Monday, December 29, 2014

Squaring My Shoulders

The tile sucks heat from the bottoms of my feet as I wander through the house. The contrast to my hot fuzzy head is pleasant, as is the six-pound ball of tangled hair and wheezing snores cuddled against my neck.

Snocone, our completely crazy mill dog, is slipping away from us. Neurological damage, caused from 8 years or so crammed into a cat carrier, is going to finally get her. She circles to the left for hours, falls and bangs into walls. Her little birdy bones jut under my hand, the muscles in her hindquarters are atrophied from the deadly progression of the damage, and sometimes she cries in pain and confusion.

 It's two in the morning and a lovely cocktail of flu and Parkinson's has made my chest tight and painful, my cough is skewed. My lungs lock at the exhale and refuse to give, a portent of the years to come. Scary, scary shit at the loneliest hour of the night. The trials of our dying dog are exhausting, and I haven't slept for days, but feeling  her relax against me, letting my heartbeat soothe her into sleep, this comforts me too.

After four years, it's time to put our lovely little girl down.

"She isn't going to make this easy," my vet warned.

Snocone has finally begun to open her senses to the world. She wants to run with the other dogs in the house. She has left her world of isolation and looks to Jim and I for comfort, companionship and to ease her pain. She has learned to beg, to demand, and trust us to provide. When she is held by the vet, or groomer, she searches the room to find me, then meets my eyes. She doesn't plead, she demands I bail her out of her predicament.

At twelve years old, she has finally learned to crave contact with us and trust us to be there, she wants with all her dogness to be our dog -- and her body is letting her down. She  has no intention of curling up in a corner and dying quietly. We're going to have to make the decision for her.

Every time we try to discuss it, tears cascade down Jim's face. His stroke keeps knocking down his walls of self-control. I know the flood of tears are a symptom of his current state of mind, he can't stop the wave of raw emotion.

It doesn't make it easier to watch him clutch his dog and cry. He has lost the ability to take care of others, instead he is cared for, a very hard place for him to be. He can and does care for Snocone. She has eased his way on the very rough road he's been dumped on.

I walk the floor. Brockle is at my hip, his head barely touching my thigh. Snocone shifts and sighs. The weight of our future digs its talons even farther into my shoulders. I think about the cold tile against my feet and the tiny dog, so relaxed, in my arms. Tomorrow, in the light, I'll pick it all up again, but for now, it's just this.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Remember When?

I am buried in dogs. Not just the four we live with, but books, trainer brain picking, videos, FB pages and websites.

My hyper-focus (some call it OCD, but hey, shut up) is in high drive, much as it was aimed at horses during my training years. It's a good thing. I have something to think about, a puzzle to piece together, a place for my mind to explore that takes me away from the tough stuff.

The information makes my head spin. Positive training, clickers, shock collars, treats, rally, good citizens, red zones, and breed bans. I'm researching and studying ALL of it. Concepts, tools and definitions I had never considered before I jumped into this morass of education, tradition and opinion.

When it comes to opinions, I spook like Madonna at a loose hay tarp blowing across the pasture. My time training horses taught me to watch, listen and keep my yap shut. I know for a fact that opinions shift as education progresses, and it's best to keep mine to myself for now. If I don't shout, write or assert myself publicly, I don't end up clinging to a wheelbarrow full of shit, just because I thought it was gold a month ago.

Horses still swirl through every step I take in my canine education. They have to, my moral code, thought process, and ability to learn and teach all come from horses. Even my personal relationships are based on what horses have taught me. Treat me fair, make things clear, be consistent, and I'll stick with you. If not, well, I'll buck you off, kick you in the face and trot off with my nose in the air.

I've been remembering back when I was a kid. I pay attention when these thoughts surface, because I learned through the horses, as a kid, some of my basic instincts were spot on. After I started to understand all the training folderol I realized I had some solid natural instincts, and some good basics pounded into me by the old-timers who helped me with Mort, my first horse. Same with the dogs.

So here we go. These aren't opinions... just thoughts.

I was a kid, oh, 47 years ago...yes, that would be the  1960's.

Dogs were dogs, not fur-kids, not "people too," and definitely not allowed on the furniture.
As a child, I was allowed to think our Samoyed, Linus, was my brother or my best friend, but that was kid stuff.

Children were not supposed to be bitten by dogs. If they were bitten once, they knew to stay away from that dog. If they didn't, and were bitten again, they were stupid and apt to get in trouble.

Owners with mean dogs kept them chained or behind fences. They were honest about the dog being mean. A BEWARE of DOG sign meant what it said. That way, everybody but the stupid kids, stayed away from them.

If we drove up to a property that had loose dogs, we waited in the car until someone called them. Not only was it polite to wait until invited out of our car, we knew that loose dogs would guard their property and we might get bit.

Dogs got in fights sometimes. If they did, the kids backed up and let them fight, because they knew that they could get bit and there was that "get in trouble for being stupid" deal. There were some horrific fights, but nobody died.

There were no dog parks.There were no leash laws, but dogs were all on leashes, because it kept them safe. If a dog was the kind who could be let loose to join in a game of kickball (we didn't play soccer) then it was, if it would wander or fight, it was tied to a tree. The tied dogs just sat there and hung out, because nobody cared if they barked or cried. They were dogs.

When a person got a dog, they got the breed of dog that would do the job they needed done. Because dogs weren't children, they were dogs. If you got the right kind of dog, it would do the job you needed. Dogs were way better than kids.

Setters, Pointers and Spaniels were used to field hunt. Retrievers went to water. Some breeds crossed over to both. Setters, Spaniels, Labs and Goldens were known to be good with kids. Pointers were high strung and could be iffy. Chesapeakes and Weimeraners were not good with kids. Nobody called them mean, but they were called tough, or all business.

Many hunters believed kids shouldn't play with their hunting dogs. Specific breeds could survive a crossover, but Cocker Spaniels and Irish Setters were held up as an example of a good dog ruined by becoming popular family dogs. My Dad go a Golden Retriever for that very reason. They were excellent family dogs, but could still be counted on in the field. He would, however, point out the ruined mess that is the modern Golden to back up the old-timers wisdom.

If you lived in an apartment you got a little dog. You still walked them.

I had a friend, Mary, who lived with her mom. They moved a lot and rented, so she had a Japanese Chin. It was my first intro to a small dog. She was sweet and loving and slept with Mary in her bed. I made fun of her dogs flat face because I was jealous. Sorry Mary, I was such a punk.

Dobermans and GSD were guard dogs. If you needed guarding you got one. Old people had Pugs, Bulldogs and Pekingese because they walked slow. Non-hunting families had poodles, cock-a-poos (they were a new thing), mutts, the occasional Dalmation and Dachshunds. There were huskies. They belonged to families with lots of kids who spent lots of time outside. They were yard dogs, not farm dogs, because they were runners and ate stuff.

Most families had one dog. Hunters often had multiples.

I never saw a Pitt Bull and rarely saw a hound. There was a cool Boxer, Rocky, on our street. When I asked my Dad if Boxers were good dogs, he said, "They're the gentlest of the bull dog kind of dogs. If you play with him he'll be rough, but he won't hurt you."

Dad was right, Rocky was fun, but I came home covered with red lines all over me, his frigging claws were like rakes.

It was pretty simple. People got the dog they thought they needed. Most of the time it worked out. I knew a lot of old dogs. I knew good ones and bad ones. People didn't automatically get "rid of," the bad ones. They did however hold themselves personally responsible for their dogs behavior. People didn't get turned into the police or the humane society unless a dog was truly a danger and was never contained. People didn't sue and paid for their own stitches.

We didn't understand how dogs thought, we didn't use clickers, we spanked them when they were bad. Of course children were spanked too.

Dad trained his dogs to hunt with hand signals and his voice. He didn't use shock collars or treats. He didn't want to make his dogs afraid of him, but he didn't want a dog to associate ducks with food either.

I'm not saying any of this is right or wrong, it's just how it was. I still think about it though.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Know Your Horse


   It was hot in Albuquerque. The heat shimmered on the horizon and even in the early morning hours it washed over us in waves.

Our horses still had their winter fuzzies, it was late May and even the stalled, blanketed, live-under-lights show horses had more hair than they needed. We had left Colorado during a spring blizzard and 24 hours later, were showing with an expected high of 98 degrees.

Madonna was fretful She hated being sweaty. She flung her head in irritation at the sweat trickling from her forelock into her eyes. She kicked at her belly and my heels every time the wet back cinch slapped against her. She swatted her heavy tail at the foam between her butt cheeks, bit at her damp leg wraps and crow-hopped at the sensation of sweat trickling down her flanks and legs.

"Dammit! Knock it off!" I pushed her into her snaffle with my legs and asked for the lope. She was logy and stiff, every fiber of her being quivered with resentment.

I was hot too. My boss, my daughter, my young horses being shown for the first time, they were all feeling the heat. It was creating different levels of whiny irritation, lethargy and reluctance, but nary another horse or human was the sniveling wreck Madonna was.

All the other horses in the warm-up pen loped along, smooth and calm. Even the boss's normally fractious stud, Bucksnort, was working steadily.

"I swear," the boss hollered at me, "that mare is such a drama queen."

"Awww, is 'My Pretty, Pretty Princess Pony' not feeling it today?" My own daughter had turned against me.

I was embarrassed. How could a horse hate to sweat? What a freak. I shrugged, sucked it up and put her to work. My run was coming up and I needed her attitude adjusted before we walked in the ring. What a crybaby bitch.

She had finally settled and was working quietly. We were on deck. I asked for a stop, got a nice one and gave her her head. She'd have plenty of time to air up  and I could mentally run through my pattern a few times. I was in the hole when I realized Madonna was still puffing. Her heart rate hadn't dropped at all. If anything, it was higher. Oh shit. I slipped a stirrup right as her knees buckled and was standing safely on the ground when my mare collapsed.

 Madonna lay on the ground panting. I loosened her cinch and let her rest for a second. People started to gather round. The ring steward came over.

"I'm guessing you're a scratch?" He asked.

Madonna stood, I stripped her saddle and led her to a water pump. Once she was hosed down she began to perk up. An afternoon under a tree, several sponge baths and some electrolytes had her back on track before we headed home.

I never completely figured out what happened. She wasn't as show fit as I'd have liked, but she wasn't out of shape. She wasn't carrying a winter coat, and she had been raised and trained on the Colorado prairie. Heat was a way of life for her.

A month later we were riding with Sandy Collier. She had just wrapped up a clinic, her hosts were friends of mine and fellow trainers, she had an extra day, and yes, there are perks to going pro.

It was intimidating, riding under the steely gaze of one of the very best in our profession. There were only four of us and Sandy was enjoying being straightforward, not worrying about hurt feelings or political correctness and working the crap out of us.

She had me wobbly legged by noon, something even the Big K was hard pressed to do anymore. It was awesome.

We had just finished lunch, re-saddled our horses and were back at it. Sandy was talking, I was listening and Madonna started pawing. I moved her hindquarters a bit and she stopped. Then she started again. I found myself hoping we'd get to work before she started being a total fool and BAM! she went down.

"Son of a bitch!"

What the hell was going on? A real thrill of fear went through me. Something was going seriously wrong here. She stood back up and I loosened her cinch.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Sandy said. "Get back on that mare and go lope some circles. She doesn't get to pull that."

I explained what had happened the month before. That it had never happened before and I was freaking that she was sick, or hurt, or something.

"OK," Sandy said. "Get her in the shade, cool her down and keep track of her heart rate."

One of my hosts was a veterinarian. He came by twenty minutes later a declared her ready to get back to work. When I came back to the arena Sandy had some interesting input about my dilemma.

"Think back on what happened today. Was her breathing up?"


"We had just started riding again. She had rested, been fed, watered and hosed down. It's hot today, but there's a breeze, and it's not a sudden change in temperature for her. She's fit."

"I guess that's why I got so worried. Horses don't lie," I said.

"That's right," Sandy agreed. "They don't fake it, they don't plot against us and they don't look at life as good or bad, it just is. They do however learn incredibly fast.

"Your mare learned that when she laid down at a show, on a hot day, you took her saddle off, washed her down with cool water, fussed over her, fed her and gave her the day off. Today, when she realized she was going back to work, she decided to let you know she done."

I digested that one for a minute. We went back to work. I kept an eye on Madonna. Her breathing stayed steady, she sweated like a worked horse should sweat, she was on task and alert and the next time she tried to lay down her butt met the end of my romel. She's been fine ever since.

Madonna still doesn't like sweat in her eyes. I found that if I smear a little Swat ointment in her temporal fossa - okay, I was just showing off, I call them the hollows over her eyes - and tie her forelock back it helps immensely.

I also think her irritable reactions to being sweaty are because she doesn't feel good when she's overheated. It's that simple.

When I need to work her in the heat I limit the time she's out. I keep her in the shade. I make sure she has plenty of cool water and electrolytes. I free feed her grass hay to keep her engines running. After we are done working, she gets a cool bath, I wrap her legs in those cooling bandages the barrel racers are so fond of, and I let her rest.

The thing is, Albuquerque nearly did her in. She does, truly have problems with extreme heat and sudden, steep changes in temperature. My mare is not a bitch, a prima donna, a drama queen or spoiled. She doesn't pick fights, want to be beaten, need an attitude adjustment, or to be brought down a peg.

Don't get me wrong. I use all of these phrases and I've called her all these names. The thing is, I also have learned those are my human descriptions of horse behavior. I can use them as long as I don't believe them and especially as long as I don't act on them.

It took a single swat on the rear to impress upon Madonna that I expected her to work until I said we were done. The reason goes back to her early years when I first started handling her.

If I need to discipline a horse, I make sure the horse completely understands the lesson. I am not unfair. I don't pick, fuss, shake my finger, say "Bad horse," or take the behavior personally. I don't tun the horse into a quivering, panicked wreck.. I do, however, make my point crystal clear.

I work hard to be consistent. If I have decided a behavior is unacceptable, it's that way today, tomorrow and forever.

While I readily accept the smallest try while teaching maneuvers, I offer no learning curve when it comes to rude or dangerous behavior. Horses understand black and white thinking when it comes to their natural behaviors. The unnatural stuff, like riding, hugging, handling them the way we want them to be handled, these things need to be taught in increments.

My horses trust me. I hear them. The Albuquerque incident was a serious education in the art of listening for me. So was my time with Sandy Collier.

Madonna's behavior could have been considered bad at both places. She was flighty, wouldn't pay attention, pawed, stomped, kicked at my heel and finally laid down.

She was sick at the show. She felt crappy and was internalizing her discomfort to the point of being incapable of behaving. The last thing she needed was to pack me around an arena.

She effectively learned how to tell me she wanted me off.

While riding with Sandy, I effectively explained there was a time and place to pass on those messages.

In return, I pay attention. I don't let embarrassment at how my horse is "behaving" make me forget her rhythm. If she's not responding the way I want, I automatically run through what could be going on from a horse's point of view.

Is she wound up? Whinnying? Bucking? Spooking?

I might call her a bitch, but here's what runs through my mind:

Has it been five years since she's seen a showgrounds?

How long has it been since she's been ridden out alone?

Has she had enough exercise to keep her brain activated?

I know for a fact she is not "out to get me." She doesn't need me to knock her around with my lead rope until she drops her head and licks her lips. She doesn't need me to jerk her mouth and spur the crap out of her.

She needs to move. I can want it to be her fault all I want, but horses don't understand fault. They understand the need to move. If they haven't moved enough, they can't think about anything else. If I don't understand that, I'm a bad trainer and a selfish idiot.

For me, it's loping circles until she's quiet. Then long trotting around the showgrounds, the barn, down the road, anywhere, as long as we're headed somewhere of my choosing. If it takes all day, well, that's my bad, not hers. If I had properly gotten her ready for whatever it is I wanted, none of this would be happening.

For other's the same thing can happen with some longing, round pen work and a little clicker work.

It doesn't matter how it gets done, as long as movement is the starting point and working together is the finished product.

Anyway, I digress. I work hard to keep my personal feelings out of my interaction with my horse. I still slip up, but I'm getting pretty stinking good at it.

My horse is my friend.

I believe this completely.

My horse is my best friend.

Well, maybe, but that's because I'm anti-social and weird. This is my problem, not my horse's.

I am my horse's best friend.

Now I'm anthro..antopo...anthripod...whatever, now I'm humanizing her. I don't know if she thinks about me at all once she's hanging around her feed tub. She sure doesn't squall for me like she does for her pen-mate, Rosie. She's a horse after all, and she knows it.

I'm the one that blurs the lines.

Humanizing our horses is arrogant,lazy and self-indulgent. I learned the hard way, it can potentially get a horse killed, and it can create training problems that make you look like a complete dork in front of Sandy Collier.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

WTF Dog Park People? Or, The Mystery of the Moronic Dog Owners

What is wrong with people at dog parks?

Not all, of course. My park is not technically a dog park. It's an open space, where, in control, off leash dogs are allowed. The majority of the dog/owner combos I run into are affable, social, Lab/Golden Retriever/Doodle/Laid Back Suburban Owner types.

As a matter of fact, Brockle tends to be the resident bad boy. He likes to periodically bolt, fly like the angel of death straight at some hapless innocent and roll them like a Firestone All Weather tire dropped down a  gully.


Because he has this despicable behavior, he stays leashed the majority of the time and is going through some serious training. I only release him to play ball or work on his obedience and recall when the park is empty.

He spends lots of time on the long line, learning to resist temptation and tolerate the random "Don't worry, he's friendly," dogs who approach him anyway.

I accept that my dog is a bully. I understand his primary goal in life is to protect me, the second being to play soccer with the occasional King Charles Cavalier Spaniel. I keep him contained AND under control.

In return, I protect him. If a dog charges, I step in front of Brockle and shout "No! Bad Dog!" It has worked so far. Until yesterday.

I stopped at the open space on the way home from errands for a quick fetch.

There were no dogs, so we ran out and began. Brockle was keen on the ball and kept his focus, even when a man and his Airedale came into the park. They were a good 100 yards away. When I saw the Airedale coming at a run and the owner doing NOTHING I called Brockle in and put him on his leash.

He was awesome. He tolerated the rude young dog extremely well. I was proud. The owner arrived.

"Don't worry, he's friendly." he said.

"Mine isn't.  Your dog is lucky mine is well trained," I replied.

The owner said nothing.

We headed off in a different direction, putting enough distance between us to resume our game. I let Brockle off leash.

Zoom! Airedale came flying up behind us and yanked Brockle's ball right out of the thrower thingy, which I had just extended behind me.

"Erp!" I said.

 I kept my balance with the ever-graceful Parkinson's flying pinwheel. The Airedale turned and ran back to his owner with the ball, who still said NOTHING.

Brockle heard my squawk, tore past and nailed Don't Worry He's Friendly to the ground. Charlie joined in and they proceed to beat the crap out of DWHF. By the time I got there, Brockle had made his point, taken his ball and came to me.

I told them, "Good dog."

The owner said, "DWHF really likes balls."

His now terrified Airedale learned that bad things can happen at the dog park. He learned his owner will do absolutely nothing to help him. DWHF is now well on his way to the world of dog aggression.

We dusted that one off. I threw a few more times, then ran through some quick obedience to re-center Brockle and decided to leave.

With both dogs leashed, we approached my car. A woman with a BC, on-leash, and a man with a large Aussie, off-leash, were headed towards us on the same path.

I switched paths, I was done with socialization practice. Because of the Airedale incident I made the mistake of watching Brockle instead of the off-leash dog.

You guessed it. BAM! The Aussie came flying straight into us and I was caught in the middle of a huge dog fight. Brockle broke off and jumped behind me. He looked at me with the clearest "WTF?" I've ever seen.

I tried my dog blocking technique and yelled "No!" at the Aussie. He hesitated, then stepped around me, intent on Brockle, who threw all our hard earned dog tolerance out the window and launched at the enemy.

The Aussie's owner stepped in, grabbed his dog by the collar.

"Brockle, OFF!" I yelled.

Bless his pea-picking heart, he released and came to heel.

That jackass never said a thing, just drug his dog off.

I am done with the dog park. Done, done, done.

My dog is awesome.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Just Can't Stop That Trainer Brain.

I've been absorbing all things dog with the same obsession I did horses, many years ago when it became clear I was a horse trainer.

I was asked by a reader when I knew I was ready to call myself a horse trainer. I took lessons from a trainer (pre-Big K) who spelled it out for me.

1. I had three horses, other than my own I was training for outside clients.
2. I was required by AQHA, NRCHA, NRHA and NCHA to show only in the open classes.
3. Horse training was my primary source of income on my taxes.

Until then, I said I gave riding lessons and sometimes rode for people. I'd been doing that off and on since I was 16. I was almost 40 when I accepted the moniker of horse trainer/riding instructor.

When it was spelled out that I was in fact teaching horses stuff that other people didn't know, a crushing sense of responsibility hit me. I only knew what I knew...I wasn't current on any of the show stuff, or the new horse whispery stuff, I was just an old school, trail ride, riding club participant.

My obsessive, guilt ridden personality latched on and I began to learn. I worked for free if the horse was a chance at a new experience. I schmoozed with trainers, hounded the ones that would let me, read, watched videos and practiced. My theory was (still is) if somebody knew more than me in any horse-related area than they had something to offer and I was going to pry it out of them.

By the time the big K got hold of me, I had done the pleasure horse/western riding/ trail thing, was still reining and had taken every bad mannered problem horse I could get my hands on. I started lots of youngsters and could turn out a calm, rideable horse with three good gaits, leads and a stop in 6 weeks. I had a pretty steady business. Thank goodness I had done the preparatory work, because my education was just beginning.

So here I am, doing it again with dogs. Brockle is the reason why.

Here's a list of the descriptions given to me of my dog from the professionals I've encountered since I've gotten him.

Scary smart. High drive. Reactive. Sensitive. Bully. Resource Guarding (I'm the resource BTW). Owner focused. OCD -- as in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Gentle. Kind. Dog-aggressive. Anxious. Dirty Biter. Tentative. Bold. Problem solving.

None of these descriptions were said in a negative way. It might help explain why I needed help. It is definitely the reason I have been immersed in dog behavior studies.

I'm keeping a journal with the goal of logging 1000 hours of dog behavior observation. Some of it is my own group of dogs. For now, I'm not calling them a pack, more on that later. I have four. They give me a nice variety in size, age, and attitude. I'm studying dog park dogs too, but it won't be my sole focus for behavior. Dog park dogs are a type within themselves. I'm also looking at country dogs, single dogs and hopefully, will get a chance to study some of the strays in the East End of Houston Texas this spring. They've been on their own long enough to be multi-generational.

I'm honing my observation skills and learning the correct terminology from the FB page - Observation Skills for Training Dogs ( Thanks Nannette.

Where am I at now?

The #1 difference between dog training and horse training.

Dogs want to move to you for their release.
Horses want to move away.

Says a lot, doesn't it?

Friday, November 14, 2014

I'm Not Dead Yet

Wow. I think of you guys often. Still troll shy, still afraid of boring everybody. Thoughts whip through, then past, I think of posting, then realize, again, I have no stories.

So, I don't post.

Then, like this morning, I remember why I started this blog.

It was to practice my writing.

It was to vent my frustrations to an anonymous world about horse training, horse people and skewed perceptions.

I balanced these things with stories and training tips. Again, to practice writing and also to authenticate myself. I was writing from the trenches, not my comfy chair, surrounded by training videos, spouting just-learned theories from cable TV.

I was secretive. I didn't discuss being an amputee or my personal demons. I wanted to see if my theories and methodology still worked without the distraction and sympathy that dogged me in the real world.

It's hard to explain. I became a cow horse trainer because I fell in love with the sport. I couldn't be an amateur, I was already considered a pro, since I started colts and was giving basic horsemanship instruction. Plus, I just didn't have the dollah dollah bills y'all.

In order to compete, I had to ride in the open classes. Classes filled with  trainers who grew up on ranches - complete with fine horses and cattle. Classes filled with trainers who interned with the best, who rode horses bred for the job.

Call it providence, call it a curse, but my desire to learn brought me to the Big K. I was heading towards forty, was just back into training after a ten-year hiatus-- thanks to cancer-- and then there was the one-armed thing. Oh yeah, let's not forget, I was riding Sonita.

I think he recognized my obsession. He didn't make it easy, he gave me no concessions, he expected me to keep up. He never told me to sell my horse or hinted I couldn't get it done.

Most of you know the rest, if not it's easy enough to catch up, it's all in the stories.

This is the foundation of the Mugwump Chronicles.

These days, I'm home. It isn't going to change much. I ride when I can and hope to show again. After all, that fat yellow thing hanging out in the corral is a finished bridle horse. I built her, I'm proud of her, and I am dying to show her off.

I'm training my dog. It's keeping me sharp, it's something I can do, financially, time-wise and physically. I'm approaching this new experience the way I do everything. I watch, I think, I listen, I research, you know. My dog stories are not coming from expertise though...I'm yet again the green handler diving into a professional arena saying, "I want to learn what you do."

I don't know where the blog is going. I'm hit and miss, I know, part of it is lack of direction, part is sadness at losing my standing as a working horse trainer. I really miss it.


It also occurred to me...

I still need to practice my writing.

I still need to vent.

I still know lots of practical stuff.

The stories are still there, and I'm guessing their relevance and the warm fuzzies will come back. I also have several half finished posts sitting in my files.

This started out today as a post on reactivity in dogs and horses, but wandered off here.

I'll get back to it.

Talk to you soon.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Know Your Equipment

I was in a piss poor mood. K was mad at me, the wind was up, weather was rolling in and I was three horses behind.

I had a client coming in to ride, and she was bringing an out-of-state friend, Pat, with her for a double lesson. Normally I enjoyed working with Elaine. She was a trainer and riding instructor, rode a nice horse and was fun to talk to.

Elaine had gotten her start as a trainer by completing Richard Shrake Resistance Free certification program. When she brought a friend, it was usually one of her fellow graduates. When I had two of them to work with, I usually ended up on the defensive, which was fine most days. Today, I just wasn't up for it.

My mood slid from dour straight to bitch as I watched my new student get ready to ride. She unloaded a decently built cremello 3 or 4-year-old QH gelding. I don't know why, I the majority of cremello owners I've met over the years have an odd, misplaced pride in their horse. I guess I should say in themselves. It's like there's a secret cremello club out there which elevates both horse and rider to a higher level of horsemanship than the rest of us.

Pat was clearly a member of the club.

She took so long to groom the horse's gleaming coat, Elaine had already loped her warm-up circles and was getting down to business before Pat made her entrance in the arena. Her horse was dressed to the nines in his Richrd Shrake pre-signal sweet-spot bit, a Circle Y Richard Shrake equitation saddle, and a conglomeration of rope and pulleys called the Richard Shrake Rhythm Collector. Pat wore a Richard Shrake baseball cap and a Richard Shrake Certified Trainer Jacket.

Elaine and I continued to work as Pat led her gelding around the entire football field sized arena. She showed him every single place he could spook for the rest of the session. Finally, she got on. She rode him along the arena fence. The colt had a good attitude and he obligingly spooked at every place she had showed him. She leaned forward and patted him after every spook, cementing the lesson.

I sighed.

"Elaine, what have you done to me?"

"Give her a chance," Elaine said. "She's actually pretty good."

Finally, Pat decided to join us.

"What can I help you with today?" I asked.

"Oedipus has trouble picking up his left lead."

I slowly went deaf and blind as Pat went into a twenty minute explanation of how he refused to give his rib because of a stiffness in his back and....I don't remember the rest, I was thinking about lunch.

I came to when I felt a long, awkward silence growing to epic proportions."How long have you been riding him?"

"120 days."

"How long have you been loping him?"

"We just started a few weeks ago."

"OK. I'll tell you what. Take all that shit off his head and I'll have you on the left lead in five minutes."

"What do you mean? This is a Rhythm Collector."

"I know what it is and I know that Richard never, ever intended it to be used on a colt that can't lope. While you're at it, lose the drop noseband too."

Pat dove into her theory about why she needed Oedipus' mouth tied shut, poll locked down and a death grip from her hands. I wondered if the diner would still have any French Dip left by the time I got there.

When I came to I stared at her for a few seconds. I had a very brief internal debate on the pros and cons of explaining my training methods.

"Look. I can get you on your left lead. I can only show you the way I do it. I'm assuming you're here because your translation of Shrake isn't working out for you. My way takes a horse wearing nothing but  a ring snaffle, a saddle and a rider. I'm not interested in any other way because it works for me. It's up to you."

I turned my back and started working with Elaine again. Pat sat her horse for another ten minutes, dismounted and took him back to the trailer.

"God Janet, who pissed in your Wheaties?" Elaine asked.

"Richard Shrake. Now, try spinning two turns left, then trot out right, we'll see if she'll re-balance her shoulders."

OK. Here's my disclaimer. I am not, in any way, bashing Richard Shrake. He has some good ideas and has helped many a rider.

Why Pat had me so riled up was her complete lack of understanding of her equipment. She had no idea how her bit worked, what her weight was for or what that sweet little gelding was mature enough to handle.

She chose to address it by adding a piece of equipment she had absolutely no clue how to use. She instinctively knew she could trap him even tighter between her hands with it, which the was polar opposite of how I trained.

Plus, I was in a mood. I mentioned the tussle between me and K, right?

At Elaine's next lesson, she told me she smoothed Pat's ruffled feathers on their trip home. The same afternoon she coaxed her into trying my way to get a horse on its lead. Elaine knew my methods well.

It took her 10 minutes to get the left lead.

I guess this is more along the lines of The Tenets of Mugs, or Mugwumpian Philosophy....or...?

Anyway. Here goes.

Know Your Equipment

1. I officially don't care what you ride with. English, Western, or Bohemian Chic, it doesn't matter to me. I don't care if you choose to spend your life leading your horse around.
If you're happy with the relationship you have with your horse then so am I.

2. I can only teach what I know. I can't help you use a piece of equipment I'm either not familiar with or have rejected, because it doesn't fit into my program.

2. I do care if you don't understand how your equipment works. If you want to ride in a mechanical hackamore, go for it. It is your obligation as a responsible horsaii to understand how it works, what it can do and what it can't do.

3. Learn how to use your saddle. Where is your balance point? What is it used for? How does it fit? How long should your stirrups be?

4. Know how to properly use your add-ons.
Please remember, if I say I hate running martingales, it doesn't mean I hate you.
I can tell you why I hate them, what I think happens when they are used, and why they work like a crutch with a wobble.
You may disagree and reject my thinking. I'll still respect you. Unless you don't have a clear mechanical understanding of what the martingale is for and why you want it.

Then, I will mock you. Lots.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mugwump Finds a Mission Statement

I'm going to be frank.

Having my life yanked out from under me, crumpled up like a piece of tin foil, run over by an eighteen-wheeler, and then handed back to me to flatten out best I can has been an education.

I've learned that life, although chock full of surprises, is definitely recyclable.

I used to joke that the only way I would ever finish a book, or seriously get back to my art would be to put me in prison, preferably solitary. Then, once the boredom, frustration and anger passed (because of course I'd be innocent), I would finally settle in and get to work.

I haven't been incarcerated, but I have been penned up, and it's not looking too good for parole.

I spend roughly 24 hours a day caring for my husband, who suffered two strokes during surgery for a blood clot going on four years ago. This happened about a year after I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and most of you know about the one armed thing.

Good grief, if my life isn't a country song, I don't know what is.

I get a break on most weekends. My step-kids come down to visit their Dad and I get a few hours furlough. On the days my body and the weather is cooperating I get in some horse time. It's kind of a crap shoot.

I get to work my dog with the Cool K9 crew on Sundays, which is a sanity saver and then some.

It's been hard to write, especially about horses and the life I built and lost. I still write my weekly food column, but struggle to meet dead lines. It's amazing how busy I can be within the confines of these walls. Mindless chores are exhausting, worry without answers is more so.

I haven't quit the horses though. I can't. They run through my dreams at night and their hoofbeats drum in the back of my mind during the day. In the half light of early morning I think about bending, flexing, hoof placement and how to get more, with less.

My thoughts spin and take me to further research, daydreaming and theory. I find myself questioning and challenging my thoughts and motivations when it comes to myself, my connections with people and for the most part, my philosophy about horses, training and how it shapes every nook and cranny of my ever changing position in this world.

It's pretty cool, this clarity of thought.

Today, I'm sharing it. It will probably morph some more,and some of you may find yourself scratching your head and thinking, "Well duh, isn't that what you've been saying all along?"

Buts it's new and clear and exciting to me, so shut up and let me lay this out.

First off, I need to set something straight. For myself as much as you guys.

I have always represented myself as a middle of the road horse trainer with moderate success in National Reined Cow Horse Association competition.

The moderate success in the NRCHA is true. I earned enough money as an open (professional) competitor to knock me out of a bunch of the fun stuff as an amateur. I did not earn enough to make much of a stamp in the record books, or hire barn help.

I am, however, a damn fine horse trainer. I worked hard,  studied hard and  rode with an open mind. I thought long and hard on the best way to educate the horses and riders who passed through my care. I developed some kick ass feel and learned to create well mannered, well balanced horses with a light handle and reliable behavior. Some of those horses were really rank bastards, some were physically, mentally (or both) inferior to the tasks set before them, but I got the job done. Shit guys, I know stuff.

Unfortunately, I had a blind spot that truly crippled me as a pro.

I'll have to go with example here.

"Ol' Spanky has a crappy lead change. He can do everything else, the slide is awesome, spins are right there, he really looks at a cow, but I can't count on the change. I've taken him to trainers X, Y and Z, they all told me to sell him."

There I'd be, looking at some bony, wormy poorly bred piece of ...well, you know, and my brain would click in one one solitary thought. The horse needs to change leads.

I would begin. The bigger the mess the more excited I got. I would work and experiment and breakdown each movement. Sticky stifle? Club footed? Out of balance? Draggy hind end? I'd find it and work on it. Most of the time, I'd get it done too.

Then I'd start in on the client. I was always surprised and a little sad if they weren't as excited as I was. I'd drill 'em, and balance 'em, give them exercises both on and off the horse, make sure they understood rhythm, collection, leg sequence, front end vs. back...Most of the time, they'd get it too.

Then we would head for the show pen.

Most times, they'd get through. A shout would go up from those who knew of this horse's struggles with his lead change, a few of my fellow trainers would give me a "good job" head nod, my client would beam and complete their pattern. The score would be well out of the money,but by God, the damn leads got changed.


When the pressure was on, Ol' Spanky would fall back to his old ways, dump his inside shoulder to the north, hollow out his back and swing his hindquarters due south. He'd fling his head, snap his tail and show the world a mouth full of yellow teeth and a waggling tongue. For some reason, the client would panic, forget to hold him up with the inside leg while adding gentle intermittent pressure with the outside leg, hold the reins with just enough pressure to offer support, but not so much to slow down the horse, drive with both legs to encourage collection and ....

You guessed it. Said client would grab the horn with one hand, start to jerk the crap out of Spanky, drop their weight to the inside stirrup to make it easier to spur the shit out of the squalling bolting mess on the outside and go to town.

Either way, there were two end results.

 The client would sign on with another trainer. A much more savvy trainer. Kind words would be said about the kick ass job I had done getting Spanky to change leads.The new and improved Spanky would be sold for a good price. My ex-client would buy a very nice horse from the new trainer, one with a point and shoot lead change. The trainer would get a commission for selling Spanky, a commission for finding the new horse and charge my ex-client $200 a month more for training. Client would go on to win stuff and I would have yet another horse I trained making big wins an the local riding club.


My poor client would catch the fever from me, and head back to the drawing board, as hooked with my obsession to take Spanky farther than  life or Mother Nature had ever intended him to go. Those were the clients I kept for years.

I never learned what the more successful trainers in my field already knew. A bad-leaded horse can learn to change leads but they will still be bad-leaded. In the cow horse world this creates more work for the rider, who will have to carry the horse through his changes forever. Unless the run is flawless, you're looking at point hits every time.

A bad-leaded horse is going to have other problems, from a creating a rough picture, to a potential safety hazard. When I'm doing a fence run or changing directions while circling my cow, I don't want to be wondering where Ol' Sparky's feet are.

While my peers worked with the knowledge that to have a healthy forest you have to trim some saplings, I was so focused on that single tree, I ended up carving a totem pole.

But I'll tell you what, I can teach just about anything to change leads.

Guess the Mission Statement will have to continue tomorrow.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Draw Reins and Dressage - Who'd a Thunk It?

 This picture is from the FEI World Cup Dressage Final for Young Riders Show, Frankfurt, Germany Dec. 2010. Yes, this is a class. OK, very minimal research tells me this must be the warm-up arena. My first clue would be the fact that dressage is not a group class, the second would be the leg wraps and the third (I hope) is the butt-load of crap hanging off the horses head.

From what I understand, these are junior riders actually competing in a class. Not your neighborhood 4H, either (which of course would never allow their youth riders to compete IN DRAW REINS), but the FEI World Cup for Young Riders.

The next time somebody tells me about a horse that's been "cowboyed," I'm sending them this.
Better cowboyed than dressaged I'm thinking.

Truth? There are stupid people in every discipline. It isn't the saddle that makes the horseman.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Brockle Grows Up.

I was given a surprise hour of freedom yesterday.

There wasn't enough time to run errands, besides, the dogs were with me and it was too hot for them to wait in the car.

Instead, I took my unplanned gift and stopped at a city park, thick with shade trees and quiet. I leashed up Charlie and Brockle, grabbed my bag and headed for the trail along Fountain Creek. It's narrow and rutted, and weaves in and out of the thick willows and gnarled cotton woods that hold the creek.  The trail is not officially part of the park, it's a highway for urban wildlife, an efficient cross-city path for those who prefer to travel on foot and out of the cities eye, and a great unofficial off-leash area.

We settled on a sunny bank dotted with boulders. I gathered a small pile of sticks, found a comfortable perch and pulled my Kindle out of my bag. I was lost in my latest read, throwing sticks out into the current for Brockle, keeping half an eye on Charlie as he hunted through the rocks, and still just about wiggling in the delight of the day. Talk about your multi-tasking.

The dogs were in high spirits. Brockle would abandon his stick to the current and jump on Charlie, teasing him into a rage. Charlie would snarl, go for his throat and within seconds, they were rolling around in the shallow water, putting on a dog reenactment of a battle to the death.

Charlie tried to stay properly outraged, but once they broke apart and stood panting in the cool water, he couldn't hide his grin.

The dogs and I looked north at the exact same moment. Two men were approaching. They had the unsteady gait of the drunk or high, and the wind-burned, dusty look of our local homeless. I called the dogs and leashed them, then calculated the steep embankment between me and the jogging path above me. I figured a surge of adrenalin would could me get up there if needed and relaxed.

They picked up their pace as they drew close. There was no communication between them  that I could see, but they moved with a sudden fluidity and purpose. There is a look that men on the hunt share, a certain stillness, a mutual gleam of mischief and excitement.

They had zeroed in on my bag. I knew better. Normally, I never bring it with me when I'm out walking. But I had needed my phone, my Kindle, my water bottle and treats for the dogs. I had set aside my own rule of never carrying something worth stealing when I was out on the trail and here we were.  Son of a bitch.

I stood and got ready to run.

Before I had slung the offending bag over my shoulder Brockle stepped in front of me. I barely had time to get my feet planted before he hit the end of the leash. He barked once at the men and when they kept coming he strained against the leash and cut loose with a volley of deep, cadenced barks. There was no yelping, no high pitched yaps, just a booming bass of serious warning while he lunged across the arc created by my restraint.

Charlie joined in, all twenty pounds of him ready to take those bastards on.

"Good dog, Brockle, good dog."

I could feel his tension through the leash and see strings of slobber slinging from his jaws. I would have loved to see his face, it must have been awesome, because the men turned in unison and bolted back the way they came.

 Brockle watched  until they were a hundred yards away, then snorted, peed and kicked up a small dust storm  with his hind feet.

I settled him with a few obedience reps and then threw a stick in the water. He ran to it, picked it up and faced the direction the men had gone. His eyes were sharp and I could hear him growling. The stick fell into the water and escaped downstream.

On the way back to the car Brockle stayed close, his shoulder at my thigh, and touched my hand with his nose every few feet.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dog in Trouble

Great female German Shepherd in a bad spot! Family dog, personal protection training. 8 years old, Czech bred, exquisite bloodlines, no health issues. Good with kids, male dogs. Free to an experienced home. She's located in Colorado Springs. 
Email me at for contact info.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Writing, Grammar, Spelling or I Can't Believe You Wore Those Pants

Just have to clear this one up. Then, I can just refer readers to this post as needed.

When I started Mugwump Chronicles I wanted to share some stories, think through training issues, and gripe.

I hoped for an audience, because I wanted to know if I wrote well enough to earn one.

Being the needy soul I can be, I hoped for affirmation that my secret desire to write was more than a pipe dream.

I got those things and thank you for that.

For me, the blog became a place to go and just...write.

After a while it became a place to share with others. Ideas, stories, thought, dreams, and I just loved it. I received emails with great stories and started posting some. More often than not, the writer would say, "Please clean this up for me," or, "I know this isn't very good, but..."

It made me nuts. Some of the best stories I read were written by people with vast experience, amazing tales and often, little to no education. Their voice, clear and beautiful, still came through the errors, often the "mistakes" gave their writing a tender awkwardness, a local flavor, a taste of a different world. They wouldn't let me share them because of their fear of ridicule.

Then, I fell into writing the Fugly Blog and some of the nastiest bitches the trolls. 
We'll skip the bits trashing my daughter, my choice of riding discipline, and my love of a breed that is notoriously built down hill.They went crazy on my awkward sentences, spelling errors, structure, you name it. It soon became clear, there is a world out there that equates getting A's in 8th grade Composition with knowledge about horses.

I quit writing the blog because I hated those people. They made me feel insecure and sad. They weren't worth my time.

I worked on my writing constantly. I had journalism technique shoved down my throat at a fast and furious pace by my extremely patient editor at the paper. I studied, went to workshops, talked to journalists, columnists and so forth. 

I met other writers, some good, some bad, some boring. I learned that writers can be mean, jealous, petty and crazy stalkers. They can also be lovely, funny, and generous when sharing their knowledge.

I threw myself on the mercy of teachers to help me learn the pieces I had daydreamed through in school. I read blogs, books, teachers reference books and books about writing. I kept my personal education off this blog, because it's about dogs and horses.

I found out the best writers to come out of the school system are children who are allowed to write, to express themselves and tell their stories without correction on spelling or grammar. When those very important parts of writing are treated as a separate education, creativity flows and the writer learns, with time, to blend them together.

I read blogs and other social media where people go to ridiculous lengths to ridicule writing mistakes. There are web sites, FB pages, blogs and who knows what else, dedicated to mocking people trying to communicate.  

My automatic response is, WTH is wrong with you? Shut up and let me listen, read, write, share, explain. 

I made Mugwump Chronicles a safe place to visit. Tell me your story, your idea, your experiences and don't be afraid of being criticized for your ability to write. 

To me, this is the same as mocking a stutterer, or a heavy accent, or grownup with a second grade education. I hope if your Grandma heard you behaving that way she would slap the shit out of you. 

Currently, I still work hard on improving my writing. I think I'm getting better, but my education comes from outside this blog, from people, events and places I've researched and am comfortable with. Places about learning the art of writing. This blog is where I think and talk.

When I write here, or post other writers, I'm always excited to check the comments and see where they go. When a comment starts with an edit for grammar, spelling or structure it makes me feel exactly like the nerdy who kid finally got invited to the cool kids party. The kid who spent hours trying to dress just so, then walked into the party, shaking, terrified but still filled with hope, and is immediately laughed at for the hay in her hair an the horse manure stench emanating from her shoes.
I think there are many others who feel the same.

Read the blog, read each other, disagree, agree and share. Or don't. It's up to you. But let this be a safe haven to write in. I already told you guys to call me out when I need to go throw rocks. Now I'm going to insist on this one. Let the stories flow and leave the grammar alone. 

It's just a blog for goodness sake.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bred for the Job

My first cowhorse was ranch bred Sonita.

She was big, red, freckled, had lots of chrome and attitude.

Those who know me, know her.

She was a life lesson and then some.

My second cowhorse, Loki, was a Foundation bred mare from a Buckskin breeding program. I had bought her as a project for my daughter and I, with no thought of cowhorse in my head.

 I had some success with her and my daughter did too. She was fast, anxious, sweet, and could slide thirty feet on a good day, 20 to 25 without a thought. She couldn't spin worth a damn. She wasn't very bendy. Riding her was kind of like riding a Grayhound bus in a 7/11, but she dug deep again and again.

 I bought Madonna as a long yearling. She was bred to rein and work cattle. She was and is amazing. I have said more than once, and will probably say again, until I trained Madonna, I had no idea I'd been trying to turn chihuahua's into huskies. She was my first sled dog.

Buying a horse bred to do the sport I was obsessed with was a real eye opener. The hours, months and years I spent riding and training horses the better trainers passed on had opened my mind to the potential in horses, no matter what they were bred for. I developed an interest in unlocking a horse's mind so it wanted to work for me, was willing to try, even if the bones were too heavy, the back was too long or the brains too scrambled. It also had me convinced horse training was hard, hard, hard and so was reined cow horse.

Then, I bought Madonna. She slid, spun and was naturally leaded. I'm not kidding, if I set her up right she just did it. The rest was refinement. The first time she tracked a cow she was so happy she started to buck.

"Don't you touch her!" K warned before I could get all clutchy. She smoothed out the second she saw the cow escaping because of her nonsense and she stopped. That was it. Madonna has been all about the cow ever since.

She wasn't particularly fast, she was quick and agile. I realized when you're on a horse that's on her cow, then you don't need a fast one, because you're never playing catchup.

We went to work with a cutting trainer while K was out of town (oops, busted!). I was worried because she carried her head so high while she worked. The trainer watched for a while and said, "She's naturally so underneath herself she's balancing herself with her head. Stay out of her way, off her mouth and wait, she'll sort it out."

He was right. I worked hard on staying out of her way and she sorted herself out. Breeding makes a difference.

In an interesting twist of fate, I have shown Madonna the least of any of my horses. Economics and illness sidelined me. Except for one miserable failing in Nebraska, she has been in the money just about every time we've walked in the pen. She's lovely.

She's also spooky and bitchy. Dead solid on cattle, in the pen or on a gather, she's so focused you'd think she was a rock.

Take her on the trail, or around the yard at the barn and she's a bug-eyed freak. She's bred to physically respond to movement and boy howdy, does she ever.

During the peak of my years hauling to shows, I was mounted on $900 dollar horses. Once I finally got my sled dog, life bit me in the butt. Madonna hasn't been wasted, not as far as I'm concerned. I was able to study the art of building a bridle horse and given the luxury of taking as long as it took. She's sound, sane (ish) and ready to go if the road to showing opens up again.

I guess, what it comes down to is, as far as life and learning goes, I have always ended up with the horses I needed, at the time I needed them, whether I agreed or not.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Brockle and Charlie Go to the Vet

"Bite a Chihuahua! I'm glad to get back in the car. That was awful. Looks like you're next Brockle. Hahahahahaha!!!!"

"Whatever. Can you see me sniffing this bush through the windshield? Yep. Oooh, couple of short dogs peed here, you definitely could have peed higher on the bush than they did. Oh, wait, you missed this one didn't you? So sad, see me sniffing here Charlie? Whoa baby, what is this? A girl dog? Is it true?? She's in heat! Wow Charlie, too bad you missed this, it smells better than a baby eating pudding."

"Let me out! Let me out! Son of a Meter Reader, this is NOT FAIR!!!

"What's that Charlie? Can't hear you locked up in the car like can watch me pee all over this bush though. Ahhhhhh."

15 minutes later:

"Dude, are you OK?"

"Well, yeah, why wouldn't I be? Charlie, I swear, you're turning into such a mailman."

"Weren't you afraid of the blindfold?"

"Um, what blindfold? They petted me and told me I was beautiful."

"Wait, are you telling me nobody stuck their finger up your butt?"

"Nope. Guess they were too busy kissing me and giving me cookies."


Monday, September 1, 2014

Conversations About Dogs with Dog Folk

   Annie Wilkes was closer to sixty than fifty. Quiet in a crowd, even with her own group. She had wary eyes, and the prairie wind constantly blew her tousled, unkempt hair into her eyes. Her shaky health made her unsure, the betrayal of her body made her restless and sad.
    "I had no idea what I was getting into. He wasn't even the dog I went to see.  He's the smartest dog I've ever had in my life. Also the most arrogant, mischievous and neediest, all wrapped up in a fluffy OCD package," she said.

   Mad Maxine was intelligent, sleek, beautiful and fit. She wore black, it highlighted her thick strawberry blond ponytail, pale skin and shiny black dog. A military career made her confident and gave her very good posture. She moved with power and grace, and was completely intimidating. Her dog was as lean and fit as she.
   "Your dog should be working on a ranch, people don't think before they get a dog, they get one because it's pretty, then everybody pays. If a person needs a pet than they should get a lap dog with medium intelligence at best," she said.

"Adult rescue dogs are notoriously unsuited for farm and ranch work. They have enough to overcome to become a decent pet, much less become a working dog,"

"The reason they're so screwed up is because people get dogs they have no business having," Mad Maxine said.

"Exactly my point. My dog was a three time return to the pound when I adopted him. He was never, ever going to see a ranch. Now that he's with me, he's been exposed to horses, cattle, goats, barn fowl...funny thing is, he has absolutely no interest in any of them. His primary focus is to keep me safe. He's the one bright light in a very difficult time of my life."

A long, uneasy silence ensued. Annie Wilkes raked her hair back with her fingers.

The young woman squared her shoulders and put a hands on each knee . It was clear she wasn't the type to fiddle with her hair. "When I picked my dog I knew exactly what I was looking for. I wanted a hiking companion. The bitch was a purebred shepherd and the stud cleared an eight-foot fence."

"I guess you knew they'd be athletic."

 "The pups were structurally correct with good temperaments. I visited the litter several times, sat with them and watched them. I didn't want the biggest or the smallest. I rejected the ones that crawled all over me and the ones that were shy."

"That was certainly pragmatic of you."

"There were four that were right in the middle. One was happy and playful when I messed with her, but when I ignored her, she walked off a few feet, sat down and studied me while I played with the other pups. I knew she was the one and she's been perfect."

"That's exactly how my Dad picked his hunting dogs when I was growing up. He could pick outstanding dogs. I tend to go with my gut."

"You mean you are completely emotional instead of realistic."

"I think it's more of an instinctive feel that I trust instead of following a guide from a how-to-pick-a-puppy article off the 'net. I was one of those kids that stray dogs followed home and I got along with all of them. I like dogs and they like me. I had specifics in mind when we chose each other too. I wanted a big dog, I like herding breeds, I knew I would eventually need a service dog, so I wanted brains. I need to walk an hour every day. He definitely met my criteria."

"Everybody likes dogs. I just think it's unfair to them if they live in a world they don't fit in. There's so much risk when you adopt a stray. You don't know what's been done with them or if they're structurally sound. I'd like to hunt my next dog. I'll probably go to Europe and get a couple of good ones, I'll raise them to be proper hunting dogs, I won't have to deal with unexpected problems, like shyness, aggression, or separation anxiety-- I'll know they're worth my investment." Mad Maxine stretched and crossed her legs at the ankles.

"I completely understand, "Annie Wilkes said. "If I was going to pursue this," she waved her hand towards the field where they worked their dogs, "I would invest in a sport specific breed. The thing is, I would never have learned this discipline, or met this group of people, if my dog hadn't brought me here.We came to resolve the training issues that he came with, found some talent, and now I'm learning something brand new."

"I'm only here because I ran out of things to teach my dog," Mad Maxine said." She has obstacles down pat, obedience was a walk in the park, Frisbee is a given, I have to keep her occupied." She reached out and stroked her dog's sleek, black coat.

Lenny Small was close to the older woman's  age, battered by life, gentle and a little tired. He followed the conversation with interest. His dog was a lovely shepherd, gentle like her owner. He leaned forward and looked earnestly at the young woman.
"Have you seen Annie's dog work? He's got the best obedience in the group and his protection work is coming on like a train. He's a nice dog."

"Thanks Lenny," Annie Wilkes smiled and leaned back in her chair. "You've missed a lot while you were waiting for your dog to heal from her surgery. My dog has come a long way. The guys seem to enjoy figuring out his off the wall mind-set. Your dog tore an ACL?"

"Both hind legs." The young woman grimaced.

"Wow, that's awful. How old is she?"

"Almost three."

"That's terrible. I'm so sorry. I hadn't even heard of an ACL surgery before I came here. Thank goodness our trainer, Clyde Beatty  taught me how important it is to work young dogs low until they're two. It never would have occurred to me to wait to let my dog jump for his ball or over obstacles if it wasn't for him."

"It doesn't matter, I got her to hike with, so my goal is to get her to where she can hike again and be happy with that. I'll make sure my next dog has the breeding to stay sound."

"So you think it's poor breeding that made her tendons snap instead of a training decision, or, like it could have been if I hadn't listened to Clyde, a lack of knowledge?"

The pause grew until Lenny Small broke in.
"Breeding doesn't always run true. Look at my girl here. She's Czech bred, from a long line of competitive and working dogs, but she has no bite, none at all. Her brother, on the other hand, is a maniac."

Clyde Beatty entered the conversation.
"There's more to the story than that. Our "maniac" was a middle-of--the-litter puppy. He was loaded with prey drive, but had a decent temperament. He was almost two before he turned on, and then we got more than we needed. He's a great dog, but we still don't trust him with the public. Sometimes you can have genetics and training in place and still not get what you were looking for."

"This comes back to the draw for adoption or rescue," Annie said."I was able to assess my dog's temperament and conformation before I committed, because he was older. I'm not an expert, but once a dog is a year or so I can spot things like bad hips and shoulders or erratic behavior."

"Except you said yourself, you came here because he was much more dog than you expected and you've talked about his anxiety and separation problems," the young woman said.

"That's true, I think where you're missing my point when you assume I care about those things. I like dogs. I like learning new things. I'm as interested in learning how to help his separation anxiety as I am teaching him to stop an intruder.When I get a dog, I can't wait to see where they take me. In my lifetime I learned to aim a few inches below a ducks feet in order to make my shot. No matter how I try, I jump when I pull the trigger. If I hadn't been hunting over a couple of good field labs I never would have known that. I learned when a good pair of vermin dogs is on the hunt, one is the runner and the other lies in wait. I've watched them strategise in order to hunt prairie dogs, pigeons, rabbit and mice. I learned a good basset hound can follow a three day old track and will never learn to quit getting high centered on a fallen tree. Now I'm learning how to train my own service dog and if you decide to try to hurt me, well, my dog will eat your ass." She smiled down at her dog. "This dog is a new adventure every day."

"I guess I want more control of my outcome," Mad Maxine said.

"You told me you ran out of things to do with your dog, which brought you here."

"Except I wanted an intelligent dog, I chose her on purpose."

"You certainly succeeded, just look at the adventures she has brought you."

Lenny Small looked over at Annie Wilkes and fondled the ears of his adored dog, who defied her breeding with her gentle soul. Annie smiled back, took the ball from her wound up, hairy beast and drew back to throw it out onto the field, taking care to keep her big galoot from stomping the sore hind legs of the beautiful black shepherd mix.

The conversation drifted to whether a Beuceron was better suited for guard or protection work as the sun rose high over the training field.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Go Throw Rocks

This image is appropriately called "Tantrum."

One more random post and then back to Spirit. It's been a long couple of weeks, culminating to a serious visit with my neurologist today. My creative juices have been a little tamped -- Mugs

K sat back in his saddle and looked straight into my eyes. This kind of contact was rare between us, since it makes me extremely uncomfortable and on most occasions, creates a strong flight reaction.

I knew though, that when K was brushing my anxieties aside and demanding this level of attention, I needed to suck it up. He had important information to share.

"Maybe you need to go throw rocks," he said.


"Go throw rocks."

Sonita was raging that day. Her cranking tail, pinned ears and gnashing teeth were the least of my worries. It was the iron rib that refused to move, the hind legs that jumped into a squealing buck rather than stepping into maneuvers, or struck at my boot in response to the barest touch of my calf that was getting to me.

I had lost it. I wanted to show her that if she didn't like my calf, maybe she would prefer my spur rolled up her side. I wanted to jam that resistant rib cage into my opposite leg, shove her up into her bit, no matter how hard she slung her head or put her nose in the sky.

My darling mare had drug me into the cesspool of her heat induced fury and I was ready to give her back exactly she was giving, and then some. K's instruction had turned into a blur of unintelligible orders, I heard nothing but criticism and disappointment, and was more than ready to turn my self-labeled incompetence into bullying my mare.

K held me with his frustrated stare. He knew I was too embroiled in my own emotions to hear him.

"Sometimes," he said, his voice as slow and clear as a preschool teacher, "the best thing to do, is get off your horse, walk out in a field, and go throw rocks. Once your arm is tired, come back and try again."

I could tell he was about done with me. I figured he was giving me this random advice to get me out of his hair for a minute. It was also clear he meant it. I could go throw rocks or I could go home. Whatever.

I dismounted, dropped a rein and walked off. Sonita snorted and rattled her bit behind me. Yeah, she had won. I hoped that snort was a juicy one and she blew it all over K's leg.

I crawled through the arena fence, stepped out into the cow pasture and proceeded to throw rocks, hard. The dogs came sniffing around, thinking there might be a new game, but picked up my mood and slunk off.

Each rock was aimed at Sonita's imaginary head, which I envisioned a few yards out. I suppose a few were aimed at K's head too, I'm not admitting anything. Then, a funny thing happened.

I started thinking about my horse. She always had a tough time during her heat cycles. In human terms, her PMS was a bitch. Not only did Sonita become an emotional train wreck, she often experienced physical pain extreme enough to make her colic.

I threw a few more rocks. I knew this. Was she hurting? Was she losing it because I wasn't listening?

More rocks. Why wasn't I hearing her? Well, because I hated her. More rocks. Maybe it was because I was anxious and worried about her performance, my ability and what K thought about me when I was riding with him.

More rocks. Maybe I was ignoring my horse at a time when it was really important for me to pay attention. Why hadn't I told K how it was when she was horsing? Was I assuming he would tell me I was babying her? Why?

More rocks. How often was I closing out the tenuous current of communication between my horse and I because I wanted her to be different, better, or just not who she was?

More rocks. Shows, around other trainers and especially, with K. So, the times when it was the most stressful for my horse, I was closing her out so I could focus on my own anxiety.

It took a bit more tossing before I quit cussing myself for being the crappiest horse trainer on the planet, but by the time I was ready to go 'fess up to K my arm was tired.

I walked back, calm and focused. When I mounted my horse she stood quiet. I explained to K why I thought she might be cramping some.

"What are you going to do about it?"

"I'm going to trot her out, long an low, and see if she can un-kink. If she can't, well, we should probably call it a day."

"Then go to it."

I did.

There's a point to my story. It has occurred to me, I get all caught up in my thoughts in the exact same way, right here, on this blog.

When discussions start in the comments, I'll take offense when none is meant, misinterpret things that are said, not be ready to accept offered information, and sometimes, just be a bitch.

Then, in my schitzo way, be warm and fuzzy over the exact same input. This shows up the most in my dog posts, because I'm learning new stuff here and it's as frustrating as it is exciting. Those of you who have tried to help, now have a taste of what K went through trying to teach me.

I must drive you guys crazy.

A good example: I posted a humorous (to me) series of photos of Brockle avoiding being engaged with the decoy (bad guy) during protection work.

The truth behind the joking was I didn't know why he was doing it.

A reader described her method of dealing with dogs that didn't focus when they should. I became defensive, she became defensive, and well, I jumped on her shit.

I know she was frustrated because she felt I was dismissing her knowledge and wasn't hearing her. It pissed her off.

We both should have gone and thrown some rocks, then come back to things.

Here's the thing, I did hear her. I started thinking about what I was feeling through the leash, which is every bit as telling as the feel through the reins. She was talking about a dog that was goofing instead of working. I had a dog who was displaying aversion behaviors because he wasn't sure of my expectations. The crux of the situation was, I didn't know this yet, but in my gut I suspected it.

Because of her comments, I started thinking, reading, asking, learning. In the end, Brockle was avoiding the work, because once again, I, his trainer and handler, was unsure of myself and my knowledge, and was closing out my communication with him to hide my own anxieties.

I have since been much more open about my ignorance, have gotten great feedback on the field, and have become the confident, open handler my dog needs. These days, Brockle is rocking at practice, and we're advancing steadily.

If we had thrown rocks out of the arena instead of at each other, I could have learned tons from the blog reader who was trying to help, and probably gotten more input from others. Instead, I shut her down and was left to sort things out by myself.

I respect you guys, I really do, and I want your thoughts and input. But, well, I get how I get, and need to be reminded to play nice once in a while.

So. Here's the offer. I want you guys to feel 100% free to call me out. Obviously, I already do it to you, so let's balance things. The code words? GO THROW ROCKS. If you tell me to, I will. I''ll take a break, think through what was said and come back behaving myself. I will do the same to you, and use the same code. GO THROW ROCKS. I'll expect you to back off, think things through and come back with your point again, but maybe a little more thought out, a little friendlier.

Unless of course it's just meanness. Then, well, I guess we can become an unruly mob and stone the sucker.

Deal? Let's shake on it.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Finding Balance -- Thinking beyond common sense.

Last night I watched this: The Paw Project on Netflix (

My thoughts were just spinning by the time the documentary on declawing cats was done. My head was so abuzz I had to quit writing the next Spirit installment and share this, because it parallels a line of thinking I've been working my way through for a long time.

Once I've gotten through this, I'll get back to my horse story. The thing is, in the past week, I caught an infection making it's merry way through my Rat Terrier, Charlie, just in the nick of time. I'm talking a serious nick.

"If you had let this go one more day you would have been at the emergency vet tomorrow," my vet told me.

 Which would have been the 4th. Any of you who have been to a city weekend emergency vet clinic know what I'm talking about. Six months of hay $$ out of savings to pay them, that's what.

Normal Mugs, if there is such a thing, would have noticed the signs of Charlie being off at least a week ago. He was off his feed, scooting his butt across the ground and way too quiet. My automatic reaction was, worms.

In the good old days, Charlie massacred so many of the vermin population at the barn, he needed to be wormed twice a year. If I didn't keep up, he would show the above behaviors for a day or two and then start pooping worms all over the place.

So I wormed him. He didn't feel better. We went to the vet and in short order, began treatment for an infected anal gland. Poor Charlie.

Here's the thing. Normal Mugs would have noticed the symptoms and responded within a day or two, not a week. Normal Mugs would have thought, Charlie doesn't hunt much anymore, he's really quiet, we should see the vet.

Why wasn't I thinking like Normal Mugs? Because I have been submersed in the fascinating psychology of dogs. I mean buried.

Since I landed a dog who needed real, well thought out training and behavior modification, and I decided to write about it,  I have been sucked into the world of dog brains, dog/human relations, positive and negative reinforcement, eugenics, blah, blah, blah.

With my own dogs I have been thinking about pack behavior, body language and What are they REALLY thinking.

Since my right hand dog Dinah died, the pack has been a mess. Brockle wants to be boss, but he's a micro-managing lunatic, and has been doing a crappy job. Charlie has been staying out of the way, he's a born minion and he knows it.

Ever since I've started watching, thinking and observing my dogs in a new light, my common sense has flown out the window. So much so, I almost endangered my dog and my hay money. Mania Mugs was ruling the roost.

Take this declawing the cat thing. I was a kid when I first heard there was such a thing. I had never even had a cat, but my immediate thought was, But they use their claws to protect themselves-- so that's stupid. As a kid, I had common sense.

I kept the same opinion for many years and eventually had a few cats share space with me. I knew people who declawed their cats, usually because of new furniture. I also observed, all on my own, that declawed cats were almost always, "no-seeums" cats. They were afraid of everything. Which to me, make perfect sense, because they didn't have their claws. I jumped to the conclusion that getting their claws taken off made them crazy and never considered declawing a cat. Ever.

Maybe my facts weren't completely accurate, but I was close, just by using common sense.

I started researching dogs, thunderstorms and fireworks.

I read from trainers who suggested ignoring the anxious behavior and sticking with known routines so the dog learns storms aren't scary.

I read from trainers who went to great lengths explaining that reassurance isn't the same as reinforcing behaviors.

Both sides went to great lengths to vilify the other.

Which was weird, since both sides made it clear that rushing to your pet, smothering them with kisses and becoming overly emotional WILL become reinforcement.

Both sides went to great lengths to provide their long and involved training techniques.

Thankfully, Normal Mugs made an appearance.

In the past, when I got a new dog, I always paid attention during their first thunderstorm.

Bolters were put in the car, or a secure room, with an article of my clothing and a favorite toy. Anxious dogs were allowed to cling as much as they wanted while I proceeded with my day. They would get a kind word and a pet, then I'd show, by example, that it wasn't so bad.

The bolters were always welcome to become a clinger and eventually they always made that choice. The clingers got better or they didn't. Common sense told me air pressure, noise, whatever, bothered them and I made sure they were safe and left it at that.

Charlie is a leaner, Snocone doesn't notice and Brockle runs outside and barks at the heavens. If he had a fist he's be shaking it.

Dobby is my daughter's nervous, twitchy, loud, opinionated Min Pin/Italian Greyhound cross. We have been spending looooots of time together. If Dobby wants my attention, he has all four feet on the floor and is quiet. Period.

Thunderstorms terrify him.

Yesterday was hardest on Dobby. He trembled and shook.  He didn't run for the hugs and kisses and consolation he's used to. He chose to sit next to me.On the floor. Quiet. Not asking for more reassurance than leaning against my leg.

Dobby chose common sense.

I think I will too. Thinking and learning are good things. But it's easy to get lost in a new concept or idea and ignore the things you know in your gut. I call it Horse Whispering Syndrome.

You know what I mean, we've all done it. That first taste of magic when our horse joins up makes us a little crazy. We want more of this magic and dump everything we knew before in order to learn it. For some, we eventually remember, Hey, I knew how to saddle a horse and lope around the arena before I started whispering. Maybe I knew some other stuff too. Then reason seeps back in and hopefully, we find a balance between the practical knowledge we had before and the new stuff we're learning.

I'll keep watching my pack, observing their behavior and trying to find the best training and behavior shaping approaches for all of us. In the meantime, I hope I can keep my head on straight. Poor Charlie and his infected butt are counting on me.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

New Breeds?

There is an interesting rumor flying around about a certain type of dog breeder. I guess it isn't a rumor, since I found this website:

Blue Cedar Kennels

This is an example of the dogs they breed.

Envy is a "sport dog mix"...her dam, My-My is a Border x Border Jack and her sire, Pilot, is a Border Jack.

Then I found this one:

I've been looking up the breeders of these dogs because I keep hearing of a sport dog breeder out here in my neck of the woods. It started when I met a family while hiking with my dogs. The Dad was all over my dogs. He asked if I hunted them, I said, " Er, no."

"Why not?" he asked. "What a beautiful team you have!"

I was pretty confused. I was out with Brockle and Charlie. They were doing this:

This is what Brockle and Charlie do on walks, they don't strike me exactly as hunting team material, in looks or technique.

After a bit more conversation, I came to understand things a little better. The family was visiting from another country. At their home, dogs very similar to Brockle were used to drive prey across open ground, straight into the jaws of fierce little murderers like Charlie. This was a sport, as well as a standard hunting practice. He loooooved Brockle. I finally came up with, "Is he like a lurcher?"

"Yes! Lurcher!"

Not that he had lurchers back home, but it was as close as we could come to a description.

Then I met a woman walking a dog that could easily be a Brockle litter mate. Naturally we stopped and compared notes. She told me her dog was called a "Sport Dog," carefully bred here in the state for performance sports like flyball, agility, that thing where they jump of docks, frisbee, any competition where an agile, fired up dog does stuff really fast.

Her dog's breeder was trying for dogs that would succeed at the above and also in lure coursing, an event that's quite big out on the prairie. She crossed Lurchers, imported from England, with breeds known for their high prey drive, Border Collies, Dutch, and German Shepherds and the Australian herding breeds.

"This is serious? This person sells these dogs?" I asked.

I must have had an inappropriate look on my face. I was informed that her dog was winning like hotcakes in three events and there was a waiting list for pups at $800 a pop.

When I told her I got my dog off the clearance rack at the Humane Society she quit talking to me.

I haven't been able to find this breeder. I'll be honest, I haven't tried too hard. I did a bit of research into lurchers though.

I learned that Lurchers are sight hounds crossed with not sight hounds for different kinds of hunting. They're pretty common in Europe. They are a type, not a breed, come in different sizes, colors and hunting abilities. Historically, they were a poor man's dog, bred by a poor man's standards. If they were up for the task at hand, they lived and if not, well....

In Britain, Lurchers are hunted over different kinds of terrain: stubble field, smooth flat grassland, or rugged moorlands. So the dogs are chosen with both the quarry and the environment in mind. 
For these reasons, a useful working lurcher are bred from similarly useful working parents. Its not just a matter of breeding any old greyhound to the collie round the corner. Any responsible person wishing to breed a litter of lurchers  picks parents with a proven ability to work, and rules out the breeds no longer used for their original purpose. So, technically, while a cross such as a Borzoi/Old English Sheepdog is a lurcher, you'll be hard pressed to find one, at least on the other side of the pond.

Greyhounds, Deerhounds, Salukis, Whippets and Wolfhounds seem to be the primary sight hound influence, with crosses to collies, terriers and bull breeds (and mixes of those) to create what's desired. 

The thing is, these dogs have been bred forever. Not by crossing a collie and a greyhound, then adding in some pit or JRT the next generation.

They are bred to work. They are tweaked with fresh blood to improve performance. More like rat terriers were before AKC glommed onto them. Everybody knew there was a bunch of breeds in there, but a rat was still a rat, and was considered an all around barn, farm and ranch dog that fit in your lap.

On the flip side, breeds have to start somewhere, right? My interest was piqued. I haven't found this sport dog breeder yet. If by some obscure chance of fate Brockle did come from this program, he would be a dismal failure. He is too easily amped up to handle the intensity of agility, too dog aggressive to stay on track for fly ball (This is MY BALL, and SO IS YOURS!!!), and while he loves to chase stuff, and he's fast enough and agile enough to run neck and neck with a rabbit, his reaction is to bounce around and look really dopey.
"Aw....hi little bunny!" Brockle says.
"Send it over here! Bite it! Do something! Anything! Aw Jeez, you're killing me here!" Charlie screams.

And then, this morning, I see this.

She's a Malinois Greyhound cross at our local Humane Society. Is she a random mutt or a "Sport Dog" failure? Whatever she is, things haven't been going her way, that's for damn sure. My guess is she's sensitive, protective, insanely fast and smarter than her breeder. If I had the room, energy and time to take on another one, I'd go get her faster than Tess the Border Collie whips through the weave poles. Thing is, Brockle is a tough dog. Hard, reactive, insecure, full of beans, pushy, wary, and definitely smarter than me, the scars from his first months on the planet run deep. I can't imagine where this poor girl's head is at. 

This post is about questions more than opinions, at least for me. It's got me thinking about lots of things, but I'll be honest, mainly I'm thinking about that starved, frightened dog. 

P.S. Just so you don't think I'm totally nuts on the Brockle/lurcher thing...

image a and b are lurchers
         c and d are Brockle.