THEIR MARRIAGE READS like an old-fashioned love song lived in modern-day life.
Tara Black is Sequim Animal Hospital’s large and small animal veterinarian, providing equine and ruminant (cud-chewing) animal care. She makes farm calls, travels to areas as far as Gardiner and Joyce and everywhere in between, and she has in-clinic appointments.
Pat Par is her cowboy husband. He’s a roper, a local farrier and a horse trainer. Starting colts is his forte, but he doesn’t have much time for roping or riding now that they have four young children. The three girls are Reegan, 9, Sloan, 7, and Emerson, 3. Their baby brother, Ty, is 10 months old.
Full disclosure, Pat was my horse’s farrier until I started trimming their hooves myself — and that’s only because my current budget demands it. He’s skilled and has a good way with the horses.
His hands are full these days as he tries to balance his work with raising their gaggle of kids, mowing lawns, repairing fences and barns, feeding and training their 11 horses, picking up manure, trimming hooves — oh, and did I mention he and Tara homeschool their children?
“How do you manage your time?” I asked Pat.
“Apparently I don’t very well,” he said, adding dryly with a drawl, “at least that’s what my wife says.”
After renting for many years, three years ago they became happily married homeowners of a beautiful little farm, which had stood neglected for many years. So now, instead of spending hours in the saddle himself, he’s watching his girls ride while he goes from one repair to another, fixing up the place.
“Yeah, we’re living the dream,” Pat said with a wry grin. “It’s just like we’re living in a Hallmark movie.”
As his girls played nearby — laughing and giggling all the while — he cracked me up with his subtle humor.
I arrived to interview them at their farm in time to follow Pat around as he fed the horses their evening rations of hay. Wasn’t long before a smiling face stood in front of me and announced, “Hi! I’m Reegan.”
Soon came her sister Sloan, followed by a much shyer Emerson. They were there to throw hay to their own ponies. Reegan’s is Chance, Sloan’s is Whinny and Emerson’s is Frosting.
I asked Reegan her favorite part about living on the farm, and she enthusiastically replied, “Riding horses.”
“We’ve got enough property here, we can just turn the kids loose to enjoy it,” Pat said. “We’ve got a trail leading down to a pond they love to ride to and play.”
And it’s close enough for him to keep an eye on them.
Their jobs complete, the girls ushered me into their home through the garage door, where I was warmly greeted by an effervescent Tara, who, resting baby Ty on her hip, rang out a hearty, “Come on in! Welcome to our messy kitchen.”
It truly wasn’t a mess; it looked charmingly lived in.
In a way, they’re opposites — she speaks clearly, loudly and enunciates her words. He slurs his words and speaks as if in an undertone. It was their shared love of horses in which their worlds collided.
Sixteen years ago, Pat was working on a dude ranch in California, training and shoeing horses. Tara was an undergraduate student at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Sparks flew when she began working at the ranch as a trail guide for the guests. They’ve been together ever since.
After she graduated, they moved up to Pullman. There, she completed her veterinary studies at Washington State University. She interned for a year before she accepted the job six years ago as the large animal veterinarian at Sequim Animal Hospital.
Pat grew up in Eastern Washington. It’s there he got his start training horses and learned the farrier trade. From there, he traveled to California to train and shoe horses.
“I did a lot of horse shoeing down there,” Pat said with prolonged vowels, saying aaa-lot to emphasize the word.
Their kids have chores, like feeding their ponies (which dad oversees), and they don’t have phones, video games or other electronics to isolate or distract them from living life. I found it refreshing to see happy children running around unlike most of today’s youths, whose eyes stay glued to their electronic devices and as they walk around with a scowl on their face when they can’t.
“Since we are totally immersed in hands-on parenting all the way around, it’s hard to strike a balance between work and family, but we’re making it work,” she said, “and it’s gotten easier as the kids have gotten older.”
Now, she said, when she works at the office after hours or goes on farm calls, she can, “load the kids up in the truck and take them with me.
“That’s one of the advantages of being an ambulatory vet,” she said. “I can go out and take the kids with me, and then they’re a part of it. I love that they’re growing up with that.”
She said the girls already know a lot of medical terminology and which equipment is needed for common procedures, such as floating a horse’s teeth, and when they arrive, the girls will start pulling the needed equipment out for her.
Learning how to juggle it all and coming to terms with the fact they can’t do it all is hard work, she said, “but we love doing it.”
When Tara’s at work, Pat’s home with the kids. On her days off, she’s home with the kids and he’s out shoeing horses. Both tend to homeschooling the kids.
They’ve found it’s gotten easier. As the girls have gotten older, they’re able to become part of the work, as long as the client is OK with that. Most are good natured about it and some help out. That’s the clientele she really wants to grow.
“We are busy and full of life right now — and Pat’s tired,” Tara joked.
“Yeah,” he nodded, smiling. “Bedtime’s at 7 p.m., which is right now.”
Her services include equine dental floats, vaccinations and de-worming, laser therapy for trauma, inflammation, arthritis, tendons and ligaments, lameness evaluations, pre-purchase exams, bloodwork, pain management, pregnancy checks, Coggins testing, health certificates/travel paperwork and brand inspections.
She also works on cattle, goats and sheep.
Frequently, farm calls involve helping animals in pain, stitching up lacerations and dealing with horses who colic, have founder or laminitis.
She’s able to make emergency calls during office hours, but after hours, “it gets a little sticky,” she said.
Understandably, she wants to be with, and there for, her family, husband included.
She sees herself as a first responder to emergencies. She said her first step is to evaluate the situation, and then she asks herself if the problem is something she can do locally or if the problem would be better handled by Sound Equine Veterinary Hospital in Poulsbo or Pillchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish.
Years ago, before Sound Equine existed, I hauled a horse to the hospital in Pilchuck. The ferry ride alone was $100. I was very happy when Sound Equine opened its doors.
As a family, Tara loves when they go riding and roping together.
“Now the girls are learning gaming — poles, barrel racing and all that,” she said. “Regan’s working on running her pony through the pole pattern. It’s wonderful.”
A California native, she said she really missed seeing the ocean every day when she lived in Eastern Washington.
“It’s paradise living here, we love it,” she said. “I put in long hours at work, and then I get to come home and look at the this view. We’ve got the ocean on one side and mountains on the other. It’s so amazing.”
“Just hanging out with the kids is fun,” Pat said. “I love watching them grow and learn.”
In the spirit of balancing his life, Pat’s trying to adjust his schedule so he only travels to trim or shoe horses on Thursdays, which is Tara’s day off. Clients he knows who have well-behaved animals are invited to haul their horses to the house to be worked on.
“I can shoe horses while the baby is napping, or, if they want to hold the baby while I shoe, that helps, too,” he said.
“Something he never talks about is his horse training,” Tara said. “He is so good at it.”
“And the girls watch him out there training horses,” she said. “Then come in the house and start riding their little inflatable horses like they’re training them. They’re riding them like they are real horses; backing them up, turning them and checking their lead. It’s so cute.”
“I used to train a lot in California,” Pat said. “Started a lot of young horses. Worked about 30 horses a month with this other guy. Reiners, cutters, roping. We’d get a good solid 90 days on them, and then they’d go to a high-end trainer to get finished for showing, or they’d go back to their owner.”
Tara said Pat’s quiet humbleness is one of his best qualities.
“Talking to him, you’d never know how much in demand he was in California,” she said. “You’d never know he used to shoe Olympic Dressage horses.”
As two people who work in a potentially dangerous work environment, and have a family to care for, they’ve made keeping themselves safe a priority.
“We do have a family, so we obviously want to stay safe,” she said. “We ask that if you know you have an animal with dangerous behavioral problems to please call someone else. We want to be able to offer our community our best, for as long as we can.”
To make an appointment with Tara, call Sequim Animal Hospital 360-683-7286. For farrier work, call Pat at 509-592-7655.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.