VETERINARIAN, PINE RIDGE EQUINE HOSPITAL
FOR THE ❤ OF ANIMALS · February 12th, 2021
Jessie and Val E Girl: A Miracle Match
Most equine veterinarians aren’t very enthusiastic about reproductive work. It’s a significant time commitment, taking up about six to seven months of the year. But as a general practice doctor whose main interest is equine reproduction, nothing makes me happier than examining a pregnant mare and confirming those first fetal heartbeats. Watching those little blips on an ultrasound screen grow up into adorable foals – and eventually into performance horses – never gets old.
I felt that way the first time I met Val E Girl. Val E Girl was a Thoroughbred filly foaled out at a nearby clinic. The morning after she was born, the attending veterinarian noticed her mother looked colicky and referred her owner to us at Pine Ridge Equine Hospital. The mare ruptured an internal uterine artery during birth. But while en route, inside the trailer, the mare went into shock and began to bleed excessively. By the time they arrived, she had passed away. The owner, and our entire team, were devastated.
Meanwhile, Val E Girl, who was resting safely in a separate compartment of the trailer, was suddenly an orphan. To survive, she would need a surrogate mother.
Just after she arrived at our hospital, the owners of another horse in our care, Jessie, were getting ready to leave.
Jessie was a quarter racing horse. Her owners were regular clients of ours, whose stallion Osage Spirit I collect at Pine Ridge. Every year, everyone at Pine Ridge looks forward to seeing Osage’s babies hit the ground (and eventually the track), and this year was no different. Jessie was in foal to Osage, and it was her very first. But when it came time for delivery, the attending veterinarian was unable to pull the foal. They referred her to Pine Ridge, but just as we got to work, the foal passed. After removing it via a fetotomy, Jessie remained in our care.
So when Val E Girl arrived a few days later, I asked Jessie’s owners if we could try grafting the pair together. The owners of both horses were so saddened by their losses, the idea gave them hope.
At first, I wasn’t sure how Jessie would take to it. The grafting process can sometimes take days before we feel comfortable leaving a pair alone together. A mare can become aggressive or violent, so it requires constant monitoring. Most often, the process is easier with a mare who has previously had foals. Jessie didn’t quite fit that bill, but we were going to try.
Before we introduced them, we introduced their scents. We sedated Jessie, and once she started sweating, we wiped her down with a few towels. We brought those towels to Val E Girl and wrapped them around her for a few minutes so she could pick up Jessie’s scent. Then, we restrained Jessie and ushered Val E Girl into the stable. Within minutes Jessie nickered, and the two began to nuzzle. Val E Girl found the teat and nursed away like a champion!
Seeing how quickly Jessie accepted Val E Girl was a magnificent moment. I’ve never had an easier time grafting an orphan foal to a nurse mare. Their owners had each experienced traumatic moments, and with the Covid crisis looming, we all needed our spirits lifted. Witnessing this new bond did just that.
The pair stayed together at Pine Ridge for a few days of monitoring, then returned to Val E Girl’s home for six months until she was weaned. Today, Jessie is back home and preparing to breed again. We look forward to seeing her with a new foal in 2022. Val E Girl, meanwhile, is enjoying the filly life and will begin training when she’s a little older. We cannot wait to cheer her on at the racetrack.
Here at Pine Ridge, not a day goes by without encountering challenges like this one. But as a team, we strive to support each other professionally and personally. My mentors here are also some of my best friends. We consult one another as often as we prank each other, and it gets us through the toughest of days.
When I was four years old, I watched a veterinarian care for one of my mother’s horses. That was the moment I decided to become one too. And I’m so blessed to be here caring for our patients alongside so many talented people who love animals as much as I do.