Monday, November 9, 2009

The Summer Passes and Takes My Father

This blog has been "silent" for a few months. Shortly after our foal was born on June 13, my father was diagnosed with Lymphoma and I left the bucolic farm life to care for him. While the prognosis of remission was excellent for his type of Lymphoma, complications from the chemotherapy ultimately took him on the morning of August 7, 2009.

(pictured: The five-acre Arkansas farm my Dad loved)

I was away from our horse farm most of the summer. I had just planted a garden, determined to live off its produce for the rest of year. As a former college administrator and sales director with a graduate degree, I have been unemployed and unable to find full time employment in our northeast Ohio area. Growing a garden was a good use of my time, an especially good use for all the horse manure produced at the farm, and would hopefully prove to be economical. But the garden was left to survive on its own when I had to leave. Jack's sister from Poland had scheduled a month-long visit at the same time, and Jack had his hands full with not only maintaining the usual farm routine, (Which really takes 2 full time people) but also with spending some quality time with his sister during her first visit to the states.

(pictured: My 2009 garden, just planted.)

When I finally came home in September I went right to my garden. I don't know why, but I could feel my Dad's presence there. He had had a fabulous garden last year, and started one this year, but had to abandon it when his treatments began. Dad was also a writer, and I think he's prompting me to get back at it. So, with renewed strength, I'll be filling in the details of the summer of 2009 that passed so quickly taking my father along.

This summer brought us life and brought us death. What I've come to realize over the past few months is that death is really a part of the cycle of life. It's a transition from a "body". It has a purpose, although we can't even begin to understand what or how.

I probably wouldn't be writing about living on a horse farm if it weren't for my dad. I came into this world with a love for horses. And I always wanted one. Always. When my parents finally retired on five acres in the sleepy little town of Mena, Arkansas, my dad promised me a horse. But I was already in college and involved in my education. Still, Dad gave me a special certificate "good for one horse".

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back to Where We Started

My explanation of what this blog is about was temporarily interrupted by the approaching birth of a foal on the farm. Now that our handsome fellow is a month old (and still has no name!) it’s time to go back and explain what Angel Horse People is really all about.

I founded the Angel Horse Registry and created the web site to honor horses who enrich human lives. It’s a unique site that gives people an opportunity to say “thank you” to special equines. The site allows us to create a registry listing for a horse, create an honor certificate and select or write our own words on the certificate. Each “Angel Horse” honored also receives a classy halter honor tag. Proceeds from sales of products are donated to Equine-assisted therapy and service programs benefiting people. The site also features everyday people and the Angel Horses they honor.

I’ve lived with horses for over 25 years. They have been incredible teachers and friends. I cannot imagine my life without them, and so Jack and I have chosen a life with them. And that’s what this blog is all about. Living life with horses.

(Pictured: A house for horses and people under one roof!)

I’ll be writing about our day-to-day life living under one big roof with 20+ horses, 2 dogs, and 4 cats. It’s an unusual set up and one that any horse lover would probably envy. And while it’s definitely a labor of love, it’s also a lot of work and responsibility. We care for over 20 of our own horses, and we also provide boarding services for several other horses.

(Pictured: Preparing to unload 150 of 4000 bales of hay needed annually.)

The economy has really affected the horse industry. Horses are a luxury item and people are being forced to choose family and living expenses over horse boarding and care. Sales are flat, and some people are literally giving horses away. With these facts in mind, Jack and I asked ourselves, “Do we really need any more horses?” I’m sure you can guess what the answer to that question was.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The New Foal Needs a Name

It's been a week since Aforia's foal was born. It's like having a newborn baby in the house! The foal found those long wobbly legs and stood up for the first time with Jack's help. He quickly learned to nurse - in fact, the quickest of any foal I've ever seen in over 20 years of foaling out mares. This guy is smart - and hungry!!!

The first turnout is always exciting. The mare is extremely protective but very proud of her foal. We decided to turn Aforia out into the paddock next to her mare herd and welcome the foal to the warm sunshine and fresh air of earth. As we led the mare out of her stall, the colt was confused. He did not want to leave the stall, which made Aforia very nervous. I gently put my arms around him - the left arm on his chest, the right arm under his tail, and "walked" him alongside of his mother. Once safely inside the paddock, we watched as all the mares in the pasture stepped up to the fence and greeted the newest member of the herd.

Aforia then proceeded with the first lesson. She walked the foal completely around the area, putting herself between the fence and her foal. Around and around they went, first at a walk, then at a trot, the mare gently nudging him when neccessary to move him in the direction she thought best to take. Within minutes the foal learned his lesson well. Follow my mom. Closely! Wherever she goes, I must go! And so when they returned to the stall, the colt stayed right by his mother's side and followed her into the barn!

It's time for a name! We like to observe our foals for a few days to get an idea of their personality before naming them. And we continue the Polish Arabian tradition of naming the foal with the first letter, (and most of the time the first 2 letters) of the mare's name. It makes it really easy to remember pedigrees this way. So we need to find a name that begins with A-F.

We've been turning out the colt every day now. He gets cockier and more confident each day. And he loves to canter! It's either full speed or walk. Nothing in between. He's already developed an attitude of his own. Proud, bold, in command. We need a special name! The colt's sire, Legion VF, is the last son of the immortal Polish Arabian stallion Bandos who sold at age 18 for one million dollars, purchased by California publisher David Murdock's Ventura Farms. Legion's dam, Garnet, was an esteemed daughter of famous Polish Arabian sire*Bask, and a full sister to champion sire Gdansk.

Now, I like to give foals names with special, spiritual meaning. Jack, on the other hand, likes names that convey strength and might. In other words, military names. We're both online studying the "baby names" sites. These are great sites because they list names from almost all countries and nationalities, as well as what the name means. I'm looking for something proud, independent, yet sensitive. Jack is looking for fighters and warriors!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

We Welcome a New Foal!

Saturday, June 13th. Aforia was 10-14 days overdue. Today was the day. Almost a year of waiting was close to culminating in a heart pounding, emotional and spiritual experience.

Jack shares a special relationship with his mares. When they hear his loud whistle, they always, as a herd, run to him. As Jack approached the paddock gate he instinctively whistled to bring the mares in. If it was not too late, it would be easy to catch Aforia and get her into the foaling stall.

It worked as planned! Aforia got up and slowly trotted to the paddock gate with the herd. Within minutes she was back in her stall, the safest place to give birth!

4:51 PM. The mare continued what she started in the pasture. Circling the stall, she sought the right place to lay down. Inside her body, powerful contractions had turned the foal from laying on its back to the proper front-feet-first position.

Aforia found the right spot and quietly layed down. Jack and I tiptoed into the adjacent stall to observe. We waited for what seemed to be forever. Then we heard the water break! At 4:57 PM, six minutes after being brought from the pasture, Aforia was in labor!

The water continued to spill out as Aforia looked at her swollen belly. She knew what was next. She laid her head down, extended all four legs, and began to push. One white foot emerged. She continued to push and strain, but the small portion of the one white foot remained. Our hearts pounding, we stood motionless.

The mare got up, circled and went down again. This oftentimes repositions the foal. She started to push again - harder, with all the strength she had. Another white foot appeared and we could see the foal's nose. But the mare's rhythmic pushing could not move the foal. Jack and I looked at each other. We knew the foal had a small window of time to be in the birth canal before life-giving oxygen would be cut off.

Jack moved towards Aforia's stall door, quietly opened it, squatted down, and moved to the back of the mare, the entire time reassuring Aforia with a soft voice. She understood. She trusted Jack.

I followed Jack and squatted outside of the stall. "Remember Jack, you can only pull when the mare pushes", I said, "I'll tell you when to pull."

Aforia got down to business. She pushed and pushed, her face in a trance. And with each push, Jack, who had the two white feet in his hands, pulled. We soon saw the foal's head. And with one more push from the mare, the shoulders appeared.

We both knew the hardest work was done. The large chestnut foal, marked with four even white socks, a star, and narrow strip down his nose, took his first breaths of air as Jack pulled the white amniotic sac away from his face.

This is an especially emotional moment for Horse People. To witness the miracle of a birth - the perfection of its design and process - to actually see life breathed into a creation of God - this is a spiritual experience for which we are always grateful to share.

Tears aside, Jack and I watched the mare rest as the final pint of life-giving umbilical blood made its way into the foal. Aforia, filled with overwhelming maternal love, nickered softly to her new foal.

The mare stood up. At that moment the umbilical cord automatically separated mare and foal. Aforia began licking her foal to dry the soft foal coat wet from its watery environment. Jack began to remove the rest of the amniotic sac. We welcomed Aforia's son to the world!! She had delivered a fine, strong and beautiful colt at 5:14 PM!

Three more critical things needed to happen before we could rest. The mare needs to expel her placenta within two hours. The foal needs to nurse to get the precious immunity-boosting colostrum. After his first few drinks of nourishing milk, the foal needs to expel meconium, the first feces, from his bowels. Before all this can happen, the foal needs to stand!!! But take a look at those long legs!!

Aforia Attempts Pasture Foaling as Storms Approach

(Pictured Above: Aforia's mother, Asmara, preparing to give birth to her last foal Asmar.)

Friday night's foal watch was tiring. Aforia was agitated and was pacing in her stall. Clearly uncomfortable, she circled around and around, stopping only momentarily to grab a few bites of hay. We thought for sure she was ready. But as dawn approached, she grew calm and we were weary.

After her morning feeding, I noticed dripping milk, a sure sign that birth is hours away. I decided to work in the garden behind the mare barn and keep a watchful eye on the mare in the stall. Around noon, Aforia once again became extremely agitated. She kicked her stall, pushed on the stall door, circled and called out to her friends in the large pasture. Something just wasn't right. I finally called Jack around 3 PM, thinking she would go down at any time and start pushing.

This behavior was quite unlike Aforia's usual calm pre-foaling demeanor. "She wants to be with the other mares," Jack said. "I'm letting her out in the pasture." I gasped! "Jack, let's think about this....if she foals in the pasture, there will be no way for us to help her. The foal may get hurt by the other mares....and then there's the problem with the dogs being around her as well..." I pleaded. "She's cleary upset and we have to keep her calm", Jack replied, "and besides, she'll come to the gate when she's ready".

He lead the mare to the paddock, unsnapped the lead rope, and off she galloped into nine acres of lush grass joining eleven other mares. My heart raced. I looked at my watch - 3:35 PM. "I have my cell phone - I'll watch her, and call you if she goes down. But I don't know what we'll be able to do", I said sadly. "I don't think she'll foal until tonight", Jack said, as he walked away.

I went back to my gardening, keeping a watchful eye on the mare. She would grab a few bites of grass, then pace; grass, then pace, visably nervous. Suddenly I saw her go down! I grabbed my phone then hesitated. It was a normal "horse roll" - rolling first on one side, then the other; then up on all four feet immediately followed by a good whole-body shake! False alarm! Back to the garden. 4:15 PM.

The sky was beginning to turn dark. A storm was approaching. Strange, this was not in the weather forecast. But the wind direction had clearly changed and the air was becoming heavier. I searched the pasture to find the mare. She was circling, preparing to lay down. My heart was pounding. I knew that mares often foaled during storms. And it looked like a big one was approaching. Just as I went for my phone, Aforia laid down and assumed the birth position, all four legs extended out. "Oh God, " I prayed, "please protect her".

Jack answered my call. "She's down, she's ready," I screamed. Within seconds he was at the paddock gate.

Friday, June 12, 2009

353 Days and Still No Foal.....

Still no foal! We're at day 353 - about 10 days overdue! The photo above tells the story. The milk bag is increasing! Last night's foal watch was significant. Very tiny drops of liquid can be seen on Aforia's milk bag! It's not quite milk, nor is it what we Horse People call "wax" , but it does mean we are getting closer to the birth!

Last night Aforia was restless, shifting her weight back and forth, pawing and pacing - sure signs of her uncomfortableness. I stayed with her until about 1:30 AM, my favorite cat Choochi sitting with me the entire time. Even the family of barn swallows in the mud nest above us were quiet, as if they too were anticipating the birth. Aforia's best friend, Fifinella, quietly kept munching her hay, providing comfort, companionship and cool, calm maternal advice to her friend. I went back to the house thinking I could catch a few minutes of sleep. Those few minutes turned into a few hours, but Jack took over the foal watch until 6 AM.

With the new light of day we bedded Aforia's stall with a deep, soft layer of straw. An experienced broodmare knows what this means. We're taking turns watching her now, and she seems to be content in her stall instead of with the rest of the mare herd.

It could be hours, or it could be a few more days! We're on a heightened Foal Watch now! Could it be a mid-day birth or will she wait until the quiet of the night?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

350 Days and Counting!

(Pictured: Aforia's "Baby Bump" at 350 days.)

A mare’s gestation period is 11 months or about 340-345 days. Aforia is at day 350. And it looks like she’s nowhere near ready to deliver the news. I’m ready, though! I’ve got my foaling kit stocked and ready to go. What’s a foaling kit? And what’s a foal? Well, a foal is a baby horse of either sex. When a mare is pregnant, she is said to be “in foal”. When she gives birth, or foals, then we learn if the foal is a colt (male) or a filly (female). Now, what is a foaling kit? All the stuff we humans think we must have in order to facilitate the foaling process. Foaling is a big, big event for Horse People. The foaling kit is a really big deal too, and the local grocery store is the place to get all the necessary items.

Three pounds of wheat bran, a jar of molasses, and a twin pack of enemas; a shot glass, a bottle of Betadine, a pound of coffee. The look on the people’s faces in the store checkout line?? PRICELESS!! They can only guess what’s going on! But a Horse Person knows –it’s foaling time!!!

Wheat bran and molasses make a great mash for the hungry mare who is exhausted from giving birth. Betadine(iodine) in a shot glass protects the “belly button” of the newborn foal from infection. A gentle enema helps the newborn cleanse the colon of the “milk duds” or meconium accumulated while in the womb. The coffee helps Horse People stay up all night because mares usually give birth at night or very early in the morning. Try explaining this to the cashier at the grocery store. She’ll look at you skeptically!

I’m on Foal Watch again tonight. Foal Watch is an hourly check of the mare, and specifically her milk bag, for any signs of impending birth. No signs of imminent birth today. But mares are sneaky! They give birth in between the times we check on them.
Mares also frequently give birth during storms. Thunderstorms are predicted tonight!

20 Horses, 2 Dogs, 4 cats, and 2 People Under One Roof!

I live with horses. That’s right, WITH horses. Next to them. Right in the barn.

While this may be many a young girl’s fantasy, for me it’s a reality.

We built our house into the barn. The horses- about 20 of them- and people – just two of us -are all under one roof!

Most people like horses. Who couldn’t? Mankind owes so much to these magnificent animals. Our tracks through history show hoof prints next to our footprints. While most people like horses, some people love horses. That’s us – and we’ve chosen to live our life with horses! Now just because we love horses, and we live with horses, doesn’t make us out of the ordinary. We’re really very ordinary people. Jack, who built the farm himself, is a recently retired auto worker who came to this country over 40 years ago from Poland. And me – JoAnne – I’m a master degreed former college administrator, sales director, and designer-recently-turned-web-site-entrepreneur. Our 15 acres is located southwest of Cleveland, Ohio in a manicured suburban township of homes with two or more acres. We are not rural. We enjoy the best of both worlds! 

Now, as much as I’d like to continue, there is a more immediate concern……and if you are a Horse Person, then this is the exciting, nail-biting culmination of a year’s worth of waiting. That’s right! It’s foaling season! And we are waiting for our mare Aforia to give birth at any time!