Sunday, August 31, 2008

Now or things fell into place when I least expected it

Part of my motivation for writing this particular blog today is to encourage women, especially older women, to go ahead and follow that dream you've been dreaming. Maybe it hasn't happened yet, doesn't mean it won't. If the opportunity knocks, go for it. Took me 43 years to get to my own horses but it was a dream that stayed with me until I finally said, "Now or never." Well, that's what I told my husband, back in January '04, who just happens to be a great supporter of whatever I've wanted to do in my life.

I've been extremely fortunate that way. He's my partner in every way and is always there to lend a helping hand. Besides, that, he's a great stable hand, property manager, fence fixer, tree cutter, barn fixer, name it he can do it and does it all willingly with that beautiful bright smile of his.

But, I'm still of a mind if a person really wants something bad enough, works hard enough, it can happen, you can make it happen, even if you're over 40!

I started working as an assistant horseback riding instructor at a summer camp when I was 43 yo, with only 6 basic riding lessons under my belt, and very little actual horse interaction. I was hired for the summer camp because the barn manager, my riding instructor, needed another staff person, quick, and I jumped at the chance when asked. I was fine with being the assistant because I figured everyone else would be much more experienced. My co-workers were all under the age of 21, and all but one had worked at the camp previously.

I had always been a student of horse behavior though had not been privileged to observe it in the real horse world, except on RFD-tv. After my "now or never" decision, I had spent previous months honing up on various clinician techniques. Ordered a variety of books on horse training, riding, horse behavior etc.

However, I felt that the internship at the camp would be the greatest school I could attend. Many mornings as I arrived at the barn and we readied the horses for the riders, I would have to remind myself that indeed, I was finally where I wanted to be, this was really happening. You have to understand, I never would have pictured myself working at a barn simply because I never thought it possible. There aren't many riding facilities available in this part of Southern Ohio. I was lucky this facility existed and that I happened to be in the right place at the right time. The right events fell into place. I felt as if God had given me the oppotunity on a silver platter. "Here you go, now do with it what you will, or don't..."

You see, if my son had never met the manager, I would not have taken riding lessons from her. I never would have spent the summer emersed in horses. I never would have worked at the riding facility after camp was over. And, I certainly never would have learned everything I learned about horses, which in turn helped me be a better horseperson with my own horses. Because of this experience, I felt confident in finding and purchasing my horses that October. Whew! See how things seem to have fallen into place?

I fully believe if you leave your heart open, listen to the whispers, many things will come to you, at the right time in your life. Not always when you want them or expect them to come, but at the time that is best for you, often when you least expect it.

Friday, August 29, 2008


I am astounded how one dog can leave an emptiness in the entire clan around here. Yes, we loved Xena dearly. She will always be "The Best Dog Ever". I didn't fathom the grief of Maggie, the cattle dog, and Buddy, the cat.

I have never experienced grief of animals for the loss of another. But then, Xena is the only dog we've ever had with us for over a decade. It's become obvious that Xena was indeed the matriarch of the other dogs and cat around here. They depended on her and they do miss her. I have no idea how long their grief will last or when they'll stop looking for her. I'll probably always "see" her in her favorite places too.

Today, as I watched the hummingbirds at their feeder I began thinking of the amazing lives they live. Partially, to keep my mind off the empty rug in the corner of the porch, partially because I realized the hummingbirds will soon leave for their Mexican destination. Of course, they don't think about it that way, but I am amazed by hummingbirds.

Here in Southern Ohio we have the Ruby-throated variety. I've been putting out feeders for humminbirds for many years now. I've read up on them and find it fascinating they return to the same feeder year after year, or at least their offspring do, if they don't make it back. I think I have around 8 flitting around at various times this year. Supposedly, if you count the number of hummingbirds at your feeder, at any one time, you can double that number to get the total head count.

Some evenings I'll sit out on the deck and watch as they zoom in and out. They're always alert, always eyeing me. At first they fly away without stopping to drink but the longer I quietly sit there, the more relaxed they become.

The males, with their bright ruby red throats, always have an air of superiority about them. I can spot a young male, even before he's grown into his ruby-red throat. They are cocky and pushy. The females, are more cautious about landing on the feeder at first. They appear more gentle as they're drinking. I often imagine where their tiny nests might be hidden. One year, #1 son did find a hummingbird nest clinging to a tree branch that had fallen to the ground. Just as tiny and delicate as the birds themselves.

I look forward every April for the arrival of the first hummingbird. I have studied migration maps and our hummingbirds are due to arrive around the end of April and they leave usually by mid-September. There's a hurricane brewing in the Gulf this year so I'm keeping watch. Will "my" hummers start migrating soon or wait? Some of them may have already left because I've noticed reduced activity at my feeder.

When I consider how far these little birds travel each April and September I am always amazed. The fact that they, and their "kids" have returned to my feeders is simply awesome. Look around, be sensitive, God is everywhere, that's what I try to remember in these days of often hectic chaos. Hummingbirds remind me of how fragile, yet strong and beauitul, life can be.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Last Jeep Ride

Monday was a sad day for our family. Hubby and I decided it was time to let our beautiful, twelve year old German Shepherd, Xena, go. She had not improved over the weekend. Her back legs had finally given out. She could not stand or walk. If anyone has had to make this decision for a beloved animal member of the family, I'm sure you can understand emotions are still raw.

My husband and I reluctantly loaded Xena up into the Jeep on Monday morning. The vet's office had told me to have her there by 9:15am, it would be a 30 minute trip. Over the phone I felt a dash of hope after explaining to the woman taking the call, what had happened to Xena over the weekend, but this young lady didn't really know the situation. Still, that little glimmer of hope will sustain at times of uncertainty.

I won't go into details, not necessary. I've gone over and over the entire event too many times, and of course, still cry when I think about everything. All I want to remember is that even up until the end, as Hubby and I were holding her, Xena left this world quietly, without protest or stress. She seemed comforted by the fact that her "mom and dad" were there with her.

Hubby was affected quite profoundly by this loss though we had been expecting this decision in the end. I believe he kept hoping for a better outcome. The vet told us of possible options to keep pain down, but at her advanced age, Xena's quality of life would probably not be the same. Organ issues would probably surface within a short time. For Xena, that would have been torture so we decided to release her. We said our goodbyes. We held her and stroked her as the injection took hold. We took her home to bury her, by the creek, under a tree. Hubby said he wanted her home where she belonged among the trees, hills and woods she loved.

Xena always loved to ride in the old Jeep. We had a 1980 Jeep for many years and until she could no longer jump up into it, Xena enjoyed even short rides around the property. We had bought a new Jeep last year. Hubby told me yesterday, as we were burying our friend, she had taken her last Jeep ride. Remembering the moment we placed her in the back of the Jeep, I do recall a glint of something. A brightning of her eyes. She didn't struggle. She was relaxed. Even as we drove down the country roads, Hubby sitting beside her, me driving, she seemed content, raising her head often to look out the window.

We will always remember our "wolf dog" as we came to call her. She had always been a beautiful silver/black and we were often asked if she was part wolf. She had grown larger that most German Shepherds and because of her size, was often referred to as a he. She was a furry little black ball when she was given to us 12 years ago. Our sons grew up with her. I told Hubby, it's almost a symbolic event that she had to go at this point in time when both our sons are venturing away from home into the world of grown-up life. Xena had always been wonderful to kids, especially our sons, though she could be rough with wandering neighbor dogs. She was never agreesive toward people who were accepted on our property. There are so many little stories about our dear friend I'm sure we will talk about in the coming days. Right now, the emotions are still raw and it's hard to bring up her name without shedding tears.

After we had buried Xena, I remembered the horses needed to be turned out into the front field. The guys had pretty much been ignored over the weekend with all of us attending to Xena in one way or another. Oh, they got groomed, and they got led out to their evening graze areas, but basically got put on the back burner.

As I walked with my guys to the front field gate they each walked on either side of me. Bo was very quiet, a little unlike him when he knows he's going to the other field. He will jostle Spirit, or give him "the look" to make Spirit get behind before being released through the gate. I took notice of their quietness. I had been crying a little. As I stood in front of the gate, getting ready to unlatch it, I felt the gentlest of nuzzles, from Bo, on my hair and back of my neck. He seemed to be giving me his own reassuring kiss. I stood there for a few moments hugging him, then hugging Spirit. Neither one moving just allowing me to use them for comfort. I unlatched the gate, both walked out slowly and quietly.

The little dogs, Maggie and Lucy have been staying by the house. They have not been running up into the woods since Xena collapsed on Saturday. Maggie has practically been at Xena's side the entire time. Maggie is an Australian Cattle Dog-mix full of endless energy, but she chose to remain close to her "sis" during the day. Even Buddy, our cat, who has always curled up with Xena on cold nights, lay close by the garage during the two days, sometimes walking in to rub up agains Xena. Animals know things, they are intelligent, and regardless of what is said by some experts in denial of animal emotions, in my experience, they are just as affected by events as we are, just in a way that is different, a different language.

I'm feeling kind of random right now, words not quiet evolving as I'd like. But I wanted to remember Xena this morning for the wonderful friend she'd been to our family. We will always miss her. She definitely captured a piece of my heart in the 12 years she shared our home.

Though we will no longer see her pawprints around our home, the pawprints she left on our hearts will remain forever.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Riding Lessons and Horse Teachers

Reminiscing about my summer camp days has brought more thoughts of that summer. Those camp horses will always be in my memories, or at least I hope they will because they were my first "teachers".

Before summer camp, I took 6 weeks of riding lessons at the camp riding facility. There were 14 year-around horses stabled at the barn used for group riding and private lessons. My first evening lesson was in late April. We'd had a storm. Our power was out and there was a tree down across the road. My lesson was at 6:30pm. I was determined I was NOT going to miss my first riding lesson. I put on my Roper boots (which I soon learned were not good for riding, they had slick soles), got in my truck, set it into 4 wheel drive, drove out through the field, found the road and headed to my lesson. Surprisingly, I was on time for my lesson. Determination was my partner that evening.

I arrived at the barn and was at first in awe of the smells. I do love the smell of a horse barn! When you tell people that, they tend to give you the once over, but never quite ask if you are feeling ok.

My riding instructor walked into the barn as I was meeting up with the first horse in the first stall. He was pushing his muzzle through the bars as I touched his soft nose. He was sorrel, with a white star-like marking on his forehead. Looked to be Arabian, according to my book learned reference. My instructor informed me that Sheik was not my ride. Koko would be my first lesson horse.

Koko was a 30 year old, off-track standardbred mare. Black ,curly ,shaggy, coat. Definitely not the most attractive horse I'd ever seen. She was a babysitter. I had no idea at the time (I later worked for this barn for 2 1/2 years). I was just excited to be learning to ride. Koko was ridden with a hackamore because of her age. She greeted me as I opened her stall door, but didn't seem overly excited. As a matter of fact, she laid her ears flat against her head. I stepped back. My instructor informed me Koko often did that when someone walked into her stall, but that's as far as her threat went. I carefully walked over to Koko, as my instructor showed me how to properly put a halter on a horse's head. That's right, I had never even haltered a horse before that evening!

That evening I was shown how to lead, groom and tack. Koko stood quietly, and I do mean stood quietly. She barely flicked an ear when a fly buzzed by. I was completely happy when that job was finished. Of course, by the time I learned all this and repeated the process a few times, I had about 30 minutes to ride.

I remember my instructor telling me to mount up. I told her I had no clue how to properly do that, so she'd have to get me started. I was not permitted a mounting block. My instructor wanted me to mount from the ground. She told me it's better to get started that way. Well, Ok, but this may take a while. Actually, it worked out better than I expected. I was a little more limber than I thought I was and proud of myself for mounting up without a mounting block. For my own horses, here at home, I do use a mounting block. I feel mounting blocks do have their place and even if you are out on a trail somewhere, you can usually find something to help you mount up. Plus, it saves the horse's back, if you're not as young, bouncy and strong as you once were. For a long time I felt I shouldn't use a mounting block, but I don't feel that way anymore.

Koko helped me have confidence during those first lessons. She was the perfect beginner horse! I learned to ride on Koko for 2 weeks before my instructor changed me over to Sheik, a completely different type of ride. His teaching would be that I had to use what I had learned on Koko, and then some more. He would cover for my mistakes at times. He also would make sure I knew what I was doing, or he'd let me know in one way or another, usually by stopping or walking to the arena fence as if to say "Come on lady, you are really not getting it..." I got all the way to cantering, almost, with Sheik. I have never had the best balance in the world and his Arabian trot to canter was a little more motion than my inexperience allowed for. But, we did manage to get half the arena in a canter.

Sheik was a 20 year old Arabian gelding. His Arabian tail had been docked, as I call it, causing it to fall to the left side when he tried to raise it up in that very Arabian way. Quite distracting when following behind him on a trail ride, if you get my picture. He was a very solid horse, solid personality. All those stories you hear about Arabians do not fit Sheik. Maybe he was flighty and sensitive when he was young, but as a mature horse, he was one of the barn's leading school horses for intermediate riders.

My six week riding lessons evolved into an 8 week horse internship that I had never planned on taking. After my 6 weeks were done, it was June, summer camp started, and it's there that my real horse eduaction began. Twenty horses of various levels, personalities, issues and problems. The best school you could ever attend!

As for Koko and Sheik, I later had the opportunity to work with them more closely when I started working at the facility after summer camp that year. They both can be listed among my favorite horses at the barn, for different reasons. My first horse teachers will always have a place in my heart!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In the beginning....

My so-called "Horse Life" didn't begin until 4 summers ago when I was forty-three. Like so many middle aged stories I've read, I put off my Horse Life until all the ducks were in a row, so to speak. My sons were grown. We had our property properly fenced and gated. We had built a suitable stable/run-in shed area. And, I was ready. I'd never had any formal training with horses. I'd just loved them all my life, read about them, and felt I wouldn't be complete until I shared life with one, or as it turned out in the end, two.

I readied myself for my Horse Life in the summer of '04 by working as a riding instructor and staff member at a local riding facility which catered to children. It was one of those right time-right place kind of things.

I had been taking riding lessons at the facility for a short time. I still did not own a horse. But, I had decided I was going to learn to ride. I had been introduced to the manager of the facility through #1 son, who just happened to be taking classes with her at college. Toward the end of my six weeks the manager was talking to me, in regular conversation, about her predicament of being in need of one more staff member for the summer camp season. I told her I'd be interested. I could tell she wasn't sure at first, but she knew I'd been a substitue teacher in one of my other "past lives" so being able to work comfortably with children would be a plus. She needed a staff member desperately, camp season was only 2 weeks away, so she decided to give me the job.

I knew I could teach the girls (it was a girl's summer camp) beginning riding but I was more comfortable working around the horses which was the highlight of my day. Hard work, grooming, tacking, then untacking-grooming,tacking again a couple of hours later. Catching the horses sometimes proved to be even harder work. These horses were leased from a place miles away from Ohio. Trucked in for the 8 week summer camp season. For the most part, all of them were decent school horses, but there were a few I had no idea why they were there. Not my idea of school horses. Hard to catch. Wouldn't listen. Spooky. Some of them only got riders we knew were somewhat experienced. Being my mature self, I was often concerned about worse case scenarios, but through the summer, we managed only to see a few stepped on toes, nothing more serious.

We taught begining riding to groups of girls ages 6-10. Simple things like leading, mounting, walking, stopping, turning and by the end of the week the girls could usually manuever a small obstacle course or take a short trail ride. They were always thrilled when that day came. I was thrilled to see their progress.

There were always two of us teaching but I usually let the other staff member teach while I worked with indivdual girls who seemed to be struggling. All the other staff members were young women in their late teens and early twenties. I was forty three. I could be their mom! But, they all treated me with respect, and I did likewise.

At times the summer seemed long. And I must admit, there were a few times, when tensions were high among my co-workers by mid camp, that I did not want to be there, and I told myself I really didn't have to be there. Naturally, my co-workers, being around the same ages, would have their disagreements and arguments. Bickering would ensue. I just stood back and observed. I was really only here as an afterthought, so didn't believe it was my place to interfere with the interpersonal problems of my 5 young co-workers. Eventually, they worked their problems out. When they were getting disagreeable with each other, I simply emersed myself in dealing with the horses.

Overall though, I think we had a good summer. I know I learned more than I ever could have learned about horses had I not spent my summer in this manner. Every Friday we would take a group trail riding up into the hills. Though I was inexperienced, I learned quickly. I am more than thankful to have had the summer at camp, as I like to call it, even though I was a middle aged woman. It's one of the things in my life most people would probably look at and shake their heads. I know a few people who thought I was a bit off my rocker, especially since I'd recently left a decent paying job as a branch manager/librarian. For once, I was doing something I really wanted to do.

Hard and dirty work, but I loved every single minute of it. Brought me to the realities of what horses are all about. I discovered, I did have a knack for understanding horses. I no longer looked at them as mystical creatures, but beautiful animals with their own set of herd rules. They had behaviors that could be translated, if one only learns the language. My summer at camp helped me come to an understanding that I have been able to use with my own horses.

Sometimes, if an opportunity is laid before us, it's wise to embrace it. I was able to do that, at the right time in my life. I never imagined myself working at a riding facility, teaching girls to ride and handling horses when I was forty three years old, yet there I was.

Sometimes, the stars do align, and the heavens smile down on us saying, this IS your time.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Life moves on, back to routines

The wedding on Saturday was beautiful! Could not have asked for a better day. This wedding was not one orchestrated by a wedding planner. It was not fancy. Keep it simple was the bride's motto. The families put this wedding together and it was always "we're just going with the flow." As it turned out, everything did flow.

We had people tell us it was the best wedding they had ever attended because it was so full of love, which could be felt by everyone. That's a wonderful feeling! The following reception was laid back, lots of music and everyone enjoyed themselves. #2 son gave a fantastic toast to his brother. I was so proud of him! His brother has always been his best friend, and visa versa. I do agree with the minister when he told me and my husband that we were blessed to have such a loving family. Blessed indeed!

So this morning, Monday morning, I'm still sort of reeling from emotions, but I'm planning to get myself in gear. #1 son and his bride stopped by the house yesterday to pack up more of his stuff. They won't be taking their honeymoon for a few weeks. When #1 son left yesterday evening, I did start crying, mostly for my own loss. I sure will miss talking to #1 son, we have a special bond. I have a special bond with both sons, but for differnt reasons. Fortunate or unfortunate (for #1) we are alike in our personalities. When #1 son drove out of the driveway, I did break down for a few minutes. Hubby was there to comfort me, and told me even though he hadn't show much emotion this weekend (just like a man!) he will miss #1 son too. Ok, I need to quit dwelling on this because I'm starting to cry again............move on............

All our animals knew something was up on Friday and Saturday. We were completely off our usual schedules for two days. The horses were being more rambunctious than usual. Bo had been running Spirit around. They hadn't been out to their evening graze areas. They don't seem to be eating that pathetic hay I bought. The dogs didn't know what to make of the coming and goings. Yesterday evening when #1 son and his bride were packing his stuff in the car, Maggie laid as close to the cars as possible. Usually, she's running all over, up in the woods not really paying attention to what's going on at the house. Yesterday, she seemed sad. #1 son had rescued her a few years ago. She'd been left at the park he worked at. She and he have a bond. She knew something was going on with him. His bride petted her before they left. The only one who didn't seem particularly affected was Buddy the cat. He didn't appear until after #1 son had left, so he probably has no clue, unless of course he was watching, in hiding, somewhere up in the woods.

We got back to routine yesterday and everyone seems calmer. I've read some articles that say keep your horses on a different schedule. Don't get a routine going that they can count on then they'll be better off when the routine is broken. Well, that doesn't work for me because I tend to be a routine type person. I can sure tell when we've gotten them all off routine. It just seems to create confusion in the animals and a sense of unsureness. I prefer to keep to the routine. However, I'm not against doing things a little different once in awhile, just to shake things up. Guess I accomplished that this weekend, for a while anyway.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Only 1 day to go. Today I seem to be in an odd place. I want to be happy. I promised myself I'd be happy. I'm having to dig deep.

Saturday, #1 son is getting married. Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled. His bride is an intelligent, caring, motivated, beautiful young woman. I can see she cares about him deeply, and he feels the same about her. But, I suppose, as with most moms, my feelings are mixed. I'm not the kind of mom who hangs on. My mission with my sons has always been, raise them up so they can deal with the world and get out there in it. #1 son, as I refer to him, only because he is the first-born, will finally be taking that leap into the world of "grown ups".

This wedding thing has been hitting me harder than either of his graduations. I didn't get teary eyed when he graduated from high school. I didn't even shed one tear when he received his college degree. Those events were stepping stones for his future and I was there to share. Now, with this wedding, I find myself misty and teary. I suppose it's because of the actuality that he is now on his own.

He and his bride will be moving about 62 miles away, which isn't all that far, but far enough. I am fine with that. He's been around this house for the past 25 years of his life. He chose to attend a local university instead of going off to a campus away from home, so he has lived here and commuted to classes. Part of that decision, I'm sure, was because his girlfriend at the time (his bride-to-be) was still in high school. They are high school sweethearts. I wasn't sure if they'd survive a long distance relationshihp when she decided to attend Ohio University, but they did. The miracle of the internet, Facebook and cell phones!

Over the years, I have told people I would welcome the time they did decide to get married, although they didn't officially become engaged until May of this year. They have been a couple for 7 years, since 2001. But as the time draws nearer I find this flood of emotions I don't really understand a little frustrating for me.

She finished her degree at OU in March. I have always stressed to him the importance of not standing in her way. Be supportive I always told him. He listened and I'm glad he did. He is a stronger man for it, probably a better husband, allowing her to follow her dreams. She traveled to Europe two years ago, without him, backpacked with her roomate through France and Italy. Last year she spent three months at an internship in New York City as an editor for a popular women's magazine. Not a small feat for a small town girl. I have immense admiration for her and for him too.

After their engagement was announced, within a month, they decided to get married in August. People were aghast at the short turn-around. Each time we told someone they were getting married in August, the question would be "This year?" And then when we said yes, a look of surprise every time.

They decided on this short engagement because their now entwined lives have taken a different turn. #1 son has decided to attend graduate school and she has had the good fortune to secure a full time job, thus, supporting him in his effort to be more marketable in the "grown up" world. He hasn't had much luck at finding a job with his BS degree, thus his living here at home for the past 3 years. And since she is finished with school for the time being, she encouraged him to follow his dream. If a higher degree would help him get where he wanted to be, she was there to support him. She isn't working at the job she really wanted, but she has said it's what she wants right now.

They are young. They will undoubtedly move on. What impresses me the most, is how they are really trying to work together. I hope they will always be able to be each other's shoulder. I have a refrigerator magnate that I have stuck prominently on the freezer top that reads: "Happiness is being married to your best friend." That's how I've always felt about Hubby and what I have hoped my sons would find. I believe #1 son has found it in his soon to be bride.

So, why all the melancholy? Why do I feel teary eyed one minute and elated the next? I don't think I felt this way before my own wedding! Looks like it's something I'm going to have to deal with. I didn't want tears at the wedding. I wanted happy and smiles! Laughter and hugs! I'll probably get that too, after the tears have dried. So, adding to the hoof beats and paw prints in my life will be the foot steps of my son as he walks into the world with his new bride.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The kids will misbehave when Mom is gone....

Yesterday evening I helped #1 son move some more of his stuff to his new house, which happens to be 62 miles away. He and his fiance have rented a house and have been in the processs of getting moved in before Saturday, the "Big Day". She has all her stuff moved. She's been on her own pretty much for the last 4 years since she went away to college. #1 son, has been living here at home. As he has repeatedly stated "I'm on sabbatical." Yesterday, she reminded him, his sabbatical is OVER!

Ok, so I have to leave for the evening which means on this little farm, Mom isn't around to take care of "the kids" and evening feed. We were on the road before Hubby got home from work. I told #2 son I had no special instructions for "the kids" tonight, just do what we usually do. This means, Hubby will likely decide to move Bo and Spirit into one of 4 small areas we have fixed up for evening grazing. I left without a care in the world. Happy to spend some time with #1 son and his soon-to-be wife.

My evening of moving stuff went fine. I took the kids out to eat. We're all on tight budgets with this wedding event coming up so we chose to eat at Arby's after we got stuff moved into the house. The stuff, by the way, would be 12 boxes of books and two bookshelves. My son and his fiance are avid readers, not to mention they've kept just about every college textbook they ever bought! We do love our books!

After we had lugged all the book boxes up the steep stairs to the living area, She told him: "We're going to need more bookshelves!" I find this amusing yet refreshing at the same time. I was thinking, how many 22 and 25 year olds are worrying about more bookshelves? Just not something most young people their age think about. So, after getting my load unpacked from my truck, we had driven 2 separate trucks, I told #1 son I was heading back home before dark. He told me he'd be home later and I headed back down the highway.

I got home around 9pm which is pretty much dark around here this time of year. Especially down in the valley where we live. I told Hubby about the move and a few things that occured over the day. Then I asked how the horses behaved. He informed me that they didn't behave very nicely.

First off, he told me, the horses were being butts (his term, I'm surprised he didn't just say asses) while he and #2 son were trying to groom them. Bo was moving around alot, which he doesn't usually do with me. Spirit kept walking away from Hubby. They didn't have the horses tied in the stall, which I often don't either if I'm brushing them. I'm thinking, right there, "the kids" already know they're gonna have some fun tonight.

Hubby said they walked out to the grass fine. They always do. They know they will soon be in green grass heaven for a little while.

Seems upon trying to bring them back to their stall area, about an hour later, Bo decided he doesn't have to listen to #2 son, walked a few steps, dropped his head and began eating the fresher grass outside of the enclosure.

Spirit decides (in my mind) that Mom isn't with me so I don't have to listen to HIM and is very belligerent about walking back to the stall area. Hubby was with Spirit and said he did everything he could think of to get Spirit to start walking and finally gave him a swat on the backside with his hand, which did work.

#2 son told the tale of Bo walking up toward the house, practically pinning him to the side of the house (a bit exaggerated I believe) then trying to trot away when he pushed him off. Bo usually isn't that ambitious.

Ok, guys, now this was a simple task and I don't have this problem with these horses! Then I remembered, #2 son really hasn't been around all that much for the past four years because he's been away at college. He's really never messed around the horses much. I finally asked him last night if I ever gave him any lessons on how to work with the horses. He told me no, and he really didn't know what he was doing around them or the right way to handle them.

Well, he is excused from his blunders, but Hubby I was a little disappointed in. I know he's not completely comfortable with Spirit (or the horses in general). I'm the only one who is, and I'm pretty sure Spirit has figured this one out.

Just the night before #1 son was moving Spirit from the evening graze area, while I was walking Bo. I had Bo back in the stall, and noticed #1 son and Spirit were not behind us. I heard voices. Tied Bo up in the stall and went to see what the hold-up was. The voice I heard was #2 son grumbling at Spirit, lifting on the lead rope trying to get Spirit's head up from the grass. I had to laugh a little.I had expected more from #1 son because he's been around here and knows what he's suppose to do with the horses. Spirit was locked on the grass and would not move. By the time I started walking toward them, Spirit was in a locked leg stance, head up, a bit of a defiant look on his face. I shook my finger at him "Now look who you've got coming, Mister." Without hesitation, when I took the lead rope from #1 son, Spirit walked fine for me and didn't even try for the grass anymore.

I later asked #1 son what he was thinking as he went to get Spirit. He told me he was thinking "this guy is going to give me trouble." I said, "There you go. Always think about how You want it to go. They WILL know what you're thinking."

So, anyway, the kids were a little wiley and misbehaving while Mom was gone last night, but everything worked out in the end. I now know I need to give #2 son some instruction on how to properly handle a horse on a lead and some other details about horses I obviously haven't shared with him. I really hadn't realized #2 son was that uncomfortable around the horses, although I had sensed it at times. He hasn't been all that willing to jump in and care for the horses. Now I know, it's simply because he has not felt he knows the right ways handle them. We can remedy that!

Good news about Xena, to a point. She seems to be stronger these past couple of days. I changed her food to can food. Hubby thinks she has been having trouble eating the dry food and maybe she has just been weak. She actually seems a little stronger and even walked up on the porch last night to lay on her rugs and bedding. She still wobbles around with those darn weakened back legs, but at times, she has run after the two little dogs when they are play running around the yard. So, we watch and we try to care for her, to keep her comfortable. As long as she can move around on her own, eats her food, and other necessities, I feel we will leave well enough alone for the time being.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Losing a friend

Our animals are not just "our animals", they become members of the family. Members of the pack. Members of the herd. When one gets sick, it hits us just as hard as if they were a people part of the family.

Xena is our beautiful German Shepherd. She has been the best dog we have ever had in our family. Not to take away from the other dogs we have shared our lives with, but she has been special. We've had her with us for twelve years. She came to us as a fuzzy bear of a pup, given away because she wasn't the right color. The people who had bred her parents were trying for white German Shepherds. She, and the other pups, came out black.

Today, she seems to be slipping away. I debated whether to call the vet yesterday morning. But, it's fair week here and it was a Friday so I decided to wait it out. Hubby loves this dog and has been in denial Xena is slipping away. I do understand his pain, but I also want to make the right choice for Xena in her last days.

Taking her to the vet will be traumatizing for her and I think she is in pain as it is with the arthritis and hip dysplasia. I have dutifully been giving her aspirin, twice a day, as prescribed by our vet earlier in the year. I believe a ride to the vet, 30 minutes away would be torturous for her and I don't want to see her last hours in that way.

When she's lying on the hill, her favorite spot in the early mornings, watching Maggie and Lucy run up in the woods, she'll bark a few short barks. At times her eyes are alert, at other times, she seems confused. The confusion is worse when she is up trying to move around. Hubby has fixed her a bed close to the house. Seems Xena no longer feels confident to try to walk up the two small steps to the porch where her bed is located. She can hear us inside when she lays there. She watches us go in and out from the back door.

Yesterday, I noticed both Maggie and Buddy (the cat) were lying beside Xena up on the hill. Maggie rarely does that. Buddy will lay by Xena when the days are cold. Animals know things. I believe they are giving Xena support in their own way.

Last night, Hubby finally said he knew Xena was slipping away. I asked him about taking her to the vet on Monday. He said he wanted to wait and see how she does through the weekend. I think he's still hoping, but he knows it's not just something that will get better by Monday morning.

Xena is twelve years old. We've given her a good life. She's given us her life, her companionship, her loyalty. I just want to allow her peace as she passes but if it appears she is distressed more than is comfortable for her by the Monday, we have decided we will probably take her to the vet and allow the decision to be ours. It's a tough decsion but I try to see it as our final gift to her, a gift from pain and the fear of not knowing what is happening to her. She is confused when her legs don't work the way she's used to them working. I can see it in her eyes. She doesn't understand why her body isn't doing what she wants it to do.

I am still hoping we don't have to take her to the vet because her last hour will be terror for her and that's not how I want it. I hope she will have a peaceful passing, lying on the hill with the sounds of the birds all around.

Animal and human bonds can be just as strong as those between people. Often the decisions we make for our animals are just as hard as for the people we love. We hope we are doing the right thing but never really know for sure.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Memories of a Horse Crazed Girl

Growing up, I was a horse crazed girl without a horse.

My first memory of my love for horses is of when I was three or four. My grandpa had been a horse trainer in the early 1900's in Northwest Ohio. I never learned this until much later, when I was an adult. One day he took me to see horses. I wore my little red rain boots. He sat me up on the fence to see all the horses. I remember being thrilled and happy. Later, when I was a teenager, and was recalling the story to my mom, she informed me that Grandpa had taken me to a stock yard. I was sad but now realize, it was not a big deal back then (in the early 60's) to go to a stock yard. Of course now, I would be horrified but being as it was a good memory with my grandpa, I see it as my first introduction to my love for horses.

I always wanted to ride the ponies at the fair. Now, I feel bad when I see those ponies going round and round. But still, it was my love and innocence that sent me to the ponies.

Our neighbors had a couple horses and a pony. I would go visit when my parents allowed me to. I remember the pony being named Bubbles and was black and white. I am a sucker for paints/pintos. Another of their horses was Bonnie Blue. A bay quarter horse. One time my friend and I hopped on Bonnie when she was out in the field. We invited her over the the fence with promises of grass from the other side. Then, when she was beside the fence, we hopped on and let her walk a while. Then we simply jumped off. I was afraid the people might not like that we were on Bonnie.

For years I tried to persuade my parents to let me have a horse at the neighbor's place, but my parents said no. Today, I realize, they were right. Horses are a big responsibility and lots of work. I don't think I truly realized that when I was thirteen. I may have lost my love of horses instead of it growing over the years.

Every year my parents and I would go to the Ohio State Fair. I always wanted to head to the horse barns first. One time my dad put a sticker on my shirt that read "If lost, call the horse barn."

I went through periods where other interests took over but seems always, at some point in any given year, my yearning for horses would be strong. It's as if something were missing from my life and I needed it there to complete me. Even into my adult years I would often go through weeks of pining for a horse.

When my husband and I were first married there was another young couple down the road. We had our son within a year of our marriage, the other couple had no kids. That couple decided to adopt a wild mustang. I can remember being so mad because they could do that and I was stuck home with a baby. We didn't have much money either at that time so a horse was out of the question. Now, I drive by that field, I still see that wild mustang, now domesticated and living a quiet senior life with his pasture mate. I realize, everything does come in it's own time, if we let it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What color is that hoof?

I've heard two schools of thought on the topic of hoof color: 1-Black is strong, white is not, black and white striped is in the middle. 2- The whole hoof color issue is nothing more than a myth.

My two Spotted Saddle Horses both have white/black striped hooves. More white than black.They have been barefoot all their lives. My farrier says they both have great feet and never really has to do much to them except for the 8-10 week trimming. Hubby has been rasping in-between farrier visits.

My current farrier, a young guy, tells me hoof color and strength of the hoof is a myth. He told me the only reason people came to the conclusion that white isn't strong is because white shows all the cracks, chips and splits while the black tends to hide these imperfections. I like my farrier. He seems knowledgeable. But when I hear someone like Craig Cameron mention black hooves being better, it makes me wonder. Is this a myth or is it something with credibility?

Looking back I remember the horses I took care of when I worked at the ranch/riding facility. Most had black or dark hooves. All wore shoes on their front feet. These horses were used as school horses and for trail riding. The one horse I can remember who had light colored hooves was an Arabian named Sheik. He didn't have problems with his hooves splitting and cracking but more of a soundness issue when he wasn't shod. The farrier who serviced these horses lived by the color rule. She even stated it a number of times to us during her visits, so, at that time I took the color rule to heart.

Then, I got a new farrier. I had used the same farrier the ranch used but due to a disagreement over one of my horses, Spirit, I found another farrier. My new farrier seemed eager to please and he really worked well with my horses. My other farrier hit me on a sore spot, probably on one of my "bad" days, when she told me while trying to trim Spirit, "If he doesn't settle down I'm going to take him to that round pen and settle him down." Needless to say, that didn't go over well with me. Spirit hadn't been acting all that badly. Yes, he'd been leaning on her. Yes, he was hopping around a bit, but at that time he was a young two year old. It so happens I later learned, this particular farrier only likes to work on horses who stand still and will turn down horses that are more active.

She had problems with a few of our ranch horses too so it didn't really surprise me she was having trouble with Spirit. If anyone was going to work MY horse in a round pen, it would be me. She always managed to make over Bo, because he stands perfectly still. Of course he does, he is a lazy horse. I am convinced she already had preconcieved notions that Spirit was going to act up, so he did. I worked with Spirit over and over on standing, lifting, stretching, knocking on the bottom of his feet with the hoof pick. He did fine for me. When she returned for the next visit, Spirit acted the same way for her that he had on her previous visit. So, in my view, I still believe it was her attitude toward him that made him nervous and unsure. When my new farrier came in, he didn't have trouble with either horse. Both my horses behaved themselves with him.

So, I asked my new farrier about the hoof color issue, just wondering about his thoughts on it. Now, I'm still not sure if hoof color is a myth or a truth or just one of those things people start believing because it's passed down the line, time after time. My guys have great feet. I don't know if it's because they're barefoot or striped. Probably just genetics. My new farrier said he's found striped hooves to be just as strong as black, and he doesn't hold store in the hoof color myth.

I simply found it interesting, when watching Craig Cameron, an esteemed horse trainer/clinician, during one of his RFD programs, that he mentioned the hoof color of the horse he was evaluating. I thought, well, here we go again.................

Monday, August 4, 2008

Training....whatever works

Sometimes I think, as with anything else "marketable", horse training methods are overused, sometimes abused, and over-rated, by the clinicians who try to teach their secretive methods. In the past, I have been overwhelmed with all the variations.

Sure, pick one and go with it. However, there's always someone else's methods which you think fit your style just a little better. Lately, I've decided, I'm doing what works best for me and my horses. I'm calling it the WW method, for Whatever Works.

I don't have the option of finding a trainer to come train or taking my horses to a trainer (don't have a trailer yet), or attending clinics (we don't get clinics around here). I wouldn't trust the trainers around my area to touch my horses with a ten foot pole. I have not heard one good story about one good trainer within a 50 mile radius. I think in that respect, Southern Ohio is a black hole.

So, as inconsistent as I tend to be, my days of horse training are when I can get it done. We are progressing slowly but we are progressing.

Bo, my 10 yo, was a finished horse when I got him. Major issue is that he is on the bossy side. He will take advanatage of every inch you give him, Hubby has learned this the hard way. But, with Bo, I know all I need to do is ride. That's really all he needs.

Spirit was meant to be my project horse. I bought him when he was 2, lots of ground training from his previous owner, but no ride time or saddling. Now, at 6, we are moving along to the saddling. I see so much improvement since he's been with me. Even last year he wouldn't stand still for the farrier, leaned, hopped around etc. This year, he's standing so Hubby can rasp his hooves in-between farrier visits. Spirit is comfortable with a saddle and the girth being cinched up. I've always cinched up in increments of three, when I first put the saddle on, after a few minutes and then just before I get on. That's always been my method, and it works for me. Maybe more time consuming to some, but like I said, I'm in the WW training method now!

I don't want to use bits. I want to try something else. I'm working with bitless bridles and sidepulls. So far, so good, but haven't gone out on a trail yet. That will surely be the test.

I know, most people who train horses for a living don't have the luxury of time. They have specific amount of work to be done in a specific amount of time for a specific amount of money. But I got to thinking, I'm not a professional trainer. I can work with my guys as I choose and that's a freedom I enjoy. Granted, we're not riding off in the sunset down beautiful Southern Ohio trails at the moment, but I'll get there. I go with the ideaology, 15 minutes of a little something, is better than nothing at all when it comes to working with the horses.

I'll keep reading about methods and discover What Works for me and one day, soon, I will be enjoying the riding life I've always looked forward to, on my own terms.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Always trust those ears & eyes

My plan had been to keep up with my blogging at least on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Really got off that schedule this week, but with good reasons.
Tuesday, #2 son and I helped #1 son get his fiance moved from her apartment to the house they're renting. The big wedding day is only two weeks away from TODAY! Oh my! Considering #1 son and fiance sort of threw this wedding at both families with only 2 months notice, I think we're all doing great. The kids have been together forever,ok, officially "going together" since '01 (he was graduating high school, she was at the end of her freshman year) but he finished his college in '05, and then has waited on her to finish her college degree this year before they jumped into the marriage gig.
Oh, so Tuesday evening I was moving things.
Wednesday morning, we had a HUGE surprise. Around 7am, I was sitting on the couch, in my pjs, enjoying my morning coffee, zoned out with The Today Show, when I heard a commotion outside. My first thought was "What kind of stuff are those 2 horses into now!" Because, in the past, they have had their morning fun, waiting for me to feed, or possibly trying to get my attention, by turning over the water tank.
I look out the back door. All three dogs are carrying on, barking and looking toward the back field. I see the horses are standing alert in the corral, ears forward, still as statues. I really couldn't see anything. There's a stupid walnut tree with full leaf limbs hanging down . I DETEST walnut trees. I especially hate that one. I don't know who planted all these freaking walnut trees around here but.........I have to walk outside.
Then I see it. A huge tree down in the back field right over the fence. I knew there was damage to the fence. I ran out to make sure the horses were ok and it wasn't the stupid wild cherry tree growing along the creek. Don't like them either! Hubby told me if I didn't have horses I wouldn't hate walnt and cherry trees. The walnut trees I've never liked.....
So the horses are nervous but they must have been in the stall where they usually wait for me to feed in the mornings. Good thing because Chicken Little (I have been calling Spirit this lately for a variety of reasons) surely would have gone loco if he'd been out in the field when the tree fell. As it was, both horse felt fairly secure where they were.
The dogs quiet down because Alpha Mom is out there. After closing the back field gate and opening the gate to the front field I ran back inside to tell Hubby. He is getting ready for work and had no clue what had happened.
He walked out to the scene. Always a model of patience and low emotion. "Yeah, well, looks like maybe I'd better stay home and get this taken care of." But since it was sort of late already, he decided to go ahead and drive to work, then take half day vacation.
In the meantime I had to get #2 son awake for a day of work. Both of us were still tired from the night before helping #1 son move furniture. We hadn't gotten home from that job until 1am. That day we spent cutting up the tree,(it was a sugar maple) and mending the fence. Only three sections needed fixed and fortunately, the posts weren't broken. When Hubby builds something, he builds it to last forever.
Some people don't trust their animals to tell them things, I do, even my cats. I have learned though I may not see or hear what they do, for the most part they are not pulling anyone's leg. They hear or see something that feels like a threat to them. I always pay attention to my animals in that way.
Read a great article in the August issue of Horse and Rider magazine, page 44, about how your horse sees. Really opened MY eyes to some things like the things a horse sees. They see things as almost twice as big as they really are. I figure that felled tree definitley looked like a giant monster had fallen in their yard!
In the evening, after we were able to let the horses go back into that field I took an extra measure with Chicken Little. He was still acting like the monster was out there so I walked him out to the area, let him nose around for a few minutes and that's all he needed. Bo stayed in the stall. He could have cared less. He knew it was evening dinner time and he wasn't interested in whether the monster was still there or not.
I know one thing, I am lucky to have a handy Hubby and one who actually likes fixing things. If it weren't for him, I don't know that my life on the farm would be so enjoyable. He always encourages me and with his willingness in these kinds of situations, keeps me humble.