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.

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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.

(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!

Up We Go! The Filly Learns How To Load Into a Horse Trailer

For non-horse people, this won’t seem like a big deal.

To horse, people–well, it’s HUGE.

Four-month-old Wilhelmina had her first trailer-loading lesson today with the help of the wonderful horse trainer Sus Kellogg of Free Horse Farm, and it couldn’t have gone more smoothly.

A horse’s first trailer-loading lesson is hugely important as it creates a memory for the rest of their life, and determines if they’ll associate the horse trailer as a pleasant place to hang out or as a dark, menacing cave they were forced into and will forever fight to avoid. I’ve seen horses lather into a sweat, rear, bolt and injure their owners because they did not want to load into a trailer. So for Wilhelmina’s first lesson, we asked Sus to please guide our girl because Sus is an amazing horsewoman who has impeccable instincts and timing. She’s also very kind; overall, the perfect person to introduce the filly to this milestone. Sus met Wilhelmina shortly after the filly was born and has a real affection for her.

She’s not the only one–Wihelmina has become a barnyard favorite of guests because of her confident, friendly personality. It’s hard to not get overly attached to this little girl, even though we bred her dam, Neela, with the intent to sell that foal. After all, this is a working farm. And I already kept Quill, the colt, Neela’s foal from two years ago. We can’t keep them all!

Still, it will break my heart to part with her someday. For now, she’s still nursing and I don’t intend to wean her until about eight months, so that’s a few more months down the road.

Meanwhile, we enjoy her while we can.

filly

Me and Wilhelmina, with Neela, her dam, in the background. I was going to take a selfie when Matt beat me to the picture. He teased me about cuddling up to the filly, and then…

man and filly

…he couldn’t resist her, either.

So, back to the trailer loading. Sus brought her over her trailer for the lesson, because it’s taller and wider than ours and therefore, less intimidating to a horse.

filly and horse trailer

It looks scary! Wilhelmina paws as she tries to summon up her courage to go inside the trailer (hint: Her “auntie” Mocha is already inside, and her dam, Neela, was within eyeshot).

filly and horse trailer

Hmm, it DOES look interesting! Wilhelmina gets curious about what it’s like inside the horse trailer as Sus patiently waits.

filly and trailer

The front feet are the hardest part! The floor of a horse trailer makes a loud “boom” noise when hooves step on it, which can be very scary. Still, when Sus asked, Wilhelmina obediently gave it a try. A couple of times, she hopped her front feet into the trailer and then scampered back out at the noise. But pretty soon…

filly and horse trailer

…she put all four feet in! We hoped that the filly would feel comfortable enough to pause for a few moments, and perhaps even relax. I would have been happy had she stayed inside for one full minute…

filly inside horse trailer

A full 45-minutes later, Wilhelmina stands hip-shot, totally relaxed and snoozing inside the horse trailer, her “Auntie” Mocha next to her, also hip-shot. We started wishing the filly would come out!

filly and horse trailer

Finally! With her dam, Neela, nickering nearby and reminding her that she hadn’t nursed in more than an hour, Wilhelmina decides it’s time to leave the trailer.

filly unloads trailer

…and calmly steps down.. She was fussed over and then reunited with Neela. Yay!

Run, Mocha, Run! Or Why It’s Not a Good Idea to Get Between a Mare and Her Foal

Neela is a wonderful brood mare, although a bit too indulgent. No matter how Wilhelmina tests her by chewing on her mane or ramming her with her head or backing into her like a little Mack truck, Neela will not get cross.

It was time to introduce someone else into the mix, someone mellow enough to not be mean to the foal and and yet confident enough to clock her one if she deserved it.

Enter Mocha, the super-chill Quarter Horse filly who had become a firm but gentle boss of “the boys,” otherwise known as the geldings. I led her inside the playpen, as we call the mare and foal paddock, took off her halter and whispered, “Good luck, Mocha!” While Neela had spent lots of time with Mocha, that was all before the baby arrived. I was counting on Neela being too lumbering and Mocha being nimble enough to avoid injuries.

mares and foal

With her foal carefully tucked behind her, Neela studies the new addition.

I hovered…but all was quiet. Everyone ambled into the pasture to graze. I was surprised, and went about my day.

I was on the upper deck of the barn when the drama erupted, hence the aerial view of the photos.

mare and filly

Who are you? Wilhelmina decides to greet her new Auntie Mocha.

fillies in pasture

Aw, such a sweet moment! The two fillies say hello for the first time. But where’s Neela?

mare and fillies

There she is! Neela moves in with amazing speed to break it up, and Mocha wisely decides to exit while Wilhelmina just tries to get out of the way of her mother’s wrath.

mare and filly

With Wilhelmina now obediently velcroed to her dam’s side, Neela watches to makes sure Mocha remains a respectable distance away from her baby.

mares and filly

My, how things change. A few weeks later, Neela is now happy to have Mocha babysit.

filly at gate

The object of her affection: Wilhelmina pines for Mocha when the two are separated at feeding time (which is necessary because Mocha can fit under the creep-feeding bar and will eat the filly’s food).

filly fit

Like a frustrated toddler, Wilhelmina throws a tantrum because she can’t reach Mocha.

fillies

Reunited! Wilhelmina happily meets Mocha at the gate in the morning.

foal nursing

She’s still her mom, though: Neela and Wilhelmina share dinner.

It’s a Girl! Our First Farm Foal Arrives

Eleven months is a really long time, but this filly was worth the wait. Only one day past her due date, her dam, Neela, paced a few circles in her foaling stall before dropping down and delivering her foal in 20 minutes flat on Thursday, May 14. Neela had let me know earlier that day she was ready by coming in early from the pasture and hovering near the gate, as if to say, Please bring me in.

Neela in her foaling stall, as viewed by our iPad.

Neela the mare in her foaling stall, as viewed by our iPad.

So I did, and then Matt and I proceeded to spy on her from the house with the iPad via the foaling cam he had installed weeks earlier. About 10:30 p.m. we were just getting to tag team some naps when I glanced at the monior. Neela was down on her side, and…hey, she was having contractions! I flew out to the barn and without hesitation let myself into the stall. Neela was so engrossed in her labor that she didn’t seem to notice me. When the foal’s nose emerged, I peeled the membrane off it, and wiped out the tiny nostrils. Soon, the rest of her emerged, and we were stunned.

Welcome to the world! I get ready to dry off the foal.

Welcome to the world! I get ready to start rubbing the foal, who is still partially covered by the birthing membranes.

She is gorgeous. She’s also a very big girl.

Birth is exhausting! Neela and the foal both rest

Birth is exhausting! Neela and the foal both rest.

It looks like this filly will be solid black just like her sire, Litrik, one of the top Friesian stallions. She has her momma’s pretty face and her daddy’s tall stature. When I look at her I think of the song, “Long Cool  Woman in a Black Dress.”

After many failed attempts, the filly finally figures out how to nurse.

After many failed attempts, the filly finally figures out how to nurse.

The baby daddy: Litrik.

The baby daddy: Litrik.

We dried her off, then stayed with her while she figured out how to stand, giraffe-like, on her gangly legs. After what seemed an intolerable amount of time during which she careened awkwardly around the stall, she finally found her target and nursed, and then we hovered some more to until she peed and pooped, just to make sure everything was working. Two hours after being born, she was cantering circles around the stall. paddockThe next morning, we let her and Neela out into the big bright world as we introduced her to her paddock. There’s a bench next to the paddock if you want to stop by and watch her for a while. We’ve named her Wilhelmina, after the Dutch woman who started the modeling agency of the same name. Because she is, after all, a supermodel.

Matt and Wilhelmina get to know each other.

Matt and Wilhelmina get to know each other while Neela the mare enjoys the grass.

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.