Orphaned foal gets lucky with new mother

·5 min read
Orphaned foal gets lucky with new mother
'We didn't want to lose Dixie after losing her mom and she already grew on me so much,' says Alexis Gass of the foal.   (Sara Fraser/CBC - image credit)
'We didn't want to lose Dixie after losing her mom and she already grew on me so much,' says Alexis Gass of the foal. (Sara Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Little Dusty Lane Dixie was just 11 days old when her mother, Daisy Cutter, got sick and had to be euthanized. Then the race began to save the orphaned foal.

Dixie was born healthy and "full of lots of energy and lots of spunk," her owner says, to one of two dozen standardbred brood mares at Dusty Lane Farms in Cornwall, P.E.I. Half the mares belong to Ron Gass and his daughter Alexis Gass, who run the farm, and some belong to others who are hoping the Gasses will breed them the next record-setting pacer or trotter.

"Daisy Cutter, we'd had her for a couple years now, she had a foal last year. She's been a great mare, she was the sweetest one you could find, always loving and caring — the best mom," said Alexis, 16, who helps manage the breeding side of the farm. Dusty Lane also trains horses on a track at the farm, and races them.

A week after having Dixie, Daisy Cutter got sick — she wouldn't eat or drink and she was obviously in pain, Alexis said. Daisy was likely suffering from a twisted intestine, which caused her to colic (get severe stomach ache) — not uncommon in horses, but not always fatal.

The Gasses took Daisy and her foal to the Atlantic Veterinary College, where last Sunday Daisy had to be euthanized.

'Pretty worked up'

"She went downhill very quickly overnight," said Alexis. "We don't really know what the cause of it was."

'We didn't want to lose Dixie after losing her mom and she already grew on me so much,' says Alexis Gass of the foal.
'We didn't want to lose Dixie after losing her mom and she already grew on me so much,' says Alexis Gass of the foal. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Dixie was distraught. Alexis said they waited for the foal to say goodbye to her mother, then loaded her onto the trailer, where Alexis rode in back with her and comforted her.

"She was pretty worked up, like you could tell, 'Where's my mom? Why isn't she with me?' and stuff. It was not the happiest scene," Alexis said.

Foals drink their mother's milk almost exclusively for the first four months or so, so Dixie was also hungry.

The Gasses had quickly found Dixie a "nurse mare" — a mare who was already producing milk and could substitute for Daisy. She was loaned by a fellow breeder. This mare had lost her own foal — but she didn't want Dixie.

Dixie is a curious little filly. She's already very well socialized because she spent so much time with Alexis while her mother Daisy was sick.
Dixie is a curious little filly. She's already very well socialized because she spent so much time with Alexis while her mother Daisy was sick. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

"We tried to get her to nurse, but it just didn't go great. We didn't want anyone getting hurt," Alexis said. The mare had to go back home.

"She probably knew at this point that wasn't her baby, since her baby died a week before that. But some of them will take right to them and some of them won't," Alexis explained.

Alexis tried to give Dixie milk replacement from a bottle, but she refused. Alexis said they began to panic. She posted to Facebook that they were searching for a new nurse mare.

The foal was upset, Alexis said, so she grabbed Dixie a big teddy bear to keep her company. "That was a very stressful situation she was in."

The post spread quickly among the horse community, and it only took minutes before the Gasses were offered another mare, Pam's Pet, from local horseman John MacKenzie. At 11 p.m. Sunday, they headed out and picked up the mare.

"We were getting pretty tired but we were willing to try anything," Alexis said. "We were trying to stay hopeful."

Pam's Pet had been a good mother to her previous foals, so when she met Dixie and the two began nickering little greetings, "you could tell that she wanted to be around her," Alexis said.

Pam's Pet is already very protective of Dixie. She pauses from glaring at the camera to give her new daughter a loving lick.
Pam's Pet is already very protective of Dixie. She pauses from glaring at the camera to give her new daughter a loving lick. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

The nursing worked. They let Dixie drink her fill then put the two in stalls next to one another overnight so they could get used to one another. The next morning, they put the two together again — Alexis reluctantly went to school — and by the afternoon, her grandfather called her to say the two were snug in a stall together.

"I just started crying in class," Alexis said. Just for a cherry on top of the day, two more foals were born at Dusty Lane and Alexis got home from school in time to help at the births.

"We had three miracles that day," Alexis said. "It all started to look up from then."

Look up, look way up! Foals exclusively drink their mother's milk for the first few months of life.
Look up, look way up! Foals exclusively drink their mother's milk for the first few months of life.(Sara Fraser/CBC)

"It was such a relief on us," she added. "We didn't want to lose Dixie after losing her mom and she already grew on me so much."

Now, things are going smoothly, Alexis said.

"You'd never even guess that they weren't biologically related."

Alexis said she plans to follow Dixie closely, even if she ends up being sold to someone else.

"I'm hoping for a very bright future," she said. "I'm very excited to see her grow up and become a racehorse, for sure."

Alexis hopes to become an equine veterinarian and specialize in breeding. She wanted to thank the owners of both nurse mares for their generous help in saving Dixie.

Dusty Lane Farms in Cornwall is one of P.E.I.'s largest standardbred breeding operations, with two dozen mares and two studs.
Dusty Lane Farms in Cornwall is one of P.E.I.'s largest standardbred breeding operations, with two dozen mares and two studs. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

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