Thursday, January 31, 2013

Energy II

When you work a cow from horseback, you are actually working what is called the "bubble." It's the air mass between your horse and the cow. How big the bubble is depends on the animal's state of mind. You know when you've "bumped the bubble" when your horse steps forward and the cow acknowledges you. It means you've entered its personal space and it sees you.

Now, you can chase that bubble to hell and back if the cow is just running back and forth, but you won't get actual control over it until you've bumped the bubble hard enough to get it to see you. Then the cow work can begin.

A fresh cow will have a pretty big bubble. A sour cow's bubble can be so deflated you almost have to saddle it up and ride it to get it moving.

Scene I describes my relationship with Sonita pretty clearly.

She had an extremely high level of energy and it was easy for her to become fearful.
When she did, she became angry and almost dangerous. She would surge forward without thought and get chargy. She would slam through the bubble and we'd be in a mad scramble to get back to a workable place.
Her energy would make the cattle afraid and reactive. It made for some cool fence runs, but trying to move cattle slow and easy on a hot summer afternoon was tough.

Scene II

When cattle have been worked too many times, they just quit working.

They don't fight, they don't run, they just stand there. Even after you work a cow once it becomes a little dull. It goes steadily downhill after that. This is why cattle work is so expensive, once they're used up, that's the end of it and you need fresh cattle.We call them sour.

Madonna was afraid of cattle. She would work them, her breeding meant she couldn't help herself, but she was fearful. The cattle would almost start laughing and nudging each other as we approached.

A sour herd will bunch up really tight together and lock themselves against the horse trying to walk through them. Madonna was young and afraid and we would barely get our cow out, then couldn't drive it far enough away from the herd to get any decent work done. She was afraid to step right up to the bubble and would barely push against it. The pull of the herd stayed stronger in the cow than the tentative little pushes from my horse. If she made a few turns and lost her cow, I let it go. She was always relieved when we stopped.

My boss' stud (Odin's Daddy BTW) was a spoiled, ill mannered screaming lout of a thing. He was extremely aggressive towards cattle. At a cow horse event, I watched him pick up a cow by the back of the neck and throw it a good five feet during a fence run. They uh, didn't place.

The cattle could feel him coming. They would jump apart, ready to bolt, staring at him in horror. He might as well have been a pack of dogs. He didn't give a damn about no stinking bubble, he wanted beef. He was successful, to a point, because he could get a cow really moving, no matter how sour. His aggression was so strong though, he never had a pretty go, because it only becomes pretty when the horse and cow mentally locks together and  they move as a single unit. This can't happen if the cow is panicked.

The day of Scene II, I had my first ca-clink about how energy really works. At least on a horse. Please don't ask me to fix your floor scrubber. I will break it and electrocute myself, and maybe your cat.

The cattle can feel the horse approaching them and read it perfectly. When timid little Madonna came up to them I could feel her saying, "Excuse me please, coming through...pretty please?"

They would collectively ignore her, knowing they could rattle her by pressing against her and refusing to budge. They were right.

When angry stud boy swaggered up, they immediately felt his aggression and predatory intent. This put the whole group into flight mode. While it was easy to move them, they wouldn't settle down and work for the horse, because they knew he wanted to attack them. All they wanted was to get away from him.

Scene III is all about the donkey.

Nick, the roping trainer at my barn, showed me this cool little drill he uses on his colts. He brings out one of his roping burros (no, the burros are not abused in any way, I already wrote about them somewhere) and gets it to stand in the middle of the arena. Then he lopes a circle around it, big enough to not create any movement on the burros part and small enough to keep him in place. Again, it's about finding the bubble.

Once he's happy with his circle, and the colt's head is on straight he circles in, tighter and tighter until he pushes the burro around in a tiny little circle. Then he eases out, the goal being to leave the burro standing in the middle again.

I could see all kinds of training possibilities here and couldn't wait to try it.

Odin couldn't keep the damn donkey in the middle of the circle. Eager and interested, he isn't afraid like Madonna was as a youngster, but he's all over the place. Looking here, looking there, rarely focusing on the task at hand, sometimes I feel like I'm riding the horse version of myself. Odin bounces off the bubble, sometimes into space.

Burro took one look at him and said, "Dumbass." Then he walked off.

Eventually I got him to circle and hold our burro buddy and I quit for the day. At least we would be prepared the next time.

Madonna had been watching the whole process and she was ready to go as I saddled her. We headed out at a trot, and she dropped to a walk as we approached. Madonna is seasoned and wise at this point in her life, so when she stopped and the donkey was completely tuned in, I figured she had the bubble figured out. We did our circle, moved in, circled the donkey, moved out, moved in, out, and stopped. She's fat and so am I, so we aired up for a few minutes before we went the other way.

She never took her eyes off the burro and he never took his off of us. He never took a step she didn't direct.

Ca-chunk. It hit me again. The dog training videos talk about energy. Our energy, the dogs, and the energy between us. Keeping the energy calm and directed is the key to keeping the communication lines open.

Odin's energy is moderately high and very playful. He truly gets a kick out of life. He has trouble with focus. The burro picked up on it immediately and began to mess with the bubble. He didn't feel an energy he needed to pay attention to.

When Madonna showed up, her energy projected authority, confidence and a clear objective. She pretty much said, "Hey! You! Yeah, you, burro! Stand there and I'm going to lope around. Don't make me work!"

Burro said, "Sure."

Scene IV

Odin hadn't come out of the herd before. He's gathered, worked in the round and worked single cows, but driving out a cow from the herd and actually cutting it is a whole different enchilada.

He should be much further in his cow work than he is. But circumstance hasn't let it happen. I have firmly decided that lack of time only means our progress would be slow, not of poor quality.
The Big K told me long ago that if you start a 2-year-old and then leave him off until he's five, he still rides like the 2-year-old you stepped off of. He might be more capable physically, but mentally he's exactly where you left him in his training. No more, but no less.

I have found this to be true, for the good and the bad. Horses forgive much, but they forget nothing.

So, this year, it's time to get serious about our herd work.

Odin, although eager to work, didn't like the solid pack of cows anymore than Madonna had in her younger days. He was stressed, his energy scattered, and he wasn't sure he wanted to listen to me.
But he did. Once we got him through the herd and came clear with a cow, he worked it fairly well.
He relaxed a little more with each time in the herd, as he understood what we were after and found he wanted it too.
Odin's focus sharpened so much, that at one point, after he lost his cow he kept watching it. I backed him up, circled around and stopped to rest. He never took his eyes off of it. When we went back in he wanted the same one. So I let him. He got it too. We ended there.

When I brought Madonna over to work, the cattle felt her coming. I have had five years of retirement (can you believe it?) to think and experiment with her. The result has been completely over coming her fear of cattle, but not her common sense.

They immediately faced us, wondering what was up. They moved away to let her through as we split off our piece of the herd. She exudes confidence at this point, an assurance that the cattle immediately react to. They turn when she tells them to turn, stop when she stops them and move when she says so.

We cut and successfully worked four or five cattle before we quit. She was having fun, the cattle became soft and pliable under her direction and we ended with both of us wanting more.

It's the energy between the animals that makes the difference.

I was pretty worked up, and chattering about my thoughts to Kathy.

"What about yours?" she asked.


"Your energy, how does that play into the whole thing? You're completely different on Madonna than you are on Odin."


"I don't know. Just different."

More on this manana.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Cattle Practice with Madonna *

Scene I

The Big K was getting frustrated.

I was definitely frustrated.

Sonita was grinding her snaffle, shaking her head, growling, and covered in sweat. It trickled down her legs, dripped into her eyes and foam was starting to appear under her saddle pad. I was guessing she was the most frustrated of all.

"She's attacking the cattle because she doesn't know what else to do," he told me.

"If she would listen instead of attacking we would be able to get somewhere," I said, hoping that wasn't a snivel I heard in the back of my whine.

"She's taking over because you're not telling her what to do. You're reacting to her instead of directing her, so she takes charge."

I sat in silence, chewing on this one.

"Pretend she's a tool you are using to separate your cow from the herd. Just the same as if you were on foot, but had a stick to help you direct the cattle," he tried.

"A tool with fangs and an urge to kill," I replied.

Scene II

Madonna worked her way through the herd, her eyes big and her ears out to the sides, willing to work, but boogered by the stiff, resistant bodies of the tightly packed cattle.

Nothing like sour cattle to freak out my horse, I was thinking, feeling as sour and resistant as the overworked group of heifers. They stood, jammed together like a can of sardines, their faces tight against the fence and their butts pointed resolutely towards us.

Madonna finally chiseled one off the group, and we drove it a few strides away before it broke right and she began to work it. We got in a few decent turns before the heifer beat us back to the herd. I backed Madonna off, rubbed her neck and turned away. She walked away from the cattle, her relief obvious as we gave my boss and her horse their turn.

Her stud, nervy, aggressive and barely under control, walked quickly into the herd, with his ears flat, and his teeth bared. The heifers parted like the Red Sea, then turned to face them. The whites of their eyes showed and the herd began to separate. My boss pushed a cow out and it bolted halfway up the arena before the fear of being alone overcame the fear of the horse and rider. It turned and faced the angry stud and the boss worked the cow back and forth across the arena. The heifer's panic grew with each turn and it fled wildly from side to side, turned back by horse and rider just before it reached the fence. Finally, exhausted, it gave up and quit.

My boss turned and smiled at me, looking more than a little savage in her knowledge that they had succeeded where Madonna and I had not.

Scene III

Odin and I approached the donkey. Our goal was a simple one. Circle the donkey and hold his position in the center of our circle. Eventually we would have enough control to move in, make the donkey move in a tight circle and then move out, leaving him standing still in the center of our large circle again.

The wily donkey ducked and evaded, ran back to the fence time and time again. Finally, Odin and I managed to keep him in the center of our circle. I ended there, it was enough for my young horse to understand the first goal.

I switched horses.

Madonna walked smoothly towards the donkey. Her ears were forward and her manner so calm and quiet, to the uninitiated she would seem gentle and almost dull.

The donkey froze and looked back at us, at full attention.

Madonna stopped. Her focus hadn't wavered. I could feel wall of air between her and the donkey.
I turned, loped off along our wall of air, and we circled the donkey, which moved only enough to keep facing my mare. To all appearances she was paying no attention to him at all, her head and neck level, her lope was even and smooth and her nose followed our path. Only the one ear, pointed directly at the donkey, gave her away.

The wall became a bubble, a mass we could push against and Madonna and I moved in. Her gliding lope didn't change, her calm remained unruffled, the obedient donkey turned and spun under our direction. He tried to bolt forward, one step, two, but Madonna quickened her pace, leaped forward and looked him in the eye. He fell back into place and went back into the spin.

We faded off, and went back to loping our large circle around the donkey. He stood in the center, moving only enough to face us. Madonna and I were as quiet and boring to watch as when we started. The little donkey seemed the same. A lot like watching paint dry.

Scene IV

Odin worked his way through the herd, his eyes big and his ears back, willing to work, but boogered by the stiff, resistant bodies of the tightly packed cattle.

Nothing like sour cattle to freak out my horse, I was thinking, feeling as sour and resistant as the overworked group of heifers. They stood, jammed together like a can of sardines, their faces tight against the fence and their butts pointed resolutely towards us. In his frustration, he leaned in to bite. I let him run into the bit instead, wanting him to use his body to separate the cattle.

Odin finally chiseled one off the group and we drove it a few strides before it broke and he began to work it. We got in a few decent turns before the heifer beat us back to the herd. I backed him off, rubbed his neck and turned away. He wanted more, so we walked a large circle and headed back in. My boy was eager, the cattle moved grudgingly out of his way and the next few cuts were smoother, he drove each cow out a little farther, and got a little more done each time.  When we walked away from the cattle, his satisfaction was obvious as we headed to the tie rail.  I bridled Madonna and warmed her up.

She walked, slow and calm, to the bunched cattle. They felt her coming and spun as one to watch our approach. She slid into the herd and they let us through, oil and water, flowing ahead and around us. We pushed our bubble, Madonna's head began to drop as she centered herself in the slow moving whirlpool. She crept forward in a cat-like half pass, easing the four cattle on the top out and away from their mates. Two stopped to watch us and I picked the one most focused on my horse.

We guided the heifer farther out in the pen, isolating her, our slow creep tricked her into moving out without making her try to bolt around us. Finally, the cow made her move and feinted left. I dropped my hand, Madonna's head dropped farther, seeking eye contact with the heifer -- cobra and mouse -- and they began to dance. The heifer couldn't completely break the hold we had on her, Madonna only broke from trot to lope once, and with each turn we tightened our grip until horse and cow rocked in unison, from one front foot to the other, hind legs barely moving, eyes and mind locked.

Our cow finally looked away, I backed Madonna off and we turned to the herd for another go.

Our heart beats were as slow and steady as when we had begun.

* It only took me 12 years, a bunch of horses and some dog training videos to sort this out. Manana amigos!


Monday, January 28, 2013

Mouthy Monday

Heidi wrote,
Although I do not have my own blog, or even a Facebook page, I do enjoy surfing the Internet and writing stories. When I found the Mugwump Chronicles, I was hooked and felt the urge to share.

I was twelve when my world crashed down. I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. I was being harassed and teased by the last person I would have expected: my best friend, the first friend I’d made when we were still preschoolers. The reason behind the teasing was just as baffling to me. I love horses. Yes, that was the whole reasoning behind the teasing.
I felt so incredibly betrayed and crushed. I had actually been under the impression that my friend liked horses too. I mean, I’d let her ride on my rock-steady-as-bombproof-as-they-come pony whenever she came over to play. She seemed to like horses enough to somehow convince her parents to get her a horse (I was so jealous of her when she dropped that little bomb). There had to be something seriously wrong with me if someone with whom I shared a common interest could turn on me like that.
As a result of a failed friendship, I buried myself in horses even more. My pony became the patient receptacle of all my tears. Her sparse mane could soak up a surprising amount of salt water. I would drape myself over her back and breathe in the scent of my favorite perfume: Eau de Equine. Her trot could bounce my depression out of my body and substitute it with peace. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be with my pony, my sanity, all day. I needed a way to make that happen.
It didn’t take long before I found my solution: I would run away. I was mistakenly under the impression that every person in my life (even my very-supportive-of-my-horse-addiction family) was looking down on me because of my fascination with horses. If I was that repulsive to other people, I would take my pony and leave. The next morning after making my decision, I woke up early, made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, grabbed my coat and snuck out of the house.
Now, as early as I had gotten up, I wasn’t the first person awake and outside. I grew up on a farm and my dad was already out doing the morning chores. In fact, he’d staked out my pony so she could eat down some of the long grass by the barn (how very considerate of him). Now, all I needed to do was bridle my pony up, hit the road and all my problems would be solved . . . or so I thought.
My pony, a pony I could walk up to in the field and easily catch (even while holding her bridle in full view), who took every possible outrageous riding stunt I threw at her with the smallest of sighs, wouldn’t let me lay a finger on her. No matter what I tried, I was always left facing her well-rounded rump. She never offered a bite or a kick, just a very clear “No.”
Defeated, scared that I would be discovered, I walked into the barn and sat down in a pile of loose hay. The barn cats gathered around me as I rethought my brilliant plan and slowly came to the realization that my pony was smarter than I was. No, running away wouldn’t solve my problem, it would only create new and bigger ones. I had nowhere to go and no way to take care of either of us. I sat there in the hay as the truth of the matter sank in and cried in despair. That was the state of things when Dad found me a short while later.
My parents kept me home from school that day and did their best to raise my spirits. A more confident person could have simply shrugged off the entire incident and attributed my friend’s turnaround to the fickleness of a pre-teen girl. But, I was very shy, unsure of myself and could count my close friends on one hand. The only thing that remained constant for me in the aftermath was the love I felt for my pony and the (now recognized) support of my family.
In the decades that have followed, I’ve done my best to overcome the damage done to my psyche. I made new friends, went on to complete a masters’ degree, married a wonderful man, and together we are raising three healthy children. My parents are still living on the farm and Dad has taken in a couple of twenty-something geldings for their retirement (and to give a few pony rides). While I may not live with horses now, they still reside in my heart and that is something on one can ever take away from me, no matter what they say.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Cesar - and I'm not Talking Salad

This is the face I find lying on my chest every morning, about three minutes before
my alarm goes off. It's there again, each time my medication buzzer buzzes, and he won't leave until
 I'm up and popping my meds. He took on this nagging nanny job on his own. Service dog anyone?

Trainer Question:
Brockle is doing great on his off-leash recall, to a point. Periodically, he zeroes in on an object (usually another dog) and is off with the speed of light. Most of the time, this happens when our "mental leash" is stretched pretty far. He zooms up to the object, then comes flying back without touching anything or anyone, but he comes almost nose to nose.

What should I do?

So far, I call him once and then go get him. No scolding, just praise when he does come...

Here we go, I'm diving in.

I'm going to let you in on me and Brockle.

To start off, everything is going great. He's an amazing dog. His intelligence is flipping me out. You'll see what I mean in later posts as we wander through my dog training thoughts. He might be (please don't tell Dinah or Charlie) the most interesting and amazing dog I've ever had the privilege of sharing my life with.

I'm going to start with the trainer that raises more hackles than Mr.Parelli pins ears, Cesar Millan.
Why? Well, a couple of reasons. One, I figure we might as well get it over with, and two, because, like I said in a previous post, I get him.

I've been watching videos. Lots of them. Not just our friend Cesar, but all kinds. Positive reinforcement trainers, animal behaviorists, Schutzhund, Field and Herding Dog training. I am all over Treibball.

I've watched well known trainers and not-so-well known trainers. Some of them are good, some great, and some are an absolute joke.

When it comes to Mr. Millan, I not only understand his concepts (red alert here, please note, understand does not mean new guru), I think I have a handle on what he's trying for, and I admire it.

Who I See

His story is well-known. He grew up on a ranch in Mexico. He loved dogs, learned how to handle them from his father and grandfather and had a knack for working with them. Now, I don't think this knack was considered the best way for him to be spending his time. After all, he was called "el perrero," the dirty dog boy, by the other kids in his area. Cesar admits, the name fit. He was fairly grubby and even as a kid, was developing his famous pack walk with several dogs from the ranch.

Today, the attitude about dogs in Mexico is wide ranging and fairly ambivalent, I imagine it was much harsher when Cesar was dinking around with his dogs, figuring out how to make them happy, the best he knew how. For a good idea of how tough it can be to be a dog in Mexico, go here So Cesar was an odd, unconventional kid. He placed a high value on each dog he met.

He wanted to come to America to train dogs. He apprenticed and quit a trainer in Mexico whose harsh training methods upset him. He liked dogs and knew he could get better results with his kinder, gentler approach. Please read the previous sentence twice. He then learned to be  groomer, and by the time he was twenty, he headed off to America, the land of Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, and people who loved their dogs.

His first job was as a groomer. He got the tough dogs, because he got them done and they became better behaved through his handling techniques. In order to promote himself, he walked dogs for free. When the owners saw how well behaved their dogs became, they asked him to train them. Then and only then, he started charging, and his career began to take shape.

So far, I see nothing but American ingenuity happening here, like it's supposed to. He came here, he didn't complain, or go on the dole, just worked his ass off in a field he believed in and became successful.

Enter Jada Pinkett and her Rottweilers and his career training dogs for the stars took off.

I can imagine Cesar felt like an American success story and then some. People felt he worked magic with their dogs. He got a TV show. He became rich. He had to feel like he was on the right course, because look what was happening!

Then the hatred started getting heaped on the way he trained dogs. He was called ignorant, uneducated, wrong and cruel. He didn't know what he was doing, couldn't read a dog, didn't understand them in any way and had the arrogance to call himself a Dog Whisperer, promoting dog psychology.

What an impudent snipe! How dare he train dogs differently than the latest, newest, most advanced dog trainers!

He must have been thinking, "What the hell just happened?"

Instead of jumping on a soap box and screaming back, he did, what I consider, a wonderful thing. He began to consult with different trainers about their methods. He wanted to know what he was doing wrong, see what was supposed to be so right and go from there.

When a hue and cry went up about his treatment of a wolf hybrid that attacked him during a walk, he worked with a wolf rescue to learn about the difference between wolves and dogs. Say what? Somebody who not only hears his critics, but then goes to learn where he went wrong! How awful, let's stone the bastard!

He even spent three days with one of his most quoted opponents, Ian Dunbar. He didn't stand back and criticize, instead, he said, "Show me." Then he wrote about it.

He was impressed. He was worried sick Ian wouldn't like his dog, Junior. He let him train him using his methods and was completely relieved when Junior gained Dunbar's approval. At the end of their time together he said, "We may not agree on technique, but we do agree we both want what's best for dogs and their owners."

Still not having any problem here.

What I See

I guess I've been lucky not to have the right education when it comes to dog training, it kept me open minded, much like the first time I saw John Lyons. When I first started watching Cesar's videos I turned off the sound. His machismo irritated me, and I wanted to watch what he was doing, not listen to him.

He works his leash much like I work my reins. Pressure and release. I immediately got it and started playing with it. The way I use my leash cleaned up quickly and became very effective. I don't know if I use it exactly like him, but I do know I didn't beat or strangle my dogs, I didn't have too.

I watched him wait until a wound up dog's excitement faded before he gave praise or continued to the next step. Completely got that one, slowed down my breathing, waited longer than I used to before continuing on, didn't raise my voice or become aggressive in my demeanor and became aware of when and what I was giving praise for.

I did however claim space over doors, food bowls, people and other dogs. I simply summoned up my trainer brain, entered the state of mind I have with horses, and went to work. And work it did, boys and girls. Without touching my dogs in any way, except in praise, I have them greeting people politely, not charging my door when someone knocks, have completely eliminated the small levels of food aggression I had move in with Brockle, and am getting them to focus on me (in the house) with a glance. Damn you Cesar! How dare you teach me to run a calm and people/dog  friendly

I played with the pack walk, with four dogs, I've got one, so I decided to try it.

This is what I found.

If my dogs are behind me, we're travelling. They follow me, sometimes playing with each other, sometimes looking around, but I'm telling you, we're going places and they know it. When I let them go in front of me, they go straight into hunting mode. All of them begin casting the ground for scent, quartering the fields in front of me and looking for something to do.

I've been practicing walking them behind, walking them in front, going on the leash and off. The result is, my dogs are all (except Snocone, but she lives on a different planet) watching me to see what's next. It's cool. It's fun. I like it.

All of this has gone a long way towards bringing Brockle under control. He's a teenage boy and has junk from his past, but it's all made sense so far and he's busting his butt to be good.

What I Hear

Eventually, I turned my sound back on. I was curious and wanted to hear what Cesar had to say.
He firmly believes that finding balance with your dog will help you balance yourself in all other aspects of life.

This is exactly the same place I've reached with horses and horse training.


He doesn't talk to his dogs much. I'm not much of a talker either, so I was relieved to see this. If I need to talk I feel like I need to evaluate what I'm teaching. I do however, chat with my dogs, it is simple interaction though, and has nothing to do with training or behavior.

He quotes Gandhi. Not lightly, it's very clear to me he studies and believes. Cesar feels that Gandhi's tenets directly apply to what he's searching for within himself, his dogs and the people and dogs he works for. I believe in his search. His dog died, his wife left him and he tried to commit suicide. This is a man with huge insecurities and fears, who thinks he can find his way through his search for balance with the animals he has devoted his life to.

I get that too.

He's puffed up, arrogant and dominant by nature. It shows in his expectations of his crew, the people he works with and his dogs. Well, duh. C'mon, he's short, he's Latin, he comes from a ranching background, and he's nouveau riche. What else could he be?

The thing is, I'm not Cesar. I don't have his strut and I don't have any money. It doesn't mean I think Exercise, Discipline, Affection doesn't make sense.

When we meet a fat, whiny kid who does nothing but play video games, we're the first to shout, "Get that kid outside and give him some damn rules!" But if the same mantra is preached for our dogs it's cruel and archaic? Say what?

I am 100% behind his "animal, species, breed, name." It makes sooo much sense and helps me remember my dogs are not human.

Okay, I'm going to wrap this up. I have not adopted all of his techniques, because I don't feel the need for them. I have absorbed much of his philosophy. I can't discount his training because it's old-fashioned. As the years have gone by, I've found myself returning often to my old horse training methods, except now they're shaped by the new techniques I've learned over the years. You know why? Just because the technique is old, it doesn't mean it's wrong.

Is he right in everything he does? Not for me. But the guy makes me think, which is the number one way to keep me interested. I've watched his methods change, season by season. He doesn't apologise or explain, he just changes what he does as he learns something new that might work for him.

He uses treats, advocates patience and approves of anybody who works to benefit their dog. He's still finding the time to learn.

I just can't hate the guy.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Mouthy Mugwump - Clare and Dobbie

The inside of my truck felt like a ball pit at McDonald's.

Clare bounced in the front seat, foot jiggling, and showered me with her usual rapid-fire commentary. Dobby, her Italian Greyhound/Miniature Pinscher mix, bounced from her lap to the back seat with my dogs, and back to the front again.

Every time Dobby flew over the seat, big and hairy Brockle would leap to cut him off, like a very large cutting horse working a tiny little heifer in the back seat of my truck. Charlie, the rat terrier, was curled up on his car bed. He stared out the window, pretending he was the only dog in the vehicle, his only acknowledgement of the other two dogs was a slight curl of the lip when somebody banged into him.

 We were on our way to Penrose to visit her horse, Snicket and Clare was wound tighter than her former dreads,. Economics and her 21-year-old circumstance has put her in  the position of boarding her horse forty miles from her house. Carless, she is dependent on me to get her out to see him. Lucky for Clare, Snicket is being cared for my first employer as a full-time horse trainer, and I'm still close with the whole family. That gets her a ride from me on a  regular basis, so we can visit, and very inexpensive board from them.

"I wonder if Snicket's too old to finish as a cow horse, he's awfully fat, of course that's why I wanted to keep him with Jim and Marilyn. Dobby -- get in back. Work sucks, I've got to get another job so I can move him back to town, do think hay is going to stay so high? Dobby! Get in back. I don't know how I'm going to afford to show. Dobby -- get in back!"

We got to Penrose, hocked our souls to buy hay for the next month and drove to our old friends beautiful retirement home and barn. I was about ready to do a drive by, all six tires spinning in the dust, throw out three of my four passengers out and head for the mountains with Charlie. There had to be a cave out there somewhere where we could never be found.

They burled out of the truck like an emptying clown car and descended on Jim and Marilyn.

"Well hi everybody!" Marilyn hollered with her usual enthusiasm and huge grin. My eyes met with Jim's and we shared our standard resigned half smile and nod. Their tranquil peace was shattered and Marilyn was in heaven. Jim was okay with it, he loves Marilyn and knows she needs periodic chaos. Clare, being her kindred spirit, is more than willing to provide it for her.

Dobbie, nine pounds of whirling dervish, has been providing all the chaos anybody could ever need since the day Clare had brought him home from the pound. He is a macho, puffed up firebrand, ready to take on all comers, be it a surly St. Bernard, a roommates cat, a puff of wind, an opinionated sofa pillow or a pile of clean laundry. He'll eagerly attack it, destroy it, bark at it or pee on it, whatever he thinks is necessary. Dobby is working through a crippling case of disrespect and separation anxiety and Clare loves every twitchy, shivery, neurotic, narcissistic inch of him.

We began our visit with our usual tour of the horses lucky enough to retire with Jim and Marilyn. Clare immediately slid trough the fence to visit with Snicket. Fat, shiny and very happy to see her, his dark chestnut coat made him a standout in the herd of retired buckskin and dun, broodmares, a couple of studs and their riding horses.

Dobby flew, darting between the horses legs, tearing around the pens at a good 100 mph or so. The only time slowed down was to investigate the feed tubs for any stray tidbits. Brockle and Charlie were messing with the barn dogs, three heelers, a pit bull and a rottie. They played in the yard, pretty much out of the way and definitely not in the corrals.

"That dog's going to get killed one of these days," Jim said to me.

"I know," I said, "but he's getting better. He used to bark and snap. Clare doesn't have him quite in hand yet, but she's closing in on it. If he lives long enough , she might get through to him."

Jim just shook his head. He knows from lots of experience how hard it is to let kids do it on their own, especially when animals are involved.

Clare and I began to stack her hay. Well, mainly Clare. I like watching her work. A lot. There's no satisfaction like a mother's when she gets to watch her help-around-the-house-phobic daughter sweating it out with manual labor.

It was a typical Colorado winter day, pretty and clear, dry, temps in the fifties, with a promise of weather on the building wind. Marilyn couldn't stand it and started helping Clare, but Jim and I didn't have the same compunction, we stood around and visited.

A sudden blur of motion caught my eye. Dobby had squirmed into their grulla stud's pen and was sniffing around his grain pan, looking for leftovers. Their grulla is a young horse, a foundation bred colt their son had bought when he lost his favorite horse, Sunny Peppy Pine. The horse is rowdy, in your face and no fan of dogs.

"I'd get that dog out of there," Jim said.

"Clare, call your dog," I said.

Just as Clare called Dobby the stud spotted him and charged, head low and snaky, with his ears pinned and his teeth bared.

Dobby panicked and bolted around the pen, too terrified to think his way out. The stud followed close at his heels, his intent all too clear. I remembered a similar situation with my first cow horse, Sonita, and a hapless chicken, and my stomach soured.

"Dobby! Come!" Clare ran to the fence and crouched, trying to get her flying dog to see her. His head turned and he started to come to her, but the stud horse caught him with a quick strike and flattened him into the ground. He reared in the air and came down hard, both front feet in the middle of his back, smashing him into the dirt.

I watched Dobbie's eyes glaze and could only imagine the shattered bones in his tiny, frail body. I felt my heartbeat slow, my instinctive response to disaster. In two strides Clare was at the fence and climbing over. She jumped into the pen, her feet landing two feet from the angry stallion's nose.

"Get off!" She screamed, threw her arms in the air and took a step towards him.

Surprised, the stud's focus came off the crumpled little dog and on to Clare. He backed a step.

"Get off!" Clare was so close, spit sprayed across his nose, her teeth were bared and her eyes narrowed in fury.

The young stud spun around and trotted to the other side of the pen in confusion. He spun and stared at my fierce, crazed daughter, standing over her dog with her arms high in the air.

"Mom, what do I do?"

"I suggest you scoop him up and get the hell out of there."

She did. She was back over the fence before the horse knew what hit him. He took a few steps toward us and Clare turned on her heel, pointed at him and shouted, "I said GET OFF!" The horse backed himself to the far wall.

Then she turned to me and burst into tears. "Mommy, is he dead?"

I stepped in and looked at Dobby. His eyes were still glassed over, but he was breathing.

"Honey, he's still alive, you have to calm down so he feels your heartbeat start to settle. Come sit in the truck and get yourself there."

"Is he going to die?"

"I don't know. All we can do is give him some time, let him feel you're there and see what happens."

Clare tucked him into her hay-covered hoodie and bent over him, crooning and whispering.

Jim, Marilyn and I stood around waiting, talking the nervous idle talk of families in a waiting room at the hospital.

"No matter what happens, I'm proud of her, she handled that perfectly," I said.

"I'm surprised you let her in there," Ji m said.

"She knows what she's doing," I said. You could take a few lessons from her and that son-of-a-bitch horse wouldn't have done that, I thought.

"I'd of at least gone in with a rake," Marilyn added.

"She might have triggered a fight if she actually hit him," I answered. "As far as I'm concerned, she did it just right, the way she was taught. Although I think she'd a gone for his throat if he had moved one onch closer."

I went to the truck and checked on them. Dobby's eyes were clearing and he was huddled as far as he could get into Clare's arms. I poked and prodded, moved his legs, felt along his back and couldn't believe it.

"He seems fine," I said.

"I know, can you believe it?"

Within ten minutes, Clare came out of the truck, set him on the ground, and Dobby did his crazy gnome dance around her feet.

It was incredible. Dobby lost quite a bit of skin off his head and got a big lump, but other than some body soreness the next day, he was fine. All we could figure is the dirt was soft enough to give way with the impact.

That is one lucky dog.

epilogue: We took out more hay this past week. Dobby started to shake when we got o the highway and was about wetting himself by the time we got to the barn. We ignored him. He stayed at Clare's heels for most of the day, but was playing with the barn dogs by early evening. He didn't step into a single pen.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mouthy Monday

Hey, I'm writing...I'll have some new stuff up this week, pinky swear!

Untl then...this piece comes from Mary, a reader lured from the FHOTD.

This should strike a chord in all of us who juggle horses and the "other" life.

Nothing about the day was out of the ordinary, there was no reason for me to think that anything out of the ordinary did or would occur. Just another day of boring routine, get up, have breakfast, go to work, come home, yada yada yada.

I drove home on autopilot, thinking of a thousand things and thinking of nothing. Skillfully avoided the potholes in the long driveway, hitt the button on the garage door opener, park, go into the house, change, head out to the barn, all done in the regular haze of after work decompression.

I am over half way out to the barn before I become somewhat aware that not all is right with the world. The barn door is open, second guessing now, am I sure I had closed it this morning? Of course I had, I always do, no reason to leave it open. Heart rate has increased noticeably, eyes start to scan my surroundings, darting everywhere, is there anything else out of place? No, not really...wait, what on earth are those pink things scattered around on the ground? I pick up the pace and get close enough to recognize they're some of the rolls of vetrap I had in the tackroom, they're still in the unopened plastic wrap but they've all been flattened, as though someone had deliberately stepped on them and squished them, I couldn't have done a more effective job if I'd used the vise in the shop.

With mounting concern and caution I continue on to the barn, picking up various items that had been in the tackroom that morning, a halter and leadrope, my expandable and expensive aluminum measuring stick, right hand leather glove (no sign of the left), half a dozen buckets (one of which had been full of very pricey mineral but was now empty).

I get to the barn door and survey the damage. The tack room door is wide open, anything that could be moved or dropped on the ground has been. Handfuls of beet pulp pellets litter the floor, a water pail has been spilled and mixed in with the pellets and mineral creating a gooey mess which had been walked through and tracked up and down the barn aisle. The roll of paper towel is nothing but a bunch of small tattered pieces strewn about. Seriously, if the perpetrator had put as much effort into improving his life as he put into shredding that roll he'd really be going places! Brushes are 30 feet from where they should be, I find my hoof knife at the end of the barn, the nippers are kicked into an open box stall and the rasp is just outside the door. And I still can't find my left glove.

Hooligans! Juvenile delinquents! If I get my hands on them they'll wish they'd never been born! What is wrong with todays society that the children we're raising can show such disregard for someone elses property? Where did the parents go wrong? The trouble with todays youth is that no one takes responsibility for their actions...someone is going to pay for this!

And then it hits me...they're still here! I freeze as I look into the eyes of the six boys. They know they've been caught red handed but not a one of them has the decency to look sorry, they look bored and a bit hungry, but definitely not ashamed. I haze them out, close the barn door and get a pail of oats to entice them into the next corral. I'll clean up tomorrow.