Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Remember that fabled trip north from Florida to donate two of our Dexters to a children's farm in Virginia and pick up our new eight month old baby bull?  Yes, the trip where my dear husband and I journeyed with our two year old son over 650 miles and lived to tell about it.

Well, that little bull has grown up.  Armstrong of Paradise is just over two years old and he looks great!

Please excuse the hay on his head.  He had just pulled his head out of the round bale feeder.
He is short in stature, well within the height standards, and has a lovely temperament.  He is gentle and easy to work with.  He also loves oranges, bread, and horse treats.  He can be hand fed treats by our preschooler.  He is a long-legged, Chondrodysplasia free, PHA free, and homozygous for A2/A2 beta casein.  That big mouthful essentially means that he doesn't carry the dwarf gene or a deleterious recessive gene for pulmonary hypoplasia with anascara, and his daughters have the potential to make lovely milk cows.  He has a beefy build and his dam had a lovely shaped udder.

If he had a personal ad, it would read something like this:

"Short, dark, and handsome seeks numerous short term affairs with lady cows.  Likes long ambles through the pasture, snuggling, treats, and mutual grooming.  Muscular build and a true male, but knows how to treat a she-bovine."

I knew he was special but I didn't know he would be in demand.  After some encouragement, and a big fat check from his breeder to pre-pay me for some of his straws, I took him to what we will call "Happy Camp".  The artificial insemination facility will collect 300 straws so we can share this good bull with Dexter cows all over the US.  It really is a nice thing to own such an animal.  I hope next year, I will see pictures of some of his calves produced by other breeders.

Our goal as Dexter breeders is to produce good tempered cattle that have a sound build and, that Holy Grail of cattle breeding; a true dual purpose animal for both dairy and beef.   We breed only long-legged cattle and sell our heifers as family milk cows.  Several of our cows are currently making gourmet cheese.  Some animal breeders might prefer to keep their best animals to themselves, but we feel that anything that improves these friendly little cows, keeps them employed and useful, will also help ensure that they will continue to be around 100 years from now.  Since we really enjoy these little guys, that makes us smile.

A New Beginning

This past June, I found my new trail horse.  She needed a new beginning desperately and I needed a riding horse.  Sometimes things just come together perfectly.

After I lost my beloved horse, Allie, I dismissed the idea of another horse until winter.  Maybe even spring.  It hurt to see her empty stall but I wasn't in any hurry to find a replacement.  I heard about a breeder of nice Quarter Horses and looked for an ad someone told me about on Ocala's Craigslist.  Not the best place to look for horses, but I was curious.  Ocala is a horse mecca so perhaps their Craigslist horses are much higher caliber.

I saw the following ad:

"Registered Morgan mare $250"

What the heck?  A Morgan?  Those are expensive horses.  The kind of horses one dreams about now and again but they are much too pricey.  It's like wanting a BMW but only having enough money for a Hyundai.  Then, of course, one must ask, what's wrong with the horse?  That's a kill buyer price, which is not a good sign.

The seller was a bit difficult to talk to but my instincts said to go look and bring a trailer.  The poor mare was 22 years old, skinny, depressed, had improper hoof care, and an eye that needed attention (untreated injury from over a year before).  Miraculously, she came with the proper registration papers, although it was not the seller's name on the papers.  Hmm.  After seeing how pitiful she looked, I just paid the guy cash and got her out of there.  After settling her into our round pen and setting up an appointment with our vet, I contacted the owner on the papers to make sure she wasn’t stolen.  The previous owner was relieved to hear from me.  The mare fell through the cracks after a lease to own type situation that went very wrong.  The previous owner was not in a position to take her so, with her blessing, I registered her in my name.  Wow, my first Morgan!  I have admired the breed for a long time but have owned mostly stock horses or Quarter Horse/Arabian crosses.

(Her first day in our round pen)

The first step was to give her a thorough vet evaluation and gain her trust (she was flighty and unsure at first).  She only took a few days before she was following me around.  She needed boosters of everything since the previous owner could produce no vaccine records of any kind for the year and a half he owned her.  A trip to the local veterinary school for a thorough eye exam revealed good and bad news.  She was blind in her right eye but it had healed in such a way that the eye should not cause her any further trouble and did not need to be removed.  It was right around the Fourth of July, so we named her Libby (Liberty). 

I am amazed at the combination of spirit and tractability of Morgans.  These were the US Calvary horses that carried generals.  In fact, her breeding is from UVM, which was the government's breeding program.

As I worked with her through the summer, she adapted quickly to being handled on her blind side.  Long grooming sessions relaxed her and I taught her a few verbal commands so she knew what to expect even if she couldn’t see it.  She filled out nicely and her coat changed to a lovely dark chestnut color. The saddle and bridle changed her demeanor from quiet and alert to proud and bold. She arched her neck and moved beside me like paintings of classic horses from long ago. Perfectly obedient and responsive but spirited and musical in motion. She was lovely. Truly this is the breed that generals rode into battle. 

The local Morgan Horse community was extremely helpful in giving me information on her background and training.  Many different people compared notes and I received a call from the lady that originally saddle trained Libby!  It was wonderful to hear about how she was as a young filly.  I am impressed and thankful for at the amount of support I have received from other Morgan Horse enthusiasts.  A local Morgan trainer came out for the first ride.  Libby was tractable but very reactive inside the round pen.  She moved with exaggerated animation and perhaps a little trepidation.  The saddle-seat training Morgan show horses receive can be quite intensive.  On subsequent rides, I felt her coil underneath me like a spring, ready to throw her legs out and move.  Instead, I found that if I halted her and began to rub her neck, she relaxed.  I used verbal commands to ask her to move and she did move more quietly.  She is a lot of horse but we seem to be developing a language to communicate.  She has a good mind so she is coming around just fine.  She is very affectionate.  She nuzzles me and gently puts her head against my chest.  Outside of the arena, she relaxes and goes very nicely.  I took her out to a local trail recently and she did very well.  I have a new trail horse!