Overcoming the Odds

A mare owner’s worst nightmare evolves into the ultimate success story.

By Delores Kuhlwein

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the saying goes, but rarely does imitation become life-changing. Except for one fateful day in 2014 when mimicry saved a feisty little APHA colt named Sweethearts Legacy.

His arrival seemed unremarkable. His dam, A Docs Sweetheart, delivered a sorrel solid stud colt that seemed destined for a healthy start.

So it surprised owners Wendell and Peggy Cummings of Paynter’s Paint Ranch in Sedalia, Colorado, when 12 days later, the mare nicknamed “Sweetheart” became listless and went off her feed.

“Our immediate thought was colic and our local vet was called, but she wasn’t demonstrating the classic signs, so it was a bit of a puzzle for everyone. She was stiff and stoic and very still,” Peggy said.

The Cummingses loaded up the pair for a nerve-wracking two-hour haul to Colorado State University.

After extensive testing at CSU, veterinarians discovered the mare’s foaling and delivery had been rougher than it had initially appeared, resulting in the colt’s feet breaking through the uterine wall, bruising the mare and causing her to bleed internally. The heartbreaking diagnosis was that “Sweetheart” had gone septic and was dying from the inside out.

“We made the humane-but-excruciating decision to put Sweetheart down,” Peggy said, “and we had no idea if the colt would live or die. But there was just something special about him, so we decided to spend the money to try to save him.”

A Pivotal Moment

Getting an orphan foal to nurse from a bottle or drink from a bucket was easier said than done, and the colt grew weaker by the day.

“The vets tried every kind of milk, even another mare’s milk, over several days and he refused, so we were afraid we were going to lose him,” Peggy said.

As their fears grew, the colt with heart suddenly surprised everyone.

“[The colt] wouldn’t have anything to do with a bucket, and the black round tubs we use at home were all he knew,” Peggy said. “We didn’t realize he had been watching Sweetheart eat grain out of them at home until one day he began to mimic her behavior by trying to eat pellets out of a tub at the clinic.”

Lo and behold, the little survivor blossomed by eating milk replacement pellets out of a tub, just as he’d seen his mother do. As his recovery progressed and the colt gained weight, he basked in the constant attention of CSU vet students, who bestowed him with the nickname “Prince” for the way he pranced around like he owned the world.


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2022 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.