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.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Horse Story

Cathy Atkinson posted this mind numbing ad from the Oregon Horse Forum on FB. It's a real ad. Word. 

I woke up for the day at 2 a.m. thinking about this kid, her mom and her birthday horse. A series of possible ads, posts and news breaking events kept running through my head. Here's my version of how this mess is going to play out. The first ad is the original posted by Cathy, the rest, well, you've been mugged.

Amelia's Mommy's Face Book Page

We found him!

heart Facebook keyboard shortcuts and Facebook emoticons  Amelia's new "furever"  friend, Honey Boo Boo II heart Facebook keyboard shortcuts and Facebook emoticons


Look what Amelia and Daddy made for Honey Boo Boo II!    A DIY round pen made from pallets!!!!!

Craig's List
             Pink Pony Saddle Set with Pad and bridal  $75
             It’s real light, easy for kids to put on the horse!


Pat Parelli Mastery Dvd Issue 1                                                 2d 14h left                          20.00

Why wait? Amelia and Honey Boo Boo II love each other sooooooo much she decided to start riding him!
No worries, we invested in some of the finest training tapes money can find used on eBay. Horse+Man+Ship !!!!!  

Amelia’s World

 My daughter Amelia is turning 9 on July 24th.  She is in the hospital after a tragic accident with a vicious horse. SHE COULD DIE ANY SECOND!!!!!! Me and my hubby have no savings, no insurance and are unemployed. Please PRAY FOR US!!!!!! A fund for Amanda has been set up at Shill Bank.

KGW-TV  Clackamous County

Owners said they fed the horse until it tried to kill their 9-year-old daughter.

Court returns horse to a Boring OR couple facing animal cruelty charges.

The horse was confiscated earlier this month. Reasons cited were a lack of shelter, water and grass for the animal. There was no visible feed on the property.

Sunshine Amyntas, owner of Die Trying Animal Rescue, off U.S. 17 in Clackmous County where the animal was nursed back to health, stated, "A veterinarian, appointed by a judge to evaluate the animals’ health, reached the decision to return the horse to its owners Saturday afternoon."

“The court put the vet in charge of the decision,” Amyntas said. “Whenever she says, 'It’s healthy enough to go home,' it goes home.”

Amyntas said Dr. B.J. Slacker visited the horse Saturday afternoon, vaccinated it, and decided the 11-month-old horse was healthy enough to return to its owners.

Last week the horses’ owners, Billy Joe Skittles, 53, and his wife, Louella Louise Beaver, 25, pleaded no contest to animal cruelty charges and were sentenced to unsupervised probation.

No-contest pleas allow defendants to enter a plea for sentencing purposes without admitting guilt.

The owners have said they fed the horse until it tried to kill their 9-year-old daughter. “We was promised a safe kids horse, you know, something our little girl could bond with,” Beaver said. “I think that sucker is bi-polar.”

Neither Skittles nor Beaver could be reached for comment on Sunday.

Craigs List

For Sale

Kid broke gental horse. 11-month-old colt. Not fixed. Broken to saddle, rides good. Call Louann.


Thursday, June 26, 2014


You guys are awesome. Here's a present. With a disclaimer.

This blog is about horses and dogs. It's about training--the animals in my life, myself and the people who dropped in along the way.

My development as a horse trainer directly parallels my development as a decent human being. My growing up was not always monitored, was not always safe, and I certainly wasn't born horse whispering. While this story is true, it absolutely IS NOT about recommended training techniques. It's about growing up, sometimes at the expense of others.

This isn't really Spirit. She was flea-bitten, bigger head, shorter neck, but you get my drift.
Spirit was the trashiest horse I had ever laid eyes on. She stood about 13.2, a slab-sided, ewe-necked, pig eyed train wreck with a giant wonking hammerhead. Her back was a church pew built from warped boards, her spine dipped below the withers, rose in a bony hand waving hallelujah over her loins and spilled down her goose rump to a low slung tail, clamped firmly over her cow-hocked, club-footed hind legs. She had this huge hitch in her get-along, my first case of string-halt. Riding her inspired more prayer than I had ever mustered during a Sunday sermon.

The flea-bitten gray mare was also my first, official, horse-in-training. I was going to be paid, in hay, to make this horse safe for the six children who were supposed to ride her. The Henderson family was suburban, had never owned a horse or had a riding lesson, and couldn't figure out why they couldn't get on their new toy.

"I paid good money for her," George Sr. said. "She's a guaranteed kids horse."

They had bought Spirit, sight unseen, from somebody who had owed George Sr. money. She had arrived at our barn with 10 bales of moldy alfalfa, a feed store grazing bit and bridle, no reins, no chin strap, no halter.

I gave them a list of things to buy, brushes, new hay, grain, and tack. My wish for a saddle was denied, the kids were to learn to ride "like wild Indians," like me. I didn't point out I rode bareback because my saddle had been stolen, or that I wasn't an Indian. This horse, and the riding lessons I could give the wild herd of wolverines who owned her, would just about earn me enough to buy a new one.

I was seventeen-years-old, fearless when it came to horses, and totally cowed by any and all adults. If Big George wanted his kids riding Spirit bareback then it must be possible.

As an added incentive, George Jr., the number one son, was my age, handsome enough to make me melt and in the habit of watching me ride. At school, on the streets of the 'burb, a boy like him would never know a girl like me existed. His crystal blue eyes would sweep over me like a mail box on his sidewalk or a pothole on his street.  When I rode his eyes followed me. He asked questions and listened to my answers with his hands in his pockets and his head bowed. The sun glinted on his streaky gold hair and I waited, my heart pounded, and I held my breath as he digested my answer, his shaggy head rose and a slow, wicked smile crept across his beautiful face. There was admiration and praise in his voice, I felt like John freaking Wayne. It made me so weak I almost fell off my horse.

So hell yeah, I was going to train Spirit.

 On my first day, I came to the barn in my standard summertime horse clothes--cut-off blue jean shorts, my favorite red tee and sneakers.  Fear of my mother's eagle eye spotting any change of dress or manner, and absolute terror of Junior looking at me and finding me lacking, stopped the temptation to dress more like a trainer or God forbid, someone prettier. My crazy hair might have been cleaner than usual, my legs were shaved, and my shorts might have been the shortest and fringiest pair I had, but that was the only deference to Junior's potential presence I dared.

When I haltered the mare and led her to the fence George Jr. hopped the fence across the ditch and sauntered towards us, the rest of the Henderson brood followed behind, flowing in and out of each other like so many escaped ferrets.

Spirit knew kids. It became clear, even to me, that she had put in her time. She loved to be brushed and petted. She loved having her one attribute, a luxurious silver tail that dragged the ground, combed, at least until I bent over to untangle the end. She lashed out, her cow kick a blur of motion I barely registered before I found myself on the ground, my thigh clutched between both hands and my teeth clenched against the building blocks of a fist sized hematoma. Bitch! Spirit sucked back and shook her head.

"She does that a lot," Junior said. The rest of the Henderson kids, who stair-stepped down from Jr. to about five-years-old, giggled and elbowed each other in the ribs. So much for John Wayne.

I crawled over to the fence, well out of Spirit's range and pulled myself up. An angry bruise was already covering my thigh. I was covered in dirt and manure, and the baby oil I had slathered on that morning guaranteed it was with me for the day.

The only way to redeem myself was to get her ridden. I grabbed my ring snaffle and held the bridle between her ears. She immediately squinched her eyes shut, stuck her nose out and opened her mouth wide. She wasn't about to get her teeth banged Yep, this was a short horse who had been bridled by a lot of kids.

I led her out to the field, shortened my inside rein to stop her from grazing and vaulted on.

Before I had loosened my rein or adjusted my seat, Spirit reared up and threw herself backwards. We crashed to the ground. When I landed, I banged my head hard and got the wind knocked clean out of me. It seemed in by best interest to lie still and think things over for a bit. Spirit got up and stood close, her piggy little eye looked directly into mine. She began to crop the grass, I continued to contemplate her eye. She was soft, relaxed, and I swear, amused.

"She does that a bunch too," Junior said.

I rolled my head to look at him, heard my neck pop, and knew this was going to hurt. Junior was standing a foot away, legs splayed, arms akimbo. The rest of the little bastards were laughing on the other side of the ditch. He didn't help me up.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hate, Hate, Hating This

Let me tell you. This is making me sad.

The 2014 Mugs/Big K Clinic is cancelled for this year. My freaking health issues are bigger than my determination/drive/refusal to accept reality/fantasy world, whatever you want to call it.

I am pretty sure, if I start behaving myself, listening to my doctor's advice, blah, blah, blah...I will find a balance. It turns out, my tried and true way of handling illness, "Ignore It and Work Harder," isn't working out on this one.

A 2015 clinic is a likely possibility. Many of my issues, although related to the designated monkey on my back, are of my own doing. I've been informed, if I'll cooperate with the folks out there ready to help me, the gorilla I've been packing around can be whittled down to at least a chimpanzee.

And yes, I'm perfectly aware gorillas and chimps are not monkeys, but the visual is too good, so let it ride.

I apologize to those of you who signed up and scheduled your time, I really do. Contact me via email with questions.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Brockle the Perv

I'll wrestle you for it.

I have a new vet. She's a DVM who changed paths, or should I say opened new ones. Her practice covers holistic health, acupuncture, behavioral medicine, herbal medicine and massage as alternatives to traditional medicine. Go ahead, check her out, (

I met her when Snocone received an end-of-the-road sentence from my traditional vet. I asked about acupuncture, I was put in contact with Dr. Pearson, and Snocone is alive and extremely well.

That's another story for another day.

Dr. Pearson has met Brockle. I was worried about his teeth. He is weird about food, among many other things, and being  the practical person I am I took him to have his teeth checked. Dr. Pearson got to meet Brockle, who has a perfectly healthy set of chompers. After our consultation, she pointed out he is OCD as can be. Again, another story, another day.

Dr. Pearson has urged me to write about his odd behaviors, his wicked high intelligence, his anxieties, and the different things I try to help him cope. She thinks he is a fascinating dog.

As you know, so do I, but now I have back up. If I'm going to catalog my dog, what better place than here?

There's your background, and here's the side of my bouncing boy I'd like to share today.

Brockle is a perv.

I am completely anthropomorphizing here. If I'm going to stay politically correct and within the proper world of dog behavior, it's more like this. Brockle has a strong attraction to concentrated areas of human odor. It is a strong plus in his scent work. His big, damp, intrusive, sensitive, nose can hone in on every scent loaded area of the human body from across a room. If I was willing, he would trade a good snuffle as a reward for treats, his ball, the world.

It's hard to stay PC with Brockle and his nose. I'm telling you, the dog is a creeper. He wants to bury his nose, not just in every crotch he meets, but in arm pits, elbow pits, knee pits and behind the ear. I'm not talking a gentle whiff here. I'm talking getting stabbed by that giant proboscis, then having him roll it around while he snorts and snuffles.

Getting a good knee pit fix isn't enough. If he's allowed that first snuffle, then he begins to lick. His pupils get big. He licks harder. He drapes his head over your arm, leg, whatever fits and push hard. Then, he'll hook a front leg over and he'll head for oh, a belly button, or traces of boob sweat. Nose, snuffle, lick, move on. The front legs get a better grip, then BANG! Brockle's humping.

Brockle landed at the  pound three times. Once after he was picked up as a three-month-old stray, again at 10 months, after the adopter returned him for eating a couch and an apartment wall, and again after only twelve hours, and  those adopters wouldn't give any reason beyond, "He's a  horrible, horrible dog!"

I'm pretty sure I understand why he didn't last even a day with that last family. He systematically tried to hump every member of my household during his first twelve hours with us. Repeatedly. Brockle really had no concept of boundaries.

I straightened that one out quickly, but he is very much on the make most of the time. His drive by lick my sticky spots is pretty stinking gross.

I also warn people adamantly, to not let him lean or push against them, and for God's sake, don't let him start sniffing. Or give him an enthusiastic body scratch, or believe it when he says, "C'mon, let's wrestle."

I met a friend at a local horse show last weekend. The dogs were by my feet and a pleasant little boy stopped by to pet them. He was really into Brockle. They got on well, my dog was being polite and having fun, and the kid seemed to know his dogs.

When he asked if he could play with him on the grass, I said "Sure." They would be right in front of me and Brockle was wanting to play with this kid in a bad way. Since I have a tough time getting him peeled off my side for even a second, I was happy to see him want to play with someone new.

The local club was sponsoring an extreme cowboy event. It's a sport I don't know much about, but is very interesting, so I was into the action.

I heard a muffled, "Urgh."

Then Brockle panting.

Then, "Oof.'

I turned and there, to my horrified amazement, was that poor little kid, flat on his back, with my wildly humping dog wrapped around him like a mummy sleeping bag.

"Brockle, leave it." I shouted.

He did, but the smirk on his smarmy face made it hard to give him a "Good boy."

The dazed kid got up, swaying slightly, but on his feet.

"Boy, is he strong," he said.

"I am really sorry, I should have kept a better eye on him," I said.

Brockle's tail waved gently, he cocked his head and watched as his new little friend walked out of his life forever. His tail drooped , he sighed. I leaned down to give him a scratch. His head whipped around and he licked my elbow pit. My dog is a perv.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

No Giant Hats and Mint Juleps for This Chickie

I waited until after the last race and let the excitement and conversation die down. I didn't want to ruin the fun of following yet another Triple Crown hopeful for anybody else. There was no reason to insert my opinion. To be honest, I'm not 100% sure what it is. What I do know is this. I am done with racing. I didn't watch, read or discuss the horses or the races with anyone.

It's hard. The most influential books in my young Horsaii life was Walter Farley's The Black Stallion series. He described races so exciting I would find myself jumping up and down on the couch, clutching my book and screaming, every single time I read them. I think the last time I was forty or so. 

This is probably the most exciting television moment of my life.

I started becoming more aware of the lives of race horses to a large extent from Cathy Trope and Her Fugly Horse of the Day blog.

I learned about a mare, named Press Exclusive,  with nearly half a million dollars in earnings and nine foals on the ground, getting trampled on a slaughter bound truck.

Her eyes were swollen shut from blunt trauma sustained enroute to the slaugherhouse

This is what she looked like when she was unloaded. She also sustained four fractured ribs and was covered head to toe with deep cuts and abrasions. She had a body score of zero. Yes, zero.

“Two-year-olds, as we know, can be here today and gone tomorrow.” -Gai Waterhouse, leading racehorse trainer."

Then, I started to learn about the injuries sustained by these horses from beginning their careers as two-year-olds.

In Australia, a study of two and three-year-old thoroughbred racehorses reported that 85 percent suffered from at least one episode of illness or injury.

See more eye opening stuff here:

Did I mention drugs? Drug use is so prevalent race horses are no longer being bred with concerns over long term health. The standard practice is to race them young, race them hard and then drug the crap out of them until they die. 

None of this stuff is new anymore. I've been uneasy with the race horse industry for many years. I saw improvements, rescues trying harder, signs of the racing industry stepping up....and it made it easier to just feel uncomfortable, but still catch those races, have a favorite, root for an injured horse without looking too closely.

This year I learned about something I had never heard of before.

Have you guys heard of Nurse Mare Foals?

I hadn't.

According to The Last Chance Corral Website (

A nurse mare foal is bred and born for the sole purpose of bringing it's mother into milk. This milk is produced to nourish the high-bred foal of another mare. The original foal is usually pulled from the nurse mare and killed.

The big buyers into this practice are thoroughbred breeders. The Jockey Club requires that mares are bred by live cover. In order to keep those babies popping as close to January 1 as possible, they are routinely bred back during their foal heat. So, mares can be shipped to be bred as early as seven days after foaling.

The newborn foals are too fragile and valuable to be shipped anywhere. So, their mom is hauled away, baby is left behind and in comes the Nurse Mare. Her brand new baby was just taken out with a sledge hammer, or tossed outside to starve to death, and she is given the thoroughbred baby instead.

I had no fricking idea. Something inside me snapped and I am done. I won't watch another horse race. Unless it's a couple of buddies taking off down a dirt road. I'll still read my beloved Walter Farley, but I'll hold firm to my childhood conviction that Alec and Henry took care of every horse that came though their hands.

I won't ruin the conversations about the next triple crown winner around the office. I won't show up and spoil anybody's Big Hat Party on Derby Day. But don't talk to me about horse racing. Because I am done.

Monday, June 9, 2014

In Which Sonita Teaches Me the Difference Between Feel and Patience II

Sonita wasn't easy. She wasn't particularly nice. She was quick, reactive and bad tempered.

I had been riding her for enough years to let those things become my guide.

I had forgotten, or accepted as my right--I'm not sure which--that Sonita had never kicked or bit anyone. If I slipped in the saddle she stepped under me if she could, and waited for me to straighten myself out if she couldn't. She whinnied to me as I pulled up to the barn. She would leave good grass on a warm afternoon to stand by my chair and doze.

I had fallen into the habit of putting my human spin on her behavior.

Horses are not bold by nature. They are flight animals.

I was treating Sonita like she was a wart hog, or a rhino. Or a street punk. A bully to be conquered.

Horses will fight. Some are quicker to fight than others. But I had never met a horse who didn't spook before it charged. Horses who lunged over stall doors to snap at passerby spent most of their lives with their heads in corners and butts to the door, as far away from their perceived torment as possible.

A lone horse runs hard and spooks wide, can become so panicked it will become lost in the wilderness. A horse with an unstable, injured or weak herd mate becomes aggressive. The need for companionship overcomes flight, but take away flight, give the horse another that needs protection, and fear drives the horse into aggression.

Was Sonita's behavior based on fear?

She was a horse who was aware of everything. Birds, people,vehicles, things that flapped, things that stood too still, Everything close, everything as far as she could see, everything in between.

When I rode, I was essentially driving her, I sat behind her head and shoulders, my legs told her where to put her feet and my hands told her what speed she had to hold as we traveled.

I was in the position to lead, but was I leading? Or was I the weak link?

As we walked around the ring I stayed lost in thought, but made myself stay aware enough to keep my legs steady and my hand quiet. She was quiet too, except for when we had to pass my coat. Then her head came up, she gathered her legs under her and I could feel her as she waited. I stayed quiet and she skittered away from the coat, then settled along the rail again. She dropped to a walk on her own.

My heart sunk a little when I realized she was waiting for my hand to clench, my legs to stiffen and my body to become wooden. She waited for me to transmit all of her tension right back at her. Between my locked legs and my fingers creeping up the reins to get a better hold I was taking away her flight.
I was the fight.

The world was a cacophony of sensation for Sonita. Instead of giving her a clear path, I was reacting to her, piling my responses on top of her already over-loaded brain.

I was as tangled a mess as my horse was. If I was going to be the leader, I had to know where we were going and expect her to get there. I needed to be the toll of a deep clear bell cutting through her tinnitus.

I started by deciding what exactly I wanted. I wanted her to walk on the rail, pass my coat without worry and move into her bit.

I shook out my arms, kicked my feet out of the stirrups, stretched my legs and got my seat together just in time to ride out the next spook. Again, I didn't interfere.She didn't jump as high or as far and was back on the rail within two strides.

If I was going to get past the coat, I wanted it to be because she was concentrating on what we were doing, not whether or not my coat was growing hair and claws and not because I lost track of my goals so I could fight with her.

So I started with simple collection. I held my hand steady, my reins just tight enough so she could make contact if she chose and gave her a squeeze with my calves. Sonita jumped forward, tail wringing, head in the air, and banged herself on the bit. I stayed steady. My hand was quiet, my legs squeezed in the rhythm of the walk I wanted, and she only found pressure if she leaned one way or the other. After a few ugly steps she eased back into the walk. I relaxed my legs, eased the tension in the small of my back and squeezed again. She tossed her head, and jangled her bit, but stepped her hind legs nicely underneath her. I relaxed my legs again.

And so it went. I concentrated on the ground about 10 feet in front of us, kept my body relaxed, and made sure if she was bumped by my legs or hand, it was her own doing. As long as she traveled my chosen line, there was no pressure. I would ask her to collect, get a few steps and release her again.

I made sure I asked her to collect at least five feet before her last spook spot and held my request, but nothing more, through each spook.

She began to collect before my coat, scatter past it, then find her frame within a few feet. I would release her and let her walk the long side of the arena on a loose rein.

I didn't think about the coat, I didn't look at the coat, I just thought about straight lines and extending the amount of time Sonita walked deep, her shoulders up, her poll soft, and her nose an inch or so in front of the vertical.

I'll be damned if we weren't walking past that coat, in frame, without even a tail twitch in another 15 minutes.

I stopped  by my jacket, leaned over, pulled it from the post and put it on.

"Sonita, I'm sorry. I'll figure it out, I promise."

She shook her head and pinned her ears. It was dinner time. She was still a bitch. But I knew, finally, I had her.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Thinking Out Loud - Mexican Dancing Horses

I have read many, many raving, rabid, horrified, freaked out lamentations about the cruel, inhumane and barbaric training that goes into creating a Mexican Dancing Horse.

Having never actually witnessed the training, I have withheld judgement.

Tying a horse between two poles and driving him forward with a whip until he dances seems kind of stupid, but only because I don't need to make my horses dance in thirty days or less. Wouldn't the actual barbarism  come with the trainer?

I mean, if the horse was say,

In Which Sonita Teaches Me the Difference Between Feel and Patience

Stop Dammit!
Make Me Biatch!!!

I flexed my calves against Sonita's ribs asking her to move into the bit. She wrung her tail, hollowed her back, and flung her head in the air.

"Just put her up in there!" K hollered across the pen. 

Easier said than done, you bastard.

"I heard that!"

Let me amend that, Mind reading bastard.

"Can't you feel that?" 

I just loved it when he pointed out my inept riding in front of everybody and their brother at the barn.

 Of course I could feel it. I could feel her front end turn to wood when I tried to push her into the bit. I could feel her lay on my leg and brace from hip to fetlock when I asked her to step her hip in. I could feel her rib cage turn to steel when we set up for a lead change, virtually guaranteeing a cross firing mess through the middle. 

I could feel my body stiffen with anger and frustration. I could feel my hand clench and tighten as Sonita gathered under herself for yet another airs-above-the-ground moment. I could feel her reject contact with the bit, feel her sling her head to the outside of her circle, let her shoulder drop in and her hips swing out.

Yeah baby, I could feel it all. 

Having feel is not all it's cracked up to be, let me tell you.

I stopped and fed out a couple feet of rein. Sonita stood, ears pinned, snapping her tail, kicking at air and whipping her head around to make sure I saw her angry rolling eye and bared teeth.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" She shouted her opinion with every pissy stomp and glare.

Yeppers, I felt that too. 

K rode over, and I felt Sonita power up to lunge at his three-year-old. I caught her just as she leaned forward and her front end lightened, backed her up and felt like I had at least one small victory for the day He let his skittery colt give my bitchy mare plenty of personal space, draped his reins over the saddle horn and folded his arms.

"Well?" he asked. 

"It's like I'm riding a brick," I said.

"Every time you push, she pushes back harder. You need to find a way to create softness."

Well now, that pearl of wisdom cleared everything up. "Ya think?"

"I do. You missed your chance when she was coming after my colt. Her hind end was under her, her front was loose and light, I'd have used that, driven her forward and past me instead of backing her off."

 So much for my small victory. 

"Go home, think things through and we'll see what you got next week."

K was not one to put up with my sarcasm, even when I kept it in my head.

I drove home, alternately grumbling and letting things stew. 

Once in a while, it would be nice if he let my trainer brain alone, just for a minute, and actually told me how to do something. Obviously, I wasn't picking up on it, or my horse wouldn't be the jacked up mess she was. 

But sometimes, riding her was so sweet, things were so clear between us, I barely had to breathe what I wanted and it was there. How was I ever going to call that up at will? My thoughts drifted and I rode Sonita in my mind, fluid, soft and forward.

The next day I cleared my afternoon. Sonita and I were going to think and feel and not fight. I didn't want clients or my next ride urging me to hurry. I saddled her and took her to her favorite outdoor arena on the place. 

We started out on the rail, at a walk.

I hung my jacket on a corner post, emptied my mind, relaxed my body, and loosened my reins. My only goal was walking along the rail.

Sonita moved out at a steady pace, head high, eyes boogery, her ears flicking back and forth. She was waiting for...I didn't know. 

A horse wasn't going to fight just to fight. There was always a reason. What were the reasons? I watched a herd of horses in my head. They jumped at each other to make room, protect babies, get at the best grass, but the real fights, they were mainly over sex. To claim the right, to claim the mare, to ward off the stud, sex came into a lot of horse fights. Other than that it was showing who's the boss, or because they felt cornered, fearful, got put on the defensive. Sonita and I weren't about sex. So what was it?

When a horse was trying to be boss, well, they started the action. Sonita wasn't starting anything, she was just waiting. The morning was cool, we were just walking along, yet a light sweat had sprung up in the crease between neck and shoulder. 

We rounded the corner and Sonita spooked at my jacket. A great big, free, jump and snort. I grabbed my reins and she spun in a circle, her neck locked and her eyes bugged out like a Warner Brothers Cartoon. Wa-Ooooga! Her ribs stiffened and she ran against my leg halfway across the arena.

She was ready. Bring it on. But I was still caught in the last train of thought before we exploded into a blur of action and instinct. Why was she so ready to fight?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Old Lady Riding

Here's the thing about Old Lady Riding. It's about feeling better after you spend time with your horse. That's absolutely the only rule I've got.

Old Lady Life can be pretty sucky, even for those of us who like to get on FB and tell everyone how blessed we are. I always want to yell, "Of course you're blessed you dipshit, you're still breathing! Now get your sanctimonious self off my page!"

Why? Because I'm turning into a crabby, impatient old lady. As far as I'm concerned, life is life, we're given what we can bear, sometimes we're given more than we can bear, but it happens anyway, life don't care. Life is funny that way.

 I want to use mine playing with my dogs, writing some stories, riding my horses and sharing info when asked. I also like to think about stuff. The older I get, the more isolated I become, the deeper I go. There may be some tidbits here and there among the other horse/dog/riding/training/stories stuff, but I'll try to keep control.

So, back to Old Lady Riding.

The best way to enjoy my horses is to feel safe before, during and after I have been with them.

I accomplish this by having some solid fundamentals, for both me and my horses under my ever expanding belt. Things I can trust.

Next, I am realistic about where I am today. Am I tired? Probably. When I'm tired, I make mistakes. My ability to immediately analyze, evaluate and create a plan of action is dulled. So, I take my time. I lean on the corral rail and watch the horses for a while.

Have they had breakfast? My horses behave just fine if they haven't eaten at all, if they're done, or if they're half way through, but God help me if I pull them when they've just gotten started. In the old days, I'd pull them anyway, now days? I'm not in a hurry, I can wait a bit.

Is my mare in heat? If so, which day? Is she romantic, or does she want to kill something? My expectations are the same as they ever were, but I run the possible scenarios, and my solutions, ahead of time.

Is Scrub playing herd stallion today? Five minutes in the round pen with me on the ground, then five more with me in the saddle should clear up any communication issues. If not, I'll pony him to the big arena and let him stand saddled tied while I work Madonna. Then we'll start our ride with some intense trot, lope, trot work, keeping our circles small and our lines short until the kink is out of his back and his eye is calm.

Old Lady Riding has taught me to keep my plans flexible. Very, very flexible. I don't have to fix every problem today. Issues for me and the horses will be waiting for me tomorrow. I'll accept less, but expect more, then quit for the day. Instead of being upset, I'll consider it an opportunity to have a game plan tomorrow.

If I have concrete plans, a trail ride or working cattle with friends, a horse show or clinic, then I'll make damn sure I start preparing all of us at least the week before. Short, effective rides go a long way towards having us mentally and physically prepared.

Last of all, I'm learning to forgive myself. My life with horses is not the same. But it's still, really, really good.

I'll start my next post with some specifics.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up, But I Have A Solution

"San Francisco is in the midst of a rat problem, and one woman's rodent obsession might be partly to blame.

"Authorities say a woman living in a residential hotel has been breeding them. And then releasing them into the public. Police say when they last checked she was living with 300 rats in deplorable living conditions." (Via KNTV)

KTVU obtained this 2011 footage of a rat-infested hotel room, which was formerly occupied by a 43-year-old woman known as "Erica J." or informally, "Rat Girl." San Francisco's animal control department says Erica compulsively breeds the rats, which then infest wherever she lives.

The city's Public Safety Department ultimately had to exterminate over one thousand rats in that hotel. Since then, animal control officers have been confiscating Erica's rats when they can, but they say she always seems to find more.

Since just one breeding pair of rats can produce up to 15,000 descendants in a year, according to National Geographic, Rat Girl's furry friends are causing a major headache for the city.

An animal control official told KTVU prosecuting Erica is unlikely to solve the problem.

"I believe that there's a serious underlying mental health issue that needs to be addressed. ... I can only imagine that this situation is probably going to continue wherever she lives until she gets the help that she needs."

Attempts to intervene on the woman have been futile, according to NBC Bay Area: "Authorities say the woman moves when she is confronted about the problem."

And in case you need a reminder of why Rat Girl's hobby is a dangerous public health issue, the CDC has a comprehensive list of all the nasty diseases rats can carry. Ick.

Animal control has been able to adopt out some of Erica's confiscated rats which had already been domesticated - feral or diseased rats were euthanized."

...and here is the solution

It was well after nightfall. The pack of dogs was split into two groups and was led to opposite ends of a desolate alley in downtown Manhattan

A man collecting recyclable cans from the trash slipped out just before the owners unleashed the dogs.
The rat hunt was on.
The dogs raced toward a pile of trash bags in the middle of the alley, with the smaller dogs combing through the bags and chasing rats out toward the larger dogs.
Ernie, a 3-year-old hunt terrier, snapped up a fleeing rat in his jaws and gave him a hard shake. The rat quickly went limp. Ernie’s owner rejoiced over the kill — it was Ernie’s first, after just a few outings of hunting vermin.
This was another occasional outing for a group of dog owners who take their pets to downtown Manhattan to kill rats.
The hunts are conducted something like a country fox hunt, but in an urban setting. Members say it allows their dogs — mostly breeds known for chasing small game and vermin — to indulge in basic instinctual drives by killing a dozen or two dozen rats each time they are let loose.
“We don’t make a huge difference in the rat population, but the dogs have a lot of fun,” said Richard Reynolds, a main organizer of the group, which, in an effort to form the acronym RATS, he semiseriously calls the Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society (Ryders Alley was once a rat-infested lane downtown, and trencher-fed refers to the keeping of hounds to hunt). The group, which includes some members who travel from the suburbs, has been meeting for 15 years, mostly in downtown Manhattan in areas where trash is abundant.
“We love garbage — if there’s food around, there are rats,” said Mr. Reynolds, a dog breeder from Tenafly, N.J.
Just before the recent alley hunt, the group had met in City Hall Park, with the energetic little dogs straining their leashes toward the bushes and assuming pointing positions. A local resident who was walking his 12-year-old Jack Russell terrier, Chloe, stopped to chat, and was incredulous when told what the group was doing: using their dogs to find, catch and kill rats in the streets.
“You guys can do that?” asked Chloe’s owner, Andrew Luan, 42. “I mean, you won’t get tickets, the city’s O.K. with that?”
In fact, it would appear that the rat hunters are not violating any laws or health codes, and the plight of rats, at least those living on and below New York’s streets, does not generate the same level of passion as the plight of, say, the city’s carriage horses.
“The city loves us,” claimed Mr. Reynolds, casting his group as a free extermination force. He was wearing a tweed cap and gripping a spike-tipped walking stick, for poking garbage bags and for protection from the rodents.
Soon the hunting group entered the alley — Theater Alley, a deserted narrow lane just off Park Row — and they invited Mr. Luan to come. He accepted.
“Looks like we got a new member,” said Jimmy Hoffman, 37, who held Mighty, his 3-year-old Patterdale terrier, on a leash.
“Hopefully you’ll get some food tonight, huh Mighty?” said Mr. Hoffman, of Bellerose, Queens.
In the alley, Ernie’s owner said she was a veterinarian from Manhattan on her third hunt who asked that her name not be published because “it wouldn’t go over well with some of my clients.”
“Once he got a taste for it, he has not stopped looking” for rats, she said, adding the hunt “provides mental stimulation” for the dogs.
“They are using their brain,” she said. “It’s in their nature, it’s what they want to do, but in the city, it’s hard for them to do it.”
Hunting rats does pose risks, since they are known to carry diseases, including leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that often affects animals, but the veterinarian said it was not the season for it.
Mr. Reynolds said there had been a few lacerations to the dogs from rat bites and other mishaps, but nothing serious. Still, he said, he carries “a traveling field hospital” in his truck, just in case, and a staple gun in his pocket, to mend wounds.

The group sometimes gets tips from homeless people or police officers, Mr. Reynolds said. In fact, he said, some officers have gone from initially being suspicious of what they were doing to suggesting rat locations and wishing them luck.
In Theater Alley, he said, he had a homeless tipster who repaired old computers discarded by the J&R electronics store nearby and used the store’s Wi-Fi to go online.
“I used to bring him a turkey sandwich and a six-pack and he’d email me reports on the rats here,” Mr. Reynolds said.
Still, not everyone supports the rat hunts. Brian Shapiro, the New York State director for the Humane Society of the United States, said there were numerous cases of dogs biting rats and ingesting poison consumed by the rat.
This type of activity exposes dogs to the “likelihood of eventual toxic exposure,” he said, adding, “The more times the owners send them out, they are repeatedly exposing them to that risk — it’s not good guardianship for a dog.”
“They don’t choose to go into the alley — they are sent in,” he said of the dogs, and added, “This is not an effective means of pest control because they are not getting any significant number of rats.”
As for the rats, he said, “You want to address them in a manner that causes the least amount of suffering.”
A spokeswoman for the New York City Police Department said there was no information available on the legality of using dogs to hunt rats in the city.
Mr. Reynolds said he hated animal cruelty, but he argued that no harm had ever come to any of the dogs, and added that rat poison causes a slow, painful death, compared with a quick death in a dog’s jaws.
Mr. Hoffman, a veterinary technician, said he was not insensitive to the plight of the rat; in fact, he treats pet rats in his work as a veterinary technician in Queens.
“I got no prejudices, but hunting is hunting,” he said.
Another stop during a recent hunt was an outdoor plaza at the Seward Park Extension on Allen Street. A resident standing outside, Dolly Laureano, greeted the group and said that her mother had posted a note about the plaza on the hunting group’s Facebook page.
Next to the plaza, the group put a small dog inside a Dumpster behind the Seventh Precinct station house, at Delancey and Ridge Streets, and the rats came shooting out a single hole at the bottom, with the dogs in hot pursuit.
One darted under a parked Lexus and was cornered by Paco, a feisty dog belonging to Bill Reyna, from Wayne, N.J. Finally, the rat streaked out, and Paco chomped down on it and left it at the base of a No Parking sign. Mr. Reyna photographed the encounter and showed it to Mr. Hoffman.
“Whoa, that’s mid-shake,” Mr. Hoffman exclaimed. “That’s got to get framed on the wall.”

Having two vermin killing maniacs in my employ for many years lets me honestly get behind this idea. It also gives me some thoughts for a great post (about time!) ...stay tuned - Mugs