Lisa Gaudio simply adored her horse Kyrie. So when the pony passed away, she couldn’t imagine a life without her. But thanks to a team of talented scientists, Kyrie would leave Gaudio with three precious gifts.
Gaudio and her husband Jim Kazanjian live on a farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Gaudio was a big fan of horses and doted on her equine Kyrie. However, the bond between the pair was much deeper than a simple pet-and-owner relationship.
Gaudio had raised Kyrie since she was a foal. Thanks to her dedication, the Arabian horse grew up to become a national champion. “She was the horse that was so different, so human-like, so touched everybody’s heart,” Gaudio told Fox 29 in February 2017.
However, their friendship was not to last forever. Personal circumstances forced Gaudio to give up her beloved pony. Although the decision tore Gaudio apart, she always thought that they would reunite one day in the future.
And Gaudio was right to believe. In 2013, after 15 years apart, she found Kyrie living in Scottsdale, P.A. However, the meeting proved to be bittersweet. Vets had diagnosed the mare with laminitis – a crippling condition which affects a horse’s hoof.
Sadly, the illness causes so much pain that in severe cases, horses have to be euthanized. Treatment is lengthy and expensive and requires a lot of commitment from the horse’s owner. But despite Kyrie’s worrying predicament, Gaudio still had to have her.
So Kyrie went to live on the farm in Chadds Ford. However, vets concluded that there was nothing they could do for her. Furthermore, the horse seemed to be growing weary of her ordeal. “Kyrie was a true fighter,” Gaudio told Penn Vet Extra in February 2017. “But she made it clear to us that she was finally ready to say goodbye.”
Kyrie died at home surrounded by her loving family. And although she was devastated by her loss, Gaudio was keen to find a way for her horse’s legacy to live on. “Since Kyrie was such a special horse, I had asked about the best way to carry on her line,” she told Penn Vet Extra.
So Gaudio approached Dr. Tamara Dobbie, who teaches Large Animal Reproduction at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, also known as Penn Vet. Dr. Dobbie and her team explored their options and first discussed removing Kyrie’s ovaries before her death. However, the procedure would have added to the horse’s discomfort during her final days.
Instead, the vets planned to extract Kyrie’s ovaries after she died. Their studies had found that this shouldn’t have any effect on any future embryos. So in a 20-minute procedure, surgeons removed the dead animal’s reproductive organs.
Once surgeons had extracted the ovaries, they were transferred to an animal reproduction center. Dr. Dobbie was then able to extract 16 viable eggs. “Those were then packaged and shipped overnight to Texas A&M [University] where they performed invitromaturation, the… procedure where they inject a single sperm cell into each egg,” she explained to Fox 29.
Ten of the eggs matured and divided. From them, four embryos developed to a point that vets could implant them into surrogate mares. Incredibly, all but one of the embryos survived. It looked likely Kyrie that would indeed posthumously become a mother.
“I couldn’t believe it when I learned there were three!” an astonished Gaudio told Penn Vet Extra. “It was an amazing team effort. And the timing had to be so precise. Everything was synchronized beautifully. To have so many people that I respect in the industry work together on this effort was really special.”
Then, on January 16, 2017, a surrogate delivered Kyrie’s very first baby. A thrilled Gaudio decided to name the foal Epona after the Greek goddess of horses and fertility. “I see so much of Kyrie in Epona,” she said. “She’s so inquisitive, always in your face.”
Some days later, another surrogate welcomed a colt named Big Man in Town. “He is rearing and giving his mom a hard time,” Gaudio told Pen Vet Extra. “His personality is starting to mirror Epona’s but she’s still the boss,” she added.
Then, the third and final foal arrived on February 1, 2017. Gaudio christened the filly Elle Vitorina and the amazing tribute to Kyrie was complete. “I couldn’t be happier,” she said. “I call them my miracle babies.”
The trio of foals soon went to live on Gaudio’s farm. Once there, their owner was struck by the similarities between them and the mother they’d never known. In fact, she is sure that all three will follow in Kyrie’s footsteps.
“I’m not sure yet where they will go for training but they’ll go on to do what Kyrie did,” Gaudio said. “She was a Canadian national champion, a U.S. national top-ten mare and she won some halter classes. We have high hopes.”
Moreover, the three foals marked a breakthrough in veterinary science. “It is unusual to get so many pregnancies from a deceased mare’s ovaries. You know we are always very thrilled if we get one pregnancy, two would be great. Three is pretty uncommon,” Dr. Dobbie revealed to Fox 29.
However, it’s the gift that scientists have given Gaudio that makes the foals so special. “Getting [Kyrie] back was a dream come true, then we lost her, these miracles were something I could never imagine,” she told Fox 29. “It means that the mare we lost, you know, is still here. [I] see her little eyes every day.”