Monday, December 31, 2012

Mouthy Monday

Hey dog trainers. What is the difference between "Wait" and "Stay?"

This story comes from Cristy in Wyoming. I don't want to whine...but please send me your stories printed in
 your email. I had a bear of a time getting this off the link. 
It screwed up my page etc.
I don't want to become computer savvy enough to handle this. 
I don't.
Cut and paste. 
Nothing else. Ever.

Now that I'm done being stern, this story really hit me. A green horse owner who still meets reality, 
responsibility and (in my opinion) becoming horsaii head on.

Paint Me Navicular

I’m an amateur.

A 40 something mom new to horses, enjoying the learning process and watching my daughter
(now 11) become a surprisingly confident rider, and trying to keep up (I would like to be a
surprisingly confident rider too, but I’ve got a ways to go.)


 This story begins with Dan - a 10 year old ranch paint who’s rancher had become old and sold
off the rest of the herd, keeping back Dan who was his favorite.  The rancher realized that he
wouldn’t/couldn’t ride anymore, had no more grandkids to lead around, and parted with Dan.
(that sounds like a smarmy bunch of baloney, but I’m pretty sure it really went something like

 He was our first ever horse, and Dan was everything the old boy said he was for a couple
of years.  Made us laugh daily, taught our kids to trust and then to love horses, then began
wringing his tail at a trot and it went downhill from there.  Navicular diagnosis, and a slow
downward spiral.   “What do I do?” from panicky me... “You shop for a new horse.”  from my
tell-it-like-it-is vet.  

Tricky shoeing, supplements, injections, even trickier shoeing, ‘bute, more
‘bute, and finally acceptance, careful trimming and the constant opportunity for long laying-down
naps twice a day, which at the end seemed to be the only thing that really helped Dan feel better.
And thunderstorms, which made him buck like a movie-star horse, and then take an extra long
laying down nap.  

We loved Dan, and even though we only had a couple years of real use from
him, we devoted four more (expensive) years to prolonging his comfort and keeping his clownish
personality cheerful for our own selfish benefit, and because Dan really seemed to enjoy his life.
Eventually, it was clear that one more winter would be way too tough on him, we did what
seemed right, and at the not-too-ripe age of 16 Dan went to the meadow in the sky.

Fast forward through another good kid’s gelding in which more skills were learned and
confidence built, then to a “ready for a “real horse” ‘nother paint.  In contrast to the heavy boned,
rangy and anvil-headed Dan, this was a petite little 14.2h  dumpling with a silky smooth trot that
grandma could sit bareback.  He had an adorable, youthful head, thick, curly white mane and
quiet demeanor.   The old-school cowboy stressed that he was selling him as a “trail horse” and
let us know that he “sometimes pinned his ears”, but we were sure that he’d be a 4H kid’s
dream, and that his cinchyness and grumpy attitude would go away with some love and gentle
handling.  (Did I mention we were green?)  To some extent we were right - he learned to face up
politely, lost his ear-pinning at saddling, but was always reluctant to lope.  More and more, he
found ways to make himself hard to ride for my little “I want to learn to ride an english saddle”
Chica, and he’d slam on the breaks, switch directions, drop his head as if to buck (never really
turning the crank) and find ways to make her fall off, or at least fear falling.  A confident (and
larger) rider could push him through the resistance, but he never really looked comfortable.  I’d
bought him in November, lessons weekly all winter, by spring we started wondering if it was pain
rather than spoiled-ness that made him resist.  (I know, I know, but we did have two different
chiropractors work on him, and did I mention that we’re green?)

So - while we’re figuring and diagnosing and round-penning-for-respect with the paint, the
Horse-Of-Her-Dreams dropped out of the sky, (amazing things happen sometimes) and she
cantered off into the sunset on her new gray arabian (who has an english background and a
western skill set)  exuberantly jumping and dressaging on odd days, sorting pairs and moving
yearlings on the even ones.  This horse was clearly a horse of a lifetime - they were a perfect
match, and the paint was now un-needed.

I felt uneasy offering the cute paint for sale without being sure that he was sound, (and I had
doubts) so I hauled him to the vet against my friends admonishments.

“Let the buyer pay to vet him!”

I just needed to be sure what was up with him.

The hoof tester foretold, and the Xrays confirmed my deep dark (but unvoiced) suspicions.  I’d
watched the unhappy tail swish, noticed the odd head-bob, thought I’d seen stiff-legged turning
and there was that uncomfortable step out of the trailer.  I thought I might have recognised it, but
how unlikely is that?  Two in a row?   I’m being a horse-o-chondriac, I told myself.
Nope.  It turned out to be  pretty obvious, and sadly familiar.

Trailering home, I thought about the vet’s advice.  “get him stood up, square those toes and see
if he goes sound.  A navicular horse can lead grandkids around for lots of years.  He might even
dude or trail with the correct shoeing.  He’s still a sell-able horse.  Get him walking sound, and if
your farrier can’t, let me know and we’ll talk about what else we can do.”

I got home, made a sale video, took some photos, wrote up an add, but when I looked close at
the vid and saw a slight head bob, I just - well... I couldn’t go through with it.  That person that’s
looking for a pasture ornament?  That grandpa that wants a quiet horse to lead his grandkids
around on?  Those people are myths.  There are sound horses that can do that without being in

Across the dinner table, my husband and I looked at each other.
“What do you want to do?”   He asked.
“Selling him is wrong.  I know he won’t last.”
“What do you want to do?’
“Is the track-hoe home?”  (My husband is a dirt contractor)
“I think there are some starving worms by the east fence.  (deep breath.)  I want to feed the
starving worms.”
(a pause)
“Okay.  Keep the kids in town for an hour or so after the 4H meeting tomorrow.  (another pause)
Are you sure?”
“Yes...  Please.”
Worms are happy by the east fence.
Was that right?  I don’t know.
I’m certainly not bragging it around... not the sort of thing I’ll post on facebook, ya know?
But looking out at my current herd of two sound horses that we ride on a regular basis, one old
gelding that loves parades and a donkey that’s the neighborhood mascot, I know that I can afford
to feed what I have.
I’m sorry, little paint.  I really do hope you’re enjoying the meadow in the sky.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Brockle Update --

Brockle is still wonderful. 

He has also begun to relax.

Which means there's some testing going on in the house.

He is still sweet, calm, gentle and obedient. In the house and when he's tired.

He's a ball retrieving, rabbit chasing goon outside and off-leash. 

Brockle is a cat burglur.

Once Jim and I leave he becomes something else. He becomes a sneaky little thief. He steals our stuff. Then he puts them some place where we'll find them. It's like a criminal's signature left during a crime spree.I'll find my boot in the middle of our bed. or Jim's back brace on the patio table. A single slipper hidden under the blanket in Charlie's favorite chair. Nothing is chewed, just placed gently in the middle of every single place he's not allowed to be. A piece of statuary from the table in the entryway sitting on the kitchen counter. I could go on.

"Wait!" I think. Maybe Charlie's doing it, of course Charlie isn't tall enough. How about a poltergeist? If the poltergeist has big giant feet and leaves muddy paw prints all over my furniture...

Brockle's heritage is constantly being brought under the gun. Nobody wants to accept the idea he just might be what I was told he is, GSD and collie. I guess they want him to be more exotic.

"He can't be GSD and collie, his color's all wrong," is the major one.

I was wondering if all of the armchair geneticists were right, and he was something more interesting, you know, cooler. But then I found these. So much for that theory.

It turns out, there is a gene, the pied gene, also called the white spot gene (I think). It's a recessive gene and GSD breeders are not happy when it shows up. But it took ten minutes on the Internet for me to find a Krazy Kolor GSD breeder who was doing this on purpose. So it's easy to see where Brockle gets his color.

I think I may have solved the puzzle though. 
I think he's a Lurcher.

Lurchers were developed by the Romanichals and Mouchers in England (the Norfolk Lurcher being the typical moucher dog) and other British countries during a period when hunting of game was reserved for the landed classes. The penalties for poaching were extremely severe, and greyhounds (as well as being very difficult to train) were also the dog of the aristocracy, so obviously a different dog was required. They were used for poaching rabbits, hares and other small creatures.  It is never bred to a specific standard and is not considered a breed, as the Lurcher is a crossbreed: usually three quarters sighthound but can have any amount of sighthound in them.  The most common combinations are the Greyhound/Collie and the Greyhound/Terrier.  The name Lurcher a is derived name from the Romany word lur, which means thief.  

 Lurchers are sometimes referred to as Gypsy Dogs as they were often utilized to steal chickens, etc. from the farmers.  Aptly named, nothing lying within reach is off-limits to these imps.

See? Born to be a thief. He's gotta be a lurcher.

He's making up for it though. He's about got fetching the paper in the morning down. He never, ever leaves my side by choice. I did a fairly serious PD pratfall down a hill last week. Brockle came off a rabbit he and Charlie were chasing and was standing over me, barking and nosing me, within seconds. He backed off nicely and gave me room to get back up too.

He's extremely fond of Snocone. He licks her face and gently sniffs her. In return she is beginning to play a little.

Charlie and Brockle are becoming fast friends. Brockle is even showing Charlie how to steal things. I'm so proud.

The crazy play never stops.

Charlie is turning into a lean, mean rat machine. He's lost five years of stuffiness.

On the training side of things, we've been doing good. I keep reading and watching videos and trying this, that and the other thing to see what works.

Treat rewards work well for some things, mainly if we're in the house and there's nothing better to do. He likes food, but he doesn't care enough to prefer it over some of his rowdiness outside. If he's seriously distracted, he doesn't care for treats, praise or even his favorite toy his tennis ball. 

For the moment, I'm working on a dog-version of my old Monte Foreman horse training techniques. 1. Ask for the behavior I want. 2. Tll him what I want. 3.Make it happen.

I'll use walking on the leash as a good example. If Brockle starts to put weight on his leash I make the hand holding the leash into a fist. If he backs off I relax my hand again.
If he doesn't respond I go to step two, give him a verbal Heh, re-position him and walk on. 
If he still doesn't respond I either turn suddenly and walk the other way for a few steps or bump him as hard as it takes with my foot until he's back where he belongs.

He only gets a food reward (a bit of chicken) if he does what I want at step #1. 

It's working nicely. Not great, still working. One reason he was turned into the pound was for pulling his owner over on the leash, now he doesn't go past step two anymore. 

His dog aggression is dwindling, we're passing other dogs on our walks like a couple of pros. We had seven dogs here for Christmas (missing two) and only had a very minor skirmish between Brockle and my step-sons notoriously aggressive Blue Heeler. It was mainly noise, the heeler was locked up in another room for a few minutes and everything stayed polite afterwards.

We spend an hour to an hour-and-a-half a day on walks. I can take him to the barn, tie him to an arena post while I ride and he lays down and watches with quiet interest.

Brockle's ball. We play fetch for a good thirty to forty throws every day at the dog park.

I'm not cast in stone on any of this yet, I'm still reading about different techniques, but Brockle is fast turning into a well-behaved companion in spite of me.

He lies at my feet and his intelligent eyes crackle with conversation and interest. Brockle can't wait for the adventure of the day to begin and he won't start it without me. This has the rumblings of something great.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What I Wanted to Share

I'm wondering if I posted on my Eureka! moment too soon.

My thoughts had nothing to do with my one-on-one relationship with my horses, it had more to do with how I ride and the most effective way to get a horse moving out in a responsive, quick and calm manner.

This new thought process is giving me a very interesting approach to getting what I want and at the same time, cleaning up my communication so my horse can work through the training process without a lot of muddled cues messing things up.

My first post on this thought process was to state my previous predator/prey approach, which works for me, and explain a change of thought which should help me succeed with my horse, while riding him.

I didn't want to get caught up in yet another NH discussion, I think I've covered my thoughts on that one ad nauseum.

My thoughts, right now, are about improving my forward motion while riding, clearing up my cues with legs and spur, and eventually, taking me to correct and stress free collection. I'm hoping to gain a quicker, cleaner response with less work, for both me and my horse.

Littleblackmule understood me completely. Thank goodness, I was beginning to think I was speaking Klingon.

Hang on to your horse, tie it down, stop it moving, and you're acting like a predator and the horse will treat you like one.
Push it forward, allow it to move, and you are a trainer.. or another horse."

When I ride a horse, broke or not, I want to start directing his movement the way another horse would, at least as close as I can come.

Why? Because I think my colt will then go into a calmer, quieter place and be able to follow my direction without argument or fear.

In the previous post, my sample photos of horses being driven by another horse told me a lot. 
I'm going to call the driver, the horse creating movement, horse A.
The horse being driven is horse B.

I'm going to try to avoid the worlds dominate, alpha, lead or belle mare so we can stay on track.
What I really want is to ride my horse effectively, as a human.

That being said, here's what I'm playing with. I got the chance to study herd behavior extensively at my last job before retirement. I had a clear view of  our 40 acre broodmare pasture from the barn and the arena. 

Several years ago I read Monty Roberts - The Man Who Listens to Horses. Now don't get excited, I know all about his personal failings. What I took from his book was the idea of closely observing herd behavior and applying that behavior to training.  Since reading the book I have watched horses interactions between themselves for years with as much an eye to how it can help me train as how beautiful they are to watch..

When horse A wants horse B to move away from him she will apply pressure by lashing out and biting or kicking.She will be pretty random with the bite or kick because A simply wants B out of her space.

B will move, fast, bug-eyed and without specific direction, because the only desire is to get  away from A. He calms down and begins plotting on how to get A's feed the second she takes the pressure off and quits coming after him. B doesn't seem to be afraid or hold a grudge, as a matter of fact, he tends to hang around hoping A might decide he can move in closer.

A is good with that because she just wants to eat/sleep/drink without being bugged by B. 

I'm not interested in this dynamic at the moment, because I need to safely ride B, not eat lunch with him.

When A decides B needs to understand he can never try to eat her food, she will drive B away in a specific direction after she gets him moving away, like out of the herd, or the top of the manure pile.

Horse A sends Horse B in a chosen direction first by applying pressure with lunging, biting or striking. Once B is on the move, A then begins to control direction, sometimes for quite a distance, keeping her forward motion by biting B's hip or back of the rib cage. She will control the direction by biting  B in the ribs and flanks, or by biting/leaning/kicking his shoulder/neck. 

Horse A works one side at a time. She doesn't worry about how fast B is going. If an old, fat mare is chasing a lively 2-year-old, she will make the colt repeatedly change direction in order to slow him down, rather than try to win a race.

The only time you will see A create real terror in B is if she traps him in a corner, turns, and proceeds to kick the crap out of him. This scenario is where horses can get hurt -- forward motion has stopped. B might even turn against A and start fighting back, since flight is no longer an option.

Horse A is directing Horse B's movement by controlling his feet. If she wants more speed she will close in on  B's hindquarters and push or bite. If she wants less speed she will fade off, giving B more room, and he will slow.

If Horse A wants to change Horse B's direction, she applies pressure on the off side and he moves away.
This pressure can come from a bite, kick, strike or simply crowding into B's space.

This is where I want to point out that steady pressure will cause a horse to push back. Intermittent pressure will cause a horse to move away from the pressure. 

Ray Hunt said, "Control the feet, control the horse."
Tim Unzicker said (and probably will again), "Janet! Get off her face!"

Horse A controls the direction and speed of Horse B by controlling the feet. B's face doesn't even come into play.

This is where my thoughts started hopping. 

Please keep in mind, this is not changing my training method. It's clearing up for me why I do it, why it works and where I need to improve my approach.

Any restraint on my horse's head is going to stop or hinder my horse's forward motion. A bit, hackamore or halter anything that takes control of the head, is going to translate as a predatory action. I am going to make the most sense to my horse if I emulate one animal at a time. 

Eventually, after the forward motion and foot control is established, I can add my head control. The horse can absorb the change in my riding because he already understands I not only allow, but encourage forward motion. He can have his flight, I'm not going to force him to fight. I've set my precedent and if I do things right, he'll know he can trust me to stand by it. 

Why do I want this? Because a horse that is moving is thinking. A horse whose legs have been stopped has also had his brain stopped. He is going to become reactive and do what he thinks is needed to get moving again.

This is where I like to be riding in either a large round pen or a small arena. I can give my colt his head and control his direction by first diving him forward, then use my hands and legs to simulate the bite or push to get my turn.

I'm not brave enough to put myself in this situation without a rope halter and lead rope. If I blow it, and the colt starts to pitch, I don't care whether I'm predator or prey to the horse, I just want to haul his ass around and save my bacon. This hasn't happened often, and when it has, it almost always comes from human error. 

Anyway, I played with this concept over the holiday (Merry Christmas everybody!) and had some interesting results. I was riding Madonna in her hackamore, but I dropped my reins and tried to ride her as if I was a horse driving her. It was really interesting. I had plenty of forward, good turns to the left and at first, almost nothing to the right. After a few minutes I got the right back in play, but it was very clear I've been overusing my hand and not using my legs correctly on her right side.

If our weather breaks I'm going to try to film some and I'll show you what happened.
Madonna is broke, broke, broke. I know she will figure me out ASAP and comply, but it still seemed the clearer my thoughts were (I was very firmly horse A) the better she rode.

It will be interesting to see how Odin does.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Throughout this blog, I have posted my thoughts about our relationship with horses many times. I'm a big believer in the Predator/Prey dynamic and its uses in training.

This is an excerpt from an April, 2008 post, explaining my basic outlook on how horses view us.

-- I have two eyes placed in the front of my head like a wolf. I can stare at them and create discomfort. I can raise my arms and make myself as big as a bear. I can create movement with these things alone. I can add a swinging rope, a cracking whip aimed at their shoulder or hip.

When I am riding on their backs, my cinches are pulled tight, and their bodies are collected between leg and bit. I know as well as they do that this is as close to the feeling of the wolf pack on their back and nose as they are ever going to get.--

Laying Them Down -- An Issue of Trust

I talked about it again, not too long ago, when I explained why I don't believe in laying horses down.

--I am also the first to admit I use my status as potential predator to train my horses. I like them to look at me as a benevolent dictator. I could eat them, but they're pretty sure I'm not going to. I have never been able to buy into the theory that  horses accept us as a best friend and cohort when we crawl on their backs and wrap our legs around them to ride, like a mountain lion jumping on them to eat them. Or when we put a bit, hackamore or Dr. Goodhorsie's Painless, Bitless, works-with-fairy-dust bridle on their heads to control where they go, like  a wolf latched onto their noses, in order to eat them.

They learn to do what we want, the release of pressure teaches them we probably won't eat them and as time passes friendship happens, only because horses are awesome.--

Flexing regularly will also relax him and boost his submissiveness. 

Lately, I have been thinking about dogs. I'm studying dog training videos, talking to the trainers of dogs that I find likable and easy to be around, and reading like crazy. My primary focus right now is understanding canine body language and behavior and working hard on my dog/human communication.

All of this ties into the way I train my horses and the understanding I have of my communication with them. So I go back to my interactions with horses and how we read each other and compare it to what I'm reading, hearing and watching happen with dogs.

I won't go into the dog part-- I'll save that for a dog post --but my observations and thoughts hit me over the head with a giant baseball bat named EUREKA! regarding horses.

The  primary goal while training (for me anyway) is crystal clear communication. I don't want to muddy the waters in any way, because I hate backing up and clearing up a mess I've created by confusing conversation between the horse and I. Believe me, I've learned my approach by mucking up many a good conversation or explanation and having to go back in to try to clear things up.

When I start a colt, it goes something like this.

1. I can control your direction, speed and movement with my body language -- while you're loose in a pasture, corral, or round pen.
    a. I will give you my signals on foot or horseback.
    b. I will back up my signals with yells and yips, growls and grunts.
    c. I will back those signals up with the slap of a rope or the sting of a whip.
2. I will approach you and touch you anywhere I want.
    a. I will repeat steps a., b., and c. of step 1. as needed.
3. I will halter you.
      a. I will repeat steps a., b., and c. of step 1. as needed.
4. I will saddle you.
    a. I will repeat steps a., b., and c. of step 1. as needed.
5. I will get on your back.
6. I will ride you while controlling your direction, speed and movement.

Yep, ladies and gentlemen, that's what I was paid the big bucks for. Seems pretty simple now that I'm thinking about it.

Anyway, during steps one through five, I still feel strongly that the predator prey relationship is holding strong. From the initial control of free movement to the time I crawl on their back, in a horse's mind, I am making them accept me as a predator who is going to eat them.

"Serious, this will make sense in a little while."

Which explains quite nicely why starting a young horse is filled with all kinds of jumps, spooks, bug eyes and so forth. Nothing I've done so far has said anything besides, "Relax, I'm just going to kill you and eat you."

--They learn to do what we want, the release of pressure teaches them we probably won't eat them and as time passes friendship happens, only because horses are awesome.--

Quick! Come with me!
It's this sentence, right here, where I got the mind jolt. If we're training them correctly, the young horse soon changes their perspective, because we go from predator mode to herd behavior.

I had forgotten we humans are not strictly predators, we are omnivores, beings who survive by adapting to the opportunity at hand. We hunt in packs or alone, we graze and huddle together in herds to stay safe. As humans we change with our environment. Our survival depends on it. 

If we expect our horses to understand our Schizoid behavior, we have to make darn sure each communication makes sense to the horse, not just to us.

The mental transition the colt has to make isn't as big as I thought. It's the acceptance of contact from my weight, my hands and legs as the actions of another horse driving, turning and stopping them.

I said, make a right! Chomp!
Lead change! Spur cue behind the cinch.

Because he can't see me,  because my contact becomes one that urges movement, allows flight, but controls direction, I become a herd member driving him where I need him to go. How does he make this translation? 

Move it!
First lope off.

Because I am clearly communicating forward motion and direction, not death, destruction and mayhem.
There was no other way for him to reach this conclusion until he had me on his back, encouraging forward and guiding him to the left and right. He can now view me, and eventually accept me as a part of his herd. Because of my control, I will become the bell mare and we will become a herd of two.

This is brand new thinking for me. I would love your input on this thought process. Where it's taking me is to think through every step of my colt starting process. Where have I been right? Where I have been creating confusion? 

I'm telling you, the idea of riding my horses like they are being driven and controlled by the herd is really making me think things through. The first being, "Get off his face!"

I hate to admit it, but I can hear the Big K laughing right now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


A little over a year ago, in October we adopted a new dog. October is “Adopt a Shelter Dog Month,” which officially made our decision a good one.

Thank goodness there was national recognition for our act, because I wondered, more than once, what we were thinking when we brought Snocone, an eight-year-old, “almost” Maltese into our lives. So did most of the people who know me.

My husband and I were adapting to our new reality, suddenly being homebound 24/7, after years of entirely separate and time-consuming careers. I was watching my husband come to grips with a life being cared for instead of caring for others. He tried to accept these sudden changes, but as he slowly recovered, the pain and confusion that ruled his waking hours began to shut him down. I could feel him withdrawing from his crappy situation, me, life.

 I only have two sure-fire solutions for situations like these, good home cooking and a dog. I was already on the cooking portion, so it was time for another dog. Off we went to the local dog pound.
   We have always been a dog kind of family, leaning towards the big ones, even though the two we’ve been living with for the last several years are terriers. They are retired working ranch dogs, so I’ve always figured them to be short, not small dogs.  

Since the new dog was to be my husband’s choice, I was expecting a gentle retriever of some sort, looking for a knee to lean against. Imagine my surprise when he chose a tiny, 4 ½ pound, raggedy mop of a thing. The “sort of” Maltese, was so weak and thin she was kept by herself in a wire cage the size of a rabbit hutch. She seemed to have given up. She lay curled and shivering on her blanket with her back to us. I don’t know why my husband stopped at her cage, but he was mesmerized.

She didn’t have much of a story, she had been picked up as a stray, along with three other Maltese. They were all about eight-years-old or so, although their teeth were so bad they couldn’t be sure. Several of Snocone's teeth had been removed when she was spayed, but she was so frail they couldn’t complete the job. So we were looking at quite the investment, there was massive dental work facing the little thing.

The tiny dog woke up and then some when she was brought to us in the “meet-n-greet” room. She yipped, she yelped, she bounced off the walls, so frantic with joy from being out of her cage it seemed she didn’t know we were there. When she calmed a bit, I picked her up and put her in Jim’s lap. She quieted, snuggled into him and sighed. His eyes lit up and it was clear, we had a new dog. Vet bills, here we come. Jim christened her “Snocone” before we got to the car.

I would like to say our lives continued happily ever after. The reality was we had adopted an older dog with more health and behavior issues than I had ever dealt with. Her walk was hobbled and uncertain, her front legs bowed, and her back legs so cow-hocked they crossed each other as she moved. If you looked at her just right, her shaky little legs spelled OX as she staggered down the hall. Her teeth were so rotten she smelled like road kill.

Snocone seemed to live in another world; she completely ignored our other dogs. She would walk into them, as blind as a bat thrown into a sunny sky. If they sniffed or snapped it made no difference to Snocone, she would continue on with her robot dog impersonation until she found her bed, curled into it with her back to the world and went to sleep. Before long, Charlie and Dinah gave her a wide berth. They didn’t harass her, but there was no interaction.

We have dog beds scattered all over our house. She picked her favorite, tucked in a corner where she could see us, and rarely moved unless we picked her up and carried her. She was easy to find because she never explored. Snocone always seemed happy when we came to her, but her tail never wagged to tell us for sure, it just hung, limp and still. The little white dog seemed content to live her life on her pillow.

My other dogs play a non-stop game of musical beds. Charlie likes to lay in the middle of Brockle’s giant pillow and Brockle curls up in the little dog donut, smashing it flat. They like to grab the beds that fit and drag them through the dog door, leave them in the dirt and then claim the ones left in the house. Dinah takes whatever bed suits her and will stand and glare at the poor slob who’s laying on her choice of the hour until it’s given up. Evan at 14, her Corgi stare is not to be denied. Dog bed wars are a constant source of entertainment in our house. (I can hear the dog trainer sighs already). They never touch Snocone’s bed. It’s hers and hers alone.

   We couldn’t touch her face, her paws or her belly without eliciting screams of terror and wild snapping. If you reached over her to pet her she would cringe and begin to back wildly away. We soon discovered Snocone didn’t understand the concept of stairs, grass, weeds, or wind. She didn’t respond to our voices or the sight of us. It was beginning to look like we had adopted the Helen Keller of Dogs.

She wasn’t housebroken. She didn’t have a clue. Our Maltese “light” would wake up and immediately pee, it could be the carpet, the couch, or my husband’s head (don’t ask), it made no difference to her. This meant, the second I heard her tags jingle, I had to scoop her up and run for the door. Most of the time I would end up with a warm trickle running down my side-- if I was lucky--because Snocone had no more control of her bowels than her bladder. I learned to keep a stack of old towels handy.

Yet at night, she would sit with my husband, and when he went to bed, she went with him. She would curl around his head and lick him, one paw firmly holding him down as she grumbled and mumbled, working over his entire face like he was a grubby puppy. When she was satisfied with her wash job, she would cuddle up next to him and they would drift to sleep. If he woke in the night, I could hear them, muttering and fussing at each other, talking in a quiet language only they understood.

 “It’s like when the kids were babies,” he told me. “She needs me to care for her. She needs me to help her.”

 It was a glimmer of the man before the stroke, the first time I saw him reach out from the dark place life had put him, and think of the well-being of another. Snocone was already a valued family member. It was time to sort out how to help her.

   “This dog has been severely traumatized,” our vet said (ya think?). “I’m going to hold off on her dental surgery, she’s not healthy enough to be put under, as a matter of fact, I’m a little surprised they decided to spay her and do the dental work they did. I’m still concerned about survival. Don’t take her to a groomer, or any other place that might stress her. She needs to feel secure, know she’ll eat every day, and learn she has people she can trust. Take her home and love her, see how it goes, and bring her back after the holidays.”
Jim was immediately terror-stricken. “Is Snocone going to die?”

“No, she’s not,” I told him, with a squeeze of his hand and an icy-cold death glare at the vet. We took our smelly, matted little mutt home and began her rehabilitation.

 I wrote to the National Mill Dog Rescue (NMDR), located in Peyton, CO and explained Snocone’s odd behavior; I hoped they could give me some insight. I received a helpful, sympathetic response, and was told we had clearly adopted a Puppy Mill Dog. "By definition, puppy mills are high-volume commercial breeders that sell dogs for profit without providing public access to the breeding site, and breed female dogs every time they come into heat. Conditions usually do not meet our society's idea of taking care of pets."

In reality, puppy mills are dog hell.  The dogs live in cages piled high with their own filth, left out in the heat and cold, malnourished and with skin problems. The puppies have little or no human interaction until they're sold. This can lead to aggression, anxiety, fear, indifference and a whole host of behavioral problems.

Living in a small cage creates a poorly adjusted dog (think crazy) and mill dogs are usually caged their entire breeding life. Bitches are bred every heat cycle. After their fertility ends, they are sold or killed. Our little Snocone was a prime example of a dog used for breeding. Chances are she lucked out and was dumped like old trash because she came from a small, local operation, A.K.A. the back yard breeder.

Cat carriers are often used as cages in a BYB situation. They can be stacked against a wall and literally hundreds of dogs will fit in a modest basement or garage.  Even a dog as small as Snocone wouldn’t be able to stand up straight in one, which explained her crooked legs.

The noise from dogs kept in cages is deafening and the smell overwhelming. If she was kept in a cat carrier, she wouldn't have been able to see the other dogs.  Normal sensory processing would have been impossible. 

Snocone was a matted mess. When mats form, filled with filth from her surroundings, they pull and twist against the skin, causing incredible pain. Some of the mats had peeled away from her hide, creating raw spots and somebody had attempted to cut out the worst of the others. Her terror of restraint and her frail health must have prevented them from doing more.

She had handled hell by tuning out the world. Spending so many years in complete sensory chaos had left her unresponsive, almost catatonic -- except for periodic, wild displays of energy.

Her lack of bowel and bladder control made complete sense. She had never left her cage, she had no idea there was another option. This explained why she couldn’t walk down stairs, navigate grass and weeds, or trot down a trail in the park.

She didn’t greet us because she didn’t know she could, in her little universe people only came to her, and their interactions were either cold or cruel.

What I couldn’t understand was how sweet and kind she was. How could she be so willing to be part of our family? In her own vague way, she was delighted with Jim and her new life. When you hold a human baby, there are times when they are wiggling, poking, back arching maniacs. Then there are those moments of blissful perfection, when the little boogers snuggle against you just so. Not needy and demanding, not stiff and resistant, just perfectly melting into your arms. The little baby doesn’t feel too heavy, just perfect. Ive always been convinced it’s a lifesaving technique that helps them make it to adulthood.

This is what it was/is like to hold Snocone. She wasn’t dead weight, but a soothing handful of cuddle. I am not a sentimental, smooch-on-my-dogs kind of person, but even I couldn’t resist Snocone.

It turns out Maltese have a high success rate when adopted from Puppy Mills. It makes a bittersweet sense. The ancient breed’s single purpose has been as a treasured pet – a well-documented fact for the last 28 centuries. At the time of the Apostle Paul, Publius, the Roman governor of Malta, had a Maltese name Issa of which he was very fond.

It makes me sick to think of a dog, deliberately bred for centuries to reside in a human’s lap and offer devotion, solace and comfort, spending its life jammed in a cold cage with no human contact.

The lonely hell of Snocone’s first life wasn’t enough to smash her desire to befriend us, to care for my husband, or to love us. The brave and trusting little mop-head made me humble, a rabid hater of puppy mills, and determined to help her have as good a life as I could offer.

Physically, her recovery has been amazing. Her legs have actually begun to lengthen and stretch. She is a good two inches taller than she was when we got her. She now weighs a whopping nine pounds. She has doubled her weight without becoming fat. As a matter of fact, she is becoming  muscly ball of action, at least in the dog park.

Two weeks after Snocone came to us; her little tail began to curl over her back. Three months ago that tail finally began to wag, now she can’t seem to stop. These days, she races the other dogs to greet us and is starting to play.

She has learned to come on over when she wants a scratch on the chin, to walk on a leash and to romp through a field. She has embraced house training with everything she has, and can be considered 100% potty trained, if you get to the door fast enough.

Our “nearly a Maltese” comes when she’s called (sometimes) and tolerates the groomer. She loves belly rubs, ear scratches, will allow her face to be touched and will let us hold her feet. The nape of her neck is still off limits, but we’re working on it.

She wanders the park with my husband, no longer wildly yapping and lunging, but sauntering through the grass, sniffing and tasting the world around her, and enjoying their time together. They make a cute and funny pair, and her sunny little self, with her bright white coat and goofy, tongue hanging smile brings them compliments, conversations and new acquaintances. She has brought him independence, companionship and pride in the part he has played in her recovery. They sit by the duck pond and watch the world go by, bound together by a leash and their limitations, enjoying the freedom of being together and the warm sun on their faces in equal measure.

Snocone is still not quite right. Her previous life warped and twisted her mind and crippled her body. She still walks like a little wind up dog, stiff and robotic, and barks her warning ten minutes after our other dogs have sounded the alarm. She has no depth perception. She’ll freeze on the bottom stair, terrified of falling, or jump from a six-foot retaining wall, with no comprehension of the consequence. She still spends most of her day on her pillow. She doesn’t quite get it, although, along with my husband, she starts every day ready to relearn the old and take on the new.

Much of Jim’s progress has come from wanting to care for his dog. He went with her when she had to have the rest of her teeth removed, sat by her side at her first professional grooming and turns into quite the momma bear if I let her play too long at the dog park and her legs become sore. He has come back farther and faster than expected. His delight in his little dog gets much of the credit.

Many people have said, “She’s one lucky little dog, you have more patience than I would have.”
They don’t understand we feel the luck ran both ways. Adopt another shelter dog? We will the second we have room. Except I get to pick next time.

P.S. As you know, we didn’t wait until we had room, we adopted Brockle last month.

Friday, December 14, 2012

CL Trainers

Would you hire this guy to start your colt?

Me either.

Yep. It's a Craigslist trainer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Horses and Depression

I'm in a decent frame of mind right now.

Because I'm feeling this side of perky, which for me means being willing to poke a wasp nest with a stick, I thought I'd bring up a subject I've done a lot of thinking about over the years. I haven't talked about this on the blog, or anywhere really, except with a very few close friends. I'm talking the Big D, the blues, melancholia (my favorite) or as is commonly known, depression. 

During my fifteen or so years in the field of horse training and riding instruction, I noticed horses attract a lot of people with various brain induced issues. ADD folks love horses, abuse victims are often drawn to them, and many people suffering from various levels of depression find relief in owning, riding, or just petting a quiet horse.

I'm one of them. It wasn't until I was an adult that I even knew I had a problem. When I finally understood what was going on, I was firmly convinced my depression came from environmental causes. Which for me, meant taking a much closer look at my life, both past and present, deciding which of my problems were out of my control and which were not, and doing something about the ones I could.

During this phase of self-discovery, I became a better person, stronger, kinder, and more in control of my destiny, but I didn't get better. Every stinking time I took one of those "Are You Depressed?" tests I always ended up in the red zone. You know the ones I mean, after I added up my points I was supposed to turn myself in RIGHT NOW because I was absolutely frigging looney tunes.

Then I found out I had Parkinson's Disease (PD). One of the first things I learned was that depression is one of the gifts graciously given to people with PD (PPD) from our dopamine destroying brains. It's gift that keeps on giving too. It has been recently found that depression can be a primary symptom of PD and been screwing with PPD for years before diagnosis. Medication helps, but it's a problem I'll more than likely get to play with for the rest of my life.

My thoughts were, Fine. I'll accept and deal, after all, I've been dealing for years. 

I stepped up, got in therapy, took my meds and kept on trucking.

Then one day, I read this lovely little missive on a blog (everything I want to stick in your brain is printed in blue).

------ " Please raise your hand if you have ever been significantly depressed and genuinely wanted to curl up and die or even seriously thought about ending it all, but instead, because you are responsible, got off your butt and fed your kids and/or your horses and went to work anyway. My hand is up. I bet most of your hands are, too. I simply do not believe that any significant portion of society suffers from depression so crippling that they cannot function at all.  Most of us have the ability to kick ourselves in the ass and get moving again, and most of us do just that.  Bear in mind, I am not saying that catatonic levels of depression do not exist – just that they are rare, and that too often, depression is an excuse for lying around like a lump not even trying to improve your life or live up to your responsibilities.  (Cue flaming from people who do not understand this paragraph and will feel the need to write 2000 words on their horrible depression and how I just don’t get it)." -- 

My first reaction was overwhelming guilt and a sense of worthlessness. Why? Well, that's what we depression patients do, right?

Plus, in the past, I have neglected both my family and my animals.

I was busted, outed, caught red-handed trying to shove my dirty little secret deep into my pocket.
I justified the neglect I had allowed to take place, I never had child or animal  services show up at my door and talk with me, issue a citation or take away those nearest and dearest to my heart. 
My justification wasn't working for me though, I am not one to let myself ever catch a break. Also, I have a basic premise I have lived by for years and still believe firmly in, many of you have read this before. 

There are always reasons, but never excuses.

My responsibility was to learn the most I could about myself, physically, mentally and chemically, and make sure I had the tools to take care of those most important to me --no matter where my head was on any given day. I started with making sure I understood what my diagnosis meant. Here's some information I think is crucial when it comes to understanding what's going on.

The Merck Manual - for health care professionals

Major depression: Periods (episodes) that include mental or physical symptoms and are classified as major depression. One of the symptoms must be sadness deep enough to be described as despondency or despair (often called depressed mood) or loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities (anhedonia). Other mental symptoms include feelings of worthlessness or guilt, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, and a reduced ability to concentrate. Physical symptoms include changes in weight or appetite, loss of energy, fatigue, psychomotor retardation or agitation, and sleep disorders (insomnia, hypersomnia, early morning awakening). Patients may appear miserable, with tearful eyes, furrowed brows, down-turned corners of the mouth, slumped posture, poor eye contact, lack of facial expression, little body movement, and speech changes (soft voice, lack of prosody, use of monosyllabic words). Appearance may be confused with Parkinson's disease. In some patients, depressed mood is so deep that tears dry up; they report that they are unable to experience usual emotions and feel that the world has become colorless and lifeless. Nutrition may be severely impaired, requiring immediate intervention. Some depressed patients neglect personal hygiene or even their children, other loved ones, or pets.

National Institute of Mental Health
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) :
MDD is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44
MDD affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year
While MDD can develop at any age, the median age at onset is 32
MDD is more prevalent in women more than men

Definition of Depression from the World Health Organization (WHO)
“Depression is a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. These problems can become chronic or recurrent and lead to substantial impairments in an individuals ability to take care of his or her everyday responsibilities.At its worst, depression can lead to suicide, a tragic fatality associated with the loss of about 850 000 thousand lives every year.” 

Definition of Depression from
“... depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be wished away. People with a depressive disease cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people with depression.” 

My next, much healthier reaction to the blog post was F#$@%^*# A##H^&#@!

Obviously this woman had never been in the pits of a dark depression. The insult of being lumped in the same group as animal abusers and crazy hoarders was incredibly stupid and cruel.

Uneducated rants like hers don't help anybody, they just feed the fire of ignorance by choice.

So how do I fight back, when all I want to do is crawl into bed and hate myself?

I started therapy, to help me delve into the intricacies of depression and how it affected me. I'm a very private person, therapy is excruciating for me. I didn't have a history of talking about my worries and fears with anyone, especially myself. I stuck with it though.

The next phase for me was learning to let go of my own snap judgments. I worked hard on finding kindness and sympathy, even if I had to fake it. I'll be darned if I didn't begin to understand that most angry people were scared. 

Training horses began to change for me. I went deep, worked hard to understand my relationship with horses and theirs with me. Then I let it all go and began to work without all the baggage. My horses got better and better.I got more accomplished with them than ever before in a much shorter time frame.

I began to find balance. 

Am I all better? No. But I'm working on it.

Now, back to my no excuses rule.

Depression is a fact in my life. It is my REASON for letting things fall down around my ears. It is not an EXCUSE. It doesn't matter if my depression gets better or not, I can't let it effect the well-being of my family or animals. Here's where I'm at to keep them protected, even if I end up bat-shit-crazy someday.

1. Learn to recognize the symptoms of an oncoming bout of depression.

This is different from person to person. My first warning signs are when I'd rather eat raw cookie dough than cook dinner and not maintaining my fish tank.
2. Talk about it. 
You don't have to tell the world, just someone you can count on to keep an eye on you and knows who to contact. 
3.. Have help lined up to step in when you are heading into a depressive state.
This can be a good friend stopping by to ask the kids what they had for dinner, or to see if your housekeeping has changed. Maybe a relative can be available to check in and take over some of the responsibilities that are suddenly overwhelming you. Have temporary help available to feed and care for your animals. 
4. Therapy, therapy, therapy.
 Make damn sure a medical professional knows what's happening.
5. Be Prepared
Get your ducks in a row when you are mentally in a good place, not wallowing in the blues.

Now that I have these precautions in place I don't worry about letting those in my care down, at least not as much. I know being prepared has helped me be more honest with myself. It's definitely made my over-loaded backpack easier to carry. I have also found a third reaction to the writer of that horrid post, sympathy. Does she scream with such anger and judgement because she's hiding from her own night terrors?

I don't know, and until I can ride a mile or two in her boots and spurs, I won't know. 

I do know I can ride when I'm sad and feel much, much better without the burden of guilt I carried before.