We knew something was wrong when Finale started leaking colostrum a month before her due date. Her vitals were fine; she didn’t seem to be in distress. You can’t really ultrasound a horse this far into a pregnancy, so we were just going to cross our fingers that it would be ok, and we’d have to get some colostrum on hand for the foal’s first meal.
The call that Finale was in labor came as my family, our friends, and I were out to dinner celebrating my graduation from Furman. Amazingly, I missed the call. It may have been the only time in the past 48 hours that I didn’t have my phone in my hand. Hell, I had my phone in my hand as I watched George W. Bush give our commencement speech – willing to battle hell, high water, and Secret Service agents if the call came in – as well as when I accepted my diploma. But I missed that first call.
I picked up the second. It was the owner of the farm where Finale was staying, telling me that there were two babies, the vet was on the way, and I needed to get there.
Horses aren’t supposed to have twins. Typically, they don’t make it this far along if they’re not caught. Finale is such a giant mare, though, we think that’s what enabled the pregnancy to come almost full term. As I drove out to the barn that night I didn’t know how many dead horses I’d arrive to.
Somehow, by the grace of something, Finale was just fine. We had a filly that didn’t make it, and one that did. I fed the baby girl her first meal out of an old Coke bottle, my mom and dad taking pictures and video. We called her Squirt for the first few days, because we didn’t have a name for her.
We ended up naming her Folie a Deux. I knew announcers everywhere would hate me, and it would never be pronounced right. It seemed only right to name her something that would honor the fact that she was a twin, as well as her sister who didn’t make it.
My mom and I had been in Napa the previous year, and on a whim stopped at the winery of the same name. The wines were decent, but the tasting room manager told us the story of the winery, and that was the interesting part. Two psychologists from San Francisco dropped their practices, and moved to wine country. Folie a Deux is a term used to describe a delusion or a crazy idea shared by two people, and given that they were psychologists, it seemed fitting to name their winery after a pretty apt description for what they were doing. Eventually, they ended up divorcing and selling the winery to Berringer, or one of the other big conglomerates, but the wine is still decent.
It’s only now that I see how perfectly fitting her name was.
My baby girl was challenged right from the start. Having been so cramped in the womb wasn’t exactly ideal. Folie was poked and prodded her entire first week, as we tried to ensure she had the best shot at a decent outcome. Or: making sure she’d live past the first week, or month. She was so small, and skin and bones, but she was already so feisty and sassy.
By the time I moved from South Carolina to Colorado (an entirely separate story, wherein my mama and I faced a comedy of errors, but that’s for another time), Folie was too forward on her front hooves, almost like she was perched on her toes. The ligaments and tendons running down the back of her front legs were really contracted, and not letting her sink onto her heels.
The first thing we tried was three injections of tetracycline. These weren’t easy injections, and they weren’t small. It’s a gigantic syringe, and the injection takes place over a decently long period of time. I can’t remember now if we did it over three days, or a period a bit longer.
That didn’t work, so as soon as she was weaned, we took her in to Littleton Equine to have her check ligaments cut. She was six months old, and she was finally able to stretch down on her heel. She was a champ for all of us, but it led to her being somewhat challenging (or, as some of the vet techs would say, “a demon spawn”) for anything involving a needle in the future.
She was treated as such a princess, mainly because, between me and my parents, we were just so happy she was here, she was alive, and for the most part, she was reasonably healthy. And she was just so feisty and smart, all you could do was appreciate it.
Folie was one of the bravest horses I’ve ever been around. If something was scary, she might start, but then she would walk up to whatever it was, check it out, and then proceed from there. She was also so easy to “break”. The first time I put a bit in her mouth, it was like she’d been doing it for years. She didn’t give a second thought to cross ties, to being tied, to having a saddle put on her (though she wasn’t a huge fan of having a girth tightened… she allowed it though). She was an incredibly reasonable horse.
It also didn’t hurt that she and I were slightly codependent.
But when she didn’t want to do something? Good god, it was like unleashing hell’s fury. She managed to kick my dad, she kicked me, I think she kicked all the grooms.
She was never like that under saddle. She tested boundaries, for sure – one time at Broadrun Farm, I got on her, she walked to the middle of the arena, and stopped. I nudged her with my leg and clucked. She just pinned her ears and grew roots. I kicked her, I tried to turn her left, I tried to turn her right, I tapped her with a crop, the I smacked her with the crop. She stood stock still. I think eventually, Kevin had to come in with a lunge whip and snap it behind her. That was her MO for a week.
Then there were times like when we competed in the hunter breeding classes. Everyone told me we’d never win because her conformation was exactly what you’d expect from a creature who shared a womb, who was never meant to share a womb. We did it anyway. Jodi and I set aside three weeks to teach her how to stand and put her head down, and trot off like a lady. Folie needed about 15 minutes. Then she walked down into the ring, every week that summer, and stood with her head and neck stretched out and down, very polite for the judges. She ended up being 5th in the country that year for 3 year olds.
She was an adorable jumper, and just such a great mover – probably thanks, in part, to having her check ligaments cut. Sure, she wanted to rush the trot, and every day she chose a boundary to push, but when she couldn’t get away with one thing, she’d drop it and try another. Very reasonable, and smart. But she just didn’t have the stride to make it down the lines in the right numbers. When Jodi expressed this concern, I waved it off. She’s young yet, she may learn to relax into her canter and make up the ground.
She started getting achy in her hocks about a year into full-time training. We injected the right one, but the left’s tarsal bones had fused, which was probably for the best. So we sent her into Littleton once more to have a cuneal tenectomy. They snip the tendon that runs across the front of the hock that causes the leg to rotate while in motion. The only thing we could do for the right hock was to medically fuse the tarsal bones that were so arthritic, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that to her, too.
About a year ago, we sent her out to pasture once again. She was still young – only 7 – but wasn’t going to forget all of her training if we gave her body a little bit more time to catch up to her mind.
So I worked with her out at the other farm. She still wasn’t getting her lead changes, so we did other crazy things like walking through tires, or over the teeter-totter. She failed to see the purpose in this, and regularly looked at me like I was crazy, but she did them without question once she understood what I was asking her to do. All of my horses are happy to see me, and stick their heads out of the stall, patiently waiting for whatever treat I have that day. Folie, though, would scream down the aisle when I walked in. We’d have entire conversations as I told her to wait her turn. If she was out in pasture, all I had to do was call “Hey Princess” and she would come running. Literally, running.
A week ago, I was out loving on my Three Musketeers (as the retired set was called). I had Folie out, and she was being a pain in the ass as usual, trying to just lick me, and get to the carrots, and keep her face in mine, instead of letting me just groom her. I’m talking with a few other people, and the woman who owns the farm, Teri, commented that there’s such a difference in this mare when I’m around. She just simply tolerates everyone else.
This summer I had the thought that maybe I’d learn to play polo with her. Then we got into the summer circuit with Fitz, and there never seemed to be a good time to take her into town for lessons.
I had a lot of dreams with this mare. When we bred her, her sire was this great show jumper, and Finale had such talent and heart. I figured we’d get at the very least an A/O jumper. Of course, I wanted a Grand Prix horse, but we’d just have to see. When she came out as a twin, and ended up being such a fancy mover and so brave, I wanted to buy some tails and do the derbies with her. But her hind end wasn’t going to let us do that.
Along the way, so many kind professionals, and not to mention my parents, went along with whatever plans I had. The irony is that I named her in honor of, and in description of, her twin. It ended up that her name became a harbinger of our relationship. Whatever I asked of her, she did, seemingly like she thought we could do these things too. That, or she’d just happily follow me off of a cliff. Those complicit in these delusions of grandeur were there for us in the kindest (and most financial) of ways. I can’t thank them enough for just smiling and nodding and teaching Folie and me, regardless of what they may have privately thought about her future.
My parents knew the challenges our little mare faced. But she was so special, not only having survived, but she was the product of a mare that did everything we asked of her, as well. So they happily went along with surgeries and injections and other treatments, because we all wanted to see this feisty little thing succeed.
I’ve never had to let one go. I’ve never had to take in the information and make that choice. I’ve dreaded it ever since we brought Finale home 15 years ago. I didn’t ever dream that the first one I’d have to make it for would be my little girl.
Teri called me on Friday afternoon to tell me that Folie had a cut on her back fetlock that was a little inflamed and a bit bloody. There’s an unspoken practice these days that any usual business can be conducted via text. If a call comes from a trainer, it means something has gone wrong. So we decided to give her some bute and keep an eye on it.
I was down in Colorado Springs for work. I got out of my second TV interview, and saw I had a missed call from Teri. Folie was non-weight bearing on that leg. Wouldn’t even come in for food. Our plan changed, and Teri called the vet for me. I sped up I-25, my plan being to stop in at a print shop and pick up the campaign materials we needed for the weekend, and then jump back on the toll road to get out to my girl. Then Teri called again.
The x-ray with a probe in the puncture showed that it was a puncture wound that was dangerously close to the joint sack. If there was communication between the protected synovial fluid in the joint, and the bacteria in the wound, there was potential for a raging infection. Basically, I needed to go get my trailer.
Of course, it was 4 pm on a Friday afternoon. By the time I got my trailer and got Folie loaded, we’d be sitting in rush hour traffic on our way to the clinic. None of my horses wait well in traffic (apparently they too suffer from road rage). The last thing we wanted was her kicking in the trailer. So I decided I would go hitch up the rig, ride Fitz, and then get Folie when traffic had died down and we could have a straight shot to the clinic.
To understand what it all meant though, I needed better information. The vet who was with her at the time didn’t explain things all that well, and I needed someone who either was an expert on the treatment (the surgical vet on call), or someone who knew Folie’s history. I was on Fitz, just starting our hack, when the vet who knows all my animals called me back. After linking in my parents, she explained what was happening, and what our options were. It was the first conversation I’ve ever had around this horse where all of my delusions were shattered. She did it kindly, and matter-of-factly, and for that I’ll always be grateful. She didn’t let us believe that any aggressive treatment would leave her with a decent quality of life if the puncture had indeed breeched the joint.
My last hope was that the wound simply came close, but there was no communication with the joint. We wouldn’t know until they tapped the joint at the clinic.
She wasn’t happy about getting on the trailer, but she did it for me.
There was a little hope in the beginning of the exam. Littleton Equine vets are some of the best in the country, and we had three vet students in the room with us as the surgical on-call team examined the blood and the wound. There was little doubt, though, as the senior vet pushed fluid into the joint capsule, that there was communication between the joint and the wound. I was standing at Folie’s head, holding the twitch, and I could see the fluid coming out the wound on the other side of the tap.
My last hope was that there was simply inflammation; that infection hadn’t set in yet. This is despite all the evidence to the contrary (how swollen her leg was to begin with; her non-weight bearing status; the degree of pain she was in to let these vets poke and prod without much protestation).
When the numbers came back – 60,000 white blood cells in her sample when they hope for around 2,000; a lactaid number 3 times as high as they’d like; another number that I can’t remember because by that time my entire body felt like it had shut down – it was pretty unequivocal. I had my parents on speakerphone in the exam room with us as we went over how bad the infection already was. I don’t know if it was the (amazingly great) acoustics in the exam room, or just how loud those numbers seemed to broadcast from our soft-spoken vet, but the outcome was absolutely clear.
My mom tried to ask a few questions, but was choking up already. It’s probably the only conversation in my life where my dad remained silent. As my parents and I talked privately, their only stipulation was that I not go through this alone. While on the phone with them, I texted a few friends (who the hell am I friends with that’s awake at 11p on a Friday?). Thank god, one was. She agreed to come down and take me and Gatsby home, and talk my ear off about her new school and all the other interesting things in her life to distract me. Basically, I have some great friends.
I sat with my girl for 15 minutes. Always a mouthy one, she just licked my arm, my pants, my boots. She just stayed with me, her head and mine, without getting fidgety as she normally does. I think she knew; she was just hurting so much, and I couldn’t put her through any more for the low shot she had of being even a comfortable pasture pony.
I stayed with her until the end. She followed me off of that cliff, not questioning why we were going back to a dimly lit pen instead of back to the trailer, just knowing that she was going with me, and if this is where we were going, then so be it. Folie trusted me with her life, and it was with the weight of that responsibility that I let her go.
All of the people who have been so kind to me, to enable this little mare and me to try and do whatever it was that I got into my head, they can’t smile and nod and give their time to my dreams with her anymore. That’s the thing about making the call: there’s no more crazy ideas to be shared any longer.
I’m left with this void, huge and gaping, of a one-woman mare who could be so sassy and smart, and also the biggest pain in the ass I’ve ever known. I used to say it was a good thing she wasn’t as big as her mama, because none of us would have been able to control her. That’s part of why I loved her. She was a fighter, and she had such attitude, but she tempered it for me. I love my other horses, and would go to the ends of the earth for them. But it’s just not the same relationship as one with a mare who only had tolerance for others, but would gallop up to the gate when she heard my voice.
She took such a huge piece of my heart when she went, laying there on the shavings at Littleton, that the rest of it doesn’t even feel broken. I still just can’t get it through my head that she’s actually gone. All I want to do is go hug Finale, but the thought of walking into that barn and hearing the deafening silence that’s going to be there without Folie’s hollers for me… I can’t bear the thought, let alone the reality.
We humans are so good at taking things for granted. We’re even told, time and time again, to take stock of the moment, to appreciate it, to show love and appreciation to those people and creatures we adore, because you just never know when it’s going to end. I know I’m guilty of it in so many aspects of my life, but the animals aren’t one of them. Even now, I know that even when she kicked me right before my brother’s wedding and I was so glad my bridesmaid’s dress was long, that I loved that mare and she knew it. I could have spent more time with her this summer; hell, I could have lived in her stall, but she already knew that we were partners in crime, that anything we did together, she didn’t have to fear.