She’s pregnant,” I called triumphantly over my shoulder to my technician.
The owners, Carl and Celia, were standing nearby. Celia’s face lit up, but Carl snorted.
“I know Maggie’s pregnant! That mare always lets me know when she’d bred. This ultrasound thing is just a waste of time, if you ask me.”
I raised my eyebrows at Carl, then looked over at Celia, who was still clasping her hands tightly.
“She’s really pregnant, Celia!”
“Oh, thank goodness,” she exhaled. “I’ve been an absolute mess since we scheduled you to come check her. Thank you so much, Dr. Diehl. You’re really an amazing veterinarian!”
“I think the stud and Maggie did all the work this time. I’m just the bearer of good news.”
Celia patted my shoulder.
“Well, you got her all fixed up so she could get pregnant one last time. I don’t know how to thank you!”
“Well, you’ve spent enough on vet bills,” grumbled Carl. “That should be thanks enough.”
Celia swatted him.
“Now that’s enough, Carl. Say ‘thank you’ to Dr. Diehl, and go on back to the house.”
Carl turned to me soberly.
“Thank you to Dr. Diehl and go on back to the house.”
I hid a smile as he shuffled off, hands in the pockets of his overalls whistling tunelessly as he headed toward an old Victorian farmhouse. A black-and-white dog slunk from the shadows and fell into step behind him.
My assistant was cleaning up my machine and gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up, then mimed wiping sweat off her forehead. I’d been nothing but the bringer of bad news for the last four months while we tried to get Maggie bred with cooled shipped semen. The broodmare had had a lot of difficulties conceiving.
It had been a rough time, and between Carl’s dry comments, Celia’s disappointment and my own frustration, I’d wanted to quit many times. It was even worse having to send bills. The checks always arrived promptly, written in Celia’s cheerful script, and I just wanted to hide them away in my daybook.
Maggie was normally an easy breeder, but I’d inseminated her twice this season without any luck. She’d developed an infection in her uterus, and I had to spend another few weeks treating her and cleaning the infection out.
She was an older mare, and realistically this would be the last season we’d try to breed her. Celia had been distraught over the long chain of misadventures, as she desperately wanted one last foal out of Maggie. Another stud was available at a nearby farm, and I’d suggested live-covering Maggie this last time rather than doing another attempt with artificial insemination.
Maggie was trailered to the farm and stayed for three days. We waited until the 16-day mark to check Maggie, and neither Celia nor I had slept much during those last few weeks. Of course, Carl claimed he was sleeping like a baby and wasn’t one bit worried. He scoffed at us when we complained about our lack of sleep and muttered that it was good that at least someone had some sense in this equation.
When Words Aren’t Enough
Beyond the broodmare with difficulties, Celia had some other horses for us to see, and as we worked our way through her list, my mind kept returning to Maggie and the beautiful image of her pregnancy on my ultrasound screen. I’d worried and fretted and obsessed about this for so long, and it felt like Christmas had come early. My emotions were all over the place, and I kept smiling and chuckling to myself randomly as my assistant and I checked sore legs and bandaged cuts.
There was one damper on my mood though. That darn Carl could have at least said something nice or shown just a little appreciation, I thought. He’d given me a hard time over the last few months, and it would have been nice if he’d at least seemed pleased.
I was placing a few stitches in a cut on a gray mare’s muzzle when the same black-and-white dog I’d seen following Carl appeared. He nudged Celia’s leg, then plunked himself down at her feet and whimpered once.
“Patch, what are you doing out here?” said Celia. She looked at me. “That’s odd. Patch never leaves Carl’s side.”
“That is odd. Do we need to go check on Carl?” She nodded.
“I think I will. Are you OK here for a minute?” We assured Celia that we’d be fine, and she left, then returned quickly.
“Well his truck’s gone, but I don’t know where he went. And why he left Patch behind is anyone’s guess. He takes that dog everywhere!”
After a while I heard the roar of an old truck rumble up the road. Patch jumped to his feet and shot under a gate. A door opened and clunked shut, something banged and thudded, and then there was a slam of another door.
“That’d be Carl,” said Celia. “What on earth is he up to now?”
We all headed outside. Carl was disappearing into the house, and I stopped short at a flash of color visible through the driver’s window of my truck.
My entire front seat was filled with flowers. Mixed bouquets of daisies, roses, carnations, lilies and daffodils were jumbled in a heap and spilling onto the floor.
Celia peeked over my shoulder.
“Oh, that man will be the death of me. I swear, just when I’ve had it with him, he goes and does something like this.” She nudged me. “Look, there’s a card!”
I pulled the little envelope free and slid out a stiff white square of heavy paper. There were just two words on the card, written in a shaky script.
This Vet Adventures column about broodmare difficulties appeared in the June 2020 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!
These horses are searching for a new home where they will be loved and cared for.