Heartwarming Tale of Blanche: First Grief, Then Good Fortune

 Margaret Ransom, an award-winning writer who has worked in the horse racing industry for decades, moved from California to Texas and started The Bridge Sanctuary in 2021. Its mission is to bridge the gap from forgotten horses to forever safe horses. Here’s the latest installment.

By Margaret Ransom

I wanted to update you all on Blanche, the pregnant Tale of the Cat mare pulled from a last-chance-before-slaughter auction back in September.

Great expectations

Blanche – Photo courtesy of Margaret Ransom

Since she got here, everyone at The Bridge Sanctuary maintained a palpable excitement for Blanche’s bundle of joy arrival, me especially, like an expectant grandmother for my daughter who had had trouble conceiving. Blanche is inherently sweet and kind and trusting and I looked forward to putting my arms around Blanche’s belly at least once every day to talk to the little one growing inside, telling it how much I couldn’t wait for its arrival and that I loved it. I was always concerned knowing what I knew about her past, but the pregnancy for Blanche seemed to be going swimmingly. Until it wasn’t.

It was an unseasonably warm December day for Texas, and it started out ordinary and routine, just like every other. At each meal, morning and night, all the horses, ponies, donkeys and goaties who call The Bridge Sanctuary home get a customary once-over, my eyes searching for any bumps, scrapes and cuts and abrasions or, God forbid, blood. Blanche always got a little extra time, my eyes searching for any signs a baby was coming. We knew she had previous foaling issues and it felt like I was always on alert for something that said she might deliver early. Up until and including that day, there were none. No bag, no wax, no discomfort. Nothing.

“Nope, no baby today,” I said to her as I walked back to the tack room and exhaled with relief. Now foaling out mares is not my forte, I have done it a few times and always successfully in my past, but I had made plans for Blanche to go down the road to our veterinarian, Dr. Jackie Rich’s Deer Haven Farm in nearby Lott, or to my friend Donna Keen’s farm up in Burleson. While I’m not exactly a foaling rookie, it had been a long time and things here at The Bridge weren’t exactly ideal for foaling, at least up to that day. And I wanted Blanche and her baby to be with other mares and foals, not the handful of seniors, ponies and donkeys who call the sanctuary home.

But God had other plans that Thursday…

A mother’s grief

Blanche’s foal coming more than two months early and without warning was overwhelmingly traumatic for me, but most especially Blanche, and someday I will be able to discuss the details of it. But today isn’t the day.

Sweet baby Bartholomew, as one of the board members named him, lived about two hours and 55 minutes but was loved the entire time he was here – by his mother, by me, by the board of directors, by everyone who rushed to help him, Blanche and me out in that field when we needed them most.

So …

Blanche – Photo courtesy of Margaret Ransom

After Bartholomew’s spirit was gone, she stayed with him in the barn and I checked on her a lot through the night, a dim light that illuminated the stall serving as the only light in the dark of the night. I cried a lot as I watched her knowing she knew he was gone. And after spending that somber night alone in the barn with her final foal, just two weeks before her 19th birthday, Blanche allowed us to take him away as the sun rose to start a new day.

We found a perfect spot to bury sweet Bartholomew, under a downed tree that still manages to grow leaves and thrive in the spring and summer. It is now and will forever be known as “Bartholomew’s Tree.”

And with a clean bill of health, but with advice to watch her closely from Dr. Rich, she was sent out to be with her herd in the pasture.

We watched Blanche grieve, harder than I could have imagined. She didn’t rejoin her friends, unfortunately, she immediately went to the spot where she delivered her baby and stood there, her only movement for hours and hours was her tail swishing and the occasional shifting of her weight on the weary legs underneath her. At every meal time I lugged some hay and water to her, which she slowly ate though I sensed it was reluctantly so and more for me than for her.

Blanche let me stay with her and talk to her and love her and knowing she didn’t understand made it worse for my heart; I could not comfort her, talk to her, or explain what happened to her, I just had to let her process it herself. On the second night when the thunderstorms and torrential rains came to Central Texas, she remained out there in the field, stoic in her grief. I caught her silhouette several times in the flashes of lightning as I sat by the window and watched her, the worst part knowing I couldn’t do a thing.

On the evening of the third day, as I walked to the barn at feed time, she didn’t budge aside from craning her neck to look when she heard me, but when I came out to feed, she was standing there outside the gate, up near the barn and ready for a meal. But first she had to lie down. After three days of standing, sweet Blanche finally found a soft grassy spot and laid down. I went over and stayed with her a while as she closed her eyes and slept, and when she got up, ready for her dinner, she never went back to the spot in the field, she would finally lean on her herd for comfort.

And then they were 2

For years I have followed the nurse mare pages on social media, mostly because I think they’re sweet and heartwarming when sad mares find and bond with orphan foals. So, I posted Blanche, hoping some nearby orphan needed a mama and that Blanche could be a mother one last time. She had excelled as a mother, we were told by her former caregiver, and she loved it. And my post on the page was simple:

“I have a heartbroken mare in the Waco area who lost her foal last night if anyone near here has an orphan foal who needs a really good mama.”

And for a couple of days we waited, realizing it was preemie season and that there were probably a lot more broken-hearted mamas whose babies didn’t survive than there were babies needing those mamas. I wasn’t too hopeful, but I kept telling Blanche I was, and it made me feel good to tell her I was trying for her. And then the notification came, I had received a reply to my post.

 

Blanche – Photo courtesy of Margaret Ransom

“I have a foal in Pilot Point.”

I don’t know what it was about those seven words, but I knew in my soul that baby was Blanche’s. The orphan’s owner and I immediately connected on the phone and planned to get Blanche to the veterinary clinic near him, his foal’s mother – a fancy, well-bred Grand Prix-level Warmblood – was still alive but choose to not be a mother to the tiny filly. And four hours after our call, Blanche was loaded up and headed out and everyone involved crossed everything as we hoped a bond would be made.

Shortly after the sun went down, my anxiety at an all-time high, my phone dinged. I saw it was a message from the mare’s owner.

“Successsss!!!!

I cannot thank you enough. They just sent me this.”

It was a picture of the two of them together. Blanche at last had her baby and I immediately burst into tears, I could tell even in the somewhat blurry photo that her broken heart was mended. And mine was too.

When the foal’s owner and I finally talked later that night he explained that Blanche was under hormone therapy to rebuild some of her lost milk production and that the baby would be supplemented with a bucket of milk between feedings from Blanche until it returned fully, but that Blanche was her mother, same as if she’d foaled her herself. He explained they’d stay in the clinic for a few days before heading home to his farm. And he signed a no-fee contract that simply stated he’d take care of Blanche and provide for her needs, like feed and farrier and protection from the elements, and send her home in six months or after the filly had been weaned. We had mutual friends on social media who explained he was a stand-up guy, so I knew she’d be cared for while away and I found peace in that.

Blanche – Photo courtesy of Margaret Ransom

Since Blanche, I’ve been to Pilot Point once to visit with her and “Stinker” (as I call her filly) and spend some time with them. Blanche was happy to show off her baby girl to me and let me play with her a bit, but I didn’t interfere much. I was content to simply just watch her be a mom to that sweet filly, who has a ton of personality already and I have no doubt will be a handful to raise.

I keep thinking about the “what-ifs” for Blanche. What if she hadn’t been bred again by the people who dumped her after a string of complicated pregnancies and foaling? What if she hadn’t been dumped at all? What if she didn’t come here and was turned out in foal to fend for herself? What if she wasn’t rescued by The Bridge Sanctuary? If none of these things had happened, Blanche (and Stinker) wouldn’t have ever been a part of my life. I wouldn’t know the pain of watching her mourn and then the joy in finding her baby. Simply put, I wouldn’t know the wonderful creature that is Blanche.

Sometimes God has a bigger plan and though I still don’t know what it is, I do know having this experience with her has changed me in ways I still don’t understand.

I don’t know what the future holds for Blanche except for the next five months she will be a mother. When she returns to The Bridge Sanctuary, I will look for a home for her, somewhere where she and her best friend Vivian can happily live out their days in a field being appreciated for just being them. Or she can stay here, I don’t know. She has become such a part of this rescue journey for me, I know it will be hard to let her go. But I promised her I would always do what is best for her and that includes letting her go if the right opportunity presents itself.

 

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