The Story of Red
Its funny how looking back, I can see how one ‘yes’ leads perfectly to the next, as if there is a grand design, a predetermined story wanting to be born. On New Year’s Day, 2011, I actualized a dream that had absolutely no predetermination. In fact, that was the intent.
Even if it’s a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means that you will do something new, meet someone new and make a difference in your — and likely in others’ lives as well. Yes is what keeps us all young. It’s a tiny word that can do big things. Say it often. ~Eric Schmidt
A year and a half earlier I hatched a tiny mad idea that took a while for me to say ‘yes‘ to. That idea was to courageously let go of my current life, and move forward into the unknown. I had no passion for staying in my current ‘city’ life situation, yet there was nowhere I felt compelled to go to. My idea was to pick up and go, to travel the country and live on the road, and go wherever life led me. That New Year’s Day I launched myself from my roots in the San Francisco Bay Area into an unknown, wide open future. I quit my job, sold my house, let go of a lifetime of ‘stuff’, bought an RV and took off without any expectation of what was next. The only ‘plan’ I decided, was to play with saying ‘yes’ to the unexpected. That is how I would find what compelled me.
Reconnecting with My Big Brother
The first thing I wanted to do was to spend time with family I rarely saw, spread out in different states. I went to Sedona Arizona to see my brother at his horse ranch. He is an amazing, professional Natural Horseman. His home became my ‘home base’. We hadn’t seen much of each other for years, we were both doing life and had no ‘living’ relationship. But we seized the opportunity to get to know each other again. My next ‘yes’ on this journey was to the reforming of this brother- sister relationship, as accomplished adults. We started new, looking to create something that would grow and thrive for the rest of our lives.
Landing Home Again in California
The next ‘yes’ was to what this relationship evolved into. We decided to live and work together, on a new ranch in California. We had a shared world view, our professions were in alignment and complimentary, and we knew we could learn from each other. This decision and the process of it seemed easy and effortless. Once established, the way was soon paved for the next ‘yes’, the one that I never saw coming.
If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes-then learn how to do it later! ~Richard Branson
The Yes Experience and Gift of a Lifetime
Fast forward a few months at the new ranch. We were looking forward to the birth of Skip’s first foal from his mare ,Shy Girl. She had become pregnant in Sedona and for the first time he was going to be able to raise a horse from the day it was born. We were over the 11th month gestation mark, and things seemed to be getting close. Shy Girl was healthy and it was an early, cool spring.
Unexpectedly Skip was called out of town for a few days. He had to go, but was anxious and hoping he could get back before the birth. So was I, since I hadn’t considered what would happen if Shy Girl went into labor and Skip was not around.
A couple of days passed. I continued to pay special attention to Shy Girl to help her feel calm and cared for. Skip had built a special stall and paddock area for her which was clean, safe and lighted. Before he left he had me pull my RV across from her stall so I could keep an eye on her. Yes, of course I could do that.
On the third morning I noticed small beads of something at the end of Shy Girls teats. Like a wave I instantly ‘knew’ today was the day. Not because I knew anything about these ‘beads’, but the knowing came over me like a wave. And I was in it, saying yes to seeing it through.
Yet as the day progressed I began to doubt myself. The mind said “you can’t be ‘sure’ this is happening today”, so I of course wasn’t going to call anyone. I knew who to call for the appropriate help if needed, but nothing was actually happening. This could go on for days. Instead I took the only action I could. I jumped on the ‘net and You Tube and devoured everything I could about ‘foaling’ in mares. That was an easy yes.
I read about the restlessness I could sort of see in Shy Girl. This is apparently one potential signal in the first stage of labor. But wait a minute, this could happen any time during the last few weeks of gestation. This was no indication birth was happening today.
I read about the beads I saw on her teats, learned it’s called ‘wax’ which is droplets of colostrum; nature’s superfood for newborns. Again, not an indicator of imminent birth as it can happen a week or 2 before foaling or as close as 12–36 hours.
I took a break to go out and check on her. And I saw milk droplets! Surely this must be the sign that its happening! Well yes and no. It usually indicates birth will happen very soon, but some mares drip milk for days. I did learn I needed to watch this, as too much loss of milk means the loss of that vital colostrum, and I would need to take steps to collect it. Back to You Tube on how to do that.
I watched as many videos as I could find on the actual birth of a foal. There wasn’t much and I couldn’t get a sense of the kinds of things to be looking for that would mean I would need to intervene. I saw mares in various forms of distress and got very clear on one thing. It would be prudent to stay out of the way of any 1200 pound, very pregnant and uncomfortable mare. Anything could happen.
So it Begins
9 o’clock pm rolled around, dark, quiet and cold. And nothing had happened. I went out and sat with Shy Girl before going to bed, and all was quiet and calm. Still it nagged at me. How could I go to bed when I knew it would happen? The thought came ‘I will just know’, so I went to bed in my gym clothes and fell immediately to sleep.
One hour later I woke up and jumped out of bed, 10:00 on the dot. I looked out the window toward Shy Girl’s lighted stall and saw the steam rising as her water broke. It was on! I could see she from a distance she worked up. I threw on warm clothes, grabbed my phone, my video camera and ran out to the stall.
The instant I arrived, she looked directly at me and I felt a wave of relief come from her, and move right through me. I could almost hear her tell me she was glad not to be alone. She was 15 at the time and this was her first foal. I could only imagine what was going on inside her.
She quieted down and stood for a bit, sweat all over her, breathing heavy. Then she began circling, wanting to lay down. Once down, she began to roll from side to side, her long legs thrashing all the way from one side to the next. The stall was small, and with her 1200 thousand pounds to my 103, I needed to stay out of her way. Yes to that.
I had time to think about not having seen that particular kind of rolling on You Tube. I saw mares rolling from their back to one side, but not these full-on side to side rolls. Then the mind, “is this a sign of particular distress? Should I be concerned?” No, no evidence of a problem yet. Just continue stay out of the way. Be a calm energy for her, she’s got this. I remembered my camera and thought about attempting to film this.
She had been up and down in that small space a few more times to roll. I had read that was how the mare positioned the fetus to enter the birth canal. Now she was up and still. OK great I thought, intermission. And then I saw it. One hoof and then another, attached to small forelimbs that were stretching their way to the outside world. Shy Girl laid down, with these little legs protruding out of her. Then she got up. More positioning. Still the forelegs were sticking out. I worried that her ‘up and down’ might break the little limbs, but this was her show, and it was happening fast.
Oh, how I wished she would lay down to finish the job. But what if she didn’t? Well that’s a whole different thing to be ready for. The filming idea wasn’t working out. The light was bad, and I only had 2 hands. It occurred to me to phone Skip and let him know what was happening, but I was focused, transfixed, moment to moment. This memory would be for me. Camera and phone were put aside.
Finally, she laid down and stayed down. She was a bit close to the wall so I was going to have to make sure there was enough room for the foal to safely come out. It needed plenty of room to lay on the hay floor. I remembered that much. I wouldn’t have to make her get up and move, I could help guide the little one in a kind curve toward open space. The foal was soon on its way out into the world and Shy Girl had a little time to rest.
Out he came! No more start and stop, here was the rest of him, easy as you please. Then I saw the amniotic membrane was covering his nose and mouth. I hadn’t been ready for that. As much as I tried to prepare during the day, I hadn’t thought about that. And its so obvious! I noticed I wasn’t moving to clear his nose and mouth. But something else kicked in as my mind was taking its time assessing, wondering what to do. I saw my hand reach out and pull the membrane away from his nose and mouth. Then he started moving. He was breathing fine. Soon he was trying to sit up.
Shy Girl got up again and came to check her baby. She did some licking of her newborn, then began a series of pacing then returning to lick. She must be uncomfortable, with the afterbirth hanging partially out of her. I thought about doing what I had read, which was to tie the afterbirth in a knot so gravity gently helps pull it out. Just as in human moms, it’s a scary thing to have even a small piece of the placenta left in the reproductive tract. That could result in infection or hemorrhaging. But once again, no need. This was a fast-paced birth.
10 minutes later her entire placenta expelled. Now she was at the superstar range for this, because it can take from 10 minutes up to 8 hours. And all intact, it looked like. I jumped into my next job, which was to lay the placenta out as flat as possible to see if it’s all there and the tissue is healthy. I did it, but truly, how was I going to know that in the late night, dark of the stall, having never seen any of this before?!? Later I put it in a bucket with water so Skip could take a look when he got home the next day. That’s for closer examination and so wild animals don’t get a whiff and come looking for something tasty.
He’s been alive in the outside world now for 15 minutes! Now I could call Skip on the phone and have him there while I did my most important job for him and the foal-imprinting. Horses are born with the motor and locomotion pathways in their brains fully developed, so that the foal can get up and be moving with the herd and get out of the way of predators. “The foal, immediately after being born,” states Robert M. Miller, DVM “can see, hear, feel, and smell almost as well as a mature horse.” So he’s already learning, laying there in the straw. What the foal learns during this “critical learning period, Miller says, will be with it for life. “What a horse learns, he never forgets.”
This ‘job’ felt like mission critical for the quality of life of this horse with humans. Ideally, soon after the foal comes out and before it tries to get up, the imprinter is with him while he’s breathing his first breaths, becoming part of his introduction to the outside world. The timing of imprinting is critical and must be done within an hour of birth, or the opportunity goes away for good. The goal of this critical time is that he bonds with humans, so to him his mom and humans are a natural part of his world. Human touch is then natural and un-concerning to him, having been desensitized.
Shy Girl continued to show her discomfort with what to do with this new baby horse thing. She was still agitated and continued her pacing. She walked away and then back again, returning to sniff and lick her baby. I felt like I should wait for imprinting. It seemed to me he and his mom had to bond first, before I inserted myself any more. That might be a bit anthropomorphic of me, but she and I had been in this together and this was her moment of creation. Skip agreed so we waited and talked about this amazing event, and how much he wished he had been there for it.
I waited another 5 minutes sitting with the newborn and then felt I had to get on it. The little guy was already trying to get up!
I got busy, under Skips’ direction, desensitizing him to specific touch; around his eyes, in his ears, his nose, his mouth, rubbing him all over his body. This way he’d be fine when he gets handled by the vet, gets his first halter on, or gets his hooves trimmed. He’ll also, as a prey animal, see a human as a leader and a source of safety, like he does his mom. This was Skip’s foal, what he’d waited a long time to experience. As a trainer he would want the best head start he could get for his horse, with strong imprinting. What could go wrong?
Well, my not paying attention to one critical area, that’s what. And I am reminded of that every time he gets his feet trimmed. I did not spend time tapping the bottom of his hooves, which would have desensitized him to future handling of his feet. Now I know. Oddly it is only his right rear hoof, for some strange reason, that he doesn’t like touched.
He was up and wobbling around. This freaked Shy Girl out somewhat, so she was not making herself available for the foal to try and nurse. This was a problem. What should I do? Since it wasn’t happening naturally, he had to be led to her teat. I thought I could move him in position and put his mouth in the general vicinity, and nature would take its course. But Shy Girl jumped and yelped and squealed like she was being attacked! I was worried but he was oblivious, he was intent on finding food, and didn’t seem phased by all the commotion. After a few attempts she settled down and nursing commenced.
Finally, the birthing drama was over. I could simply enjoy what had happened. By now a couple of friends had heard the news and come by, wanting to make sure everything was OK, and I was glad for the help. We made sure everything was clean and secure for the night, and left them alone to be ‘mare and brand-new foal.’
Saying Yes to a Beautiful Gift
The next day talking to Skip on his way home, he asked me what I thought we should name Shy Girl’s foal. Funny he’s asking me, I thought. Given he was born with red mane and tail hair and a red stripe down his back, and the ranch was called Red Moon Ranch, was there any other choice?
It was then that Skip told me he wanted me to have Red, that he believed Red was meant to be mine. I didn’t have that on my bucket list, or see that coming. Yet here was the opportunity to invite raising a horse into my life. And here was the opportunity to accept the most selfless, heartfelt gift from my big brother that I could have imagined. I’m still in awe of what moved him to let go of what he had wanted for so long and was now, right in front of him. Instead he chose to give Red and I the gift of what has developed into an extraordinary relationship.
Everything in the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born. ~Clarice Lispector
Red is full grown now, it is almost 6 years since the night he came in to my life. Looking back, its seems obvious how one ‘yes’, one opening, one choice inextricably leads to the opportunity for the next one, until what is wanting to be born, arrives. This is how we create.
Yes is an opening, an acceptance of possibility. By saying yes, I found the ability to let go of the ‘comfortable’ that was holding me back and trust my way to what’s next.
I found family; with my brother I found the richness of the commitment to face the family mirror, and work through childhood conditioning, limiting beliefs and triggers that used to bring out the worst in me.
I found a lifestyle I thrive in, and a passion for a much-expanded professional life. I found a love of ‘all things equine,’ especially Red. My experiences with Red led to my adding Equine Therapy as a professional modality.
I reconnected with my intuition and knowing that any experience that comes my way is a gift of opportunity, of discovery, and is for me, even though it may not always look like it.
Lastly, all these yes’s finally cracked my heart wide open. I could never for-see that my big brother would so selflessly give over to me the dream he ‘held in his hand’ because he believed it was meant for me. It has forever changed my definition of ‘a gift of love.’