Peregrine Falcons, The Polar Vortex and Other Glimpses of The Oregon Wine Symposium

I felt like Barbarrosa was asking me "What's to eat?"
I felt like Barbarrosa was asking me “What’s to eat?”

I have been away from the farm for the past couple of days attending The Oregon Wine Symposium in Portland, Oregon.  Trust me, it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.  Lots of hours spent sitting in rooms listening to experts discuss Vineyard Nutrition, Alternative Weed Management and National Distribution.   So rather than bore you with all of that, I’ll just stick to the highlights.  Like these two impressive birds that are, I kid you not, falcons with jobs.  The top falcon is Barbarrosa, a female Peregrine Falcon.  The other is Copper, a male Red-Naped Shaheen.  (Nope, I hadn’t heard of it either before today).

Copper, the Red-Naped Shaheen.
Hard Working Copper, the Red-Naped Shaheen.

These falcons are hired along with their handlers at harvest time to patrol vineyards for migratory birds that eat grapes.  It’s an important job.  A flock of hungry birds could wipe out our whole 13-acre vineyard and an entire year’s work in a matter of hours.  I’d love to hire these falcons to chase birds out of our vineyard.  But it costs tens-of-thousands of dollars to have a handler and a couple of birds camp on your land for several weeks during harvest.  That’s more than a small vineyard like ours can spend.  Still, it’s cool to know larger vineyards are using this natural and (mostly) non-lethal means of bird control.  (FYI, we use noise makers, remote control airplanes, our six dogs, and balloons.  Cheap and non-lethal, but also not super effective.)

Jet Stream Arctic Oscillation.  Image borrowed from NOAA and The National Climate Data Center.
Jet Stream Arctic Oscillation. Image borrowed from NOAA and The National Climate Data Center.

The most exciting speaker I’ve heard so far is the climate expert that explained why everyone’s weather is so crazy right now.   He says the water around The North Pole is warmer than normal, which is causing the jet stream to freak out.   These two globes tell the story. The jet stream on the left is normal and the one on the right is freaking out. When the jet stream fluctuates like that, it not only moves more slowly, which causes weather systems to get stuck, it also produces more extreme weather.  So whatever is going on weather-wise where you are, it’s probably unusual, possibly extreme, and it’s sticking around for a very long time. That’s the best I can explain it.  Click here to read a great webpage about it that’s written by actual scientists.  Also, if you follow such things, a La Nada weather pattern is lingering in the Pacific but the dreaded El Nino could return sometime this fall or next winter.

Big Backhoe
The T-Rex of Backhoes

I also got to see some mega machines!  I think this backhoe is the biggest.  It towers over everything in the exhibition hall, kind of like the biggest dinosaur skeleton in a museum.  I have no idea how they got this in the building or what you would use it for in the vineyard.  But it is getting a lot of attention.

Mega Grape Harvester and Hedger.
A Mover and Shaker in the Vineyard

If the backhoe is the T-Rex of the expo, this piece of gear is the Stegosaurus.  It is an automatic harvest machine that’s designed to drive between the rows in the vineyard and shake the vines to loosen the fruit.  The shaking is done by big arms that fold out, so you don’t see those in the picture.  Nothing like this is used in any vineyard ever I’ve seen.  We’re all so small in Elkton, our fruit is hand-picked.  A piece of gear like this runs hundreds-of-thousands of dollars.  You’d have to sell a lot of wine to justify that kind of expense.

Got Growler!
Got Growler!

Finally, here’s  peek at the future of wine packaging.  These jugs are called Growlers.  They’ve long been used for beer and now they are being legalized in states, including Oregon, for wine.  A Growler is a refillable container that can be filled with wine straight out of the barrel or from a keg.  So if this is legal where you live, you can buy a Growler and take it to a winery or pub to be refilled again and again.

Growler Art
Examples of Growler Art done for breweries.

Growlers can be painted or etched with cool artwork or logos, which can turn them into collector’s items.  And, they eliminate the cost and environmental impact of using an individual wine bottle for every 750ml of wine.  Of everything we do in the vineyard and winery, the production and shipping of glass bottles has the greatest carbon footprint.  Growlers and kegs are a direction we want to go with our Big Leaf wine because we think it’s more environmental and more fun.  So it’s exciting to find Growlers like the green glass ones above that are being made specifically for the wine industry.  The amber-colored glass used for beer growlers isn’t the image I want for a premium wine.

Some cool artwork in the Oregon Convention Center.  A Dale Chihuly, perhaps?
Some cool artwork in the Oregon Convention Center. A Dale Chihuly, perhaps?

So now you know some of the fun stuff wine people talk about at their symposiums and trade shows.   It’s probably not what you expected.  But it’s the biz.  I’m off now to learn about the spread of Red Blotch Disease on the west coast, and then Public Relations.  More later from the farm.


What Do You Mean, Float a Horse?

Dr. Kang checking Buck for trigger points along his spine.
Dr. Kang assesses Buck for a chiropractic adjustment. My friend, Shella, and his assistant, Georgie are helping.

Most people assume I have horses so I can ride them.  And I do. But the truth is, as much as I love riding, I love taking care of horses even more. And so, I thought it would be fun to share a little of what happens when our vet pays a ranch call to the farm. Dr. Gene Koo Kang came by over the weekend to “adjust” and “float” our retired race horse, Buck, and he was kind enough to let me snap a few pictures while he worked. If you haven’t been around horses much, some of what you are about to see might shock you.  All of this was news to me when I first got Dart and Joey over ten years ago.

Dr. Kang locates a trigger point.
Dr. Kang locates a trigger point along Buck’s spine.

Yes, it is possible to “float” an 11-hundred pound horse. I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, the adjustment, which had nothing to do with Buck’s attitude. Buck has a bad stifle or knee joint in his left hind leg from his days on the track.  We don’t know much about it because he wasn’t our horse when he got hurt.  But we do know that sometimes when Buck steps backwards, his bad knee locks up, leaving his leg stuck in the air. We also believe the injured knee causes him some pain, especially when it rains.

Equine Chiropractic Technique
Healing hands, equine chiropractic technique

Fortunately for Buck, Dr. Kang is an equine (and canine) chiropractor. We started having him do adjustments on Buck right after we moved here three years ago and we’ve seen Buck’s pain lessen and the atrophied muscles in the hip over his injured knee regenerate themselves.   At first Buck was nervous about being adjusted.  But now, he seems to understand it helps him feel better and I think he actually enjoys it.

Moving on to dental work.
Moving on to dental work.

Less fun for Buck, and all concerned, is the dental work. Unlike human teeth which stop growing, a horse’s teeth continue to grow throughout its life.  That’s why old horses (and old people) are sometimes referred to as “long in the tooth.”  A horse with overgrown teeth can’t chew its food properly and that interferes with digestion.  Over time, you end up with a skinny, malnourished horse even if he is “eating like a horse.”

Floating Buck's Teeth
Floating Buck’s Teeth

That’s where the “floating” comes in.  “Floating a horse” simply means using a heavy metal file or rasp to grind down its overgrown teeth. And here’s the shocker. Many vets do this with power tools! Dr. Kang’s tool of choice is a reciprocating saw, a tool usually used in demolition.  You might know it by its common (brand) name, a Sawzall.  This type of saw moves a jagged saw blade back-and-forth with enough force to cut holes through floors and walls.

This is the "float" that "floats a horse".
This is the “float” that “floats a horse.”

Relax, there’s not a saw blade gyrating in Buck’s mouth. Instead, Dr. Kang fits the tool with a metal rasp known as a “float.”  The name comes from the motion of the rasp moving or “floating” back-and-forth over the surface of the horse’s teeth. Thus the confusing phrase “floating a horse.” (And now you know).

The tool doesn't hurt Buck.  But it makes a lot of noise.
This won’t hurt a bit.

Horses don’t have nerves in their teeth like people do so filing them, even with a power tool, doesn’t hurt. But grinding teeth with a metal rasp makes a heck of a noise! So Buck was given a mild sedative to keep him calm. The metal frame around his gums is there to hold open his mouth so Dr. Kang can see inside and work.

Dr. Kang says when the sedative wears off, Buck won't remember what happened.
Look Mom, no cavities!

It sounds miserable.  But Dr. Kang assures me that when the sedative wears off, the horses have no memory of what happened. And sure enough, Buck returned to the pasture after his float and happily munched grass for the rest of the day, seemingly unconcerned about having just had a power tool reciprocating in his mouth.

Dr. Kang assessing Leah's knees.
Dr. Kang assessing Leah’s knees.

After he finished with Buck, Dr. Kang did a wellness exam on Leah, the newest horse in our barn.  Leah is a beautiful 29-year old Arabian mare named for Princess Leia in Star Wars.  She had been my friend, Shella’s, horse for most of her life and after they parted ways, she always remained in Shella’s heart.  When Shella discovered recently that Leah was stuck in a less-than-ideal situation, she worked it out to regain custody of Leah and bring her home!

Leah's knees show signs of advanced arthritis.
The thickness in Leah’s knees and the bowing of her legs is caused by osteoarthritis.

The years have not been kind of Leah and she now has severe osteoarthritis in both of her front legs.  Nothing can be done to reverse the arthritis but Dr. Kang recommends nutritional supplements such as glucosamine and fish oil to slow the progression.  And now that Leah is back in Shella’s care, she will get regular hoof trimming from our farrier. The farrier can adjust the angle of her hooves to put Leah into better balance and alleviate some of the pressure on her joints.

Despite her arthritis, Leah can still trot and prance.
Despite her arthritis, Leah is a happy and active horse.

We don’t know what caused Leah’s arthritis.  But it serves as a good reminder of why regular hoof care is so important to the health of a horse. Dr. Kang says Leah also needs to have her teeth floated, but that’s a project for another day. We have to come up with a way to help her stand while she’s sedated.  Her front legs are too weak to do it on their own.  Bob is engineering a system involving some straps and a sling.  When it’s ready Dr. Kang will come back to float Leah. We’ll show you how it goes here in the blog.

Springing Forward!

Nick digging deep to uproot a vine.
Nick digging deep to uproot a vine.

Four days ago, I was complaining about winter.  And now, we’re less that four weeks away from the first day of Spring!  The Spring Equinox arrives at 12:57 EDT on March 20th.   And Daylight Saving Time begins on March 9th.  Ah, I can feel the sun and the dry ground already!

Tylor gives the thumbs up to a healthy root ball.
Tylor gives the thumbs up to a healthy root ball. You can see the tight squeeze between the trellis posts and the deer fence behind him.

And that makes it crunch time in the vineyard.  The crew is taking advantage of breaks in the rain to shorten ten rows in one of our blocks by uprooting and  transplanting 40 vines.  We’ve discovered the rows are too long in that spot to turn around the tractor between the trellis posts at the end of the rows and the deer fencing.

A closer look at the roots.  The vines show nice growth over two growing seasons!
A closer look at the roots. They show nice growth over two growing seasons!

The vines we are moving are from our second planting in 2012.  Digging them up is giving us a good look at their root systems.  One of our primary goals for the vines during their first two years in the ground has been for them to establish deep, strong roots.  So far, the roots look great.

Tylor prepares the roots to be transplanted.
Tylor prepares the roots to be transplanted.

Now the challenge is getting all those roots back into the ground pointed downward.  If the roots get twisted during transplanting, they could grow upward and girdle or strangle the vine!  This was also a concern during initial planting, but the roots were much smaller and easier to manage.

A vine finds its new home,
A vine finds its new home,

We are using the transplants to fill in around the vineyard where a vine has died.  Having vines to move is a lucky break for us, because the transplanted vines are the same age and size as the rest of the vines in the vineyard.  That means less work because we won’t have to manage babies mixed in with our mature vines.

Vines laid out for our 2012 planting.  Look how small they were!
Baby vines ready for planting in 2012. Look how small they were!

But I miss the babies!   And all of this transplanting is making me wish we had some young vines waiting to go into the ground.  Spring planting is such fun.  Sunny days (usually), fresh air, great company, music playing, and every vine a new possibility.  Crawling around in the dirt all day and looking back over your shoulder at your work, you start to think that maybe this is the way life is supposed to be.

Nathan during the 2012 planting.  The metal pipes with the marks painted on them were used to measure the space between vines.
Nathan during the 2012 planting. The metal pipes with the marks painted on them were used to measure the space between vines.

There is a way in which planting is the best part of having or managing a vineyard.  And they grow up so fast!  I may have to talk to the horses about giving up a few acres of pasture for some Chardonnay.  If we start planning now and get the ground tilled up this fall, we could be ready for planting by this time next year!

Rocking the Vineyard!  A boom box on a ladder and a very long extension cord.
Rocking the Vineyard! A boom box on a ladder and a very long extension cord.

The Incredible Slog Through An Oregon Winter-Part One

Ever wonder why they’re called “Muck Boots?”  Just look at the above picture and I think you’ll see why.  There’s more than mud swirling around in that horse pasture soup!

Up until about ten days ago, things had been unusually dry on the farm for an Oregon winter.   But now our winter rains have arrived!  Check out this video Bob captured with his cell phone.  The ground is so saturated that whenever it rains hard, the water gushes up out of the gopher holes in our pastures and vineyard.  We’ve named these little gushers “Gopher Geysers.”


The Incredible Slog Through an Oregon Winter-Part Two

The white streak on the hillside across the pasture is our own, private waterfall.
The view from the gazebo looking out over the cow pasture. The tiny white streak in the middle of the hillside is a seasonal waterfall.

As you can see from the Gopher Geyser video (Part One of this post), it’s been raining hard for about a week-and-a-half straight.   And the extended forecast calls for, you guessed it, more rain.  Rather than complain about it, or post more disgusting pictures of pasture soup, I thought I’d share some of the amazing seasonal water features that appear on the farm with all that rain.

Can you see it yet?
Can you see it yet?

My favorite is the seasonal waterfall that flows out of the hillside just beyond the cow pasture.  It’s the tiny, white streak in the middle of the hill in the first photo.  The second picture gives you a closer look.  This little waterfall only flows for a few weeks each year during the heaviest winter rains.

The waterfall.  Beautiful, but fleeting.
Beautiful while it lasts. The waterfall only appears during the wettest weeks of winter.

We never knew much about the land above the waterfall until Nathan’s family bought the hilltop this past summer.  In the coming years they plan to put in a vineyard and an apple orchard.  Bob wants to build a zipline between the top of the hill and our pasture so we can easily “commute” between the two vineyards.

A seasonal stream flows through the cow pasture
A seasonal stream flows through the cow pasture.

We also have a temporary stream flowing through the low end of the cow pasture.  The cows don’t mind and the Canada Geese love it!  We usually get two pair that nest here each winter.  The first pair has just arrived! They’ll get first dibs on the “grassy knoll” that forms in the exact same spot in the stream each year.

One of two pair of Canada Geese that nest on "Goose Island" in our temporary stream.
One of two pair of Canada Geese that nest around our temporary stream.

We’ve named the knoll “Goose Island,” and it is the choice nesting spot for our winter visitors.  We’ll be watching is closely for goslings and I’ll try my best to get some pictures to post.

Every once in a while we get what’s known as a “sun break.”  And they often come with rainbows!

A Rainbow touches down, as they always do,  just beyond the vineyard.....
A Rainbow touches down, as they always do, just beyond the vineyard…..

I’ve run outside more than a few times thinking I could just walk up to the end of the rainbow, somewhere around Row 425 in the vineyard, and finally see what’s there.  But the rainbows always seem to touch down just beyond the vines.  From my pictures I can tell you it appears there is a pine tree, and not the fabled pot of gold, at the end of the rainbow.  (Ah, but what’s under the pine tree?) 🙂

More Mud
Yuck! Muck!!

OK, one more picture of the muck and mud, just for fun.  We get to slog through this every morning when we turn out the horses, and again each evening when we bring them in.  Sometimes the horses stomp or prance and splatter the muck all over us.  And if we don’t pay close attention to what we’re doing, the end of a lead rope might drag through the muck and then slap against us all the way to the barn.

Rain, rain go away!  Little Emma wants to play!!
Rain, rain go away! Little Emma wants to play!!

Like Emma, we’re anxious for the rain to end.  But we’re doing our best to appreciate all it brings to the farm while it lasts.

Be My Valentine

Will You Be My Valentine?
Sweethearts Emma and Luigi.

Some of you may have seen this photo before but I can’t think of a better image to post for Valentine’s Day.  It’s  Emma and Luigi touching noses.  This is how they greet each other anytime they have been apart.

Three’s A Crowd.

What you  haven’t seen yet is the next shot in the sequence, taken just as Emma notices there is a camera intruding on their intimate moment.  Check out the look in her eye!

And people say they don’t know what horses are thinking.

May His Spirit Forever Soar

A Raptor Takes Flight Over the Vineyard.
A Raptor Takes Flight Over the Vineyard.

It is a very sad day on the farm.   We got the news that Hawkey Puck, the injured hawk Bob pulled out of the highway on Tuesday, did not make it.  He passed away late last night at Cascade Raptor Center in Eugene, a refuge for injured raptors.

I went up to the barn after hearing the news and sat for a long while with Orange Kitty in my lap.  He is a sensitive cat and always seems to know when I need a hug.  One thing you can never escape on a farm is the frailty of life.  Be it barn cats, or injured hawks, it hurts to lose a soul you’ve come to see as part of your family.

We are grateful to Cascade Raptor Center for giving him his best chance for survival and failing that, a peaceful death.  Animals seem to know when humans are trying to help them.  I believe Hawkey Puck knew those around him were on his side.  I am glad he didn’t die alone.

All we can do is our best to make each day a good one and to appreciate those who are here while we’re all together.

Towards that end, Murphy and the rest of the dogs want a run in the vineyard.  And so, we are off.  God Speed Hawkey Puck.


Flight for Life

While on his way to physical therapy yesterday, Bob noticed a motionless hawk in the middle of the road.  It was just this side of the tunnel on Highway 38 as you head out of Elkton.   Bob assumed the hawk was dead and pulled over to move it out of traffic.

But when Bob approached the hawk, it’s right eye popped open!  The hawk was still alive.  Badly hurt, but alive.

Bob gathered up the hawk and made a nest for it in a pile of clothes in his car that he’s supposed to drop off at Good Will.  Bob didn’t think the hawk was going to last much longer.  But he figured it would be more comfortable dying in the warm car than in the highway in the rain.  He continued on to Eugene, parked in the health club parking garage, and went in for his therapy.

When he came out, he was stunned to see the hawk was still alive!  It even kicked at him a little bit!!  So he looked up the closest raptor rescue on his cell phone and rushed over.

When he arrived, the volunteers sprang into action.  They put the hawk on an IV, checked his vitals, treated him for possible poisons, and dusted him for mites.  They identified him as a juvenile male Red Tail Hawk.  They speculated the quiet time in the car might have helped revive him a bit.  But they weren’t sure he would survive the night.

Hawky Puck, down but not out.
Hawkey Puck, down but not out.

I didn’t want to post about the hawk if he didn’t make it.   But I  checked with the rescue today and he’s hanging in there!  He can move his wings and legs, but remains very still and withdrawn.  His vet thinks he has a severe head injury, but whatever internal bleeding there may have been appears to have stopped.  It’s too soon to be optimistic.  But there is reason to hope.

We’ve named him Hawkey Puck (as in hockey puck).  Everyone on the farm has their paws, hooves and fingers crossed.  Our hope is he will recover enough to be released back into the wild.  But if not, the rescue will become his permanent home.

The Cascade Raptor Center in Eugene Oregon is caring for him and dozens of other raptors they’ve saved that cannot be released.  Donations are always welcome.

We consider Hawkey Puck a member of our farm family now and we’ll keep everyone posted on his progress here on the blog.   Go Hawkey Puck!

Rearview Mirror; A Look Back After Three Years On The Farm

Bob on Feb. 11th, 2011. standing in front of the semi truck loaded with his heave equipment.
Bob on Feb. 11th, 2011. standing in front of a semi truck loaded with his man toys for the big move.

Three years ago, right now, I was spending my last day living in Colorado.  It was time to move to the farm.  We would leave before dawn the next morning, Bob and I each driving our own car and the dogs split between us.  We were embarking on a grand adventure, heading west to start a new vineyard and a new life in Oregon.  The photo at the top of this post is from the drive out.  That’s our dog, Dodger, reflected in my rearview mirror.

That's me with the backpack, doing my Producer thing.
That’s me with the backpack, on a beach in Japan, doing my Producer thing.

As we loaded up, I was incredibly focused on what I was leaving behind.  Top of the list was my career of 25 years and my paycheck.  It was my identity, my security and my independence.  Along with that there were my co-workers, the people I had become accustomed to seeing everyday.  I was close with some, others not, but all were part of my landscape.

Our house in Evergreen Colorado
Our house in Evergreen Colorado

There was my home of seventeen years in Evergreen, a place I loved and still love deep in my bones.  I think of Colorado the way some people think of their “homeland.”  I feel comfortable there.  Indigenous.  I have no right to feel that way.  I was born in DeKalb, Illinois.  But Colorado feels hometown to me.  I love the cool, crisp, dry air, the smell of pine, the exhilaration of open space and vast horizons, the sense of economic vitality, and the feeling of solid ground under my feet.  I hate squishy ground.

Bob with our critters at the time.  Dogs Henry, Woody and Jenny Lou have since passed on.
Bob with our critters in 2006.   Dogs Henry (yawning), Woody (black-masked setter) and Jenny Lou (white one in back) passed on before the move.  The horses, Dart and Joey, and dogs Brutus, Uma and Jenny made the move with us.

There was my hillside, some might say my mountainside, where I hiked my dogs when I got home from work.  Over the years, we had scattered the ashes of eight of our dearly departed dogs up there.  I felt like I was abandoning them.

There was my hockey team, The Colorado Avalanche.  Concerts at Red Rocks.  My Pilates studio.  My favorite rollerblading path.  The steakhouse up the street.  My dentist.  The girl who did my hair.

Me with a couple of my best college friends, Chris and Ben.
Me and Bob with one of my best college friends, Ben.

And of course, all of my family.  We are a complicated bunch but also incredibly close.  Especially me and my sisters.  And,  my friends.  People I have known since college.  We didn’t see each other often, but I liked knowing we could.

Everyone I knew was excited for me.  Who doesn’t dream of quitting their job, moving away, and starting a vineyard?  Except I didn’t want to go.  I was already “living the dream.”  I was happy where I was.

Ahhhh, I'll always miss that crisp mountain air.
Ahhhh, but I will always miss that crisp mountain air.

I won’t lie.  This has not been an easy transition for me.  But three years later, I can honestly say that this is home.  The farm.  The vineyard.  The little town of Elkton.  Soggy, grey, wet Oregon and all its squishy ground.  This is where I belong.

A lot of my comfort comes from knowing that the important things I feared I was leaving behind are still with me.  I have spent more meaningful time with my family here on the farm than when we all lived close in Colorado.  This is especially true of my nephews.  All kids should get to grow up visiting a farm.  I wouldn’t trade their experiences here for anything.

Boating with the nephews on The Umpqua River.
Boating with the nephews on The Umpqua River.

My friends are still my friends.  Always have been.  Always will be.  (Thanks guys).  I’m keeping up with my Pilates.  I can watch my hockey games on Center Ice.  Some TV work still comes my way (Thanks guys).  I  go back to Colorado to see my dentist.

But the thing that won me over more than anything was a conversation I had with a horse.  Yes, a horse.  They do talk if you listen.  The horse that set me straight is Buck, the retired race horse that “came with the farm.”  Both he and Luigi had been on their own for over a year by the time we showed up.  They were being fed.  But they craved human attention.

Buck and Luigi on the farm in 2010, before we came to live here, running to the fence to say hi.
Buck and Luigi on the farm in 2010, when Bob was looking at the property.

I spent my first year living here running back and forth between my old life in Colorado and the farm, trying to be both places at once. One day towards the end of 2011, when I went to the barn to say goodbye to Buck, he gave me a little snort of disgust and said “You know a horse is a relationship and if you keep leaving we’re not going to have one.”

That thought shot through me like a lightning bolt.  He was right.  By trying to be everywhere, I was no where, and worse, I was nobody to him.  And what is true for Buck is also true for all horses.  And dogs and cats and ducks and vines and donkeys and husbands, too.  Having it all was risking it all.

The farm has been home ever since that conversation with Buck.

A good omen: A rainbow spans our tilled soil on the first day of spring.
A good omen: A rainbow spans our tilled vineyard site on the first day of spring, 2011.

A lot happens in three years.  It was my intention to start this blog right after we moved here to document and share our story as we lived the dream and started the vineyard.  Funny thing though, it’s hard to document when you are learning and doing all at the same time.  I feel as though both the vineyard and I are finally in a place where I can observe what is happening and share it in a meaningful way.  I know who, what, and where I am now in a way that I didn’t when we arrived.

I hope with this post, and the posts at the top of the blog (Hooves, Paws, Peeps, Vines and Wines) I’ve laid out the back story up to this point so anyone interested can come along from here without feeling as though they’ve missed too much.  I promise, there is plenty to come!  There’s always something happening on a farm.  All of my posts won’t be this long.  And no, this won’t be one of those blogs where I go on about my inner struggles.  This blog is about horses and dogs and grapes and wine and tractors and rain and mud and rainbows.  But in the interest of honesty, I think I had to sort this out to get started.

Welcome to the farm.  You’re gonna love it here.


Dart, The Boss Mare, among her herd.
Dart, The Boss Mare, among her herd.

Dart is the horse that started it all. She was a top performing Thoroughbred destined to compete in Three Day Eventing until she suffered a career ending hoof injury in 2003. A few months later, Bob happened by her boarding facility near our home in Colorado. When he heard Dart could no longer be ridden and needed a new home he called me up at work and asked “do you want a free horse?” Now I must caution, there is no such thing as a free horse! But I had wanted horses all my life and here was a horse that needed a home. We adopted her without me even seeing her and brought her home to our hillside in Colorado, where she lived with us until the move to the farm in 2011. Now, Dart is The Boss Mare of our herd, meaning she’s in charge. Of everything. Which horses can eat what. Who gets through the gate first (her). Even which horses stand by which horses. She is sweet on Buck and has appointed him her second in command. In a way, Dart is in charge of us, too. It was because of her and Joey (below) that we started thinking about moving to a farm. We wanted green grass and flatter ground for her injured hoof. And now, here we are! Which is why I say, while there is no such thing as a “free horse”, or a “free lunch” for that matter, if you are offered one, take it if you can! You never know where it will lead.

Joey, The Special Forces Op of The Herd.
Joey, The Special Forces Op of The Herd.

Joey was Dart’s pasture mate when we adopted her, and it turned out he was looking for a new home, too. So we ended up taking both and have since come to realize just how lucky we were to have “stumbled” upon him. Joey is a Paso Fino, a breed of horse of Spanish origin that’s prized for its natural, four beat gait. Joey was long retired by the time we found him, but he had been a very successful show horse under the name Blackstone Premier in his younger days and was even the runner-up in a national championship by the age of three! He’s now in his 20s, so we don’t ride him much. But he is our most trusted mount for visitors, especially young kids. He just seems to know where you want to go and he likes to take it easy and slow. Within the herd, Joey is usually on the perimeter spotting for danger. Some people think this makes him low horse in the herd. But the more I observe the horses, the more I see Joey holds a position of great respect, like that of a special forces operative in the military. Joey takes his responsibilities very seriously and all the horses feel safe under his watch.

Buck, a former star on the race track.
Buck, a former star on the race track and top gelding on the farm.

Buck was left for us by the previous owners of the farm and we were more than happy to adopt him.   He is part Quarter Horse and part Thoroughbred, which makes him a Running Quarter. We hear he used to be quite the star on the Quarter Horse racing circuits throughout Washington state, Oregon and California. His track name was Casablanca, and he apparently won somebody so much money, they tattooed a dollar sign on his shoulder. That’s why we started calling him Buck, which he seems to like. Buck is retired from racing and riding due to an injury but he still likes to race the other horses across the pasture. He’ll hang just behind whoever is in the lead (usually Pete) until the final few strides, and then sprint past them to the finish line. Even in retirement, Buck is a true competitor.

Pete, he'd like to be in charge..
Pete, a couch potato a heart, who’d like to be in charge..

Pete is an American Paint Quarter Horse that is everyone’s favorite horse to ride. He is incredibly powerful, but he has an easy-going personality and if he likes you, and Pete likes just about everybody, he will do just about anything you ask. Like most of the horses now in our care, Pete came to the farm as part of a boarding business started by the farm’s caretakers before we moved here. Pete changed hands a few times and needed someone to give him a permanent home, and so he ended up with us. Pete loves to eat! He is what horse people call an “easy keeper.” He also likes to challenge Buck for control of the herd (after Dart, of course).  He has gained some respect for being able to Karate chop the pasture gate open with his front hoof to let everyone out.   But I don’t think he will be top gelding until he beats Buck in a race.

Chizzy, a high performance ride.
Chizzy, a high performance ride and leader of The California Pasos.

Chizzy is one of three Paso Finos from California brought to the farm by our former caretakers who happened to be Paso Fino trainers. Chizzy and the other California Pasos are retired show horses and the idea was to re-train them for trail riding and then sell them into good retirement homes. When our caretakers moved back to Colorado, the three Pasos were still here, their re-training was not finished, we had fallen in love with them, and they really seemed to like it here. So we bought them from their owner in California so we’d know they had a good home and they could stay with us forever. Chizzy’s show name was Chispeante, which means “sparkling” or “racy” in Spanish. The name sure fits! Chizzy is a master of the Classic Fino gait, which is performed with short, rapid steps, almost like marching in place. I have no background in riding Paso Finos (correctly) so he’s quite a challenge. But he’s also an incredibly connected and emotional horse that can read my mind, and he really wants to please. So slowly, together, we are working on his transition from high performance show horse to relaxed trail horse. My greatest accomplishment in life, horsemanship wise, has  been getting him to go at a walk.

Syboney, the prankster.
Syboney, the prankster.  He’d also like to be in charge and at times is.

Syboney is the second of the three Paso Finos from California, and truth be told, he is my sister’s horse. But since she lives in Colorado, he feels like he’s our horse too. His name comes from a Cuban love song, which is a perfect fit because Syboney is a full contact horse! He loves to hug and be hugged. He’ll pick your pockets for a carrot or use his lips to open the pasture gate and escape. He frequently makes the kind of faces Mr. Ed makes when he talks just to get attention. His personality gets even bigger when my sister visits. It makes him feel special to have his “own person.” Although he is snow white now, Syboney was grey in color when he was younger. He had just a touch of grey left in his coat when we got here and now that it’s all gone, I like to believe he has fully transformed into a unicorn, and just hasn’t allowed us yet to see his horn yet.

Pisada, the girl next door.
Pisada, the girl next door.

Pisada is the third of the California Pasos. She wasn’t supposed to come to the farm, but she pitched such a fit when Chizzy and Syboney were loaded into the horse trailer in California, they loaded her up, too. Pisada means “footsteps” in Spanish, a reference I assume to the Paso Fino gaits. We were told she had been a brood mare so we’re not sure if she had much of a show career. But she is well trained, if a little shy. Pisada remains strongly bonded to Chizzy and Syboney and the three of them are something of a herd within a herd. But she gets along with all of the other horses, even Dart! It’s rare for a Boss Mare like Dart to tolerate another mare in her herd, but it appears she and Pisada are actually friends. We don’t know how old Pisada is, but we think she is in her late 20s so we’ve retired her from riding. She’s earned it.

Diamond Shines On
Diamond, no kids’ pony!

Diamond is a little black pony with big energy, attitude and personality! Size wise, he looks like the ideal kids’ horse but he’s actually the most challenging ride on the farm. Mind you, he’s never actually thrown anyone. But he has a spin-o-rama move that can unseat and spill even the most experienced riders. He belonged to a client of our caretakers’ that got fed up with being spun and tossed out of the saddle. Given his history, we were worried he wouldn’t come to a good end if he were sent to an auction, so we agreed to buy him. His name was Wiggy at the time, which I didn’t think helped his temperament. So I changed it to Diamond, as in Diamond in the rough, or a Black Diamond (expert) ski run, or “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” Oh, and there is a white diamond on his forehead under that impressive forelock. We are not sure of Diamond’s breeding, but we were told he is half Mustang and half Peruvian Paso. He is not gaited like a Peruvian Paso but you sure can see the breed in his thick mane and tail.

Twister, the baby of the herd.
Twister, the baby of the herd.

Twister, A.K.A. Twistie Boo is a very young, green Mustang that is making me learn to be a much better rider. He and Turbo (below) belonged to a local high school student that boarded them here with our caretakers in exchange for helping out in the barn. When it was time for the student to go to college, he needed to do something with his horses, so we agreed to take them. Twister wasn’t even two years old at the time! We had him gelded (some day I will post pics of that) and in the summer of 2013, we sent him off for three-months of training in eastern Oregon. Now, I am in training with a riding instructor so I can be as good as he is! Twister is an agreeable but spirited horse and he responds, good or bad, to the slightest touch. So I must be precise. The biggest challenge though, is his trot. Twister is still growing and filling out, so sometimes his hind end feels taller than his front end, or vise verse, making for a very bumpy ride.

Turbo, a true wild mustang from the Badlands of eastern Oregon.
Turbo, a true wild mustang from the Badlands of eastern Oregon.

Bo was known as Turbo when he belonged to the high school student. But over time, his name has evolved into Bo to encourage a calmer demeanor. Bo is a BLM Mustang. He was born wild on the eastern plains of Oregon outside of the town of Bend. He was captured when he was just a colt and put up for adoption, which is how the high school student came to have him. Shortly after Bo was left with us, my good friend, Shella, agreed to adopt him and she still keeps him in our barn, which is great fun for all of us. Like Twister, Bo is very young and he hadn’t had much training when Shella got him. Fortunately, she’s been riding wild Mustangs since she was a little girl so she knows what to do. Bo is turning into a sweet and reliable riding horse under her expert hand.

Leah, back home again.
Leah, back home again.

Leah is a 29-year old Davenport Arabian that was Shella’s horse for most of her life.  Leah was a gentle and much-loved riding horse for both Shella and her kids.  But about ten years ago, Shella had to give her up to move closer to her kids’ school.  She thought she had placed Leah in a good home.  And for a lot of years, it was.  But over time, things change, and Leah’s situation was in decline.  Shella always kept an eye on Leah and she was thrilled when she got the opportunity to bring her back home!  Leah is retired from riding, but she can still prance like a filly.

Emma and Luigi, a love story.
Emma and Luigi, a love story.

Emma and Luigi might be among the smallest equines on the farm, but in a way, they own the place. In fact, Luigi, who is a Miniature Donkey, has been here longer than any of us! According to local legend, he was born around 1981 in Sicily, where he was trained to pull a cart. A few years later, the people that owned the farm had him shipped to America as a gag gift for a birthday party. Luigi has changed hands four times with the farm since then, and like Buck, was left here for us by the previous owners. Don’t worry, we will never give him up! And while we are completely offended at the idea of such a soulful and loving creature as Luigi being a gag gift, we are incredibly glad he is here.

Emma is a favorite of young visitors.
Emma is a favorite among young visitors.

Emma, who is a Miniature Horse, came to the farm shortly after we did. She had been at a horse rescue where she was befriended by a tall, thin Saddlebred Horse named Raja. When Raja was adopted, Emma put up such a fuss (sound familiar), they put her in the trailer, too. Both of them were boarded here for a while, and I’ll never forget seeing Emma standing under Raja in a rainstorm to keep dry! Eventually, Raja and Emma had to be separated so Raja’s new owner could go riding without upsetting them both. That’s when Emma was put in with Luigi, and it was love at first sight. When Raja went home, nobody had the heart to split up Emma and Luigi, so she stayed! They’ve been inseparable ever since, despite a vast age difference. Luigi is in his 30s and Emma is just a few years old, which is why I call Luigi the Hugh Heffner of Mini Donkeys!

Jenny D.  The D stands for Donkey.
Jenny D. The D stands for Donkey.

Jenny D is the most recent addition to the farm. She is a Miniature Donkey, like Luigi, although we don’t know if she was born in Sicily or somewhere else. In fact we don’t know much about her. Our veterinarian asked us to adopt her because she is incredibly underweight, possibly from having had a series of foals, and her previous owners had done all they could or would do to put more weight on her. As you can see from the photos, all of our other animals are fat! So she’s ended up in the right place. As you also may know from the Blog, we also have a dog named Jenny. To keep them straight, we call this Jenny, Jenny D. The “D” stands for Donkey! (Yes, “D” could also stand for Dog. But in this case, it means Donkey).


A Few Words About Horses, Breeds and Breeding: In this Blog I have included links to websites about various horse breeds and horse breed associations. This is meant only to help you understand the nature of the horses on the farm. It is not meant to encourage breeding or particular breeds of horses. Quite the opposite. I’d like to discourage the breeding of horses, or any animals, outside of a few very specific circumstances. Our barn is full of well-bred, well-trained horses that quite frankly nobody else wants. So too is the world.  If you’d like to add a horse, dog, cat, or other animal to your family, please look to a rescue, a shelter, an auction, the give-aways in front of the grocery store on a Sunday morning. Chances are, your perfect match already exists and is desperately waiting for you to show up. Thank you.