Friday, February 20, 2015

Midwife duty!

 Tessa is one of the gals out at 7-5 Ranch, a stunning liver chestnut, Quarter horse, mare.
She always gives me beautiful pictures, but I gotta say she has always been leery of me.  It is hard to describe really.  Some of the horses are accepting of me almost immediately drawing me in like some strange part of the herd, Tessa, takes a bit more time and dedication to win them over.  I don't rush anyone, knowing quite well what it is to be an introvert!! 
I felt like I had finally made a break through about 3 weeks ago, when of her own volition she approached me in the pasture for some scratches.  I was so taken about and whipped out my cell phone to try to take quick selfie with her just for proof.  Ha.....those few snapshots were horrid.  There is a fine art to the really good selfie with a horse, but that is another blog post. 

Now, on to what I am here to really talk to you about. 
Ms. Tessa (broodmare extraordinaire) was overdue.
Ms. Tessa was overdue by a good 20 days, and I just didn't see how she could possibly hold out any longer. (click HERE to read more about equine gestation)  Her owner out at 7-5 Ranch and I had just about given up hope on her actually producing a baby, but of course we knew better and just played the waiting game. The waiting...oh the waiting!!
Of course I have the easy part of the waiting. I keep my phone handy, mainly by my bedside when sleeping for that tell tale phone call or text before light, saying that a baby has arrived.  None of that early to the pasture while it is still dark and cold day after day to have nothing but a big belly to greet you for me.  

I often imagine that being an equine photographer, and not actually owning any horses, is something like being a grandparent.  I get all of the joy, but carry very little of the actual responsibility. 
This year has proven that I get more and more involved from grooming to gate holding, to vet checks to enemas...again, a whole 'nother blog post right there.  You see how distracted I can get, I can't imagine what it is to spend time with friends, bless their hearts!! 

FOCUS....Tessa!  I arrived on Wednesday of this week to keep Tessa company, with my Venti Starbucks flat white, a protein bar and an attitude of patience.

 I had gotten word that morning that Tessa was finally dripping milk and the baby had moved position.  Now I was fairly certain that this birth was not going to happen on my watch, but I had the time to kill, and a Venti coffee and really what else do you need??? So, I settled in to wait her out. 

I posted to facebook at 10:26 that she had settled into one of the favored corners in the birthing pasture. She was just standing there shifting weight from one rear foot to the other, nonplussed about the day, and me.  Every once in a while the foal would shift and she would begin dripping milk again, but goodness, it had started and stopped so many times I knew not to be too excited.  
I had pulled up my camp stool between pastures and was keeping her company (ha, as if she needed my company) and shooting images of the babies in the other pasture.  It was absolutely peaceful, warmly sunny, there was a gentle crisp breeze blowing, and all was quiet. I was just soaking it all in...amazed at the un-realness of this actually being my 'work'!

I wasn't gonna mention it, but the truth is... I sang her a few verses of "Count your Many Blessings"  It was always my go to song in the middle of the night when I was up with my kiddos trying to comfort them (and me) when times were uncertain!  Lots of verses of that song lifted up!

 Around 10:50 I didn't really understand it yet, but something changed and she strolled over to this very spot and called to her boyfriend over the fence. Grunt is the Stallion at 7-5 Ranch...oooohhhh I do love him. 

He called back to her, a sweet funny conversation over the fence line, that I tried to get recorded with my cell phone but, well that was a fail too.   And began!!  She started to exhibit behavior I have never seen before.  This mare chose to turn in slow meticulous circles, almost like she was going to lay down, but she didn't. I have learned to watch for these laying down clues, because I love a good roll shot!!!
*****From this point on it gets graphic, in words and photographs, if you are sensitive turn back now.****

Now Ms. Kim, her owner, had headed out for the morning, which was why I had chosen to be on baby watch and was soaking in the beautiful day all by my lonesome.  

I was annoyingly keeping her updated via text message.  "She just walked 3 feet."  "She just pooped." "She just nibbled some grass."   Ha hah aha......okay it wasn't that bad, but to a lady who has been breeding horses for some time, I am sure my communications seemed as such.  I just wanted it to happen SO badly, and was hoping the signs were right. 
I took a phone from Angela who was on her way out, and let her know that something serious was changing with this strange turning and then suddenly I realized that this was actually going to happen on my watch....and there I was all by myself.
Yup just me and this momma in labor, a midwife of sorts; except I was absolutely clueless!!! 

I saw that she took a break from her circles to pee, but she didn't stand and go like every single other horse has ever in the history of ever done, so far as I have seen. Nope, she peed a bit then rotated, then peed a bit then rotated.  And it hit me like a ton of bricks....THAT ISN'T PEE!!! 

This was my next shot at exactly 11:00!   
 Before I could climb through the fence and get myself into position, she had already made this much progress!! (And I may have freaked out a little bit)
Now friends I do believe that I forgot to mention that this IS my first birth rodeo.  I was a teensy bit hysterical at this point as I tried to dial Ms. Kim and continue shooting. 

 I wasn't frightened or scared, and sweet Tessa was SO MUCH at peace that I wasn't even anxious I was simply flat out overwhelmed that this, THIS amazing event was about to unfold right before my eyes and I was blessed to be able to see it and capture it. I mean, it just doesn't get any better than that.

Ms. Kim answered my (what came across and panicked) call, and asked what was going on.  She gave beautiful advice telling me to calm down (uhhhh because I was openly weeping...gah), and just let Tessa do her thing.  She added, stay out of the way and let nature take its course, Tessa knows what to do and will be just fine.

And ya know what???  She was absolutely right. 
  I calmed down just a bit and hit my very composed, photographer calm stride.  It hits when I separate myself emotionally from what is going on and just focus on the work at hand. It can be a fairly quick transition and I am getting better at it with practice. Seriously, there is a lot of stuff that happens in pastures and you can't be letting your emotions get away from you, those horses need you not to be doing that weird human freak out thing. 

NOW, being that this was my first rodeo, there were quite a few unexpecteds and firsts that I simply could not have even begun to fathom. 

 The main one being that this momma horse full on in labor didn't just stay laying there on the ground but got up and walked and laid back down.  Not just once mind you, but many many times over.  I do believe Tessa got up and down 6 times.  It was not a thing to her, just all a part of the process.

 (But this was me screaming in my mind, even though there was no one there to hear me had I said it outloud.)  "HELLOOOOOO, is there no one out here in the least upset that there is a baby poking out of the back of her??? 
 ANYONE??? Yup, that was a new one on me for sure!!! 

 See her boyfriend Grunt there in the background?

 And she got up again, did a turn and laid down once more.  Slow, gentle, easy going and calm the whole time.  The. Whole. Time.
It was a stunning dance, that she knew the specific movements to make it beautiful. 

 Time check----11:10!!!!!

 I know that this next shot looks out of order, but it is not.  This was her last rise, and isn't she absolutely stunning!!!  This is likely one of my favorite images of her, such power and grace and full out pregnant momma doing her thing. 
She did another turn and laid down again, causing me to need to switch position in order to have a fairly decent shot.

 THIS was the very next frame I captured.
 It was ON now, this was it, that baby was truly making its way into this world.  

And then this happened and that stride that I had convinced myself that I had hit just fell apart as the wonder of it all just washed over me.   
There are simply and plainly NO words to do that justice.

And friends, I kept clicking...because after all it is my 'job'! 

And that concludes the story of the day I checked off a very special one of a kind spot on my bucket list. 
Oh wait, you need a standing shot to truly finish it off properly.  Here ya go! 

I have quite a few more shots to process of that first few hours, and I will savor the experience over and over again because of it!! 
A HUGE thank you to Kim Cook from 7-5 Ranch for giving me trust and the great honor of being with her horses.