Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Revenge of the Show Horse

I love this on so many different levels. The horse, the kid, the judge....the class

2013 APHA Youth Shankless Showmanship

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mouthy Monday

Whew! Time for a change of pace, don't you think?

This post comes from Kathy, who sent in a light hearted post about the types of horses you meet in your life.

Five Horses You Meet in Life

The Intro Horse - I was born with equine obsession and read/re-read every horse book I could get my hands on during my formative years. My first equine love was the Golden Stallion - one of my favorite horse books.  And, I still have a thing for Palominos.  But I loved all of M. Henry's horses - especially horses from the Misty books. And books about the Lipizzaner stallions.  And all the "Young Reader" Horse Books in the Belfast, ME library (I read every one at least twice).

The Experimental Horse - The transition from imaginary to real. My family rented a pony Stallion named Jethro for one summer up in Maine. He threw me and stepped on me. It didn't cure me. Then my grandfather bought an abuse case from the humane society (yes, just what you imagine). Chocolate (AKA Shenandoah or Little Bit but I called him Chocolate) was the horse I always wanted. I didn't even know that I didn't know how to ride him or notice any faults in him. He was the first Bay Horse in my life. Years (really decades) later, Captain was the second; thank you Patty.

The Connected Horse - TC. Too Cute and his registered name is Mr. Weekend. And he licked my hand so I bought him. But we did bond and, although a little spooky, TC would follow me around the arena when little kids were having their pony ride.  TC tolerated a lot of learning from me. Then tolerated learning from Jaime, then Kale and finally Ivy. With TC, I discovered dressage and really learned about horses - scratches, ticks and horse flies, how to back a trailer, easy boots, saddle fit, farriers, sand cracks, chestnuts and ergots, trail riding and horse shows. The most recent lesson is about paralysis of the left larynx and other old horse things. He connected me with other horse women who are my second family - my yaya sisters.

The Challenger Into each horse person's life, a little challenge must fall. That would be Splash. Pico, although he has spooky tendencies, was fun to train because he likes to be learning (except for jumps of course).  When I was working with him, he could have moved up the levels with a better rider and competitor.  But Ivy needed Pico and I wanted a calmer horse to ride the trail with. Splash is not spooky, but he can be immobile. Beautiful, but the most stubborn animal I have ever encountered. Resistance can be sluggishness, head shaking, dropping the shoulder, bending the neck, above the bit - below the bit, inconsistency, more sluggishness and even lateral moves when working for straightness. The potential of getting to a place with a non-spooky horse who is a nice mover and most important, doesn't really scare me keeps me trying. And Splash is REALLY Trying.

Sister is the Challenger want-to-be.  She has spent way to much time being green and I worked with her diligently for the year plus that Splash was recovering from an injury (with help from Christian, Mallory, Patty, Dawn, and Krystal).  But, the I never got completely past the fear of falling off because she is quick and athletic.  And I am not.  So, as Splash recovered, I moved back to him for my main project and Sister was the part-time girl.  And Splash is my challenger.  And we are making SLOW progress and might try some Western Dressage in 2013.

Your Deepest Heart - The horse to partner with. That could be Diez, that old gray mare. She was never my main mount. But she was Jaime's and Alaina's first learning horse as well as Kale's second mount. An Arabian mare 14 years old when we bought her from a Paint farm in the middle of Quarter Horse country.  Diez spent years packing kids to dressage shows and 4-H events.   Now at 31, she is recovered from founder, and Alaina is riding her lightly, a little. She will not have to get back into serious work. But she is still building confidence and teaching as the lead line pony when small kids visit the Wild O Ranch or when we visit elementary schools to introduce horses to city kids.

TC was my first horse, taught Jaime, Kale, and Ivy about dressage, and holds a special place in my heart.

Its true that Sunny is Steve's favorite.  He was Jaime's 2-Year Old project.  Kale finished his 4-H career with Sunny after moving to Diez from TC.  Alaina has really blossomed with Sunny and, although she is working Sister for drill and jumping, Sunny is her main man.

And Pico.  While riding him toward First Level, I had visions of being a DRESSAGE RIDER.  And then, Ivy took over and developed his jumping and Trail abilities as well as her training knowledge.  She loves him even when he spooks.

My Deepest Heart?  I hope it is Splash.  Although a challenger, he has redeeming qualities.  Perhaps he will develop into my perfect partner. A girl can dream.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Wrapping It all Up

Fair warning here.
 I'm only wrapping up my thoughts on the poll and the preceding post.
This subject is taking me straight over to horses, but not until next week, because I'm a little fried.
I've been working on a post off and on, for months.
It involves research, trainer brain and touchy subjects, and to be honest, I've been shying away from finishing and posting it.

My family friend, who is still shaken to the core over what went down with her pit bull, brought it to the surface.

So, I'm finally diving in. Next week. Not today.

Today, I want to tell you what our informal, not covering all the bases, but still, very telling poll, told me.

It told me there are waaaaaay too many pit bulls and chihuahuas in the world. The market is saturated.Now there's the understatement of the year. There is only one blanket statement about these two breeds I am willing to make. There are just....too...many...of...them. There, I said it.

Responsible, concerned breeders of quality examples of these dogs must be absolutely horrified by what's happened.

The dogs in the shelters and rescues are the throwaways, the ones that didn't work out.

44.1% of the dogs in our shelter survey, of the almost 10,000 dogs counted, come from two breeds.

Both are breeds known for aggressive, biting behaviors. 

The CDC study on human deaths by dog attack,  so appropriately shared with us by Calm, Forward and Straight tells us this: 

Approximately 25 breeds of dogs were involved in theses deaths; pit bulls and rottweilers were involved in over HALF of the reported deaths.

So, can we quit crying over breed profiling and pointing fingers at Labs and Golden Retrievers? They didn't make the cut, even if we all know there are bad apples in every poorly bred barrel.

Instead, lets move on to human responsibility.

Again, the CDC came up with unarguable statistics:

Nearly a quarter (24%) of the deaths involved unrestrained dogs off their owners’ property. 

Over half (58%) of the deaths involved unrestrained dogs on their owners’ property.

Over half (58%) of the deaths involved unrestrained dogs on their owners’ property.

The following stats came from AH.org, as bleeding heart, love-every-puppy-on-the-planet organization you could possibly wish for. The next portion of the point I'd like to make is here:

Approximately 92% of fatal dog attacks involved male dogs, 94% of which WERE NOT NEUTERED.

50% of dog attacks involve children under 12-years-old

82% of dog bites treated in the emergency room involved children under 15-years-old.

70% of dog bite fatalities occurred among children under 10-years-old.

Unsupervised newborns were 370 times more likely than an adult to be killed by a dog.

65% of bites among children occur to the head and neck

Boys under the age of 15 years are bitten more often than girls of the same age.

So what exactly is my point?

Research the history of your breed of choice.
Understand what they do and why they do it.

Educate yourself, be honest about your involvement and capabilities when committing to taking a dog into your life. 

 I guess that's about it.

Oh yeah, and this...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Color Me Profiler

"I have mixed feelings. I wanted to pull stats to argue, but the stats have changed since I looked 9 years ago, and there is no doubt that the large aggressive breeds, mainly pitbulls, cause a disproportionate number of dog bite deaths.
One stat I did see said that 92% of bites are from male dogs and that 94% of those were unneutered." blogger  - name withheld by request

This is an intelligent, thoughtful, researched comment from an anonymous reader. 

It made even more sense when I start compiling numbers on our off the cuff, last minute, very questionable on accuracy survey.

Why did I add chihuahuas? Because I had a sneaking suspicion about them and their numbers. 

I don't know if everybody told the truth. I don't know that the numbers represented are 100% accurate. 

Guess what? I don't care. They are close enough.

What I found out this morning is this:

US Shelter Dogs in the Mugwump Survey     3033

Pit Bulls                                                          720
Chihuahuas                                                      528

44.1% of the dogs in our shelter survey come from two breeds.
Two, count them two, freaking breeds.
This is in spite of all of the herding dogs and herding mixes that appear to fill the shelters around here (I've got one).
In spite of the "mixed black dogs" that I still think are up there in the stats.

What the hell is going on here?
Are the animal rights campaigns to stop the breeding of purebred dogs succeeding in wiping out every breed of dog except Pit Bulls and Chihuahuas?
Are the people who are willing to throw these dogs away also too stupid to spay and neuter them?
Who is selling their puppies to these morons?
Who in the world is breeding these dogs at all?

I have read about how the Chihuahua craze got started in California. Paris Hilton is the person everybody wants to blame...

I just don't see it.

I am pretty old. I have watched the rise, fall -- and ruination of many dog breeds over the course of my life.

A quick look back brings Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers to mind. All of them good dogs, bred for a specific purpose, which then caught the public eye. Now, if you mention any of these breeds, these are the descriptions that come with them: dangerous, stupid, cancer ridden, crippled, neurotic, there are many more, but you get my drift.

There are many, many other breeds which have been damaged by a surge in popularity, personally, anything I see show up in our neighborhood wearing a bandanna and an extendo leash (complete with attached poop bags) tends to be the next breed on the short list for health and temperament issues. Heelers are the trendy dogs around here. They are also rapidly filling our shelters.

This popularity surge happens often, but usually fades again. Remember dalmatians and rottweilers? They seem to have survived 101 Dalmatians and The Omen. The Paris Puppy in a Purse craze faded more than a generation or two (in a dogs life) ago. Why are there still all of these flipping Chihuahuas?
Should we blame Cesar Milan for the continued Pit population? That doesn't seem fair and it doesn't add up.

What does it say about the people who want to own one of these breeds?

I am a big believer in adopting a dog. I like mutts just fine. The thing is, I also believe in getting the dog I need. Which means I will buy a purebred dog if that is what it takes to get what I want. If the shelters are going to be filled with only two breeds and their crosses, I'm going to be out of the adoption crowd.

Because I don't want a pit bull or a chihuahua. So sue me.

Here's the results, as they came in. Tell me what you see. As you can probably guess, I'm a little irritated.

Total of Shelter Dogs in Our Survey            4129

Pit Bulls                                                          942               22.8 % of these dogs are Pits
Chihuahuas                                                     534               12.9 % of these dogs are Chi's

                                                              Total Dogs              Pits           Chi's       % P  % C  
Small Town, USA                                        4                          2                2          50.    50.
Cullman County, AL                                 141                          7                5           4.9    3.5
Little Rock, AR                                         118                          4               6            3.3    5.
Fulton County, CA                                    278                       119               4          41.7    1.4
Los Angeles, CA                                      1030                      279            280          27.    27.
Obispo County, CA                                    65                        15               23          23.7  35.3
Orange County, CA                                    79                          8              32           10.1  40.5
San Diego, CA                                          159                       36               46           23.    29.
Colorado Springs, CO                                  52                       12                 8          23.    15.
Denver, CO (Pit Ban)                                  52                         1               17            1.9  32.
Larimer County, CO                                    21                         2                 3            9.5  14.2
Longmont, CO                                            31                        19                2           61.2   6.4
Alachua County, FL                                    36                        15                0           41.6   0.
Central, FL                                                 52                        22                6           42.3   6.
Atlanta, GA                                               111                        22                8          19.8    7.2
Lexington, KY                                           106                        27               11         25.4   10.3
Various Shelters, MD                                   84                        27                 3          32.1    3.5
Bangor, ME                                                11                          1                 0            9        0
Portland, ME                                               7                           3                  0          42.       0
Trenton, ME                                                6                          0                  0            0        0
Ingham County, MI                                     38                          7                 4          18.4   10.5
Lansing, MI                                                37                         13                  4          35.1   10.8
Livingston County, MI                                 22                           5                 0          22.        0
Randolph County, NC                                 12                           3                  0          25.        0
Omaha, NE                                                40                           4                  1          10.        4.
Madison, NJ                                               48                           9                  1          18.7      2.
Reno, NV                                                   78                         18                21          23.     26.9
Portland, OR                                              27                        13                 2            48.       7.2
Giles County, TN                                        57                          3                 6          10.5     14.
Lampasas, TX                                              5                          1                 0          20.         0
Various Shelters, Vermont                            16                          6                0           37.5      0.
Southwest WA                                            34                        20                3           58.8       8.
Longview, WA                                            15                          6                2           40.      13.3
Lynwood, WA                                            38                          5                7            13.1    18.1
Madison, WI                                               15                          3                3           20.       20.
Portage, WI                                                13                          3                0           23.         0.

Tasmania                                                     66                      22                  0        33.3     0

Grande Prairie, Alberta                                  37                        1                 0           2.7    0
Somewhere, Alberta                                      15                        3                 0          20.     0
Ontario                                                          9                        0                 0
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan                          20                        5                 0          25.     0
Somewhere, Saskatchewan                            32                        0                 0            0      0

Germany                                                      77                      28                  0          36.     0

Genesee County                                           38                      11                  6          28.9  15.7
The Dogs Trust                                          742                    120                  0          16.      0.

Malta                                                         100                        2                 0            2.       0.

All Shelter Dogs in Survey                            4129

Pit Bulls                                                         942               22.8 % of these dogs are Pits

Chihuahuas                                                    534               12.9 % of these dogs are Chi's


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Mugwump Chronicles - Dog Breed Most Destined to End Up at the Pound Challenge

I have a challenge for anybody who is even vaguely interested in this discussion.

Look up the adoptable dogs at your local animal shelter.

Please don't cheat and use "Wendy's Wonderful Weimaraner Wescue," that's unfair. Go to your  Takes-in-Anybody, tax payer funded animal shelter.

Look at only the adoptable dogs, available today. This eliminates all dogs that would be held back as dangerous, which should level the playing field.

Write down the name of your shelter
Write down the total amount of adoptable dogs.
Write down the total amount of adoptable pit bulls and pit mixes.
Write down the total amount of adoptable chihuahuas and chihuahua mixes.
Write down the total amount of the breed and breed mixes you choose to profile today. I chose Golden Retrievers, because I'm still laughing over that one.

Send them to me - jhuntington@cowhorseart.com and I'll post the list tomorrow.
If you want to figure your own percentages, go ahead, if not, I'll do it. I just need numbers.

C'mon. Both sides of the chasm can participate here. Then we can talk about what it means.

Here's the results of my quick, yet accurate, check of our local animal shelter, The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

9 of the 44 dogs available for adoption TODAY are pit bulls or pit bull mixes.
20.45 % of ALL available dogs.

8 of the 44 dogs were chihuahuas or chihuahua mixes.
18.8 % of ALL available dogs.

0 of the 44 dogs were Golden Retrievers or Golden Retriever mixes.
0% of ALL available dogs.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Just Stop It

It is time to knock it off.

 What a Load of Crap.

Our dogs need to be treated like dogs. Not like our children and definitely not like fairy princesses.

I am really angry. I am very, very sad. I have also had a reality dose right here at home -- a great big, much needed, slap in the face.

This past week, a family friend has been hit right in the gut. She had to put down her soul mate, the love of her life, her beach buddy and her best friend. He was her teenage pitbull mix.

He was an unaltered male, over a year, but under 18 months. This dog was a delight. He was everybody's friend, obedient and gentle, a walking promo for the "Pit Bulls are Just Like Any Other Dog" campaign.

What happened? Essentially, this best friend, the partying, social, loved-to-death puppy, grew up.
It began with an altercation with another dog. I'm pretty sure it wasn't even started by the pit, or should I call him a "pittie" to make him cuter? The fight was broken up, nobody died, but blood was drawn.

Over the next three days, the love of this young woman's life, went on a whirlwind of violence. He was in two more dog fights, this time initiated by him and resulting in one of the other dogs being seriously injured. He then went home and attacked and almost killed the dog he grew up with, a 14-year-old yorkie. Until that day, the yorkie had been the "pittie's" soul-mate. When the young woman's sister stepped in to intervene she was also attacked and severely bitten.

The next day, the young dog was put down.

What the hell happened here?

In my very angry, and not normal Mugwump opinion, the young woman had no business owning this dog. Absolutely none. I can't blame her, he wasn't the first dog she had ever had, she is a capable and responsible dog owner.

Unfortunately, she didn't understand pit bulls. Just like all the owners of the pit bulls filling our shelters and rescues. She didn't see the little changes coming over him, didn't know the level of control needed to keep him happy and socially acceptable.

Yes, I mean a pit bull. Or, just so I don't get caught up in semantics, a pit mix, an American Staffordshire Terrier, or any dog that fits the type.

What do I mean by type? Any breed which was developed for the purpose of bull baiting, the original use, or dog fighting, the current one.

From what I understand, essentially, there are TWO different breeds, which originated from the same stock.

AKC registers dogs called American Staffordshire Terriers, they are bigger, more muscular, with squarer heads. They are showing dogs, not working ones.

UKC registers dogs called American Pit Bull Terriers. These dogs are tall, slender, athletic, with longer, wedgier heads. They are working dogs.

AmStaff and APBT originated from the same stock, however, when AKC decided to accept the breed into it's registry, it didn't want to have the words "pit bull" associated with it's organization, so they changed the name to Staffordshire Terrier, and later, American Staffordshire Terrier.

Just to get myself completely buried here, I'm going go add ANY dog which has been bred to grab on and kill stuff and weighs over 35 pounds to my list.

Why am I sad? I feel terrible for this young woman. She really loved her dog. She adored him. He was an extremely lovable dog. 

I feel even worse about the dog. This was a good, young dog, who, in the right hands, would have grown up to be a great dog. He needed an owner who honestly understood his breeding. Who was capable of handling a powerful dog with hair trigger responses and a high, high prey drive. Better yet, this dog deserved to be owned by someone with the ability to channel those instincts so they never had to be handled.  

I am completely confused by the raging war over pit bulls. 

These dogs were/are bred to fight and bite. They bite hard and other dogs get hurt. So do people. They have an incredible prey drive and kittens, hamsters and sometimes innocent pedestrians get hurt too.

You can show me all the photos you want of your darling pittie sleeping with the kids. I know and hopefully you know, if the pittie feels the need to protect the family, the yard, his dog bowl,or satisfy that highly developed prey drive, chances are very high, somebody is going to get hurt.

I think people who choose to own dogs that might kill somebody should be required to take a dog handling class, kind of like drivers ed, before they are allowed to own said scary dog. It seems simple to me. The punishment could then fit the crime, and all be heaped on the owners head.

I am not saying pits are mean. I am not saying pits are killers. You see, I like dogs, all dogs. I don't like idiotic dog owners, especially the ones who won't take responsibility for what their choice of dog is capable of. I am saying, unless you are honest about what a pit bull is and are willing to learn how to properly handle one, then you should be fined or imprisoned any time your dog hurts someone. 

I am soooo tired of the pro-pittie folks yelling at me about misunderstanding the breed. No, I don't. I get them. I know all dogs within a breed don't behave the same. I also don't understand the blind eye continually being turned to how complicated and difficult these dogs can be.

If I used the same pro-pittie arguments on another popular breed, say, a Lab, maybe I can get across how STUPID most of the defending arguments are.

"One of the most popular breeds in the USA, the Labrador Retriever is loyal, loving, affectionate and patient, making a great family dog. Highly intelligent, good-natured, very willing and eager to please, it is among the top choices for service dog work. Labs love to play, especially in water, never wanting to pass up the opportunity for a good swim. These lively dogs have an excellent, reliable temperament and are friendly, superb with children and equable with other dogs."

"Oooh, you have a Lab, let's go to the lake."

"Labs don't like water."

"Of course they do."

"Labs don't like to fetch either."

"That's what they're bred for."

"No it isn't. It's all a lie. Nobody understands Labs."

"Labs love the water and they're born playing fetch."

"No, they're not. You're breed profiling. My Lab would never get in the water or fetch something. Ever."

"What does your Lab do?"

"She cuddles my children and wears a mean pink bandanna."

"Well, yeah, any dog can do that, but how do you stop her from playing in water and fetching?"

"We never take her outside."


"Never, ever. She doesn't want to go outside."

"Well, I hope that keeps working for you."

"You are nothing but a hater."

Another favorite argument is, "All dogs bite. Chihuahuas bite more people every year than pit bulls."

My answer to anybody who tosses this lame, tired, stupid cliche at me is this:

Yeah, I thought so. Shut up about the chihuahuas, OK?

Here are a few hard core stats about pitties.


1. In December 2010, the American Temperament Test Society showed the American pit bull terrier scored an overall temperament rating of 83.9%, compared to the 77% score of the general dog population.
2. A five-year review of dog-bite injuries from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, published in 2009 in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, found that almost 51 percent of the attacks were from pit bulls, almost 9 percent were from Rottweilers and 6 percent were from mixes of those two breeds.
3. There are nearly 35,000 PitBulls available for adoption in shelters across America. That doesn’t even consider the backyard and professional Pit Bull breeders.
4. Nearly one million pit bulls are euthanized EVERY YEAR.
5. Animal Welfare of Albuquerque Director, Barbara Bruin said nation wide, pit bulls make of up 18 percent of new shelter animals, account for 29 percent of the shelter population and 34 percent of euthanasias.
What does this tell me? That the Pit bull fan club is made up of a bunch of freaking idiots. 
I was visiting with a local animal shelter employee and asked about relinquished pit bulls. 

"We get more pit bulls turned in, or found as strays, than any other breed. The next largest and most hard to adopt group behind them are young, male dogs, and of course most of them are pit bulls. Once the dogs start to grow up they are too much for most people to handle."

These dogs have proven time and again they can have lovely temperaments. I agree with this whole heartedly. All the years they were being bred to kill stuff they were also being bred to be good with people. They are dogs who will do anything they think their owner wants. It's how they translate their owner's desires and how they behave once out of human control that gets them in trouble.

The sad story about the young pit bull I just shared made me wake up and smell the coffee too. 
I adopted Brockle and found out he had the potential to be aggressive. I jumped on it, quickly admitted I had more dog than I knew what to do with and slapped us into training with a pro so fast our heads are still spinning. I don't try to kid myself he's something he's not. I don't dress him up in cute outfits either. I try to keep my eyes open as to who he is.

I still fell into the tar pit of false confidence so many pit owners seemed to be drowning in. 

Brockle still has a habit of charging dogs. Not all, not most, but some. He will periodically break away from me, and refuse to come back, when his prey drive gets the upper hand.

I have been working on it, but still letting him out of the house off leash, or out of my car off leash. I mean, I'm careful, I keep an eye out. I know, in my heart he has a good temperament. I know he has no bad intentions. I have been letting my faith in him overpower my common sense. 

I can't guarantee he won't jump the poodle up the street when his owner lets him poop on our grass. He can feel my irritation. Brockle's big, he's powerful and he comes from a variety of breeds known to be highly protective. 

I can bluster and yell and point fingers at the littering poodle and his jerk owner, but that wouldn't change a thing if Brockle hurt either the dog or his owner.

I need to keep my damn dog on his leash, except under controlled circumstances. Essentially, I need to quit tempting him to get into trouble. Trouble that we can't overcome. Instead, we can collect all that little dog's poop and keep it in a paper bag.When it's full enough, it might just find it's way onto the obnoxious owner's porch, maybe lit up and smoking. We can exact our revenge with Brockle on his leash and my neighbors safe.

I understand how easy it is to forget our dogs are just that, dogs. They react like dogs, they love us like dogs, they're awesome...as dogs. We start thinking they are just like us. That they would never hurt anyone because we wouldn't. It's not fair to anyone. Us, our dogs, or the people and animals potentially hurt by our dogs.

We need to keep them safe. So I will continue to train my dog, bust my butt to be honest about what he's capable of and be sure to learn how to handle him. 

Boy, I am still torn up about that poor pit.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Our First Schutzhund

  • If you guys ever bust me making fun of someone who doesn't understand "horse speak," feel free to slap me around, OK?
    Brockle and I had our debut with the Schutzhund group out at HMT's place today.
    Here I was, wading into a whole new experience, with a group of people as dog crazy as we are horsaii. They were laughing and talking about bites and stuff. Yes, bites, not bits. I think. I'm not sure, because it's like I'd been dropped into a foreign country, and didn't bring my translation book. Everybody smiled and was friendly as can be, but I didn't understand a word they were saying.
    I did get that I parked in the wrong spot. I didn't bring my chair, or a crate for Brockle. Of course, I don't have a crate for Brockle. My leash is nylon, not leather, and too short. I am such a geek.
    Nobody actually says anything, they're being nice to the newby after all, but boy, do I flash back to the first time I was hanging out with the wranglers at Mark Reynor Stables.
    I was 12 and newly invited to join the Mark Reynor Stables Drill Team. I was a real cowboy now. I had worked my way through their beginning to advanced riding classes -- you know, walk, walk faster, jog, trot, trot faster-- got my first set of spurs, and was sent to Donna's Brokn' Spoke to buy a bandanna western shirt and a white straw hat. Our drill team would perform at the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo. I had hit the big time!
    I leaned back on the benches, waiting to be assigned my horse. I kicked my legs out, my high water jeans riding high enough to admire my shiny spurs, my boot tops and about 3 inches of white sock. Ah, yeah, this was the good life, if I had a piece of hay, I'd a chewed on it.
    "Did you see that rank old gelding cut loose?" One of the wranglers said to another.
    I felt smug, I knew what a gelding was.
    "Well, if he hadn't a flanked him he wouldn't have gone to pitching."
    "I heard he galled him last ride, that was why he got tossed."
    "Probably that too, but the real problem is that horse is a yellow dun."
    They laughed.
    Say what?
    "You know how those yellow horses are."
    I was floored. I had no idea what those worldly 16-year-old boys were talking about. I knew nothing. Absolutely nothing. I could have crawled into the nearest feed tub and died.
    Now here we were, me and my big, hairy mutt, hanging with the wranglers again. Oh well.
    Brockle had to go into a borrowed wire kennel, which he had no intention of doing.
    "Let him meet everybody," someone said, and immediately the entire group began talking away to him in great big, cheerful voices.
    Brockle hid behind my legs.
    "Wow, he's shy," somebody said.
    "He's afraid of men."
    HMT snorted, but left me hanging. Brockle ran to him and did a cringy kind of happy dance. You'd think I beat him 10 times a day.
    "He's usually pretty outgoing," I managed. Then I immediately wondered if I had said something stupid.
    I asked him to get in the kennel and he braced all four legs hard, rolled his eye at me and looked at me with real horror. Poor Brockle, he was sure he was going to be groomed, or dumped, or fed to dragons...So I shoved him in, shut the door and leaned against the bars. He got a little wild eyed and started to growl. I turned my back and stayed close.
    "Tap the wire when he starts to growl," HMT said.
    I tapped it a little, still feeling sorry for him.
    HMT frowned, "Now tell him to knock it off. Like you mean it!"
    Brockle stopped growling. He's been feeding off my namby pambiness. Dang it.
    The first dog came out with Bianca,the other half of Cool K9's Dog Training, and HMT's wife. This was a serious dog. Heavy boned, good looking, no sense of humor AT ALL, he went through his paces with a lot of encouragement from Bianca. It was clear he thought he was getting gypped practicing obedience instead of getting to bite somebody. Brockle watched him as closely as I did and seemed to appreciate being in the kennel a little more.
    The dogs kept coming, one by one, sometimes leashed and controlled, sometimes loose and social, all of them lit up like it was Christmas at the prospect of protection practice.
    The sequence was pretty much the same, but the levels of technique changed with every dog. First, the dog would hang out with us folks for a few minutes. Everybody would pet on him and admire him. These dogs have class, they don't get all wiggly and start grinning, they know how awesome they are and just absorb the adoration like it's their due.
    Then, their handler -- Bianca, HMT or the owner-- would snap on a long, leather lead attached to a big thick collar. The dog's demeanor would change with each step into the field. Their intent and focus would become very clear and I was suddenly glad I wasn't trying to sneak over the back fence.
    One of the guys that had been playing with the dog just seconds ago, would put on a heavy protective sleeve and head on out. The handler would turn into a post, bracing against the pull of the dog.
    The guy with his arm in the sleeve also had a whip. He turned into OZ's scarecrow on crank, cracking the whip, jumping and dancing, teasing the dog into all kinds of excitement. Pretty soon, he came within range, the dog lunged and ripped the guys arm off.
    The peanut gallery erupted into cheers and shouts of "Good dog!"
    The dog then strutted around, shaking the heavy protective sleeve like a squeaky toy, tail wagging, and letting his hair down like a good shepherd should.
    The bad guy suddenly turns into Mr. Rogers and plopped down in a chair. The GSD turned back into a friendly dog, played with the former bad guy a little, everybody petted the dog and told him/her how great he is and it's "NEXT!"
    The entire time they're talking in that crazy "doggieze," and I don't understand a word of it.
    Brockle did.
    He was amazed. He would watch the dogs work, watch the "bad guy," look at me with complete amazement, then watch some more.
    His nose quivered, his pupils grew like a werewolf moon and he whined, just a little. Not a worried whine, but an eager one. This whole thing made complete sense to him.
    Then, it was his turn. He was getting to work with Jim, one of the best "bad guys" around, a great way for him to get started.
    Brockle came out of the kennel, much more social than the last time, met everybody, they all told him how awesome he was, and Bianca ran him through some of his obedience stuff (I thought he was awesome). He peed on some bushes, everybody cheered for him, He scratched the ground and they all cheered again. Absolutely crazy. I could see him swell up with confidence and fun. He looked up at me, completely stoked and ready.
    I led him out to the field and became a post.
    The bad guy came out with the puppy killer dog training tool, a long, jointed tug,and immediately turned into somebody else. His eyes glowed with malice, his body language screamed "Stranger Danger!" and he snaked that tug like a live thing through the grass. 
    Bad Guy started hissing, OMG, parsel tongue! whipped through my mind, and Brockle ducked behind me. 
    "Dude," Brockle said. 
    I swear, it's the truth, he really said it, I heard him. 
    "Dude. Let's go have a beer and talk this thing out." 
    Brockle stayed behind me, watching Bad Guy, watching the toy, watching me...
    His head going click,click, click.
    Then he feinted just a little at the toy.
    HMT yells, "Praise him!"
    Oops, I thought I was a post ... "Good dog!"
    Bad Guy was already back at work. He tossed that toy, drug it back and forth, teased closer and closer...Brockle finally jumped forward, hit the end of the leash, hard, and cut loose with one, single, pretty impressive BARK! 
    Immediately, Bad Guy turned into the smiling, friendly, open man Brockle had met ten minutes earlier.
    "That's it! Good Dog!" He shouted.
    "Good Dog!" The peanut gallery joined in.
    I even remembered, "Good dog!"
    Brockle looked a little startled, kind of confused, but in short order, was playing with the Bad Guy and running around, peeing on stuff and collecting his praise. Then he went into his kennel, plopped down with a satisfied smirk and settled in to watch the rest of the dogs.
    I got two thumbs up from HMT. I almost wiggled and grinned, but caught myself. We're Schutzhund cool now, me and Brockle, we don't grovel. I gave him a cool Clint Eastwood nod of thanks instead.
    I might not be catching all the names or the language yet, and I spit every time I try one of those German sounding commands, but Brockle gets it, 100%. He never approached another dog, off or on leash, or gave me any cause for concern. He stayed focused, intent and had an absolute blast. He'll get me up to speed. 

  • "You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does -- but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you'll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it's the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain't so; it's the sickening grammar they use." - Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mort and Me - Rain

Mort stopped cold, flung his head in the air and snorted. I braced against the swell and shivered at the sudden weather change. It was like all of the air was sucked out of the landscape and then thrown back against us with a hollow roar. Mort shifted, pinned his ears and put his butt to it.

Until this moment, the day was cool and still, so heavy with unspilled water, my hair had coiled into thick tangles, wet to the point of dripping down my back, a rare and wonderful thing in Colorado.  Mort and I sucked up huge lungfuls of the delicious air while I watched the black cloud banks rushing across the sky. I could track the speed of the storm by watching the shadows race across the sea of grass. We didn't have a chance in hell of beating it home.


"It's supposed to rain again today," Mom had said that morning.

"Hmmm." I replied and slid into my jeans jacket. Jud snorted and grinned, grabbed his leash off the door knob and trotted around my feet.

"There are flood warnings."

I sat on the stairs to the garage and yanked on my boots. Jud sat next to me, leaned against my shoulder with the leash still dangling from his jaws, and gave me a sideways look. He wanted  to share the joke of the thing, like we would listen to her nattering.

"Maybe you should stay at the pasture."

"When the thunder goes 10 seconds after the lightening strikes, I'll head back." I told her. I knew it would be more like five seconds, but it was never in my best interests to let Mom in on my survival strategies.

"Stay out of the ditch too, the flash flood sirens have been going crazy."

Silent grumble on my part. I ducked my head, hiding my face and my attitude in my hair. Jud smiled up at me, and I snapped the leash to his collar. Now he could keep carrying it and I had satisfied the local leash laws.

I hoisted my saddle onto my hip, opened the garage door and began the 5 block walk to the barn. I hesitated at my cut through the Boline's yard. The cement drainage ditch that moved flood water away from our neighborhood was about 8 feet deep, 10 feet across and lay right behind their back fence. It also worked as the west fence line of our pasture.

If I cross here, I'd be at the barn in another hundred yards. If I went around it added a half mile of saddle toting, weed tripping and mud to my trip. That's a half hour less time in the saddle.

I went through the gate and the yard, and hung my saddle on the fence. Jud put his feet up on the cedar boards and I hoisted him over. We both grunted as he hit the ground on the other side. He could and would jump at least five feet when we were on the trail, but Dad had taught him not to cross our suburban 4 foot fences, so he didn't. Weird dog.

We stood and looked the ditch over. There was already a foot of fast moving water in there. I wondered if the current was strong enough to knock us down. Jud slid down the cement wall and waded in the water. He didn't seem concerned. He ran up the other side and stood waiting at the edge of the ditch, his stupid leash still in his mouth.

 An image of me in the hospital, recovering from being swept to Pueblo in a flash flood, whipped through my head. I could see my parents, brothers and sisters, sitting in anxious vigil around my bed.

  "Meathead," Dad would say.

  "You refuse to be responsible, we are selling that stupid horse," Mom would murmur.

My siblings would stay quiet, grateful it was me and not them.

I pushed the scene away, gabbed my saddle, calculated the drag of the water as best I could and ran down the wall. The strength of the current surprised me, water filled my boots and I wobbled for a split second. Keep moving!  One stride, two, and I jumped to the far wall, my slick soled boots scrambling to find purchase, heaved my saddle to the top rim, and just made it.


Didn't even have to grab the edge. Jud, tail wagging,  spun away and towards the corrals. Mort nickered, he was ready to rock. I sloshed across the standing water in our field.

Within minutes, I was saddled, Jud's leash was unclipped and tied with my jacket to the back of my saddle and we were off. The air was so cool and clean it was like jet fuel. Mort wanted to run, so we did. Once the worst of our crazies had passed we slowed to his traveling trot, still big and ground covering, still too fast for Jud to do anything but stay at our heels. By the time I saw the storm closing in we were past the city limits, past the local ranches and out in the middle of nowhere.

I looked around for shelter, but I couldn't find even the remnants of a deserted barn. A few more deep breaths and we headed for home at the trot. There really wasn't much else to do.

Mort took a straight line for home, his head was up, his ears were pricked and he had no goof left. He didn't like the feel of things.

Goosebumps rose along my arms and back, I draped my reins across my horn and untied my jacket as we rode. The first drops hit us about the same time I saw lightening crackle and hit the ground. One, two, three, four...Boom! The thunder told me the storm was only four or five miles north of us. Dang it. I checked to make sure Jud was close, I didn't need him off after a rabbit when things got hairy.

Jud's tongue hung out to the side, his sides were heaving and he was right off my stirrup. He kept looking up at me, anxious with the weather and getting ragged from the hard pace. Rabbits were the last thing on his mind.

The drops came faster and closer together. They were big icy cold things, splattering my saddle and Mort's hide with water marks ringed with slush. Shit, shit, shit. We were going to get hailed on. The lightening lashed again, one...two...BOOM! It was slamming straight into the ground. I looked down at my sweaty, nervous, lightening magnet and thought about barbecue. This really wasn't good. I was still at least two or three miles from Karen's house, the closest stopover I could come up with.

As we trotted up and over a low rise, the sun blinked out and the rain started really coming down. The storm was right on top of us. The skin on my back crawled, I could feel the lightening marking a target between my shoulder blades. There was a thick stand of scrub oak covering the swale, a solid 10 feet high and 20 yards across.

Enough was enough. I swung down and led Mort straight into the tight, compact scrub oak. It scratched and pulled at us as I shoved out way in, but I kept on gong. Mort put his head at my hip and helped me smash our way in. I stopped at a little clearing in the middle. There was just enough room for me, Jud and Mort's head. The rest of him was tight in the scrub oak and we were all covered by a canopy of branches.

The sky lit up around us as the lightening crashed and the thunder boomed. It was right here.
I yanked my saddle, and propped it up on the horn, as far from Mort as I could and still hold my reins, pulled my blankets and threw the horse hair pad in front of the saddle skirts. Then Jud and I huddled into my makeshift shelter, my Navajo draped over the saddle and covering our heads, just as the hail hit.

Jud sat close, shaking a little, and I wrapped my arms around him. There is nothing as comforting as a golden retriever in a rain storm. The hail pounded off the saddle blanket over my head and bounced on the ground. Mort stood quiet with his head low. The smell of sweat, wet dog, and leather steamed around us as the wind  and hail slammed through the oak. The hail eased off and the rain began in earnest. I watched blood from the scratches earned fighting my way in, thin and run clear in the water running over my arms. Scrub oak bites hard. The sheets of rain were broken up by the oak some, but the lightening lit us up like the florescents at Walmart. The thunder boomed with such force the leaves shook. I buried my face in Jud's neck and tried to wait, without thought or fear, just like my horse.

The thunder and lightening passed by as quickly as it had pounced on us, but rain pounded down for another twenty minutes before it tapered off enough to move on. I rocked a little, watched the leaves bend and move, and waited. When I couldn't hear the rain anymore, I scraped off Mort's wet back the best I could and saddled. My latigo, soaked through, soft and swollen, kept sticking to itself. Mort shook his head and swatted his tail at me for jerking at the cinch so hard. I stroked his neck in apology and we fought our way back to the open.

We were pretty scratched up, but nothing too dramatic. The sun came out, the wind dropped and the sky was deep and blue. The rain was still falling. Crazy place, rain and blue sky at the same time. The light turned the prairie to a pirate's bounty, gold and sparkly. Jud stretched and smiled, the joke was on us, and he wanted to make sure I got the punch line.

Mort blew hard and shook his head, stepping around and making me work to tie my jacket back on the saddle. I swung up and he pulled at my hand. The air was clean and sweet and filled us like rocket fuel. He wanted to run. So that's what we did.