There’s a frisky new addition to the horse family at the Swan Center Outreach in Silverthorne. Irish Rose was born April 7 to a mare that the nonprofit organization had recently adopted because her owners could no longer afford her care.
“We only have births here when we rescue mothers that are pregnant,” said John Longhill, co-founder of SCO with his wife, Rose. “We’re not in the breeding business, we’re in the education business.”
At just over 2 months old, the foal weighs several hundred pounds and comes up to about Longhill’s elbow. When he enters her pen, she comes right over, leaning her head in as he scratches behind one ear. Her size is due to her breed — she’s a gypsy vanner, the traditional draft horse of choice of the European Roma.
“It’s about a 200-year-old breed,” said Longhill. “They’re like the golden retrievers of the horse world. They’re very personable, they love people, they’re very intelligent.”
Though Irish Rose is currently as hale and healthy as a filly should be, there was a time before she was born that her future wasn’t as certain.
When her mother developed an infection in the placenta, the veterinarian gave the foal a 50-50 chance of survival. So the Longhills took her to a special facility in Littleton for round-the-clock care. She was born at 3 a.m.
“We weren’t sure she was going to make it,” Longhill said. “Thankfully, we got a brand-new healthy baby with no problems.”
Getting to that point, however, wasn’t cheap, and little Irish Rose racked up a $7,000 veterinary bill. So the Swan Center Outreach is throwing a “baby shower” on Sunday, June 22, to raise enough to cover the bill, plus an extra $12,000 as the remaining part of its $25,000 spring drive for overall costs.
The baby shower, which takes place at the ranch north of Silverthorne, will include games, refreshments and information about Irish Rose’s day-to-day needs.
“She doesn’t need all the gifts that human babies have, but we do need to pay off a $7,000 vet bill,” said Longhill with a laugh.
Integration and training
From the very beginning, Irish Rose has been groomed toward her eventual responsibilities as part of Swan Center Outreach.
“Within an hour of the birth, we do something we call imprinting, which is we touch the baby all over, get her used to being touched by human hands, and that’s why she loves to be petted,” Longhill said.
He plans to make her a large part of the educational program, working with special needs and at-risk children. Until Irish Rose reaches maturity at 5 years old, Longhill, SCO volunteers and the program’s children will work with her by leading her around and teaching her to be unafraid of humans and their accessories, like ropes, saddles and plastic bags.
“Abused and neglected horses are only dangerous because they’re afraid,” he said. Unlike the other 34 horses on the ranch, Irish Rose potentially faces a different issue. “She’s had nothing but love, so we’ve got to make sure we don’t spoil her and let her get away with things she shouldn’t get away with because she’s so cute.”
Robert McElreavey is the ranch caretaker and lives on the property with his family. He’s been in the position since last year.
“You learn a lot about yourself and the horses at the same time so it’s a good learning experience for everyone,” he said. “It just teaches you characteristics you didn’t think you had, so I think it’s always a good thing to learn and come out and experience a new thing.”
Dealing with a newborn foal is a new experience for McElreavey.
“She’s learning as I am learning,” he said, chuckling. “She’s just a playful girl. She just wants to play,” he added, gesturing to the pen, where the foal was rubbing her rear end against a pole. She often performs antics for attention, he said.
It’s been an interesting experience for everyone involved, and Longhill is looking forward to the foal’s contributions in the future as well.
He laughed and gave her another rub behind the ears. “I think she was worth it, huh?”