Even in paradise, winter can be cruel.
The weather was mild during our first two winters here, but this winter, it has snowed and at times been bitterly cold. Our resident equine geriatric, Silver, made it to his 35th year, but despite a protected stall, heated water tanks, feed soaked in warm water and blanketing, the old gray gelding apparently tired of it all and died this winter. His loyal companion, Lola the goat, passed away shortly afterward. They are buried side by side in the woods behind the shed barn, and we all shed more than one tear over it.
I had been hoping Silver would last one more spring, because we were hoping to have a new gray foal out of Neela, our broodmare, who we dropped off in Eastern Washington to spend some quality time with a Quarter Horse stallion in early summer. The stallion only did “live cover” breeding, i.e., the old-fashioned, no-tech way. That is, until the breeder called us and said, “Come get your mare before these two kill each other.”
It seems that when said stallion approached Neela for some romance, she pinned her ears, bared her teeth and did her best to kick his lights out. I had to call the buyer of the potential foal, who had chosen the stallion, and since the breeding season was nearing its end, tell her to hurry and find a Plan B, and to be sure to pick a stallion whose breeder would collect the semen and ship it.
“Apparently Neela likes her encounters to be online only and anonymous,” I told the buyer after Matt and I swooped in and rescued the offended mare from the hooves of the QH stallion. We drove Neela straight to Mount Vernon Veterinary Hospital and dropped her off to be prepped for artificial insemination.
The buyer came through with an excellent next choice, a lovely Morgan stallion in…New York state. A few days later, Neela obligingly began to develop an egg in her fallopian tube, and the vet called the breeder to say, Send the stuff! And she did.
But it didn’t ship well. The glum report from the vet was that upon arrival, the sperm looked to be only 20 percent viable–much too low for a successful breeding. The second day, it had dropped to 5 percent, and on the third day, Neela ovulated.
“Well, all it takes is one,” the vet said cheerfully before asking me if I still wanted to try it. Sure, I told him, go ahead.
The following day I got another call, this time with more grim news: Shortly after being inseminated, Neela had an adverse reaction to the “extender”-a solution used to extend the life of the shipped semen–and her uterus would need to be flushed. We figured that breeding was literally a wash, and made plans to give it one more try.
Except…while scanning Neela two weeks later to check her cycle for the next AI attempt, the vet found, much to his surprise, she was two week’s pregnant! Somehow, despite it all, one of those little determined sperm had made it through. Amazing! We decided its nickname should be Michael Phelps.
While all this drama was going on, we were getting ready for the San Juan County Fair. For the first time, we decided to enter a few farming contest categories: Eggs, rhubarb and compost. Yes, compost. Believe it or not, there is a lot of science and sweat that goes into cooking compost, not just horse poop.
How did we do? We took home three blue ribbons, that’s how we did! And one red. Not that I’m competitive or anything.
A few weeks after that, we loaded up our colt Quill, who turned 3 in June, and drove him to Colorado to go to “horse college” with noted horseman Larry Fleming, who has trained all our horses over the years. Like any doting mother, I have missed Quill terribly, but I know he’s in the best of hands, and I can’t wait to get him back this spring, ready to ride.
Meanwhile, Matt and I took advantage of having a smaller herd and left the farm with a sitter in January in order to enjoy our first beach vacation in years. Suffice to say it was fabulous. But after a week away I was glad to be back home, where the farm sitter, Emma, told me about an encounter with a very aggressive fox. This fox, a very large, healthy, black one, was accompanying a red fox one morning across the paddock while Emma did chores, and when she attempted to shoo it away, the fox stood its ground. Emma threw rocks. The fox simply stared. Emma fetched the pellet gun that we keep near the chicken coop for just such purposes, and shot it into the air, and STILL the fox was unfazed. Undaunted, it dawdled a while longer before trotting arrogantly away. After that, afraid for their safety, Emma put the chickens on house arrest.
I had never heard of a fox being so aggressive. And then I met the fox.
Early one morning the dogs and I were returning to the house after chores, when Levi, Matt’s black lab, gave a low growl while staring at the driveway. Thinking a neighbor had dropped by, I told Levi, “Leave it,” so he obediently sat. And then I saw what he’d been growling at: Two foxes, one red, one black, lurking beside the driveway, where my beloved cat, Vincent, likes to lounge! Oh, no!
I immediately said “OK!” to Levi, who bounded off after the foxes, who turned fluffy tails and ran across the front yard and then to the road. I called Levi back and he obediently abandoned the chase. As he trotted back, I couldn’t believe my eyes: The black fox had also done a 180 and was now running after Levi, straight at him, straight at me. Levi, who turned one in August, whirled and stood stock still, clearly confused over this development.
And that’s when I said something to Levi I never have before. And even though it was the first time I ever uttered those words, he understood what I meant completely.
“GET HIM, LEVI!” I yelled, pointing at the fox, and the husky lab paused just long enough to give me what I can only describe as a joyous look before launching himself at the black fox, who abandoned all pompous attitude and began running for its life.
Black Fox fled to the east pasture, slipping swiftly under the fence and spiriting away across the field. Levi, who had put on a few pounds while we were on vacation, lost some momentum while squeezing himself under the fence but soon began gaining ground.
It was like watching an episode of Wild Kingdom.
Halfway across the pasture, Levi kicked into another gear and suddenly, BOOM, he launched his 70-pound frame at that fox, knocking it off its legs and sending it tumbling through the air.
That had to hurt.
Desperate now, the fox scrambled back to its feet and in the next blink had made it to the woods that border the pasture. Of course Levi ran into the woods after him, with Bear and Chiko, the two terries, trailing behind, and me hollering for all three to come back.
They did, and I heaped tons of praise upon them all but especially Levi, who grinned and panted.
That was several days ago, and we haven’t seen the fox since. Still, if it shows back up, Levi’s ready.