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Stable Delivery

Count on spring, like clockwork, to herald new life. And, at O.C. ranches and horse-breeding facilities, for mare midwives to help bring forth foals.

May 08, 1997|DEBRA CANO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Rose Edwards has been camping out next to Dee Dee, a pregnant mare who is three weeks overdue. Monitoring her from a distance doesn't give Edwards enough peace of mind these nights. Most horses give birth in early morning or late night, and Edwards, a horse midwife, is worried that things might not go well.

Normal horse gestation is about 340 days, or 11 months (plus or minus a week); Dee Dee is approaching 12 months.

"We've never had one go this long or had to wait this long," says Edwards, 43, who with her husband, Andy, 49, operates a horse-breeding facility at Anaheim Hills Saddle Club. Each year they oversee the births of about 15 foals.

Dee Dee, a black-and-white paint broodmare, shows signs that she is ready to give birth: Her legs are swollen; her mammary glands are expanded and dripping milk.

Finally, three days shy of one year of pregnancy, the 14-year-old mare is in labor.

It is 12:15 a.m. on a Friday, and the 1,300-pound mare paces the dark stall. After about 10 minutes, in the quiet of the night, there is the welcome sound of a burst of fluid when the mare's embryonic sac breaks.

At 12:33 a.m., one of the foal's tiny hoofs pokes out. The mare falls to her knees and rolls on the floor of her stall. As she rests against the stall's gate, the tiny hoof snags on the wire mesh. Rose Edwards steps up to remove the hoof from the wire.

Then the foal's nose pushes through--a good sign that the foal is in the correct birthing position. But Dee Dee is struggling to complete the birth.

Rose Edwards grabs the foal's front legs and gives a light tug to help the mare present the baby.

At 12:35 a.m., the black and white colt slips into the world.

"He's breathing! He's breathing!" Edwards exclaims. She had feared her prized broodmare, who had given birth three other times, might have been carrying a dead foal.

Edwards drapes a white cloth under the shivering colt's head. "I'm just so happy he's alive," she sighs. "He's so beautiful."

*

Spring, at nature's direction, is the busy season for Andy and Rose Edwards and others in the small group of horse specialists in Orange County who oversee mares giving birth. Like expectant parents, the Edwardses wait, sometimes agonizingly, for the births.

The number of horse births in the county has, along with other aspects of rural life, declined over the years.

"Back in the '80s, I'd see one to two new babies a day," says veterinarian David Treser of Equine Veterinary Associates in Yorba Linda. "Now it's one or two a week.

"We don't have as many babies here as we did in the '80s because of the economy, and the horse market is so soft you can go out and buy a horse cheaper than you can breed and raise one," he says.

Expenses involved to breed a horse and pay vet bills and board and care costs on a mare and a foal can add up to thousands of dollars.

Still, there are enough people interested in seeing their horses reproduce that the Edwardses and fellow horse specialists Jim Tice and Carol Stanger keep involved in the birthing process.

Service fees for monitoring a pregnant mare and the delivery average about $25 a day.

Following the birth, horse midwives are usually involved in "imprinting," or handling the foal to get it comfortable and trusting of humans.

Imprinting is a continuing process, but the days soon after birth usually involve the foal's first exposure to a halter, a human picking up its hoofs and lessons on how to lead. At a month old, foals may be introduced to clippers to shave their muzzles or go on their first trailer ride.

Stanger and her husband, Cecil, of Yorba Linda have been breeding and raising horses for about 40 years and specialize in quarter horses for racing.

Stanger, a former nurse, estimates that she has assisted in the births of more than 2,000 foals.

"Foaling mares is an all-night job to keep track of them until they have their babies," says Stanger, 74, who has a surveillance camera set up in her foaling barn and monitors it from her nearby home.

Tice, owner of Rocking T Ranch in Yorba Linda, also has a foaling stall equipped with a surveillance camera and a monitor set up in his living room.

"A lot of people breed their mares and don't know how to handle it and what to expect," says Tice, 45. He has been involved in training horses since he was a teenager, and in his 10 years of offering midwife services has assisted in about 150 births. "This way, they can have the most controlled situation as possible."

Lori Thompson of Yorba Linda recently brought her 10-year-old sorrel quarter horse to Tice. "It makes you feel more comfortable," says Thompson, whose show horse, Valentine, was overdue with her first.

"When she goes into labor, I know somebody will be there. And if there's a problem, they can see it right then," Thompson says. "It gives you peace of mind."

The birth ended up going fine. However, a few days later the mare accidentally stepped on the colt and fractured his leg, which required surgery to repair.

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