By Elizabeth Janoski
It began a few weeks ago when I was idly flipping through YouTube channels, looking for something warm and sunny to carry me away from the below zero weather in my neck of the woods. I’d surfed in Hawaii, walked the beaches of southwest Florida, and explored a rainforest in Costa Rica. But that day, I found something a little closer to home: Spanish Bunny, one of the five broodmares starring on this year’s Foal Patrol.
Sponsored by the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, Foal Patrol offers folks like me a glimpse of the life and times of expectant Thoroughbred mares on different farms. Spanish Bunny is at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky, which is significantly south of me. Every morning when Spanish Bunny gets turned out in a lovely large paddock with another overly expectant mare, I see open fields and the promise of spring. The horses amble around nibbling here and there for a few sunny hours. Sometime around 1 PM, it’s time for Spanish Bunny to go back to her comfortable stall to sort through some lovely alfalfa hay and nap.
You might think that the only thing more boring than watching an expectant broodmare is watching paint dry, but Spanish Bunny’s easy demeanor and, as Thoreau said, her choice to live life deliberately, calms my frustration and boredom through this last bit of winter’s freezing grip. A time when I am not able to do much with my own horse except to try to not feed her too many carrots when the weather permits visits.
Bunny, as I’ve come to call her, keeps me company while I am grading papers. She is in the corner of my eye when I am working on a fiber project. Lately, I have taken to spending a few overnight hours keeping Bunny company while she tries to sleep.
There is something meditative about the thoughtful way a ruminant creature eats. Bunny spends most of her stall time slow grazing on her alfalfa hay. I am amazed at the sheer amount of food she manages to consume over the course of the day. I’d guess she is given at least a bale of alfalfa hay a day. She sorts slowly but it appears eventually she eats every scrap and then for dessert, she noses at the straw bedding bale left in the corner of her stall.
Like any lady in the last stages of her pregnancy, Bunny finds it nigh on impossible to get comfortable for any length of time. She lays down for a short period of time but that appears to be very uncomfortable because after a sorry attempt to roll on her back she, with the gracefulness of a whale, climbs back to her feet. She starts shifting her back feet as she nods her head, trying to doze. She aggressively sorts through the straw bedding as if there were a carrot hidden in it then takes up what appears to be her most comfortable position. She backs her behind up against the wall of her stall to support some of the considerable extra weight she is carrying, eyes half-closed. She has a favorite spot to do this so she can look out of her door if anything interesting is happening outside her stall.
She looked so miserably pregnant that I fully expected to see a foal beside her the next morning. When I eagerly tuned in, there she was on turnout, floating across her paddock like a weirdly shaped balloon. She was in the company of another broodmare, who was due in January.
January came and went. So did Bunny’s due date, February 2nd. I learned from Foal Patrol that a mare can carry a foal up to twenty days after the expected due date. The only practical thing to do is wait.
And wait some more.
Bunny’s stall lights are on 24 hours a day, which is supposed to hurry things on a bit – but so far to no avail. She is the perfect picture of a lady in waiting. I will wait with her for as long as it takes.
In addition to following Spanish Bunny and four other broodmares this year, Foal Patrol offers interactive opportunities for people expecting their own foals to share photos and experiences. There is an Education Blog with information on topics from equine careers, equine health, and a topic close to my own heart: aftercare for retired racehorses. Children can participate as well by suggesting names for foals and entering a contest to guess the due dates of the different broodmares. Traveling Tiger is easy as she’s already had her foal.
Privately, I’ve already named Spanish Bunny’s foal “Spanish Spice” or maybe “Paprika” if she (yes, I’m betting it’s a filly) looks a bit reddish.
Three days later, on February 17 just after the full moon, Bunny had her baby – a bouncing baby colt. Well, he tried to bounce. Mostly, he resembled Bambi trying to walk on ice. We’ve all been there, little on and you did your Mamma proud, getting your balance and nursing within two hours.
I know he has been identified by his dam’s name followed by his number, but I have already given him the barn name of “Spice,” playing off his grandsire’s name of “Unusual Heat.” It was with the greatest of sympathy that on his third day, I caught him sound asleep in a corner, and Bunny with a grateful sigh finally laid down. Her little boy popped up his head, sprang to his feet, and, tired as she was, Bunny stood to nurse him. It has been a pleasure to watch him plump out these past few weeks and if there is a better mother than Spanish Bunny, I’d love to see her. I followed Bunny and Spice to their new stall and outside to the wonderful new world to explore. Spice, I’ll be following your progress as often as I can as you grow into your destiny.
When she is not keeping Spanish Bunny company, Elizabeth Janoski spends her free time with her family, her OTTB, her sheep, and her dogs. She is an adjunct faculty member of Southern New Hampshire University, a fiber artist, and a freelance writer. Her most recent work “Emergence: Wayfinding through Art and Prose” was illustrated by artist Chris Lathrop. (See “OTTB A Grand Offer Finds a New Normal with Amateur Owner”). She is currently at work on the historiography of her great-grandmother’s letters. Follow her on Facebook @Elizabeth’s Shipmeadow.