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Extinction by NAIS


Windt im Wald Farm
Geauga County, Northeast Ohio
since 1995

Photo by Jerry Sowden - Donna Shelatree stands with Key Sara Sera at Whispering Hill Farm near Venus.

When they were first married, Donna Shelatree's husband, Donald, vowed he would show her that there is more to life than horses.

The couple played tennis, joined a card club, hosted barbecues, rode snowmobiles, went bowling and learned to square dance.

But Donna's passion for horses proved impossible to curb, and Donald has since learned all about life with horses.

As a child growing up in McKeesport, Shelatree, now curriculum and instruction supervisor for Cranberry School District, was wild about horses.

She collected figurines depicting different horse breeds, drew horses incessantly and read all the classic horse stories including the "Misty of Chincoteague" books and the Black Stallion stories by Walter Farley.

When her mom sent her to the store, Shelatree would untie her imaginary horse and gallop down the street.

When she was older and accompanied her sister, Sharyn, to the mall, her customary attire included a western shirt, jeans, a large belt buckle, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat.

Shelatree joined the school newspaper simply because a girl who owned a horse worked for the paper.

"I would walk to her house after school and watch her ride her horse," she said.

Shelatree's persistent pursuit of her passion must have impressed her parents, because they bought her 12 riding lessons for earning high marks in ninth grade.

Her youthful dreams came true when her parents bought her a palomino quarter horse for her high school graduation.

"That was the best summer of my whole life," she said.

At the end of the summer, Shelatree departed for college in Slippery Rock. Her parents couldn't afford to both feed and board the horse and pay for college, so eventually, the horse was sold.

But it wasn't long before Shelatree discovered an Arabian horse farm outside Slippery Rock where she would go to watch as they exercised the horses.

The owner ended up hiring Shelatree to help with the horses, and as fate would have it that is where she met her future husband.

The owner of the horse farm was a veterinarian, and Donald worked at his kennel. But when it was time to make hay, he also worked at the horse farm.

Unlike Donna, Donald was not enamored with horse farming.

When he was asked to drive the tractor to the dealership for maintenance, he cloaked himself in a coat and hat, hoping none of his acquaintances would recognize him.

After their marriage and their arrival in Venango County, Donald was not immediately enthusiastic about Donna's desire to buy a farm.

"His idea of a farm was two acres of land and a ranch-style house along Route 157," Donna said.

Donna would locate farms for sale, but Donald would find something wrong with every one they looked at.

He didn't like the kitchen tiles of one. He didn't care for the pigpen at another. Some were too close to the road. Others were too far away.

And then they looked at an old 80-acre farm near Venus. The lane was impassable and they had to walk up to the house.

Built in 1842, the farmhouse was perfectly gray with no traces of paint, had no electricity, only gas lights, and no running water, only a hand-pump in the kitchen and an outhouse. Brush crowded the yard and prevented entrance to the barn.

Nonetheless, when the Shelatrees stood at the top of a hill and surveyed the valley, Donald expressed interest.

That was all Donna needed, and in spite of the monumental task of rehabilitating the farm, they bought it in late December, took up residence in April and owned their first two horses by June.

The horses arrived on a Thursday and Donna had to leave for a weeklong summer camp for Cranberry School District on Saturday. Thus began Donald's crash course in horses.

Since then, in addition to learning all about farming and the daily care and feeding of horses, he has attended a two-week horse shoeing course in Oklahoma, where he was cut, bruised and battered. Prior to the course, he had never lifted a horse's hoof.

He has been dragged up a hill behind a horse because he wrapped the lead rope around his hand.

He has helped a horse that was injured in the field and couldn't stand up unassisted make its way to the barn.

He has slept in the barn for weeks so he could be there when a mare foaled. During one difficult birth, when it appeared the foal was dead and the mare would die, he saw the baby blink its eye, and he managed to save both the baby and the mother.

"Donald has been perfect," Shelatree said. "He supports everything I do."

Together, the Shelatrees have created Whispering Hill Farm, where they raise part Arabian, part Pinto horses.

Their half-Arabian, half-Pinto stallion, Key Sara Sera, a national show horse, has sired 57 colts and fillies at their farm since 1993.

The Shelatrees also hire out Key's services, and he has babies in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland, New York, California, Michigan and Ontario, Canada, Donna said.

There are 13 adult horses and four babies currently at Whispering Hill.

Donna said she does not ride much anymore.

Her obsession now takes the form of trying to produce her version of the "perfect" horse - a Pinto (a spotted horse) with the straight legs, high-set neck, smaller head and concave ("dishy") face of the Arabian.

Not every horse born at the farm has spots. When Key breeds with a solid-colored mare, the chances of having a spotted foal are 50/50. Of the four babies born at the farm this spring, two are solid-colored fillies and two are Pinto colts.

"My pleasure is in watching the babies and training them," Shelatree said. "I just enjoy watching what we've made."

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Windt im Wald Farm

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