Califonia Bountiful

Frisky foals symbolize a new season

May/June 2008 California Country magazine

Joe Daehling raises Thoroughbred racehorses in Sacramento County.

Just like the emergence of wildflowers and the explosion of green grass along hills and valleys, another traditional sight of the season is newborn foals at horse ranches throughout the state.

“This is a busy and exciting time of the year,” said Joe Daehling, who raises Thoroughbred racehorses in Sacramento County. “We have as many as 95 foals in a year that are usually born during the night. An electronic device, known as a Foal Alert, wakes me up and I rush to the barn to assist in the birth.”

Daehling is one of more than 300,000 people who have a job dealing with horses in California, a state that the National Horse Council says annually derives more than $4 billion from equines—a figure even greater than Kentucky’s horse industry.

Daehling had a background in horses before he came to California in 1960 as an immigrant from Germany. After a stint in the U.S. Army and as an auto mechanic, he turned part-time farming into a full-time job. His horse breeding business began 25 years ago. Like so many in his profession, he said the sometimes frustrating work of raising horses is well worth the reward.

Raising Thoroughbred racehorses is much more complex than the pastoral scene of mares and foals bonding in the field may indicate. It involves an extensive thought process and research, as well as plain luck, to produce horses with the best genetics to win races. Young horses need proper health care, diet and training before these majestic animals are ready to hit the track.

Since horse farming is not always profitable, the Daehling Ranch has diversified into 90 acres of winegrapes and a 7-acre bedding plant nursery.

Daehling’s daughter Julia Oldfield is passionate about horses, although she learned quickly that her role on the ranch was to run the family nursery.

“Horses are my first love, but Dad said, ‘The flowers don’t kick, they don’t bite and when they get sick, you can just throw them away and plant new ones,’” she said.

Oldfield said it’s easy to understand why horses have so many fans.

“They are interesting to watch and beautiful, too,” she said. “When I go riding and galloping through our fields, I feel like I have wings and can fly. It’s such a feeling of freedom.”

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