How to Make Lemonade

An orphaned Clydesdale colt and a reiner nurse mare make an unlikely pair, but the combination makes for a heartwarming story.

By John O’Hara

An unlikely pair: An orphaned Clydesdale colt being raised by a 14.1-hand Quarter Horse nurse mare. Kiskasen is already almost as tall as reining mare Whiz Ms Dolly. (Photo by John O’Hara)

John O’Hara, well-known photographer, sent us this fun story that we’re happy to share with you! If you have a story to share and would like us to consider publishing it on The Rundown, please send them to

You’ve heard, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” a slightly sarcastic saying about dealing with things when they don’t go your way.

This story about lemonade began with the joy of two new foals entering the world: a long-hoped-for colt out of an 18.1-hand black Clydesdale mare named Nakita and a filly out of a little 14.1-hand Quarter Horse reining mare named Whiz Ms Dolly. 

The following events resulted from a double tragedy— a stillborn foal and the death of a mare right after foaling—and the willingness of strangers to help each another.

The first phone call regarding the Clydesdale came from the veterinarian clinic at 8 p.m. on April 9.  

“I wanted to let you know that your mare Nakita gave birth to a healthy colt. He’s up and has already nursed once,” clinic staff reported. “If you want to come see them tonight, we’ll make an exception to the normal visiting hours.” 

Carl and Kirsten Absher, proud owners of Nakita and the newborn baby Clydesdale, lived 40 minutes away in Shingle Springs, California. They wasted no time in making the trip to the clinic to meet the new arrival.  

Early the next morning, the second call came at 4 a.m. The mare was down with complications, but because she’d been under observation as was the clinic’s protocol, they caught it immediately.

A third and then a fourth call came in to inform the stunned owners that at 4:19 a.m. on April 10, their mare had died. The Abshers reached out to their friend Shamarie Tong for help locating a nurse mare.  

That same morning, 130 miles away in Santa Rosa, longtime NRHA member and non pro competitor Britta Jacobson’s Quarter Horse mare Whiz Ms Dolly gave birth to a stillborn filly. Having bred and raised her own competition horses for many years, and having been in the situation of raising an orphaned foal herself many years ago, Britta knew that her loss could benefit someone else. While still monitoring the mare with her veterinarian, she posted on Facebook that she had a nurse mare available. 

Through friends and intermediaries on Facebook, including Shamarie Tong, who posted that her friends lost a mare and were hoping to find a nurse mare, and Ryan Fowler of Skyline Silversmiths (the first one to connect the two posts), Britta was made aware of the orphaned foal. She wasted no time in calling.

Kirsten laughs when she recalls that phone call. 

“Hi, this is Britta Jacobson of Bennett Valley Ranch. My mare just had a stillborn foal this morning, and if you want a nurse mare, I suggest you pack up your foal right now and get down here. We’ve saved the placenta to help introduce your foal to my mare.” 

It sounded more like a command than anything and was just exactly what the Abshers needed to hear at that moment. Several hours later, the orphaned colt, Kiskasen, was given the OK to travel.

“I hadn’t thought to ask about the breed of the foal prior to the transport,” Britta said. “I was somewhat surprised to find out it was a Clydesdale.”  

Clydesdale foal Kiskasen nurses from his adopted mom, a 14.1 hand Quarter Horse mare. (Photo by John O’Hara)

When the foal arrived at Bennett Valley Ranch, everyone donned the now-customary (due to COVID-19) masks and gloves. Carl and Kirsten rubbed the colt with thoroughly with the placenta. Then Britta draped it over the foal’s back and led in the distraught Whiz Ms Dolly. After a few tense minutes, the mare began to relax and to everyone’s relief allowed Kiskasen to nurse.  

Kiskasen is now growing up at Bennett Valley Ranch, owned by Britta and her husband, Ted. This isn’t a place one would expect to find a pure-bred Clydesdale colt, let alone one who being raised by a 14.1-hand Quarter Horse mother. 

A significant portion of the approximately 600 Clydesdales born in the United States each year are bay, with the other colors being chestnut, black, or roan. Kiskasen is one of the small percentages that will be black once he sheds his baby fuzz.   

So, the next time you see Budweiser Clydesdales performing in commercials or in a parade, you might wonder if Kiskasen will grow up to become one of them with a little red quarter horse following alongside as his mother.