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Owning a horse farm like First Flight Farm is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me, Tricia Veley, and Rick, my husband of over 40 years (okay maybe raising horses wasn’t HIS lifelong dream, but he is a great sport and is an integral part of MY lifelong dream, truly the “wind beneath my wings”). I have been very fortunate to own horses for over 50 years and Rick knew when he married me that the horses (as well as practically every other living, breathing creature) were always going to be an important part of my (and forever after his) life. We have worked hard together over the years to build up the financial nest egg that has allowed us to finally realize my dream.
The road to get the farm was not always a smooth or easy one. We moved several times, endured separation due to a military remote assignment, lived off of the equity of a small house we sold while Rick was in his probation year as a pilot with Delta Air Lines, raised three sons, and then watched helplessly as 26 years later Delta Air Lines filed for bankruptcy and took away 70% of his salary and 85% of his pension.
Out of necessity to make ends meet, we used the money we had worked so hard to save and bought a business that sells aircraft fire suppression systems parts. The previous owner, the founder of the company, was retiring after running the company for ten years. We both worked hard and built up the already good business into an even better one.
It was a hectic and stressful time. Taking a break from work, Rick was looking through one of those real estate magazines we received in the mail that showcases farms and ranches for sale. Looking at real estate was something that he always enjoyed. He passed me the magazine and suggested that we take a drive in the country to relieve the stress and go look at one of the farms he saw. The place in nearby Boerne, TX looked interesting and I was feeling overwhelmed from the work and needed to get away, so we left the office and headed for Boerne.
From the minute we drove on the nearly 40 acre property, I had an overwhelming feeling that I was home. I instantly LOVED this property. The farm was beautiful with a charming historic old home dating back to 1850 with a large front porch, 14 inch thick limestone walls and the original hardwood floors. There were resident deer and peacocks roaming around. The property was the original homestead of an old land grant, covered with huge oak and pecan trees and featured several large pastures and three barns with 42 stalls. The horse facilities were wonderful, by far exceeding what I needed for my three mares and the gelding I kept for my friend and neighbor.
We made an offer with no contingencies and it was accepted. I feel as if I must be in heaven every morning when I look out the window and I have never looked back.
The next step was to stock our new farm. For that I turned to my longtime friend Judy Yancey. I had purchased my two Trakehner mares from her over 17 years earlier and before I knew it I purchased four of the finest horses I had ever dreamed of owning. These outstanding mares and fillies are the foundation stock for First Flight Farm.
I chose these particular horses for their impeccable breeding and their beautiful movement, good temperament and sound minds. In the horse business I have learned that it definitely pays to start with the finest horses if you want to be successful. It costs just as much to feed, train and properly care for a lesser well-bred horse, but there is not much of a market for them. I plan on breeding for the finest quality, not quantity.
We expected three foals for our first foal crop in 2009. I had originally hoped for four foals in our first year, but that was not to be. Sadly, I lost one of my beloved Trakehner mares to EPM.
My Dutch Warmblood mare, Preference (by Jonggors Weyden, winner of both silver and bronze medals for Dressage at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics), and my Oldenburg mare, Olivia (by Don Kennedy , out of Ornella by Argentinus), were both in foal to the exciting young Dutch Warmblood stallion, Wynton. Wynton had absolutely taken Europe by storm winning the triple crown of Stallion competitions as well as placing fourth in the World Championship of young Dressage Horses. Both of these foals, Wellington and Wynston, promised to be world-class. Our newest Oldenburg mare Donnabelle, (by Donnerhall, out of a Plaisir d'Amour mare) had a lovely black filly, Saraya, by Sarkozy.
Our second breeding season was not much better. Olivia lost a pregnancy, Preference was not bred back due to the late in the season birth of her previous foal, but Tirana (by French Kiss out of a De Niro mare), was in foal to Plaisir d'Amour and Donnabellewas in foal to Quaterback for 2010 foals. Those fillies, Tettiana and Quiana were magnificent.
The third season was frustrating as well. After three tries, Olivia was finally pregnant with a 2011 foal by EH Connery. Preference was bred three times before she finally conceived a foal by Ampere. My other mares failed to conceive after multiple breedings. Fortunately, these two 2011 foals, the filly Oriana and the colt Amadeus were extraordinary.
With breeding season rapidly approaching again and thinking about what could have possibly gone wrong during the past three seasons, I was at my wits end. After spending a fortune in vet bills (not to mention countless doses of frozen semen) and only getting two pregnancies out of 15 breedings with 5 different mares in the last season alone, I decided to learn to do the ultrasounds and inseminations myself. I figured I could not possibly have any worse luck! We hosted a Breeder Assistant course by Dr. Jim Kubiak here at the farm so along with others, my staff and I could learn to do ultrasounds, inseminations and embryo transfers. My vet agreed to help me and my insurance company agreed to continue to cover my horses.
The vet was still consulting with me, but I was doing the scans and inseminations. We got pregnancies, but for unknown reasons lost them. Much to my dismay the fourth season seemed to be going like the previous seasons. Just when I thought it could get no worse, a couple of months into the new breeding season, my equine vet suddenly decided to switch to doing only small animals, so I quickly needed to find a new vet.
It turned out that my former vet's unexpected departure was actually a blessing in disguise. I was very fortunate to find Dr. Ben Espy, the only board certified theriogenologist vet anywhere in south Texas. I had no idea he was even in San Antonio, much less that we were actually distant cousins! Dr. Espy started to help me in April 2011. At that point I still had no pregnant mares and no answers as to why. We pulled the records for all the mares and discovered that several of them had uterine infections. Although the records showed I had had the mares tested and the lab reports were in the records, I had never been told about the lab results, therefore no treatment was ever done. We treated the infected mares and I eventually got Tirana in foal to Grafenstolz, our only foal expected for 2012. I learned a very expensive lesson that year. Never again will I assume no news is good news.
Thankfully this year has been a whole different story. So far all of our mares have gotten pregnant on the first attempt and my vet bills have been minimal. Dr. Espy has been a phenomenal mentor and coach. The only time I had to have him do anything was when I found three sets of twins and I had him come pinch one. I thoroughly enjoy the scanning and breeding and look forward to 6 foals for the 2013 season. It is so much more fun this way!
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