It was March 16th of last year. One of the first balmy days in Lexington, Kentucky that makes all of the fair weather riders flock to the barn. As I was riding I received a text message from my boyfriend letting me know that one of his mares was foaling. I dismounted, untacked, and calmly headed to his farm, knowing that everything was in the best hands capable – Luke had foaled thousands of mares – he was one of the best “foaling men” I had ever had the privilege to work with. I arrived at the barn to see him standing in the aisleway, amnionic fluid covering his pants, and his hands streaked with mucous and blood.
“He’s out. Mare never laid down. I had to catch the damn foal” He stated with a grumble.
I looked at him with an exasperated glare before peering over the stall door. “Another bay colt, I’m sure you’ll get attached to this one as well.” Hearing this, I gently smacked him on the arm – but he knew me too well, I do have a slight predisposition for bays.
Suddenly the mare started screaming out of her stall in a panicked tone, running at the wall, and our moment of solitude was broken. I quickly let myself into the stall to grab a hold of her halter while he pulled up a syringe full of Banamine, knowing that many mares became distressed post foaling. But this time it didn’t work. The mare began throwing herself into the wall, and the foal laid in the straw – completely helpless. We quickly glanced at each other and knew that we were on to option B – we were moving onto Emergency Mode. A phone call was made to the vet, and the foal was moved to a neighboring stall. I attempted to restrain the mare while calmly whispering to her in singsong, but she began tossing herself to the ground with more force, and my boyfriend quickly pulled me out of the stall. We sedated her in the hopes of her not injuring herself, but there was little more that we could do: help was on the way, banamine was in her system, and the foal was safely next door.
For minutes we stood in the aisleway, never saying a word. The mare laid on her side, her belly noticeably contracting and tense, but mostly sedate. I opened the stall door and walked around her, checking to see if she had finally passed her placenta. But instead of the glistening red velvety tissue that we are so familiar with, I saw a pale color. The coloring left my own face and I turned to my boyfriend, urgently telling him that we needed to get the mare UP. He looked at me quizzically, questioning why I was demanding anything of him, especially since this was his farm and his mare, but he trusted me and listened. As he pulled the mare to her feet, I simply, and quietly said “she’s prolapsed” as I gave him a knowing glance while I rushed passed him to get the supplies from the tack room that we would need.
We got the mare to her feet and began washing the expelled uterus with extra bags of saline fluids found in the tack room, left over from days gone by. I desperately attempted to push the cleansed tissue back through the lips of her vulva, but with every fold pushed in, two more would come out. We would finally get the entire uterus in, hoping that the mare standing and gravity would keep it in place, only to have her throw herself to the ground and expel it once more. We knew that a trip to the clinic was our only hope, but as Luke began to dial the phone, blood came pouring out of her and into my hands, and we knew she was gone. Her artery was unable to take the stress of the uterus pulling on it and had finally ruptured, pulsated out deep, rich blood. She bled out and died a few moments later, while we stared in horror knowing there was absolutely nothing we could do. Having been delayed by rush hour traffic, the vets arrived as she was bleeding out, with no chance of saving her.
I slid down the front of the stall and stared off into the aisleway, desolute at the fact that we had lost her. I lowered my head into my hands, just ready for the day to be over when I heard a nicker and suddenly remembered the foal. I shuffled down to the neighboring stall and peered into the find him standing and looking around quizzically, questioning what this world was that he had entered on such bad terms. I heard my boyfriend and the vets dialing their phones, desperate to find a nursemare to raise this perplexed colt, and I began to gently stroke his neck, knowing that with the assistance of a new, albeit different mom, we would get him back on track to become an amazing athlete. There was hope.
These are the reason we as the thoroughbred industry uses nursemares. In the eight years that I have worked on farms, managed farms, and been a part of the the thoroughbred industry, I have used a nursemare FOUR times. Twice was for a mare dying due to a uterine artery bleed/prolapse, and twice because a mare colicked and died on the operating table. So four nursemares used, and approximately 500 mares foaled. Each one was a devastating time on the farm, having lost a beloved and valuable broodmare, and each full of panic and desperation to give the remaining offspring the best life possible. Each time, the nursemare has arrived, and become a loved and integral part of our farm, cared for as well as the million dollar mares that surround her.
The nursemares that I obtained came from the “good guys” – the owners of the farm would raise the nursemare foals and sell them as either riding horses, or keep some to continue their business: the fillies would stay as nursemares, and the colts would be sold to farms as teasers. I have also known many farms to ask to keep the nursemare foals, due to their attachment to the mare and how much of a part of the family she became. Does this leave some unwanted? Yes. Is there a place for the people that rehome these nursemare foals to exists? Certainly. But do they need to lie to the masses in order to obtain funding to do so? No.
I have seen all of these “Nursemare Rescues” claim that EVERY single thoroughbred foal is taken from its dam and placed with a nursemare permanently just in order to send the mares to the breeding shed. An almost comical claim, as it would amount to almost 30,000 nursemare foals needing adoption every year. And shockingly, while they claim 30,000 foals need adopting (or so I assume); as of February 22nd, they had no nursemare foals to adopt out. They use this statement to break the hearts of those who are willing to donate, and in turn, turn them against horse racing and the thoroughbred industry. It is a commonality now that non profits and fundraisers lie to gain funds, and just as we spotlight which of these charities give the most back to research and treatments (LLS) and which pay their CEO millions of dollars (insert many cancer funds here), I think that where the money goes, and why it is needed, should be HONEST statements.
These organizations claim that the nursemare industry is the “dark and hidden demon child” of the thoroughbred industry, and this will only be combatted by transparency and openness – something that I think is coming to the public from us at a steadfast rate. While farms like Winstar open their foaling stalls to the public, and others like Claiborne and Denali alert the public via social media – our rigid stone walls are beginning to crumble. Just recently, an initiative called Horse Country was released under the guidance of Price Bell of Mill Ridge Farm. This united a coalition of farms in the Bluegrass to open their doors to the public and give unedited glimpses of what we are about: raising superb athletes under the guidance of the best professionals and using the most cutting edge science that research has to offer. We are almost there, and it is something that will take honesty, transparency, and winning the hearts of fans, one truth at a time. Hopefully with the help of these groundbreaking things, the public can see for themselves that these horses are raised with love, and not by 30,000 nursemares.