By Misty Volaski
Photo by Logan Hall
It’s hard enough to get a good night’s sleep with a 5-month-old baby in the house. But add in a newborn orphaned foal – and her surrogate goat mother – to the mix, and sleep becomes more of a recommendation rather than a requirement.
“What can you do?” laughs 22-year-old Ojai resident Sarah Lockfort. “Look at her. I had to take her. How could I not?”
That “her” is 10-day-old Hope, a pretty little filly with a personality as comical as her knobby knees. Born in Temecula, her life began in tragedy when it was discovered her mother had ruptured her rectum giving birth.
“I was just down there visiting a friend when the mare foaled,” says Lockfort. But something was wrong, and a vet visit confirmed the worst; the mare had to be put down. Decisions had to be made quickly. “It’s really important that the baby get the mother’s first milk,” Lockfort says, adding that the milk contains colostrum and antibodies vital to the animal’s lifelong health. With her friend understandably distraught over the impending loss of her horse, Lockfort volunteered to help little Hope to nurse from her mother, who was kept heavily medicated to stave off the pain. No sleep was to be had that night as Lockfort got the filly nursing every hour or so while trying to keep her mother comfortable. At 8 a.m. the next day, the mare was put down, and a new question arose: What would become of tiny Hope?
“Of course I wanted to take her,” explains Lockfort, who runs Horse Heart and Soul, a nonprofit organization that pairs dependents of the court and at-risk teens with rescued horses for their mutual benefit. “I had my horse trailer with me, so we sectioned off (a part of) the trailer, laid an entire bale of hay out, and padded the walls” so that the hopelessly wobbly-legged Hope wouldn’t injure herself.
“And that was when the 405 was shut down!” adds Lockfort. “I had to stop every two hours in that insane traffic to make sure she was OK. Turned a three-hour trip into a 10-hour trip! But it was totally worth it.”
These days, Hope lives at Sue Gruber’s Oso Ranch in the Meiners Oaks river bottom. Hope must be fed every two hours for at least the first 30 days of her life. Providing milk is a 1-year-old goat named Sunny. While a surrogate mare would have been the ideal option, Lockfort has yet to find one that will accept little Hope. So Sunny stepped up to lend a hand.
“But it’s working out great,” Lockfort says as Sunny buries her nose in a sack of raisins and Hope nudges at Sunny’s belly for a drink. “Sunny is absolutely her mommy. And she’s a good mom! They cuddle up together at night. Hope follows her all over.”
Playing daddy — or maybe “grandpa” — is 36-year-old Chewy, Gruber’s gentle retired champion horse. While geldings don’t normally play much of a role in a foal’s life, “Chewy just decided Hope was his baby,” said Gruber. He teaches her barnyard manners and keeps her safe around the other horses Gruber boards at Oso Ranch. “Chewy is so gentle with her! He tiptoes around her when she’s sleeping. He just loves her,” Lockfort says. “All the other horses at the ranch do too!”
When Lockfort and Gruber open Hope and Sunny’s enclosure for a walk, Hope trots out slowly at first, then breaks into a mad dash around the ranch, gangly limbs flying out in all directions. But Sunny just waits patiently, knowing her “baby” will eventually tire herself out and return to her side.
While the scene is cute enough to crack a smile on even the crabbiest curmudgeon’s face, it’s not exactly an inexpensive one.
“In eight days we’ve already spent over $1,000,” Lockfort says. Between vet bills, Foal-Lac (a foal milk replacement), yogurt, supplements, goat feed, raisins, stable shavings (which must be changed twice a day to prevent flies and bacteria) and other miscellaneous expenses, Lockfort and Gruber are seeking help from the community. A veterinarian, Dr. Kevin Smith, has donated an exam, and other individuals and businesses are coming forward to help. Both Ventura Hay Company and American Hay & Mercantile have donated items, and both have set up accounts for people to donate toward Hope’s care.
“All the donations are tax-deductible” through Horses Heart and Soul, said Lockfort. “Anyone who donates can come to the ranch and meet Hope if they want!”
For more information on donating, visit Ventura Hay Company or American Hay & Mercantile, or call Lockfort at 338-3326.