• Beware Ye All Who Enter Here

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    There really ought to be a sign.

    From the road my farm looks safe enough. Green rolling fields and faded red barns welcome you as you drive up the hill and round the corner. Towering maples shade the lawn and the windows on the house seem to form a giant smile. But, there really ought to be a sign, a big wooden one that warns: BEWARE YE ALL WHO ENTER HERE!

    When you live with something long enough it doesn’t seem at all strange to you, but I have to wonder what people think when they come here.

    I came to this conclusion yesterday, when I looked out the window and saw my three goats walk up and into a visiting contractor’s trailer. I ran out, waving my jacket, trying to shoosh them away before the crew noticed. One was on his hind legs investigating a tool bin and the others were already nibbling on a bag of insulation. Goats do not take direction well and it took me a while to make them vacate the trailer.

    Then, there are the cats. Ok, I admit it. We have a few cats. They are my acting cats. I use them for ads and commercials. All are loved, vaccinated and cared for and have what I think, is the ideal life for a cat. But, you cannot step out of your vehicle without being bombarded by at least 5 or 6 running up to greet you, hoping you will pick them up and give them a pet. If you are not particularly fond of them, they find you all the more interesting. “How could this be?” they muse. “This human doesn’t want us.” and like Spock from Star Trek, they tilt their little heads and say “Fascinating.” The cats then stalk their victim, waiting until the person has settled into, a lawn chair ice tea in hand. It is then they make their move, leaping up on to their laps. The more the poor person flails about and tries to remove the cat, the more the cat struggles to hang on, thinking, “Wow! If this guy is in danger then I surely don’t want to be dropped down into the middle of it!”

    And don’t even think of leaving your car windows open. More than one friend has found this out the hard way. The most recent case was a nice gal who came for her dog’s photo session. When we returned, there were 11 cats in the car. They were all lounging about on the dash and seats contentedly licking their paws as they glanced up, as if to say “What?” In the space of a half hour, they had managed to eat a dozen oatmeal raisin cookies and an entire loaf of sour cream focaccia bread that had been carefully procured from the local artisan bakery.

    Whenever a visiting photographer or contractor tries to work at ground level at least two or three cats try to help him by climbing on his back or rubbing against his hands while he works. I warn film crews and contactors alike that if anybody screws up there is a kitten penalty and they have to take one home.

    The cat problem was never more evident than when the TV show, MONSTERQUEST, used our farm and as a location for an episode about Bigfoot. Dear husband, Kevin, and my brother, Kelton, were recruited to portray two old bachelor farmers who, while playing cards one night, hear the dogs barking like crazy, and look out of their ramshackle old house to investigate. The dogs rush in, tails between their legs, obviously terrified. The bachelor farmers discover that the chicken coop door has been ripped apart by something that is really big and really mean. Tension builds as a light sweeps the darkness. An eerie stillness lies over the land, and then we see…we see…. a small orange cat entering the scene. “Meow?” his little voice questions. “Cut!” yells the director and we have to start again.

    The dogs are worse. Lisle, the German Shepherd, believes that all hats and gloves are fair game if set on the ground, and also believes that keep away is the greatest game ever invented. Apple, the Border Collie, is convinced that every person she meets really wants her to jump up and give them many, many doggie kisses.

    The chickens think that if you are walking towards the barn you must have some scraps for them. They spot a human and the boss hen clucks “Red Alert! Red Alert! Here they come!” They burst out from behind the hen house and from all corners as they race to be the first to grab a chunk of bread or an old bunch of grapes. If the sheep spot you, they will amble up the hill to say hello, in the hopes that you might have some heaven sent grain to give them.

    If the horses are up by the barn, they will hang their heads over the fence and snicker softly. Surely, you must have some apple treats in your pockets.

    Luckily, most of the people who visit me understand that the animals pretty much run the place and that all of this is to be expected. I can’t help feeling sorry, though, for the young woman who stopped by with some friends last summer. She probably didn’t know that she was going to be dragged out to a rundown old farm in the middle of nowhere. She was none too happy when Apple leaped up to greet her and chickens began to circle her. She shrieked when, Marcus, the goat nibbled her sundress and she really didn’t appreciate traipsing through the muddy paddock in her flip flops as we toured the farm.

    The funny thing is, I have four sons and with the exception of the youngest (a born extravert) and unlike the cats, you may never see them. The oldest is in college, and the other two would rather remain anonymous. Look at the bright side; at least if you mess up you won’t have to take one of them home.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • All The Ducks Are Richard And All The Hens Are Gladys: Or, the importance of Being Named

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    When you have as many animals as I do in the public eye, the naming of animals becomes of the utmost importance.

    You can’t be on a set and say “Hey, Fluff! Sit…Stay!” It is only fair to name animals with some dignity. Not only does it color how you feel about the animal but I believe it also effects how the animal feels about himself.

    Take for instance, chickens. When I was training chickens for commercials for Gold’n’Plump, a regional brand in the Midwest, I would have as many as 20 white hens at a time. I could not name each one individually, I could hardly tell them apart as it was, so it was easier to name them all Gladys. Of course, certain clever chickens would distinguish themselves and became Gladys 1 or Gladys 2, but in the end they were all still, Gladys. The red hens were all named Ruth and the buff hens were all called Myrtle with the exception of Pretty Peggy, who, after her starring role as the distraught wife of the Perkins Rooster, and becoming the official ambassador for Omega Ultra Egg is a big star in her own right.

    The naming of roosters is a little different from that model. Roosters require names with some flair and presence and to match their appearance and demeanor.

    When I was working on the Perkins commercials and needed a set of Brown Leghorn Roosters I found some through a local chicken fancier and arranged to pick them up. When I asked him their names, he looked at me funny and said, “I don’t name them. They are just roosters.”

    Just roosters! They deserved more than that. They were magnificent birds, with showy feathers of red and black with glints of green and tails that were held proudly as they crowed and talked to each other from their cages.

    I took them home and released them and watched them greet the hens. They strutted around like they owned the place, quickly establishing which hens belonged to whom.

    I decided they needed names with pizzazz. I named the biggest, most assertive one, Raphael, the next Fernando, and the third, Alonzo.

    These names suited them and they were proud of themselves on the set, performing admirably when asked to pose or do a behavior for the commercials.

    All the ducks are named Richard because if you think about it, aren’t most of the Richards you know rather duck like? I mean this with great affection as the Richards I know carry themselves like their namesake king.

    The naming of cats is another matter altogether. Cats are sensitive animals and require names that suit their personality. I do not like giving cats simple names like Kitty or Max. They need names that tell me who they are and so, many of mine are named after famous actors, performers, and politicians. Some of our current cats are named Bullet, after the movie with Steve McQueen. Teddy, after Teddy Roosevelt. Churchill, who came with Teddy. Franklin, after Benjamin. Capra, after the director. The Hepburns, after Kate and Audrey. Cats are embarrassed if you laugh when you say their names, so please be sure to name them correctly. If you laugh and tease them long enough they will go pee on your bed, and then who will be sorry now? Dogs don’t care what you call them. They are just happy you called them at all. Really, it’s true. You can any use words you want and they will still stand there, eyeing you adoringly, because you are… their everything. Unless, of course, you have a naughty dog, (most likely a terrier) that runs away when you call him and delights in checking out the neighborhood while you chase after him in your bathrobe, vainly calling his name.

    That is why I only have herding breeds on my farm. Like good German Shepherds or Border Collies who would rather be with me that anywhere else except for when the sheep are out, and then the Border Collie would rather be with them.

    Horses, I have found, sometimes require renaming so they can begin a new life. You won’t believe how many of my horses arrived with the name, Buddy. A horse can be the best buddy you’ve ever had, but an animal of such size and bearing requires something a little more dignified.

    When my Morgan mare came she was called Bailey, and although it is a fine name, she needed a fresh start with an owner who felt good about her, and so I named her Beauty. By calling her that, I felt that way about her, and over time she blossomed into a great beauty indeed.

    Our most recent addition, a three-year-old Welsh Pony, came with the name Pistol.

    I knew right away that it wouldn’t do. She was spirited and feisty and on her second day here, she opened the paddock gate and let all of her horse friends out to play. I have found that animals live up to your expectations and a horse named Pistol sounded like trouble. I decided to name her Ava, after the beautiful and voluptuous Ava Gardner, who was a strong feisty woman and the perfect namesake for the filly.

    There was no science to naming our three Sannen goat kids. My younger sons happened to be reading up on the Roman Empire at the time and so the goats were named Marcus, Aralias and Tiberius shortly after their arrival last fall.

    Our sheep, being mostly breeds of British origin, are named Nigel, Basil, Beatrice, Victoria, Henry, Feronia, and Fiona.

    I do not have any cattle or pigs here on the farm. If I did, I would have to name them. And if I had to name them, I wouldn’t be able to eat them.

    As for me, personally, you can call me anything you want as long as you call me to dinner.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • Horse Math

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    I have never been very good at math. In fourth grade, when I drew horses all over my work sheets, my math teacher, Mr. Johanson, warned me that I would never learn how to multiply or do long division if I kept it up. I am sorry to say, he was right. I can draw a darn fine horse, but I cannot do long division if my life depended on it.

    That is why it should come as no surprise that I am a master at what, my dear husband, Kevin, calls horse math.

    Horse math is a thought process behind the logic that goes something like this: If I go and see a horse that really should be worth $2000 and the owner is willing to sell it to me for $500, then I essentially have saved the extra $1500 that the horse should have cost. So, when the next horse I want comes along, and is priced at mere $1000, it is a real deal because I saved $500. Doesn’t that make perfect sense to you?

    Kevin says my eyes go all googley and twitchy when I start talking horses. And, I have to admit, he’s right. A while back, I made the mistake of checking out horse ads on the Internet and saw a seven-year-old Morgan Gelding for sale. I recognized the name of his breeder and knew that he was well bred. I looked at his picture and imagined what our lives would be like together. This behavior is not unlike teenage girls who write the name of their intended, over and over again just to see how it looks.

    I contacted the breeder and the delicate process of negotiations began. She sent more photos and patiently answered questions about pedigree, training level, and ground manners. I asked about bad behaviors (there were none) and with each phone call and email the horse sounded better and better. I thought that I better act soon, or she might sell him before I had a chance to see him. Kevin was less than convinced that we had to go and look at him that very weekend, but being the good sport that he is, he agreed to come with me.

    He has a good reason to be wary of my enthusiasm. The last horse that I felt I just had to have, we drove over 400 miles round trip to go see, and it turned out to not only to be blind in one eye, but chronically lame to boot. Now, to be fair to the seller, she may have told me these things, but in my horse lust I may have not heard them.

    We made arrangements with the breeder and headed out on the 150 mile trip to her place. When we arrived, I could see the horse in a paddock by the barn. He was just as described, old style with broad chest, round barrel and good, hard feet. His black bay coat shone in the sun and he stuck his muzzle out to smell me, just as curious about me as I was about him. There was a kindness about him that completely drew me in.

    We brushed him for a while and then we tacked him up. After a few times around the ring and then up and down the driveway, I could see that he had been started correctly and was willing to please. He was everything I wanted in a horse and so we sealed the deal.

    We paid the asking price, (no horse math here), since it was a fair one for such a fine horse and made arrangements to come and get him the next week. He was registered as Redcliff’s Mannington, but I thought Finnian suited him and that is what I named him.

    That was well over 10 years ago and that little Morgan has done it all. He has been shown, I have used him in movies, and he is one of my best photo models. He is still curious and kind, and he is still my favorite.

    Now, because I paid full price for Finn, I had to curb my horse habit for a while and concentrate on the ones I had. That is until a few years later when cruising Dreamhorse, I spotted a Morgan mare for sale across the river. She was old style foundation bred and only 13 years old. Her asking price was ridiculously low and I told Kevin we had better go and see her that evening.

    We drove across the river to Minnesota and pulled into the small hobby farm driveway. I quickly spotted the mare. The owner’s kids were clambering on and off her back while they led her around the yard. Safety concerns aside, I noticed that the mare had the kindest eye I had ever seen and truly loved the children. I began to feel awful that she was even for sale.

    I rode her bareback with just the halter and lead and I could see that this mare had soul and depth and was a keeper.

    We wrote out a check, which according to horse math was about half of what she was worth. I reassured the family that they could visit her anytime they wanted and I just knew that I had done the right thing.

    So, getting back to the horse math:

    It also applies to the number of horses we are feeding. Right now, we have 12 horses. Two are boarders, and ten are our own. Our horses consist of two old quarter horses, two young Half Arabs, four Morgans and two ponies. So whenever I say I have 10 horses, I clarify that it’s really only nine because the two ponies, who don’t eat as much, count as one, right? And Kevin would say that that is horse math at it’s best.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • The Apple Of My Eye

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    A few years ago a director friend of mine asked me if I knew of anyone that had a farm dog type puppy available. “A Border Collie would be perfect,” he said, “or maybe something with some shepherd in it.”

    He knew that I am well connected in the dog world and I was happy to help him out. It didn’t take long for me to find a family from church that had a litter of Border Collie Australian Shepherd puppies for sale. Since my friend lived in Minneapolis, and I am 75 miles away in rural Stockholm, Wisconsin, I told him that I would check the puppies for him, saving him the trip if they were not suitable.

    So that Sunday, after church, Kevin and I drove out to see the puppies and take some pictures to send to my friend. The family, who home schooled their eight children, lived on an old farm place a few miles out of town.

    After making our way up the long driveway, a red merle Aussie announced our arrival and greeted us with wriggles and kisses. As we climbed out of the truck, the Dad and all eight kids came out to greet us and show us the pups.

    One by one, the puppies poured out of the house until there was six balls of black and white and blue merle fluff rolling around in the grass. They immediately came over to inspect us as we inspected them. We could see that the red Aussie was their mother and the children told us that the father was a black and white Border Collie who lived one farm over. I remembered seeing him, sitting on the porch of their neighbor’s house as we drove by. He was an impressive dog, with a broad old style, Border Collie head and full white ruff that set off his shiny black coat.

    As I took some pictures to send to my friend, one puppy in particular began to stand out.

    She was the smallest of the bunch, a nonstop whirlwind of feet and fur as she ran from sibling to siblings, nipping playfully on one’s ear then going to grab another’s tail. I reached down to pick her up and she flew into my arms, scurrying up my legs and into my face.

    She gave me a million puppy kisses and her little body wriggled so much with excitement, I thought she would burst.

    You must understand that I work with animals every day, and I can assure you, I am immune to the charms of cuddly puppies and frisky kittens. So no one was more surprised than me, when I fell completely, utterly in love with the little blue merle pup. She was friendly, curious and bold. After all of my years working as an animal trainer, I knew she had star quality written all over her.

    I set her down, took a few more pictures, (more now of her, than the others) and made mental note of who would be a good fit for my friend. I tried to ignore her, but my eyes kept going back to her as she fearlessly explored the yard.

    Kevin stood up, brushed the grass off his jeans and asked me, “Do you think you have enough pictures?” It was his signal to me that he was ready to go. I took his arm and whispered to him, “I really want that puppy.”

    “What puppy?” He asked. “We don’t need a puppy. We have two dogs, already,” he said, citing our elderly German Shepherd and our young one who was still somewhat of a puppy himself.

    “I know we don’t need one,” I said, “But look at her. She has a great look. She’s smart. She’s bold. She could be a really good acting dog.”

    “We don’t need another dog. Don’t you think we have enough animals?”

    “Oh, Kevin,” I pleaded, trying to convince him. “I have an empty spot in my life.” I put out my hands and moved them up and down like a scale, “Baby…puppy. Baby…puppy. Baby…puppy.”

    He laughed. “We are not having another baby!”

    I laughed too, “Of course not!”

    We have four sons. But I really wanted this puppy. Kevin sighed and wearily shook his head. “OK… if you think so, go ahead.” Poor Kevin. After all these years, he has grown used to the fact that when I set my mind on something, it’s pretty much going to happen.

    “What do you call her?” I asked the children.

    “Apple,” volunteered one of the younger girls, “I named her Apple because she is spotted like an Appaloosa and Appaloosa’s are my favorite kind of horse.”

    “Apple,” I repeated, liking how it rolled nicely off my tongue. “Then Apple it is,” I replied, swooping her up into my arms.

    “What do you want for the puppies,” I asked.

    “We’ve been getting $30 for them”, the oldest boy told me, being sure to add a serious look to show that there would be no negotiating on price.

    “Great!” I said, “I’ll take her.”

    “Give them $50.” Kevin said quietly, nodding towards the kids.

    “They said $30,” I protested, never one to miss a bargain.

    “Oh, give them $50”, he repeated, “You know she’s worth more than that. I’ll go get the check book.”

    I paid the kids and thanked them and assured them that my friend would want a puppy also. Apple snuggled into my arms during the short ride home and I told Kevin that I was very, very happy.

    Sophie, our old dog, sniffed Apple and looked at me as if to say, “Oh no! Not again!” and then went and lay down on her bed. The young dog, Sarge, was thrilled to have playmate.

    Apple had never seen a cat before and the house cats were quick to put her in her place.

    Trilby even went so far as to sneak up on her and slap her a few times with her paw before poor Apple even knew what happened. I think that is why Apple still feels the need to harmlessly chase any cat that gets too close.

    We only had Apple for a short time, when a film crew for the movie, Midnight Chronicles, descended upon our farm. Every day for a week there were a minimum of 50 people on the set for Apple to love. She was in heaven. The actors and crew were always picking her up and carrying her around like a baby. She would go crazy with delight and lick their faces and they would tell her what a good dog she was. This was ok when she weighed less than 10 pounds, but now that she is over 50, it is not so charming. She still thinks everyone wants to pet her and get a dozen kisses while tries to crawl up into their laps.

    I introduced her to the chickens right away making it clear that chasing or harassing them was forbidden, and if she knew what was good for her, she would leave them alone.

    As she grew, she discovered the sheep and I could see that this was her true calling.

    It became her reason for living. I can just imagine the thoughts racing around in her head.

    “Sheep! Must watch sheep! Must watch sheep! Oh, oh! That one is getting too close to the gate. It could escape. Back! Get back, you naughty sheep! Oh no! That one has moved away from the others! GET BACK! You know your place. I am the dog and you are the sheep. I am the boss of you. Now get back you wooly beasties!”

    Sometimes, when I am working her on a set, I say “sheep” to perk her up and it takes her a split second to realize that we are in a big building in the city and there is no way that there could possibly be any sheep around.

    She wishes the horses would listen to her. She is ever so helpful when I am doing chores. She watches the horses like a hawk and if I say “Hup!” or “Hah!” to get a horse to move, she is right there, weaving in and out, driving them out of my way.

    She is a notorious horse manure eater, a habit we are trying to break her of, especially when she chooses to give the aforementioned kisses right after a yummy manure snack.

    She will chase a ball or a Frisbee all day unless I am using the ball to get her to run for the camera. She quickly figures out that I am not really playing the game like I should and takes the ball and lies down.

    She is a good animal actor having worked for Target, Purina, Cargill and others and is one of my favorite photo subjects.

    When I told my dog trainer friend, who has know me for over 20 years, that I got a Border Collie/Aussie cross she laughed and said finally, “Well it’s about time you got the right dog for you”

    “What do you mean?” I complained, “What’s wrong with my shepherds?”

    “Oh nothing she said, “It’s just that you are a Border Collie.” She paused for a moment and then said, “Totally fearless, ever cheerful and always ready to tackle whatever life throws at you.“

    And as I reach down and pet Apple who is, of course, curled up under my desk I would say that I have to agree.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.

  • On A Cold Frosty Morning

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    When I woke up this morning my heart was pounding and I was gasping for air. My hands were trembling and I could barely speak. I had a bad dream, I dreamed… I dreamed… that I lived in town! For those of you who wake up in cities or towns across the world every day this is no big thing, but for a tried and true animal person like me, living in town would be a nightmare.

    Where would I keep the horses? And how would I grow enough hay in a backyard that could barely sustain a 20-foot vegetable garden? And how about the sheep, chickens, and the dozen or so cats that call my farm home? And much like the Grinch how could I bear the Noise! The Noise! The Noise! When we lived in town there was always car after car buzzing down our street, smoky diesel buses rumbling past and planes both large and small roaring overhead.

    Oh no, not I. I turn over and take a breath and remember where I am. I am waking up in my old farmhouse with its leaky, frosty windows, rattling radiators and good solid bones. I remember that the house is sitting on the prettiest 40 acres in Pierce County Wisconsin with its gentle rolling fields and patches of woods where many generations of deer and pheasant have found refuge.

    I turn to see dear husband sleeping quietly next to me and think of my four sons and Sarah safe and sound in their beds. I remember that I am a very lucky girl.

    I would like to stay there a moment longer, but Louisa, one of my acting cats, begins her morning ritual of scratching at the bedroom door. It doesn’t matter if she is in the room or out. She knows the scratching bothers me and the old fir bedroom door shows all the signs of her abuse with a hundred tiny scratches about cat high reaching towards the knob.

    Her door destruction rouses the dogs, a clever boarder collie Aussie mix, named Apple, and an equally clever but not as fast German Shepherd named, Lisle. They have been curled up on their plush dogs beds in the corner of our room and now that the cat has signaled that it is almost dawn they snuffle me with their noses and try to get me out of bed.

    It has been cold during the night. I always turn the heat down in a vain attempt to keep the propane monster at bay and I wish I could stay in bed like city people do. I picture them basking in their well-insulated houses and shelling out mere pittances by comparison to the natural gas company.

    But the dogs are persistent and even on this 10 below morning; there are chores to do.

    I go down and feed the house cats, which usually number between 2 and 7 depending who is working that week and make some coffee.

    I listen to the weather for a moment. If I am going to go outside and in the bitter cold, I want to know just how bitterly cold it is so I can brag about it later.

    Checking the time and seeing it is exactly 25 minutes before the school bus arrives, I roust Sarah and William and Walker from bed and set out to do chores. I am still in my jammies. No point in getting my good clothes on just to do chores. I begin to gather up the accruements that will help me in my task. I start with my Carhartt insulated bibs. These are nothing like the stylish, pull on ski pants, that I have seen in James Bond movies. These are heavy insulated bibs with zippers and snaps that extend the full length of the leg so you can pull them on or off over your boots and adjustable straps depending on if you are a tall farmer or a short farmer. Carhartt and others have started making insulated coveralls and bibs just for women and I was one of the first to snap one up. Nothing keeps me warmer and the freezing wind out better. The next layer is my down vest that I picked up on clearance at Lands End 15 years ago. I tuck a homemade polar fleece scarf around my neck. It sports lovely green John Deere tractors. My mother made it for one of the boys but seeing it’s potential I stole it. I pull my equally warm, made for a woman, Carhartt jacket. (Those Carhartt people are geniuses, aren’t they?)

    I then pull on my pac boots. I had been loyal to my 1984 sorrels for over 20 years but when I saw that Sorel had come out with a similar pac boot, BUT IN PLAID! I jumped at the change to replace my old ones. The 1984 boots were amazingly still usable so I put them in the boot box in the granary, which we keep for guests foolish enough to arrive without proper boots.

    I top off my ensemble with an Elmer Fudd type wool hat, the earpieces pulled down and the hat strapped firmly to my chin. I slide my hand into my angora gloves which I quickly top with fleece lined leather choppers and I am finally ready to go out.

    One more sip of coffee and I am out the door. The snow crunches under my feet and a few brave cats leave the refuge of their heated spot in the barn to greet me. They meow and roll at my feet, entreating to me move faster as they are starving. It has been a whole day since they have been fed!

    The horses notice my arrival and began to stir. She and the man are the ones who bring hay! I tell them to finish what they have. They will have to wait for evening chores when we will use the tractor to deliver more hay.

    I feed the cats in a long row on two tables set up n their little cat room, which in its earlier life was used as calf barn and was the original settler barn. The walls are made of thick squared off logs and it has a built in manger for the livestock. Luckily, during the late 1900’s owners were thinking of expanding, they saw fit to keep it and put the barn right over it. It is a small room with a low ceiling and when Kevin bumps his head into the lintel he blames the short, but industrious Swede who built it.

    I move on to the chicken barn, which houses our 40 odd hens, 3 roosters, two mallard ducks and our small flock of sheep. I fill the feeders with lay mash and throw out a scoop of cracked corn for them to pick at. The sheep begin to baa and bleat which means; Hurry! Hurry! Open the door so we can go out for the day! I take their water trough outside which in reality is an extra large rubber feed pan. I flip it over so I can vigorously jump on it to in an attempt to break apart the thick, solid block of ice that has formed in it over night. I repeat this with the chicken water and admonish the hens to produce more eggs even though it is very cold.

    I hear the school bus coming down our mile long driveway and call out good-bye to the kids as they board the bus. The dogs half-heartedly try to chase the bus, but I call them back and tell them to behave.

    I go to the round bale we have placed next to the barn and pull off a deer sled full of hay to bring to the sheep. I drag it through the snow and teeter totter it over the fence and dump it before them. They descend upon it like rugby players after the ball. They pile on top of each other to get at the tender part of the alfalfa leaves and stems.

    I then check on all the horse and ponies. Their muzzles are covered in frost and they are grateful for the horse treats Kevin keeps stocked in each barn, I slip my hand out of my glove and put it under the thick mane of my favorite, a fat little Morgan gelding named Finn, and it is warmed instantly by the full plush thickness of his winter coat. I check the water troughs to make sure the tank heaters are working and I pat each horse and say my farewells.

    My nose runs and my eyes sting with the sharp wind as it hits my face as I trudge slowly back to the house. I am anxious to shed my layers and sit on the radiator while I sip more coffee. The dogs follow me in and the sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon. Kevin is up now, and I can smell and toast and homemade jam. We take turns with morning chores, but we always do evening chores together as they are much more arduous.

    As I sit down with him, I smile and count my blessings that I am right here, right now and nowhere else.

    All is Well and I am pleased that this is real and not a dream.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • A Circus Affair

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    Now if you are a close friend or a relative of mine and I ask you, no matter how sweetly, to help me out with a little animal job I have coming up, just say no.

    At least that is what my poor Aunt Lois will tell you after learning the hard way.

    It was many years ago. I had just started my animal actor business and I received a call from an event planner asking if I could provide a bunch of animals to be in a small circus parade for a big fundraising event.

    Visions of lions and tigers and bears raced through my head as I thought of the animals I could supply and how wonderfully big the job would be.

    And then the planner said, “Oh, and…we only have a real small budget for this, of course.”

    The visions of the big circus animals quickly dissipated as smaller and far cheaper ones took their place. “Let me see what I can do.” I said. A horse would be easy and that could be considered somewhat circusy, I thought. I had a goat, some chickens and a few ducks on hand. But what else would say “Circus” and still be affordable? I then remembered a woman I had sold a horse to a while back that had some exotic animal connections, and so I gave her a call.

    I told her my sad story and how it was for a charity and asked if perhaps she knew of some smaller exotics that might work in the parade. She said she had a cougar cub she was raising and mentioned that a friend of hers, an animal trainer from the coast, was bringing her new chimpanzee to visit during that time and asked if I would I like to use that also. “Would I! Sure!”

    Before you get on your high horse about exotic animals being used for display, let me stop you right now and say, “I agree”. This happened many years ago and I wasn’t aware of the controversy related to animal exhibitions. Both of these people were licensed by the USDA and took very good care of their animals. Since that time I have stopped using exotic animals in my work.

    The event was to be held in the ballroom of a fancy hotel in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. Since the event was very upscale and I wanted to make a good impression, I even went so far as to buy a new outfit to wear. It was pair of beautifully tailored wool pants and a burgundy velvet jacket.

    All I had to do now was make sure that I had enough people to hold or lead all of the animals. My dear husband Kevin could lead the horse. The two trainers could hold the cougar and the chimpanzee and event volunteers could hold the chickens and the ducks. That just left the goat. I could lead him but I wanted to keep my hands free in the case I needed to step in and fix a problem.

    This is where my poor Aunt Lois came in.

    I asked my sister, Lou Ann, if she would be willing to lead a goat in the parade and, being a good sport, she agreed. Then she said, “Maybe Lois would like to help?” My Aunt had just moved back to the area after living out east for many years. She had given up her position as “Curator of Rights and Reproductions” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to come back and to take care of her elderly parents and reconnect with family.

    My sister told her about the event and my Aunt Lois must’ve thought it sounded pretty good. She would be able to have some fun with her nieces and perhaps even meet some new people.

    The big day came and we groomed and we loaded the horse and goat, crated the ducks and chickens and headed off to the hotel. When we arrived, we met up with the cougar and the chimpanzee and found our spot in line. The horse was much more concerned about the chimpanzee than the cougar but soon settled down. The planner had told me that she would provide clown costumes for my helpers to wear and so I went to find her and get everyone suited up. When I finally located her, she said, “Oh, we are out of costumes. So many volunteers showed up that we ran out, but here are some clown noses and face paint that your people can wear.”

    I went back and explained the situation to my sister and my aunt who had shown up in shabby clothes because they were supposed to lead a goat and they thought they would be covered by the costumes so no one would ever recognize them. I am sad to say that the red foam clown noses and the garish make up did nothing to help in their quest.

    I fully expected that our little parade, which was to start in a service hall, and make it’s way through the ballroom and then back out into the hall, would go off with out a hitch. Everyone was ready. The chimp was nestled in his trainer’s arms and the young cougar was sitting quietly in his harness by his trainer’s feet. The horse up ahead had almost fallen asleep and the goat was nuzzling my sister’s hands looking for treats.

    I had been told that we were to begin when I heard the music start. All was quiet, even the chickens had stopped cackling, as we waited for our cue. Then all of the sudden, right in front of us, a side door flew open and a drum major in full regalia burst out to the sound of a booming bass drum and blaring trumpets! It turned out to be a complete 120-piece high school marching band, playing Sousa as loud as they could as they proudly marched past.

    Now, I have never seen a cougar fly but fly was what this cougar did when it leapt up into the air and came back down on the trainer’s head. The chimpanzee began to screech and jump up and down. The horse pulled back and tried to rear, but Kevin was able to calm it enough to let the band pass by. The volunteers dropped the chickens and ducks that squawked and quacked as they ran and hid under the nearest table.

    I tried to help the cougar trainer by pulling the cougar off of her head, but the terrified animal scratched me, leaving a ten-inch scar in my beautiful velvet jacket. Once the band had passed, the event planner excitedly ordered, “GO!”

    Kevin began to lead the horse but we were brought to a screeching halt when the goat planted all four of his little cloven hooves into the rubber-matted walkway and refused to move.

    “Push it!” I shouted to my aunt, who being a lady of some class and distinction, had never been told to do such a task before.

    “Push it where?! “ she shouted back over the din. “On it’s butt!” I cried. “Get it going!” She bent down, and as gracefully as she could, she pushed on the goat’s butt while my sister pulled on the lead. The goat held off a moment longer and began to go. We proceeded into the ballroom to and to the amazement of the guests, managed to get through with no other incidents.

    Afterwards, we caught the stray chickens, cleaned up after the horse, and checked to make sure that neither man nor beast was hurt. Everyone was okay and we all went home a little wiser than before. My aunt still jokes about that day at family gatherings, telling of she how she sank so low so fast, from curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to pushing a goat’s butt down the service hall of a fancy hotel and I remember that brass bands and cougars don’t mix.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • Cats and Couches And Settling In

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    Kevin and I eloped on a Friday 13th thinking we were already taking a chance on the marriage, why not take a chance on the day. When I told my boss that I needed Friday off because I was eloping, she took pity on me and pressed a $100 bill into my hand. She wished us the best of luck and asked when I would be back. “On Monday, of course” I told her. I wasn’t going to miss any work.

    We were married by a bemused Clerk of Court and then went to a pizza place for dinner.

    As our apartment in the farmhouse was empty, we gleefully took the $100 and spent it at Target, stocking up on cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and towels. We also made a trip to the grocery store to get some food.

    We hauled in a twin mattress that Kevin had commandeered from his house and taped some boxes into a makeshift dresser for our clothes. We put the few groceries we had away and looked around with satisfaction at our new life together.

    This was all well and good, but something was missing. I finally was able to live out on the farm. Babe, the horse I had loved for so many years, was right outside my door.

    There were sheep and chickens and goats and cows to care for. What more could I want?

    I knew what I could want. A cat. All of my life I had been denied a cat because of my brother’s allergies. The next morning I set out to rectify the situation. Like most farm owners, Mrs. Villaume had a wide selection of barn cats that would like nothing more than to be upgraded to the life a pampered house cat.

    I had been going to the farm for years, so I had a pretty good handle on the cat population. I would have preferred a kitten but it was mid November and too late in the season. The closest thing was a six-month-old calico that had been raised by Mrs. Villaume’s grandchildren and was already tame and friendly.

    She had round copper colored eyes that were bigger and brighter than the rest of the cats. Her fur, although dirty and matted, was still thick and soft. She was brown and orange and black with four white socks and a bib that stretched up to her nose. Mrs. Villaume believed that calicos were good luck and called them money cats.

    I took her into the house, gave her a bath, and carefully combed out the mats and burrs from her coat. When I was done, I laid down on the mattress on the floor with her. I petted her and she blissfully rolled onto her back to have her belly petted. She purred and purred and seemed quite content with her new life.

    I named her Wolf because of her copper eyes and her fierce hunting skills.

    Within a few days, after the shock and surprise of our elopement wore off, our families began to donate furniture and dishes for us to use in the apartment. We now had a folding table and chairs, a real bed, and a bookcase. We had everything we needed except for a couch.

    Mrs. Villaume heard about our dilemma and mentioned that there was a couch in the shed that we could have if we wanted. We found it covered with tarp and more than a few cats. It was an old Victorian couch with carved wooden legs, a tall graceful back and arms that looked like a Victorian lady herself. It was old and heavy and really cool. Kevin and I grunted and groaned as we pushed it up the steps to our apartment.

    Now we were truly settled. We had our home, each other, and our little calico cat.

    We spent hours on the couch with the cat in our laps, watching the screen of a little black and white portable TV while receiving the sound from a larger wooden console TV below. Beggars can’t be choosers, you know.

    After a week or two of a marital bliss we began to notice little red bumpy marks on our ankles, calves and across our stomachs. They itched like crazy and would scab over if you scratched too hard.

    We could not figure out what was wrong. Every time we sat on the couch, the itching became worse.

    The next day we were to go to my grandmothers for dinner. This excited us because she was making my favorite meal and we were running out of food.

    As we were getting ready, we noticed the red marks had become more numerous, now spreading to our arms and legs. Then I spotted it. A little brown dot leapt from Kevin’s knee to the floor.

    It was moving. We had some kind of BUG!

    We stared at each other. It took a moment but then at the same time we said FLEAS! We looked at each other again and then, we looked at THE CAT!

    Wolf, who was curled up in the arm of the couch, looked at us with amusement.

    We stared at the couch and we were able to see little brown specs moving about in their own little flea circus. I watched one jump on the cat and disappear.

    Kevin reached for Wolf and announced loudly as he carried her down and outside that she was not coming back in until she had been rid of fleas. He came back up and picked up the end of the couch and began dragging it across the room to the stairs. I grabbed the other end and we pushed, and pulled, and carried it until we had put it back into the shed where we had found it.

    Because we had to stop at the pet store to buy flea shampoo for the cat and spray for the house, we were late to dinner with my grandmother. She was upset with us, but we were too embarrassed to tell her the reason why.

    We learned a valuable lesson that day. Never bring in a barn cat without checking for fleas and beware of really old and really heavy couches that that have spent their last few years in a shed.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, swine, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.

  • I Eloped So I Could Have A Horse, Part 2

    Blue-filtered horse, runningWritten By Barbara O'Brien

    In my last column I told you that my parents had finally given into letting me take riding lessons. The farm was owned by an elderly widow named Lois Villaume who had been teaching area kids to ride for years. It was originally built as a summer home for a prominent St. Paul businessman, but it had seen better days. The out buildings were a faded gray and the riding ring fence had not seen paint for some time. The house was a big old farmhouse with bay windows and huge oak trees. Looking back, it was like a woman who lost the beauty of her youth but still maintained her dignity. It didn’t matter to me. All I could think about was horses.

    We pulled up to the house and three kids tumbled out, followed by Mrs. Villaume herself. She was dressed in jeans and a white tee shirt with a men’s plaid shirt over that. She wore her long gray hair in two tight braids that she coiled, Swedish style, around her head. I was a little frightened of her at first, she seemed stern and gruff but then she smiled and her blue eyes sparkled. “You must be Barbara” she said and welcomed me to the farm. She introduced the kids, who were her grandchildren, and then dismissed my parents.

    She led me to a small bay mare that was tied up to the white fence eating grain out of a black rubber bucket. “This is Babe,” she said, “she is thirteen years old and she is a Morgan. Now, I have two other girls riding her this year so don’t fall in love with her."

    She could have not made a more ridiculous demand of me. Not love her? How was that possible? The moment I felt her smooth shiny coat and scratched her under her chin I knew that I was completely, hopelessly in love.

    So it began. From the summer before seventh grade until well into high school my dad dutifully drove me to the farm every Saturday where I would work in the morning doing chores in exchange for riding time in the afternoon. I learned to build fences and take care of all kinds of livestock ranging from chickens, cattle and sheep to three very naughty goats that always seemed to be getting out of the fence I had so painstakingly fixed the week before.

    I knew in my heart that Babe was not truly mine. But for those few golden hours every week when I got to ride her, it felt like she was.

    Like most kids I had my share of crisis, both real and imagined, and the farm was my place to escape. I couldn’t wait to get Babe out of the pasture, feed her, brush her, and tack her up, all the while telling her about my week. As you fellow horse people know horses really do listen and understand. In school I felt big and clumsy and rather foolish but when I was riding Babe it was like I was finally graceful and perhaps even beautiful as we floated over the ground, her mane brushing my face as she carried me away to a better place.

    As I grew older and had more school and work responsibilities, I had less and less time to go out to the farm. I was working as a waitress and involved in speech and theatre at school. I missed Babe and the other horses. It seemed like a part of me was missing when I wasn’t with them, but I had to grow up, right?

    Now this is the part of the story where the paths of most horse crazy girls split. The true devotees never give up. They work hard and their parents let them get a horse and they just manage to hang on all the way through. Some of them even go on to become trainers or breeders or vets. The vast majority of them have to let go, as school, work and college become more pressing. They just do not have the time, money, or in some cases interest, to put into horses anymore.

    I clung to what I could. Although my visits to the farm were few and far between my senior year, I still managed to get out and see Babe at least one a month. It was like nothing had changed when I was there. Babe was still herself, a chubby, somewhat cranky, Morgan mare that loved to toss me by stopping too fast when I was riding bareback and Mrs. Villaume was always the same, her long gray hair neatly parted and wrapped in two long braids around her head and her face filling with laughter as we discussed boys and life and the future.

    On the first day of college I saw a boy in my Minnesota History class that I just could not take my eyes off of. He was tall and had green-blue eyes with a shock of black hair that would not stay in place. He wore a forest green turtleneck sweater and jeans and appeared to be older than the other freshmen in the class. Of course I chose a seat next to him. I kept stealing glances at him hoping he would notice me so I could talk to him.

    He didn’t look at me, but he didn’t look at anyone else that day for that matter, so I didn’t get to talk to him. I figured he was older and already had a girlfriend so I tried my chances with two other boys those first few weeks of school. The first boy told me was already taken and thanks but no thanks and the other boy, who was better looking than he deserved to be, looked at me aghast and loudly said “No!” when I asked him out.

    That rejection got me thinking about the cute boy in the green sweater in my history class. I soon discovered that he wasn’t stuck up at all like I had first thought, but was instead, incredibly shy. He was 20 years old and worked nights and weekends at a hardware store. His name was Kevin, and yes, he would love to go out with me sometime, and, oh yeah, what is your name again?

    Now let me stop right here. I suppose some of you are thinking: Hey? Isn’t the guy supposed to ask the girl out? Well this was the eighties, you know, and if Mrs. Villaume did teach me only one thing it was to ask for what you want. There is no harm in asking, she said, as long as you were willing to give back when asked yourself.

    So I started dating that boy with the black hair and the green sweater. He came from a family of dog and cat lovers, so fitting in was really easy. I remember the first time I had dinner at his house and his dad fed the dog the food off his plate with his own fork. These were my kind of people!

    Kevin had never been around horses, but I quickly remedied that with trips to the farm where he grew to appreciate the horses and especially, Babe. Mrs. Villiume liked Kevin too and thought we made a good couple. His feet were always firmly planted on the ground while I was always up in the clouds. He was stable and steady while I was erratic and impulsive. If we were dogs, I would be a Border Collie racing from chore to chore always wondering what is around the corner. He would be more like a German Shepherd. Fiercely loyal, protective, always ready to do what needs to be done, but not wasting energy on foolish things. It’s no coincidence that all these years later I have both a Border Collie and a German Shepherd.

    In the fall of my junior year in college, after Kevin and I had been dating for about a year, Mrs. Villaume approached me with the idea of moving into the upper apartment in her big farmhouse. Are you kidding me! I could actually live at the farm. I could see Babe everyday if I wanted. I would have to help out with the chores once in awhile but I was used to that. “I’m in!” I said.

    She laughed and shook her head. Not so fast. I don’t want you and Kevin playing house up there. You are going to have to get married if you want to move in.

    Married? Don’t get me wrong, I loved the guy, but I hadn’t finished school and was only employed at as lowly assistant manager at a boutique cookie store. I wasn’t really ready to get married.

    Thinking about it now, it was all Mrs. Villaume’s fault. She dangled the thought of independence from my parents, horses, the farm, and dear sweet Kevin in front of my face like a bucket of oats in front of a fat pony.

    How could I turn all that down? Here was my chance to be free. To live my own life, make my own choices. I could even decorate the apartment the way I wanted.

    It all, of course, depended on if Kevin wanted to marry me in the first place.
    I knew he loved me and we had talked about marriage, but it seemed years away. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career yet and he was still working as a clerk at the hardware store.

    We met after work that day and we went to our favorite place to eat, a little restaurant called Chesters. Our conversation went something like this.

    Me: Hey, I can move out to Mrs. Villaume’s if I want. She says I can have the little apartment upstairs. The rent is $250 a month, so that’s not so bad.

    Kevin: Cool.

    Me: There is just one thing, though.

    Kevin: What’s that?

    Me: She says we have to get married.

    Kevin: OK. And then a moment later, When?

    I almost spit out my coffee. He would marry me? Just like that?

    “How soon?” He asked.
    “How soon, what?” I replied, still a little shocked.
    “How soon do you want to get married?”
    “Right away. I can move in right away. It’s empty right now.”
    Kevin looked at me, “Now?” he said. Reason was beginning to creep across his face and I was waiting for the reality to hit us that this was really a crazy idea.

    “Well”, he said slowly, “I love you and I would marry you tomorrow if you want, but that wouldn’t be fair to you. You should have a real wedding, you know, with a dress and a reception and presents and all that.”

    I thought about it for a moment and then I realized that all I really wanted was to marry him, ride horses everyday and live at Mrs. Villaume’s farm forever. I told Kevin that and once again he said “OK."

    So right then and there we made list on a napkin of pros and cons on whether or not to get married as soon as possible.

    Pros: We love each other and why wait to start our life together. They say two can live cheaper than one, so we had that going for us. I would get to be around horses all the time. We would get to move out of our parent’s houses and be on our own.

    Cons: People would think we got married because I was pregnant, but that would prove to be false soon enough. Our parents would be upset, but we felt they would get over it. We would have to work more hours to make the rent but we could do that. We would have to move out of our parent’s houses and be on our own. That part was scary; I had never lived away from home before. But I loved and trusted Kevin so I felt it would be ok.

    And so it was decided. I imagine we could have told our parents about our plans, but we feared they would try to talk us out of it. We were, after all, only 19 and 21 years old. Did I mention before that I could be impulsive? We went to the county and applied for marriage license and a few days later we were married by a clerk of court with my older brother, who was sworn to secrecy, and his wife as our witnesses.

    We moved into Mrs. Villaume’s house that night with only a twin mattress to put on the floor and a few boxes of clothes between us. It didn’t matter. We were together, we were in love, and I had the horses. Now, 28 years and four sons later, we are still together, still very much in love, and I still have the horses.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, swine, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • I Eloped So I Could Have A Horse, Part 1

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    When I was 19, I eloped so I could have a horse.

    Now when I tell normal people that I eloped so I could have a horse their eyebrows go up and a question forms on their lips, “you eloped so you could have a horse?”

    When I tell horse people that I eloped so I could have a horse they shake their head in agreement and murmur, “well of course, I understand that” and hardly ever ask any more about it.

    Two horses, runningLet me start at the beginning. As I have mentioned before, some of us are just born animal people and we will do everything in our power to be around animals. I was no different when it came to horses.

    I can’t tell you when this fanatical love of horses begins. It is like it doesn’t have beginning and it certainly has no end. I just always remember being in love with horses. No one in my family was particularly horsey. We lived in a little suburban ranch house with a tiny back yard many generations removed from the farm. My grandparents had grown up with horses, but were now all city people and horses were no longer part of their lives.

    So how does this happen? Is there a special part of our brain that says, this is it. This is the animal you are to devote all your time, all your money and all your undying love to?
    It starts with picture books and learning what horses say. Then perhaps Breyer horse statues and library books. For me it was, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, and King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry and Little Black by Walter Farley.

    My love was so intense that I even resorted to stealing, although I like to think of it as borrowing as I had every intention of returning what was not mine. My older sister liked horses also, although looking back, I sense she liked cowboys way more than the actual horses. She was lucky enough to have a set of dime store porcelain horse statues. They stood about six inches tall and came in five different poses. One was bay, one was gray and one, chestnut. There was a palomino and a black. How real they looked. How shiny and smooth their coats were. The detail of their manes and tails and the expression in their finely sculpted face made me believe they could spring to life at any moment and I would be free as I leaped on one’s back.

    Needless to say, I was not allowed to touch them. My sister prided herself with this collection and they were very fragile, she said, dragging out the word fragile so I would be sure to understand. They could break and she didn’t want them broken.

    Oh how I envied her. I only had a toy stuffed horse that had seen better days. I had had him forever. His name was, originally enough, Pony. His mane and tail was mostly gone and his red coat was threadbare in places. He was nothing like my sister’s realistic beauties.

    One day when I knew my sister was gone and the other members of my family were distracted, I took the statues down from their display shelf. I tucked them in my arms and spirited them off to the dark privacy of our living room. No one spent much time in there during the day and I knew I could be alone.

    When I set them down, our olive green carpet instantly turned into the grassy plains of Wyoming. The black horse came alive and began to quickly herd his mares to the safety of a narrow canyon. Which in reality was the space between the couch and the wall.

    The herd galloped across the plains, stopping only to graze or to prick their delicate ears and sniff the wind looking for any danger that may threaten the herd.

    I was so lost in my reverie that I almost did not hear my sister come in the back door. I quickly stuffed the horses under the blue Lazy Boy rocking chair so as not to be found out. I meant to sneak back in later and return the horses to her display shelf and my crime would go undetected.

    Being a child of only eight or nine, I completely forgot about them until the family gathered that evening to watch TV and my dad sat down in his favorite chair, the blue Lazy Boy rocker. The moment he sat down there was the tell tale sound of breaking glass. I stood by in shock. Oh no! The horses. My older brother began to pull out what was left of the horses from under the chair. Each had suffered at least one broken leg and the bay had lost her head completely. It was awful. I was sorrier than I had ever been. I just wanted to see them. They were so beautiful.

    When I was ten a local Coca Cola bottler ran a contest to win a pony. A real live pony! They even had an illustration of it on the entry form. It looked to be a pinto pony complete with saddle and bridle and bushy mane and tail. The pony seemed to be smiling at me. As if to say… I could be yours.

    My best friend, Gabrielle, and I dutifully saved our nickels and dimes to buy the pop which gave us an entry form that we could fill out and mail in that would surely be the winner. We agreed in advance that once we won the pony we would share him 50/50 since we were, after all, best friends and that is what best friends do.

    Many dollars, and I am sure, a few cavities later we waited and waited for the phone call or letter that would tell us we had won the pony. Months passed and we slowly became resigned to the fact that we didn’t win.

    When I was nine my parents gave in and took me to a rental stable for my birthday. Here was my first chance to ride a real horse. Not the merry go round horses at the fair. Not the mechanical horse in front of the drugstore. No, a real live horse. When we drove up the gravel road to the stable I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were horses everywhere. In pastures, in pens, in stalls and others who stood tied to a rail, patiently waiting for the next group to go out. The smell was intoxicating. The sights and sounds, miraculous. In my eyes, the horses all looked like they were meant for a king. Bays and grays and blacks and pintos. So many horses. All at the same place. It was heaven.

    The trail boss put me on a big black horse named Ringo. He was as gentle and slow as the day is long. I can’t explain the happiness, the joy, the unmitigated splendor of the moment. I was actually riding! Ringo’s smell, his movement, the view from up in the saddle. Incredible! When we trotted I bounced but stayed on and when towards the end of the ride we cantered and I knew that this was it. I would never be the same again.

    For months afterward, I begged my parents for riding lessons and they feigned ignorance saying the stable was too far away and they had no funds for such things. Horses were wishes and that was all they could be for me at the time.

    Oh but what wishes they were! I read every book in the library I could find. I learned all the breeds and colors and how to take care of them. If you were to give me a present it had better be horse book or better yet, a Breyer horse.

    The Breyer horses became the bedrock of my friend’s and I horse fantasies. We gave them long fancy names like Willow Hill’s Showboat and drew up impressive pedigrees. We made string halters and bridles and made mangers out of twigs and fed them tiny homemade bales of grass hay.

    I tied leather dog leashes to our bike’s handlebars and pretended it was a horse while we rode no handed steering only with the “reins”.

    We even were horses once in a while. We would gallop through our adjoining back yards, neighing and whinnying and tossing our manes and stomping our hooves, warning each other of danger as we protected the rest of the herd.

    I ran into an old neighbor not too long ago who recalled that I was always a little bit different and she mentioned how she had observed me trotting down the middle of our suburban street swinging a makeshift lariat and crying, “Ho cows! Move on doggies!” as I rode my imaginary cow pony among my vast herd of longhorns.

    High Chaparral was my favorite TV show closely followed by The Virginian. Cowboys, yes, horses, even better. In grade school I put a pencil in my mouth pretending it was bit and cantered up and down the halls until the peer pressure forced me to conform. I must admit that a few boys continued to call me names like Horse Face Harry until at least Junior High.

    All this longing would finally be fulfilled one day in late summer before seventh grade.
    I heard that a neighbor boy that lived down the street was bragging about taking riding lessons to his friends. Riding lessons! Where! Who!

    I quickly found him and pressed him for him for information. Yes, it was true he and his little brother had taken a riding lesson from his great Aunt who had a small stable in a nearby township.

    I gathered up all the details and ran home as fast as I could bursting in the door announcing Pat Forsythe is taking riding lessons from his great aunt, an old lady named Mrs. Villaume who has a farm in Sunfish lake and that is only 5 miles away and I can take lessons every Saturday for $30 a month and she has lots of horses and I can work real hard to earn the money and isn’t it great that she is so close and so can I take lessons, please, please, please, please!

    With the discovery of Mrs. Villaume’s farm I began my real journey into the world of horses. And that is where I have to leave it today.

    Next time: Part 2: I ELOPED SO I COULD HAVE HORSE


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  • Understanding Horse Nutrition, Part 5: Broodmares and Babies, Oh My

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Over the last few months we have been discussing exactly how many calories (or megacals for those who are paying attention!) your horse needs to consume, depending on what activities he performs, his personality and what the weather might be doing.

    Broodmares and babies.

    We have yet to discuss an entirely different class of horses, the broodmares and babies. With the breeding season approaching, it is probably appropriate to talk about this special class of horses’ nutritional needs. While this article will focus on their energy requirements, remember, it is especially key for mom and baby to receive the correct amino acids, vitamins and minerals in the diet. These important nutrients are vital for proper growth and development, and ultimately the longevity or usefulness of your new arrival.

    Megacals for Mom - before baby is born.

    Let’s start with our expecting momma. Her energy requirements during her early pregnancy are not actually that much higher than a lightly worked horse. (Refer to Table 1 – ENERGY REQUIREMENTS FOR WORK). She should already be in good body condition if you have done your job of preparing your mare for her upcoming pregnancy (See Part 1 of this series, TOO FAT, TOO THIN, OR JUST RIGHT).

    If you haven’t (shame on you) your goal is to get your mare to a BCS of at least 5 by the time she is at her ninth month of gestation (See CALORIES, KILOCALORIES, MEGACALORIES – HOW MUCH DOES YOUR HORSE NEED? for more information on increasing your horse’s body condition score). Otherwise, you want to ensure that your mare maintains that healthy BCS of around 5.5 -6.

    Essentially the mare in early and mid gestation has lower energy requirements than a horse in light work, making her fairly easy to feed. You can usually support her increased energy needs by simply increasing the quantity of good quality hay. However, during the last trimester of pregnancy, her fetus is growing rapidly, which drives up her energy requirements to fall between horses in light and moderate work.

    Table 4. Energy Requirements (Mcal/d) for Pregnant and Lactating Mares. 
    Activity Time – tracking weight increase.

    If you like being a very hands on horse owner (again – great youth project!), you can also track your mare’s increase in weight that is healthy for her and her foal. Using your weight tape (or string), check your mare’s increase in weight over her pregnancy. Overall, she should gain between 12-14% of her non-pregnant weight. She should gain around 5, 7, 10 and 13% of her original weight in her 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th month of gestation respectively. See Table 5 for a handy reference.

    Table 5. The Expected Weight of Mares During Late Gestation by Month Compared to the Mare's Original Non-pregnant Weight. 
    Megacals for Mom - after baby arrives!

    But look what happens after baby arrives! The new momma actually has quite the job to do in producing milk for her rapidly growing offspring. Her energy requirements have now increased by over 50% of what she needed during gestation. Compared to our working horses, your mare now almost reaches the energy needs of a racehorse of the similar size! Many horsemen often forget how demanding a job milk production truly is for your broodmare. Typically it is most effective to supplement your mare’s diet with a concentrate that is already specifically formulated for broodmares. Consult your local equine feed store or horse nutritionist for advice. This will allow her to meet her increased needs for other nutrients as well. While the broodmare definitely needs the extra calories, it is equally important that the diet is balanced to meet her protein, mineral and vitamin requirements to support lactation, and thus foal growth.

    Feeding tips.

    In order to provide a rough estimate of the amount of feed you will need for your mare, let’s work through a typical feeding strategy for a mare. We will work with a 1000 lb mare for simplicities sake. Now for both health and behavioral reasons, I encourage owners to always feed horses 2% of their horse’s body weight in hay or forage per day. We will actually visit the logic in feeding strategies in an entire article coming soon. For this mare, that means she should be eating 20 lbs of hay per day. I like to feed the pregnant mares and lactating mares a good quality alfalfa hay, in part to help meet their protein needs, as well as an increased need for calcium. Let’s use alfalfa hay which has a caloric density of 0.93 Mcal/lb fed. If we multiply the caloric content of the hay by the lbs eaten we reach her total caloric intake. 0.93 Mcal/lb * 20 lbs = 18.5 Mcal

    Comparing our value here with Table 4 above shows us that the mare can consume enough hay to meet her energy needs. She just doesn’t need to consume that many additional calories. However, I would still recommend supplementing her with a ration designed for broodmares. Her energy intake is, of course, dependent on the mare consuming all the hay she is offered. Does she refuse to eat some of her hay and is therefore wasting it? Do you offer her hay free choice? If the hay is of high quality and is palatable to the mare, typically she will volunteer to eat more than 2% of her body weight per day. Also, remember the best indicator of caloric needs of the mare is her BCS. Keep an eye on her condition when changing feed intake.

    Feeding when baby is here!

    Now let’s compare our girl while pregnant to when she is lactating. Again, we will feed her the same amount of hay, so that she consumes 18.5 Mcal/d. However, during her peak lactation, she is now 10.4 Mcal short! What are our management strategies now? One easy strategy is simply to allow the mare to consume as much forage as she wants. These girls will often increase the amount of hay they eat per day in order to support their lactation demands. However, as mentioned before, we usually supplement these girls with a broodmare concentrate. Let’s use a grain mix with a calorie content of 1.3 Mcal/lb. (I’m using the energy value of a typical commercial feed designed for broodmares). To determine how many lbs of grain we would feed, divide the amount of calories needed by the calorie concentration of the feed. 10.4 Mcal needed/1.3 Mcal lb = 8 lbs of grain Ideally you would split her grain into two equal feedings per day. Now, while this is a fictitious scenario, most alfalfa hays and typical horse feeds will be similar in their caloric content. Read your feed tag for specific information on the feed you select.

    Minerals of Note: 

    While this month’s article is truly based on the energy needs of our ladies, I would feel remiss to not mention calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P) when talking about broodmares. It is essential for proper bone development that these two key minerals are not overlooked. Not only do we need to feed adequate amounts of Ca and P, but they must be fed in the proper ratio. Ideally we want to see the ratio of Ca to P in the diet at approximately two parts Ca for every one part P, or 2:1. However, anywhere between 1:1 and 6:1 is acceptable. What you don’t want to see is the amount of Ca to extend beyond 6 parts or for your ratio to become inverted. In that case, you would have more P than you have Ca. Not sure how to figure it out? Let’s assume she is getting 105 g of Ca and 23 g of P from her hay. We would divide the g of Ca by the g of P, or 105/23 = 4.6. The ratio of Ca to P in this scenario is 4.6:1 which is acceptable. However, our girl will be short on P if she is receiving no additional mineral supplement.

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