Friday, May 30, 2014

Dog Stuff

As you guys know, I think my animals are perfect. I write about them in such glowing terms it's as if they were/are wonder dogs and horses.

To me, they are.

However, there is the reality.

Snocone, who is making huge strides in her awareness of the world around her, has started coming to me when she wants something she feels is my job to handle, usually food or going outside to pee, or to Jim, who is for love, ear scratches and cuddles.

She will come and stand in front of my chair, her front feet tap, tap tapping, licking her toothless chops over and over....until she gets what she wants.

Or stand in front of Jim's couch, doing the same.

Considering, three years ago, she would stagger around until she bumped into a corner and then simply stand and stare at the wall....

She will even whimper if we don't respond fast enough.

The thing is, it doesn't matter if we're actually seated in my chair or his couch. Empty or full, makes no difference to Snocone. Man, she just cracks me up.

Monday, May 26, 2014

If You Want It Act Like You Mean It

Yeah. I'm a little embarrassed to be empowered by a Shakira video, especially one that should be titled "Play Hard, Poop Harder."

But there you go.

The Mugs and Big K Clinic is coming up in mid-July, and instead of getting excited I've been laying flat on the ground worrying about the future. Well, OK, not just THE future, but MY future.

Because in a lot of ways, it's kind of bleak.

This damn PD has me pretty much on a liquid diet. I can't swallow very well. I mean, I can eat, if I'm willing to drink, give or take,  32 oz. of water per meal. But, I've accepted the fact that I do better living on smoothies and soup, with a couple of snacks a day, made up of crackers, nuts and dried fruit. Because I can still eat trail mix, go figure. PD is a weird ass disease.

I have these bitching blood pressure drops from out of nowhere that send me crashing to the floor. Which is why I call it "Crashing." I have to wear one of those stupid "Help I've fallen and I can't get up" buttons around my neck.

So let me tell you, I've been in a mood.

I could have stayed in my pool of muck, it's warm and steamy, kind of comforting in way, as long as I ignored the smell....

But that's just not how I roll.

Many years ago, I was cancer ridden, had a baby and a really bad husband, and my horses were kept on his family ranch. My access to them was controlled by the bad husband. Now there was a sucky period of time. Well, the baby was good, but as many of you know, babies are very ying and yang when it comes to quality of life.

I got kind of whiny then too. But eventually, I got pissed.

I pulled myself together by running. Being the OCD queen that I am, I didn't just go jogging, I became a hard core trail runner, eventually logging an average of 25 miles a week on mountain trails. I found that when I ran, instead of a runner's high, I was gifted with clear thought.

I ran and thought my way through a few more bouts of cancer, surgery and radiation treatment. I pushed my illustration, landed a children's book series, got rid of the husband, found a job at a daycare center so I could keep the kidlette with me, had the cancer riddled arm amputated, and ran the Pikes Peak Ascent, twice.


I came out of it with a take no prisoners attitude. My amputation made me lose the daycare job, and I picked up a job as a riding instructor at a small barn in Green Mountain Falls. Still feeling pissy, I took the bad ex-husband to court, sued his ass for back child support and took back my horse in lieu of $$. Then, because I could, I took his too.

Six months after my amputation I took my first horse in for training. Six months after that I bought Sonita. The rest,well you guys can read about that, it's all in the blog.

So. I find myself in the poop again. I'm older, much more tired, and this disease, well, it's gonna get me.


There is a writer. His name is Tom McGuane. He lives on a ranch in Montana and is a cutter, a good one from what I understand. He checks his horses first thing in the morning, then goes to his writing studio (in my imagination it's a converted log shed), and writes until noon. Then he rides.

His life has been my dream forever.

It occurred to me, just in the past few days, that I have all those pieces. They are right here in my hands, er, make that hand.

I am a writer. I actually write for my living. I have a couple of very fine horses that I trained myself, and I'm still a pretty bitching rider. It's my choice to take those piece and have my dream life.

So far, as long as I'm on my meds, I have no tremor, when you meet me there's no tell tale sign, and I'm still a steady hand when I ride.

I've got a handle on the crashing deal, as long as I don't overdo it, and get at least a few hours sleep, I'm fine.

Maybe I don't have a ranch in Montana, but I have the Big K, he's my friend, and he's got one, and I get to spend a week there in July. I get to ride with my old friends and get to know some of you in person, I made new friends last year and I bet it will happen again this year. I still have stories in me, and if I quit wallowing and try being a little more open, they'll get written.

What are we going to do in this clinic? Tim, (Big K) is charming, funny and packed full of savvy horse know how. He's a very good instructor. His approach helps every horse and every rider, I don't care if you ride Western, English or Tasmanian, you and your horse will be the better for spending some time with him.

I'm no slouch. I often have a different approach than Tim, but it's based on the same foundation. Last summer I was too quiet, I fell into the minion position too often. Tim has let me know he's not letting me get away with that this year. So, you'll be hearing more from me, on everything and anything we come across.

I'm really good with problem horses and confidence issues for both horse and rider.

There will be cattle work, and time on the trail, with water crossings, mountain scurrying, etc. It's challenging, but we're safe, and nobody has to do anything too far out of their comfort zone.

We're planning a moonlight trail ride. There is a full moon happening over the weekend.

If the weather cheats us, we're still in good shape, because Tim has a great big indoor arena. Rain, snow, sleet, no matter, we'll be riding.

As for me and my frigging PD? I'll ride in the mornings, and take a break in the afternoon so I can be around for the evening get togethers. Tim is tireless, he'll have you working all day. I'll be around to visit in the evenings, and we'll get the stories flowing.

I walk early in the mornings. Anybody who needs a stretch is welcome to join me.

I have realized worrying about the future is pointless. Life has proven to be quite the bronc ride and doesn't pay much attention to how much I do or don't worry.

Today, I can ride. Today I can write. Come July I'll be at the Big K's ranch, with Madonna, Scrub (Odin), Brockle and Charlie, hanging with Tim, Dawn, Kathy, and however many of you decide to come for the ride.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Madonna bucked with me today!

It's totally my fault. It's spring and I haven't been riding. She will never be advertised as "toss her out in the field for six months and ride her off bareback with just a halter...."


I am too old, too fat, and too bent to deal with that stuff.


I rode it. Wish you could see the smirky grin on my face right now. Yes, it's a bit smug, but give me my moment.

Funny thing though.

I haven't had my right arm for 16 years. My first instinct is still to grab for the horn. It took three swooshes past the horn before it occurred to me I might be better off finding my middle instead of trying to pull leather, especially when all I get is air.

Which got me thinking. How do I need to adapt? I have  a couple of good, reliable, but lively horses. I am capable of riding them, but I don't need to be dealing with Ol' Snort N' Buck anymore either. Okay, I'm grinning again, so sue me.

As a kid, when a horse bucked with me, I laughed, dug in and actively pushed it to buck until the sucker was too tired to screw with me anymore.

Once I became a trainer, I learned to push the horse through and get that bad boy working. and working hard.The lesson was soon learned that bucking only increased the horse's workout . Well behaved bunnies were resting and enjoying early dinners.

These days...I'm not in shape. Definitely not enough to ride a rowdy horse into sweat-soaked submission. I'd like to think I can get it back, but I'm not 100% sure I'm still capable of riding at that level of intensity. The PD still marches on.

In this particular circumstance, I put her into a spin. We spun hard and fast to the left, hard and fast to the right and lope departed left.

The second she started to sull up again I repeated the drill.

It worked.

Here's why.

For Madonna, a spin is so familiar she'll go into it automatically. Spins are hard work. I read once, written by somebody I believed, that a spin is the equivalent of a large, fast circle in a reining pattern, as far work, muscle strain and energy.

By putting her in a spin  I was working her hard, but I was safer than trying to lope her out of it.

It got her focus back, stopped her from putting me on my head, and in about two minutes, we were loping.

I worked small circles and concentrated on keeping her shoulders level and her hindquarters reaching. This conveniently made it hard for her to buck.

When she was loping with a steady cadence and a relaxed neck, poll, mouth and ears, and no longer had her tail curled over her back like a Malamute, I quit.

She was still snorty and ready to rock and roll, but at that moment, she was lovely. The entire ride lasted about 20 minutes, and I hung out and visited until she was somewhat calmer.

I'm going to think on this some more, but I think I'm on the right track. The ride ended well, I had her brain, at least in spurts, and tomorrow will better. The best part is, she won't be sore and I won't be too exhausted to get my hiney out to the barn and on my rotten mare.

This is giving me an entire new line of thought and I'm excited.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Puppy Mill Start Up Kit

For only $1100, you too can start up your own animal shop of horrors.

 Stainless Steel Professional Kennel System w/ rack - $1100 (Sedalia)

I have a 8 stainless steel kennels with rack and space for storage. Perfect for serious rabbit breeders, shelters, groomers. Sanitary, easy to clean system keeps animals dry while washing away waste and dropped food. Keeps stock healthy and safe.

Solid stainless with heavy duty gate fronts, complete ventilation all the way around; feeder slots with feeders, accessible from the outside so feeding can be done without opening the doors (two feeders are missing, but easily replaceable), feeders are removable for easy cleaning. Each cage can slide out of the rack for transport and has hinged handles on both sides for easy carry. Built in kennel card slots. Additional slot for exterior water bottles for those lacking a way to hook up the automatic water system.

The bottoms are square cut heavy duty NON WIRE stainless grates so waste drop through while still providing firm footing for animals.

Stainless steel rack has wheels with brake stops and an "easy clean system". Levels are slightly sloped (degree of slope can be changed), so with a hose beginning at the top, washes waste from all levels while keeping the animals 100% dry.

Factory water system in the rack provides continued fresh water to all cages, one nipple does need to be replaced.

This is a professional rack and kennel system.
Has been housed indoors.
Very high quality. heavy duty. You won't be disappointed.
Rack is over 5' high, overall length is ~6'. You'll need a truck or trailer to move.
Delivery may be possible depending on location for an additional $75 for fuel costs in the diesel.

[I am local, although my phone number is not - see contact box for contact]

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Don't Should On Me

Have you ever made a mistake with your horses? Or with your dog? Your kid? Your husband?

I mean a big one?

You know what I mean, a colic caused by, sheesh, breathing the wrong way. Or lameness you missed. Or founder because you fed too much or too little. Maybe you had a habit of letting the water run dry. Or went ahead and fed that slightly moldy hay because you didn't have enough money to toss it and the horse picked through the really bad stuff anyway. Maybe you rode the horse really hard when neither of you were in shape for that twenty mile trail.

How many of us have found out too late a dog who lives on a chain becomes aggressive? Or that keeping Max in a crate for twelve hours a day and then through the night is the reason he peed in the middle of your bed, ate the remote and attacked your neighbors dog at the dog park? What about  loose dogs hit by cars, dogs trusted with babies put down when they bit one, dogs we bought on impulse, grow up into out of control maniacs, jump on great-aunt Edna and break her arm?

Even the little mistakes, saddles that caused galls, collars that damaged tracheae, hiring the wrong shoer, trainer, vet, not knowing when our companions were too thin, too fat, to rude, too sore, not knowing what a bit did, or which leash to use...

I know I have. Most of my mistakes came from ignorance. Some came from negligence. I'm not talking acts of cruelty, I'm talking trusting someone else to take care of business when I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that things weren't right.

I have learned, at this point in my life, to be diligent to the point of paranoia. I study, I learn, I think. For the most part, my pets, my livestock and the humans in my life are safe from harm when they are in my care.

The thing is, I made a butt-load of mistakes along the way. Some have come from simple ignorance. I just didn't know. Some have been caused by blindly accepting training tips, riding instruction, feeding and health care advice from people who didn't give me the right information, or only part of the knowledge I needed.

I have some serious sorrow that I live with from some of my mistakes. I also have gratitude for getting away with others. And, because of my very sick sense of humor, I can even laugh at some of the mistakes I've made. There was "The Incident of the Smoking Tortoise," but I digress.

What has never, ever helped me in my sometimes painful education is being Should On.

As a matter of fact, in my fiery youth, when anxiety, anger and stubbornness ruled my thought processes, being told "You should..," or "You should have," would do nothing but
My brain would slam shut, the guilt and remorse I was already feeling would roar into a fireball of defensiveness, and I would start slinging blame everywhere but at myself.

Being should on made me stick to bad training, insist on using equipment or methods that were not only not working, but potentially harmful, but most of all, being should on caused me to shut out information and advice I desperately needed -- from the people who were shoulding all over me.

"You should have known."

Well, I didn't. Chances are, the mistake has taught me plenty, and I probably should on myself several times already.  Instead of stating THE STINKING OBVIOUS, offering ways to avoid making the mistake again might be a better solution.

"You should have checked your gear."

Duh. I'd rather have you laugh at me. Tell me stories about when you forgot to check your cinch.

"I learned the hard way to make sure all three cinches were cranked down before I went down the fence."

A sentence like that will go a long way towards getting me to say,"I was taught to be able to slip two fingers between my cinch and the horse," and open a discussion.

"You should have seen that coming."

If I had, my dog wouldn't have jumped my friend's dog when they came to visit.

"I read this great book, xxxx, and learned to read my dog's warning signals and body language. Now I can catch him before this goes south. Would you like to borrow it?

So please.

If you don't should in my yard, I won't should in yours.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mugs for Thought

I received  a great email this morning. It was from a horse owner who has some very minor behavior problems with her horse, but is feeling, correctly, that they unacceptable.

Her scenario began like this...the horse, who lives in a stall-with-turnout type of situation, was standing in the cross-ties. He had not been turned out yet.

There was a young girl from the barn standing next to him, stroking his neck.

He was staring off in the distance --I'm guessing, with his head up and a fairly rigid stance-- and ignoring the child.

The owner came up to put him on a lunge line and get some of the sass off him before turning him loose. She placed her hand on the opposite side of his face and he slung his head in irritation.

This turned into a pissing match between them. The owner feels he should tolerate her touch wherever and whenever he gets touched. So, she continued to touch his face, he continued to evade.

Eventually, she gave up, took him outside and lunged the crap out of him. Lot's of speed transitions, stops and turns etc.

In twenty minutes he was hot, tired and completely submissive. He had his head lowered and was asking for affection. The owner was still fired up from the behavior in the barn and didn't want to return it.

Part of her irritation comes from feeling like she has to stomp all over him to get him to respect her. He will refuse to be affectionate and obedient unless she has worked the crap out of him. Then he will behave for a few weeks, then it builds again.

When he is sweet, he is incredibly so, she knows it's in there.

Before we get into my analysis of this situation, I want to share something I have learned about myself in the last few years, but have only come to embrace instead of ignore in just the past few months.

I am an extremely empathetic person. I am not sympathetic, not even a little. Other beings emotions, fear, stress, anger, happiness, contentment, all cause a physical response in me. I'm not going into detail, maybe someday if you're interested, but what this does, is make me very good with animals and very awkward with people.

With people, their words often don't match the emotion they're emitting, and all I hear is Waa waa waa. Kind of like the adult voices in the Charlie Brown cartoons. My daughter will be the first to tell you she feels I rarely hear her, but she knows to her core, I always feel her.

It might give some insight on the weird ways I respond to you at times. It's hard for me to find the correct response to things when I am only reading the written word and not pairing it with a physical presence.

Anyway. These are the words from our conversation that help me read this situation.

For her horse:
"Thousand mile stare.
"...flung his head in irritation.
"...he had a lot of energy.
"...and of course, at the end of it - his head was lowered and he was all "I love you, hold my head."

For herself:

"So I got pissy...
"... we had a little bitty stupid war while he was in crossties 
" me trying to get him to submit to a head hug just for one moment...
"...was just a flat out asshole to him..."
", I just worked him HARD.
"He was letting you touch him, but he wasn't really letting you do it - it's why he had his head high in the air and was ignoring you (to the little girl)."
"And I know that what I did was what he needed, and I can't force him to be something he's not.
"Sometimes I just want to give my horse a hug without establishing dominance first."

First and foremost, understand there was absolutely no abuse in any way shape or form here. When the owner talks about a war, she is not talking about hitting, or jerking or anything, just insisting the horse tolerate her touch.
When she says she worked him hard, she means she exercised him until he was compliant. 

This owner was very close in many ways to reading the situation and handling it correctly. But. You know me there is always a but. This can be completely a non-issue with a few tweaks in perspective.

This is how I would see and handle a situation like this one. We'll pretend he is mine.

My horse is thinking about stretching his legs. He has left the stall and knows he gets to move. Horses are all about movement. The anticipation is overwhelming. It's all he can think about.

He is a well mannered horse, with lots of pent up energy. Just to make sure he stays well mannered, I'm going to work around the barn, while keeping an eye on him, until I see him physically relax in the cross ties. Then I'll take him out for some exercise.

The little girl approaches and starts petting his shoulder.

My horse looks far and away, and stiffens. He wants to run. He is too well mannered to shake off this annoying child, but his tension is mounting.

I am proud of his patience. In order to reward him I tell the kid, "My horse isn't in the mood to be petted right now, maybe you can come see him after he's had some exercise and is happier."

Keep in mind, if she was a kid I was in charge of I'd say, "Why are you touching someone else's horse? Don't you have a stall to clean?"

Once my horse has relaxed and is looking around, mild eyed, I would saddle him, put the lunge line on him and we would go work. 

Our work out would be focused, he would not be allowed to buck, snort around, bolt, nothing. He knows this, because I saddled him, and we don't screw around under saddle. (This is another training post).

Once he is relaxed, calm and behaving well, I'll know he has his head back on straight and I'll let him rest. 

He'll be warm and affectionate. I'll reward him by scratching a few sweet spots, then caress his head, an area he's not comfortable with me handling, making it part of a positive experience.

I'll unsaddle him, scratch him again, take of his head gear and walk away. He'll approach turnout at a walk.

Here's my agree and disagree.

I agree 100% that my horses need to let me handle them when and where I need to.

I never take it personally when a horse lets me know they are uncomfortable with certain spots. 

To my mind, the gelding was completely focused on getting out. The cross ties were stopping him, the child was stopping him, he was ignoring the restraint, but letting his anxiety build. When his owner approached with yet another restraint he objected. Nobody was hearing him.

When I was little, I didn't want to kiss Grandma when she first arrived. It wasn't personal. I adored her. It's just that she was squishy and smelled funny. After we had hung out for a while and she had told me her latest adventures, I forgot she was squishy and kissed her happily. She still smelled funny, but it didn't matter, because she waited until I remembered she was someone I wanted to hug.

The aunt that made me kiss her anyway? I never got past how much I hated her spiky mustache. I dutifully kissed her, but my only memory of her is being poked by those black, bristly hairs on her upper lip.

I teach my horses to be handled during specific exercises, not in response to negative behaviors. I wait until they're ready to give me affection. I insist on good behavior. 

I don't allow myself to become angry with my horse. It's not that hard, because I never take things personally. I look for reasons to help me know how to shape behavior. 

Don't get me wrong, you'll hear me gripe and complain to high heaven....but not at the horse.
When it comes to dominance....

No horse wants to be hit, smacked, jerked, kicked or run until exhausted. Not a single one. No horse is happy because these things happen, they are only relieved when it stops. 

You guys know I take the "boss mare" position with my horses. They have to do what I say. I also strongly believe I need to hear and respect my horse.

I agree the horse should not have slung his head.

The difference is, I would try not to set him up for failure. How? By using the approach I described above. 
He would not have gotten the turn out he so desperately wanted until he earned it, by being calm and relaxed. I would let him sort that out himself. I wouldn't be sympathetic to his anxiety, but I certainly wouldn't be picking a fight with him when he only had half his brain working.

I know that as soon as he learns his anxiety doesn't get him anywhere, the better we both get along.

By approaching my horse like this, I stop the gradual build to misbehavior. I'm still the boss.

I'm not saying I haven't had many a "Come to Jesus" meeting with my horses. But it's rarely more than once.

"Wait," some of you are saying, "she said the horse became soft and compliant after she got after him."

He certainly did. Because he finally got what every fiber in his being was screaming for, some exercise.

However, this good, well-mannered horse isn't done with his tension, his anxiety in the cross ties, or slinging his head.

Because, in his mind, the way he finally got his person to understand how much he needed to move, was by being fractious in the cross ties.

Her anger confuses him, maybe even frightens him, but he is learning to tolerate that in order to get what he needs.

As usual, the Big K, in two simple sentences, made this clear to me.

Several years ago, we were sitting on our horses and letting them air up. Sonita would grab at the side of her bit, I would pull it out and growl at her, she's do it again, and then I would too. I don't know how long K watched this back and forth, but finally, he said, "Janet, you two are bitch slapping each other like a couple of queens in a gay bar. Either ignore it or fix it, you two are driving me nuts."

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Know When to Hold "Em, Know When to Fold 'Em

Charlie is lying under my chair. He has taken Dinah's "Chair Troll" spot. Is it because it was a coveted spot? Or because it smells like Dinah? Or is it because he feels how that empty spot makes me ache? I don't know, but he sure is a good dog.

This flipping PD has been kicking my butt. It makes me tired beyond reason, makes my blood pressure plummet without warning, makes me stupid, forgetful, and um.....something else.

All of this has been messing with my horse time. Not riding enough screws with me physically and mentally. My seat is slipping as fast as my confidence. Blah, whine, snivel.

So what am I going to do about it?

There have been times throughout my life when my horses faded into the background of my priorities. A few dark years, beginning my junior year at CSU, almost lost them to me. The early years with the kidlette knocked them pretty much out to the back forty. Cancer kept me hopping and shut my horses out yet again.

But I have always rallied.I find my balance through my horses. They are the first to pull me out of the prison of unhealthy introspection and back into the world. Horses keep me thinking outside the box stall.

I am not a person who is happy hand grazing, braiding manes, or meandering through a meadow with my horses. Don't get me wrong, it can certainly be part of my day, but I want to go. I want to explore, learn, and compete.

I like cleaning stalls, stacking hay and filling a clean water tank, but only as part of the whole.

Now, I find myself with the obligations of caring for another who can't care for himself, skirting the darkness that would like to suck me into its mire and battling an illness that, unlike my close companion, Cancer, is never going to go away and leave me the #$@%!! alone.

It's a lot to juggle.

I want to be on the show circuit, but that will only work if I actually tune my horses. I worry I don't have the stamina to haul to the shows, or even out to the friends who can help me get myself back into show shape.

So, instead, I sulk and stew and think about what I used to do, what I'm gonna do, and never take a look at what I'm doing now.

Which is pretty much nothing.

I absolutely have to be riding well enough to feel confident at the Mug and Big K clinic in July. I have enough trouble handling the nerves I get while talking to folks I've only met on the blog. I don't need to add riding like a toad in a dust devil to the mix.

So. I've been trying to honestly assess my situation.

Madonna and I have been together so long we're like an old married couple. I barely have to think about our next move and she's there. She is so easy to read I can cut the nastiest, sourest cow of the bunch out of the herd, across the pen and down the alleyway without ever worrying about missing a step.

But we are slow and complacent.

Odin is lovely, eager and kind. He is also way behind. He has this sticky spot that makes him set outside leg when he turns to the left and gives him an uneven lope on the right lead. I know how to fix it, but just haven't.

He's unsure on cattle and awkward in his maneuvers.

It has finally sunk in that I'm getting old.

It got so bad, I began thinking about putting the horses out to pasture "just until things were settled."

Lucky for me, I finally quit mewling and got mad.

There are two women who no longer ride at all. They are at the barn every morning, visiting horses and people alike.

One of my fellow boarders came over to show me the buckle he won at his last roping. It was his first buckle. By winning his class he qualified for Nationals, or Finals, or whatever it is you ropers qualify for. His horse is in his early 20's. He is in his 70's. I didn't hear him mewling.

Another boarder is at least twenty years older than me. She has a big paint gelding, Joe, who she adores. She trained long ago, owned many fine horses, was accomplished in dressage. She is stiff, easily tired and relies on Joe's good nature to help her get along. She rides on her good days and just putts around on the bad. But she's there every day. Her husband had a stroke this year. Like me, she is his full time caretaker.

It has cut into her horse time, but she's still there three or four days a week. She doesn't wring her hands about it, she just does what she can. She isn't shying away from her obstacles.

I have a potential support system right there.

I have some interesting training goals...

Old lady mounting.
Old lady saddling.
Old lady conditioning.
Old Lady limbering.

I realize I need to just go. Watch, think, ride when I can, but GO.

Then, I can come home, write it all out with you, give and get encouragement, provocative argument, and discussion.

Because dammit, I'm not done yet.

This was shot at Tim's place a few years ago. It was a visit, not a clinic, but you get the idea. I'm going to be ready to meet new friends, ride, and torment K.

Thursday, May 1, 2014


Dinah was the epitome of a family dog.

We worked together every day and she was a shadow within my shadow each step of the way.

The only time she left her place at my heels was to follow my daughter; she took the job as companion, playmate and guardian of what was most precious to me with the grave intensity that was her way.

At night, after a long hard day, she spent her evenings dozing with my husband in the recliner, with her head in his hand while he methodically scratched her ears.

Her relationship was unique to each of us, and of her own design, because Dinah was not a dog who took kindly to being told what to do.

She did things as she saw fit, lucky for us, she also had an unflagging loyalty and the deep rooted sense of duty that goes hand in hand with devotion. Dinah had lived with us for many years before I realized I never actually trained her to do anything. I could not take credit for my well behaved little dog. She would see a gap and fill it, meet a friend and keep them, and was polite to everyone else, while making it clear they weren't members of her inner circle. She came because she was interested in what I had to say, heeled because that was the spot she chose for travel, and accepted my guidance as long as it was practical.

I rarely had to find her, if she was gone, she was busy, and never felt a moment's remorse when I tracked her down. At best, she might run to me and then back to the hole she was working, inviting me to help dig the varmint out, normally, she would pull her head from the ground, her white muzzle and paws covered with dirt, and look at me with clear annoyance. Obedience wasn't in her vocabulary, she was a good dog because she chose to be.

Dinah made an art form of totally dissing those beneath her yet still left them desperately vying for her attention, a talent I always envied.

She was a Jack Russell Corgi mix, a small, stout dog. She carried twenty pounds of hard muscle on her sturdy frame. She looked like a tiny Corgi, with maybe an extra inch or so of leg, a rounder face, shorter back and larger eye. In her prime she could leap from a stand still and look you in the eye. "Every Corgi's fantasy," was how our vet described the springs in her legs.

She got me over, forever and a day, my unfounded prejudice against small dogs. The thought of a sixty pound Dinah was a terrifying one.

She developed her hunting skills on her own, mousing in the barn and basement, then moving on to ground squirrels, water rats and the occasional prairie dog. It wasn't uncommon to see Dinah and a few  barn cats waiting patiently around a mouse hole.

It wasn't until we paired her with Charlie, out Rat Terrier, that she became a master. Between the two of them they became murdering machines. Dinah would wait by a burrow or hidey hole deep in the scrub oak, and Charlie would drive the hapless rabbit or squirrel into her waiting jaws.

She would lie quiet next to a pallet loaded with grain bags while Charlie dug and barked on the other side, so still, the panicked mice would bolt right across her paws to their doom.

She knew to lie upwind of a prairie dog colony while Charlie barked and played the fool for the chattering group. The sentinels would shriek the alarm and they would all pop up and down, cursing and taunting Charlie.  On a good day she could take two or three before they ever knew she was behind them. Prairie dogs aren't the sharpest tool in the shed, my dog team could wipe out a small colony in a matter of days.

Pigeons were controlled during nesting season, they would haunt the barns as the peeps of the fledglings grew stronger. Dinah and Charlie rarely missed first flight day and the pigeon casualties were always high.

My dog were a valuable vermin control team, it made them welcome every where we worked.

Dinah traveled the show circuit with us. She slept curled next to Clare on the road and never grew tired of travel.
She never wandered and would wait patiently at the gate while we competed. She comforted the kidlette while she learned the art of sportsmanship and kept me company while I waited for my midnight go. She was content to sleep with us in the nest built into the nose of our trailer, but happiest when we smuggled her into a motel.

Nothing made Dinah happier than the words, "Let's go to the horse show!"

She was my child's closest friend. Raising your kid at the barn is a fantastic gift, but it can be lonely. The kidlette and Dinah made forts, climbed trees (I'm serious), played horses and a crazy version of Agility. Dinah would perform like a circus monkey for my daughter, because it was part of the game. They swam together at friends pools, rode crammed together in the saddle and spooned for naps in the sun.

When Dinah was 10-years-old, she suddenly, without warning, retired from being a barn dog. One morning, she simply didn't want to leave the house. She hung her head and half crouched instead of doing her happy dog dance at the door. I let her stay home and the performance was repeated the next day, and then the next.

A trip to the vet found nothing wrong. For whatever reason, Dinah had retired. Less than a year later, my own illness forced me to follow her.

As my writing career progressed, I spent more time on the computer. Dinah made a bed under my chair and became my official chair troll. She has been under my chair as I wrote for the last six years.

I write this today with the understanding that Dinah was with me through the best years of my life. Not the easiest, not the smoothest, in many ways, the most painful, but still the best.

I am so grateful to have shared these years with her. Although there is a bittersweet emptiness under my chair, I still can feel her steady trot at my heels, her shadow within my shadow. We had a great run, Dinah and I.