Back From The Brink: From Orphan Foal To USDF Horse Of The Year

Aug 5, 2020 - 2:58 PM

In the late afternoon on May 15, 2018, a group of friends in Jamaica, Virginia, congratulated one another. Their mare, Wega WF, had just foaled a much-anticipated colt by the Oldenburg stallion Finery.

“Nothing looked wrong initially,” said Meredith Jefferies, an equine dental technician, who runs a small breeding cooperative, Bridle Creek Sporthorses, with her friends Andrea Nuccio and Angela Stanaway, DVM. “Then, pretty quickly, within the first 30 minutes of looking at her, we started realizing she wasn’t right. Her heart rate was up. She was breathing heavily, and she wasn’t showing a lot of interest in the foal.”

Wega, a Hanoverian by Weltmeyer, had previously delivered a filly without complications. “She’d been a super mom with that filly, so her not paying attention to the foal was one of the biggest things that concerned us,” said Jefferies.

Stanaway gave Wega fluids and medications that seemed to stabilize the mare, and then focus shifted to her colt.

“In the same way that she didn’t pay attention to him, he very quickly didn’t do the things that you’d expect a foal to do, because he wasn’t getting the stimulation,” explained Jefferies. “For a brief time we were worried that he was sick because he wasn’t as active as we’d have liked him to be. He stood and nursed like he should, but there just wasn’t that correct relationship.”

By morning it was clear Wega wasn’t going to recover, and they euthanized her. Grieving and exhausted from an all-nighter, the team faced the challenge of finding a nurse mare to provide nutrition and socialization for the foal.

Stanaway recalled that one of her patients, an Appendix Quarter Horse named Romantic Woman, had recently lost a foal, so she made a call. The mare’s owners, Don and Donna Coats, didn’t hesitate to loan “Cindi,” so Jefferies drove straight to their farm to pick her up. Wega’s colt was not yet 24 hours old.

Brink_FinestHourBC_CindiAndFinley.jpg
The Appendix Quarter Horse mare Romantic Woman, AKA “Cindi,” bonded quickly with orphaned Finest Hour BC and became a model mom. Photo Courtesy Of Angela Stanaway

It had been several weeks since Cindi delivered, but they were able to bring her back into milk production. “There are actually protocols to bring a mare that’s never even had a foal into milk, using basically the same therapies that we used,” said Jefferies. “That said, it was a lot easier because she did have some milk production.”

Stanaway administered drugs and manually stimulated the mare’s cervix when the foal was first presented to her.

“We did the Misty of Chincoteague stuff where we took her secretions and rubbed them on him,” Jefferies said. “She was like, ‘That’s my baby; I love him.’ After we did that, we brought her into the stall and put him in with her, and within an hour, I felt I could go to sleep because it was going so well.”

The colt grew brighter, and although he’d been drinking milk replacer through his first day, he quickly chose to nurse instead.

As days went by without further complications, they began to take stock of their new colt. They named him Finest Hour BC. “His birth really was Wega’s finest hour, and we wanted to honor her with his name,” Jefferies said.

As “Finley” grew into a robust, correct colt, the group decided to take him to a GOV/Oldenburg foal inspection. While they don’t necessarily try to produce stallions, they figured even if Finley was ultimately gelded, it would be a good experience.

“We don’t produce a lot of horses, but we try to produce really high quality horses when we do,” said Jefferies. “We do it together, so we can pool our resources. It’s fun.”

At the side of his Quarter Horse nurse mare, Finley impressed the inspectors, who awarded him Premium and Elite designation. Jefferies said Cindi handled the process like a pro.

“She looked like a warmblood mare with her baby,” said Jefferies with a laugh. “Of course, people do embryo transfer, so it’s not totally uncommon to have a different type of mare. They looked right at home.”

Cindi taught Finley the basics of equine social niceties, such as respecting others’ space and that life has a pecking order.

“You would never know he was an orphan,” said Jefferies. “She raised him so much like he was her own. We worried about that because some of the orphan foals can be twerpy at times. And when we took him to his inspection, when you turn them loose and the foal follows the mom, they both acted just as you’d expect.”

Brink_FinestHourBC_DAD19 PURPLE HORSE DESIGNS
Finley placed seventh in the sport horse breeding championships at Dressage At Devon (Pennsylvania) in 2019 en route to earning the USDF Horse of the Year title for sport horse breeding, yearling colts/geldings. Purple Horse Designs Photo

Cindi and Finley also competed together at Dressage At Lexington (Virginia) later in 2018. Finley finished the year as the Virginia Dressage Association In-Hand/Breed Show Champion.

In 2019, he was grand champion at Virginia Summer Dressage and finished seventh in the USDF Dressage Sport Horse Breeding Championship Finals at Dressage At Devon (Pennsylvania). At the end of the year, Finley was named the USDF DSHB Horse Of The Year—Yearling Colts/Geldings.

“We didn’t know [he’d be exceptional] until we took him to [Virginia Summer Dressage at] Culpeper,” said Jefferies. “We took him and a filly I co-own with Angela [Stanaway]. He got champion; my filly ended up reserve champion. He won every class. It was crazy. We looked around and said, ‘This just happened!’ ”

The pandemic affected their 2020 competition schedule, but at Dressage At Lexington in July, Finley resumed his winning ways, earning the USDF breeding championship for colts/geldings and the young horse championship.

“He’ll continue to do the sport horse breeding shows in hand, and next year he’ll be started under saddle whether he’s a stallion or a gelding,” said Jefferies. “At this point, he’s for sale to a very specific home. What we want for him is someone who’s either going to develop him as a stallion or try to take him to Grand Prix. We want him to live his best life and do what’s best for him.”

Will the Bridle Creek team try to produce another Finley?

“We’ve got some Finery straws in our tank, so we have some plans, but nothing at the moment,” Jefferies said. “Wega had a filly two years before Finley, who hasn’t done anything quite yet, but she’s been started under saddle.”

In the meantime, they’re enjoying seeing their orphan colt develop into such a promising young athlete.

“We’ve had plenty of lovely horses, but not one like him that’s just so much above,” said Jefferies. “That’s supposed to be the point of breeding, to make an improvement, but he really is a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”


Do you know a horse or rider who returned to the competition ring after what should have been a life-threatening or career-ending injury or illness? Email Kimberly at kloushin@coth.com with their story.


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