About six weeks ago I had to call it quits.
I am a huge believer in unlimited grass hay and salt blocks as a feeding regimen, with a little extra vitamins to top up and make a horse’s coat shiny. You may not get the same well-balanced, non-hay belly look that alfalfa gives horses, but for what I use my horses for, grass hay is perfect. They seem so content to just nibble all day long, and it keeps them nice and round.
Oh, sure. They’d have better muscle tone and look prettier on Alfalfa, I’m not negating that truth… But it seems unfair to pump them up with that much high energy feed and then expect them to be calm and non-reactive around my squirrelly kids.
Besides, grass hay keeps them fat and round and happy….
This is not a fat and shiny pony 🙁
About six weeks ago, I had to call my grass hay feeding plan a failure. When she arrived back in early February, beneath the two to three inches of winter coat she had, Carrots was somewhere between a two and a three on the Henneke scale.
Three weeks into refeeding. I didn’t post a lot of pictures of her before, because I actually think her old owner was a bit clueless more than deliberately not feeding her enough and I didn’t want to set the Internet Angries on her. Shes’ much thinner than she looks, because her winter coat was UNBELIEVABLY long and dense.
She gained steadily for quite a while, and then somewhere around late April she began leveling out. Oh, sure, she looked tons better than she did when she arrived in February, but she still looked crappy. Her coat wasn’t very shiny, except in a couple of places, even after she shed out. Worse, I was beginning to see ribs again. We were sliding back instead of moving forward in the weight department.
It was irritating, because Caspian was gaining almost too much weight with the amount of hay I threw out. Shouldn’t ponies be air ferns, not hard keepers? Caspian weighs around 1300 pounds and eats more than any horse I’ve ever encountered, in order to keep his weight up. Carrots is maybe 550.
Still, pictures don’t lie. She looked like crap. Some angles she didn’t look too bad…
but from other angles………
So, I started supplementing, and the weight started coming back.
I also started hand grazing her and that helped even more. We haven’t finished fencing our property, so alas, no pasture turnout. The weight continued to come back, and I was content.
Only…only it seemed ridiculous, the amount of food I was feeding her vs. the amount I was feeding Caspian, a horse literally more than double her weight.
I began to worry…did she have Cushings? Was she worm resistant? Why was she needing so many calories? It was bothersome enough that I called the vet. Besides, it was time to float Caspian’s teeth anyways.
I laid it all out before the vet, and eventually voiced my biggest fear: did she look pregnant to him?
I mean, when you get a mare off Craigslist, you never know what you are gonna get.
He looked her over some, and said based on her history, probably not. She was probably just wormy and I could step up my worming regimen…. but you can never tell. The problem was that she was too small to palpate, which left only blood tests to the tune of $150 bucks.
I stood there and stared at Carrots for the longest time. I didn’t have a lot to go on. She was probably just wormy, and a couple of back to back worming treatments in a row would take care of that. Money was tight. I had no proof other than a bloated-looking belly on a horse that had arrived incredibly wormy, and who also had a tendency towards being a hard keeper. Maybe I hadn’t ever seen her go into season in around Caspian, but maybe she was just calm when in season? $150 for peace of mind to make a niggling suspicion go away was not a cheap price tag.
“So, let’s say I just ignore it and let things go on like they are. If she has a foal in the same paddock as Caspian, what would happen?”
We both turned to stare at Caspian was standing placidly beside her, lazily swishing his tail at flies.
“Well, since he was gelded late, he had all those stallion hormones in his body at some point…. he might stomp it.”
I love my vet. There’s something so refreshing about straightforward honesty. He said it so matter of fact, with no push in his voice. If I didn’t want to do the blood test, that was totally fine by him. He understood.
On the other hand, if I tried to save $150 and came out one morning to a stomped foal, I’d never forgive myself. Ever.
“Let’s run the blood test.”
And so he did. He gave me an updated worming schedule, some feeding recommendations, and life went back to normal.
Until this afternoon:
In case you can’t tell, when testing a horse for the pregnancy hormone estradiol, a normal mare will have a value of under 20. A pregnant mare beyond 100 days will have a value of 50-400.
Carrots has a value of 101.
I admit, I still can’t decide if I am surprised or not. I was definitely shocked when I got the email, there’s no doubt about that. When my phone pinged me, letting me know I had an email, I was sitting at my desk job. I try not to read personal email while on the job, but the sender was from my vet, and who can ignore an email like that? When I opened it up to read “Give me a call in about an hour, I would say that Carrots is pregnant.”, I was so caught up in the moment I didn’t even realize I said “OH SH*T” out loud until my coworkers burst out laughing and asked me what was wrong.
So, yeah. I was shocked….but I don’t know if I was surprised. I’ve been suspicious about so many little things going on with her, even if I haven’t really admitted it out loud.
I can tell how suspicious I have been on the inside by how many “from-the-front” and “from-the-back” photos I have taken of Carrots over last 2-3 months, now that I’ve gone back searching for them. I had convinced myself out loud that my suspicions were all in my head, but judging from the sheer amount of photos I took to compare and contrast, I think I knew deep inside.
So Carrots is definitely pregnant…..
It just seems like such a low value for how far along she probably is. The vet kind of agreed and is doing some more research on it. I suppose it’s possible she slipped the foal, but…
Here’s a view from behind with a five-week difference.
She’s bigger, and she’s dropped….I think? You can really only see the pregnancy from the front and the back – from the side, she just looks a little overfed, which is not the case. I still think she needs a little more weight. If you discount the bloated belly, she’s barely normal.
She hasn’t bagged up at all, nor have her tail ligaments gone soft, but with a maiden mare that might not mean anything.
Her vulva appears unchanged, which is code for “Becky spends an ungodly amount of time each day lifting up her poor pony’s tail and staring at horse vagina, and good heavens, what must the neighbors think?”
So it doesn’t look like she’s going to be giving birth any time soon… but then again, if she’s a maiden mare, who knows if she would give any of these signs? As I have nothing else to go on, I’ve decided that she probably started hitting that big foal growth spurt that happens in the third trimester some time around May, since that’s when she started becoming a “hard keeper”.
I have no idea when (if? I really wish her numbers were higher so I felt more secure in her pregnancy) she would be due, so I decided to start treating her like she’s due today. I popped the center divider out in the stalls, giving her a 12×24 run.
It’s a little frustrating to have to go back to cleaning a stall and buying shavings every day when the sun is out and there’s a 100×50 paddock 20 feet away, but better safe than sorry. Today or tomorrow I’ll pick up more shavings and some more alfalfa – our lovely grass hay we just stocked the barn with has tons of fescue, which is awful for pregnant mares.
I admit, I don’t know entirely how I feel about this new turn of events. If it was someone else, I’d be THRILLED!!!! How adorable! Two for the price of one! The little Welsh pony mare we got for a song is going to give birth to the world’s most adorable, tiny foal!……
But it’s my bank account taking the hit. As much as is possible, I try to have 100% of all things equine-related come out of my paycheck… a paycheck which is nonexistent during the summer months, with four kids in full-time daycare. We just bought the posts to section off part of our pasture area (my birthday present was going to be a grazing paddock for the horses), but now that project is on indefinite hold. I need to spend money on horse supplements. I need to buy fancy hay. I need to save up for an expensive vet visit, because who knows what will happen around the birthing time. So the pasture project is put on hold, and so is the writing conference I was going to attend in August, and so is pretty much everything, until we’re past her giving birth.
If she gives birth? I did manage to get ahold of the old owner, and she said the only time Carrots was out of her care was when she was boarded January through May of 2017. She has cyclone fencing and Carrots didn’t share the pasture with anyone except goats, and she never escaped.
So is she pregnant?
I’m also feeling nervous about the issue of space. It’s dry and easy to house horses right now, but that rain will start coming back in mid October, and as it is I barely have my area set up to work for three horses, and now I’m potentially going to have four. If we lived somewhere less rainy I could just fence off the pasture and let both babies grow up as nature intended, in a herd setting with room to run. Unfortunately, even if we fenced off the entire acre and blanketed against rain rot, with four horses running around it during the rainy season, it would be a sea of mud in no time at all.
Right now I’m leaning towards leveling the area in front of the barn and seeing if I can find a couple more gate panels. I have three gate panels already, with a shelter logic cover over it for shade in their paddock area. I could get one more gate panel and spend a little more and get the side covers for it, and it would make a great rain proof stall for Carrots and her foal….
I cannot recommend this setup highly enough.
But is a 12×12 stall too small for a pony and her foal to live in during the winter, when I have limited turnout? Would it be cruel? Do I need to try to spring and try to make it 12×24? I wish I could find used gate panels, but everyone around here hoards them, and I keep having to buy new.
Also, I have the energy now, but what is it going to be like once the grey and rain returns and depression sets in again? Mucking four stalls daily while also trying to care of four kids while also working a full-time job sounds exhausting. Also, four farrier visits, four horse mouths to feed….
But then again, this is exactly how I felt about having twins. I could only see the negative, not the positives, until I met them. And also, what’s the alternative? I don’t want to sell Carrots. She’s perfect for our family, and I love her personality, and the kids love her.
I’m sure I could easily find someone to foal them out for me, but I’m also pretty sure my kids would never forgive me. They’ve already promised to muck every single day and feed every single day and do whatever it takes. Of course, they’re only 7 and 9, so who knows how long those promises will last, but still. They would be devastated. Also, if I’m honest, I’d be sad to miss out on the chance to have a little foal on my property.
I need to remember it’s not just work and double drudgery and empty bank accounts, and that I’ll wean and hopefully sell the foal at five months. I will only have four horses for less than half a year, and a cute half a year at that.
And also…. her estradiol value was only 101. Why so low? What does it mean? I’m going to make a call in to some equine reproductive specialists in Portland and see if they think bringing her in for an ultrasound would work. My vet said belly ultrasounds were hit or miss sometimes, and she’s so small that a rectal ultrasound, which is the normal method, would be verypainful for her. I don’t want to traumatize her like that.
And so, I wait and see what might happen. I may or may not have four horses. The boys are over the moon. My bank account is not over the moon, and neither is Bean.
My friend pointed out that I now have a “history” of asking for one baby and getting two.
Reverie is two months old now, and shedding out to my favorite color, liver chestnut. She’s so perfect it makes my heart hurt. Her personality is everything I love in a horse, and so is her conformation and color.
I’m not sure how I feel about this new superpower. I’d much rather have the ability to try to put away one load of laundry and accidentally put away two. How neat would that be?
So, Carrots – who were you naughty with? How did you manage it? When did you manage it? What is hiding in that belly of yours, and how long do we have to wait to meet it?
Last week’s “Man, that’s a big belly for a non-pregnant horse, and why am I still seeing ribs?!” photo
Picture from yesterday evening- both the pregnancy and the ribs are not very visible when viewed from the sides.