Féile (pronounced “faye-la”) is the Irish word for a festival. It was a word that resonated with me, popped into my head like a good feeling that I couldn’t forget. A festival is something to celebrate and I couldn’t wait to celebrate the arrival of little Féile.
Today is the 26th of April and exactly one year ago today myself and Giselle headed off on a random adventure to see if we could get her in foal. Unfortunately one year on, the ending of that adventure took a turn for the worst, and two weeks tomorrow marks one of my worst days as a horse owner. This is not a happy story, unfortunately, it is one of loss. But Féile was very special to me and deserves her moment, too.
Tuesday the 13th of April was a little different from all the other days. For 3 weeks my daily routine involved getting up and checking Giselle’s udder for changes, followed by one last check before bed. On the Monday night I could see the little yellow beads of wax on her teats had changed, just one lone bead of white cloudy wax had appeared. I went to bed knowing things were moving along.
On Tuesday morning, I did my early morning check in my pajamas. I checked her over as I had every day for weeks and there, her udder had swelled with clear beads of waxy colostrum. Today was going to be the day.
I had some errands to run, and having checked her for other physical signs I told myself I had time to run to town. There’s no way she will foal until the evening! However, by midday, and half way home, my phone pinged with a message to get home quick.
I had never bred a foal before and had never been present for ones birth. Wanting to make sure I knew as much as possible, I had spent the last few months researching everything there was to know about foaling – pre-care, after care, signs of distress. Everything. So when I arrived home to find Giselle with what looked like a normal presentation of the foal, I breathed a sigh of relief – and allowed myself to get excited for the two little white feet that had appeared.
Giselle was in her stable, and two white socks and a little brown muzzle with a tiny stripe down the lips were trying their best to come out. It was then I noticed a second bag, which confused me. “This is not right” I said to my mum who was there with me, “there is something not right about this.” I then began to worry about the possibility of a twin, and were they coming at the same time?
A normal horse birth should take no more than 20 to 30 minutes. At this point I asked my mum what the time was. 12:35. The message I received telling me to get home was at 12:10. Twenty five minutes and no progression. I was calling the vet. I got the phone and rang for the vet, and also called my friend Claire. Her dad is known to be very good with cows and those with difficulty calving.
Having hung up the phone, Giselle finally opted to lay down. She was struggling to push. Our little foal’s head was not fully out, and one front leg was a bit further behind than the other. I opted to pull the second leg forward, which would allow more room for the shoulders to pass through the birth canal.
It was then I saw a third foot. My worst nightmare was unfolding before me.
For someone who was initially calling for calm, I went into panic. Fearing a twin, I put my hand in to see what was happening. I couldn’t believe it, it was a hind leg over our little foals ears. All I can remember was crying and saying “it’s all wrong, he is in the wrong position, it’s all wrong..” I felt very helpless.
Mike had arrived by then but Giselle had managed to push the foals head out. I sat by Giselle’s head as Mike tried to push the foal back in an effort to manipulate the leg, but it was too far and too late for that. I patted her and told her it’s ok, that she could do it. She had to now, there was nothing we could do.
I had studied what to do if a front leg didn’t present properly, but the idea that my foal would come with a hind leg forward, it just seemed so so unlikely. By now the two front legs were out, but the hind leg was obstructing everything. I removed the bag from the foal’s head and little muzzle, hoping that at least if anything happens to the umbilical cord, he or she can take a breath.
I did not know if it was a filly or a colt, but at that point, little Féile shook her ears and I got to say hello. She was alive. But she was weak.
I do not know how long we pulled for, but Giselle was struggling and straining to get Féile out, and Féile was no longer moving. When I look back at the cameras it was at least 20 minutes. Pulling with her contractions. I’ve had to delete the footage, because looking back at what happened breaks my heart. I was oblivious to Giselle’s straining, and the noise she made would break you. And I didn’t realise that with every push she gave, I was crying too.
When we finally got Féile out I tried to wake her. I did compressions on her chest and rubbed her down, but she was gone. I knew deep down she was gone, but I couldn’t not try for her, and for Giselle.
Giselle at this stage was exhausted. She lay flat out, and heaving. When I realised there was no saving the perfect little filly I had hoped for, I quickly grabbed a bucket of water and a cloth and rubbed Giselle down. For a moment she lay quiet, her breathing went shallow and she closed her eyes. “No you don’t Gigi, you’re not going too!” and I slapped her on her shoulder a few times to wake her up.
I cried as I rubbed her down. Knowing what a good momma she was going to be, I couldn’t believe she had been through all that and wouldn’t get to raise her foal. As her breathing came back to normal, her eyes became wide and she tried to lift her head and nickered to her baby.
The vet arrived to find us lying in the straw. There was some debate over whether to give Giselle the foal, but I felt it was only right and only fair for Giselle to have her. We pulled her over and Giselle sat up. Wide eyed and full of love, she began licking little Féile. When licking her got no response, she began to nip little Féile – to get her to respond, to get her to wake up and encourage her to get up and suckle.
The vet gave her a shot of pain killers and when Giselle eventually got up gave her a quick physical examination. My heart was in my mouth, as I feared Giselle would have suffered some kind of internal injuries during her ordeal. I was advised to watch her, and if the afterbirth did not pass in 2 to 3 hours, to call the vet back out.
Two weeks on and I now feel that there is a little more normality returning. There was a sadness in the stables, that even Solas and Luca felt. Giselle had retained the placenta, so we had a tough week of it, between our vet having to physically peel it from her late that night, flushing her uterus for fear there was more left behind and a full week of antibiotic injections. We then discovered her she had a nasty bladder infection and had to flush that too.
But the most heartbreaking thing was watching Giselle pine for her baby. We were advised to leave the foal with her for a day or two, until she came to terms and the realization that the foal would not wake. She guarded over her, licking and pawing at her regularly, trying to get her up.
On the Wednesday afternoon, I let Solas out on the lawn and left Giselle’s stable door open. She was confused – she wanted to follow Solas, but she couldn’t leave Féile. She would go out to check where he was, and then fly back to her stable to stand over her. But by evening, she was spending more time outside with Solas. While she was on the lawn, I quietly slipped into the stable, picked Féile up and placed her in the wheel barrow and hid her in the feed room.
I took a body brush and spent some time brushing the bedding from her coat and out of her fuzzy black mane. And I cried over her with every stroke.
Everyone has experienced loss, and to some, equating the loss of an animal to the loss of a human would seem ridiculous. But crying over Féile I felt I was crying for her, for Giselle and for every loss I have suffered. I couldn’t help it. My horses are part of my family, and Féile had been a very real part of our lives for nearly 12 months.
Féile was a dream. She was a legacy of Giselle, the little mare that has done more for me over the years than anyone will ever know. And losing her seems both cruel and unfair. But seeing Giselle recover and move on has made it a little easier to accept.
Féile was something to celebrate. A beautiful, strong filly foal, exactly what I had wished for. And I can say no more other than a little piece of her will stay with me.