Originally published Aug. 8, 2011.
The foals kicking up their heels at Laura and Eric Mason's Polk Township farm don't look all that remarkable.
Cute, sure; but so is every other foal at four months old.
These two, though, have defied the odds. They're twins, an uncommon occurrence in the equine world.
"It's very rare," Laura Mason says, "especially for both to survive or the mother not to reject one of them."
Charming Opal and Woodcock Pocket - named by the Masons' daughter Brianna for the title character and the setting of the children's book "Charming Opal" - were born in late March and will soon hit the show circuit. Their experiences at competition, though, won't begin to compare with the remarkable journey that began with their conception.
The foals' mother, Lil Miss Botique (who answers to the less formal nickname of "Tiki"), was one of three mares the Masons bred last year. Tiki and one of the other mares became pregnant with twins but, as frequently happens, the second mare naturally aborted one of her twins. A series of ultrasounds revealed that Tiki's twins were continuing to develop.
Tiki was among the one in 10,000 mares whose pregnancies result in twins, Laura Mason says. Only about 8 percent of those mares will carry both foals to term; of the 8 percent who carry both foals to term, only 8 percent will have both foals born alive.
Twins are more likely in older mares, Laura Mason says, and at 16, Tiki is considered "older."
For a horse, she says, carrying twin foals is fraught with danger. The foals are likely to be born too early to survive, or the mare will reject one of the babies.
If they make it to birth, twin foals are likely to arrive with crooked legs, have underdeveloped lungs and suffer from other health issues.
For all of those reasons, veterinarians advised the Masons to reduce Tiki's pregnancy to one foal. Twice, they tried to "pinch off" the smaller foal. Although they believed those efforts had been successful, the staff at Conley and Koontz Equine Hospital in Columbia City continued to detect two heartbeats, she says. And that meant two babies.
Again, because of the probable bad outcome, the veterinarians advised the Masons to abort one of the foals. This time, they wanted to send her to the College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University for a procedure that would cost somewhere between $1,800 and $3,000.
"I'm supposed to spend that kind of money to kill a baby?" Laura Mason says she told the vets.
She questioned the staff at the veterinary hospital and learned that all of the veterinarians on staff had delivered twin foals. All of the mares had survived; the survival rate for the foals was low, with neither or only one of the babies making it. But in all of those cases, she says, the foals were born at home - and the arrival of twins was unexpected.
She proposed checking Tiki in at the equine hospital when she was near her due date so that she would have 24-hour care, despite the fact that delivering the foals by C-section, if necessary, would cost $1,500.
Keeping in mind that Tiki's previous pregnancies had lasted about 340 days, the Masons decided to check her in at the hospital at 305 days, reasoning that twins would probably come early. In fact, they weren't born until day 366.
Tiki went into labor late on Saturday evening March 26, while the veterinarians were at the hospital performing emergency surgery on a gelding.
The 86-pound colt was born first, at about five minutes before midnight, healthy as - well - a horse. The filly was born about 10 minutes after midnight, weighing in at 59 pounds. The filly, although she was the smaller of the two, turned out to be the stronger of the pair - she was up and walking around within 10 minutes of birth, Laura Mason says.
Both babies had strong lungs and hearts, and both nursed well. There was no sign of rejection from Tiki, although she initially seemed confused by two babies trying to nurse, Laura Mason says.
"She didn't know what to do with two of them," she says.
"But she's a good mare and a good mother," Eric Mason says.
The Masons plan to keep both foals.
"We'll never have twins again," she says.
Laura Mason says she's had horses since she was 14, and she and her husband have been breeding horses since shortly after their marriage. Their business, Pine Hollow Paint Horses, concentrates on showing and breeding horses, and this is the first time they've had a horse bear twins.
Tiki and her babies came home about a week after birth, and the Masons say they started working with both newborns as a first step in getting them ready for the show circuit. Tiki, their mom, is a retired show horse, having earned third place in the Paint World Championships as a youngster.
"They're small for their age," Laura Mason says of Tiki's most recent offspring. "I'm hoping they stay small.
The Masons believe the foals might mature at "pony" height - measuring under 56 inches at the withers.
They can start showing as soon as their registration papers are filed, Laura Mason says, a process that was delayed because the family's first choice of names - Knick-Knack and Paddywhack - were already taken.