Carol Reiter: Remembering why we do it

Carol Reiter

Afew thoughts in the cold, long, barren months preceding breeding season and the best time of all, foaling season.

Our mares are enjoying the few blades of green grass that has come up from the scanty rain we've received this season. They get a bale of hay every day, and when they hear the truck, they come up the field, waddling in the late stages of pregnancy, waiting for the thump of the heavy alfalfa flakes hitting the ground. We save and scrimp and do without so these mares, these demanding, haughty, full-of-the-future mares can have the expensive alfalfa that keeps them fat and shiny through the darkest days of winter. Every flake of hay, every bale, is the result of hours of our working to pay for that good hay. But it takes money to make money, and these mares have done that for us in the past, so we feed them now, and wait.

Willy has spent his winter in a small area in front of our barn, where a tree shelters him, and a clean, dry stall waits for him on wet, rainy nights. He plays with his two yearling colts, Ace and Jag, over the fence. The colts bite Willy's face, while they escape without a mark on them. Kind of funny to watch a 1,300 pound stallion, a horse with enough power to knock fences down, take the baby bites of 8-month-old babies. And Willy walks away happy, no malice in his acts, or his thoughts. Just a bunch of baby bite marks on his face.

While we wait for new foals this spring, I think back on babies of the past. The heartbreakers come to mind first, the dead foal that greeted us one horrible spring morning, or a dying foal and a tear-filled trip to our veterinarian. The yearling that was born blind, and died on a sunny summer day in a back pasture with my father and a teary-eyed veterinarian by his side. Or the yearling that broke her pelvis, and suffered through months of trying to heal, only to break down on her other leg. That was another trip to a vet in a truck filled with tears, to say goodbye to a brave, beautiful filly who gave it the best fight.

But I also remember the good babies. The foals that remind me why we do this. The baby that spent two days in intensive care as a newborn, and is now a burly 3-year-old gelding learning to jump fences in Texas. The foal from the free breeding that ended up to be a great horse, an awesome broodmare, and who got to come home to me in her final years, to end her life in the same stall where she was born.

I remember the foal from Bridget, my mom's mare, that grew up to be one of the best geldings that ever lived, a horse who never met a person he didn't like, and a gentleman who made my friend's aunt very happy for the last years of his life. I'll never forget the day he was born, shiny as a penny and a baby that made my mom's buttons pop. And I'll also never forget the call from my friend's aunt, to tell us that a good horse had died. We were all lucky to have been a part of his life.

I remember a buckskin filly that we never named, she just grew into a yearling and then was sold. She ended up winning a big futurity, and put my mom on top breeders' lists. She lived with us for a year, and changed the life of a horse trainer and a horse breeder in her later years. And she still graces my walls with a photo of her winning tens of thousands of dollars at a show. Every baby that is born, we silently think, this could be the one, this could be another buckskin filly.

It's not all fun and games in the breeding business. My friend and business partner does 99 percent of the work, and it's work that seems to never end. Last year, Willy bred a mare every day for four months, and on some of those days he bred two mares, and even three mares on a few days. And for every single one of those breedings, my friend was on the other end of Willy's lead rope, making sure that mare owners took home a bred mare, and Willy kept his manners. She did a great job, a job that few people could do. Willy and I owe her a lot, and so do a lot of mare owners who entrusted their mares to us last year and are now waiting for their foals to be born.

Speaking of foals, I believe that they are born trying to commit suicide. I received an e-mail this week of a horse that had gotten her head stuck in a hole in a tree and had to be chainsawed out. My friend, who owns broodmares that are bred to Willy, said that it looked like something that her horses would do. I told her it wasn't just her horses that got in big messes.

One of the worst that happened to Willy was when he tried to go over a fence, but got caught in between two fences. He ended up upside down, wedged down in these fences, with no way to get up. My friend came out to feed, and saw Willy upside down, and figured that he was dead. She went ahead and fed the rest of the horses, and then went over to try and figure out how to get a dead horse away from the fences.

But Willy wasn't dead, he rolled his eye at her, and between the two of them, they figured out a way to get that big dumb stallion out of his predicament. He came away from the incident with a few scratches, but still no respect for fences.

So while we wait for babies to be born and mares to be ready to breed, we watch our horses and count our pennies and wonder why in the world we do this. But when that first foal is born, and we get to go through the biggest miracle of all, the miracle of brand-new life, we remember why we do it. And believe me, it's worth it.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or