Monday, February 25, 2013

Companion Animals

My farm, Equutopia, is a little less than 70 acres, about half of it wooded. I’ve had horses on the farm since the day I moved in, and, being a true animal lover, have also experimented with a number of different companion animals. Some of these have been strays that just moved in without invitation and some have been deliberate acquisitions. The goats were in the latter category, a well-intentioned mistake.

As you can see, the cats aren't terribly useful, either.

Some time ago, I owned and operated a lawn care and landscaping business, and I was all too familiar with the laborious task of eradicating unwanted vines and undergrowth. Thus the seemingly brilliant idea evolved that I should acquire a few goats – they are famous for eating vines and brush and I felt that they would surely take over that aspect of my grounds-keeping duties. Besides, it seemed like a great way to further the bombproofing education of my horses.

Nor are some of the dogs.

I found an ad for some “pygmy” goats and arranged to go pick them up. Not having a trailer at the time, I borrowed a friend’s chicken tractor and strapped it to the bed of my pickup in the fashion of a makeshift cap. For those not familiar with this particular farm implement, it’s basically a 4 x 8 contraption with a wood frame and wire mesh covering the sides and top. The idea is to put your chickens in the “tractor” and move it around your garden, allowing them to perform their natural tilling duties as they scratch and peck the ground. I thought the chicken tractor was a fitting accessory to my pickup at the time – a brown 1979 Ford F150 with a 4” lift kit and big tires.

It's a girl, my lord, in a redneck Ford!
The goats turned out to be half wild and not as “pygmy” as I had expected. After much ado and several helping hands, I was able to get the goats loaded and drove home to some unusual glances from fellow drivers. The goats settled in to their new surroundings nicely and proceeded, in short order, to eat almost everything but the vines and brush for which they were enlisted. First, my strawberry patch was targeted and decimated. Then they attacked my roses and ornamental shrubs. Afraid of the horses at first, they soon realized that there was grain to be had around them at feeding time and quickly overcame their trepidation. The horses were likewise initially wary of the goats, but soon realized the goats would run away from them. They quickly overcame their fear and accepted the goats as companions.

Pandora, one of the female goats.

I put up with the goats’ destructive tendencies for several years. Penning them up to save my preferred plants didn’t work; these goats were little houdinis and climbed, jumped or butted their way out of every pen in which I tried to contain them. The last straw was when I caught them actually butting the horses’ heads out of the way to steal their grain. It was time to admit my experiment was a failure and find them a new home.

Grimm, one of the boys.
The next companion animal to come inhabit Equutopia was Petunia, the pot-bellied pig. I knew she wouldn’t serve much of a useful purpose other than, again, I thought it might be handy to acclimate my horses to a variety of unusual animals they might encounter in our trips off the farm. Also, I’d had a pig in the past, Tonka, who was a wonderful pet.Tonka delighted in riding around in my truck, taking walks around the block with the dogs at night (I lived in Alexandria at the time – this was in the pre-farm era), playing in her kiddie pool and cuddling up in my lap. Besides, the friend who told me about Petunia knew my soft spot for pigs and emphasized that she really needed a new home. Something was wrong with my truck on the day I was to pick her up, so I put down the seats and spread a quilt in the back of my Saturn to transport her back to the farm.

Upon arrival, I quickly learned two things: one, Petunia was a very large “miniature” pig and two, pigs cannot easily be forced into a car or, indeed, anywhere they’re not inclined to go on their own accord. I’d been lucky with Tonka. She was small enough to pick up and carry around and liked being handled. Luckily, Petunia (whose name was actually Penelope at the time, but I have a cousin of the same name whom I feared would not be flattered at sharing her name with a pig, thus the pig’s name was changed to preserve harmony in my family) displayed a weakness for chips and junk food. I ended up laying a trail of snacks to my car and up into the back seat, and she self-loaded with a supplemental little boost. Petunia spent the ride home with her head wedged between the front seats, attracting even more attention from passing cars than the goats had garnered.

Petunia lived a long and happy life at Equutopia. She and the horses quickly became accustomed to each other and, in fact, we would often find Petunia snoozing in a corner of one of the horses’ stalls. They evicted her at feeding time but were content to share their space otherwise. Petunia ended up being more useful than expected, cleaning up dropped grain in the stalls, and befriended my students, submitting to their tummy rubs and grooming. She died in her sleep, and is buried next to my rose garden, which survived despite the unsolicited goat pruning.

Primrose, the current pig.
Companion animals seem to help desensitize the horses to strange sights and sounds and are sometimes even useful. Always introduce new animals slowly and carefully over a fence and be sure to supervise them carefully to avoid possible injuries. I teach all of my horses to lead from both sides for safety reasons. When leading horses past the new animals, I always walk between the horse and the new animal in case the horse decides to spook. Research the animals you’re considering before you commit. If I’d done some research before bringing home my goats, I would have learned that there are certain goat breeds that are easier to contain in a pen and not inclined to jumping heights grand prix horses would envy.

Make sure you handle your new pets regularly so you can trim their feet and administer medications and vaccinations. Both the goats and Petunia were unaccustomed to handling upon arrival at the farm, thus routine care was always dramatic. I had to wait until evening, when Petunia was asleep, to slip down to the barn and trim her hooves while she was unconscious. Occasionally she’d stir, and I’d have to rub her tummy until she dozed off again, allowing me to resume the trim.

Another photo of my beautiful Primrose.

Be aware of the needs of your new animal, including veterinary care and feeding requirements. Certain feeds can be hazardous to animal species other than those for which they were formulated. For example, horse feed generally contains copper, which can be toxic to goats and sheep. If companion animals are taken on with eyes wide open and cared for responsibly, they can be wonderful additions to any farm.

The emus were another failed experiment, but they will have their own story...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pinball Whizzer

I have mentioned in a previous post that I am not much of a speed freak. I prefer a leisurely hunter pace, or the controlled energy of dressage. However, I have been an exercise rider not once, but twice in my lifetime. Perhaps I thought I could just push through the trepidation and I would get used to the fear. I gave it my best shot. No dice.

OK, I'm not that much of a wussy!
My first stint was shortly after moving to the farm, probably around the spring of 1997. My roommate was an exercise rider, and convinced me to give it a shot. I had a full-time office job, but we decided I could ride in the mornings before work, then go in to the office (thankfully, one of the only places I have worked that had showers in the restrooms!). Thus, I got up before the sun (also something I hate) and drove to a small barn with a training track. There, I gritted my teeth and rode a variety of Thoroughbreds with varying levels of control and steering. The head trainer started me off riding inside the barn, then we progressed to a small, covered track before moving to the big, open track.

I will never forget the first time I had a real gallop on the main track. I was riding a 2 year old, very sweet, pretty easy to get along with in general, a handsome bay. I rode out onto the track alone. The trainer instructed me to just warm up by trotting about half the track, then ease him into a canter. Well, we accomplished the trot warmup without any problem. The canter, however, was not to be. My boy started off in a brisk canter, then decided he needed to stretch his legs and pull my arms out of their sockets. He took off, pounding the dirt, clearly enjoying the rush.

I had never galloped so fast, and was torn between terror and exhilaration. Tears started streaming down my face. I was having a little trouble seeing, and felt completely out of control. I tried pulling back on the reins, pull and release, pull as hard as I can, nothing. We rounded the turn, and I could see the trainer standing trackside, watching. There were trees in the center of the track, so his view of our warmup and takeoff had been obscured.

"How are you doing?" he asked as we streaked by, me desperately trying to appear nonchalant, smiling and trying not to pull back too obviously.

"Fine!" I lied.

We rounded the next turn and disappeared once again from the trainer's sight. I resumed my frantic attempts to slow down and gain control. By the time we made it back around, I was feeling a little more like the driver and I was able to pull up next to the trainer.

"Wow, how fast were we going? I don't think I've ever gone that fast!" I gushed.

"You weren't really going that fast - maybe a two-minute mile pace."

That seemed mighty fast to me. I slid off the horse and my legs almost collapsed. Adrenaline shakes, I suppose. A little too scary for my taste. I began dreading my morning rides. Soon afterward, I realized I just wasn't cut out for that line of work and resigned.

Fast-forward a few years. I guess my short-term memory wasn't so sharp. In early 2000, I was self-employed with my own lawn care and landscaping business. I supplemented my income by exercising foxhunters (that can be harrowing itself, but that's another story!). Then, one day, I saw a sign at the local feed store, seeking help in starting two young Thoroughbreds. I called the number and was soon hired for the job. It turned out that my new boss was a racehorse trainer, and she had two prospects that needed to be started under saddle. I thought that would be fun.

Sure enough, the initial training went well and was fun. We got the two youngsters going very well at home, listening to the aids, stopping, steering... very much under control, I thought. I took them trail riding, then progressed to a little galloping in neighboring fields. Finally, the babies were deemed fit to move to the training track. I was asked to continue riding them there. I thought it was going to be different. After all, I had helped train these two from the start. I knew they had manners and that they understood what I wanted from them. What did I know.

So, let me set the scene for one of the most harrowing rides of my life. We have a lovely, busy training track, full of activity, other horses and their riders. Then we have two horses, a gelding and a filly, that have never seen such a track. Add a rookie rider who also has never seen such a track (the previous track from Lapse of Reason #1 was a private, quiet track). We gave the horses a few days to get used to their surroundings, then the day came to get busy with training.


It was a beautiful, warm morning in early summer. We tacked up the gelding, Chambord,  and I was boosted up into the saddle. My trainer accompanied us up to the main track.

"Now we just want to get him quietly around today, just let him get used to the track," she instructed.

"Ok," I replied. I started to walk off. A set of two horses came around the turn behind us and galloped past.

"Why don't you just let him follow those two horses?" suggested my trainer. Sounded like a plan to me. I pointed my horse in their direction and nudged him onward. There was really no need. Chambord had seen them go by and was excited to join them. He broke into a hesitant canter and aimed at their tails.

In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to pony the two horses around the track and let them get used to the sights while under the influence of a calm companion. We did not do that. Perhaps my trainer had overestimated my abilities. Maybe she was secretly videotaping the occasion and has since cashed in big (I haven't seen her in a looooong time... hmmmmm...)

The ride that followed was like sitting on a ricocheting pinball. Chambord would shoot forward, toward the frontrunning horses, then catch sight of one of the furlong poles and violently shy away. No sooner did he alter course, than he would notice a pole on the other side of the track and spook back in the other direction. I was struggling to stay aboard, clenching my teeth and my abs and steeling myself for a dive into the dirt. I thought about bailing out, but I didn't. I'm not sure how I managed to stay on, careening all the way around that track at varying levels of high speed. That was the longest half-mile of my life. I managed to pull up alongside my trainer and slide to the ground, legs shaking so badly I could hardly walk. Good times.

You may be surprised to hear that this was not my last ride. I stuck it out a little longer, and gained some confidence, though I apparently quickly developed a reputation for being the slowest one on the track at any given time. I enjoyed tooling around at a brisk canter. Ok, so I was obviously not cut out for this line of work. The trainer and I agreed that it would be better to get someone with more experience on their backs.

Nowadays, the only racehorses I ride have been retired from the track. I spend my time retraining them, teaching them to slow down and smell the roses. Yes, we have our exciting moments, but none to match the time I rode the equine pinball.

More my speed!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fear and Resolve

People often ask me, upon hearing my admittance of an insurmountable fear of heights, how I manage to ride a horse. I answer that it doesn’t seem that high up in the saddle – it’s a different kind of height, I try to explain. What I don’t attempt to convey is my feeling that, once in the saddle, I become part of the horse. It’s not just me perched up on high, I just become a little taller. My non-horsey friends (possibly conjuring up an image of Cleo the Centaur) just don't seem to understand. I’ve never managed to attain that feeling perched on a ladder or standing in a hayloft, though, on the plus side, I’ve never been bucked off either of the latter. Actually, I take that back; I was once on one of those handy-dandy collapsible ladders… need I say more?.

Fear is natural and self-preserving. However, there are times when you want or must do things that involve facing and overcoming some of those fears, within reason. I certainly don’t recommend attempting to conquer one’s fear of grizzly bear attacks! Respecting the danger of the potentially risky situation and taking all possible precautions against injury are key to balancing the accomplishment of your goals with a long and healthy life.

No, really, I'm harmless! I come bearing gifts!

Riding and handling horses is fraught with risk. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have been trampled (twice now, to date) and have been the victim of multiple kicks and bites. Then there are the falls. I used to tell all my students at Equutopia that, if you’re going to ride, you’re eventually going to fall off – everyone has a spill eventually and there’s no getting around it. You have to make peace with that idea. If you're afraid to fall off, you'd better not get on to begin with. Fortunately, the falls I have personally experienced and seen my students perform seldom caused more than a bruised ego.

I remember vividly the great quandary of my childhood; I was addicted to horses and riding, and my parents diligently took me to riding lessons, but my stomach was always cramped up in fear on the drive to the stable. My body was desperately trying to force me to quit but my heart wouldn’t let me do so. I think I can attribute most of this seemingly disproportionate fear to the “talents” of my first riding instructor.

The frightful Eddie, as I remember him...

Eddie was a tall, athletic young man (from the perspective of a 7 year old, anyway). He was a hotshot who certainly could stick on a horse but lacked patience with his young pupils. I have two strong memories of him: the first is of him screaming at me to get back on and canter my horse after falling off at my first attempt – he actually threatened to chase us with a whip! The second memory is of him jumping on a young, green horse bareback and galloping down the highway in pursuit of a loose horse. This happened one day right after a lesson. As we were driving home, we passed him riding back to the barn, leading the escapee, mission accomplished. He was the urban cowboy. I was in awe, but I feared and somewhat loathed him, too.

My later instructors had much better people skills and I slowly started rebuilding my confidence. I have a particular fondness for an instructor named Dale and a big, flashy Thoroughbred named Banjo – he used to pull me around the ring and she would admonish me to sit back and, for goodness’ sake, please start eating more pizza and sundaes! I should explain that I was about 80 pounds at the time – I didn’t get over 100 pounds until I was almost out of high school.

No, no, no, no, no! Pizza and sundaes!

Ironically, perhaps, a big turning point in gaining back the confidence Eddie so ably destroyed was when I  survived my first really scary spill. I was competing in a hunter pace event on a frisky gray gelding. My partner (it was a pairs competition) sailed over a large obstacle, and I chose to go around. The gelding I was riding did not appreciate this decision, punctuating his displeasure by dropping his head and bucking hard. I sailed over his head and landed some distance in front of him, face down, in his path. He jumped over me, but grazed the back of my hand with one of his hooves, causing several lacerations. I still have the scars. We returned to the barn, I received basic first aid, and went back out on a quieter horse. From that point on, I lost a lot of my fear. In retrospect, I think I felt that I’d experienced about as bad a spill as possible (I was na├»ve, I know) and survived, and if that was as bad as it was going to get, well, I could live with that.

I did discover, later in life, that I am unable to overcome my fear of riding at very high speeds. I love Thoroughbreds, and have tried twice in the past to exercise racehorses. Unfortunately, I am also a bit of a control freak, and I really didn't like the feeling of being run away with. I enjoyed working with the young horses, but once they got a taste for speed, forget it... someone else could fly around the track with them. One of my greatest joys has been working with former racehorses and retraining them to move about at a more reasonable rate of speed, turning and bending, and accepting soft contact instead of just pulling against it.

No way.

In teaching my own students, I tried to remind myself of these times, of how it feels to be too afraid to try something, of Eddie and the damage of which a poor, impatient instructor is capable. The biggest challenge was dealing with fears associated with learning to ride over jumps. As anyone who has been through this knows, if you’re nervous and stiff approaching the jump, you tend to get popped up out of the saddle by your horse’s jumping effort. This, of course, is scary, though normally you land right back in the saddle. I constantly reminded my students to relax their backs, sink their weight into their heels, and fold forward from the waist. This is easier said than done when you’re worried about going airborne again.

Except that we don't have wings.

These days, my fears are mainly centered around surviving “airs above the ground” when leading or otherwise attempting to control a horse from the ground. A spirited horse can do a leap from a standstill to make Michael Jordan envious, simultaneously kicking out with any or all of its legs. Woe unto you if your head or any other body part is within range! I generally try to lead a horse from a position next to their shoulder, a more difficult spot for the horse to target. Unfortunately, that position is ideal for the head-swinging-face-slam – anyone that has experienced this knows what I’m talking about!

I don’t mean to imply that my horses are ill-behaved rogues! To the contrary, they are generally really easy to handle, even my one stallion, who is arguably the most docile of the bunch. Still, even these angels can be a handful when ill weather causes me to confine them to their stalls and they build up excess energy, or if it’s a particularly windy, brisk day. The rehabilitation cases are often the trickiest – I have had several horses that were on stall restriction for 3-4 months or more. You can imagine how much energy they build up and how happy they are once they regain even a little freedom! I always make use of the magic of pharmaceuticals to sedate them when they first start getting limited turnout, for their own safety and mine.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Blanket Incident (or, Trampling #1)

Many of my hard-learned lessons were, in retrospect, possibly avoidable with the application of a little common sense. However, there were some that came as a complete and shocking surprise. One of these insights that left an indelible impression (literally as well as figuratively) was what I refer to as the “Blanket Incident.”

I have always considered myself to be prudently cautious in handling the half-ton horses with which I share my farm and life. To that end, when turning out, I always put out the submissive horses first and dominant ones last to avoid possible confrontations at the gate – I reverse the order when bringing them into the barn. That system seemed flawless until the introduction of extenuating circumstances – namely, horse clothing. Little did I know that, apparently, horses don’t necessarily recognize each other when they’re decked out in their winter wear.

This does not look like supervillian garb to me.

On the evening of the “Blanket Incident,” I was turning the horses out after their evening meal. At the time, I had three mares that shared a paddock. The most dominant, Figure, is a Thoroughbred mare purchased privately after she went through an auction as a “no sale” – she was very thin, obviously blind in her milky right eye and unattractive to prospective buyers. A friend and I bought Figure and another mare who was similarly unappealing to bidders by virtue of her uncontrollable shaking, soaking wet, lathered body and foaming mouth and took them home, concerned that their next stop would have been a livestock auction where they would probably have been passed up again by all but the meat buyers. Figure put on weight, eventually had her bad eye surgically removed, and turned out to have lovely conformation and movement. The other mare, Sparks, was rehabilitated and eventually given to a lady who wanted a few horses as pets, but she was in the paddock with Figure and another Thoroughbred, Kelley, at the time of the incident.

Figure, the trampler, looking all innocent and motherly.

It was one of the first really cold nights of that winter, dark and muddy from recent rains, and I’d bundled the mares into their weatherproof coats. I was bundled up myself in my undeniably unfashionable winter wear: insulated body suit, multiple layers of socks topped by a layer of plastic grocery bags (for extra moisture protection) and encased in crusty muck boots, topped off with the blaze orange knit cap my students refer to as my “don’t shoot me” hat.

The two more submissive mares went out without incident and I brought Figure out to the gate. No sooner had I walked her through the gate than one of the other mares ran at her, teeth bared, apparently mistaking her boss mare for an interloper. Alas, this attack was to Figure’s blind side, thus she didn’t see her attacker (though it may not have made any difference if she had – she may not have recognized her underling either). The attacking mare turned and started kicking Figure. Frantic to escape, Figure ran directly and literally over me, pushing me down into the mud.

My mud-stained chalk outline - yes, I was wearing my "don't shoot me" knit hat!

It was the first time I had ever been trampled. Fortunately the mares all emerged from their scuffle without a scratch because I was in no condition to do any doctoring that evening. After I extricated myself from the half-frozen mud (I guess I was lucky it was muddy, as I sunk in nicely - if the ground had been completely hard and frozen, I might have fared worse), I struggled through the last of my chores and dragged myself up to the house. I was really sore for a few days and my back bothered me for weeks afterwards but I consider myself very lucky to have escaped an ambulance ride.

I have gone over the events of that evening many times in my mind, searching for other possible reasons the submissive mare may have chosen to attack Figure. After all, I’d used blankets many times without problems. Figure was used to these mares being on her blind side and the other mares feared and respected her on every other occasion. The only change on that evening was the blankets. These three mares were relatively new to the farm and I don’t recall having used blankets on them previous to that evening, though they all accepted them calmly, leading me to believe that they were accustomed to their wear. The lesson left an indelible imprint on the diligence of making sure all horses sniff noses and acknowledge each other over the fence before leading them through the gate into a group, especially when wearing their disguises.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Water Hazards and other Foaling Perils

Any small breeder who foals his or her mares at home knows the stress associated with the whole process. First, checking your mare daily for signs of heat, calling the veterinarian out to the farm to perform palpations, ultrasounds and cultures to make sure the mare is healthy and ready for breeding. Then choosing among the multitude of lovely stallions available (I do admit I love looking at the stud books, though it makes me feel a little "pimpy") and, in the case of live cover, setting up a date for the mare to be bred with the chosen stud and hauling her to and from her appointment (makes me feel even more "pimpy!"). Next, waiting the requisite 14 days for an ultrasound to confirm pregnancy, if you’re lucky. If not, the process begins again.

An anxious 11 months, 5 days follows as you watch the mare carefully throughout her pregnancy, pulling her off any pasture that may contain fescue for the last 4 months thereof, increasing the protein level in her feed for the last trimester. As the mare expands dramatically, you have to start maneuvering her more carefully through stall doors and other spots that were never tight before. My stall door openings are 4’ wide – normally plenty of space, but I have to make sure my heavily pregnant mares exit and enter through the center to avoid getting bumped.

Then the final stretch – seemingly endless days and nights of little or no sleep as you make constant checks on the mare as foaling becomes imminent. The false alarms as the mare lies down, examines her sides and starts groaning, only to get right back up and start eating. Some mares can be pretty dramatic in expressing their displeasure at their large burden; I have one mare that makes a big show of waddling, groaning and examining her belly in disgust for the last months of her pregnancy. Maybe it’s just paranoia, but I think she gives me the “evil eye,” knowing that I’m responsible for her discomfort.

In 2006, we had two foalings at Equutopia and both were adventures. Figure was the first mare to foal, showing signs around 10 pm on April 13, causing me to call my backup out of bed; I always feel better having extra hands available during the foaling process in case the mare or foal needs assistance. I also had a student, Jenny, that made me promise to call when the foals were getting ready to emerge into their new world. On that particular evening, I had house guests, who also eagerly hustled down to the barn to observe the proceedings.

Beamer getting checked out by his mom, Figure.

Thus the birth or Beamer was well attended. My guests were all briefed on the importance of remaining silent and out of the way. One young lady crouched down in the adjoining stall to peer through the thin ventilation slats in the stall wall. Alas, she soon regretted this vantage point – Figure’s water broke and sprayed through the slats, showering her hapless victim! Luckily, she was a horsewoman. Her male friend, however, made an immediate, hasty exit from the scene. Beamer arrived shortly thereafter with no complications and the guests departed, leaving me and Bobbie, my friend and constant assistant, to make sure Beamer stood and nursed within the generally recommended 2 hour time period. 

First kiss from mommy.

About an hour went by, and the little colt made several attempts to stand on his uncooperative, wobbly legs, lurching around the stall as he tried to master mobility. With some assistance, he got the hang of standing, balanced precariously on his four absurdly long legs, but still seemed to have trouble nursing. Beamer was able to locate the fountain, but was having trouble with the operational aspect. I started getting nervous that he wouldn’t ingest the all-important colostrum, the mare’s initial milk, rich with the antibodies he would need for immunity from disease in his first few months of life.

Posing with Auntie Bobbie.

It was then that I discovered that the bottles I’d purchased, just in case a situation like this came up where I needed to hand-milk a mare and bottle feed her foal, were not foal-size. The nipples were way too small. I ended up leaving Bobbie to watch momma and her baby and raced to Wal-Mart to get a larger one. By this time, it was past midnight. Thank goodness for 24 hour stores! By the time I got back, of course, all was well and Beamer was nursing with gusto. We’d already dipped his navel with iodine and decided to leave the pair so that all of us could get a little rest.

Beamer's yearling mug shot.

I missed the birth of Celera. It happened in the middle of the afternoon, April 18. I had just run out to my vet's office for something, and I got a frantic call from my student, Shelley, who had arrived at Equutopia for a lesson to find a gangly chestnut colt wandering up and down the barn aisle. I have half doors on all my stalls and, though I’d carefully blocked the lower opening with a piece of plywood, the colt had managed to break down the barrier and liberate himself. I arrived shortly after the call (luckily I was almost home anyway) and we teamed up to wrestle the colt back into the stall with his mother, Violet. Poor Celera had bumped his nose, either during his birth which, judging from the location of the placenta, happened right near one of the stall walls, or during his subsequent escape. He was having a lot of trouble nursing, so I called my vet’s office and Dr. Tena Boyd came out immediately. 

Baby Celera, a few days old.

After a careful examination, Tena determined that the swelling wasn’t serious and would soon dissipate. However, until it did so, Celera would be unable to nurse. He essentially couldn’t “feel” his mother’s udder because of the swelling. The bottle I’d purchased on my midnight run a few days ago was to come in handy. I had to milk Violet and bottle feed Celera every hour for the rest of the day and all through the night. Finally, the next morning, the swelling subsided and Celera was able to feed himself. Tena returned to check his immunity level (a simple blood test performed on the spot 12 to 24 hours post-birth) and pronounced him healthy.

Baby Celera, so cute and curious!

Weeks of sleep deprivation had taken their toll, but I was thrilled to have two big, healthy colts. The kids showered the foals and their mothers with attention, providing the all-important initial desensitizing and imprinting with humans that makes foals much easier to handle when they become 1000 lb horses. They learned to wear a halter, be led in and out, and submit to grooming and fussing. We certainly had a few exciting moments, especially in the process of teaching the colts to lead. It is crucial that a handler not pull on these babies’ necks when they’re young – they are fragile and susceptible to strains and worse. Therefore, though they wear halters and lead ropes, the actual “leading” is accomplished by walking next to the foal, one hand on his rump, the other on his chest on one of the shoulder bones, essentially guiding the foal. The foal, of course, resists and often bucks, kicks and lurches, resulting in all sorts of colorful bruises for the handler. They are surprisingly strong and athletic!

Celera's yearling mug shot, with Auntie Robyn.
I have been fortunate that all four of the foals born at Equutopia thus far have been fairly healthy. I no longer do any breeding, I am already at capacity and feel that there are too many unwanted horses around already (not that my babies would contribute to that situation, I plan on keeping them until their last days). Yes, the whole breeding and foaling process is stressful and has, no doubt, contributed to my wrinkles (my mom and more than one friend have presented me with gifts of wrinkle cream and skin care products!), but there are few things as satisfying to the horse lover as being a part of the whole process and watching a helpless little foal grow strong, play and develop their unique personalities and characteristics on their way to becoming an athlete, companion and partner.

Posing with Auntie Robyn again.