From sorry to sensational: The metamorphosis of our gelding Yukon

Anyone who visits our farm and meets the horses is always struck by the majesty of Yukon, Matt’s gelding, who is a Friesian cross (the cross is Thoroughbred and Hanoverian).

I mean, just look at him.

gelding horse

Ah, Yukon. One of the most handsome and amazing horses we’ve ever known. These lovely pics were captured by my bestie, Bernadette Pflug.

gelding horse

He’s an old soul.

But Yukon didn’t always look this gorgeous. Here he is the day we met him, when we just stopped by to look at him as a prospect for a friend and ended up adopting him ourselves. Here’s the video that Matt shot that day:

And here he is this past summer at the county fair, with a young rider showing him in an obstacle class:

Now Yukon is 11, and is a calm and trusted partner.

gelding horse in parade

Here’s Yukon and Matt in the 4th of July parade–Matt is dressed as Teddy Roosevelt.

 

gelding horse in parade

Here’s Matt and Yukon in the 2018 farm parade.

Beware the Moody Broodmare

In her final months before foaling, as her belly expands and her gaits get slower, our broodmare Neela’s sweet disposition vanishes and she becomes a Kraken.

mare eats hay

Neela partakes of her favorite pastime. The up side to being the lead mare: You don’t have to share.

In her defense, I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it must be to have the equivalent of a German Shepherd inside you, turning this way and that, trying to get comfortable despite increasingly cramped quarters.

It starts with Neela playing the Mine! game. Convinced that the hay at the other end of the paddock is tastier–despite coming from the same bale–she will lumber aaaaaaall the way across to Yukon and Mocha’s hay shed, and with one glare, take over a hay net.

Neela weighed in at 1300 pounds before pregnancy…so whatever Neela wants, Neela gets.

mare in paddock

Should I stay or should I go? Neela ponders her options while beind her in their shed, Mocha and Yukon try to be unobtrusive.

filly and gelding eat hay

Mocha pauses for a picture while Yukon hides next to her. See the white stuff on her right hind leg? That’s antibiotic cream for the scrape. Thanks, Neela.

Until it displeases her. Then she turns and lumbers aaaaaaall the way back, and woe unto the horse that gets in her way along this journey, for they shall feel her wrath.

Apparently this happened to Mocha, because she’s now sporting a large Neela-size hoof scrape down one hind leg. Even so, the closer Neela gets to foaling, the more she seems to crave Mocha’s company, in a We-Mares-Gotta-Stick-Together way. She knows what’s ahead, and two years ago, Mocha was a terrific auntie to Neela’s filly.

fillies nuzzling

“You’re cute, but don’t get fresh with me, kid.”

mare and gelding

One look says it all: As Neela pins her ears and gives him the stinkeye, Yukon hustles to vacate the premises.

gelding at water

Yukon finds relief in neutral territory: the water trough.

Poor Yukon is the odd horse out. I try to give him extra neck rubs and tell him, “Hang in there, big guy, Quill will be back before you know it.”

Come to think of it, the big colt returns from Horse College right about the same time Neela is due, which is May 22.  But there will be no reunion–Quill and Yukon play too rough, so we’ll put the girls on one side of the farm and the boys on the other. Like an equine Catholic school.

Well, this is tasty after all! If it weren't for the stupid net, I could hoover it better.

“Well, this is tasty after all! If it weren’t for the stupid net, I could hoover it better.”

mare on alert

“Wait, what’s that sound?” The downside of eating alone is that there’s nobody else to let you know if danger is lurking.

dogs playing

Turns out the ruckus is just the dogs at play. Bear is on a tear while Chiko, who is  a sedate 12 this year, watches.

(Long Overdue) Farm Update: Death, Life, and a Feud with a Fox

Even in paradise, winter can be cruel.

snow on farm

Oh, no, snow!

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.

horses mutual grooming

Mocha, our Quarter Horse filly, enjoys some mutual grooming with Silver this past summer, his final one. Lola rests nearby.

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.

mare

There’s a baby in there! Back at home, Neela relaxes. Her foal is due May 22.

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.

eggs at county fair

Red Roof Acres eggs took home blue ribbons!

rhubarb at county fairA 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.

colt and man

Quill peers through his fly mask to look out the door of the indoor arena of the ranch that will be home for the next few months while Matt prepares to say goodbye.

colt

All grown up and away at school! Quill learns one of his first lessons from Larry: to soften and drop his head when asked.

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.

black Lab near woods

Levi, posting sentry duty.

Having a Ball with a Horse

It all started with Quill when he was a ten-week-old colt and we put a giant ball in the mare-and-foal pasture.

You can click on the following link to watch the boy-meets-ball video from way back when in Colorado.

Fast-forward three years…I can’t say he’s all grown up, because Quill still has filling out to do, but at close to 17 hands he’s certainly a lot bigger. Yet he still loves playing with balls.

And that’s what gave us the idea to pitch an equine soccer game as a fundraiser for the new barn at the San Juan County Fairgrounds, and everyone was enthusiastically on board. So here’s a short excerpt of the game, put on by the San Juan County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse. One of our neighbors graciously shot and sent me the video since it shows Mocha, my little Quarter Horse filly, doing what she’s bred to do: herding.  And since this was her first time to “mix it up” with other horses in a competitive way, Mocha, who just turned 4, did pretty well, despite pinning her ears here at another mare who came too close to “her” ball.  We managed to nudge in two goals before it got a little too wild and wooly for both of us; the other team won.

Still, it was crazy fun. And best of all, the posse raised $600 toward the new barn. Woo hoo!

A Colt, a Holiday and a Whole Lotta Paint

What do you get when you start with a blue roan colt and add a little (O.K., a LOT) of red and white Crayola paint for the 4th of July?

A living American flag, that’s what. Have you ever painted a horse? It’s a fun challenge.

colt

Emma walks Quill at the farm before we load him onto the trailer. That’s Mocha on the right, waiting to load up, as well. Photo by Matt

Emma Billington, a wonderful horsewoman and horse trainer who lives on San Juan Island, agreed to walk Quill in the local Friday Harbor 4th of July parade, as I would be riding Mocha. Handling Quill, who turned 2 in June, is something I would trust only a handful of people to do. I’ve raised him since birth and often refer to him as “the love of my life” so you get the idea. While he’s still only a colt, Quill stands at nearly 17 hands. Physically, he’s a big boy, but mentally, he’s still a youngster. Like most youngsters, he’s curious and awkward and a little unsure of himself. What better exposure than a parade?

To get him ready for said parade, Emma also generously agreed to help me decorate him. We painted him at home on the farm–using non-toxic, washable paint, of course. It took us a little more than an hour–and he was very good. We held our collective breaths that he wouldn’t smudge it on the way in the trailer but he emerged from it unsullied.

Emma kept Quill near Mocha during the parade because the filly kept him calm.

Emma kept Quill near his “Auntie Mocha” during the parade because the filly’s no-nonsense nature kept him calm. Photos by Josephine and Charlotte Crosby.

horses in parade

We’re part of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse, so posse members rode together as a group.

Quill-2

 

Quill-Emma

What a handsome pair!

What a handsome pair! Matt and Yukon before the parade (with Quill in the background).

Matt went as Zorro (as the theme of the parade was Hollywood), and Yukon was his typical magnificent self.

matt-parade

Matt-parade-2

Little Miss Mocha was a trooper and patiently carried me throughout the entire crazy parade. She was very calm. Not bad for a filly who just turned 3.

filly greets girl

Mocha says hello to Charlotte Crosby, one of the members of our ground support team.

Now, to plan for next year…

Amy on Mocha, who didn't spook once during the entire parade.  Brave little girl!

Me on Mocha, who didn’t spook once during the entire parade. Brave little girl!

more mocha

The New Kid (Filly) on the Block

Mocha-first-day

There’s another brunette on the farm.

The love of my life, Quill, greets me at the gate every day (his head is not as big as this picture makes it look).

The love of my life, Quill, greets me at the gate every day (his head is not as big as this picture makes it look).

Since it was becoming more obvious by the day that Quill the colt was becoming a giraffe and his gangly growing bones wouldn’t be ridable until he was at least four, and mare Neela is hugely pregnant and then will be nursing for several months,  we bought a sweet little filly named Mocha for me to ride.

She’s a registered Quarter Horse, hailing from the Pidcock Coates ranch. We’ve had her for two months now and she has settled right in, although that took some doing.

Neela is the true matriarch of the herd but Yukon, Matt’s gelding, is its staunch defender. He stands watch, literally, while Neela and Quill nap, and is always scanning the horizon for any potential threat. horsesfence

After several days of saying hello over the fence, we introduced Neela to Mocha. All was fine–Neela pretty much ignored her. Then we introduced her to Quill, who was thrilled to have a new friend, although Mocha pretty much ignored him.

Those first few days, Mocha  stayed as far from Yukon as possible.

Those first few days, Mocha stayed as far from Yukon as possible.

But once we allowed Yukon to meet Mocha…well, the first few days were rough. She is still sporting a few bare patches where he got her. Afterward, clearly pleased with himself, he would strut.

Whose house? Yukon's house!

Whose house? Yukon’s house!

Now, however, they are all a tight-knit group.

From left to right: Mocha, age 3, Yukon, age 8, Quill, nearly 2, and Neelal (with her baby belly!), who is almost 9.

From left to right: Mocha, age 3, Yukon, age 8, Quill, nearly 2, and Neelal (with her baby belly!), who is almost 9.

And what “the boys” (Yukon and Quill) don’t realize is that soon they will only be able to see Neela from a distance, because we will be separating the momma-to-be as she gets closer to her foaling date. Geldings and foals don’t mix well.

Mocha, however, is another story. She’s unusually laid back for one so young–she is only 3–so we’ll be putting her in the pasture at some point with Neela and the foal.

The boys will then have to get used to be bachelors.

This Farm Guarded by Bear

If you stop to visit us here at Red Roof Acres and are received with a growl from 10 pounds of attitude with an overbite, please know it’s not his fault (and that no teeth will follow).

The critter in question is a Toy Poodle/Jack Russell terrier mix named Bear whose only mission in life has been to protect me, whether from cancer, humans or horses. So even when you try to assure him you mean no harm, he will still regard you with suspicion. Please don’t take it personally.

puppy in lap

Bear in my lap on the first day of his arrival. It was love at first sight.

Bear came to us two years ago when he was six weeks old.

puppy and patient

Here we are doing a mind meld during a nap.

I was at the same age of breast cancer treatment, with all the ensuing baldness, barfiness and boniness. Despite being at the prime puppy-wiggle stage, Bear would somehow contain himself and be motionless when I needed to nap.

We tried to socialize him as much as possible, but cancer treatment is not conducive to getting out much.  So Bear’s perception of the world became skewed, and even now, two years later, although my hair and energy have both returned, my wellbeing apparently remains his raison d’être.

This became more apparent than ever once we moved to the farm.

That adorable face!

That adorable face!

puppy and patient

Two years ago. Here we are on a good day.

cats

I would like to think it’s just the way he’s sitting, but Vincent, left, gained a lot of weight during the cats’ month of being house bound. That’s Piper on the right.

When we first arrived, we had just the dogs and cats with us. Vincent and Piper, the felines, were quarantined to the house for a full month while birds mocked them through the windows.

cat at window

Look at the top of the bell outside the window: A bird knows that Vincent can’t reach it.

Bear and Chiko, our 10-year-old Australian Terrier, discovered that deer (so plentiful on this

deer

Every day at dusk and dawn, deer can be found in our back yard.

island! but that’s another blog) amble into the back yard every morning and every evening, and of course deserved to be chased away at full speed. The deer spring effortlessly over the fence and afterward, the dogs crash in the house with the surety of a job well done.

dogs and cat nap

After a full day exploring the farm, the dogs and Vincent enjoy a siesta together.

Then we brought the horses home, a wonderful venture as we had always boarded them before and were looking forward to having them live just steps from our door.

Bear, who had never spent time with the horses before, was not pleased at all, especially since his relationship with them got off to a very bad start.

You see, when the horses first arrived, we would bring them out of their pen in order to feed them their supplements (vitamins), and one day Matt had pulled my mare, Neela, and her colt, Quill, out first. That left Yukon, Matt’s gelding, alone in the pen, and to a horse, alone means death. So Yukon, a tall, heavily-built Friesian cross, became very anxious, trotting up and down the pen with long, pounding strides.

Halter in hand, I stepped into the pen to bring the gelding out, and stood my ground as he began to trot quickly toward me. Yukon is a giant teddy bear, and I knew he’d stop. Yet before he did I heard a low growl to my right, and turned my head just in time to see Bear spring between the boards of the fence to the horse’s pen and plant himself directly in front of me and in Yukon’s path, barking and snarling ferociously, bravely pitting himself against 1,500 pounds of horse in order to protect his mom.

dog growling at horse

Bear and Yukon got off to a bad start, and apparently my little dog holds a very big grudge.

I was deeply touched. Yukon was unconcerned. Bear was evicted from the horse pen, from which he has been banned. To this day, he loathes Yukon, to the point where I have to give Bear the firm instruction of “leave it!” for his own protection. We’re working on him being more agreeable. He’s making progress.

Meanwhile, if he does happen to bark at you, please know there’s no bite that accompanies it, and that it’s only done for love.

dog watching colt

Bear manages to behave himself while watching Quill the colt eat.