Puzzle's Peanut


It was just over a year ago that I posted my frantic story about our dead foal, born lethal white. This means he was born alive, could stand and suckle but shortly there after coliced because of an incomplete digestive tract. If lethal whites are not euthanized, they die a painful death. In the case of our little foal, because it had a rectal opening, which meant that the end of its tract was open, and because it had a little black ear and small black spot at the base of his tail, the vet on-call for our vet thought that giving it banamine for colic symptoms might prove that it just needed time to pass meconuim, the first bowel clearing after birth. Our little guy lived one day. He got to meet his Mommy, Puzzle Mare, my husband Brian, his aunt Dazzle, the little white mule who stood over him while he was born, and me Christine Amber. We hoped all during the day that he might be fine, but as the day wore on and the Banamine wore off, he again showed signs of distress--rolling, rising, laying, rising, rolling, knelling, nursing, kneeling, rolling, raising, laying, thrashing. We prayed our vet would get there quickly. I cursed the on-call vet in the morning that he even gave us the day. I felt so helpless for this poor defenseless, innocent little creature who was obviously suffering as we all looked on and waited. One of my most vivid memories is one moment during the day, when the little foal was curiously sniffing my husbands breath as he knelt down to foal-eye level. This was during the few drug induced hopeful, painless hours of post-partum delirium. I will never forget this vision, it is as vivid in my mind as a photograph is a piece of paper. I can see it by remembering as easily as one can hold a photo between thumb and index finger. Everyone agreed that giving the baby, his Mommy Mare and us was the right thing to do, just painful.

It was just dark when our regular vet came back on duty and was able to come. When he saw the foal he said he was sorry, he was very certain that it was lethal white. He would need my husband to help hold the little guy while he gave him a shot to euthanize him and I would need to hold the mare.

Even a dying, young animal is strong and struggles. The organism seeks to survive even if it is doomed to perish. The mare did not want those men near her baby. The vet had me take the mare about 20 feet away.It was very difficult for me to hold her. I was sobbing, she was rearing and pawing, and spinning. Aunt Dazzle the mule, was braying from the other side of the fence, running up and down the fence line, desperate to come in and protect her young charge. Then the two men, my husband and the vet slowly emerged from the dark, walking like big shadows walking out of the mouth of a cave. The vet said to take the mare to her baby.

I cried and cried. Puzzle mare stood over her baby, Auntie Dazzle stood by the fence next to Puzzle mare. All was still and dark and quiet. Puzzle continued to lower her muzzle and sniff her little baby. We left her like that throughout the night. In the morning it was the same picture. She stood next to her dead baby.

Then, quite suddenly, Puzzle mare raised her head and whinnied to the herd standing about 100 feet away next to the fence. They all whinnied back. She whinnied again, and cantered about half way to them and stopped. She turned and cantered back to her dead baby, sniffed him again, and cantered all the way to the herd. She did this one or two times, and she was done. She never returned to the little corpse again. We buried the little guy on the back of our property.

A little more than a year later, I wanted to share the happy ending to this sad and tragic beginning.

Saturday morning, 12 sets of legs met me, walking side-by-side, two weeks before four of the legs where due to arrive. Puzzle mare on the left, auntie Dazzle mule on the right and little Peanut Puzzle still wet from birth, sandwiched between her Mother's flank and Auntie's shoulder. As I was looking for them, they all emerged around the tall fence, through the gate just like coming from behind a stage curtain and into the spotlight. The walked lock step, stride for stride into the open for all to see.

When the herd saw them, all the boys began to whinny and call out. They all ran to the fence to be as close as possible. Puzzle and Dazzle took their little Peanut away. She was already cantering. I secluded Mommy Mare, baby and Auntie Dazzle in the large paddock across from the herd. We called the vet to come and check everything out.

Throughout the day, I watched as the little foal nursed, she found lying down more awkward than springing to her feet and cantering off. She could already perform flying lead changes, canter pirouettes, and spins. The initial gurgling I heard when she nursed was gone and her breathing sounded clear.

She got her formal health pronouncement that evening. She was stronger than most foals her age, and her IG (Immunity level) was very good. Her ears were slightly unsymmetrical, but it only added to her character. Puzzle Mare was very, very anxious when the vet came and he and Brian touched her new baby. Puzzle was very hard to hold. She spun, and pawed, pulled and did her best to keep everyone away from her baby. Auntie Dazzle brayed and had to be put out of the paddock, the herd whinnied, what a commotion. Noise and pony anxiety everywhere. When the vet restrained the little Peanut filly, he held her tail and put one arm around her neck and chest. Peanut opened her mouth really wide and then loudly and indignantly squealed like I have never heard a young foal squeal before. Then the two men stood back in awe. The vet said to bring the mare to her filly. Peanut's little tail was flicking, her little feet were stomping, her little muzzle sniffed our hands, sniffed Puzzle Mare's nose and bobbed around to the mare's udder. Auntie Dazzle would not be quiet, now would the herd until they could see the baby, then all was still and calm. We left them like that throughout the night.


Christine Amber began riding at age 7, and showed horses in the California Regional Circuit 64 - 74. She took a hiatus from horses while attending the School of Hard Knocks, 71 - 80. After earning a bachelors degree in Psychology with honors at San Jose State University and a Masters of Counseling Psychology from William Lyon University, she proceeded with practical therapeutic experience in the areas of Acute Mental Health inpatient and discharge treatment, Rehabilitation, Crisis Intervention, and Sexual Abuse treatment 78 -89.

She mixed Psychology with Music from 80-92, writing music, leading her own band, and performing original music in the Greater Bay Area. She was voted best female vocalist by San Jose's Metro Magazine readers in 1989.She returned to teaching riding and training horses full time, after working to earn a living and developing repetitive stress injuries writing and managing projects for the technical industry 86-94.

She tested for American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA) in English and Western, and Level III of Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) in 94, has been a member of Horse Safety Association (HSA) and United States Eventing Association (USEA) since 94. She was Trainer, Riding Club Manager and Day-camp Director at a Calero Ranch in Santa Clara County Stables for several years, and a Resource Leader for 4-H Animal Science program. She now lives and works developing EquestrianTraining.com, a small, personal yet professional facility, training horses, riders and owners to better get along with each other in Gilroy, California. To learn more about Christine, see http://www.equestriantraining.com/continuing education.


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