungry! He held his little nose up high as he ewed his neck from withers to poll (the opposite of this natural head carriage), but necessary to connect with the places where he would eventually find his first meal. His little red tongue was curled even as puppies’ are and he was making sucking sounds! He fully trusted that somewhere on this great warm body of his mother that he would find the milk especially designed for him. He staggered around sucking on her front end, under the great belly, honing in on the smell of the milk as he got to the proper place. It always seemed that these foals would never find the mare’s udder, especially when a new mother would be very ticklish in this area. But, the foals always found it.
Forcing herself to hold very still Heather arched her back preparing for the agony of that first suck. As the foal continued to explore she continued to forcibly control herself, sometimes uttering little ticklish squeals. This find and getting hold of the milk supply was a very necessary accomplishment, often having life and death circumstances. The colostrum which came before the pale thin milk appeared had all the antibodies necessary to protect the foal from all of the diseases of the environment.
The children perched on the rafters above had held reverently still as they beheld this miracle of the creation. They had seen the birth of a horse as he came into the world like any other mammal, but inside half an hour he was ready to run with his dam if necessary. Eyes that had never seen, ears that had never heard were thrust into the fullness of life all at once, not gradually awakening to the world as puppies, kittens, and people do! They climbed down from the loft, piled into the car awed by the wonder of life. They were a little late for class but what ever could have compared with this glimpse of the Creator’s work?
There are so many things I have learned from watching this recurring miracle. It was a careful planning for the Creator as He equipped this new life for its existence in our world. All of the foal’s falls and struggles were designed to strengthen him and teach him how to live in the new world he had just entered. If we had intervened we would have taken away a great deal of his strength.
The next morning we beheld the wonder of the joy of life as this new little one was let out of the stall. He saw the world for the very first time! He had already been frolicking around the stall so very glad to be freed from the confinement of the womb, but when he was exposed to the outside world he could not contain his joy! His nervous mama tried frantically to keep up with him, swinging her head threateningly at the other horses who might be watching. He bucked and kicked, stopping to curl his fuzzy little tail over his back, lift his nose high in the air and snort his joy to be alive as he raced in increasingly larger circles.
Our struggles to grow to new levels in this life, painful in themselves, are designed to build our spiritual muscles. Just as the foal would never make it on his own in the wild if it weren’t for all of his struggles in the moments after his birth, so are all of our struggles in this life designed to make our “unused spiritual muscles and systems” strong for the purpose they were given. Did not the Savior promise that it was the “Overcomers who get the prize?” To be an overcomer one must have something to overcome. But look at the results as seen in the foal’s first moments of life. Unspeakable joy and wonder at life! When our training here is over we will enter the wonders of heaven with the same overwhelming joy!