The Story of Will and Grace
by Dianna Hubbard Stein
Will and Grace have entered the world, and what an unlikely event it was.
Shari Burns, stable master of her Wilton, California barn, is no stranger to delivering foals—she lost count around 950.
When Elegant Emma N, owned by Richard and Marlene Thomas, began pacing around her stall, Shari knew the mare’s labor would soon begin. Emma had foaled twice before and was induced both times since she carried large foals. Two weeks past due, Emma was scheduled to be induced the following week.
As Emma lay down on her side, Shari was ready. As soon as Emma’s water broke, Shari knew she was not dealing with a typical delivery.
“There’s no bubble!” Shari yelled to her husband Ferris, who was watching the events unfold via video camera from the house. Ferris quickly headed for the barn. In a normal delivery the mare will pass a white bag, or the amnion, which is followed by the foal it contains.
Before she had time to summon a vet, she had an even worse situation on her hands: “It’s a red bag!” Things were going wrong fast. Shari quickly contacted her veterinarian, Sara Steidl, with the dire news. Sara was 45 minutes away at another barn.
On rare occasions there is a premature separation of the placenta prior to or during a mare’s foaling, causing a “red bag.” When this occurs, it requires quick action to prevent a stillborn or weak foal.
“You know what you have to do! Do you have your knife?” the vet responded quickly.
“Yes, and it’s clean.” Shari knew she had less than five minutes to try to save this foal’s life. With Ferris holding Emma steady, she pulled on the red bag, felt it tear and the fluid began flowing. Soon after, a tiny hoof appeared in the birthing canal. Shari waited for the other leg before assisting Emma with her contractions. When no leg appeared, it was apparent the foal was not positioned correctly. Shari carefully pushed the fragile leg in to find the other leg so she could gently guide its way. When she felt another hoof and then head movement, she knew she was dealing with a viable birth.
Emma’s contractions were more and more intense and Shari’s arm was being crushed. She once more pushed forward and this time found the foal’s mouth. Accidentally thrusting her hand down its throat while guiding it through the birth canal, she helped the foal expel fluid just as a final contraction sent the tiny miracle into its new world.
“She is small, but alive,” was all Shari could think. This was Emma’s last foaling and Shari let out a sigh of relief that both filly and mare had made it through without tragedy.
The vet had examined Emma regularly during the pregnancy, including performing two ultrasounds.
Shari left the frail filly to check on the tired mare and was shocked at what she saw. There was another bubble! Shari realized she had another foal on the way and a dire emergency on her hands. Before she knew it, the white bag and another small leg was protruding from Emma’s vulva. As she reached in to assist, she discovered there was no second foot ready to follow, so she pushed the foot back. Working as fast as she could, she could not feel another leg or the foal’s head. Finally, another leg! And a nose!
Shari grabbed the bottom of the baby’s lip to guide it up to the birth canal. Once again, she lost the second foot. Keeping her hand firmly on the baby’s lip as Emma’s contractions continued, she found a second leg and quickly realized it was a hind limb. She knew she had to work fast. Letting go of the hind leg, she found the other front leg curled back up underneath the foal’s head. Shari quickly got her fingers under the knee and pulled the leg forward. Now that she had her second surprise correctly positioned, she let go of its legs, grabbed the head and instantly another miracle of the morning was in her arms. It had been 12 minutes since she sent the first frantic text to Sara.
Shari grabbed her phone, and ran to the spot where she has cell service and could make a call to the vet.
“I’m so sorry,” was the vet’s response. She assumed when Shari had called earlier about the “red bag” situation, that the chance of survival was pretty slim.
“You need to come!” Shari responded.
“Right away?” Sara was assuming that there was nothing she could do since she was still so far away.
“Yes!” is all Shari could yell.
“Was it a bad outcome?” Sara asked.
“Depending on how you look at it.”
“Did it expire?” The outcome of even a well-handled red-bag birth can result in a compromised foal.
“They are doing fine!” Shari said with a smile, even as she knew they were far from out of the woods.
“She had twins! We have a colt and a tiny filly!”
“She will probably expire,” the vet warned Shari.
“I don’t think so!” Shari had years of experience and an eye for a special animal. This little filly was already standing and nursing, right alongside her brother. She guessed they weighed about 38 and 45 pounds, the size of one normal foal at birth.
The vet’s response was loud with amazement and a quick “I’m on my way.” Shari was left with the newest additions to her barn and an intense will to keep them both alive.
The chances of either of the twins and possibly the mother surviving this episode was slim. Twins occur in just two to five percent of equine pregnancies, with less than one percent resulting in live births.
Sara Steidl, DVM, arrived to find Shari, soaked in sweat and blood, expertly caring for the first set of twins they both would have the privilege of caring for. She knew of the possible complications, including heart problems, lung issues, and underdeveloped intestinal tracts.
By the end of their first week, Will and Grace would already be living up to their names. Will has a willful, full-charge personality, frolicking and kicking around the stall, taking charge of his little sister. Grace gracefully picks her way around her rambunctious brother, becoming stronger and more self-confident in her surroundings hour by hour.
As for the names, Shari explains: “That was easy. Will, he has the will to live. Grace? She was saved by the grace of God.”
These tiny beauties are lucky that they happened to be at this Wilton barn when it was time for them to join our world. Shari quite simply saved their lives.
Dianna Hubbard Stein lives in Lodi, California. She is the author of the memoir Chapters, A True Story of Life, Loss and Love. She currently is taking a break from her decades-long business career in court reporting. She has always loved the beauty and magic of horses.