Through dating websites and social media, the internet has helped bring millions of heart-aching people together—and now, two such Thoroughbreds.
A newborn colt whose dam died hours after his birth, and a 15-year-old mare, who lost her foal days earlier, immediately bonded upon meeting at a Florida farm March 14, much to the delight of their respective owners, who had learned of each other’s equine tragedies via Facebook.
Video of this first encounter and a photo montage of their journey, placed online by Heather Link, has been watched over 926,000 times on the video-sharing platform TikTok (@heatherlink1), through 3 p.m. ET March 21. It’s also spread to other platforms such as Twitter, with horse lovers eager to share the story of the orphaned foal finding happiness with a nurse mare.
One share by Tonya Moore on Twitter of Link’s TikTok video has over 241,000 views, also through midafternoon Sunday.
A mare who lost her foal and a foal who lost his mom meeting for the first time and healing each other. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/GJzJIZB3Ld
— Tonya Moore (@onemoore) March 17, 2021
The video shows the newborn, a son of Bahamian Squall out of the First Dude mare Vienna Fantasy, touching noses with the Unbridled Time mare Unbridled Faith after riding in a trailer to join her at Bridlechase Farm in Gainesville. The colt later begins to nurse and follows the mare back to her stall at the farm while a young, blond-haired girl keenly watches alongside.
It is unlikely that even the Hallmark Channel could have produced anything as touching.
Link, an occupational therapist by trade and wife of Luis Carlos Perez, one of the colt’s owners, said she “just put it together to show everybody around us what had been going on that day. So it sort of blew my mind a little bit that it got so popular.
“I think I had a record of something like 100 (views) before that.”
Subsequent videos of the equine duo have displayed the mare playfully splashing the foal with water from a trough, and the foal running, bucking, and playing alongside the mare.
The videos and the degree of fame that it brought the two horses and the people associated with them was a mere side effect for the owners of the horses, who simply wanted their animals to be healthy and happy after their earlier anguish.
For Link and Perez, both experienced horsepeople but first-time horse owners, having a mare they owned give birth was a new experience, let alone feeling the roller coaster of emotions of Vienna Fantasy’s death and their understandable worries for the health of their young colt.
They and co-owner Alvaro Rodriguez had dreams of a long and rewarding life for 5-year-old Vienna Fantasy as a broodmare after they bought her and another mare at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s 2021 Winter Mixed & Horses Of Racing Age Sale in January. Unraced Vienna Fantasy, related to three stakes winners and in foal to Double Diamond Farm stallion Bahamian Squall, was a $2,000 purchase from the Beth Bayer consignment.
Perez, a volleyball coach and exercise rider who breaks young horses at Casse Training Center for trainer Mark Casse, said he was initially overjoyed upon hearing news of Vienna Fantasy giving birth the morning of March 14 at Rodriguez’s farm near Kenansville, south of Orlando. But that euphoria quickly turned to worry upon hearing that Vienna Fantasy was not doing well post-birth. Early that afternoon, she would succumb, believed from severe rectal prolapse, Link said, though the newborn was able to nurse from her for about five hours before her passing, providing him with colostrum.
Seeing Vienna Fantasy struggling, Link began searching for a nurse mare—a surrogate mother to raise the foal until he is weaned—and recalled seeing a Facebook post by another horse owner, offering the services of her mare after its foal had died March 9. She spoke to numerous veterinarians, one of whom had taken a screenshot of the Facebook post, refreshing Link’s memory of it.
So she sent a message to that owner, Crystal Bessellieu, owner and operator of Bridlechase Farm, which specializes in eventers, explaining their predicament.
“Crystal was like, ‘Of course, we would want to help,'” Link recalled.
Time had nearly run out on nursing this year for Unbridled Faith, whose baby had died from complications five days before Vienna Fantasy’s passing.
“I had milked her for a couple of days after in case something came up. But I had actually thought that morning before they called, that I would just let her dry up and we’ll try again (next year),” Bessellieu said. “It was kind of crazy with the timing.”
So Perez joined the orphaned Bahamian Squall colt in the back of the trailer and bottle-fed him as they were transported for a four-hour journey to meet Unbridled Faith. After arrival at the farm but before he exited the trailer, Bessellieu and other handlers rubbed the scent of the mare on the foal to aid in their acceptance of one another. Then, it was time for their meeting.
Baby Mic and Unbridled Faith at Bridlechase Farm
“The rest is really in the video,” Bessellieu said. “She instantly wanted him; she was all over him. And I think it was the same for him. I think they only touched noses for as long as it was in the video. Then he just ran back, straight back to her udder, and latched on—the poor little guy.
“She loves it. She loves being a little mom. She’s a very good mom. I keep thanking her and telling her how wonderful she is every day, accepting somebody else’s baby like she did because she didn’t have to do it.”
The use of nurse mares—which can be controversial when a mare is taken away from her own foal, not the case in this situation—is a practice meant to avoid hand-raising an orphan.
Hall of Famer racehorse Rachel Alexandra was raised by a nurse mare when her dam, Lotta Kim, rejected her. Later, when Rachel Alexandra became a broodmare, her 2013 Bernardini filly, later named Rachel’s Valentina, was transferred to a nurse mare while she recovered from a bacterial infection following exploratory abdominal surgery. Rachel’s Valentina won the Spinaway Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course in 2015.
Baby Mic nursing on Unbridled Faith at Bridlechase Farm
In this specific nurse-mare case in Florida, more than the two horses healed from the experience. So did the horses’ owners and their families, Bessellieu and Perez both said.
Bessellieu said it was difficult when Unbridled Faith’s newborn filly perished after exhibiting dummy foal syndrome, in which an affected newborn exhibits abnormal behaviors and neurologic signs. She said this followed a red bag delivery, a term for premature separation of the placenta prior to or during a mare’s foaling.
This was to be Unbridled Faith’s third foal, Bessellieu said. The unraced mare produced a 7-year-old named Unbridled Chase (Celera) and a 2-year-old, according to Bessellieu.
Acquired by her owner at age 2, Unbridled Faith became a successful eventer before being retired after developing into a non-sweater, at times a problematic condition in a warm state such as Florida.
She had been mated to the jumper Diamant’s Legacy, a Grand Prix winner this year, and her owner is hopeful she can breed her back to that stallion this spring.
So to see the connection between Unbridled Faith and the Bahamian Squall foal brought her joy.
“This baby has really helped my family. My kids are 8 and 9. They were here. I let them miss school and kind of let them watch the process,” Bessellieu said. “I wanted them to see and understand. I’ve never seen my kids cry so much in their life. I’m so happy they went through that and they’re still going through that.
“When the baby arrived that day, I just saw the mare and saw my kids just light up. I think this gives us a little more time for our hearts to heal. Again, she’s not just a random nurse mare. I feel like they all have a place. We love them all, but she is kind of our family pet.
“She is doing a job that she doesn’t have to do that I kind of volunteered her for. Just this whole process gives my entire family time to heal. Even though it was two horrible situations for their family, there was a reason, an enlightened reason, why all this happened. That’s what I keep telling my kids anyway.”
Perez echoed those sentiments.
“We were scared but it was beautiful, a lot of tears, a lot of happiness,” Perez said. “Every day I would think about it—it was just sad on one side, but a miracle and amazing happiness on the other side because we can’t stop thinking about his mom, you know.”
In keeping with their view of the immediate bond between Unbridled Faith and the young colt being a miracle, Perez and Link have nicknamed the foal “Baby Mic,” Mic being an abbreviation for miracle. They hope to officially name him Vienna’s Miracle, or something similar, depending on name availability with The Jockey Club.
According to recent social media updates, Baby Mic and Unbridled Faith, simply referred to as “Faith” around the farm, have continued to pair well together since their initial meeting. Bessellieu sends the foal’s owners regular pictures and videos, and they travel to see them when they can. Baby Mic will stay with Bessellieu at Bridlechase Farm until weaned.
Perez said the colt won’t be sold at auction, which had been the partners’ original plan. They know now that they have too much of an emotional connection.
“We thought we got a dream. Our project was we buy mares and then sell the babies. Well, that changed and changed really quick,” Perez said. “That’s not what we’re doing now with Baby Mic. Our plan is to race him.”
They want him to be a part of their lives beyond his racing days.
“Once he does his racing thing—I do jumping and eventing some—he’s already gotten his post-racing career lined up for him because I don’t think he’s going to be stuck without us ever after all this,” Link said.