EFFINGHAM, Ill. | If a single horseshoe brings luck, then the pitter-patter of eight tiny hooves must deliver even more good fortune.
It's behooving Ben Steffen to think that way after his mare, Dolly, gave birth to twin American Quarter Horse foals July 25. The wee colt and filly, who weighed in at 58 and 62 pounds, respectively, stampeded ahead of some pretty daunting odds just to arrive alive and keep breathing.
Steffen, who is president of his family's Effingham-based Steffen Heating & Air Conditioning firm and breeds and breaks trail horses as a side business with his son, Shane, has found it hard to stay cool after exploring the odds of the twins' survival.
His research shows that just 1 in 10,000 mares ever gives birth to twins, and only 20 percent of those living long enough to get born will survive in the post-utero world. Twin foals that do actually make it through the stable door often end up saddled with serious medical problems.
"When he came in and woke me up that morning and told me there were twins, the first thing I said was, 'Oh, no,' recalls Steffen's wife, Jane. And then I said, 'I got to go look at this.' They were both so skinny and weak at first, and they weren't standing up on their legs, which were all bent. But they've since straightened up real nice, and now both colt and filly are doing well."
Her husband said no one was expecting Dolly to deliver twins, and it was a shock to walk into her stall and find three horses where there had been only one the night before.
"I opened the door to feed her and thought, 'No, I'm seeing things; how much did I have to drink last night?' Then I looked again and just thought, 'Oh, my.'"
No one has weighed the foals recently, but they've been packing on about 2 pounds a day, and Dolly's meals have been doubled, so she can race ahead with milk production.
As word of the equine miracle birth has spread, a steady stream of sightseers and well-wishers have cantered out to the Steffen ranch to admire the playful siblings, who never stray far from Dolly's watchful eye while their dad, Pretty Boy, looks on with pride.
"We're all just tickled to death the twins made it," said Steffen, 57. "They really beat the odds."
Steffen and his son are superstitious men who didn't want to tempt fate by naming the foals only to have them cease to be after falling at some medical hurdle. Now they are ready to consider names and are open to suggestions.
"Lucky and Luckier is certainly one idea," Steffen says.