We say goodbye to Chiko

Even though spring on a farm is all about new life, our 13-year-old old Australian terrier Chiko chose that time to pass away, thus closing an era. He gave us notice, however, and our youngest son, who was Chiko’s main human, was able to make it to the farm from Colorado to say goodbye to his dog.

Chiko, we will miss you.

filly nuzzles dog

Asta the filly says hello to the canine senior statesman, Chiko.

kitten and dog

Young and old: Chiko and kitten Fiona cuddle for a nap.

From an earlier time: Bear, rear, and Chiko were road trip troopers.

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Amazing Grace: This Slick By Design Filly Is Phenomenal

You can’t beat good breeding. What do you get when you cross an amazing barrel racing stallion with a foundation-bred Quarter Horse mare? An athletic foal with a great brain. Already a pro at being halter broke at the tender age of six weeks, watch how Gracie (as we call her) keeps her cool even when some of the other horses rush the fence. And p.s., I didn’t know Matt was taping when I made the “left brain” comment.

Spring Sprang But Where Was Our Foal? (warning for the squeamish: mare giving birth photo ahead)

She was worth the wait.

Isabella’s due date came and went, and each night, we brought her into the foaling stall, checking the foaling cam on a regular basis, and each night she would cock a hip and sleep in the corner.

This went on for three weeks.

The vet came out–twice–and checked her; everything was fine. Isabella was a “maiden mare”–this was her first foal–and they can be known to take longer.

I stalked her for any signs of impending labor, and would take photos and videos and send them to interested parties, saying, Look, this could be it!–such as the day she squirreled her tail up and down all day, a sign of impending labor.

Finally, one chilly night in early March, Isabella restlessly paced the foaling stall. Fortified by ice cream bars, I kept one eye on the foaling cam and one eye on old reruns of Sex & The City all night long as she paced and paced and paced.

All. Night. Long.

And then in the morning she seemed to quit labor; once again cocking a hip and going to sleep. Matt and Emma, no doubt thinking she was “crying wolf” yet again, both went to work, and I continued my vigil solo. Isabella seemed to desperately want out of her foaling stall, so around 9:30 a.m. I opened the stall and she gratefully lumbered into what we have dubbed “the playpen”–the foal-safe paddock just off the foaling stall.

And suddenly Isabella went crazy. No doubt rocked by contractions, she began racing around the paddock, as fast as her big belly would allow. Then she stood stock still and turned to look at her posterior in wonder as her water broke.

And then she dropped to the grass and began to deliver.

mare in labor

Three weeks overdue, Isabella finally gets down the business of delivering her foal.

Warning! Graphic birth shot coming up!

foal being born

As the foal emerged, I pulled the amniotic sac away from its muzzle so it could breathe.

Aaaand then Isabella gave me a heart attack by standing up with this much foal emerging from her. She began walking around, me following as casually as possible, hoping I could catch the 100-pound baby before it the ground.

Thankfully, Isabella dropped back down. She seemed exhausted, so with the next contraction, I gently helped pull out the foal.

It was a girl!

We named her Grace. Here’s a video her first steps:

And we are happy to report that mom and baby are doing just fine.

Nothing helps celebrate spring better than the arrival of a healthy foal.

mare and foal

Isabella and Grace, a fine-boned girl with a beautiful blaze and a snip on her face, two white socks, and lovely legs.

A New Broodmare Joins the Brood!

mare in pasture

Life moves fast on a farm.

And if there’s one thing that horses and farming both teach you, it’s how to be flexible. That sometimes, despite your best laid plans, things don’t always turn out the way you wanted…and sometimes there’s a big fat lining of silver in that rain cloud.

For me, that was realizing that Quill was not meant to be a farm horse, and not a good fit for me. He was miserable doing arena work and bored meandering around the island, and the big colt let me know it in no uncertain terms. So we sold Quill to an amazing horseman and trainer in British Columbia, Danny Virtue, who trains horses for Hollywood. They took to each other immediately. I expect to see Quill in all his magnificence on the big screen in the next few years, a lifestyle better suited to his larger-than-life personality.

Quill’s absence begged the question, What would I do for a riding horse?

Enter Isabella.

mare in stall

Look at that face! This was one of the photos from the ad the seller posted. It totally worked.

My bestie, Bernadette (known as B), was helping me search, and I had already come across and then stupidly dismissed the ad for the mare because she was in foal, and I wanted a horse I could ride right away. B convinced me to take a second look. The mare was only three months along, which meant I would be able to ride her for at least the next few months. She is in foal to an amazing stud (more on him in a minute). Best of all, she was the sweetest, most agreeable horse I had ever met, and she soothed the aching part of my heart that missed Quill.

I love her a ridiculous amount.

mares and flly

Asta checks out her new auntie grazing nonchalantly in the pasture as Neela watches carefully.

two mares

The two mares meet safely over the fence. Neela ultimately established her dominance, but it took a while for Isabella to give in.

stallion racing barrels

The Baby Daddy: He’s also a Quarter Horse, a famous barrel racer called Slick By Design.

stallion

We are thinking that the foal may be solid black like its sire. Emma has named the baby Batman (or, if it’s a filly, Batgirl).

mares and riders

My best friend B is on Mocha and I’m on Isabella, at a scenic view we rode to that’s just down the road from our farm.

mare and rider

Ah, summer! This mare is so gentle, I have yet to ride her in a bridle.

It’s a Girl!! (s)

Neela ninja-birthed on us–a gorgeous filly, foaled in the pasture. We are thrilled and relieved to say both momma and baby are doing fine.

The filly is solid black for now, but it’s easy to see the gray hairs in her coat, so she will be changing color soon. I’m hoping she keeps her black stockings, like her dam.

And in other baby news…we are fostering an orphan kitten, named Fiona. She arrived at age two weeks. She reminds us of a tiny grizzly bear.

More details later on all of it, but here are some pics for all to enjoy!

Yippee!!!!

The kitten was first to arrive. The pictures say it all.

kitten

kitten nursing from bottle

Good thing she’s cute, as she has to have a bottle every three hours!

kitten and dog

Even the dogs like her. Here, Chiko, our resident grandpa, allows her to cuddle up for a nap.

A week after the kitten, our next black and gray baby girl arrived!

filly and mare

Welcome to the world! The filly has just arrived, so Neela nudges her to get up.

filly

The foal was on her feet within ten minutes of being born.

filly

Emma, who is the filly’s buyer/mom, rubs her dry.

 

filly nursing

Ten minutes after standing, the filly, who Emma has named Asta (it means “love”) , was nursing. We brought the mother and baby duo to the barn as it was getting to pour a cold rain, where Asta showed off her nursing skills again. See the cute tiny snip of white at the top of her tail?

mare and foal

The next day, momma and baby started enjoying their paddock, known as “the playpen.” They are wonderful to watch.

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!

What’s That Awful Racket? Or, How We Taught the Horses to Not Be Afraid of Drums

Question: How can you get a 3-year-old filly to nearly jump out of her skin?

Answer: Be near the drummers for a high school marching band when they decide to warm up for an impending parade.

That was the scenario last year, when I rode Mocha in the 4th of July parade. Before the parade started, we were riding around the staging area near the baseball field when suddenly we heard BOOM BOOM BOOM, BOOM BOOM BOOM. Mocha jumped, spun and flew sideways in rapid succession, and somehow, I managed to stay on. As it turned out, I had not noticed the drummers until it was nearly too late.

This year, I was older and wiser.

With the help of some fellow islanders, Matt and I borrowed first one, then eventually two drum sets, and set about desensitizing the horses. At the first “bam bam bam” they all literally turned tail and ran.

Yeah, he's cool: Matt warms up on one of the sets of drums with our substitute drumsticks.

Yeah, he’s cool: Matt warms up on one of the sets of drums with our substitute drumsticks (wooden spoons).

horses run

…aaaand the horses were OUTTA THERE.

drums-horses-fled

horses return

Curiosity may kill a cat but it will draw horses like flies.

Soon, however, they came back, and realized that when nothing attacked them when the drumming commenced, they quickly calmed.

After a few days of drumming, they no longer cared. We even upped the ante and hid the drums in the tack room so that the horses wouldn’t be able to see where the sudden burst of noise came from, and….nothing. We brought in a gaggle of kids to drum….they yawned.

horse

How loud can it get? We invited some young guests to have a go. Yukon looks on with interest, but not alarm.

Finally, the big day arrived: The 4th of July! This year’s theme was National Parks, so Matt was Teddy Roosevelt. He rode a very calm Yukon. I led Quill, painted as the American flag (his blue roan coloring lending to a natural canvas), and Josephine Crosby led Mocha, who agreeably wore a bison costume.

Our prep paid off: Nobody spooked. We had a marvelous time, and I’m already looking forward to next year, when Quill will finally be old enough to ride.

horses in parade

parade-Matt

parade-Matt-1

Quill

Mocha-buff

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