Coming Home

After several false starts, October 17 was designated as the flight date from Los Angeles to Kona. That morning, we were putting the finishing touches on the paddock and loafing shed right up until time to leave for the airport. I had an email from Andee at Pacific Airlift confirming that the horses were loaded and the flight would depart on time. It was a very long day, but we had been instructed to arrive at the airport at 2:30 with the trailer and we would be given further instructions for pickup when the horses arrived.

At 2:30 on the dot, an enormous airplane pulled up on the tarmac at about the same time as our new friend with the trailer. The plane looked like any passenger jet, but instead of people coming off, metal livestock containers were being conveyed via a lift onto waiting flatbed trucks that drove away someplace we couldn’t see. We knew one of those containers had to be holding our precious little cargo, but it was impossible to see into them from our location on the other side of the runway fence. So we watched as the last container came off and waited for further instructions.

About 3:00, the state veterinarian called with directions to the location for pick up. We found them in typical Hawaii fashion . . . standing on the side of the road with the state veterinarian trying to fill out paperwork in the wind, and the groom that had traveled with them holding two lead ropes with two very perplexed, and very tiny horses on the other end. Transactions on the side of the road seem to be the norm here, so the informality of the transfer was no real surprise. Everyone assured us these were the cutest little horses they’d ever seen and of course, we thought so too. The veterinarian performed a quick check to make sure the horses were okay and that the paperwork was in order and gave me instructions regarding their “quarantine.” Horses imported into Hawaii must stay at least 200 yards away from other horses or be sprayed with an approved insecticide daily for a period of two months after which they have to undergo a follow-up Coggins test submitted to the state veterinarian’s office.

The horses seemed to be no worse for the wear of the trip, though they looked a little surprised to suddenly find themselves in a distinctly different environment with a bunch of strangers surrounding them.

Mahalo to Linda Bloomfield (leading Java) of Therapeutic Horses of Hawaii for the use of her mini-trailer.

After we signed the paperwork, we loaded them into the trailer without any fuss, Java huddling next to Comanche for comfort. We arrived at our place 45 minutes later without incident, and they unloaded like champs, preferring

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Leading the horses into the paddock on arrival. Java (in the back) was anxious to catch up with Comanche.

to leap out headfirst. We led them into their new paddock and removed both halters after showing them where to find fresh water. Within minutes, they were eating the kikuyu pasture grass, grazing peacefully together as though nothing unusual had happened that day. Never mind that they had traveled almost 5000 miles over the past week, leaving their former pasture mates far behind. They were a new herd of two now and they stuck together as though glued at the hip as they explored their new paddock. By the time we had satisfied ourselves that they were settled in, the sun was going down. It was time to leave them for the night, so we closed the gate and headed indoors. We checked on them before we went to bed and they were still doing fine, so heaving a huge sigh of contentment at the smell of fresh manure now wafting through the air, I slept, with visions of all the fun we would have with these two swirling in my dreams.

The next morning, Tim got up as usual to make coffee, and of course, he went out to check on the horses first thing. I did not think it was funny when he came running back to the bedroom with the news that the horses were gone. Unfortunately, he wasn’t joking. The gate was open and the paddock was empty. I remembered hearing the dogs barking around midnight, but I hadn’t checked to see what set them off. Apparently, it was the horses making their escape. Tim started checking the coffee groves around the house and I jumped in the car to check the roadways. Now I was having visions of their little bodies crushed on the road. They’re about the same size and color as the wild pigs in Kona, so someone might easily hit one on the road or shoot at them thinking they were pigs. They might catch their tiny legs in a pig snare and be struggling somewhere. Any number of things could happen to them and none of them were good. I knew they wouldn’t know their way home after just one night in the paddock, nor would they know who I was if I found them. I comforted myself that maybe someone had stolen them and then I worried about how we would get them back from that unfeeling person who had taken them. After twenty minutes of wondering how this could have happened and torturing myself with the worst possible thoughts as I searched every possible road within a few miles (there aren’t many on this part of the island), it occurred to me that neither of us had grabbed our phones so even if we found them, we had no way to tell each other. In my haste to start the search, I had also made the rookie mistake of going out without a rope or halter.

I headed back to the house to find Tim holding my phone out to me. We agreed that we needed to calm down and be more thoughtful about how we approached the problem. He asked if I had seen any tracks and foolishly, I had to admit I had completely forgotten to look. So I took my phone, a halter and a lead rope, and starting at the open gate, sure enough, there were tiny hoofprints leading away from the paddock, around the fence, and uphill past the house. Clearly, that was what started the dogs barking. I should have trusted them, though it would have been impossible to round up two little horses in the dark.

I thought if I could just pull on what little tracking skills I had left from studying with a master tracker thirty years ago, maybe we had a shot of recovery. There were no people print, so my theory of theft fell by the wayside. This was a simple escape. Following the hoofprints was a study in patience. They led uphill, a typical horse behavior when faced with this sort of topography. But the ground is rocky and doesn’t hold a track well. I resorted to looking at overturned pebbles, scraped places in the rock, and trails through the morning dew on plants. Here I would find a tail hair caught on a branch and there was a chewed-off piece of grass. I kept after it for another twenty minutes, hoping our neighbors wouldn’t mind me traipsing through their coffee groves at dawn, and then, wonder of wonders, I saw two little horses calmly eating grass at the top of the neighbor’s property. A rock wall that ran across the back and one side of the property stopped them, just about two hundred yards directly behind our house. My heart rate slowed back to normal and I called Tim to report where I found them.

They weren’t panicky, but they were in a completely foreign place on a steep slope with treacherous footing and of course, they had no clue who we were. Since they’re so young, and they arrived with halters on, I wasn’t sure how reliably halter broken they might be. Was this trip the first time they’d ever worn halters? Every time one of us would get close enough to lay a hand on one of them, they would both shoot past us and into the coffee trees. Now, coffee trees aren’t very tall, but these little horses would simply disappear among them. Tim brought a pan of feed with hopes that they would recognize that time-honored sound and come running to us, but they didn’t seem to care much about it after a full night of grazing.

After we were both exhausted from going up and down hill, trying to avoid the pukas (holes) and rocks that littered the landscape while keeping the horses as calm as possible, we finally had them sort of sandwiched between us on a relatively level stretch of ground.

Waiting patiently for a chance to get a rope on one of them.

We sat down and waited, slowly ooching towards one another when the horses had their heads down and eyes averted. We now had totally calm horses standing in the twenty feet between us. As Comanche’s curiosity got the better of him and he started investigating the pan of timothy pellets, Tim slowly draped a loop of lead rope over his head. I held my breath as the rope caught on one ear but we finally caught some luck as a little head flip slid the rope completely down around his neck. Once we had him secured by the rope, I was able to get the halter on. Java watched all of this with interest, but was unwilling to come close enough for a repeat performance. With Comanche now in hand, Tim led him in a scramble down the slope back to our house, with Java following close behind. It took us three hours from the time we discovered they were gone until we had them safely back in the paddock.

What we learned was that our latch apparently was not fully closed. It looked like it, since the clip was fully around the chain, but in fact, the chain simply slipped through the clip when one of the horses pushed against the gate. A stupid mistake that could have ended very badly, indeed, and one that neither of us will ever make again. We now check and double-check the chains and clips to ensure that the clip goes through the chain and have even put a secondary clip on the gates in case one opens accidentally, so that there will always be a backup closure. These horses are too precious to risk losing them through carelessness.

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How cute are those little faces?

Our new charges were off to a rather inauspicious start, but we were happy to have them back safe and sound, and even more happy that they didn’t seem to be concerned at all about any of the events of the past twenty-four hours. As we checked on them throughout the day, I was flooded with relief that they seemed to be okay. Now that the crisis had been averted, I couldn’t wait to get to know these remarkable little sprites.

Moving Little Horses to Hawaii

3. Toyland Comanche and Toyland Java became part of our family in early September 2015 when I made the final payment. But getting them to our farm in Hawaii from their birth barn near Chicago, Illinois was not easy. I started looking into transportation options during the summer. I was hoping it would be as simple as flying to Chicago, putting them in a giant dog crate and flying back with them using United Airlines’ Petsafe program, as we did when we moved our dog, Blue, from Colorado. After all, at 26 and 28 inches tall, they weren’t much bigger than Blue. The representative at United assured me they would not allow horses to fly no matter how small they might be. I asked around the horse owners I knew on the island and they all recommended Young Brothers. I called Young Brothers, but the person I talked to said the horses would have to be shipped to Honolulu, Oahu first then brought by barge to their port in Kawaihae, a five-day trip over what can be rough water. They would only handle the portion of the trip from Oahu to the Big Island, leaving me to figure out all the details of getting them to Oahu, where they would be checked in by a state-approved veterinarian. That led me to further investigation of the quarantine rules but I couldn’t get a straight answer from the Department of Agriculture or other horse owners about what was actually required. Over the years, I had transported many horses to many places, but never to an island and never having to use more than a single truck with a trailer. With what appeared to be some combination of planes, trains, automobiles, and barges getting involved, it was getting more and more complicated, so I called Island Pet Movers, the company that helped take care of transporting my parrot when we moved to Hawaii, since they were so good at handling all the complex details of importing birds to this island. Their advice was to contact Pacific Airlift, a company that specializes in moving livestock on and off the islands.

I immediately called the good folks at Pacific Airlift and left a message. While I was waiting for them to call back, I studied their website and the Department of Agriculture’s rules on importing livestock. It seemed that, contrary to what I was being told by horse owners, horses can be brought into the state at any port on any island, as long as a state-approved veterinarian will be on hand to check them in. Pacific Airlift’s website suggested that they make occasional flights directly to Kona from Los Angeles. I felt like we were finally getting somewhere. When Andee Patterson from Pacific Airlift called me back, she assured me that they would take care of all the transportation and paperwork details from door to door, or at least from the barn in Illinois to the Kona International Airport, including making sure the state veterinarian would be on hand. At this point, I no longer cared about the cost – I had someone who would help me navigate the complexities of the move.

It looked like mid-October was going to be the earliest the horses could be transported. Since they were still very young (both born in April), the delay was probably to their advantage.

The paddock, ready for its new inhabitants.
The paddock, ready for its new inhabitants.

In the meantime, we fenced approximately 2000 square feet of our land into a miniature horse paddock, complete with a five foot tall 8’x12’ loafing shed with a covered feed and tack room at one end. Except for having to lean over to avoid hitting my head on the roof supports, it’s the perfect setup for two or three minis.

Andee contacted Laureen at Toyland Farms and sent all the information related to the required paperwork for health certificates, Coggins testing, and import restrictions (use of fly sprays, etc.). She also arranged with a local van company in Illinois to pick up the minis and transport them to Riverside, California. That portion of the trip cost $1475 with the minis sharing a stall in the van. The van company deposited them at a ranch in Riverside where they rested for a few days while waiting for their plane ride to the Big Island. Then the big day arrived and they were transported to the airport where they were loaded into a shared stall on a cargo plane transporting a number of cattle, horses, and sheep to and from Kona. Pacific Airlift’s service was a whopping $3000 (the same amount they charge for one full-sized horse), but that covered transporting both horses overseas and coordinating the continental travel as well. Add in insurance and miscellaneous fees associated with the week of boarding and getting them to the airport and the total bill for transporting the two horses from the Chicago area to Kona ended up being right around $5000, almost as much as the price tag for the two horses. But it was worth every penny, knowing that they were being handled with care and experience every step of the way.

But getting the horses to Kona was only part of the journey. They still had to go from the airport to our place about 30 miles south. During the weeks we waited for them to arrive, we tossed around various ideas for transporting them.

Java's sweet face.
Java’s sweet face. 

Since they were still so small, and around 120-150 pounds each, we thought we probably had several options. We entertained the idea of large dog crates that we could load into the back of our pickup with some assistance from hefty helpers. We thought about putting up a canine fence between the front seats and cargo area of our Subaru Forester and simply carrying them that way. With a rubber mat lining in the cargo area, how bad could that be?

We renamed Comanche to keep with the coffee theme. Meet Mr. Bean.
We renamed Comanche to keep with the coffee theme. Meet Mr. Bean.

We considered a friend’s offer of an enormous two-horse trailer built for very tall Warmbloods, but that didn’t seem much safer than just putting in some plywood panels to raise the sides of our pickup bed and riding with them to keep them from jumping out on the way home.

But in the way things seem to fall into place here on the island, we happened into the local feed store at exactly the right moment to meet one of the few owners of miniature horses in Kona. Mike, the husband of the owner of a therapeutic horsemanship program, talked story with us a while, made some good suggestions on care and feeding of the minis in this climate, and offered the use of his miniature horse trailer to transport the horses from the airport. A miniature horse trailer – the only one on the island – and we just happened to meet the owner of it in the feed store on a day when we were about out of time to explore options. I chatted with Nancy Bloomfield, the director of Therapeutic Horsemanship Hawaii in Kona, when we got home and she not only gave great advice based on experience with her two minis here that are part of her outreach program, but she also confirmed Mike’s offer of the trailer and hauling at no cost. We agreed to meet at the airport at 2:30 on the appointed day. Everything seemed ready – all we had to do was wait for October 17.

A little background

This blog site is written by Lisa Brochu and is devoted to my beautiful miniature horses at the request of those who ask about them frequently. I’ll share stories and photos of their growth and training along with information that may help other miniature horse owners around the world or those who plan to bring a horse of any size to Hawaii. I’ll try to update the blog at least weekly or more often when there is an interesting story to tell or photos to show. Please feel free to ask questions or make comments and share your stories as well – I’m hoping to start a dialogue about horsekeeping on Hawaii Island and miniature horses in general more than just talking about me and my horses specifically.

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I’m often asked why anyone would want a miniature horse. The assumption is that if you can’t ride it, there’s not much point in having a horse at all. But for many of us who love horses, it’s just being around them that lifts our hearts, watching the poetry of movement, listening to the rhythmic grinding of feed, drinking in the sweet smell of hay. Horses, for many, are much more about sharing of spirit than the need to ride. And so it’s always been for me.

When I was a small child, I yearned for a horse. Every birthday, every Christmas, that one request made up my entire wish list. And every birthday, every Christmas, no matter how many plastic, glass, paper or plush horses I received (and there were many), I was disappointed. I wanted the real thing. By the time I hit my teens, my father had figured out a clever way to deal with my obsession. He assured me he would purchase a horse, as long as I paid for everything else associated with it. With that promise in hand, I started research in earnest.

Since we lived in a suburban neighborhood in northeast Dallas, there was no hope of keeping the horse at home. No problem . . . there was a boarding facility just a few blocks away. But when I started doing the math, it quickly became apparent that boarding plus food plus vet bills plus supplies and tack and all the other odds and ends that having a horse requires would be beyond my teenage-part-time-job-preparing-for-college means. But the dream didn’t die.

Over the next decade, I managed to “borrow” an assortment of horses. I found places to live that came with a resident horse or two that needed exercise. I worked as a vet tech for a clinic that handled both large and small animals and learned all I could about horse anatomy and care. In my spare time, I volunteered to train young horses for those too busy to spend time with their animals. Eventually, I was able to purchase a horse and keep it on my own acreage in the Texas Hill Country. Then, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, I lost the land and the ability to keep the horse along with it.

After a horseless gap of several years, I found myself in a new and perfect circumstance, when my husband and I bought a 13-acre farm in central Texas, allowing me to set up an Appaloosa breeding operation in addition to my work in an entirely different field.

Hawk Be Nimble (Hawkeye), my favorite gelding.
ApHC/CRHA Hawk Be Nimble (Hawkeye), my favorite gelding.

For the next dozen years, we had “The Best Little Horsehouse in Texas,” offering stud services, sales of weanlings and yearlings, and equine massage therapy (I received my certification as an equine sports massage therapist along the way). When my husband passed away unexpectedly, I held a heartbreaking herd dispersal sale and watched as my stallion, broodmares, my favorite gelding (the first foal from my stallion and the perfect horse I’d always wanted), along with a handful of weanlings and yearlings were sold off at less than a third of their value to farms in Wyoming, Texas, and New Mexico. I appreciated the thoughtfulness of the good people who purchased them sight unseen, knowing I needed them to go to good homes quickly since I had two grief-stricken teenage boys to tend to and a demanding full-time job on top of settling a complicated estate.

A year later, I moved to Colorado. Six months after the move, I received a phone call from the woman who’d bought my gelding, wanting to know if I wanted him back. As it turned out, I was living in a condominium in Fort Collins, but I figured this was a sign from the universe I couldn’t ignore, so I had him sent to Colorado and found an affordable boarding situation not far from the condo and my workplace. Within another few months, a house fire that gutted the condo forced the decision to find a better circumstance and I was lucky to find a 2-acre “farmette” on the outskirts of town, even closer to my workplace, so I could have my gelding in the backyard again. In just another month after closing, one of the other horses I had sold became available and I managed to get him to Colorado.

Buck, a 16 hand gelding, was the last colt born at my Texas farm - Hawkeye's half-brother.
Buck, a 16.2 hand ApHC/CRHA gelding, was the last colt born at my Texas farm – Hawkeye’s half-brother.

The two geldings recognized each other immediately and life was good for the next eight years, with the exception of worsening cervical spine issues that kept me from riding as much as I would have liked. Still, I enjoyed spending time with the horses and just seeing them every time I looked out the windows did my heart a world of good.

But life is a constant journey and things change. I remarried in Colorado and after our long-standing work relationship ended with a nonprofit organization there, my husband Tim (who’d been in Colorado much longer) and I decided it was time to think about finding a more hospitable climate. We landed in Hawaii in January of 2015, having sold the Colorado farm. Sadly, the move meant we had to leave the horses behind, but we found them a wonderful ranch home in the mountains on hundreds of acres as part of a free-roaming herd eight months of the year, with a little riding work expected during the summer. Horse heaven, really, where I was promised they would spend the rest of their days.

With the move to Hawaii Island, we deliberately planned to downsize . . . the bamboo house we built was ¾ the size of the house in Colorado and the acreage went from two acres to a little less than an acre of coffee farm just above Kealakekua Bay in Kona. Of that, about ¼ is planted in coffee, ¼ is devoted to the house and its landscaping with fenced dog yard and koi pond, and the remaining half we planned to devote to greenhouse activities specializing in orchids and bonsai, tropical fruit trees, vegetable gardens, and tilapia ponds.

Our bamboo house under construction.
Our bamboo house under construction.

The property is beautiful with a great ocean view, but it is oddly divided by topography and rock walls built by the previous owner. We thought we had the site plan all figured out when my brilliant and loving husband, noting my distress whenever anyone asked about the horses we left behind, suggested we might have the room for miniature horses if we reconfigured the garden spaces.

I confess that was something that had not occurred to me but by coincidence I saw that a person on Maui (the next island to the west) was selling a miniature horse and I was hooked. That sale didn’t work out, but now I was on a mission to find just the right miniature horse. It didn’t take long – Toyland Farm in Illinois was advertising its 2015 foals for sale. They specialize in Falabella miniature horses, the smallest breed of horse in the world, with mature heights usually ranging from 28 to 32 inches (7 to 8 hands in horse-speak). Best of all, they feature delicate Arabian style conformation with beautiful little dish-shaped heads and large, liquid eyes combined with a variety of coat colors, including my beloved Appaloosa patterns. Sold!