Griffin Place: A farm with a view and a passion for horses

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A mare with her foal in a corral at the Griffin Place farm in Buckley, Wash., under the farm dog Fangs’ watchful gaze.

Foaling is hard work.

Ask Terry Griffin about it and he will tell you that it is all about commitment, long days and even longer nights. Not to mention love.

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Terry Griffin, left, and his wife Mary Lou split duties at their farm. She is the “horse person” and is responsible for the animals.

Terry is paying tribute to his wife Mary Lou — the “horse person” in the family — and one half of this partnership whose primary responsibility are the horses.

Terry and Mary Lou Griffin own Griffin Place, a horse farm in Buckley, Wash., that is one of a handful left in Pierce County that still breed racehorses. My lovely bride and I were invited to visit their farm Sunday.

“Six months out of the year Mary Lou is monitoring the mares from here,” Terry said, showing guests a cramped room at the front of the house on the 72-acre horse farm.

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The 72-acre farm sits on a picturesque valley in the shadow of Mount Rainier.

He said his wife keeps vigil on the progress of more than a dozen mares from inside that closet of a room — furnished with a single bed and a desk, pushed up against the front windows lined with monitors. Much like baby monitors, they are tuned to cameras inside several stalls at the farm’s many stables.

This is where Mary Lou watches and waits. And waits. Often the drama in foaling doesn’t happen until the wee hours of the morning. So, she waits.

When the time comes, Mary Lou quickly rushes to the stable to play midwife, if necessary. For the most part, she said, the mares do the heavy lifting — or pushing.

“We kinda back out,” she said. “Some mares just jump up, others lay down for 10 minutes or so. A lot of times, the mares get cranky and we have to give them painkillers.”

After a gestation period of 341 days, or 11 about months, she said it is understandable how the mares can be just a bit irritable.

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Terry, left, showing guests on a recent Sunday afternoon one of the many stables on their farm.

This is important work for a farm that makes most of its income from the sale of yearlings to trainers at prices only the rich and famous can begin to afford. It is a tough, hard business made easier for the Griffins because of — like most things in horse racing — their farm’s pedigree.

Griffin Place’s most famous foal, according to Mary Lou, is Rings A Chime — a multiple Washington champion who won the 2000 Ashland Stakes and finished second in the Kentucky Oaks of the same year. She won or placed in 11 of 13 starts, earning $606, 315 for trainers Lloyd Mason and Lonnie Arterburn, according to bloodhorse.com. Adding legitimacy to her celebrity, Rings A Chime was inducted into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame last year.

Add Seattle Slew — winner of the Triple Crown in 1977 — to the Buckley farm’s list of famous connections, and you begin to see the farm’s pedigree.

Seattle Slew has sired more than 800 foals, but never one in Washington State. That void was filled in March 2000 when Ken Alhadeff brought Seattle Slew to the Pacific Northwest to breed with his 6-year-old mare Lady Of The Mile.

“It will be a feather in our cap,” Griffin told the Seattle Times at the time. “It will be something we can all rally around . . . something we can all be proud and excited about.”

Mary Lou now laughs at the distant memory.

“When the media converged on our little farm because Seattle Slew was here to breed one of our mares,” she said with a chuckle dripping with irony, “there was no pressure.”

You get the feeling that Mary Lou would rather do her work in relative obscurity, away from the leering lenses of news cameras. But ask her about any one of the many pictures of horses adorning the walls of her office, and the passion just flows.

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Smarty Jones replaced Tommy Teaser as the teaser stallion — the mares’ opening act during breeding season — after he died four years ago.

“Oh, that’s Tommy Teaser,” she said when asked about a tight-cropped portrait of a stallion. “Do you know what a teaser is?”

She explains a teaser is a male horse whose primary job is to get the mares “in the mood.”

“He does everything but do the deed,” she adds.

The twinkle in her eyes as she talks about her horses is unmistakable. She loves them.

“I grew up with horses,” she said. “Terry just got roped into it.”

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Mary Lou’s love for her mares was evident when she took guests around the farm’s many pastures.

For more information about Griffin Place, go here: http://www.griffinplace.com/aboutUs.asp

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