Sunday, August 29, 2010

LOSING BOSTON BUT SAVING SARAH




We lost a good one yesterday.

Part of the price of having wonderful animals in your life is the pain that comes with saying goodbye to them.  We had to put Boston, our 28 year old Quarter Horse, down.
He had a fast spreading neurological condition that affected his spine, which in turn affected his ability to walk or keep his balance.

And even though I believe it was right the thing to do, it is never an easy thing to do.

Boston came to us many years ago as a Dollar Horse. A Dollar Horse is an older horse that is ready quit being shown or bred but not ready to be retired forever. Or they can reliable, trusted mounts that the family has sadly outworn.

My Son, William, rode Boston those first few years and although they like each other all right, their connection was nothing special.

It wasn’t until, Sarah, my cousin’s daughter, came to live with us, that Boston found his true companion. Here was a girl that understood the best places to be scratched and one that he could follow around the pasture like a puppy hoping fro a treat.

Sarah was fifteen when she came to us, and on the first day, I handed Boston’s lead rope to her and said. “This is your horse. He is yours to ride and care for and just love.”

Sarah was beginning a journey of recovery when she first met Boston and I believe he knew that she needed him, and if it is possible for a horse to give himself entirely to a person, I think this is what he did.

She didn’t like riding him at first. Even though she was a confident rider, she didn’t have a lot of experience. Boston quickly learned to take advantage of this. He would trot merrily along, and then stop short and Sarah would tumble off onto the ground in front of him.  Thank goodness for helmets and soft dirt arenas and Sarah’s willingness to get right back on.

We found an excellent instructor and with time and hard work, Sarah’s riding improved enough that she was able to canter Boston bareback through the fields, and for the first time in her short life, I think she felt something akin to pure joy.

Boston loved her too. She was in charge of feeding him and all other aspects of his care. She would go to the gate and call his name and he would come running from wherever in the pasture he was. Boston knew what was coming and knew it was good.

He was a good listener and over the next three years, he heard many a story about her life and took it all in with a kind eye and warm head and neck to cry into.

Boston’s illness came on quickly. I hadn’t noticed anything wrong until I saw his rear fetlocks scraped up with abrasions from the opposite hoof. As I led him up to the barn I saw that he had to twist sideways to stay upright. I put him in a stall and called the Vet. I called Sarah, who was at her parents in town packing to move onto her dorm at college, and told her what was happening.  I knew she would want to be there if we had to put Boston down. 

The vet watched Boston walk and we all agreed that his condition was only going to get worse and the decision was made.

Sarah stroked his head and told him goodbye and after a short time he was gone. We all cried as she clipped some of his mane and tail to keep. She told him he had always been a good horse to her and that she was sorry he was gone and that she would always love him.

I told her that he would be waiting for her and now he was whole, and well, and running in green pastures with the other horses we have lost over the years.

Sarah is now 18 years old and embarking on her first year in college. She has overcome huge difficulties in her life and is a strong, beautiful, young woman ready to face whatever life throws at her.  I am hoping that in some small way, Boston helped in this journey and he knew that his work here was done, and she was going to be all right
without him. 


all images © Barbara O'Brien PhotographyBarbara O'Brien Photography is located at White Robin Farm in the beautiful rolling hills of western Wisconsin. Images are available for reproduction. Please e-mail or call with intended usage, size of print run, distribution. Barbara O'Brien Photography 612 812 8788 cell 715 448 3456 home animalcn@isd.net

Saturday, August 21, 2010

THE APPLE OF MY EYE




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.




all images © Barbara O'Brien PhotographyBarbara O'Brien Photography is located at White Robin Farm in the beautiful rolling hills of western Wisconsin. Images are available for reproduction. Please e-mail or call with intended usage, size of print run, distribution. Barbara O'Brien Photography 612 812 8788 cell 715 448 3456 home animalcn@isd.net

Friday, August 20, 2010

A LESSON FROM OUR DOGS



We could all learn a lesson or two from our dogs.

This became clear to me the other day while I was at a dog event at our local park. Because it wasn’t a show or a competition, the dogs were relaxed and happy and the owners were relaxed and happy, too.

There were dogs and people of all shapes, sizes and colors. Big Great Danes with their young, cool, hip owners, and nice older ladies with their tiny lap dogs who sported even tinier clothes.  Business types with terriers and kids being pulled along by dogs twice their size. I saw Goldens and Labs. Poodles and Corgies. Doodles and even a hairless Chinese Crested. 

What I noticed was that even though these dogs looked and acted differently from each other, when it came to meeting me, the dogs were all the same. They didn’t care if I was old or fat or white or black or if my heaven was really big or not. They were just, to a dog, happy to meet me. Their whole bodies wiggled in anticipation of a good pet and more than one gave me a complete face washing.

Because of their superior sense of smell, a dog knows in the few seconds it took for me to scratch him behind the ears, what I had for lunch, which one of my farm animals I petted last, and whether or not I took a shower that morning And the best part is, he doesn’t care. All he sees is a human that likes him, and for a dog, that is enough.

This is in striking contrast to some nice people I met in the last week.  The first were two men whom I met at the county fair. I was telling them where I lived and one rolled his eyes and said, “Oh that is where all the __________ live.” Both men then laughed. I was saddened by their attitude, but not surprised.  They had lived in the area all their life and probably didn’t like the change that came with new residents. The next one was a woman I met at the dog event.  Being young and from the cities, she proved to be the polar opposite of the two men. I was extolling the virtues of my town, and what a great place it was, when she said, “I could never live in a small town where, you know, a bunch of__________lived.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Here were people with radically opposing views and yet they were united in their small mindedness regarding groups of people they have never met.
I have purposely left what they said blank, as, if you are like me, your mind filled in the blank for you. We can’t help it, as our fears and prejudices come with us and it is up to us to fight against it and judge everyone we meet on their merits and their merits alone.

Dogs don’t care who you are going to vote for, whether you attend church or not, and who you chose to love. Dogs only care if you are kind and fair and have a treat in your pocket.  I think I am with the dogs on this one. I prefer to live in world where I don’t have to fill in the blanks at all.

Barbara O'Brien Photography is located at White Robin Farm in the beautiful rolling hills of western Wisconsin. Images are available for reproduction. Please e-mail or call with intended usage, size of print run, distribution. Barbara O'Brien Photography 612 812 8788 cell 715 448 3456 home  Email: barbara@barbaraobrienphoto.com 

EATING CROW


There comes a time in every parent’s life when suddenly their children are smarter than they are.

This happened to me recently when I was with my eldest son, Wes.  Wes, sadly, has been unemployed for the last few months so he has taken to tagging along with me on my errands and photo shoots. So when I needed to go check out some lambs and goat kids that I wanted to use in an upcoming photo shoot, Wes came along for the ride.

I have a farmer friend that not only has prize winning sheep and goats, but also breeds prize winning chickens and waterfowl. He has every imaginable chicken, duck, goose and swan and they all announced our arrival, loudly clucking, calling, and quacking as we pulled up.

You would not need an alarm system if you have even a few African Geese.

The dog ran up, tail between her legs with her ears back in submission, as if to say, “I am so sorry. They make such a racket. Really, I’ve tried to talk to them about it, but they just don’t listen.”

My friend came out and took us to see the lambs and goats.  I picked out the ones I wanted and we about to leave when he said, “Oh, I have something you can take pictures of.” He led us through a series of pens, each one filled with exotic ducks and geese until we came to a pen with a live trap in the middle.  I fully expected to see a monster raccoon, as I knew that raccoons are no friends to a chicken-duck-goose farm.

What I didn’t expect to see was a very big, very angry crow. My friend told me that the crow must’ve tried getting the bait and now found himself in big trouble. “You can take him home and take pictures of him,” he said excitedly.  My mind began to spin at the possibilities. Maybe I could tame him and teach him all sorts of clever tricks like Uncle Billy’s crow in It’s a Wonderful Life. How cool is that?!

Wes and I watched in amazement as my friend reached into the trap to transfer the crow to a small poultry carrier. We were even more amazed when the crow latched onto my friend’s tender skin between his thumb and forefinger with his incredibly shark beak and refused to let go. Being an elderly fellow, and the victim of, I imagine, many bird bites, my friend didn’t even flinch as he pulled the crow’s beak away and put the bird in the carrier.

He happily loaded the crow into my van, all the while telling me how neat it will be to take the crow’s photograph. I thanked him and drove away, with really cool shots already dancing in my head.

I had no sooner left the driveway and hit the main road, when Wes, who had remained uncharacteristically silent during the entire exchange, turned to me and said, “Mom, this is a bad idea.”

Now when your 22-year-old looks you square in the eye and says, “Mom, this is a bad idea”, one should take notice. 

“I, myself, have had some bad ideas,” he continued, “like driving a car in Wisconsin with expired tags—bad Idea. And quitting my job before I had another one—bad Idea. And dating a girl who was still in love with her old boyfriend……Really Bad Idea”.

He looked me in the eye to make sure I was paying attention. “My bad idea meter is going off the charts on this one,” he warned.

“What?” I asked. “What’s the big deal?” I’m just gonna bring him home and take his picture and then let him go,” I said.

“One, its illegal.” he protested. “You know you can’t keep a wild bird. Two, I know you think you are a pretty good trainer but this bird is not going to pose for you. Three, someone is going to get hurt. It’s a really bad idea.”

“C’mon, we could make it work at least for a few shots.”

“Mom,” he said again. “Bad idea. That bird is going to be terrified and he’s going to fly all over the studio breaking things, perhaps even hurting himself trying to escape. He is most certainly going to hurt you. Bad idea,” he said again, turning his head away as if to say, how could his own mother be so dumb.

I imagined my sweet tame Uncle Billy crow turning into one of the crows from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and had to reluctantly agree that he was right.  I played it back and forth in my mind, trying to get around the reality of owning illegal wild crows, and had to concede my son was smarter than I was.  We went a little further to a secluded spot on the road and pulled over.

We set the carrier down and opened the door.  The crow, who had been eyeing us with the blackest sharpest eyes I had ever seen, walked slowly out onto the road. He didn’t even look back as he took flight, not knowing how close he came to being captive to my creativity.
Wes, put his hand on my shoulder. “Thanks, Mom,” he said, as we watched the crow fly farther and farther away.  It was then I realized, I am not so dumb after all—I raised him, didn’t I?

all images © Barbara O'Brien Photography Barbara O'Brien Photography is located at White Robin Farm in the beautiful rolling hills of western Wisconsin. Images are available for reproduction. Please e-mail or call with intended usage, size of print run, distribution. Barbara O'Brien Photography 612 812 8788 cell 715 448 3456 home animalcn@isd.net

BEWARE YE ALL WHO ENTER HERE

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.


all images © Barbara O'Brien Photography Barbara O'Brien Photography is located at White Robin Farm in the beautiful rolling hills of western Wisconsin. Images are available for reproduction. Please e-mail or call with intended usage, size of print run, distribution. Barbara O'Brien Photography 612 812 8788 cell 715 448 3456 home animalcn@isd.net

ALL THE DUCKS ARE RICHARD AND ALL THE HENS ARE GLADYS: Or the Importance of Being Named









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.


all images © Barbara O'Brien Photography Barbara O'Brien Photography is located at White Robin Farm in the beautiful rolling hills of western Wisconsin. Images are available for reproduction. Please e-mail or call with intended usage, size of print run, distribution. Barbara O'Brien Photography 612 812 8788 cell 715 448 3456 home animalcn@isd.net

HORSE MATH




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.



all images © Barbara O'Brien Photography Barbara O'Brien Photography is located at White Robin Farm in the beautiful rolling hills of western Wisconsin. Images are available for reproduction. Please e-mail or call with intended usage, size of print run, distribution. Barbara O'Brien Photography 612 812 8788 cell 715 448 3456 home animalcn@isd.net