An hour before dawn on April 15, horse breeder Byron Lindaman had just finished helping his paint mare, Coosa's Angel, give birth. Gently pulling on the new filly's emerging front hooves, he coaxed her out into the world.

Then he noticed something that stopped him cold -- another pair of hooves.

No, not again, he thought. Please, not again.

For the fourth time this foaling season at Lindaman Thoroughbreds, a mare was having twins. All he could do was pray that this one would work out better than the previous three.

Conceiving twins is extremely rare in horses, about a 1 in 10,000 chance, and twins that survive birth are rarer still. Most often, one or both die in the womb or at birth. A doubly strained labor often kills the mother, as well.

This spring, Lindaman, who has 55 thoroughbreds and quarter horses pastured at his farm south of Lake Mille Lacs, had already lost three sets of twins and two mares. He has no explanation for the highly unusual coincidence -- no new super-feed, nothing in the water.

In four decades of breeding, he'd seen only half a dozen sets of twins before this year, and they had all died. If he lost Angel, too, it would break his granddaughter Talia's heart. He and his wife, Jean, had bought the mare as a present for the girl, who was anxiously awaiting the new baby.

"When he came in from the barn, he had this look on his face," Jean Lindaman recalled. "I said, 'It's not twins, is it?'"

Yes, indeed. But this time, against very long odds, both fillies were born alive, the second one smaller because she got less placenta during gestation. And this time, the stars were aligned.

"They both had to be in the right position, with front hooves coming out first," he said. "They both had to be getting enough food. Everything had to go exactly right, and it did."

Six weeks later, both sisters and their mother are healthy and cavorting around a private paddock.

Named by 11-year-old Talia, strapping Holy Hannah is a black-and-white paint like her mama. The more petite and delicate Faith is a solid black like her papa, the farm's lone stallion, Dynomania (whose mother came from the same sire as the legendary Barbaro).

The fillies never stray far from each other, standing no more than a couple of inches apart except when angling for prime feeding positions at Angel's side. When they run, Faith tries to attach her velvety black nose to the stronger, faster Hannah's left flank. At naptime, they collapse in a heap in the path of a sunbeam, long, tangled legs gently pushing each other's hooves off their faces in their sleep.

Talia admits a slight partiality to Faith, because "she's the shy, pretty kind. Hannah's the wild, pretty kind."

The Lindamans decided to surprise Talia, telling her only that Angel had her baby and she should come right over after school.

"I almost stepped on Faith on my way to Hannah, it was so dark in the barn and I didn't notice the little black one," she said. "I had actually prayed that Angel wouldn't have twins because I knew it could be bad. But it's been a month now, and Grandpa says that after a month, you know they're going to be OK."

Live twins are common among some livestock, like sheep and goats, less so with cattle, but rarest of all in horses, because of lack of space for the placenta and the higher risk of birth-canal complications in bigger animals.

"He's really fortunate he didn't lose the mare and both babies," said Dr. Ingrid Borkoski, a reproduction specialist with Anoka Equine Veterinary Services. "Also that they're healthy, because they may be born alive, but not necessarily in good health."

Bearing twin foals is considered so risky that at large breeding operations, when the exact date of conception is known, vets will take ultrasounds on mares. If two embryos are detected, they will "pinch one off" to ensure the health of the other. What makes the healthy birth of Hannah and Faith all the more remarkable is that Lindaman had no warning that yet another set of twins was coming, and so had asked for no extra help. He, Angel and the foals did it all on their own.

The twins are a bright spot in what had been a dispiriting foaling season. Before the arrival of the Mutt-and-Jeff miracles, losing six foals and two mares in little more than a month's time had taken its toll on Lindaman.

"It was hard on Grandpa," said his daughter-in-law, Karen Lindaman, who is Talia's mother.

"These things happen occasionally, but this was a sad year," said Jean.

"I had 12 mares, now I only have 10," he said, recalling a T-shirt he'd seen at a recent horse expo. It read: "How to make a small fortune with horses: Start with a large fortune."

The Lindamans will have several horses on the racing circuit this year, at least three of them at Canterbury Park. The 8-year-old Angel's first foal, Heaven Above, was sold to a champion barrel racer, and Lindaman has high hopes for Hannah's racing future.

"Look at the way she runs, her legs stretched all the way out in front," he said, allowing himself a slight grin. "Faith will probably always be too small for competition ... but you never know."

By simply existing, Holy Hannah and Faith inspire that kind of optimism.

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046