"Ready Return" - My Jack Russell Terrier and Foaling Assistant
By Aggie O'Brien

Ready Return takes his job as foaling assistant and foal guardian very seriously.

Ready Return is my 10-year-old Jack Russell terrier. He is a great help around the barn - he loves the horses and he 's a great mouser. He also guards the birds and the bunnies from the dreadful squirrels at my house. Ready's been helping to foal mares since he was a puppy - his special job is to help my Thoroughbred broodmare, Gentle Susan, with her foals. Since she has been with me, Susan has had eight foals. They are great athletes, wonderful racehorses, and fabulous jumpers.

This year Susan had her foal two days before she was due. But she made it very clear to me when it was time. About mid-afternoon she came within 100 yards of the gate and just stood by. When I went out to get her, she met me at the gate and we walked together back to her stall. She came in and rolled, got up, lay back down and her water broke. Ready was paying attention all the while.

Five minutes later we had a healthy and boisterous filly who was trying to figure out how to get up. From the time Susan actually has her foal to the time it stands and nurses, the foal is my responsibility. Susan wants me to do the drying and cleaning and then help it to stand and nurse. She wants nothing to do with it until it's ready to eat.

This is where Ready steps up to the plate. He will lick the foal with great care while I rub it with the towel and help do the foal imprinting [see NHM Volume 1, Issue 2, There's No End to a Good Beginning]. As I rub the foal to accustom it to my handling and scent, Ready licks it everywhere he can. Susan usually comes over and lies down right next to the foal, watching attentively while we do the work. The funny part is when I finally have the foal up and nursing, Susan then dismisses Ready and me. She lets us know that we are no longer welcome and she is back in charge.

The next day I usually walk the mare and foal out in front of the stable. Ready then takes it upon himself to walk behind the foal - right on its heels as if to keep it in line. This may sound funny and cute, but the great thing is that Ready takes his job very seriously, and he really is a big help. For the next month or two he will always escort the foal the 100 yards from the barn to the pasture.

The story of how Ready got his name will help you understand why I'm sure he had this job with me planned from the beginning. His full name is Ready Return. Now, you may ask, how did he get that name? Well, my parents were getting older, and their dog had died. So I got the bright idea that maybe a cute little Jack Russell terrier puppy would cheer them up. My friend had a bitch who had just had puppies so I went to look at them. The runt was the cutest thing I had ever seen. He had a heart on his head and his tail, and a perfect heart on his leg. Of all the puppies, he was the only one I wanted, and I eventually got him.

The runt with the heart-shaped markings came to stay with me for two days, and he was incredibly well behaved. He went with me to the barn and I kept him in the pen outside the tack room while I was working so he wouldn't get stepped on. When I took him home he would sleep soundly. When he woke up, I'd let him out. In less than twenty-four hours he was essentially house broken. All I had to do was let him out when he'd first wake up, and there would be no mistakes on the rug. (I think he got so tired playing at the barn that he would wear himself out.) Two days later when it was time to take him to my parents, I found myself to be incredibly attached to this very cute, unnamed puppy.

Aggie and Ready plant simultaneous kisses on one of her charges.

But off I went to Mom and Dad's with the new puppy and a crate, which he slept in at night with his blanket. I took a dog kennel, dog toys, dog chews, dog food, and a bundle of good cheer. The puppy came in the house and immediately made a big fuss over both of my parents, and my Mom was instantly in love. Within several minutes time, she was already thinking of naming him "Fido". Well, my heart sank. "What a terrible name," I thought. But he wasn't my puppy; he was theirs.

Three or four days later, I visited to check on everyone, and the puppy was causing great havoc. I found I missed him terribly, and he must have missed me too. He was no longer house broken, and he had been chewing on my mother's thumbs until they bled. She was still planning to call him "Fido", but my father was ready to throw him out. My mother would hear nothing of the kind; she loved him, but Daddy was getting fed up!

Four days later I was sitting at home on a Sunday when the phone rang; it was my father, and he wasn't happy. "I'm ready to return the dog!" he announced.

"Why Dad, what happened?" I asked.
He replied, "Not only has he pooped in every room in the house, but I just woke up from my nap, and when I looked down, he had pooped on my shoe with my foot still in it! Enough is enough!"

Well of course I was thrilled at the prospect of getting this cute little puppy back, and gleeful that he wasn't going to go through life with a name like Fido! As Daddy was driving him back to me, (where I have no doubt he belonged all along), I decided that since he was ready to return the dog, it was only fitting, the puppy should be named "Ready Return."

I am very grateful to be with both Susan and Ready. They are great friends, as well as wonderful animals.

About the author:
Aggie O'Brien breeds and raises racehorses in Unionville, PA. Her professional photography has graced posters for Dressage at Devon, the Gold Cup, and Rittenhouse Trust, and she is a fabulous cook and caterer as well. Her love of horses, teaching and riding jumpers is superseded only by the love of her dog, Ready Return. He is a great spirit. The story of Ready Return is an excerpt from Aggie's upcoming book, "Snar - An Eternal Love", about what she learned from her stallion before and after his death. Aggie can be reached at 610-347-1219 before 9 pm.