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In For A Penny, In For A Pound

Trot Feature

A Caesarean section isn’t something that is often successful in the equine world, but when the Kadabra mare Stay In Touch needed one

this past spring in a last ditch effort to save her foal, Ann Straatman of Seelster Farms and the mare’s owner, Bob McIntosh thought it was worth a try. The experience of the team at Seelster, and the many vets involved, all helped along the way, but it was the love of a surrogate mom - a Clydesdale named Silky Shoe Bottom - and maybe even a bit of a miracle, that truly helped give the story a happy ending. By Rachel Oenema.

If you flipped through a Webster’s dictionary and had to choose one word as the most important in the English vocabulary, what word would that be?

Maybe the most important word, and perhaps one of the most underrated, would be ‘experience’ – a word with several different mean-ings, all being extremely crucial in navigating through life.

For example, the first definition of experience is: “Practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of, or partici-pation in, events, or in a particular activity.” As in when you go to a job interview and the first question you are asked is ‘what is your job experience like?’ Then, typically, the individual with the most experience lands the job.

The next definition of experience is: “Something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through.” The first time you rode a roller coaster perhaps, and loved it – or hated it – either way you remembered that experience.

Experience plays a huge role in all aspects of the harness racing industry, whether you’re a trainer listing an experienced driver on your horse, an owner selecting an experienced trainer to train your horse, a driver knowing how to handle specific situations on the racetrack because of past experiences, or even a breeder, who knows when to make the right calls during breeding and/or foaling season.

Perhaps it’s the experience behind everyone involved in this feature article that is why we are able to provide you with this true miracle of a story.

* * * *

This story begins in Lucan, Ontario at Seelster Farms, one of the most successful breeding operations in Canada, and recently the breed-er and seller of the highest priced yearling to ever sell at auction in this country when Marlboro Seelster exited the sales ring after the hammer dropped at $270,000, last fall, at the London Selected Yearling Sale.

While Seelster is home to many mares that stay at the farm year round, their own mares, foals, yearlings and stallions are not the only business of Seelster Farms.

“Foaling [outside] mares is actually a big part of our business, we foaled 119 foals this year and about 60 are resident mares... the other 60 are mares that come to us for foaling and breeding,” notes Ann Straatman, who’s third generation breeding experience plays a crucial role in this story.

Trainer Bob McIntosh, an experienced veteran trainer, who has trained horses to over $100 million in career earnings and is enshrined in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall Of Fame, as are some of his trainees, knows how important proper experience is when it comes to foal-ing mares - he therefore sends all of his mares to Seelster Farms to foal out and be bred.

That is why McIntosh’s eight-year-old mare Stay In Touch (Kadabra - Dial Nile) was sent to Seelster on March 3, 2020 - to deliver her Lookslikeachpndale foal that was expected to arrive around the end of March.

However, Stay In Touch’s journey to Seelster would prove to be a bit more than your typical ride in the trailer.

“When she was on her way here she went down in the trailer,” recalls Straatman, the Co-Owner and Reproduction Manager at Seelster. “We were able to get her up but she went down in the stall again overnight and couldn’t get up. You could tell that she wasn’t well, she was holding her head off to the side and she wasn’t comfortable. It was obvious that she had issues and we weren’t exactly sure what was wrong.”

Stay In Touch continued to be unable to stand on her own, which led the team at Seelster to try another avenue to determine what was wrong and how to effectively help the mare and her soon-to-be born foal.

“We hoisted her up using straps and blocking tackle and we were able to get her up again, but she wouldn’t eat, she was in pain and we really couldn’t tell what was wrong with her. We took her blood and sent it away for testing to make sure she didn’t have any type of neuro-logical herpes and to see if we could figure out what was wrong with her. We also thought that because she went down in the trailer she could have head or neck trauma, so we started treating her for those possibilities as well using IV fluids and other medications to help re-duce the swelling and keep her comfortable. We also gave her analgesics to help keep her pain under control as much as we could,” says Straatman.

Straatman credits the highly experienced father-daughter duo of Dr. Stan and Dr. Jackie Henderson, who have provided veterinary ser-vices to Seelster Farms for many years as the team who initiated all test procedures conducted on Stay In Touch to determine what was wrong with the mare.

“We tried to let her stand on her own on the Thursday of that week and she [still] wouldn’t take her own weight. At that point she was in so much pain that we couldn’t manage it anymore. All her test results came back negative for any illnesses or virus, and while we couldn’t figure out what was wrong – we weren’t making her any better.”

This led to the decision of what to do with the mare who was just weeks away from her due date.

“We had decided that the only thing left... was humane euthinasia to end all her pain. It was a very difficult decision but I consulted with her owner Bob McIntosh and explained the situation she was in, which also prompted the question if he wanted us to try and save her foal – which was 15 days from her due date.”

Straatman continued to explain that during this time in a mare’s pregnancy, saving a foal can be extremely difficult, and can make for a touch-and-go situation because the foal’s lungs would not yet be fully developed.

McIntosh, who has bred countless champions, entertained the idea of saving the foal without hesitation.

“I have a two-year-old Muscle Mass filly out of her that I like, she is just starting to figure things out, and even though she only made around $40,000 herself she comes from a very good family, which was why I opted to do everything we could to save the foal,” said McIn-tosh.

She comes from a very good family indeed as Stay In Touch is a full sister to multiple stakes winning stallion Text Me (3,1:54.3s; $931,853), who was exported to Sweden in 2011.

With the decision made to try and save Stay In Touch’s foal, she was then scheduled and prepped for a Caesarean section delivery, a de-livery method that is quite uncommon for horses.

“C-sections are very uncommon in the [horse] breeding industry and sometimes it is price prohibited as it is very costly for a mare to have one, and it’s quite rare to be able to save both mare and foal. They also need to be performed in extremely sterile surgical rooms… we entrusted Dr. Henderson to carry out the procedure right at Seelster since she was going to be euthanized – we wanted to make the process for her as comfortable as we could,” says Straatman as she somewhat nervously recalls the event.

“We anesthetized the mare as if she was having surgery, we froze the area of where her incision was going to be, and we performed the C-section and took the foal out. But when you anesthetize the mare, the foal is anesthetized when they’re born, so we did artificial respiration [on her] when we got her out and then kept her on oxygen until she could breathe on her own.”

When Stay In Touch’s foal was finally able to take her first breaths on her own, she was loaded into the backseat of a pickup truck and headed down the 401 to the University Of Guelph, where one of the finest teams of equine veterinarians have made miracles happen on more than one occasion.

“We had the truck warm and ready outside. We put her on a big dog bed in the back seat, Tina [Howard] rode with her and Jimmy drove... we got her to Guelph as fast as we could where we then transferred her over to the care of Dr. Memo Arroyo.

Dr. Memo Arroyo is a highly talented and highly educated equine veterinarian who graduated veterinary school in 1994 in his native Cos-ta Rica, then travelled to Canada where he has worked at the Ontario Veterinary College for 20 years now.

“Dr. Arroyo was amazing right from the get-go. The foal had a lot of issues, she wasn’t able to stand right away and when she was being fed through a feeding tube, her intestines wouldn’t work... there was no peristalsis for the milk to flow. She received IV nutrition, was on oxygen and battled diarrhea - she was a very sick foal,” Straatman noted.

Peristalsis are the regular, rhythmic muscular contractions that propel the food in a timely manner.

Dr. Arroyo best described the situation as extremely day-by-day.

“When we receive a foal like this we instantly put the baby in intensive care, which means we feed them, we turn them around from one side to the other so they don’t develop any pressure or sores, we put them on oxygen and treat them with antibiotics right away in case there is any infection or to prevent any infection. I always tell my students that 50% of the battle in a case like this is nurse care – looking after the foal and taking care of them, and the other 50% is medicine – knowing how and what to treat them with. These situations are very intense.”

Dr. Arroyo and his team persisted in helping the foal with daily improvement, with her being the driving force to their motivation to save this miracle foal.

“She improved day-by-day, she was fed every hour through a feeding tube and we constantly gave her everything she needed, with time be-ing one of the most important things. In the span of one weekend she was able to get up and was running around everywhere, she was put-ting on weight and had more energy,” Dr. Arroyo added.

Despite the improvements that she had made, the foal nicknamed ‘Falafel’ was far from in the clear as she developed a patent urachus – when urine leaks from a foal’s bladder through their umbilical stump and creates severe potential for infection, because as foals lay down the umbilicus can be exposed to manure and other bacteria. This prompted Falafel’s connections to have to decide if she would undergo surgery to have her navel removed.

“Bob decided to go with the surgery - he figured she was already this much of a miracle that we had to do this to save her... with every-thing she had already gone through and overcome, what was one more thing?” says Straatman.

Falafel and her connections were already in for a penny and in for a pound. Just as the old saying goes - once one is already involved in something, they may as well go the entire way.

“When the babies are down for a long period of time they get infections so we had to take out her navel, it’s not an uncommon procedure at all and sometimes the infection can be what holds them back from continuing to develop. Her surgery went smooth and was successful,” notes Dr. Arroyo.

Falafel the miracle baby had already overcome so much in her short life, and showed everyone around her such true grit and determina-tion, but another ‘however’ came into play because now that she was strong enough to stand and start to become a normal foal, she would be in need of a nurse mare.

Introducing Silky Shoe Bottom, a 21-year-old Clydesdale mare who is an absolute nurse mare extraordinaire.

“Silky has raised a lot of foals for us over the years, about seven to be exact. In her first year she even raised two foals at the same time. There are not too many words to describe her other than that she is a complete sweetheart of a mare. We started her on lactation induction medication and then brought Silky to the University Of Guelph to be with the foal,” said Straatman.

Lactation induction medication is given to a mare in order to get them to start producing milk, it is a relatively new technique intro-duced to the breeding industry that provides an alternative to having to breed a nurse mare like Silky every year in order for her to do so.

“Not all mares will take to another foal, they can tell if it’s not their foal if it doesn’t sound or smell like their own. Silky is in an entirely different category, she is so loving and she lets other foals come up to her and see her – she never hurts them, she has the perfect nature to be a nurse mare,” added Straatman.

Perhaps it is that nature of Silky that led to an instant bond between her and her new foal.

“Silky took to her [Falafel] like nothing. The team at Guelph said that even before they were put together, Silky would call out to the foal, and it was as though she knew what her true purpose there was,” Straatman says in a proud tone.

The instant bond between Silky and Falafel was so beautiful that even the team at U fo G couldn’t help but notice. “The nurse mare was so wonderful... she took to the baby instantly from the get-go, it really was amazing to see,” adds Dr. Arroyo.

With Falafel being one step closer to being a ‘normal’ foal and having established an instant connection to her new mom, it was time to travel back to Seelster Farms and bid adieu to the team at Guelph that saved her life and helped to give us this miracle story.

“She’s a 100% percent regular foal now, she’s in a group with 4 other mares and their foals. Her and Silky came back here to Seelster on March 27th but now live at Dave Boyle’s farm. Dave is a partner of Bob’s and does an absolutely excellent job of raising them. When she is weaned then Silky will come back home to Seelster. She is a beautiful filly, she’s strong and she’s tough and has beautiful confirmation,” Straatman adds happily.

A miracle - that would be the best way to describe Falafel’s entrance into this world. With the amount of problems she faced and the ex-tended list of problems she could have faced, she overcame everything thrown at her. Her miraculous story has touched everyone involved in a very special way - a way that will have everyone connected to her following her journey to someday becoming a racehorse, where tough-ness is one of the main ingredients in the recipe to being great.

“I think one of the most important things in this case was how quickly we got the baby after she was born, which comes from the expe-rience of everyone at Seelster knowing they had to get the baby to us as fast as possible. I was very impressed that everyone was so enthusias-tic about investing to help this baby, because it is costly, but it’s very gratifying to see the babies go home and live normal lives. She is a mir-acle – that is for sure,” Dr. Arroyo says in a joyous tone.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this filly for overcoming what she has, and Silky, she is a story herself. You will probably never see another nurse mare like her ever again,” says Straatman, who also credits the exceptional work of her experienced staff in the making of this mira-cle.

“Teamwork played a big part in this. My sisters and I are third generation in the breeding industry and it’s the years of experience on how to handle things that helps us immensely. We don’t always do things because that’s how we have always done them, we are always look-ing to improve our pedigrees and our nutrition, our techniques, breeding and foaling. We have staff that is properly taught and well experi-enced and can recognize when there is going to be an issue.”

There’s no doubt - the importance of real experience cannot be replaced when it comes to the equine breeding industry.

So now that she is well on her way to a regular life as a Standardbred race horse, perhaps the next question in Falafel’s journey is going to be what to name the miracle filly?

“It was very costly, but I was pleasantly surprised with how well everything went, and I couldn’t be happier that we have her here today,” McIntosh eagerly added. “I’m not sure exactly what we will name her but we will have to name her something special, maybe something to do with the miracle that she is.”

A miracle this filly truly is, but experience definitely helped get her on her way, and in our industry we are blessed to have many partici-pants, like the teams from Seelster Farms and the University of Guelph, that have the experience to grab an assist along the way, in helping make miracles happen.

This feature originally appeared in the August issue of TROT Magazine. Subscribe to TROT today by clicking the banner below.

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