With the world watching, the Stark Ridge mare My Special Girl gave birth to a colt at 9:22 p.m. EDT March 29 at Penn Vet's New Bolton Center. The gray foal weighed 104 pounds and measured 39.5 inches from crown to tail.
The birth was broadcast via a "Foal Cam," a first in the history of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. The live feed from My Special Girl's stall in New Bolton Center's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit began Feb. 26 (available here). Since then, more than 133,000 people in 112 countries have tuned in to monitor the mare and await the birth.
My Special Girl's water broke at 9 p.m., according to a release issued by Penn Vet. It was a tight fit, but the presentation, position, and posture were all normal. Due to the tight fit, New Bolton Center clinicians decided to assist with the delivery.
The birth canal was lubricated and the colt was delivered with moderate traction. The total duration of Stage 2 labor (the time between the water breaking and the actual birth) was 22 minutes. This is normal for a mare. Members of New Bolton Center's NICU and Reproduction teams were present. Clinicians took samples of the mare's allantoic and amniotic fluids and also drew blood from the foal to run tests that are routinely checked on all foals born in the NICU.
"It was good that we were here," said Dr. Regina Turner, associate professor of Large Animal Reproduction. "It was a strain for the mare because it was a tight fit and the colt's shoulders were hung up briefly in the birth canal. We were able to assist the delivery with some lubrication and traction. We are all so happy that the mare and foal are bonding so well. It looks like My Special Girl is going to be a great mom."
"The foal at birth was not as responsive as normal and had a lower heart rate than normal, and had other indications that he was slow to start, so we did give him a dose of epinephrine to stimulate his heart rate and to support his circulation at birth," said Dr. Jonathan Palmer, chief of neonatal intensive care service and director of perinatal/neonatal programs at New Bolton Center.
"You might have noticed we attached an ECG to monitor his heart rate and rhythm because of his slow start. Within minutes he responded. We routinely in high-risk pregnancies take a blood sample from the umbilical cord at birth. We found mild abnormalities that showed the foal had some stress in utero and this may have led to a slow start. He was somewhat slow standing on his own and somewhat slow nursing on his own, but we fully expect that he will come around. But because of his slow start we will be monitoring him very carefully. We will be watching his behavior closely and we will be taking more blood samples to make sure he continues to make a smooth transition.
"My Special Girl is a wonderful mother but she is still unsure of how to fully fulfill that role. You might have noticed that she stood as still as a statue. A more experienced mare tries to position herself so the foal has an easier time finding the udder to nurse. She is being very attentive and nurturing with her colt," added Palmer.
The colt will spend its first six months at the Hofmann Center at New Bolton Center, until he is weaned. But he will remain in the New Bolton Center family, because he will be adopted by Dr. Rose Nolen-Walston, New Bolton Center assistant professor of medicine, who lives on a nearby farm. Lisa Fergusson of Cochranville, once on Canada's Olympic eventing team, will be the foal's trainer when it is ready to begin its athletic career.
This foal, in particular, is very special because it represents the first successful pregnancy by Penn Vet using the advanced reproductive technique intracytoplasmic sperm injection, known as ICSI, which involves injecting a single sperm into a mature egg. This ICSI embryo was transferred to My Special Girl in early April. She was due to foal March 14, which is the average of 340 days of gestation.
Penn Medicine's Dr. Matthew VerMilyea, director of the IVF and Andrology Laboratories at Penn Medicine, is performing ICSI for the Hofmann Center. ICSI is a common procedure in human medicine that revolutionized the treatment of male infertility. Dr. VerMilyea is using a microscope with laser technology, used for humans but rarely used in the ICSI procedure in horses.
ICSI has great potential for use of frozen sperm from deceased stallions to carry on a legacy. In addition, the procedure can be used for mares that cannot get pregnant or carry their offspring themselves in the conventional manner, as all the donor mare needs to do is produce an egg.
My Special Girl, an 11-year-old Thoroughbred, was donated to New Bolton Center's herd of horses used for teaching veterinary students. The egg for the foal came from a Thoroughbred-Cleveland Bay cross mare. The sperm was from frozen semen from a long-deceased Thoroughbred-Quarter Horse cross stallion that was part of the Hofmann Center's teaching program.