How We Ended up With Fjords
Updated: Dec 27, 2019
Warning this is NOT a short note you may want to sit down,get a cup of coffee or tea and put your feet up)
The Lord is good and His mercies are new every morning
Have you ever had a dream for so long that when it came true it frightened you?
How long has Mike wanted to be a Pastor? How long have we talked about farming? How long have I wanted a horse, or two or three or four!? Well, welcome to my new reality!
I can remember when I was very small that we would try to catch dandelion seeds floating by in the air, we called them “wishies”. If you caught one you could wish on it and then set it free and if it floated away you would get your wish (or so we thought when we were kids). EVERY time I wished for two things: 1) a “Baby-Alive” doll that could eat real food and 2) a horse. Wishing for two things at one time was of course cheating and I never did get a “Baby-Alive” but on this April 13 we drove home from Ontario with two Norwegian Fjord mares: Gailan (9 yrs) with the black halter and Ginger (8yrs) with the red halter.
So you may wondering, horses? Really, you have pigs and enough responsibility but of course when has that ever stopped us?
For example, the Monday after Easter we drove to Footprints Farm, in Gibbon Glade PA. Our dear friends, Jeremy and Ellen run Footprints Farm (see the post from 10.2.13) and they bred their dog a Great Pyrenees, Lady with Luke another Great Pyr from Lamppost Farm in Columbiana, OH run by our other friends Steve and Mel. When heard on Valentine’s that Lady had puppies by Luke we knew we had to have one; getting a dog that came from two working dogs was our goal and we had been keeping an eye out for one already.
We brought home a gorgeous 8 week old girl pup that we named Baila (Bay-lah) which is the Hebrew word for white (though not the proper pronunciation). She will grow up to act as our LGD or livestock guardian dog. She came home essentially housebroken and incredibly intelligent and we look forward to seeing her learn her trade over on the farm. Having a puppy threw a wee fuzzy kink in our smooth running schedule that I outlined in my last post and we of course added extra walks and time with the pigs for her.
(Baila or as we tend to call her “Baby Dog” but since she has grown from 18 lbs to 33 lbs in a month on her way to 80+ lbs I think that name probably won’t stick long term.)
So on to horses, in early March, Mike saw an advertisement online for a team of Fjord workhorses. We have been thinking and praying about adding a team of work horses to our farm plans for a while and Mike, ever the vigilant shopper had started looking, “Just to get a sense of the costs, you know.” I told him the price seemed very reasonable for Fjords but they were pregnant mares, and that would be crazy!
We really have no idea what we are doing and I hadn’t handled horses regularly since my glory days back on the Cochran’s farm when I was in 4H. Now, in a year or two we could start looking for an old, old team of well-broke drafts, like 18 yr old Belgians or Halflingers, if we could find them. Besides these mares were in CANADA, which while close when one considers foreign countries is not all that close.
But… I decided we needed some advice, some good hard reason from experienced workhorse people. So I began with our horse farming friends and then called several folks who train people to work with teams (of workhorses). During one of these long and informative phone calls, I broke down, “Okay, Jay. The truth is we are looking at a team of Fjords, mares, pregnant, both of them, in CANADA. Are we completely and totally nuts?” -silence on the phone- I am assuming that Jay is deciding how to break the news to me gently, “Yes, Nicole, certifiably and completely nuts.” Instead he says, “Are these Tony and Fran’s horses?” What? I look carefully at the ad, “Umm, why yes, the folks selling this team are named Tony and Fran, Wow, good guess!” It turned out that Jay knew Tony and Fran. Had been friends with them for years and years and he couldn’t say enough good things about their integrity and helpfulness. He ended by encouraging us to contact them and visit whether we bought their horses or not. “Buying horses for newbies like you guys can be hard, you either need to have someone with you who can evaluate the horses or buy from someone who you can trust to tell you the whole truth, Tony and Fran are those kind of people.”
So we called, Katrina, their adult daughter answered the phone. Yes, her parents would love to talk to us about the horses, but they had just semi-retired, Katrina was running the farm and they were in Spain for a month hiking the El Camino. Okay, since we have no idea what we are doing, a month’s respite from the whole horse thing seemed like a gift from God to me. So we waited for all of March. And then one Saturday morning, during housecleaning and chores, the phone rang. “Hi, this is Tony, may I speak to Mike or Nicole about some Fjords?” We spoke for about an hour and decided that the “best” thing to do was to drive to Ontario and see the horses, tomorrow, in the snow.
And so we did, at 5am the Sunday after Easter we drove to the “west coast” of Ontario to Meeting Place Organic Farm. It was a great visit, we enjoyed food, fellowship, and mentoring from people who started “green” like we were, only 30 years ago. Tony and Fran (and Katrina!) shared their home, their lives, and their knowledge generously and we really enjoyed getting to know them. After grooming the team, harnessing them, practicing driving and driving them out to deliver hay to the cattle, we were convinced that if we were going to get work horses these were good ones to get.
I was also terrified. ALL my life I had dreamed about horses, but they are so much work and time and money. It seemed shockingly selfish to think about doing this. It felt wrong somehow to fulfill this dream, and truth be told, I am no longer 14 years old. I can see all the dangers that were out of view to a “horse-mad” teenager. As much as I wanted these horses, there was a part of me that wanted someone or something to derail my plan. But I didn’t know how to put this into words. I prayed that if this was in anyway a dishonoring idea that God would make that clear to me. But what became clear to me was how much fear I was experiencing. Fear of failing, fear of injury, fear of being a fool…fear.
I began to see that I had experienced a great reduction of fear in my life by avoiding scary things, that is not the same as freedom. I had organized my life to maximize my strengths and avoid situations that I found too difficult. God reminded me of when I had applied to grad school a few years back. I almost had a complete breakdown thinking about re-entering the academic arena and it took counseling by a PTSD therapist to help me understand the root of my terror. I didn’t want to re-enter a world that I felt had tried to destroy my sense of self. I had learned to avoid the scenarios that recalled that sense helpless fear to the point that when I started that particular process I couldn’t even talk about grad school without bursting into tears.
In the end, rather than dealing with academia, the Lord has taken us in a completely different direction. But here I was again running into the walls that I have built to keep me “safe”.
So back to horses. Mike and I talked. We made a down-payment and arrangements to return in a week to pick the mares up. We thought that right after Mike’s ordination the second week of April would be a great time to run up to Ontario. Mike’s parents would be in town to help with kids, he didn’t have to preach for his ordination, it’d be easy, right? Except that it never is.
That week we got a call that a very dear member of the congregation, Jim Crawford had passed away at 96 in Georgia. The funeral would be at First Pres., would Mike preach? Could we do a church supper? Yes YES of course! What a privilege to honor and say goodbye to Jim, a character that I am sorry you did not have the opportunity to get to know. Jim’s funeral was Mike’s 13th funeral since starting as pastor here and burying friends is never easy. One of the first things Mike did as the new pastor here, was to preform a renewal of wedding vows for Jim and Dorothy’s 20th wedding anniversary, and now the day before Mike would be officially installed as pastor, he would say goodbye and bury Jim.
My fabulous parents had come for Mike’s ordination, Mike’s terrific parents came, and on that Sunday many dear friends from Pittsburgh came to celebrate with our Sharpsville community. It was simply wonderful and sometime I’ll say more about it. We wrapped up late Sunday.
We spent Monday prepping the lean-to on the barn and then Tuesday we left with a rented horse trailer to drive to another country to buy two pregnant work horses for a farm we don’t even live at yet!
(barn with lean-to, our red stone boat, and our hay wagon which is presently serving as a hay wagon-this is a joke since we have never seen anyone else use a hay wagon out here in the country to store hay, just to move the bales.)
Because you may have other things you’d like to do this month I will summarize the subsequent month- aurghhhh!terrifying!busy!crazy!scary!overwhelming!awesome!busy!wonderful!
That about covers it.
Then we get to the last two weeks. Last October, we ordered an orchard to be delivered in April. Seemed like a good idea, trees take a while to get going, best to start them as soon as possible, etc. So of course they came in the middle of water filters, electric fencing, let’s move the pigs to our new farm, Sam needs to pick a college, did we fill out that FAFSA?, harness the horses and drive them around, go to Sophia’s induction to National Honor Society, Tessa running in a 5K at school, we should prepare a garden space… Trees, bushes, plants in the driveway in boxes that NEED to be planted. So we started planting the 29 trees, 40 blueberries, 30 black/raspberries, 100 strawberries, 20 asparagus, elderberries, kiwis, etc..you get the idea!
Then one week later (all the plants are in the final or temporary homes) at 5 a.m. I am awoken by a banging noise. We have been taking turns spending nights at our farm in our camper to keep an eye on the mares. Ginger, due to foal first, is standing by the gate, in the glare of the flashlight I can see her eyes and whoops, what’s that? A pair of eyes shining just at ground level. Is it a foal or some varmint? How do I know, I am as clueless as it comes?
I throw on a pair of pants and a coat and dash across the yard. There, hopelessly tangled in the tube gate, is a brand new, slick ,wet, furry foal. His head and front legs are thrust through the gate and the banging noise is his attempts to get to his shaky feet. He is ALL legs and as I push my way into the stall, he is stilled enough to let me ease him back and out of the gate. I help him to stand and he stumbles and wobbles and weaves drunkenly. I use my arms to keep him off the walls and manger as he stretches out his legs for the first time. I do not know it yet but he is brand new, the sound that woke me was probably him dropping into the world. It is awesome and scary and yet I feel a great peace. I make sure he seems intact and that mama, Ginger, is okay. Auntie Gailan is not super happy about all the chaos but she stands patiently in the back of the stall by the other gate.
Gailan and Ginger are full sisters. They have always been together and make a great team, but having babies is not the same as pulling a stone boat or a sledge. Gailan needs some space so we let her out onto pasture but keep Ginger and (yet unamed) baby in the stall so he can get his legs together without having to negotiate the electric fence. Apparently this can create tension since that night Ginger would not let Gailan back into the stall (sisters!?what are you going to do!) Thankfully they have since worked it out and can be back together again, it just took about 3 days.
So now we are on foal#2 watch and it is likely that any night in the next 2-3 days we will navigate the birth of the second foal. I am finding that pushing through my fear may be the greatest gift these horses give. Mike has been exceptional in helping to steady me when the anxiety has gotten too much. He’s been faithful and encouraging and helpful.
It’s also good to remember that every spring, we will not have new horses with new foals, with newish pigs/piglets in new places, with a new puppy, with new gardens and new orchards that need to be planted, while figuring out college for the first time for our first born, while adjusting to life in a new town! AND I know that we did this to ourselves, AND that clearly we love chaos way too much, AND for those of you hoping (sorry Mom and Dad) that we would just settle down and be normal, it just doesn’t seem likely at this late date.
But as we tell our Amish neighbors, Larry and Naomi, at least we offer you all good entertainment along the way