The Christmas Foal
by Girl Bard
After a wonderful Christmas Eve celebration that included spiked eggnog, and a big production of our own (much more fun) version of ‘trim up the tree’, I had a first-class ticket to the dreamland express.
That is until several loud bumps make me feel like I have just been booted off of the train.
Stirring in bed, my eyes open slightly as the unfamiliar sounds disrupt the otherwise silent night.
“Dena?” I whisper loudly as the noises become louder and seemingly more urgent.
My tall lover shoots straight up in bed. “Gen, are you okay?”
“Do you hear what I hear?” I ask her as my eyes frantically search the dimly lit room. Everything seems as we left it before falling asleep late last night, or was it early this morning? My head is fuzzy.
Must be the eggnog.
Sitting up, I clutch the sheets to my naked form. The noise continues, sounding like it is above us.
“Where is it coming from?” I ask, still concerned, but my worry fades as Dena grins brightly, her white teeth flashing in the darkness. She leaps out of bed and begins to hurriedly put on clothes, freakishly awake for 4 am.
“Welcome Christmas.” I mutter as I yawn and look at her as if she’s crazy.
“Upstairs.” She says, and the light bulb goes on in my spinning head.
“Ohh, Santa is up on the housetop, huh?” I joke as I follow her lead and began to dress quickly.
She grins again at my outfit, the green sleeves of my jacket stark against my pink pajama pants. Scowling at her I run my hands through my messy hair as she pulls hers back into a braid.
In reality, I know that the loud thumps and footsteps coming from the room above ours is really Jorge quickly making his way down to the barn, wakened by the alerts from his foaling alarm.
Blue is in foal.
Dena and I hurry out of the house, easily catching up with Jorge. The tall man looks tired; probably from the party last night, but his dark eyes dance with the excitement of welcoming a new life into the world.
Even though it’s a quarter of dawn. But I seem to be the only one who is the least bit hungover. Good thing, since I know nothing about birthin’ no babies.
I giggle to myself at my own joke and ignore the curious stares from both Dena and Jorge.
The night is warm and clear, and the fresh air quickly sobers me up.
Florida has been of normal temperature this time of year, and while I love the heat and warmth, I truly miss the snow and cold weather, at least on Christmas Eve.
I sigh audibly as I glance around at the palm trees; their heavy fronds dancing in the warm night.
“Dreaming of a white Christmas?” Dena asks knowingly, her breath warm in my ear.
“More like a Blue Christmas, huh?” Jorge answers and Dena and I chuckle in agreement. The three of us climb into his truck and drive down to the barn.
Blue is an old mare, her once dark dappled gray coat now almost white. Her registered name is Pretty Paper, and she once was an important mare on a farm in Kentucky. As she got older, and newer bloodlines became popular, her value decreased and she found herself on a truck bound for slaughter.
Dena and I found out about her plight a month before Thanksgiving and decided to bring her home for the holidays. The mare was with foal, the sire an un-raced young stallion on the same farm.
It seems Blue had a taste for younger men, and after the coupling was discovered, it was decided by the officials on that Kentucky farm neither the old mare nor her unborn foal was worth keeping around.
Of course Dena couldn’t see her be slaughtered, so now on Christmas Eve, a new life will be born. Dena and I hoped she would deliver after the New Year in order for the foal to have a fair chance should he or she ever race.
Because all racehorses officially celebrate their birthdays on January 1st, a foal born tonight will be one-year-old next week.
Pretty unfair, and most foals unfortunate enough to be born right before the New Year never overcome this particular handicap and do not race.
But Dena and I don’t care; both mother and baby can live out their lives in luxury on our farm.
The first Noel I actually have a home and someone to spend it with. A few days ago Dena asked me what I most desired for Christmas, and I told her truthfully; all I want for Christmas is you. I don’t need anything else, but the bonus of having a new little foal to play with is pretty cool.
Jorge pulls the truck up and we get out into the clear night, hurrying one after another into the main barn.
A familiar bay head appears over the stall partition, the bold white blaze stark against the black forelock.
Foxfire greets us with a low rumble, her bright eyes curious as to why her two moms and Jorge are in the barn so late.
Dena waves to filly and tosses an apple to me that was hidden somewhere in her clothes.
I catch it and pause to scratch the Triple Crown winner’s ears and give her a quick kiss on her white nose. Offering her the apple, her whiskers tickle my palm as she daintily nibbles at it.
“Hey Baby.” I coo to her, fingering the jingle bells Dena has attached to parts of her long mane. I swear the filly likes to hear the sound they make as she runs. She is just that kind of filly.
“There’s going to be a new baby born tonight, a baby just like you.” I give her one last pat. “I’ll fill you in on all the details later.”
Jogging down the main aisle to catch up with Dena and Jorge, I admire the interior of the barn; the holly and the ivy bringing a festive look to the Florida stable.
Instead of playing deck the halls, we instead decked the stalls and hung stockings for each horse and plenty of safe greenery for them to munch on. We even put little fake fireplaces on all the red horses’ stalls. You know, chestnuts roasting on an open fire?
We thought it was funny, but some of the staff didn’t get it. I wonder as a wander down the aisle why certain people get jokes and others don’t?
Concentrating on the task at hand I try to focus, which isn’t easy considering I’ve had no sleep at all and am kinda drunk.
Blue’s stall is on the end to give her the most privacy. It’s a double wide foaling stall, and when we arrive the mare is laying down in the thick straw, damp splotches of perspiration covering her entire body.
Her sides are heaving with the exertion of her contractions and the foal’s sac has already burst, evident by the wetness all around her.
“She’s pretty far along.” Dena mentions quietly, and the gray mare’s heavy ears flick back at the sound of the trainer’s low voice.
“Should we go in?” I ask, my hand on the heavy latch keeping the stall door shut.
Jorge puts a warm hand on mine. “Leave her be, she’s done this many times before.”
I nod, my excitement at seeing a foal born getting the better of me.
Blue surges to her feet and begins pacing around the stall. Her large head bobs up and down as she pushes hard.
“Watch.” Dena instructs.
The gray mare collapses to her knees, rolling her heavy body onto its side. Minutes later, two perfect small hooves appear. I gasp a combination of excitement and disbelief. Dena’s long fingers find their way to mine and she gently grasps my hand.
Jorge disappears, quickly returning with a pile of clean white towels. He sets them down on the chair outside of Blue’s stall and folds his long arms on the railing, watching the mare’s every move.
Another push, and a tiny nose appears, the nostrils quivering in attempts to breathe. It is too early to tell, with the dark amniotic fluid covering the foal, but it seems to be black with white legs.
Now the head is out, and the mare seems to pause for a minute as if to rest. She lays her head down in the straw, stretching her neck and legs out.
“Poor old girl.” Dena comments. “She’s already had thirteen foals, this must be exhausting her.”
The foal struggles to come the rest of the way out, and after a moment Jorge opens the stall door and quietly enters.
“What’s happening?” I ask Dena, worried that something is the matter.
“She’s fine, he’s just going to help her.” The trainer answers, her hand still firmly holding mine.
Blue doesn’t even seem to acknowledge the tall foaling man’s presence in the stall. He gently wips the mucus away from the foal’s quivering nose.
After cleaning off the foal’s face, he places his large hands around the midsection of the foal. When Blue’s muscles begin to ripple he ever so slightly begins to pull. Heaving a sigh of relief, the mare gives one final push and the rest of the foal slides out.
“Oh my God.” I mutter, feeling slightly nauseous at all the fluid and gunk pouring out of the mare. “That’s beautiful, yet really disgusting.” Swallowing loudly, I add, “This is why you’re going to carry all of our children.”
Dena laughs, her voice low. Her attentive blue eyes search the struggling body of the foal as it thrashes around in the straw.
“That’s a big foal.” The trainer comments, tearing her gaze away from the new life to look into my eyes. “Foxy was a midget in comparison.”
“I can’t believe you got to watch her being born, I can’t even imagine her as anything else than how she is now.” I add, wishing I had been there to see the birth of our champion.
“She was the most adorable filly.” Jorge comments from the inside of the stall. “All legs and eyes. It only took her about five minutes to get to her feet.”
Blue rests for a few minutes as Jorge wipes the foal down with the warm towels. As he finishes with the foal, the exhausted mare gracelessly gets to her feet.
“Glad she’s up, she was beginning to worry me.” Dena mutters and I nod in agreement. At twenty years old, the mare should be enjoying her retirement in a big pasture somewhere, not giving birth in such a weakened state.
But the foal is healthy, and she seems to be doing okay.
I guess there really are Christmas miracles, or at least it’s that time of year where anything seems possible.
Moving over to her baby, Blue begins to clean the foal’s dark coat with long, powerful licks of her tongue. She concentrates on his face, thoroughly getting the remaining crud out of his nose, eyes, and ears.
The foal bobs uneasily in the straw under its mother’s strong cleaning. She covers his entire fuzzy coat with her nurturing administrations.
“I’ll go prepare her mash.” Jorge mentions, referring to the nutritional meal given to mares after giving birth. He excuses himself from the stall and heads to the small kitchen at the other end of the aisle.
“Look!” I exclaim as the foal places it’s unsteady front legs up in a crouched position. “Is it going to stand?”
Rocking unsteadily, the white legs of the foal try to spring upward. Blue places her muzzle underneath the foal’s belly, encouraging it. The help from its mother is too much and soon the foal is careening down back into the straw.
“Oh, it’s so cute, like when Bambi tried to stand up on the ice.” I giggle, and Dena shoots me a look.
“What?” I ask, crossing my arms in front of me. “He does!”
She slides open the latch for the stall and cautiously enters. “Get in here.” She orders me and I eagerly comply. “I can’t stand calling the poor thing ‘it’ anymore.” My lover complains as she instructs me to gently hold the foal’s front end upright.
I do, careful not to scare the baby. It seems completely at ease with our presence, and the mare outright ignores us. She’s been through this enough times to understand that humans won’t hurt her baby.
Dena quickly inspects the foal’s hindquarters before helping me gently ease it down back into the straw.
“Well?” I ask, the anticipation killing me.
“It’s a boy!” She answers, her glossy black hair sparkling underneath the lights of the stable.
“Yay!” I do a silly little happy dance around the stall just as Jorge returns with a steaming bucket of feed, carrying in a wheelbarrow. He glances at me, a smile on his creased face as he pours the contents into Blue’s feed bin.
Blue knickers and immediately moves to her feed bucket. All of the other horses inside their stalls voice their jealously as the aroma of warm sweet grain, apples, and molasses greets them.
“A colt?” The foaling man asks and I nod excitedly. “What’s his name?” Jorge continues as he enters the stall and efficiently begins to clean out all the soiled bedding.
I glance at the trainer who is studying the foal with critical eyes. As I thought, he seems now to be either black or a dark gray with white legs and a blaze. He’s very large and gangly, with a big, noble head.
“Don’t know yet.” Dena murmurs as she quietly approaches the foal and begins to move her hands over him.
I leave the stall, not wanting to overwhelm mother or foal. Dena caresses every inch of the foal, handling his ears and even opening his tiny mouth and sticking her fingers inside.
She’s imprinting him, I suddenly realize; and I watch, completely entranced. Many breeders prefer to imprint newborn foals; it’s a process that involves getting the foal used to human touching. If they are handled from the beginning and learn it doesn’t hurt them to have humans putting things in their mouths and picking up their feet, it makes them a great deal calmer when being trained in the future.
I’ve never actually seen anyone do this, and it’s incredible to watch. With care and precision, Dena handles the colt’s feet and legs. She moves to his girth area and hugs him tightly around the middle. This causes his head to shoot up, but otherwise he doesn’t seem overly alarmed. She continues her touching for a few minutes when he begins to struggle to his feet.
“He’s hungry.” The trainer comments as she joins me outside of the stall, wiping her hands on one of the clean towels.
“That was amazing.” I tell her and she grins.
“You can do it next time, okay?” The beautiful trainer responds. “I’ll teach you.”
Giving her a genuine smile, I wrap my arm around her trim waist as we watch in rapture as the colt rises unsteadily on four feet.
He barely makes it up before falling again. Minutes fly by as the colt tries again and again, finally pulling himself up on long spindly legs and sustaining his position.
Pumping my fist in the air, I share in his victory.
The colt’s nostrils flair and he issues a shrill call to his mother, just finishing off the last few morsels of her mash. She crosses over to him, her hooves heavy in the dense straw and he unsteadily begins to nurse.
We all laugh at his loud slurps, his tiny black tail swishing with happiness.
“Rudolph.” I exclaim, and Dena looks at me strangely. “His name.” I add and she rolls her eyes.
“As in Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer?” She answers, obviously horrified at the name.
“Yeah.” I grin at her, my nose crinkling. “Just think when he’s at the track, we all could shout, run Rudolph, run!”
Jorge laughs as I elbow Dena in the side to show her I’m just kidding.
The foaling man gets in on the game. “Rudolph is no good, isn’t he the one who ran over grandma?”
We both look at him like he’s insane.
“You know, that urban legend of how some grandma got run over by a reindeer? The question asked in his heavy Spanish accent sounds hysterical, especially when he breaks into a wide smile.
“Dork.” I tease him before turning my attention back to the serious thought of the new colt’s name.
“How about Feliz Navidad?” I ask and Dena cocks her head, thinking.
“Nah.” She responds and I notice Jorge shaking his head.
“Mr. Hankey the Christmas poo?” I try and Dena giggles.
“You are such a nut.” She answers, glancing at the newborn colt one last time. “Jorge, we’re going to head back to the house. I’ll check on the foal first thing in the morning. That means you can have tomorrow off. Have yourself a merry little Christmas.” Dena finishes with a grin, and the large man beams. He’ll love to be able to spend the holiday with his family.
“Would you like me to drive you to the house?” He asks graciously, but Dena shakes her head.
“I think Gen and I will take the long way back.” She tells him, looking to me for confirmation.
I grin and take her hand in mine as we walk out of the barn.
“Woods?” I ask her and she nods, smiling in the moonlight. We cross over the river and through the woods, silently enjoying each other’s company. The south wind blows my short hair back, the pleasant coolness tickling my neck.
It is a perfect night.
“It came upon a midnight clear.” I break the quiet and don’t have to look up into Dena’s eyes to find her gazing at me quizzically.
“That’s how I’ll begin to tell our great-grandchildren the story of the Christmas foal.” I answer, meeting her bright blue eyes.
Black is the color of my Dena’s hair, peppered with streaks of red and blue. Against the full moon it looks like a raven in the snow. Her eyes have unshed tears as she suddenly stops walking and cups my face tenderly in her hand.
“Gen, this Christmas is all I could ever need or want. The gift of your love is so great it sometimes scares me.” She smiles, the movement of her cheeks causing her tears to overflow and escape.
They glisten on her face like snowflakes and I can’t stop myself from kissing them away, the bitter saltiness tart on my tongue.
“I always thought, perhaps love wasn’t in the cards for me until I met you. Now I can’t imagine my life any other way.” The trainer continues, ducking her head slightly. “I can’t wait to have a future with you.”
“You do.” I promise her. Taking her warm hand in mine I continue our walk. “Come on, let’s go home.”
We continue in silence for a few moments, until Dena speaks, her low voice resonating in the clear night.
“If you could have one wish right now, what would it be?” She asks and I smile.
“Snow.” I lament. “That’s the only thing I miss about the north, and I don’t even really miss it. Just now on Christmas.”
“You didn’t want to go home for Christmas?” The trainer asks, her voice quiet.
“I’ll be home for Christmas.” I answer, equally as quiet. “Because I’ll be with you. But it would be nice to have some snow so we could at least go on a sleigh ride.”
Her hand tightens around mine. “What’s it like?”
“The snow?” I respond and she nods her head.
“Up north, it’s like the snow is the entire spirit of the season. Huge, white flakes fall and everyone plays in it. We build things, like Frosty the snowman, and children make angels in the snow. It’s beautiful.”
“Silly, I know what snow is like. I have been in snow before, you know.” She chides me and I look at her curiously.
“Than what did you want to know? What’s what like?”
Dena smiles. “I wanted to know what it was like to wake up to snow on Christmas morning.”
“Oh.” I answer, grinning. Clearing my throat slightly I remember back to a time when I was ten years old.
“It’s magic.” I begin as I release her hand and gesture to the sky. “One of my best Christmas memories was when I was ten. I didn’t believe in Santa any more, but my little sister did.”
“You have a sister?” Dena asks and I nod. I realize just how little she knows of my past or my family, all done purposely on my part. One day I’ll tell her everything.
“That’s an entirely different story.” I tease and she makes a motion like she is zipping her lips.
“So my little sister is four and big on the idea that Santa Claus is coming to town and all that crap. I’ll never forget her sitting on my father’s lap with the toy ads, begging ‘Please, Daddy I need that!’ He would just roll his eyes, but she couldn’t help it. She was the perfect age to still expect presents from the big guy upstairs and to not understand that our parents were too busy drinking their money away to have presents.” I snort. “Christmas time in hell.”
Dena’s hand finds mine and gives it a sympathetic squeeze.
I feel the tears welling in my eyes and I will them away, trying to remember the good parts of this particular memory.
“I knew the only thing under the tree would the Swiss colony beef log my father got as a Christmas bonus, but how do you explain that to a four year old?” I sigh, determined to get to the better parts of the story.
“So I convinced my sister when she hurried up and got in bed that Santa Claus is on his way and everything would be fine. I tucked her in and told her that when Santa couldn’t fit anymore presents on his sleigh he would send Christmas snow as a present instead.”
I remember the trusting look on my little sister’s face and wonder what she is doing for Christmas this year. I sent her a lot of money from my Triple Crown winnings, knowing she’s trying to put herself through school. She thanked me in letter and begged me to please come home for Christmas. I didn’t know how to explain to her that I was already home.
“What happened?” Dena asked, bringing me out of my daze.
“I wrapped up some of my old toys and put them under our fake tree. Then I went to bed and prayed for someone to let it snow. I must have prayed all night, because I don’t even remember falling asleep. Next thing I know, Tara was waking me up bright and early to open presents.”
My tears gather and well as I recall the heightened emotions revolving around that Christmas.
“My parents were passed out on the couch, the television blaring. I tried to wake my mother and she mumbled Merry fucking Christmas to us. Nice, huh?”
Dena makes an angry noise in the back of her throat and clenches my hand.
“But, here’s the good part.” I reassure her. “Outside, was a winter wonderland. There must have been at least six inches of snow. It was beautiful, large icicles hung off the gutters like silver bells. Tara had seen snow before, but really believed this was magical Christmas snow left by Santa because she had been so good. I helped her into her snowsuit and we stayed outside most of the day. For us, in that moment it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
“That’s a horribly sad, but beautiful story.” Dena comments.
“It is sad, but the sadness is in the past.” I assure her. “Besides, there was joy too. And now, it’s a full circle of joy and I feel almost like a kid again. I get to wake up Christmas morning with you and a farm filled with friends and horses. What more could I want?”
I stop as we’ve reached the farmhouse and take both her hands in mine.
Gazing into her eyes, I am amazed by the intensity of the blue I find there.
“I love you more than anything.” I tell my love.
“I love you. Merry Christmas.” She replies, kissing me soundly.
We kiss forever, and reluctantly break. I run my hands through her dark, thick hair and scatter droplets of dust from the barn and dew that have gathered through our walk in the woods.
Dena gazes up at the full moon, as the shiny droplets seem to be floating around in the air. “Is it snowing?” She asks, her voice hushed and surprise evident.
“Yeah, it is.” I answer her before pulling her inside and back into bed.
Okay, so it wasn’t snow, simply the reflection of the moon on the dust particles.
But everyone deserves to believe in Christmas snow.