Kitty, my 12-year-old Quarter Horse mare, foaled extremely rapidly. I helped her colt up, but he didn’t engage in typical udder searching. Instead, he walked around aimlessly, then lay down again to go back to sleep.
I rubbed him with a clean cloth and he got up again. But still he was indifferent to nursing—even when I guided him to the teats and milked a bit out. He didn’t follow the usual pattern of nursing, lying down, sleeping, then getting up to nurse again. Instead, he just walked around, licked the stall walls—and slept standing up!
I knew he needed colostrum—first milk—within six hours of birth, so I called the vet. When she and her assistant arrived, the foal seemed briefly interested in udder searching, but still he wouldn’t latch on and nurse. So the vet milked out the mare and we tubed the foal with the colostrum. Because he was so active and feisty during the tubing, the vet didn’t think he had dummy foal syndrome—a condition where foals are born emotionally detached from their mothers.
After the vets left, I tried for hours to get the foal interested in nursing. Exhausted, I finally had to acknowledge what I’d been feeling in my heart all along—that he just was not normal. Even if presented with the milk, he wouldn’t suckle. Getting panicky, I called a reproduction specialist at our local vet hospital. She said the colt might have a mild case of dummy foal syndrome. So I decided to try the Madigan Squeeze technique, which involves literally squeezing the foal gently with a rope to mimic the birth canal—more on that in a moment.
As soon as my husband, Jonathan, arrived home, I had him watch the three-part video on the technique that friends had posted on my Facebook page. And, the moment we put the rope on the foal and Jonathan applied a bit of pressure, the foal’s knees buckled and we eased him to the ground. He was literally in a deep sleep, as if someone had waved a wand over him or hypnotized him. Just as in the video!
After a little over 10 minutes, Jonathan released the rope pressure and the foal awakened instantly. He sat up, then stood and went right over to his dam and began nursing. Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed it. Shortly after, he lay down and went to sleep, then later got up and nursed again.
As I write this, it’s three days later, and he’s still in that normal pattern. What a transformation!
How does it work? Apparently there are neurotransmitters that keep the foal asleep in utero. When the foal passes through the birth canal, the pressure causes levels of those neurotransmitters to drop. But in some cases, as in oxygen deprivation or a fast birth, the levels don’t drop. This amazing technique mimics the squeeze of the birth canal in order to reset the levels.
Thank you, Dr. Madigan, for making this incredible discovery and sharing it with the world. And thanks as well to the friends who posted the videos about the technique just when I needed them.
The foal’s name, by the way, is Django. It means, “I awake.”
Tracy Benkendorf-Pasenko practices law in Alberta, Canada, while dedicating her resources to buying and training slaughter-bound foals and horses. With her husband, Tracy runs an 80-acre rescue ranch named Adorado Nino after an Appaloosa foal she saved from a local slaughter plant and reunited with his mother. Tracy still rides her first horse, Blaze, now 22.