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Melody Adler is crazy about horses.
She kisses them hello and feeds them peppermint, sometimes with her teeth.
What do the horses think about all this pampering?
The results speak for themselves.
"She has a way with horses," said her veterinarian, Dr. Kerry Beckman.
Adler says she is addicted to horses.
"If you have the horse bug, there's just no way not to do love them," she said.
At Aurora Farm, which she owns and operates at 329 Ford Road, near Cropper, Adler takes care of all sorts of horses with all sorts of needs. On its 89 acres, she houses 45 mares and two stallions, which includes one retired horse.
But her specialty is equine embryo transplantation, and Aurora is the only horse-embryo transplant operation in Shelby County.
"The vets do embryo transplants, but I'm the only private farm that does it," she said. " I do high-risk foaling and difficult pregnancies."
The way it works it that the horse is impregnated, then the embryo is surgically removed from her and implanted into a surrogate, or recipient mare.
"Some people don't want their mare to carry her own foal," she said. "The reasons are numerous. They want to keep showing [competing] her, or her uterus has scarring or other issues, so she can't carry a foal.
"And foaling can be dangerous, so some people just don't want them to."
Here's how Adler explained the process.
"We breed the mare here, and fertilization takes place in the fallopian tube," she said. "The embryo grows in the fallopian tube until about day six of the pregnancy, because after Day Eight the embryo gets too big to move to another horse."
The embryo is transferred from the donor mare to the recipient mare by Beckman, and the pregnancy takes nearly a year -- 341 days, all of which are spent on Aurora Farm.
Though she says she enjoys working with all horses, Adler has her preferences.
"The Saddlebred is my favorite breed, because they're so personable," she said. "Take Preacher, for example.
"He likes to be petted, and he always wants his candy. And the Quarter horses are like, 'Got anything for me?' They just want to be with you."
She pointed to a horse off in the distance.
"That's Fatty over there; she's Preacher's girlfriend," she said. "A lot of people keep stallions alone, but Preacher does really well with his girlfriend. Horses are herd animals, and if he was alone, he'd probably go nuts."
Preacher never got to show because of an injury.
"But his sire, Revival, was a great show horse and a great breeding stallion," she said.
Adler holds a BA in Business Administration from Bellarmine College in Louisville, as well as certificates from Colorado State University in Equine Reproduction, Artificial Insemination, Collection and Evaluation of Fresh Cooled Semen, and Problem Mares and Stallions. And she is certified in Equine Nutrition and Horse Management under Dr. Sarah Ralston at Rutgers University.
Adler purchased her farm - named for the beautiful Northern Lights she saw while spending four years in Alaska -- in 1999. She plans to add more facilities in the future, which will include another breeder barn with four stalls.
But she says she enjoys running the entire operation with very little help.
"My whole philosophy is quality over quantity," she said.
"There are some great farms in this area, and they foal 50 or 100 mares a year. But horses are not just numbers to me.
"I like to give them individual attention. How do you trust somebody else to do it? I know everything that's going on on this farm at all times."
She does have a few people who help out on the farm, but she takes complete charge of the care of the horses.
"Those guys are great, they help me out a lot and they get the labor done," she said. "I don't hire kids at all, because they don't care. And if they kill a horse, that's my responsibility, and I take it very seriously.
"So I totally micromanage, because if you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself."
The cost of an embryo transplant runs in the neighborhood of $3,000 without complications, Adler said.
"Sometimes it's very overwhelming and very scary, but there's nothing else I'd ever want to do.
"I had a septic foal that was very sick, and they were going to have to put her down. The vet suggested that her owner give me a chance to try to save the foal.
"When she came in, she had IVs in her; we had to carry her off the trailer. I follow vet instructions very well. That's the key. Now she is doing very well."
In addition to embryo transplant, Adler also does rehabilitation work and houses retired horses.
"That [retirement] started because I couldn't find a place to take care of my old horse," she said.
Her embryo transplant operation was born out of her desire to get a foal from her show horse, City Lady, while continuing to show her.
"I decided I wanted to get a baby out of her, and this lady gave me a Quarter horse mare.
"I said, 'How hard can it be?' So I put them both in stalls next to each other and put the lights on them, and bred City Lady, took the embryo out and put it in the Quarter horse and then got a baby.
"My vet at the time said, 'You need to start doing this. You're just a natural at it.'"
She got a brood mare from one of her retirement-horse customers who weren't having any luck at the breeding farm she was using.
"She asked if I would take her mare and get her in foal," Adler said. "So I bred her, and she got in foal the first time, and she had a baby.
"And then I thought this old tobacco barn would make a good breeding barn, so we spent 2004 fixing it up for that purpose," she said, entering the barn.
Inside, Beckman paused in cleaning a horse's teeth.
"All the horses here are very healthy, with one possible exception," she said, smiling.
"They all have a peppermint addiction."
For more information on the farm, visit www.aurorafarms.com.