I arrive at 9pm. It is dark, and I am cold and utterly exhausted. I have made a promise to myself that after tonight I cannot sleep here anymore on my own. As the nights have gone by, I've become more aware of every noise, every knock, bang, scratch, every spider, and I’ll admit it, I'm getting really scared. My tired imagination is getting the better of me and I've taken to sleeping with my pen knife by my side and the shaft of a broken broom nearby. I've even tied myself into the stable just in case anyone tries to get in. So I make my way up the lane towards the paddock; there are no streetlights, and I have only my phone to light the way. I stumble and curse myself for leaving my torch behind. I am determined this night will be my last, and I relish the thought of getting back to sleeping in a warm comfy bed (as opposed to a flat airbed on concrete, covered in a six foot horse fleece rug and the thinnest sleeping bags I have ever seen).
As I reach the stables, I drop my stuff onto the floor outside and reach around the side of the building to flick on the interior light. As usual, Honey is waiting at the stable door for me, as I step towards her she swings her bum to stand sideways across the doorway. It is in this movement I notice how loose her belly appears to be. I hadn't noticed it jiggle that way before. This raises my suspicions and I peer over her into the dimly lit stable. There in the corner, I see a brown pile… “Is that pooh?” I wonder, and then as the light warms and reaches full brightness, I see, it is indeed a newborn foal! I immediately call for a friend to help, as I am aware of how protective Honey will be now and that trying to retrieve the afterbirth or even enter the stable may be a big risk. While I await her arrival, I sit and give Honey a nice stroke. I am so so proud of her. This tiny baby appears to be sleeping for now, and at this point I intend to keep my distance. I make the call to the out of hours vet and sit back, taking the very first photo of Honey's miracle surprise. It amazes me that ponies can go through beatings, and neglect, and starvation, but the course of nature serves to protect their unborn babies. The vet and my friend arrive, and we all quietly glance into the stable to see the little miracle attempting to stand in the bedding.
A dark chocolate-brown coat of fluff and curly black mane and tail. The vet checks a very wary Honey over, and she rears as soon as the stethoscope touches her, she snaps her head collar and sends me flying backwards into the wall. I am worried; it is at this point where I need to take the option of freedom from her. It is important that the vet checks her over, so I compose myself and step away, allowing my friend to hold her in the corner while I watch from a safe distance. I do not want her to associate me with a bad experience. I search around for the afterbirth but it's nowhere to be seen. Honey's legs are clean, and her tail has no sign of birth or blood or trauma. I have to dig through the bedding until I reach something slimy. It feels fleshy and thick. With gloves on, I retrieve it and place it in a bucket, and then remove it from the stable to assess later. The vet is happy with Honey other than some colicky pain and so gives her a pain relief injection. He then moves onto the foal, confirms that it is a filly.
She is frightened and I can see already that she has taken on Honey's mistrust of people. The vet struggles to check inside her mouth, but other than that he is satisfied that she is healthy and estimates she is around two hours old already. Outside the stable we lay the afterbirth out on the floor, it is incredibly complex, like nothing I have ever seen before. It is an amazing work of nature’s art, being able to sustain and grow a whole new life. I am in awe. We are satisfied it is intact and the right weight (according to the vet, about the same weight as a full grown cat!). I lay the afterbirth to rest in various layers of plastic bag and settle back to watch the TV screen for signs of the baby wanting to suckle. It is the last item on the vet's checklist before he can leave satisfied. With shaky movements, the tiny bundle slowly wobbles to her feet. As she stands she unfolds her gazelle-like legs, they seem so long compared to her body, but already she has control over them. Wondering gently over to her mother, she lowers her head and Honey obliges by taking a slight step to the side. I am proud to see Honey using her maternal instincts, she is already a wonderful, brave and protective mum, and I can see her baby is in very good hands. My work here is done, the relief of knowing I can sleep in a bed tonight is immense. While I did not get to witness the birth, I am humbled to have been a part of Honey's world and allowed the privilege of meeting her new baby girl. I put some fresh hay and a little chaff in for Honey, slip my arm around the corner and switch off the light. As I walk away, the small sounds of rustles leave me with a happy smile on my face. “Welcome to the world, ‘Honey’s Sweet Avermal', Ava for short.”
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