Two sweethearts–one horse, one tiny human–out for a stroll

A dear friend and her granddaughter visited the farm one day in September, and with my friend’s encouragement, the little girl took a very attentive Isabella for a walk.

The way that mare walks so very carefully with her small charge remains one of the sweetest horse things I’ve ever seen.

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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.

How Spooking the Horses on Purpose Helped Keep Them Safe When It Mattered

It’s my mission in life to scare our horses.

I don’t do this to be cruel; on the contrary, I try to induce their heart attacks from the safety of their home on our farm, so that when we take them out into the big, unpredictable world, they are more likely to remain calm no matter what they encounter.

balloon in barn yard

I had high hopes for Waving Man. They got over him way too quickly.

I never expected the practice to help save their lives.

In October, Matt and I took Yukon and Isabella to a Jonathan Field clinic in British Columbia, where we had a wonderful time riding and learning for three days.

mare and rider

Isabella was 6 1/2 months pregnant at the clinic, which was our last riding hurrah until she foals. Look at that belly!

After the clinic, we were driving to the border with Yukon and Isabella in our 3-horse trailer when we were suddenly struck by an SUV. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but our truck was inoperable, and as the hours ticked away and we waited for help, it became apparent we were going to have to unload the horses in the dark, in the middle of the intersection, with traffic rushing past in an adjacent lane and the lights from the fire trucks and flares blazing away.

Some Good Samaritans gathered to help, including Jonathan Field, who drove his own truck and trailer to the scene in order to transport our horses back to his farm. While fire rescue officials helped block traffic, and Matt and another man stood at the ready to grab a panicking horse, Jonathan unloaded first Isabella, who he handed to me, and then Yukon. Both horses calmly walked off our trailer, sauntered across the intersection and loaded right up into Jonathan’s trailer without any hesitation, not so much as glancing at any of the flashing lights or intimidating fire trucks.

Jonathan shook his head and said, “I’ve never seen anything like it–I can’t believe how calm they were! What a foundation!”

To all the humans there, it was indeed amazing, and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. But I think that if we could have read our horse’s minds, they would have been thinking something like this:

“Interesting. All this must be another one of our Human’s stupid stunts that always turn out to be nothing to get excited over. Ha. Good try, Human.”

truck and horse trailer

Yikes. Our truck and trailer, shortly after The Wreck. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and we learned that it really is next to impossible to spook the horses.

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.

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.

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!

Run, Horse, Run!

The lush grass of spring is gorgeous! Yet it’s also full of sugar, so we limit the time the horses are allowed out on the pastures.

Here’s a short video Matt shot of bringing in Yukon, Mocha and Quill, showing their herd hierarchy. Where was Neela? She was “off island” for a date with a stallion. More on that in a future post!

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

IMG_4178

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.