by John D. Hubbard
Before the sun drops behind the Niagara Escarpment it casts a golden light on the old brick home, the red barn with black trim and the family of Dave and Suzanne Desmond.
As the night gathers across Daquiri Hill, Desmond '73 heads for the barn and his chores. There, with Peaches, Reba, King and the other Appaloosas and standardbreds in their stalls, Dave finds a peace among the horses and his work. He takes the time to notice, realizing his good fortune and appreciating the return on this investment in family. The cowboys are asleep for the night, Suzanne -- the power that drives this farm -- is recharging and, well, life is good.
Daybreak finds Dave back in the barn, making ready for Suzanne and her training schedule for the horses before he heads to his veterinary clinic and the small animals who are his patients. From mouths to mammals Dave Desmond '73 was a Colgate hockey player, a one-dimensional label that chafed at times. He was also a serious student with aspirations for dental school and a country boy with a passion for horses.
Such was his hunger that as a teenager he and brother Doug built a barn behind the family home and Dave saved until he was 16 to buy his first horse. Later he spent a Jan Plan with Doc Elmer, the vet in Hamilton, more out of a love of animals than an interest in veterinary medicine. It wasn't until after graduation he decided to trade mouths for mammals.
"Let's take a run at this vet school stuff," thought Desmond, who had decided it was "more suited to my makeup."
Desmond discovered Canadian professional schools could be as narrow-minded as some of the people he encountered growing up who assumed he was just a dumb jock. Finally given an opportunity at the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College, Des-mond earned his degree. Following graduation he spent two years working strictly with horses and by 1982 was ready to begin his own practice.
Despite a sizable though pre-dictable debt, Desmond started a small-animal hospital.
"If I had to fight with horses all day I wouldn't want to do it at night," he says now. Desmond oversees all the Daquiri Hill horses and it is obvious they are among his favorite patients.
Over the years Desmond has created and sold four businesses and today operates one clinic in Mississauga, Ontario, where he provides the full range of veterinary services -- from neutering to cancer surgery -- for cats, dogs, birds, gerbils and all the other small pets who Dave says have only one job -- "to please man."
"You have to like animals and you have to respect them. You'd better like people, too, because it's a team coming in and for them it's absolutely like having a child. The gratification is you can fix the problem."
Daquiri Hill's animals
The boys are busy. Tommy, 10, is helping Holly, the summer's hired hand, in the barn. Danny, 9, is washing the horse trailer. Alex, 8, is brushing Reba.
"I want my kids to understand farming because it is so basic," says Desmond walking along a row of white ash over the clay soil of Holton County that has kept families going for generations. "They've got to understand what the ground means." As the three boys complete their chores and head for fun the lessons seem to have taken.
The horse business is a bit more elusive. "I don't know what it is. It either clicks or it doesn't and when it does it is a disease." All the Desmonds have it.
Suzanne rides and works the horses every day and with the show season underway the training intensifies. Dave is breaking a two-year old and the boys are all learn-ing to ride. "There is more to riding than you would know," according
to Suzanne, who did everything she could growing up to be around horses. "But it's supposed to look effortless."
"Reba is bomb-proof and Peaches is the perfect kid horse," says Dave as a couple of visitors circle the corral.
"It's a great hobby," says Dave. "Kids in love with their horses and not the mall."
The Desmonds will also travel to the World Championships in Fort Worth and early in the summer they had their own show -- and fundraiser -- with 252 entries at the farm. "Horse people have a lot and it was an opportunity to give a little back," says Suzanne. The Desmonds were able to send a van full of food to the local food bank.
The Desmonds moved to Daquiri Hill, named for a racehorse Dave and his brother Don once had, 10 years ago and spent four years living in a mo-bile home waiting for the owners to move out. "It was a thrill to get across the road and into the big house with three kids," says Suzanne. Since then they have converted the old dairy barn for horses, fenced in pastures and settled into the 1850s home.
"The premise is for this place to pay for itself," says Dave. "The reality is different." And impossible to crunch on some spreadsheet. There is the education of foaling season and lessons in mucking out stalls. There is shinny on the pond in winter and trees to climb all summer. There is the old fraternal order that says if one works, you all work. Brothers ever, friends at heart.
The black Kentucky-style fences with four oak boards outline Daquiri Hill but something less tangible and more meaningful defines the farm where Bourbon King is buried and each spring new foals are born and cowboys romp through their childhood.
"We're going down the same road," says Desmond talking about his family's interests. "I'm one of the luckiest people. I may be the happiest guy, contented I mean. You'd better appreciate what you have because there's nobody saying it will be there tomorrow."
With the evening chores nearly done Dave Desmond takes the time for that appreciation. He has his family, his land, his animals, his work. He has his dream and he's living it. Happily.