As promised last week, we’ve got a new WTW foal to introduce to you! This guy had a rough entrance into the world and had to spend his first few days at the clinic, but he’s home now and progressing really well, so I think we’re far enough along to share his ordeal.
This little dude was carried by Ginger, a surrogate mare, and the colt is by Utrillo out of Lissa. Being a loaner surrogate mare, Ginger was a bit of an unknown to us as far as what her normal pre-foaling patterns would be. She had milk for several days so she was being watched very closely, and then on Tuesday she was pacing, pacing, pacing up a storm. Clearly she was close and seemed a bit more distressed than what might be considered normal. Mid-afternoon she looked ready, her tail went up… and nothing. No water breaking. It seemed to be taking too long… something was off.
Michelle gloved up and stuck an arm in and felt a rough texture. This was the sign of an emergency. In a normal birth, the foal presents in a smooth whitish colored sac. But in about 1-2% of births the placenta separates prematurely and results in what’s called a red bag delivery. I’ll let the internet explain since they already wrote it up way better than I could:
Dr. Dorton explains that the premature separation of the placenta from the uterus creates a dire situation because it eliminates the foal’s source of oxygen. “Normally, the mare goes into labor, the placenta tears at the cervical star (where it opens into the birth canal), the amnion (the white sack that contains the foal) starts to protrude out of the mare, and the delivery proceeds normally,” Dr. Dorton says. “The foal comes out; then, in the next few minutes to few hours, the placenta releases from the uterus and is delivered.”
“In a red bag delivery, the placenta separates from the uterus quickly, before the foal is delivered. The first indication of labor is the red, velvet appearing placenta, the ‘red bag,’ which is presented first. This is a signal to the foaling personnel that the delivery is not proceeding as normal, and intervention is needed, since the foal is now without a source of oxygen supplied by the attachment of the placenta to the uterus.”
Basically once you know you have a red bag, you have to cut or rip the placenta and get that foal out ASAP. The longer it takes to get them out, the longer they’re without oxygen, and they can easily die or sustain neurological damage. Now, to add insult to injury, Percy wasn’t just a red bag, he was a red bag PLUS a dystocia – he was positioned upside down. The normal position for a foal in the birth canal is this:
Percy was positioned like this:
Typically upside down isn’t too terrible (not as bad as some other wrong presentations, anyway) and if you give the mare some time, usually she will get up and down a couple times or maybe roll a bit and succeed in repositioning the foal on her own. The problem with the whole “wait it out” thing, obviously, was the red bag. That meant he had to come out ASAP, they couldn’t afford to wait for Ginger to reposition him on her own. This is where it’s so important to have experienced foaling attendants that know what they’re doing… things can go really bad really quickly.
Step 1 was to cut open the placenta. That done, they were able to get Ginger up and walk her around for a second, which helped moved the foal just enough for them to start to manually turn him. It took two people, turning him and pulling at the same time Ginger was pushing, to get him out as fast as possible. If not for their quick thinking and quick actions, there’s no doubt Percy wouldn’t have survived.
The good news is that he was breathing on his own and hadn’t seemed to aspirate much fluid, so he was fairly stable all things considered. The bad news is that he was slightly dysmature (“undercooked”-looking if you will, for a newborn). No time was wasted in hooking up the trailer, loading Ginger up and carrying him in, and hauling them to the clinic. He was there within an hour and half of birth.
Luckily he was fairly active and had a good suck reflex right from the very start – he definitely wanted to nurse. Often if they’ve been compromised from oxygen deprivation they just seem dull and uninterested in nursing, which is obviously really bad. Their quick thinking and getting him out in time prevented that, thank goodness. But being dysmature meant his legs were a bit floppy and unstable, thus he had a hard time balancing on his own to nurse and needed to be bottle fed for the first day or so to make sure he got enough. The clinic also got some plasma into him ASAP, along with some meds and fluids and antibiotics (another potential complication for red bag foals is pneumonia if they aspirate too much fluid, luckily he seemed fine in that regard), and ran some bloodwork.
He responded very quickly to treatment. After a couple days he was steady enough on his feet to nurse on his own, no more bottle assistance required, and he quickly started showing the normal foal spunkiness. His bloodwork improved by the day, he continued getting meds, and within a few days the IV catheter was able to come out. Other than looking a little underdeveloped, you would never know that anything had ever gone awry.
It will probably take him a few weeks to catch up to what would be “normal” looking for a newborn, but other than that he’s doing well. His lax limbs are already starting to tighten up and straighten, and he’s put on some weight. He’s getting a little bit of “PT” and has to stay on a more restricted turnout schedule for while until his legs get a bit stronger. He’s plenty spunky though, and makes good use of the space he has. He’ll be segregated from the other foals for a little while until he’s filled out more, but knock on wood so far he appears to be no worse for wear. Heck of a birth story though, and probably took a few years off Michelle’s life! This is the really scary part about breeding that always freaks me out a bit. It’s terrifying when things go sideways.
It took a few days to come up with a name for him but there’s really nothing better for him in a P naming year than Perseverance WTW, aka Percy. At not even a week old this kiddo has already been through the ringer and overcome a lot of challenges. Hopefully he’ll always keep that same tenacity.