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.

Those Boy Horses and Their (Ahem) Beans

Twice a year we have our horses’ teeth checked, since a horse will continue to erupt teeth its entire life and sometimes they can wear unevenly and even create sharp points that can hurt their mouth.

And should any of the geldings need to have some sedation in order to have their teeth “floated,” or filed down, I will take that opportunity to have a very personal detail of their grooming attended to: the cleaning of their sheath.

As you can imagine, not all boy horses are crazy about someone trying to scrub their male parts with soap and water. But if you don’t, then dirt, dead skin cells and smegma, an icky, waxy substance, can accumulate inside the sheath and in some cases, form a little ball–called a “bean”– that interferes with urine flow.

Yech, you say? I couldn’t agree more.

I have oh so cautiously attended to this matter before with a fully awake horse, and I can tell you, it’s much, much easier when they’re doped up and in their happy place.

A case in point this spring was Silver, our very senior horse boarder who is nearing his 35th birthday–that’s the human equivalent of 106! –and who had the telltale signs of a bean, which was smegma on the insides of his legs.

gelding legs with smegma

This is the smegma that coated the insides of Silver’s hind legs. Oh, no, he’s got a bean!

But when I broached the idea to him of removing his bean, Silver let me know that at his age, he wasn’t going to suffer the indignity, and I didn’t want to distress him. Who knows what his heart can take?

So the vet gave Silver a very small amount of sedative, just enough to keep the old guy complacent about someone getting that up close and personal with him, and the vet’s assistant (bless her!) went to work.

gelding sheath cleaned

Matt holds a sleepy Silver while the old boy gets his sheath cleaned by the vet’s assistant. That’s not a disembodied hand on the gelding’s back–that’s the vet, who is on his other side.

The process apparently distressed Lola the goat, who ran to check on Silver as soon as it was over.

gelding and goat

Lola consoles Silver after his little medical encounter. Notice how dirty the gelding is. This is the “before” shot.

Now that the bean was gone, the smegma had to go. The very next weekend, it warmed up enough for Silver to have a full bath, and our two farm helpers, Josephine and Charlotte, gave him a deluxe spa treatment.

senior horse bath

horse forelock

horse mane

gelding legs

Look, ma, no more smegma! Silver is all clean now.

gelding tail

Look at that beautiful tail!

clean gelding

Ta da! Here is the “after” shot.

As an extra thanks, we brought Yukon to the arena,  where the girls took turns taking him for a spin.

girl riding horse

Riding bareback with just a halter, Josie handily leans back on Yukon as she asks him to stop.

horse and girl

It looks like both the horse and rider are smiling in this picture of Char on Yukon (also bareback with just a halter).

Altogether, a really good day.

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.

Headless Horseman Attacks Farm on Halloween!

He suddenly appeared from the woods, riding a ferocious black beast and wielding a mighty axe. I screamed and ran for my life, barely escaping as the wicked pair swooped past, the axe narrowly missing my neck…

headless horseman man and horse

Who is that frightening thing atop that stunning steed? Well, that’s Matt and Yukon, of course.

No?

O.K., so it was Matt and his gelding, Yukon. No one loves Halloween more than Matt, who every year would pimp out our little urban oasis in Louisville, Colo., and then climb into his own scary costume and become part of the display. And every year, unsuspecting kids would walk right past him and not realize the “stuffed man” was truly real until Matt would suddenly rise up! -causing them to shriek and run.

Halloween decorations

This is part of the decorations Matt would put in our front yard every year. Notice the stuffed man next to the witch?

Halloween costume

Eegads, it has eyes! (blue ones, at that). Yes, it’s Matt.

Great fun.

So now that we’re on a farm, the question was, If we decorate for Halloween, will anyone come? Do trick or treaters come out to rural areas? We asked our neighbors and were told no.

No Halloween? It can’t be! So we decided to make our own fun.

So this is Matt and Yukon, who I must say was a really good sport. This horse hadn’t been ridden in weeks, yet gave no protest when we pulled him out, saddled him, and asked him to stand still so a thing that sounded like his human and smelled like his human but looked NOTHING like his human could climb aboard. Then the two of them rode up to the road and waved to passing cars. Yukon took it all in stride, even when I carefully, oh so carefully, handed Matt the axe (and yes, that’s a real axe).

headless horseman drivewayNext year on Halloween, the dashing duo just might show up in downtown Friday Harbor…minus the real axe, of course.

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.