it's Been A Quiet Month At Phoenix Farm

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With apologies once again to Garrison Keillor, I have to say this was a quiet month at Phoenix Farm. I'll start off on the horse side of farm life. We decided to build a jumping chute because we needed to prepare a 3-year-old Oldenburg colt we're training for his stallion inspection next month, and the biggest part of that test is showing their scope and skill in a jumping chute. Since we had to go to the trouble of building it, using almost all our jump standards and rails to form a 40-meter lane against the ring rail, with three jumps, we decided we'd send our 3-year-old gelding and our three 2-year-olds down it too. It was a fascinating two days of baby jumping, an exercise to remind us that no two horses are exactly alike. Boogie, the 3-year-old cot, started off great over the crossrail and the vertical, causing Heather and I and his owner to smile, but then he became confused when we added the oxer two strides away. He was jumping so big over the first two fences that he ate up the distance to the third and couldn?t figure out how to deal with it. So we took things down to give him a chance to use his brain, and then he went through with the fences set low. Two days later, we made the distances between the jumps 3 feet longer and the jumps 6 to 9 inches bigger, and he looked as if he were leaping houses. He looked like the jumper we hoped he would be?big smiles for all of us and big pats for Boogie. Ionto is also a 3-year-old, a Thoroughbred/draft-cross we bred and the fourth of four siblings We've had. He's the most athletic of the four and a very laid-back guy. (You?ve seen him on the cover of the May issue of the Horse Journal, demonstrating side reins and chambons.) Ionto hopped down the chute without fuss, just like we expected. We have three 2-year-olds in what we call pre-school right now. Two of them are babies we bred, but the third is Bob, who's been bred for and is destined to be a show hunter. He's a sensitive and spooky guy, and He's not so good at dealing with new things in his life. But once you teach him something?He's got it and will do it again and again. He's just starting to canter on longe line, and we introduced him to the chute very slowly and quietly, walking him through it a couple of times with no poles, then with poles on the ground, and then sending him through it alone a couple of times with just the poles. Then we built the crossrail and then the vertical, and he just hopped on through?as if he were born to do it. And he was, being by the champion regular working hunter Popeye K and out of a grand prix jumping mare line. If he couldn?t jump, I said to Heather, then we should all give up this breeding thing. Piper is a warmblood gelding we bred, and his temperament is rather like a giant Labrador retriever. But He's going through a horrible 2-year-old growth stage (today the right front leg grows, tomorrow the neck gets longer and thinner), and so he can barely put one foot in front of the other. But Piper just said, ?OK, I'll give it a try? and forged on through and hopped over the crossrail and vertical with power, showing us that he can certainly leave the ground. Bella, our 2-year-old homebred filly, acted completely different than the boys. They all stopped at the end of the ring nearest the end of the chute and waited for someone to catch them. (Well, Boogie would admire himself in the mirror, as stallions like to do). But Bella would gallop back to the gate, and the other end, and she became very excited by the whole exercise. Still, she never hesitated at the new challenge and jumped beautifully very time. Once again, we'd have been very surprised (and disappointed) if she couldn?t and didn't want to jump. SHe's by another champion regular working hunter, the pinto Palladio, and sHe's out of a mare with all the great Thoroughbred jumping and endurance blood you could want (Nearco/Nasrullah on both the top and bottom of her pedigree, along with Mahmoud, Turn-To, Ribot and Princequillo). On the 4th of July we welcomed the first of this year?s crop of Nigerian dwarf goats into the world. Except it wasn?t in the usual easy goat way. Norma Jean was the first of our five pregnant does to be ready to kid, and we'd spent the previous 24 hours waiting for the big moment, as she was obviously ready and trying. But nothing was happening, so about mid-afternoon Heather called the vet, and about an hour later we decided to take her to the goat vet clinic, about 30 minutes away. A quick examination, which Norma Jean found rather uncomfortable, showed that one large kid was malpresented and blocking the others. A holiday C-section would be necessary. Fabulous. Fortunately, the surgery was a big success (except for the cost, which was, thankfully, thousands less than any surgery on a horse!) and yielded two bucks. In honor of the holiday, we named one Sparkler, and in honor of their sire, Mr. Lincoln, we named the other one (the one who?d caused the problem) Abe. Since then, Amakua and Goey have both kidded easily and normally, yielding two does (both out of Goey) and three bucks. We named Amakua?s two bucks Rory and Mickey (characters on Heather?s favorite TV show, Torchwood), and we gave Goey?s kids space-related names in honor of the final space shuttle mission?Carl (as in Sagan, the scientist and author who insisted there is life elsewhere in the universe), Nova and Luna. We're now enjoying the antics of the seven pronging baby goats, most of whom We've already sold. The fifth goat, Imp, is due next week, and I'm sure she has twins, if not triplets. While baby goats always bring a smile to your face, July has been a month of heartbreak here at Phoenix Farm. My dog Jackson, a Beagle-cross we adopted from a local animal shelter in June 2010, had been sickly for two weeks, a condition three trips to the vet had been unable to diagnose. He had no temperature, his blood work was normal, and his bodily functions were normal, except that he was being unusually picky about eating and drinking and, thus, was losing weight and becoming periodically dehydrated. The day after we'd spent a weekend at a schooling event 250 miles away, he was even more listless, and so late in the afternoon Heather, Wesley and I took him again to the veterinarian?s clinic. The vet was most concerned and flummoxed by Jackson?s extremely poor condition. After examining Jackson yet again, he looked at Jackson?s records and said, ?You know, you haven't had him vaccinated here.? We said true, but he?d been fully vaccinated (and just neutered) when we adopted him, so, yes, it was time. The vet thought a moment and said, ?I'll bet this is distemper. I haven't seen it in years.? And then we wondered if he?d been vaccinated as a puppy, and we suspected that he had a weak immune system, which would explain the mange we'd treated four months earlier. With distemper, the only treatment is supportive, and that has a very poor success rate, even if you catch it early. Jackson was far, far beyond that, and the painful decision was clear. It was time for Jackson to go. I stayed for a long time in the examining room after he?d closed his eyes, saying goodbye to the little tricolored dog who was my constant companion for far too short a time. He would help me wake Wesley up in the morning (bringing a smile to Wesley?s face) and help me put Wesley to bed at night, lying by our side as I rocked Wesley to sleep. He would sit or lie facing the ring, watching me ride every horse, and trot up and down the hill from the barn to the house after me on every horse. He was ready to go on every trip, and every night he lay on the floor beside my bed. Normally right now, as I sit at my computer typing this blog, he should be waiting patiently on the rug behind my chair, ready to move as soon as I got up. But He's not there anymore. And I'm having a hard time getting used to not seeing those eyes looking up at me, asking, ?Where are we going now, Dad'? All I see is his shadow. I'll bury his ashes and plant a tree over them on the hill above our house, with the other three dogs who?ve gone on before him, when the rains return this fall. Heather and I finished the month by having a night out to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary, with Wesley?s grandparents happily taking care of him for the night. The occasion was a reminder of how lucky I am to have such a wonderful wife and adorable son in my life. And that's the news from Phoenix Farm, where all the Nigerian dwarf goats are fat (and one is still pregnant), all the horses are good-looking, and all the dogs and cats are well above average.