The Christmas Foal
By Girl Bard
Disclaimer: Dena, Gen & the characters from Homestretch are all mine. Happy Holidays!!
After a wonderful Christmas Eve celebration that included spiked eggnog, and a big production of our own (much more fun) version of trim up the tree, I had a first-class ticket to the dreamland express.
That is until several loud bumps make me feel like I have just been booted off of the train.
Stirring in bed, my eyes open slightly as the unfamiliar sounds disrupt the otherwise silent night.
"Dena?" I whisper loudly as the noises become louder and seemingly more urgent.
My tall lover shoots straight up in bed. "Gen, are you okay?"
"Do you hear what I hear?" I ask her as my eyes frantically search the dimly lit room. Everything seems as we left it before falling asleep late last night, or was it early this morning? My head is fuzzy.
Must be the eggnog.
Sitting up, I clutch the sheets to my naked form. The noise continues, sounding like it is above us.
"Where is it coming from?" I ask, still concerned, but my worry fades as Dena grins brightly, her white teeth flashing in the darkness. She leaps out of bed and begins to hurriedly put on clothes, freakishly awake for 4 am.
"Welcome Christmas." I mutter as I yawn and look at her as if shes crazy.
"Upstairs." She says, and the light bulb goes on in my spinning head.
"Ohh, Santa is up on the housetop, huh?" I joke as I follow her lead and began to dress quickly.
She grins again at my outfit, the green sleeves of my jacket stark against my pink pajama pants. Scowling at her I run my hands through my messy hair as she pulls hers back into a braid.
In reality, I know that the loud thumps and footsteps coming from the room above ours is really Jorge quickly making his way down to the barn, wakened by the alerts from his foaling alarm.
Blue is in foal.
Dena and I hurry out of the house, easily catching up with Jorge. The tall man looks tired; probably from the party last night, but his dark eyes dance with the excitement of welcoming a new life into the world.
Even though its a quarter of dawn. But I seem to be the only one who is the least bit hungover. Good thing, since I know nothing about birthin no babies.
I giggle to myself at my own joke and ignore the curious stares from both Dena and Jorge.
The night is warm and clear, and the fresh air quickly sobers me up.
Florida has been of normal temperature this time of year, and while I love the heat and warmth, I truly miss the snow and cold weather, at least on Christmas Eve.
I sigh audibly as I glance around at the palm trees; their heavy fronds dancing in the warm night.
"Dreaming of a white Christmas?" Dena asks knowingly, her breath warm in my ear.
"More like a Blue Christmas, huh?" Jorge answers and Dena and I chuckle in agreement. The three of us climb into his truck and drive down to the barn.
Blue is an old mare, her once dark dappled gray coat now almost white. Her registered name is Pretty Paper, and she once was an important mare on a farm in Kentucky. As she got older, and newer bloodlines became popular, her value decreased and she found herself on a truck bound for slaughter.
Dena and I found out about her plight a month before Thanksgiving and decided to bring her home for the holidays. The mare was with foal, the sire an un-raced young stallion on the same farm.
It seems Blue had a taste for younger men, and after the coupling was discovered, it was decided by the officials on that Kentucky farm neither the old mare nor her unborn foal was worth keeping around.
Of course Dena couldnt see her be slaughtered, so now on Christmas Eve, a new life will be born. Dena and I hoped she would deliver after the New Year in order for the foal to have a fair chance should he or she ever race.
Because all racehorses officially celebrate their birthdays on January 1st, a foal born tonight will be one-year-old next week.
Pretty unfair, and most foals unfortunate enough to be born right before the New Year never overcome this particular handicap and do not race.
But Dena and I dont care; both mother and baby can live out their lives in luxury on our farm.
The first Noel I actually have a home and someone to spend it with. A few days ago Dena asked me what I most desired for Christmas, and I told her truthfully; all I want for Christmas is you. I dont need anything else, but the bonus of having a new little foal to play with is pretty cool.
Jorge pulls the truck up and we get out into the clear night, hurrying one after another into the main barn.
A familiar bay head appears over the stall partition, the bold white blaze stark against the black forelock.
Foxfire greets us with a low rumble, her bright eyes curious as to why her two moms and Jorge are in the barn so late.
Dena waves to filly and tosses an apple to me that was hidden somewhere in her clothes.
I catch it and pause to scratch the Triple Crown winners ears and give her a quick kiss on her white nose. Offering her the apple, her whiskers tickle my palm as she daintily nibbles at it.
"Hey Baby." I coo to her, fingering the jingle bells Dena has attached to parts of her long mane. I swear the filly likes to hear the sound they make as she runs. She is just that kind of filly.
"Theres going to be a new baby born tonight, a baby just like you." I give her one last pat. "Ill fill you in on all the details later."
Jogging down the main aisle to catch up with Dena and Jorge, I admire the interior of the barn; the holly and the ivy bringing a festive look to the Florida stable.
Instead of playing deck the halls, we instead decked the stalls and hung stockings for each horse and plenty of safe greenery for them to munch on. We even put little fake fireplaces on all the red horses stalls. You know, chestnuts roasting on an open fire?
We thought it was funny, but some of the staff didnt get it. I wonder as a wander down the aisle why certain people get jokes and others dont?
Concentrating on the task at hand I try to focus, which isnt easy considering Ive had no sleep at all and am kinda drunk.
Blues stall is on the end to give her the most privacy. Its a double wide foaling stall, and when we arrive the mare is laying down in the thick straw, damp splotches of perspiration covering her entire body.
Her sides are heaving with the exertion of her contractions and the foals sac has already burst, evident by the wetness all around her.
"Shes pretty far along." Dena mentions quietly, and the gray mares heavy ears flick back at the sound of the trainers low voice.
"Should we go in?" I ask, my hand on the heavy latch keeping the stall door shut.
Jorge puts a warm hand on mine. "Leave her be, shes done this many times before."
I nod, my excitement at seeing a foal born getting the better of me.
Blue surges to her feet and begins pacing around the stall. Her large head bobs up and down as she pushes hard.
"Watch." Dena instructs.
The gray mare collapses to her knees, rolling her heavy body onto its side. Minutes later, two perfect small hooves appear. I gasp a combination of excitement and disbelief. Denas long fingers find their way to mine and she gently grasps my hand.
Jorge disappears, quickly returning with a pile of clean white towels. He sets them down on the chair outside of Blues stall and folds his long arms on the railing, watching the mares every move.
Another push, and a tiny nose appears, the nostrils quivering in attempts to breathe. It is too early to tell, with the dark amniotic fluid covering the foal, but it seems to be black with white legs.
Now the head is out, and the mare seems to pause for a minute as if to rest. She lays her head down in the straw, stretching her neck and legs out.
"Poor old girl." Dena comments. "Shes already had thirteen foals, this must be exhausting her."
The foal struggles to come the rest of the way out, and after a moment Jorge opens the stall door and quietly enters.
"Whats happening?" I ask Dena, worried that something is the matter.
"Shes fine, hes just going to help her." The trainer answers, her hand still firmly holding mine.
Blue doesnt even seem to acknowledge the tall foaling mans presence in the stall. He gently wips the mucus away from the foals quivering nose.
After cleaning off the foals face, he places his large hands around the midsection of the foal. When Blues muscles begin to ripple he ever so slightly begins to pull. Heaving a sigh of relief, the mare gives one final push and the rest of the foal slides out.
"Oh my God." I mutter, feeling slightly nauseous at all the fluid and gunk pouring out of the mare. "Thats beautiful, yet really disgusting." Swallowing loudly, I add, "This is why youre going to carry all of our children."
Dena laughs, her voice low. Her attentive blue eyes search the struggling body of the foal as it thrashes around in the straw.
"Thats a big foal." The trainer comments, tearing her gaze away from the new life to look into my eyes. "Foxy was a midget in comparison."
"I cant believe you got to watch her being born, I cant even imagine her as anything else than how she is now." I add, wishing I had been there to see the birth of our champion.
"She was the most adorable filly." Jorge comments from the inside of the stall. "All legs and eyes. It only took her about five minutes to get to her feet."
Blue rests for a few minutes as Jorge wipes the foal down with the warm towels. As he finishes with the foal, the exhausted mare gracelessly gets to her feet.
"Glad shes up, she was beginning to worry me." Dena mutters and I nod in agreement. At twenty years old, the mare should be enjoying her retirement in a big pasture somewhere, not giving birth in such a weakened state.
But the foal is healthy, and she seems to be doing okay.
I guess there really are Christmas miracles, or at least its that time of year where anything seems possible.
Moving over to her baby, Blue begins to clean the foals dark coat with long, powerful licks of her tongue. She concentrates on his face, thoroughly getting the remaining crud out of his nose, eyes, and ears.
The foal bobs uneasily in the straw under its mothers strong cleaning. She covers his entire fuzzy coat with her nurturing administrations.
"Ill go prepare her mash." Jorge mentions, referring to the nutritional meal given to mares after giving birth. He excuses himself from the stall and heads to the small kitchen at the other end of the aisle.
"Look!" I exclaim as the foal places its unsteady front legs up in a crouched position. "Is it going to stand?"
Rocking unsteadily, the white legs of the foal try to spring upward. Blue places her muzzle underneath the foals belly, encouraging it. The help from its mother is too much and soon the foal is careening down back into the straw.
"Oh, its so cute, like when Bambi tried to stand up on the ice." I giggle, and Dena shoots me a look.
"What?" I ask, crossing my arms in front of me. "He does!"
She slides open the latch for the stall and cautiously enters. "Get in here." She orders me and I eagerly comply. "I cant stand calling the poor thing it anymore." My lover complains as she instructs me to gently hold the foals front end upright.
I do, careful not to scare the baby. It seems completely at ease with our presence, and the mare outright ignores us. Shes been through this enough times to understand that humans wont hurt her baby.
Dena quickly inspects the foals hindquarters before helping me gently ease it down back into the straw.
"Well?" I ask, the anticipation killing me.
"Its a boy!" She answers, her glossy black hair sparkling underneath the lights of the stable.
"Yay!" I do a silly little happy dance around the stall just as Jorge returns with a steaming bucket of feed, carrying in a wheelbarrow. He glances at me, a smile on his creased face as he pours the contents into Blues feed bin.
Blue knickers and immediately moves to her feed bucket. All of the other horses inside their stalls voice their jealously as the aroma of warm sweet grain, apples, and molasses greets them.
"A colt?" The foaling man asks and I nod excitedly. "Whats his name?" Jorge continues as he enters the stall and efficiently begins to clean out all the soiled bedding.
I glance at the trainer who is studying the foal with critical eyes. As I thought, he seems now to be either black or a dark gray with white legs and a blaze. Hes very large and gangly, with a big, noble head.
"Dont know yet." Dena murmurs as she quietly approaches the foal and begins to move her hands over him.
I leave the stall, not wanting to overwhelm mother or foal. Dena caresses every inch of the foal, handling his ears and even opening his tiny mouth and sticking her fingers inside.
Shes imprinting him, I suddenly realize; and I watch, completely entranced. Many breeders prefer to imprint newborn foals; its a process that involves getting the foal used to human touching. If they are handled from the beginning and learn it doesnt hurt them to have humans putting things in their mouths and picking up their feet, it makes them a great deal calmer when being trained in the future.
Ive never actually seen anyone do this, and its incredible to watch. With care and precision, Dena handles the colts feet and legs. She moves to his girth area and hugs him tightly around the middle. This causes his head to shoot up, but otherwise he doesnt seem overly alarmed. She continues her touching for a few minutes when he begins to struggle to his feet.
"Hes hungry." The trainer comments as she joins me outside of the stall, wiping her hands on one of the clean towels.
"That was amazing." I tell her and she grins.
"You can do it next time, okay?" The beautiful trainer responds. "Ill teach you."
Giving her a genuine smile, I wrap my arm around her trim waist as we watch in rapture as the colt rises unsteadily on four feet.
He barely makes it up before falling again. Minutes fly by as the colt tries again and again, finally pulling himself up on long spindly legs and sustaining his position.
Pumping my fist in the air, I share in his victory.
The colts nostrils flair and he issues a shrill call to his mother, just finishing off the last few morsels of her mash. She crosses over to him, her hooves heavy in the dense straw and he unsteadily begins to nurse.
We all laugh at his loud slurps, his tiny black tail swishing with happiness.
"Rudolph." I exclaim, and Dena looks at me strangely. "His name." I add and she rolls her eyes.
"As in Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer?" She answers, obviously horrified at the name.
"Yeah." I grin at her, my nose crinkling. "Just think when hes at the track, we all could shout, run Rudolph, run!"
Jorge laughs as I elbow Dena in the side to show her Im just kidding.
The foaling man gets in on the game. "Rudolph is no good, isnt he the one who ran over grandma?"
We both look at him like hes insane.
"You know, that urban legend of how some grandma got run over by a reindeer? The question asked in his heavy Spanish accent sounds hysterical, especially when he breaks into a wide smile.
"Dork." I tease him before turning my attention back to the serious thought of the new colts name.
"How about Feliz Navidad?" I ask and Dena cocks her head, thinking.
"Nah." She responds and I notice Jorge shaking his head.
"Mr. Hankey the Christmas poo?" I try and Dena giggles.
"You are such a nut." She answers, glancing at the newborn colt one last time. "Jorge, were going to head back to the house. Ill check on the foal first thing in the morning. That means you can have tomorrow off. Have yourself a merry little Christmas." Dena finishes with a grin, and the large man beams. Hell love to be able to spend the holiday with his family.
"Would you like me to drive you to the house?" He asks graciously, but Dena shakes her head.
"I think Gen and I will take the long way back." She tells him, looking to me for confirmation.
I grin and take her hand in mine as we walk out of the barn.
"Woods?" I ask her and she nods, smiling in the moonlight. We cross over the river and through the woods, silently enjoying each others company. The south wind blows my short hair back, the pleasant coolness tickling my neck.
It is a perfect night.
"It came upon a midnight clear." I break the quiet and dont have to look up into Denas eyes to find her gazing at me quizzically.
"Thats how Ill begin to tell our great-grandchildren the story of the Christmas foal." I answer, meeting her bright blue eyes.
Black is the color of my Denas hair, peppered with streaks of red and blue. Against the full moon it looks like a raven in the snow. Her eyes have unshed tears as she suddenly stops walking and cups my face tenderly in her hand.
"Gen, this Christmas is all I could ever need or want. The gift of your love is so great it sometimes scares me." She smiles, the movement of her cheeks causing her tears to overflow and escape.
They glisten on her face like snowflakes and I cant stop myself from kissing them away, the bitter saltiness tart on my tongue.
"I always thought, perhaps love wasnt in the cards for me until I met you. Now I cant imagine my life any other way." The trainer continues, ducking her head slightly. "I cant wait to have a future with you."
"You do." I promise her. Taking her warm hand in mine I continue our walk. "Come on, lets go home."
We continue in silence for a few moments, until Dena speaks, her low voice resonating in the clear night.
"If you could have one wish right now, what would it be?" She asks and I smile.
"Snow." I lament. "Thats the only thing I miss about the north, and I dont even really miss it. Just now on Christmas."
"You didnt want to go home for Christmas?" The trainer asks, her voice quiet.
"Ill be home for Christmas." I answer, equally as quiet. "Because Ill be with you. But it would be nice to have some snow so we could at least go on a sleigh ride."
Her hand tightens around mine. "Whats it like?"
"The snow?" I respond and she nods her head.
"Up north, its like the snow is the entire spirit of the season. Huge, white flakes fall and everyone plays in it. We build things, like Frosty the snowman, and children make angels in the snow. Its beautiful."
"Silly, I know what snow is like. I have been in snow before, you know." She chides me and I look at her curiously.
"Than what did you want to know? Whats what like?"
Dena smiles. "I wanted to know what it was like to wake up to snow on Christmas morning."
"Oh." I answer, grinning. Clearing my throat slightly I remember back to a time when I was ten years old.
"Its magic." I begin as I release her hand and gesture to the sky. "One of my best Christmas memories was when I was ten. I didnt believe in Santa any more, but my little sister did."
"You have a sister?" Dena asks and I nod. I realize just how little she knows of my past or my family, all done purposely on my part. One day Ill tell her everything.
"Thats an entirely different story." I tease and she makes a motion like she is zipping her lips.
"So my little sister is four and big on the idea that Santa Claus is coming to town and all that crap. Ill never forget her sitting on my fathers lap with the toy ads, begging Please, Daddy I need that! He would just roll his eyes, but she couldnt help it. She was the perfect age to still expect presents from the big guy upstairs and to not understand that our parents were too busy drinking their money away to have presents." I snort. "Christmas time in hell."
Denas hand finds mine and gives it a sympathetic squeeze.
I feel the tears welling in my eyes and I will them away, trying to remember the good parts of this particular memory.
"I knew the only thing under the tree would the Swiss colony beef log my father got as a Christmas bonus, but how do you explain that to a four year old?" I sigh, determined to get to the better parts of the story.
"So I convinced my sister when she hurried up and got in bed that Santa Claus is on his way and everything would be fine. I tucked her in and told her that when Santa couldnt fit anymore presents on his sleigh he would send Christmas snow as a present instead."
I remember the trusting look on my little sisters face and wonder what she is doing for Christmas this year. I sent her a lot of money from my Triple Crown winnings, knowing shes trying to put herself through school. She thanked me in letter and begged me to please come home for Christmas. I didnt know how to explain to her that I was already home.
"What happened?" Dena asked, bringing me out of my daze.
"I wrapped up some of my old toys and put them under our fake tree. Then I went to bed and prayed for someone to let it snow. I must have prayed all night, because I dont even remember falling asleep. Next thing I know, Tara was waking me up bright and early to open presents."
My tears gather and well as I recall the heightened emotions revolving around that Christmas.
"My parents were passed out on the couch, the television blaring. I tried to wake my mother and she mumbled Merry fucking Christmas to us. Nice, huh?"
Dena makes an angry noise in the back of her throat and clenches my hand.
"But, heres the good part." I reassure her. "Outside, was a winter wonderland. There must have been at least six inches of snow. It was beautiful, large icicles hung off the gutters like silver bells. Tara had seen snow before, but really believed this was magical Christmas snow left by Santa because she had been so good. I helped her into her snowsuit and we stayed outside most of the day. For us, in that moment its the most wonderful time of the year."
"Thats a horribly sad, but beautiful story." Dena comments.
"It is sad, but the sadness is in the past." I assure her. "Besides, there was joy too. And now, its a full circle of joy and I feel almost like a kid again. I get to wake up Christmas morning with you and a farm filled with friends and horses. What more could I want?"
I stop as weve reached the farmhouse and take both her hands in mine.
Gazing into her eyes, I am amazed by the intensity of the blue I find there.
"I love you more than anything." I tell my love.
"I love you. Merry Christmas." She replies, kissing me soundly.
Dena gazes up at the full moon, as the shiny droplets seem to be floating around in the air. "Is it snowing?" She asks, her voice hushed and surprise evident.
"Yeah, it is." I answer her before pulling her inside and back into bed.
Okay, so it wasnt snow, simply the reflection of the moon on the dust particles.
But everyone deserves to believe in Christmas snow.
Song List: 56 Songs
Trim up the Tree How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Dr. Suess)
Dreamland Express Rocky Mountain Christmas (John Denver)
Silent Night List #20
Do you Hear What I Hear? List #5
Welcome Christmas How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Dr. Suess)
Up on the Housetop List #23
Green sleeves Celtic Carols (Scarlet Rivera)
A Quarter of Dawn How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Dr. Suess)
White Christmas List #24
Blue Christmas List #2
Pretty Paper List #16
Home for the Holidays List #8
The First Noel List #6
All I Want for Christmas is You List #1
Jingle Bells List #11
A Baby Just Like You Rocky Mountain Christmas (John Denver)
Holly and the Ivy Christmas in Ireland (Eric Rigler)
Deck the Halls List #4
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire List #3
I Wonder as a Wander Celtic Carols (Scarlet Rivera)
Its That Time of Year Smooth Jazz Christmas (Double Scale)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer List #17
Run Rudolph Run List #18
Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer List #7
Feliz Navidad Smooth Jazz Christmas (Spyro Gyra)
Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo South Park Christmas (Matt Parker et al.)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Christmas in Manhattan (David Huntsinger et al)
Over the River and Through the Woods List #15
The South Wind Celtic Christmas III (Paddy Glackin)
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear List #10
Black is the Color Celtic Christmas III (James McNally)
Raven in the Snow Celtic Christmas III (Brian Dunning)
This Christmas Smooth Jazz Christmas (Jeffery Osborne)
The Gift of Your Love Smooth Jazz Christmas (Tom Scott)
Perhaps Love Rocky Mountain Christmas (John Denver)
Home Celtic Christmas III (Lisa Lynne)
Lament Celtic Christmas III (Patrick Cassidy)
Ill Be Home for Christmas Smooth Jazz Christmas (Tom Grant)
Sleigh Ride Celebrating Scotland at Christmas (The Pipes)
The Snow Celtic Christmas III (Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill)
The Spirit of the Season Smooth Jazz Christmas (Hiroshima)
Frosty the Snowman Traditional (arr. David Huntsinger)
Angels in the Snow Celtic Christmas III (David Arkenstone)
Magic Smooth Jazz Christmas (Chieli Minucci)
Santa Claus is Coming to Town List #19
Please, Daddy Rocky Mountain Christmas (John Denver)
Christmas Time in Hell South Park Christmas (Matt Parker et al.)
Swiss Colony Beef Log South Park Christmas (Matt Parker et al.)
Santa Claus is on his Way South Park Christmas (Matt Parker et al.)
Please Come Home for Christmas Smooth Jazz Christmas (Etta James)
Let it Snow List #13
Merry Fucking Christmas South Park Christmas (Matt Parker et al.)
Winter Wonderland List #25
Silver Bells List #21
Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year Do You Hear What I Hear? (Andy Williams)
Circle of Joy Celtic Christmas III (Lisa Lynne)