Foal of charm: Danada Equestrian Center welcomes new addition Duke
As quickly as he came into the world, he's won the affection of his attentive mother and their caretakers.
The lanky spitfire likes to canter, sunbathe and nibble on his mom's fuzzy chin. His youthful antics are contagious, even to senior horses in the herd at Danada Equestrian Center near Wheaton.
How could you not fall in love with a youngster like that?
"He's pretty magnificent to watch move around," said Brad Doweidt, equestrian program coordinator at the facility. "He's definitely getting his sea legs underneath him."
More than a month old, Duke, the first foal born at Danada in more than a decade, remains the center of attention in a Kentucky-style barn steeped in history.
His arrival is such a joyous occasion that the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County is planning a virtual baby shower during August with the goal of raising $3,000 for the first year of his veterinary care and training.
The rambunctious foal went out to pasture early Thursday with his mother, Daisy, a 6-year-old Percheron-quarter horse, while visitors lined the fence of their paddock.
"They're very well-bonded and truly enjoy each other's company, although now that he's getting a little more boisterous, she kind of rolls her eyes every once in a while," Doweidt said.
No one wants to tear their gaze away from the black foal with a white patch on his forehead. All legs, Duke soaks in the attention, curling his lips when his handler scratches his back and greeting Danada's black-and-white barn cat with perked ears.
"One horse, Joe, when he first saw the baby, he just couldn't take his eyes off him and insisted on walking sideways to his paddock just so he could watch the baby the entire time," Doweidt said.
He's helping Duke become acquainted with human interaction and his surroundings. As the foal began to venture out of his stall and his hoofs touched the grass, Duke couldn't wait to run and buck and, well, horse around.
"He's had to learn that just because your feet are on grass doesn't mean you get to jump around," Doweidt said. "You still have to have manners."
But his proud mama may be the best teacher. Duke will nurse for at least five months, but he's already mimicking his mother's eating habits. While she'll crunch on a mouthful of grass, her baby will gnaw on a blade or two.
A pregnant Daisy arrived at Danada in February with her driving partner, Babe, from an Amish community in Wisconsin.
Longtime volunteer Jan Yong and her husband, Jack, made a $10,000 donation to the Friends of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County for their purchase. The gift allowed Danada to welcome a new draft team with the skills to fill dual roles: horseback riding lessons and horse-drawn wagon rides.
Mares tend to give birth quickly, instinctively finding the moment when they won't have an audience so they can have bonding time with their babies. In anticipation of the delivery, Danada staff members put a camera in Daisy's stall to watch for signs of labor.
Early May 25, Wayne Zaininger, equestrian program manager, went to check on Daisy, and Duke had already arrived. Playing back the camera footage showed the foaling took only about 15 minutes.
Duke has doubled in weight to 240 pounds since he was born. Eventually, he'll very likely look like his mom, a gray, 1,500-pound working horse, said trainer Michelle Dobosz, who worked on his leading skills Thursday.
Duke included, a herd of 21 horses resides at Danada, once home to the 1965 Kentucky Derby winner, Lucky Debonair. Ike and Ada were the last horses born at Danada back in 2008 and later moved to Kline Creek Farm.
The Danada barn remains closed as a COVID-19 precaution and while Duke gets used to human contact (visitors shouldn't try to pet him or feed him). He can't stay out to pasture because he could get overheated, so early mornings are your best chance for a peek.
"He does have a huge fan base," Doweidt said. "I know the volunteers are big on wanting to know updates about him, and the public does, too."
Over time, trainers will prepare Duke to support riding lessons and pull wagon rides as a fill-in on the draft team once he's fully mature, at around 5 or 6 years old. Duke also will be gelded (he won't be a stud).
"He can start doing light work at about 2 years old, being lightly ridden, but he also needs to gain the experience for that," Doweidt said.
For now, the not-so-little guy is captivating horse lovers.
"He's such a ball of energy," Doweidt said.