Brett and Rachel Johnson never imagined the terror and worry they would live through with the newest addition to their horse family.
An 8-year-old mare, Annie, was expecting her first foal and the couple checked her often as her due date arrived. On Saturday, April 14, Rachel Johnson said Annie was restless, but didn't seem any different than the other nights she had checked on her.
The couple live about three blocks from their barn in Foxhome, Minn. The night their foal was born was cold and rainy. It was a terrible night for anyone to be out stuck in the weather, Johnson said.
"The pens were locked. On Sunday morning I came in at 7:30 a.m. The mare was frantic. There was a placenta in her pen and no baby," Johnson said. "I could clearly tell the mother had her foal as she was noticeably skinnier."
A frantic call went out to friends and neighbors in Foxhome and a search began for the new baby. Search teams walked the farm, the neighbor's farm and after three hours had to quit an initial search. When the family came home in the afternoon, Johnson called area vets to see if another explanation could be found for a missing foal.
The vets confirmed the family's worst fear. If there was a placenta, there had been a baby, born either alive or dead. So now the family wondered, where was the baby?
The mare's behavior confirmed the vet's diagnosis as well, Johnson said. When she first arrived the morning of the delivery, the mare was frantic in her stall. Johnson let her out and she immediately went to the rear of the barn and began "whinnying to her foal."
It took three days to answer the question of what happened to the baby. A series of events, something Johnson calls fate, gave them a live foal. A woman who lives a few miles south of Foxhome happened across the baby in a ditch. The woman's name is being withheld by request of the Johnson family. The woman took the infant filly home, warmed her, put a blanket on her and went to the feed store to find milk replacement. A vet knew the woman as well and struck up a conversation with her. The vet found out she had found a foal south of Foxhome and immediately knew who the baby belonged to.
"We found your foal," the vet told Rachel when she got the call.
"She's alive?" she asked.
It was three days after the foal's disappearing act before the family recovered their lost baby. When she was found the small filly was dry and no mud was found on her coat. At the time she was found, the rainy weather had filled the ditches with water. The Johnson family had a hard time believing a brand new baby would leave its mom and walk a few miles in stormy weather to reach this ditch.
It was even harder to imagine anyone coming into their barn and taking a newborn foal. Even now, a few weeks later, there is no explanation for how the baby left the barn. The incident is under investigation, but there are few leads for law enforcement to follow.
Because of her near- miraculous story, they have a special name for this baby. Andrew Johnson, 14, said he listened to his mother ask them, "She was lost and now we found her. But what do we call her?"
"Amazing Grace," he said.
The name stuck and so is the baby. She is stuck firmly in the hearts of this family and in-laws. Grace has to be fed every few hours, so it is taking the entire family to feed her and keep her happy. A baby foal nurses many times a day from its mother, so the Johnson's have become a surrogate mother to the new baby.
The mare rejected the foal because the bond was never established between mother and baby and too much time had passed between her birth and reintroduction.
Although the filly continues to gain weight and energy, her first month is considered crucial. Amazing Grace may have had a tough start to life, but her boundless enthusiasm around the family farm is contagious. As the family worked in the barn with their other horses, the little filly's whinny could be heard up and down the stall block.
"We don't know what happened to her," Johnson said. "If people learn something from this story it is to close your barn doors when your mare is due."