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March 26, 2012

A Rescued Mare Reunited with Her Rare Twins

One family of horses survives PMU industry to find a life of peace, together, at Duchess Sanctuary in Oregon

The Humane Society of the United States / The Fund for Animals

  • One of Moon's twins, Sarah, at Duchess in October 2011. Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

  • Moon (above) and her three offspring now live at Duchess together. Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

  • One of Moon's twins, Sarah, in February of 2006. Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

  • Stoney, Sarah's twin brother, in February of 2006. Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

  • Stoney at Duchess in October 2011. Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

  • Moon (right) with her 2006 filly, Moonshadow. Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

  • Moonshadow in 2006. Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

by Jennifer Kunz

When Alberta, Canada shut down it's Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU) industry, thousands of mares and their PMU offspring were in danger of being sent to slaughter. But some lucky horses were placed in new adoptive homes through the efforts of various rescue groups and horse brokers. This is the story of one family of horses who not only survived the PMU industry, but have found a life of peace, together, at Duchess Sanctuary in Oregon.

A rough start

Mares in the pregnant mares’ urine—or PMU—industry often spent six months of the year attached to urine collection devices in stalls that prevented them from turning around. The mares were kept pregnant so their urine could be used to produce Premarin®, a once commonly prescribed estrogen replacement therapy used to relieve hormonal deficiency symptoms associated with menopause or hysterectomy.

At the height of the drug’s popularity, tens of thousands of mares were producing the potent ingredient. But in 2002, an important study by the Women’s Health Initiative raised serious questions about the benefit of estrogen therapy, and the pregnant mare urine industry plummeted.

When that happened, many of the mares were no longer considered useful and were typically sent to slaughter.

Lucky #13

In the spring of 2005, I was working with a rescue groups photographing recently born foals on former PMU ranches, so they could be posted on the Internet for purchase or adoption. On a warm day in May, I unpacked my gear in a pasture of quarter horse mares and their new foals. Fourteen mares were in the field. Some had already foaled, and I was waiting on the others. I counted mares, and counted foals, and the numbers didn't add up. There was an extra baby in the field. After some quiet observation, I realized the mare I knew as #13 had twins. The colt and filly, both on the small side, kept up with their mom and nursed frequently. They looked the picture of health.

Surviving twins in horses are extremely rare. Mares will often lose the whole pregnancy before the foals are viable, or one twin will be born tiny and not survive. Complications during labor can also threaten the mother's chances of survival. Most twins usually require extra feed and care until they are weaned. But this dark bay mare with the pretty face had delivered them both safely, with no human assistance, in a remote pasture. And with an udder the size of a dairy cow, she was managing to feed both of them.

I kept a close watch on them through the rest of the summer and into the fall, and watched as the colt started to turn roan while the filly stayed a solid bay color.

Road to adoption

The unusual twins were a big hit with potential adopters. Eventually, Sarah (the filly) and Stoney (the colt) were adopted together by the rescue group I would go on to work for. A few weeks later, we purchased their mom, named her Moon, and reunited the threesome. But Moon had another surprise for us; she was pregnant again.

Moon spent the rest of the winter with her twins. In the spring, we moved her into a different paddock nearby in preparation for foaling. The waiting and watching began in late April. On the morning of May 11, 2006, Moon delivered a very cute black and white filly before dawn.

We named the filly Moonshadow, and despite an uncomplicated birth, she got quite sick very soon after being born. Veterinary intervention, prayers, nights spent in the barn, and a feisty filly spirit pulled her through, though, and she has grown and thrived ever since.

A home together

Moon and her family were four of the horses who came to the Duchess Sanctuary when it opened in 2008, and they have settled in to horse heaven as well as I have. Moon, baby Moonshadow, and Sarah all live together out in the light herd. Stoney has some dental issues we've been working on, so right now, he lives in a special needs paddock in the yard with two other geldings.

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