Just as Mr. Willis’ girlfriend Melinda’s son, Mason, becomes attached to Towaco, Hawk and her horse make a trip to Florida where her father wants her to compete in several horse shows. Hawk won’t return until after the holidays. Mason is autistic? or at least suffers from some type of brain/neurological damage. He's upset because he had bonded with the horse.
While answering emails at the pet store, Winnie reads one from Topsy-Turvy-Double-U stating that she needs to run straight home to her pasture. EMERGENCY!
Winnie assumes something is wrong with her horse Nickers. When she arrives home, she finds Nickers is fine, but discovers a sickly horse in the pasture. The dapple gray mare is thin with a saggy belly. So, although everyone agrees the horse is in poor health, they bring her into the barn with Nickers anyway. Bad idea, the horse could be contagious.
I fed the gift horse the richest feed we had in the barn. p. 29
That’s also the wrong thing to do. Feeding a starving horse rich foods may cause them to colic or founder.
Mr. Willis is convinced the horse is going to die. He doesn’t want Mason to get attached to the mare and suffer another loss. Mr. Willis demands that Winnie return the horse to wherever it came from—which she doesn’t know, of course. Although Winnie doesn’t get rid of the horse, the conflict over this with her father continues.
I don’t remember fighting with Dad in Wyoming. But then I don’t remember seeing much of him either. He’d leave for his insurance office before Lizzy and I got up, and sometimes he wouldn’t get home until we were in bed. p. 33
Although the mare is about twenty-one, Winnie discovers that she is pregnant.
I squatted and peered underneath her. “Wait a minute…” I blinked, then looked again. Her udders were tight, swollen. p. 43
Udders? I didn’t realize horses had more than one. The mare’s udder is repeatedly referred to in the plural form. :)
Winnie and Lizzy name the mare Amazing Grace or Gracie. Although the Willises are always short on money, Winnie has the vet out to examine the horse. The vet confirms she is in foal, and adds that he doesn’t think the mare or her foal will survive. Mr. Willis advises Winnie to allow the vet to put Gracie down.
“And the longer you hang on to it—her—the more pain you’re going to cause yourself and others. We don’t need more pain and grief, Winnie—not you, not Mason, not any of us. Not this Christmas. p. 71
Catman and his friend M spend a lot of time at the barn helping Winnie with the horse. M participated in the abortion debate in book 3, but is normally pretty silent when present. He is portrayed as always wearing all black.
Winnie’s class is selling overpriced wrapping paper as a fundraiser. Winnie is the only student who hasn’t sold a single roll. The wrapping paper sale and her worries about Gracie and/or her foal dying consume the next few chapters. I thought this book moved much more slowly than others in the series.
When Winnie arrives home after the last day of school before Christmas break, she notices that Gracie is dripping milk. Winnie milks the mare to save the colostrum for the foal. Winnie says they can use an antifreeze kit to test the colostrum—and Lizzy knew immediately where one was in their house.
I squeezed the plastic bulb on top and stuck the tube into the first container of milk. “If the balls float in the milk, we’re in business. The colostrum’s good enough quality, with enough vitamins and antibodies to make that foal healthy.” p. 140
Hmm, I’m not sure how the balls floating can determine the chemical makeup of the milk. but apparently some people do use that technique. Gracie’s milk was so thin, all the balls sank, so Winnie buys some frozen colostrum from the Spidells, owner of Stable-Mart.
Just as the family is preparing to leave for the Christmas Eve service, Gracie goes into labor. M stays with Winnie to keep an eye on the mare. Gracie’s water breaks, and the vet is called.
Typically from the time that happens, it’s only fifteen to twenty minutes max until the foal is born, so I hope the vet was close by.
It’s at this point, that M reveals he is Topsy-Turvy-Double-U, something that had seemed pretty obvious to me from the start, but not to Winnie. She's angry at M when she finds out.
When it appears Gracie is about to fall over, M tries to “ease the landing.” p. 167 Oh dear. I don’t care how skinny that horse was, no eighth-grade boy is going to ease her landing if she’s falling over.
Gracie gets back on her feet, and some details of the foaling process are given.
A gray bubble appeared under her tail. p. 166
The gray bubble sac broke, and a tiny, bubble-wrapped hoof appeared under the tail, then disappeared again. p. 167
Winnie dons plastic gloves and reaches inside the mare to correct the positioning of the foal for delivery. (p. 168) Oh wow. I was present at the birth of two foals, but I’m not sure I would have dared to try that.
“M! Get back here and help me! Gracie’s not going to lie down again. She must know she’s not strong enough to do it lying down. You have to catch the foal.” p. 169
That seems opposite to me. If the mare was weak, I believe she would lie down.
In the wild, horses usually deliver foals standing up so they can be ready to defend themselves if they have to. But, even then, foals sometimes break legs, or even necks, when they drop. p. 169
Wow, that seems so wrong. I’m not sure where Mackall got that information. I don’t think it’s true. Generally, a mare in the wild will drift away from the herd when it’s time to foal, finding a secluded location. They almost always foal at night (lying down). The next day, the foal is able to travel at her side to rejoin the herd.
The foal slides out into M’s arms. A typical newborn foal weighs 100 pounds. Given that Gracie was underweight, this foal might weigh less, but that’s still a big baby to catch.
Gracie drops to the floor, then turns back to look at her foal. The mare dies with her head in Winnie’s lap.
Almost immediately, they move the foal into the stall with Nickers. That struck me as a risky thing to do.
Later, Winnie unwraps the Christmas gift from her father—a foal halter. Aw, that was the best part of the book. :)