Monday, August 31, 2009

Horse therapy

I had a rough Monday. I've been participating in a diabetes study at my doctor's office, and today — one of the final visits — involved sitting there with an IV in my arm, having my blood drawn eight times over five hours.

As if that weren't bad enough, it took the nurses two hours to get the IV started. I have five holes in my left arm (where the better vein is), and a sixth hole in my right arm. Ouch!

Of course, the late start meant that I was there later than I was supposed to be. Originally I was going to get done around mid-afternoon, stop off home to change my clothes and pick up my tack, and then go out to the barn to ride. By the time I got done, it was so late that I just went straight out there to drop off Panama's new bag of grain.

Panama was clearly happy to see me. He stopped and watched me park, and started walking over to the gate as soon as I got out of the car. I walked over and greeted him at the gate before getting the grain out of the car. Of course he was quite happy to see the grain too, which is why I waited to pull it out of the car — I wanted him to be happy to see me first!

Even after the grain was put away, Panama was still obviously happy to see me, so I haltered him up and groomed him. He kept looking back at me while I was grooming him — not anxiously, but like, "Hello!" He was being so sweet that I decided to hop on bareback for a few minutes (my bridle being the only thing there at the time).

We just rode around the front pasture while the alpha and the mare watched us from the barn, but it was a good ride. I started out riding Panama in a circle around the pasture, which took him right toward the gate. He had a lot of pep in his step until we passed it and he realized we weren't going out there after all. Good to know he's eager to get out on the trail again, because that's where we're going tomorrow!

For the most part we just lazed around. I focused a bit on softening but he was being pretty good about it, so it wasn't requiring much work. After a few laps around the pasture, I stopped him and we worked on turns around the forehand. As often happens when I have taken a break from riding, or when we haven't worked on it for a while, he had spaced the cues a bit, so we needed a bit of a refresher.

While we were finishing up with the turns on the forehand, the barn owner came out with the evening hay. I immediately jumped down and walked Panama over to the hitching post. I didn't want to get into a situation where he was getting antsy and I was bareback, since he's narrow and my balance isn't as good without the saddle to add a little width. He was pretty patient while I removed his bridle, though — no running away like he did Friday — and he even was responsive to me (i.e., didn't have his face buried in his hay) when I brought the brush over to groom him from our ride.

It was a nice, relaxing ride, and a good way to make up for the day I had at the doctor's office. I'm looking forward to getting back into a regular riding schedule this week — starting tomorrow!

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Grass-bound behavior and interesting observations

I visited Panama on Friday for the first time in a week. Between getting ready for my friend's deadlines, trips to the doctor's office, and work deadlines, I just hadn't had much time to visit.

When I arrived, all of the horses were out on the yard on the second property, the one that has been foreclosed on (the barn owner has to be out in about another month):

grazing horses

The barn owner said they'd only been out there for about 15 minutes, so I decided to give Panama a little while longer to graze. I sat down near him and he walked over to say hi. His breath smelled like fresh grass — I love horsey smells!

I offered him a treat, and he was quite happy to stop grazing long enough to accept it:

horse treat

hand-feeding horse treats

Got any more, Mom?

horse muzzles are so cute!

After another 15 minutes or so, I haltered Panama and led him back to the front pasture so I could tie and brush him. I was surprised at how anxious he was about leaving: He kept stopping and trying to look or go back, and while I was grooming him he kept whinnying and moving restlessly back and forth. He's rarely ever exhibited signs of being this herd-bound, so I think it's the fact that the other horses were grazing without him. He's grass-bound, not herd-bound!

Eventually he did settle down a bit and let me finish grooming him without incident. When I was finished, I took him out on the field across the street and hand-grazed him on the wild alfalfa that grows there. I hadn't been planning on riding, since my friend's wedding was the next day, and I didn't want to tempt fate too much — and seeing Panama's behavior only cemented by resolve not to ride.

When I brought Panama back into the pasture and released him, he ran away from me for the first time ever, cantering to get back to the grass. I supposed I should have done something about it, but I wasn't sure what, so I didn't bother fetching him and giving him a lesson on proper turning out etiquette. I think it was the situation, and also my fault for not taking him back to the grass before releasing him.

Anyway, as always seems to happen when I've been away from my horse for a while, I was more observant than usual, and noticed several things:

1) When I lead him, we walk in time with one another. He steps with his front feet at the same time as I take a step, and then his back foot follows between my steps.

2) He loves alfalfa (which I already knew) but he also likes to alternate with a little crab grass every few bites. (I'm not sure what the real name for that kind of grass is, but my mom always calls it crab grass. It's the same fat-bladed, super-green grass that the cats and dogs really like to chew on.)

3) He especially likes the alfalfa that grows close to the road. Quite a few cars passed us while he was grazing on this, and he was pretty calm about it. The only things that seem to get to him are the big, rattling Fed Ex trucks, and the cars that wait until they are halfway past us to gas it. (I guess they think that since he doesn't seem bothered, it's okay to accelerate when they are right next to him?)

They may not seem like ground-breaking revelations to you, but I love noticing anything that adds to my understanding of my horse and my relationship with him!

I also did some long-awaited tack shopping on Friday, and brought home my saddle to be cleaned — stay tuned for pictures!

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Back from my unannounced hiatus

Sorry for the long lapse in blog posting, commenting, and responding to comments. Between a friend's bachelorette party on Saturday, the ensuing depression from not being able to live a life of partying anymore (sigh), doctor's appointments for a study I'm currently enrolled in, and a major deadline this week on client work, I've been unable to properly monitor my blogs, let alone get out to the barn and ride!

Fortunately, I completed the work that was due last night (or, rather, this morning at about 5 o'clock), so today I have the nearly forgotten luxury of taking it easy. (Until my friend's wedding rehearsal this evening, that is!) So today I'll be catching up on my blog reading, comments, and emails. Tomorrow I might even get out to the barn for a little bit, though I'm not going to tempt fate by riding the day before a wedding I'm supposed to be in! I'm not usually superstitious, but in this case I think it's better safe than sorry!

While you are waiting for my next brilliant (hehe) blog post, here is a local headline to remind everyone of the particular brand of craziness that seems to run in certain animal owners:

Man who is threatening to kill horses ran for U.S. Senate

Because I'm sure that threatening to publicly slaughter your horses will convince the county to change their zoning laws just for you!

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Monday, August 24, 2009

My theory on why my horse is so affectionate after a ride

I mentioned in my post about Friday's trail ride that I have a theory about why Panama is so affectionate after a ride, particularly a good ride. Here it is:

I think it's about communication.

I feel that my horse and I have a pretty special bond. I'm not the best rider, but what I am good at is communicating with my horse. And although I've always said that being on the ground with your horse is the best quality time you can spend with them, it is also true that nothing tests your communication with them better than riding.

So this is my theory: I think that riding my horse is actually nothing more than working on honing our ability to communicate. Most of the time, that means communicating to him what I want, but of course it's also a two-way channel — not only do I need to be able to "hear" him if he has something to tell me (like the bugs making him cranky), I also need to be able to anticipate what he's going to do before he does it, so that I can do a better job of communicating what I want from him.

After such an intense exercise in communication, I think it's only natural that we'd be more in tune with one another. And that I think plays a major part in why he's so much more affectionate after a ride.

Of course, there are probably other things at work here. Endorphins are known to lift people's mood after they exercise — certainly I feel really happy after a good ride — and I wouldn't be surprised if it were the same with horses. Perhaps his affectionate behavior is also an expression of how good he feels after we ride. Certainly I've noticed before that the happiest horses at the barns I've been at always seem to be the ones that are ridden the most, so this is a good possibility.

There's also my s-e-x analogy. One of my riding buddies at my old barn had commented on how her horse used to get cranky when she'd only ever visit when she wanted to ride. Her friend pointed out that it was kind of like your husband only ever wanting to spend time with you when he wants to get laid, and after that all I could think of is how much the two activities have in common. I don't want other people to ride my horse, after all — I feel nearly the same way about that as I would if my friend asked to take my husband out for a spin.

Yes, I mean that to be funny, but I'm also serious. In a way, both combine physical activity with intense communication. Riding is an intimate act — at least, I think it should be, if you're doing it right. So maybe Panama is affectionate afterward because he is experiencing a sort of afterglow. Certainly it's not just him — some of my best moments with my horse are when I'm tacking him down after a good ride.

So I guess when it comes down to it, I actually have more than one theory about why my horse is so affectionate after a ride. But when you think about it, all three are interconnected in a way!

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Caring for leather tack: What are your favorite products?

I have too much planned for today and decided to forego my trip to the barn. So instead of a post about a ride, today I want to ask you about what you use to care for your leather tack.

The subject came about because I cleaned my bridle about a week ago. It had gotten really dirty, so much so that my hands turned brown after 15 or 20 minutes of riding.

I'd never had it get so dirty before, so it was totally unexpected — which is, I think, why it got so bad before I realized what was going on. I think what happened was that the neatsfoot oil I used on it last time left a bit of a residue, which attracted the (substantial amount of) dust in the back pasture where I often ride. You can see how much dust we kick up in my recent video of my posting practice.

Anyway, this time I found when I tried to clean my bridle that water just wasn't cutting it. So I tried Leather New, a product I bought with this bridle nearly two years ago, and have barely touched since.

I have to admit, it did do a pretty good job of cleaning the leather. It's supposed to moisturize it too, so I didn't use the neatsfoot oil at all this time. But I'm still a bit skeptical as to whether it will protect the leather as well as the neatsfoot oil.

What about you? What are your favorite products to use on your leather tack? I'd love to hear what everyone else uses, and see if perhaps I can find something I like a bit better.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

A borrowed helmet and more trail ride practice

I blogged a while back about my decision to start wearing a helmet when I ride in more dangerous situations — out on the trail being one of them. I hadn't put my new policy into effect until Wednesday, though — all of my trail rides up until then were helmet-less.

On Wednesday I borrowed a helmet from the tack room — one that belongs to the girls who own the alpha, but never come anymore since he can't be ridden. I have pseudo-permission — that is, permission from the barn owner. Not quite correct (and it does eat at me that I don't have the owner's permission), but I guess since the barn owner is responsible for all of the alpha's care, he ought to have some authority over this, too.

In any case, it's just until I get my own. Here's a picture I took after today's trail practice. I was out there alone, as usual, so I set the camera's timer and put it on a fence post. The pictures turned out pretty good, considering:

My borrowed horseback riding helmet

The fact that it's really pink and girly will serve as incentive to get my own soon. It is comfortable, though. It's actually one of those really nice show helmets — the pink thing is just a cover, presumably to keep the black velvet clean — and is quite nicely padded inside. In fact, other than it making my head sweaty, I actually more or less forgot I had it on both times.

Today's ride was better than Wednesday's, but only just. Panama was a bit on edge again. (I hope he's not scared of the pink helmet... Heh.) I started out doing circles in the flat corner of the field, close to the barn. He kept wanting to go faster: trying to trot when it wasn't asked for, and when I did ask for it, lurching into it and continually speeding up. He was also reluctant to turn away from home, and over-turned when heading toward home. This was the most barn sour I've seen him, and I have no clue why.

In any case, I kept at it until he settled down a little, and then we headed across the field to the trail. Other than a couple of attempts to trot, he was pretty good the whole way there. He climbed the hill to the trail easily, and we started down it in the direction we normally go.

After a few minutes, when we were about halfway to the trash can, I saw something odd flash by behind the trees that line the trail as it curved away in front of us. A moment later, a truck came into view: a maintenance crew emptying the trash cans. I started to pull Panama off the trail into the grass alongside, but thought better of it. As edgy as he seemed, I didn't want to chance a bad encounter with a truck today.

The maintenance crew was taking their time with the trash can, so I turned Panama around and took him back to where we picked up the trail. In the field about 30 feet from the trail, I worked on standing and doing turns on the forehand — which he seemed to have forgotten completely (another clue that he wasn't himself, as he's usually quite responsive to those). We watched the truck pass without incident; the guys waved to me, and I waved back. Then I took Panama back up to the trail.

We worked a lot today on staying in a straight line. He's been all over the place on the trail, which is probably 6 feet wide to allow for passing. I'm working on getting him to stay as far to the right as possible with as few cues from me as possible.

We were making progress until we got to the trash can. At first he seemed to be even more scared of it than yesterday, and veered way to the left while walking diagonally to keep an eye on it as we passed. So I turned him around and we did it again. Each time he got a little better, until by the third or fifth time (I know it was an odd number) he walked right by it as if it were no longer there, close enough that I probably could have reached out and kicked it.

Horses are such funny creatures!

We continued on, and as we rounded the curve, we came into view of another white maintenance pickup, parked in the grassy area to the right of the trail. There was no one around, so I decided we could work with this one a little bit. I moved Panama off into the grass and kept him walking right toward the truck. He was snorting and blowing, but continued moving forward without any problem, albeit a bit slowly.

About ten or fifteen feet from the truck, I moved him back onto the path. He was still a bit wary of the truck, although he had stopped snorting at it, and veered a little ways away from it as he passed. I probably should have made him do it again, but this time I let it slide.

After the truck came the road crossing. We didn't cross today either, as I was still a bit concerned about Panama behaving unpredictably. He actually behaved himself very well — he didn't act concerned about the occasional passing car, and walked right by the manhole cover without flinching — but I felt like he and I were still too tense from earlier in the ride to risk it.

So after riding past the manhole and circling around several times, we headed back to the barn. Panama did try to speed up a bit, but in general wasn't too bad. Just to be sure, though, instead of taking him straight home, I trotted him up the hill away from the barn, did a few circles in the flat area there, then dismounted and led him home.

It was after taking off his bridle that I took the above picture. I took two pictures, actually, and each time when I ran back to him after setting up the camera, he nickered at me. And for the second picture, he actually put his head over my shoulder and snuggled with me!

Me and my horse after a trail ride in my borrowed horseback riding helmet

I often find that after a ride, Panama is much more talkative with me, and follows me around like a puppy even after I turn him loose again. Does anyone else find that their horse is so much more affectionate after a ride than before? Any ideas on why that is? I have my own theories, but I would be very interested to hear yours.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A little ride with a lot of training

This morning I took Panama for a little walk along the trail. My friend Anna and her boyfriend Lee came along. The idea was to encourage him to slow down a bit, and to see if he was calmer with someone along, even if it wasn't another horse. I'm not so sure either purpose worked out the way I'd hoped.

I apologize ahead of time for the long post (and the lack of pictures — we had our hands full as it was). It was actually a pretty short ride, but there ended up being lots of training opportunities:

1) Stopping and waiting. Panama didn't slow down enough to match his pace to Anna and Lee — I think they were just walking a little to slow for him. I've tried getting him to keep pace with Michael in the pasture, and he does just fine with that, but Michael also walks a little faster.

However, Panama was much better at stopping when I asked and standing relatively patiently while Anna and Lee caught up. He seemed to understand that we needed to wait for the two-leggeds from time to time.

2) An encounter with a dog off-leash. Despite the clearly posted signs requiring that all dogs be on leashes, of course there are always plenty of people who think that doesn't apply to them. We encountered one such woman right away. Not only was her dog not on a leash, but it was also apparently a puppy (or at least extremely energetic and relatively untrained). When we were still 50 feet from the trail, he came bounding across the field to us.

I took Panama a little ways to the side and Anna tried to catch the dog, but he quite happily wriggled loose and bounded up to Panama. After bouncing back and forth for a moment, flirting with the idea of getting closer, he finally ventured closer and stood a couple of feet in front of Panama, staring up at him. Thank heavens Panama is more curious about dogs than anything: He just stood there and stared back. He would have tried to smell the dog had I given him his head, but under the circumstances I thought it was better that I didn't.

Finally the dog's owner, an older woman, came hurrying up to us. She looked worried and stressed out, with good reason I think — I could have really fussed about her dog being off-leash and endangering me and my horse, had I wanted to. She pulled out a leash, wrestled with the dog (who did NOT want to go back on the leash), and then waited to see which way we were going before heading off in the opposite direction.

I was very proud of how Panama handled the entire thing — he was extremely calm and patient, despite the dog running around underfoot, and especially despite how little he likes to stand and wait on the trail.

3) The trash can. I mentioned after our last trail ride that Panama gave the trash can a wide berth, and I wanted to work a bit on that next time. Despite Anna and Lee being along, I did take a few moments to work with him on the trash can. I wasn't able to fully desensitize him to it, but next time I'll take him out alone and we'll work on it without the audience.

First I rode Panama by the trash can a couple of times. He was still veering away from it a little, even walking at a diagonal to better keep an eye on it as we passed. (You never know what those things will do once you've got your back turned!) So I dismounted, led him right up to it, and let him sniff it a little. Banged on it, opened the swinging door and let it snap shut, then let him sniff it some more. Banging while sniffing. A couple of really big bangs (and a couple of little jumps). After a few moments I could bang on it pretty hard and he no longer jumped.

So I remounted. And he still veered away, though not as bad. Silly horse! We walked back and forth a couple more times, until with a little bit of leg pressure he walked straight by it, albeit reluctantly. Next time we'll address this issue again — I want to get him to the point where he will hardly even notice it!

4) The street crossing. A little ways past the trash can is the street crossing. For some reason there was a lot of traffic in the neighborhood today, lots of big trash trucks and other scary-sounding vehicles. Not all of them were passing the trail crossing, though, so poor Panama could hear everything that was going on but couldn't see much of it. He was a nervous wreck.

I knew better than to try to get him to cross the street with all that going on. Instead, I let him hang about 20 feet back, and worked on getting him to stand still near the road. It took some time — he was quite anxious and kept moving around at first. He tried a handful of times to turn around and head back the way we had come, but I wouldn't let him. So then he started trying to back up (he's figured out my "brakes" don't work as well for backing), which earned him a few little kicks. (I hardly use my heels at all on this horse, because he's so sensitive to the "go" command, so when I say "little kicks" I really mean, little kicks.)

About this point I looked over at Anna and Lee, who were standing on the trail (Panama and I were off on the grass beside it, about six feet away). Anna looked okay, but Lee had his arms crossed very tightly across his chest. I laughed. "You nervous, Lee?" I asked. He nodded, rather stiffly.

"Try to breathe deeply and evenly," I told him. "If you're nervous, he can sense it."

After that Panama started to calm down a little. I'm not sure if it's because Lee took my advice, or because Panama got the hang of it. He (Panama, not Lee!) started standing quietly and looking around for longer periods of time, which earned him a lot of praise and petting. We did a few circles, and moved about 10 feet closer to the road in the process. Panama was still a bit nervous, but not nearly as bad.

5) The man hole cover. While we were waiting for Panama to calm down, I noticed that there was a manhole cover on the trail, about five feet away from the edge of the road. Manhole covers are one of Panama's biggest fears. I think it's because his horsey vision doesn't offer enough depth perception to tell the difference between a different color in the road, and a hole in the road.

Anyway, once Panama was doing better about being near the road, I decided to walk him toward the road, right past the manhole cover. The first time, he dodged to the side a little bit. So I did it one or two more times. The last time, with some leg pressure I was able to keep him on course — not over the cover (I wouldn't ask that of him yet) but he did agree to walk next to the cover.

I was so pleased with our progress there at the end that I decided to call it a day and head for home. Poor Panama had had a lot of challenges to overcome in a very short period of time, and he did try to rush a bit on the way home. Interestingly, though, when Anna and Lee took a different route back to the barn — Anna had flip flops on and had a difficult time walking through the field — Panama stopped rushing as much and started listening to me more.

I think my attempt to make leaving home a little easier on Panama by hiking with someone actually made him more nervous. It could have been because he was feeding off of Lee's nervousness, because he doesn't really know Lee or Anna all that well, or because we're just a better team when we're alone. I may still try it again sometime — and also try it with my husband, whom he knows much better — but I think this actually says something very important about the kind of situation where my horse does the best.

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Braided horsehair jewelry: My first attempt

A little while back I saw a keychain in a horse catalog made of braided horse hair. What a great idea, but why would you want just any horse's hair when you could have your own? I'd also seen a braided horsehair bracelet at my local tack shop once a while back, and I really liked that idea, so I started looking for information on how to make braided horsehair jewelry.

Today Panama's tail was still nice and clean from his bath yesterday, so I decided to snip off a little from the backside, where it's not visible. (Finding some white to cut off was tricky, because it's still growing out, and therefore I didn't want to cut too much or where it's too obvious. But I love his two-color mane and tail, so there has to be some white in whatever I make.)

I brought the hair home and immediately started looking for information on braided horsehair jewelry. I found quite a few sites where you can send in your horse's hair and someone will make a bracelet, necklace, or whatever else you want out of it. I liked this one best, because of all the information, because of how much more personal it seemed, and because the prices are so much better than the others. Some actually charge you more if you want to send in your own horse's hair. What's that all about??

Of course, not having $65 (let alone $100 or $150 for some of the other sites), I decided I need to figure out how to make these myself. Of course, I have to be sure I can do it, because Panama only has so much hair to give! But I am good at braiding, so I don't think it should be too difficult.

One thing I did decide is that I liked the rounder braids that many websites used for their bracelets, instead of the traditional three-strand braids like the one at my local tack store. So I looked it up and found this video giving instructions on how to do a four-strand box braid. I practiced on some yarn first, and then decided to go ahead and make a keychain out of a little bit of Panama's hair.

braided horsehair keychain

This is my first attempt, and therefore the no-frills version: no beading or any other ornaments, just braided horsehair tied off with same kind of rubber band I use in his mane and tail when I braid it.

braided horsehair keychain

As you can probably guess by how skinny the braid is, I still have plenty left. I wanted to practice, but I also wanted to make sure I had enough leftover for a bracelet, once I figure out how to do the end caps and clasps.

What do you think? Should I attempt the bracelet, too?

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The alpha strikes again!

After riding every day last week, I didn't do much at the barn over the weekend or yesterday, so I arrived at the barn today with plans to ride.

Not to be.

I arrived to find that the two newest horses, the ones that arrived a month or so ago, are now being kept in the back pasture, the one on the property the barn owner is losing. The alpha has been going after them a lot, since they are still fairly new, and their owners have been getting fed up with the bites. Then yesterday their gelding bashed his forehead on something and opened up a little gash across it. Of course no one knows whether it was really due to the alpha, but the owners decided enough was enough — they wanted their horses kept separated from the others.

I personally don't understand all the fuss. Horses get hurt in pasture and that's just how it is. Alphas bite, and the horses who are lowest on the totem pole get bitten, and that's just how that is. I know it's hard to see your horse get hurt, but we're also not talking about major injuries here. This is scrapes and bruises. This is the kind of thing I expect to see, especially owning a horse who is almost always at the absolute bottom of the totem pole, no matter where we go.

Anyway, while I was chatting on the phone with the two newest horses' owners, the alpha went after Panama. I was behind the barn, so I wasn't in the way, but I could see the entire thing. I checked Panama over, and sure enough, he had two fresh bites — one of which was under the saddle area and looked a bit sore already. No ride today!

A nice, big, swollen bite from another horse

I decided to hose down the bites with cool water, to clean them out and to hopefully ease the soreness a little. Because of their location, though, I decided to give Panama a quick bath at the same time. About halfway through, it started getting very dark, and around the time I finished up it was starting to rain. I unhooked Panama and he cantered all the way to the barn. That horse hates getting cold, rained on, or snowed on, that's for sure!

I hung out in the barn with Panama for a little bit. It rained pretty hard, and eventually turned to hail. Panama seemed a bit anxious and kept trying to lick me anywhere he could reach — arms, shirt, jeans, even my hair. Very odd behavior for him, but then again I've never been there with him during such a serious storm. I'm guessing he was looking for comfort, which makes me feel a bit bad for not letting him lick me. Unfortunately, I have a no-mouthing rule and I felt like I had to uphold it, no matter what the circumstances!

Anyway, the bite was the real reason I didn't go for a ride, but as suddenly as that storm came up I guess it's a good thing I didn't!

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Scouting out the trail

Today Michael and I were looking for someplace new to walk the dogs, so I suggested we park at the playground across the field from the barn, and walk along the trail the way I'll be going with Panama.

Because of where we parked, we started out at the residential street crossing, just past where Panama and I turned around last time. I wanted to see how far the trail goes before it intersects with another road, as I was having a hard time finding a map of the trail.

We didn't find another street crossing, and we walked for about 25 minutes before turning around. The trail follows a canal that used to be a main source of water and irrigation in the area, so it's a wide (50-foot?) swath that snakes back and forth across the metro area, most of which was farmland at one time. For the duration of our walk, therefore, the trail was lined on both sides with residential backyards, open space, parks, and one large, fenced-in wildlife preserve.

It was a beautiful walk, and I wish I had brought my camera. After we turned around and were walking back past the wildlife preserve, we had a beautiful view of the mountains in the distance, on the other side of a large field with long green-and-golden grasses. We'll probably walk it again before I am able to get Panama out that far, so I will be sure to take my camera next time!

I also succeeded in finding a sign with a trail map on it. The trail snakes back and forth and does indeed cross major roads in all the places I thought it did. I'll only ever want to ride east, because to the west the trail crosses a major thoroughfare three times in perhaps half a mile! And we're talking simple crosswalks, too — no lights or bridges where the trail goes underneath the road. No thank you!

In the other direction, there are two other trails that branch off at some point. One goes underneath the next major thoroughfare to the east. (Though a friend who lives in the area says there is a box under the bridge that squawks to pigeons to keep them from nesting there, and she's afraid Panama might be spooked by it. I think if we get that far, he'll probably be so desensitized by that point, he'll be fine.)

Meanwhile, the main trail snakes around to the north and then the west without crossing the road, only to cross a less major road a little while later. This crossing is also only a crosswalk, but the road is less busy, so if we ride during low-traffic times we should be fine. But again, it'll be a long time before Panama and I get to that point (we didn't even come close today), so I'll worry about that when we get there.

From there, it appears that the trail curves back around to the east and crosses the major thoroughfare a mile or so north of where the offshoot trail had. I believe the trail goes under the road there too, as I have driven on that stretch of road many times and never saw a trail crossing. The trail then snakes through a wealthy neighborhood ($2+ million dollar homes), crossing a small neighborhood road several times veering off again.

We're talking about a lot of trail here — miles of it. It'll be a while before Panama sees very much of what I describe. But it's nice to have a better idea now of where the trail goes and what I will have to contend with on our rides.

I decided to give him (and me) the weekend off, since we rode every day during the week, which is why my blog has been quieter than usual. Tomorrow, however, I have big plans: I want to get him back out on the trail again, and work on Not Shying Away from Trash Cans — and, depending on how that first exercise goes, Crossing a Residential Road without Freaking Out.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Practicing two-point and my sitting trot

Yesterday I had another session with my trainer. I've been doing only once a week since I started back up with her, but as I'd missed the previous week, I scheduled two sessions with her for this past week.

Interestingly, I really liked doing two sessions in one week. That's what I did when he was in training initially, and although the cost of boarding where I am currently prohibits me from doing two sessions per week again right now, I really think I'd benefit from it.

Anyway, I asked to work on my two-point again, since I hadn't practiced it since our last session (having worked with Panama on trail riding instead). We also worked a bit on my sitting trot.

My two-point is getting better. I asked my trainer if I was getting it, and she said yes — so my assumption that I was doing something wrong was incorrect. She said I just need more practice. So that was good news.

She also said my posting is looking really good, which I was glad to hear. She shortened up my stirrups again (by wrapping them — I've run out of holes), and that seemed to really help. I was having a problem with my toes falling out of the stirrups when I tried to keep my heels down, and it was distracting me from the other stuff I was supposed to be doing. So when she shortened up my stirrups, I found it remarkably easier to post.

Finally, we worked a bit on my sitting trot. I'm not really comfortable at the sitting trot, and she has confessed that she's not either, so she hasn't made me practice it much. At the most she's been having me sit 3 or 5 beats because she says that's what I'll do when asking for the canter. But I'm thinking of practicing the sitting trot a little more on my own time — I bet I'll feel more confident learning to canter if I can sit the trot comfortably first.

As a side note, Panama is amazing me more and more by how well he is behaving. It's like in the last month or so, all of a sudden it just clicked for him how he can help me while we're riding — mainly by keeping a consistent pace or staying on the rail when I'm working on something new. This is a HUGE leap of mental maturity for him. To give myself some credit, I've also learned the same concept, except in reverse — I've improved as a rider to the point where I can convey more clearly (and more gently) what it is I want from him, and I'm sure that has helped as well.

After our lesson yesterday, I was feeling much more confident and happy with my riding. Perhaps even enough to try a canter next time? In any case, I'm so glad I started lessons again, because I can feel how much of a difference it is making.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

First ride down the trail

I couldn't be happier that I decided to ride again this morning. Panama and I had a really fabulous ride!

First trail ride

I took this picture just before we turned around, probably about 100 yards down the trail. I didn't want to deal with the street crossing (which you can see in this picture) just yet. I'm working on doing this a little bit at a time, as I don't want to get a mile or two away from the barn and then discover he's totally not ready to be out on the trail alone. I think he'll do fine, but better safe than sorry!

The entire ride went really well. Before we crossed the field to get to the trail, I rode him in some circles in the flat part of the field near the barn, just to check his mood. He was quite well behaved, and although his trot was a little bit faster and more excited than usual, he was behaving himself quite well.

He kept it up, too. I was able to keep him to a nice, leisurely walk all the way across the field, with only a couple of times where he needed correction. His pace quickened just a bit on the trail, but not beyond my comfort zone, and he maintained it with very little correction. He gave a green trash can a wide berth (for some reason he really doesn't like manmade green things out on the trail, which amuses me because that's my favorite color to dress him in), but didn't seem overly alarmed — just wary. We'll work on that trash can a bit next time.

I don't trust people in our area to know the proper trail ettiquette with horses, so I kept looking over my shoulder, checking for cyclists coming up behind us. Since it was late morning during the week, there weren't many people out, but one did pass us. I saw him when he was still a little ways back, poking along — I suppose to give me a chance to see him. (Thank you!) I pulled Panama off the trail, turned him so that he could watch the cyclist (to avoid any surprises), and we waited for him to pass. Panama watched him without showing any signs of concern, even though he never said anything to us.

I decided to take a couple of pictures, so I leaned over to get my cell phone out of my saddle pad pockets. Amusingly, he'd just watched a bike go by without displaying any nervousness whatsoever, but the sound of the velcro made him jump! I laughed at him and he immediately realized it was me and settled down. He got kind of antsy about standing still while I took the pictures, though, so I was glad I hadn't bothered with my real camera, which needs to be taken in and out of its case.

Here is another picture from the same place as above, only this one is looking back the way we came:

First trail ride alone

Once I'd put away my phone, we started heading back. He maintained the same slightly quick walk along the trail, and to my intense satisfaction, I was able to pretty easily keep him to the same pace across the field toward home as well.

Next time I'll push him a bit farther — distance-wise as well as training-wise. I want to work with him on that trash can a bit so that he doesn't need to give it such a wide berth, and I also want to make it across the first street crossing. There isn't much traffic through the neighborhood, so chances are he'll do just fine, but he also has a history of being a bit nervous about street crossings. I'm trying to plan for the time to do some training just in case he has trouble with it!

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When is your favorite time of day to ride?

Do you have a time of day when you like riding the most? My favorite time of day to ride is mid to late morning, before it starts getting too hot — and before the bugs get too bad. I also like riding earlier in the morning, but since I'm not a morning person that doesn't often happen.

Occasionally I try to ride in the evening — it's a convenient time because my husband and I share a car, so if I don't feel like taking him to work I can ride after he gets home. But it usually ends up being an exercise in frustration, because as much as I personally like evenings, Panama usually fusses about the bugs so much that we don't get much done.

Last night was just such a ride. We only went on a quick ride, across the field and up to the trail. He was fussing about the mosquitoes the entire time and as a result I found it supremely difficult to relax, which of course made him tense as well as fussy. Not a good combination.

Anyway, we only went about 50 feet down the trail, turned around, and came back. We also practiced going up and down the hill again a few times. He's getting better about not trotting, but he tries to "fake" walking with that trot-almost-in-place thing horses do sometimes. Silly pony — as if I wouldn't notice.

We had a couple of issues:

* Panama tried to break into a trot after watching someone jog by us on the trail. It was as if a light bulb went on his head, and he thought, "Oh, we can run here, too!" A bit annoying when I spent almost the entire ride trying to slow him down, but rather amusing too that he is so easily influenced by other people on the trail.

* We had a brief moment of panic about a bike. Two bikes passed us — a kid in front, and perhaps 50 feet behind, an adult. The kid was riding hard, smiled at us, said hello, and passed without slowing down. Panama didn't so much as flinch. The adult came riding up just as hard, but didn't say anything. As he approached, Panama started backing up, even though I actually had him parked off the trail on the other side from the bikes. The guy slowed down, apologized, and said he thought he'd be okay with it. I said, "So did I." I'm not sure whether it was because the guy was bigger and therefore looked more threatening, or because he didn't smile or say anything. Nuzzling Muzzles has said before that if she talks to people her horses are less likely to get freaked out by them — I guess I'll have to start saying hi to people on the trail!

* We had the same issue as last time with wanting to speed up on the way home. This time he was less receptive to efforts to slow him down, probably because he was fussy and I was tense. We trotted some circles in the field once we got back, but he was all over the place, speeding up and not going straight. Again, it's probably due to him being fussy and me being tense.

I am going to go out there for a ride later this morning, and we'll see if some of the problems go away with the different time of day. It's a lovely day so far — partly cloudy and not too hot. Should be a perfect morning for a ride!

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Big changes

Are you ready for the latest drama at my barn?

(Really, I don't know how this barn has so much drama, using each other's stuff, etc. There are five horses, three boarders, one instructor, one barn owner, and a neighbor! That's it!)

Anyway, after my horseback riding lesson this afternoon, I was sponging off Panama's back to clean off the sweat, when I happened to overhear an interesting conversation. The barn owner was sitting on his back patio talking on the phone (quite loudly I might add), perhaps 50 feet from where I was, and he was talking about having lost the next door property.

Now, I knew this was a likelihood. About two months ago he started telling me that he was having a hard time making the payments. Then on the first of July, he confessed he was $8,000 behind on the mortgage, and they wanted it that day. He was able to buy some extra time — but it seems not enough time, as I overheard him today telling someone over the phone that the place had already been auctioned off and he was supposed to be out in 60 days. He was trying to work out what that meant for his renter — I think he's trying to use her lease on the front half of the property to keep using the back half (the pasture) for himself.

This is a concern in some ways because the pasture on the back half of the next door property is the "back pasture" where I like to ride Panama. It's less cluttered than the front pasture, and I can shut out the other horses. I don't want to ride in the same pasture with several loose horses, especially when one of those is a cranky alpha.

However, since I've started getting Panama out into the field and onto the trail, perhaps losing the back pasture won't be an issue. There is also a horse park with a nice riding arena about four blocks away, which we could use for lessons — if I can get Panama comfortable with going there. Most of it is on neighborhood streets, but I'm not sure how well he'll take that. It's a big difference from riding in a field with the road twenty feet away! Also, we would have to cross a pretty major road to get into the horse park — there is a light there, but I still suspect he won't be happy about that.

There are very few barns within a reasonable driving distance from me that have this kind of trail access, particularly somewhere I feel comfortable riding him out alone. (If he does throw me and get away here, there is a big field full of grass and alfalfa to distract him and let me catch up to him — and if that doesn't work, there are no busy streets on the way home, so I don't have to worry about him getting hit.) So if I want easy trail access, for now staying put would seem to be the best move.

Unfortunately, I also have to worry about there being too many horses. Right now there are five, which works out fine on a full acre, but I think that's pushing it a bit for a half acre pasture (and just one barn). Granted, they all spend most of their time in the one pasture, but it's still nice that they have the option to get away from one another if they want to. Furthermore, it's handy to be able to shut the horses away from one another, which we won't be able to do with the loss of the second property.

I guess I will probably have to just wait and see how it works. In a way I wish I hadn't found out by overhearing the barn owner on the phone, however accidental it was. But in another way perhaps this is best, because I will have a chance to consider how I want to respond when he does tell me. I think he wanted to today and lost his nerve, because he seemed to be hanging around in an odd way when I first got there.

So much to think about! In a way I feel a bit like my time at this barn is drawing to a close, and it makes me want to get out there as much as possible so I can take advantage of these trails before the end. But in another way I feel like there is still a lot of potential in this place, with the field and the trail access and the nearby horse park — potential I am only just starting to realize.

Besides, and perhaps the most important at the moment, Panama is happy at this barn — perhaps the happiest I've seen him. So as long as he continues to be happy, I'm willing to stick it out and see how it goes!

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Practicing my two-point

I had another session with my trainer today. We're doing two this week, since I missed last week due to all the excitement with Charlie. It was my idea — I felt bad about cancelling, and in any case I didn't want to get behind. I'm enjoying taking lessons again, and I feel like it is really helping with my riding skills.

I was meaning to canter today to make up for chickening out last time, but my trainer immediately started asking for a two-point. This is something I haven't practiced much, so I think what must have happened is that she had other plans, saw my two-point needed work, and that's what the rest of our session ended up being.

It's been a while since I've really practiced the two-point — since last summer, actually — but I was happy to find that my legs have gotten much stronger in the meantime. Still, it was difficult, as it requires the use of some muscles that don't seem to get used during posting practice.

Panama was an angel the entire time. He knows I prefer a slower trot (less bouncy that way), and kept to a constant speed the entire time while I worked on improving my balance. When he does that kind of thing — gives me exactly what I need in order to work on myself — I feel like he is really taking care of me. What a good feeling!

I was going to take the day off of riding tomorrow, but given that I have something new to practice, I think I might ride again after all. I think a little practice in the pasture, followed by a bit more practice on the trail, sounds perfect, don't you?

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Monday, August 10, 2009

I think I rode my first buck today...

I was supposed to have a horseback riding lesson today, but my trainer accidentally double booked herself and asked to reschedule my session. Since I'd already planned on being at the barn this morning, though, I decided to go anyway and just ride.

I started out riding in the pasture, but Panama was quickly getting bored. I decided to ride him in the field, which I haven't done for a couple of weeks. Since he has been doing really well riding away from home alone, I took him all the way across the field to where we pick up the trail. We watched a few bikes go by without him even flinching — in fact he seemed only mildly interested. Apparently he remembers them from the trails near our old barn!

In order to get to the trail, you have to go up a little incline, perhaps about six feet high. It's not a bad slope, but once I verified Panama was still okay with bikes, I decided to practice going up and down. I had discovered last time I rode him in the field that he seems to have forgotten how to go down a hill without trotting, so I thought this was a good opportunity to practice.

Panama apparently had other ideas. He was trotting down it pretty consistently, and perhaps the third or fourth time he decided he'd had enough. I'm pretty sure what I felt was him bucking, and not an awkward attempt to canter. I felt myself going up into the air — still in the saddle, thank heavens, though when we came back down I was sitting on the pommel instead of back in the seat.

A commenter on one of Nuzzling Muzzles's recent posts (also about a near-accident) said, "Don't get scared, get mad." I thought of this comment almost immediately after the experience, because I kept my wits about me enough to let him know while it was happening that I was none too pleased about it. As I was going up in the air, I let out a great big growl: "Rrrraaaaaaggghhh Panama CUT IT OUT!" I think it's funny because I didn't even know at the time what exactly he was doing, but I knew it was a Bad Thing.

Once we landed I pulled him back down to a walk and made him do about half a dozen little circles. I wasn't booting his side or anything, but I think he knew from my yell that I was pretty ticked. Then I felt the shaking start and decided I'd better get him up and down that hill again before I started really feeling the effects of the adrenaline.

So we did it again, and he was fine. Still trotted a bit, but took it a bit slower. That helped to stop the shaking before it could get any worse. We practiced going up and down two more times, and the final time seemed to be good enough to call it quits, so we headed back across the field.

This was when I discovered that my horse, who has never demonstrated any such tendencies before, gets a little barn sour when he's out on his own. He did his fast marching walk — the one where we'll end up trotting if I'm not paying attention — half of the way back before I got through to him that I didn't want to hurry. It took some half-halts and a few turns away from the barn (whereupon he promptly slowed down) before he got it. After that he was pretty good. Just to be sure, though, I rode him around the field right across the street from the barn until he relaxed, just to make sure he didn't get into the habit of equating going back with the ride being over.

Despite the buck, I think it was a pretty good ride. He's doing pretty well out there without another horse — although I know this doesn't excuse it, I think the buck was out of frustration because I was making him do hard, boring stuff like controlling his own speed down a hill, rather than letting him check out his new surroundings. In any case, it's good to know that he likes being out there, even alone, and is interested in going farther. I think I'll take him a little ways down the trail next time — not out of sight of home, just in case, but far enough to see how he does!

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Posting and herding

Yesterday was the first time in a while that Michael has accompanied me to the barn. Last week was simply crazy, and the two weeks before that, he was working his butt off to finish two summer classes. I've been wanting him to take some video of me riding for a while now, so with a little sweet-talking I convinced him it was high time he came out to the barn with me again.

Unfortunately, I was a bit dizzy when we got out there, so I didn't practice much — but we did get a little footage of me posting.



I'd only made a few laps around the back pasture when the alpha gelding and Panama's girlfriend demonstrated that they'd learned how to open the gate if you didn't latch it firmly enough. Next thing I knew, Panama and I were dodging a little butt-biting, compliments of the mare. Luckily my horse knows his job well enough that he didn't try to kick out at her or even run away.

At first I was going to try to ride with them in the pasture, but the butt-biting attempt changed my mind. Michael started trying (rather ineffectively) to get the mare moving back toward the gate, and I decided to put Panama to work helping. We followed along behind the mare and I clucked to her to keep her moving. At first Panama was a bit confused as to whether I was clucking to her or him, but I was proud of him — he got it figured out pretty quickly.

Once we got the mare through the gate, Panama and I went back for the alpha. He was easier, because he doesn't like being alone so his instinct was to follow the mare anyway. Michael shut the gate behind them and Panama and I went back to posting practice.

I have to admit I don't know the first thing about herding from horseback, but I thought Panama did very nicely. I wonder what he thought about bossing them around for once!

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Back to normal

With Charlie gone, our lives are comfortingly normal again — and although we miss him, it's also nice to be able to leave the house, walk our dogs, and go out to the barn again.

Although we had a busy day ahead of us, I made sure I got out to the barn today (Saturday) around late morning after we walked the dogs. It was the first time I'd been out there in 10 days — between my sister getting married last weekend, Michael taking Monday off, and finding Charlie on Wednesday, I hadn't been able to do any of my normal activities (including, unfortunately, working) in a week and a half.

I only had time to ride for about fifteen minutes, but we made it a good one. Panama was quite well behaved, as I often find he is when I haven't ridden for a while. In addition, I felt like I was better able to feel what my body was doing, perhaps also because I hadn't ridden in a while. It was an odd, but refreshing, sensation.

I started out with some practice on whoa, which I really need to practice more but usually forget until late in our ride. As a result, I discovered something that I consider very important: Panama stops quite well if we haven't already been riding for a while.

We also practiced both slower and faster trots, and slowing to a walk, while I worked on breathing and holding in my mind the rhythm I wanted in order to control Panama's gait and pace a bit better. It seems to work, if not all the time, at least a lot better than having no plan and yanking on the reins.

While it wasn't a very long ride, it was extremely refreshing to squeeze in some horse time with what little availability I had today. I feel like my life is back to normal, and it's a good feeling!

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Difficult decisions

Charlie, the straw yellow lab my husband and I took in

This is the last clear picture I got of Charlie, the stray lab puppy Michael found Wednesday morning. I took it yesterday evening with my cell phone, while we were on the way to pick Michael up from work. Charlie had ridden about half the trip in the backseat before deciding to ride in the front seat like a person.

At the time I knew I was leaning toward taking him to the shelter, and I actually wondered if it would be the last picture I'd take of him.

But what really made up our minds for us was when Charlie pushed right through the baby gate yesterday evening and followed us down into the basement, where he proceded to chase the cats. This has been the cats' domain since we moved into the house three and a half years ago — Emma was always too scared of the stairs to try going down them, and it was pretty easy to discourage Grace from trying it when we got her. (She has a bad hip and it probably would be too difficult for her at this point anyway.)

We have two cats, which have been with me since long before I met Michael. Prince, my all-white, odd-eyed (one blue eye, one gold) cat is deaf. He's pretty adaptable and has learned to live with, and I think even like, the dogs. Cleo, on the other hand, nearly died of feline hepatic lipidosis (where the cat stops eating and the liver fails as a result) when Michael and Emma first moved in with us. When we added Grace to the family, she managed a little better, primarily because by then she had a basement all to herself. But she was really upset when Charlie invaded her space — six hours after we took him to the shelter, she still keeps looking over her shoulder and won't come upstairs.

Don't get me wrong. We're not quitters. We loved Charlie and would have kept him, even with all the other work he required. That much training is admittedly intimidating, but it wouldn't have stopped me from keeping him.

But I can't risk the life of my cat, who has been with me for eight years now, because of a cute puppy face.

So our decision ended up nearly making itself. Perhaps for that reason — or maybe because Michael was with me, or because everyone at the shelter was so nice about it — dropping Charlie off was a lot easier than I thought it would be. He was excited about the new place, for one thing, and everyone there loved him so I knew he was in the best possible place to find the best possible home. He did whine when we left, which made me sad, but I think he'll attach just as quickly to the nice people there and to his new owners when he gets adopted.

One final comment: For the record, and for anyone who is worried, please don't — we literally took him to the best (in my opinion) no-kill shelter in the city. I was ready to keep him and call them every day until we got him in, but luckily I talked to a couple of nice ladies who were willing to reserve a kennel for him when one opened up, and even gave us an extra day when we were having a hard time deciding what to do. This shelter makes a point not to take too many and get overcrowded, and it's a happy place despite the semi-caged environment. The volunteers spend lots of time with the dogs and cats, and the profiles of each pet that they list on the website demonstrate how well they know them. They also take the time to ensure every pet goes to the right home for them based on their personalities.

I know Charlie (they're keeping his name, by the way) will find a good home with this shelter. In fact, since the yellow lab is unofficially the Colorado dog, they are expecting he'll be adopted out almost right away (once his 10-day waiting period is over — they have to give his owners a chance to find him). They'll train him, and they'll note in his file that he's a major flight risk, so that he doesn't go to someone who is likely to lose him. We're going to call and check up on him — maybe even visit him — and if for some reason he isn't getting adopted, we'll reconsider our decision. But I think Charlie is well on his way to finding a great home.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Charlie

Stray dog we found and named Charlie

Have you ever met an animal that just seems determined to worm its way into your life?

That's kind of how Charlie is turning out to be. I went with my mom today to take him to the shelter, and I just couldn't do it. I broke down and started crying, and they said they'd hold the spot for another day to give us a little longer to think about it. The advantage of this way is, even if we still decide to give him up, Michael will be able to go with me tomorrow, so I'll have a little support when I get emotional.

Charlie

In the meantime, friends and family have been offering a lot of opinions as to what his breeding could be. He looks quite lab-like in the face at times, but not all the time. And his lean torso and long legs have led several people to suggest that maybe he's a lab/greyhound mix.

Lab mix

Lab mix

The changes in Charlie's personality over the last 36 hours are fascinating to watch. He seemed to fit in with our other two dogs right from the beginning, but now he is starting to try to play with Emma. He doesn't really know how, but he's trying.

He's also learning. Already he's understanding simple commands like down, back, go lie down, no, and even sit. (For some reason sit took the longest.) He has also figured out cute little things, such as pushing his nose into my hand when he wants attention. He's really responsive to praise — he absolutely eats it up — and although he is still a bit unsure of people at times, he is learning to trust.

He is fascinated by our cats, but not aggressive with them. He chases them if they run away, but when I held the male cat for him (the one that's better with dogs) he sniffed him, licked his foot, and was really gentle. I think with some training he would stop trying to chase them.

Unfortunately, he's still a flight risk. When you go outside with him it's like he turns into a different dog. We have to take him out on a leash, even in the backyard, because he can cross the yard and scale the fence before you're even out the door all the way. And every once in a while, he pitches a fit about going back into the house, sitting down and pulling back so that I worry about him pulling out of the collar.

It breaks my heart that such a good dog as this one, who should have been loved and trained from the very beginning, would have had such a rough start to life. It's perfectly clear that he has had no training, no exposure to other dogs and cats, and has probably spent a lot of his life outside — whether in a backyard or on the run, I don't know. Someone cared enough to trim his toenails, but not enough to feed, train, or neuter him. What's up with that?

Luckily, he's still young, very smart, and extremely receptive to praise and attention. With love and training (and neutering), he is going to make someone a very loyal, loving pet. The training is absolutely imperative, though. The way he is, he's probably too much dog for many people, and to fix that problem he will require more training than the average person wants to give a new dog. But for anyone who is willing to devote themselves to him, I think he will be just as devoted in return.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Doing the right thing

My day has been completely monopolized by just one thing: doing the right thing by a stray dog my husband found this morning.

Found dog: Yellow lab mix

Michael was walking Grace, our white shepherd, at a local park when this young yellow lab mix ran up to them. He seemed friendly and walked with them for a few minutes, then ran up to the next person he saw with a dog. He and the woman realized the dog was stray, and decided to catch him. In the end, it took four people to catch him — despite being friendly, he was a bit skittish, probably because he was scared.

Of course, he is young — perhaps a year — and intact. Probably he's experiencing his first real rush of hormones and ran off to look for a good lay. He's also skinny — not starved, but his ribs and hip bones stick out more than they should — and almost completely untrained. Yet he has clipped nails. His owners went to the trouble to clip his nails, but they can't feed, train, or neuter him? This stinks to me of white trash...

So my day has been spent trying to decide what to do with this dog, whom I've been calling Charlie. (He already answers to it, too — he is ridiculously smart!) I started out thinking that maybe we could keep him, but quickly realized he is probably too much dog for our already-full household. Primarily this is because he is an escape artist, and quite adept at scaling our chain-link fence. I had to chase him down and bring him back three times this morning before I learned I had to keep him inside — no exceptions! He also figured out how to open the storm door on our back door within 10 minutes of being inside the house, so I've had to be careful about that too.

The law in Denver dictates that all dogs and cats must be neutered unless the owners have a breeding license. Even if it weren't for that, though, one of my biggest issues has been the thought of giving him back to his owner still intact. It's against my morals. So I was really hoping we wouldn't be able to find his owners, but I wasn't sure what to do with him if my wish came true (which, so far, it has).

I called my favorite no-kill shelter, only to be told they were full. We took him to a local vet to have him scanned for a microchip, but he's not chipped. We also drove around the neighborhood where we found him, looking for signs and putting up a few of our own. I called animal control, but I worry that because he's nervous, a bit mouthy, and lacks training, he'll be labeled as aggressive in a big, busy shelter. Finally I called my favorite shelter back, and was told I could bring him in tomorrow, as they have a kennel opening up after all.

So we've at least found him a decent place to go. Whether or not his owners show up (which I suspect they won't), he'll be neutered before the shelter releases him. Also, this shelter has a stringent application process to ensure he goes to a really good home.

But now that we've found him a place to go, I'm wishing again that we could keep him. His personality has changed dramatically since this morning — he went from being skittish and aloof to affectionate and sweet. I suspect he's not used to being around people or inside the house, but he's taking to it quite well. He's also learning to recognize some commands as well as his new name.

If only we didn't have a small house, a low fence, a cat who is easily upset, and two big dogs who already keep all four of our combined hands busy on a walk!

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A busy six days

I've been ridiculously busy for the last six days, and am ashamed to say I haven't made it out to the barn since my trainer came last Wednesday. Thankfully, my trainer had to reschedule this week's lesson, so I will have a chance to ride tomorrow. I don't like going all week without practicing between lessons!

Here's my week since my last lesson:

Thursday - Spending time with my mom, primarily shopping for the stuff to finish a wedding present for my sister and for shoes to wear to the wedding
Friday - Finishing my sister's wedding present and the rehearsal dinner
Saturday - Babysitting all day, then the wedding in the evening
Sunday - Relaxing and spending some time on my other hobby, collecting and fixing vintage dolls
Monday - Relaxing, ice cream with my mom, and babysitting
Tuesday - Spending time with my mom (who is on vacation this week to recover from the wedding) and getting back to work

I wasn't in the wedding, but even so (or perhaps because of it) I found the weekend emotionally draining. So much so that even the last couple of days, when I technically could have made time for a ride, I haven't felt like doing anything that requires that much effort. I feel intensely guilty, and also like I've deprived myself of something I know I would have enjoyed once I got out there, but I couldn't have helped how I felt.

That's okay — I'll make up for it tomorrow. More later!

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