The Lovely Lady Lonza

By SUZANNE MILLER

It was never my intent to breed Tennessee Walking Horses, but then Annie became permanently lame. She was in a large pasture with four other horses when a freak hail storm passed through the Missoula area, hurtling baseball sized hail stones into Annie’s pasture. Did another horse kick her during their frantic run? Did she fall or run blindly into a tree? We will never know. We do know that she was left with a compression break to her right front knee – fingernail-sized pieces of bone kept sloughing off. After two unsuccessful surgeries, I had to accept the fact that at only 8 years old, she would have to be retired from carrying a rider.

When I bought Annie, she had just weaned a beautiful, champaign-colored colt. He had perfect confirmation and his good looks caught everyone’s eye. Not wanting to breed solely on the basis of color and looks, but for disposition and athletic ability, I called the owners of that handsome colt to find out more about him. He got rave reviews for his amicable personality, great gait, and strong body; so I tracked down the stud that had “done the deed.” Arian’s Golden Sun was found living in California – not exactly next door to facilitate a pasture breeding. This meant artificialinsemination.

Not having a clue as to what I was getting into, I signed a stud contract, contacted my vet, and began the long process of playing cupid. Instead of arrows in a quiver, my arsenal consisted of cold semen that was air freighted from California within hours of collection. Then the marathon began: Run to the airport to pick up the special container with dry ice and a vile of semen, get the mare to the vet, have him “do the deed”, return the mare within another 24 hours to “do it again”, then ship the container back. Wait a couple of weeks, take the mare to the vet for a sonogram to see if she “took”, and start over if she didn’t.

Of course, Annie didn’t “take” on the first three attempts – but hallelujah! She “settled” on the fourth. Then it was just sit back, pamper her, and wait 11 months.

The following June, the rest of my family headed out for vacation while I remained home on foal watch. As the moment drew near, I set up a cot in the barn and spent several restless nights waiting, only to learn the truth in the old cowboy wisdom—mares will always wait until they are alone.

At sunrise on my father’s birthday, I withdrew from a largely sleepless night in the barn and went to my own bed to catch a few “zzzs” before beginning the day’s chores. I awoke a couple of hours later, and knew that minute, that the foal had arrived. My two geldings, Denali and Power, were frantically running along the fences, whinnying, and looking towards the barn.

There she was, born just moments earlier, still trying to find her legs, with mother Annie in attendance. I quietly entered the stall, collected the placenta for the vet to check, and stood back in awe. Soon enough, she balanced herself on those long legs, wobbled around to find her mother’s rich milk, and began to suckle. What a magic moment!

Needing help to imprint the foal, I called on a friend and her daughter. With the daughter holding Annie’s lead, my friend and I embraced the foal. I reached my hands into her ears, nose, and mouth, held each leg until she relaxed and let me reposition it, and rubbed her body all over. Annie and foal proved to be perfectly willing to allow the human contact, and the foal began to learn the most important lesson of living with humans – give to the pressure to find the release.

I excitedly went to pick up my mother to share the news. Lost in her grief of losing my father earlier that year, she expected to spend his birthday mourning his death. The foal changed all of that. Together my mother and I set up folding chairs near the stall, to watch the pair, marvel at the miracle of birth and renewal of life, and to feel Dad’s presence among us.  We named her after him.

The Lovely Lady Lonza has assumed her rightful role as the princess of our pastures – a BIG, strong beauty with considerable attitude who has produced two foals of her own. I seldom gaze upon her without remembering her birth and savoring the closeness I felt with my mother and my father’s spirit. She is a living link to my parents.

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SuzAnne Miller is the owner of Dunrovin Ranch, a small guest ranch nestled against the Bitterroot River and the Sapphire Mountains, south of Missoula. She shares her home with her husband of 42 years, 2 sons, 20 equines, 2 or 3 dogs, the resident wildlife, and anyone looking for highadventure.