STRATFORD - Animals do more than eat, sleep and play. Animals give people, young and old alike, a reason to be active, to take an interest in something.
The children of Linda and Michael Nepereny, of Stratford, know this lesson well, because the family has always had animals. Now, with children grown and away, the couple still own eight Norwegian fjord horses. They don't show them and rarely put them in parades, but they love them and keep them around.
At one time they bred and raised Norwegian fjords.
-Messenger photo by Sandy Mickelson
Norwegian Fjord horses are big and sweet, not necessarily in that order. Michael and Linda Nepereny, of Stratford, at one time raised the horses but now keep some just because they love them. The horses, they say, are even-tempered and playful.
"They're an old, old breed," Linda Nepereny said. "They date way back to the caves in Norway."
"They were domesticated 4,000 years ago," Michael Nepereny said. "It's said they practiced selective breeding back then. What they didn't like, they ate."
"They're small and strong," Linda Nepereny said. "They're smaller than a big draft horse, but they're strong."
"Some of the draft horse people call them ponies," Michael Nepereny said.
These ponies, as some call them, were used during World War II by the military for pack horses.
The acreage owned by the Neperenys on the southwest edge of Stratford is home to horses, Mediterranean donkeys, goats, rabbits, chickens, a peacock that's lost all but one tail feather, doves and a special breed of pigeons. For a time, there are two box turtles in an old bathtub with a wire over it so the anxious dog can't get to them.
"After a while, we'll take them to a pond or the river and they'll dig into the mud for the winter," Linda Nepereny said.
She's caring for the turtles because her husband, mayor of Stratford, was working part time for Stratford Gravel and saved them from being crushed by big machinery in a gravel pit. He used to own a gravel company.
She's not sure when the turtles will be released; she wants to make sure they're strong again after the close call in the gravel pit.
There are six horses and a pot-bellied pig at the land owned by the couple north of town. The pig, Simon, is 7 years old and often gets to run free - well, waddle free - in the yard. Most of the time, however, he lies inside his little cave inside his pen and loves life and the feed bucket.
"We're both in our 70s," Linda Nepereny said. "People say 'Why don't you get rid of all those animals?' We are busy, but you have to stay busy. What else would you do?"
A school teacher for 35 years, she sees the importance of the animal-children connection and she often used animals while working with her first-graders, sometimes with kindergarten students.
"Even though I don't do that now, I still collect all the stuff," she said, laughing. "Once we even had a monkey for four years. We bought it at a dime store in Webster City."
"He was a squirrel monkey," Michael Nepereny said. "This one didn't like men. We'd turn him loose in the yard, and he could run down a barbed wire fence lickety split. We used to have a Welsh pony for the kids, and he used to ride around on it."
"And he'd climb up the side of the house," Linda Nepereny said. "He was funny."
Her attention quickly returns to the Norwegian Fjord horses, and she promotes them as a good family horse, especially for children. "Because of their disposition, this is the horse to get," she said. "They're gentle. If you get a pony, the kids can outgrow it, and the adults can use these horses, too. They're a very good therapy horse."
Michael Nepereny said he knows of places where troubled kids go to places and pick out a Norwegian fjord horse and work with them. The horses also are used for children with cerebral palsy.
"They can get pesky," he said. "They want to get around you so close. They want to see what you're doing. If you're working in the yard, you almost have to tie them up. If you leave a hammer lying around, they've got the hammer."
Although the couple, who have been married for more than 51 years, were members of the Midwest Fjord Horse Club, which includes Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, they didn't take their horses to the shows.
"Something like that takes lots of time," Michael Nepereny said. "Lots more time than we had or were willing to give. We do good just to get them taken care of twice a day."
Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org