|Maria Grazie After the Loss of her Stillborn Colt|
(Venice, Italy) For Easter, I was in the Veneto countryside. There is a group of horses in the fields near the home where I stay -- six mares, one stallion and one filly. When I first met them in March, three of the horses came close to the wooden and barbed-wire fence so I could stroke them and chat with them, the most impressive being the stallion, who was quite a flirt. On the morning of Easter Sunday, they were far away in the distance, so I didn't realize one of the mares was pregnant.
|Horses on Easter Sunday|
|Unpaved gravel road|
Now you are going to have to use your imaginations because at that point I was there without a camera. Even if I had one, I don't know if I would have taken photos because what happened next was so tragic, yet ultimately inspiring. All the photos you see were taken before and after the event.
Eventually, a car came down the road and stopped a short distance away. Two nicely-dressed women got out, and I approached them. I told them what was happening. They were as bewildered as I was. I remembered I had a friend who knew about horses. I called her, but her phone was closed. We decided that the women would drive to town and see if they could find someone to help while I stayed there with the horse, who, by that time I had named Maria Grazie, which means "Thank you, Mary," after the mother of Jesus Christ. After all, it was Easter and I had to be optimistic.
|Hay Where Maria Grazie was on her side|
A group of hikers came up the gravel road, and I called out to them for help. Two men slipped and slid up to the haystack. They grabbed the hoof of the baby, and managed to get another leg out of the vulva, along with a bit of the head. Now the foal had a face, its tongue lolling out of its mouth; it was most definitely dead. They told me to hold Maria Grazie's head because she seemed to respond to me while they pulled from the rear. I cooed and comforted her in English. "Brave Mama. Good girl. Strong girl. You can do it. Push, push, push." The men said (in Italian, of course), "We don't think she speaks English." I said, "Lei parla la lingua del cuore." "She speaks the language of the heart."
|Fence repaired with rope where Maria Grazie collapsed|
The six men pushed and pulled with all their might, and, finally, the dead foal slid out up to its waist. The men drooped. The effort seemed to have taken all their strength. I yelled, "Harder! Don't give up!" At that moment, the tractor arrived again. The man in overalls climbed out; he seemed to have been given new instructions. He opened the fence. He drove the tractor in, put it in reverse and backed up. He jumped out. He tied one end of the rope to the legs of the dead foal, and the other end to the tractor itself. I gasped. He climbed back into the tractor. "Slowly! Slowly! Gently!" I yelled. He backed the tractor up very slowly, and the dead foal was wrenched out of Maria Grazie's womb. It was a full grown foal, completely formed, including a mane and tail, dead on the ground. "Is it masculine or femine?" I asked. The answer came back: "Masculine."
Maria Grazie was exhausted, lying on her side, one leg extended at a dangerous angle, but with her head up. She slowly, sadly turned her head back over her shoulder, as if it were a great effort. She forced herself to look at her dead son lying on the ground. And then she turned her head to face forward again. I could feel her grief.
The man in overalls scooped the dead colt up in the mouth of the tractor. He backed up and drove the tractor out, hopped out of the tractor and closed the fence. He took the rope that was used to extract the colt, and tied it around the wooden fence where it had broken when Maria Grazie had collapsed. Somehow, Maria Grazie managed to struggle to her feet.
And then everybody left. Just like that. No one remained except for me and one man who had arrived in a white truck. He lit a cigarette. I asked for one, which he gave me. He told me he had taken a wrong turn and had ended up in the middle of the scene. We watched as Maria Grazie struggled to walk up the hill toward the hay. She made it half-way up, and then stopped, seemingly unable to take another step forward. The other horses ignored her.
"She can't stay there," said the man. Now I became alarmed again. "She can't stay there. She's got to get back to the top. I'm going back in." I slipped through the fence again, and sloshed over to Maria Grazie. I touched her. She was cold and trembling hard and seemed disoriented. "Marie Grazie. Marie Grazie. Listen to me. You have got to be strong. You have got to go to the top of the hill or you will collapse again." She didn't move. I took the sugar out of my pocket. I stood a distance away from her, up the hill. "Come here, Maria Grazie. Come and get the sugar." Marie Grazie looked at me, but didn't move, as if the distance was too great. I moved closer to her, but still too far away for her to reach the sugar. "Come on, Mama. Come on. You can do it." Maria Grazie gathered her energy. She took a couple of steps toward me, up the hill. She reached the sugar. She licked and licked my hand. I repeated the process until she was all the way up the hill. And then she started eating the hay.
|Mary Grazie, on her feet, with the afterbirth|
I returned to the scene about an hour later to check on Maria Grazie, this time armed with a camera. She was still eating hay, slowly, resolutely; in fact, she seemed to be starving. I slipped through the fence and up the hill. She did not come close to me, she just stayed by the hay. The other horses wandered away from her, out into the grassy field, leaving her standing all alone. My shoes had been cleaned at the house, and I didn't want to get them filthy again, so I didn't go close to her; I stayed on the grass.
|Mary Grazie, all alone, by the hay|
Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog