If a human female is going to get pregnant, she has a list of things she does very carefully beforehand. Of course, sometimes life doesn't give us that option. Sometimes things just plain old happen and we hope for the best. ( read "Oops!") But in the modern day human world, most of us at least try for some basics. So let's look at the list and see what we can make of it for Suzy's sake.
1. See the doctor for any health concerns
2. Watch hormonal cycles to be familiar with the best time.
3. Eat well - no junk food
4. Fitness - make sure the body is in tip top shape to support a baby.
5. Avoid emotional upsets and stress
6. Understand the process
Do lets translate this list for Suzy's needs.
1. Suzy's vets are at Mississippi Mills animal hospital. They have seen Suzy two or three times in the last year and they confirm that yes, her health is excellent, her age is appropriate, and that her body is certainly strong enough to carry a foal Check.
2. Mares generally cycle about once a month, not unlike human ovulation. Unlike women, for whom the most difficult part of their cycle is menstruation, mares experience the greatest behaviour changes during ovulation. So, usually in the third week of the month, Suzy gets a little more domineering than usual. She calls Duke to come hither and then bites him and chases him away when she remembers he is hormonally unequipped. Poor Duke. And she can be extra mean to Shannon, because as a fertile female, Shannon represents competition for an eligible bachelor who does show up. In the next few months I will be charting Suzy's cranky days, and close to the time, we will have the vet help us chart the last month. Check
3. Eating well for a horse is pretty easy. We buy excellent mixed hay from a neighbour, and the horses all thrive on it. In addition, they get supplements of salt, and occasional oats on cold days or if they work hard. Treats are carrots, and apples. Suzy's weight in the last year has been just slightly sub optimal, but we have been working with her and she has packed on enough to make her nicely rounded but not fat. Soon we will begin to give her an extruded feed with extra minerals and vitamins, formulated for mares who are pregnant, nursing, or preparing to be pregnant. Check.
4. As most readers of this blog know, Suzy has not been working for over a year. She had some dental problems which have now been rectified. So any minute now, a nice red truck towing a trailer with a sleigh on it is going to pull into my driveway. The sleigh is specifically for Suzy. I mean, its for customers, and the other horses too, but it's Suzy that I really have in mind. In her life at Pinto Valley, about ten years, she pulled sleighs of customers each winter. She knows how to do this. Its familiar and safe for her, and she will be able to work with her beloved Duke. We will start slowly, rotating all three horses on and off the sleigh, and all three will build up their stamina and be ready for spring. Check
5. See six
6. Imagine you are a thirteen year old child. Maybe a little older, but not much. You take everything literally. You feel hormones and emotions strongly and have no idea how to keep them in check. You crave parental attention and take it personally when it isn't available. You sometimes rebel under parental control. Friendships drift and come together again because those around you are in the same boat you are. Now imagine you are mute. Ladies and gentlemen, you have just been introduced to the inner world of the horse.
What we propose to do with Suzy is to remove her from her home, take her back to the farm of her birth, now seventeen years ago, and leave her there for a week to ten days. When she moved here, she was very upset at first, losing 150lbs and being unsure how to react to these new humans. and she was bred and failed to conceive because she was upset by the change. And I can explain to her until I'm blue in the face. I can send her mental images, some of which she seems to get, but mostly not. If she is upset when she gets there, she will not conceive. And I can't bear thinking that she will think I have abandoned her. So how do I prepare my beautiful Suzy for this, which she will most certainly take as betrayal?
I take parts of the process and make them easier. I put her in the trailer and take her away from home and spend a few hours letting her relax because I am still there. I make sure she is familiar with the trailer, a big old noisy livestock trailer. Maybe I take all of them for a ride sometimes, just because I can. I can fuss over her, rubbing her back and putting coconut oil on her body (she really likes that). And in the end, maybe I am there with her, every day, to reassure her that she will go home.
Old horse folks roll their eyes when I talk about looking after the emotional well being of my horses, but I have always figured that, you know, it just can't hurt. And many studies have defined the emotional lives of animals in ways we used to discount. So I work at it.