Sunday, February 26, 2017

10 Things Old Red Taught Me About Living a Long Life

I may, or may not, live a long life, but I know someone who did--Old Red. And long before I had to let him go, I had already decided that I wanted to be like him. Now that he's gone, it's even more important for me to remember.

I thought this was a good place to start.

10 Things Red Taught Me About Living A Long and Wonderful Life

1. Be the one everyone loves, not the one everyone fears. 

Shadow died last fall, but I was surprised to see that the herd didn't miss him. He was the alpha horse--the one everyone feared--but he hadn't made himself important in their day to day lives.

Red, on the other hand, was horribly missed by horses (and humans). It threw us all into a flux. Everyone loved Red. From the pony, to Cowboy, to Penny and Cowgirl, there wasn't a horse in the herd that Red hadn't played with and watched over. When I'd take a horse away in the trailer, no matter which one it was, Red would come running up whinnying to high heaven when they returned.

I saw so many amazing things the herd did for Red over the years--like the mares leading him at night to his stall and grain. When his eyes were weak, they became his eyes.  When his legs were weak, they became his protection.  And, it was all because he had inspired their love and respect, rather than their fear.

2. Have a fierce loyalty and protection over your herd.

Red watched over every move of the herd and was one the first to come running in their defense. He was the babysitter--the father figure. He wasn't born into the herd, but it was the herd he ended up with. And, as we introduced new member after new member, Red brought them into that fold of loyalty and protection. That devotion and need to protect probably added on years to Red's life just because he was so determined to be there for them.  And, it didn't hurt that they returned the favor, allowing him to eat and drink first even when he couldn't fight his way to be the first.

3. Be humble. (And honest about who you are.)

Red was not that "look at me!" horse.  In fact, you'd probably not notice him at all if someone didn't point him out.  He was always the one who stood back, rather than mauling guests.  Even if treats were being handed out, Red let the others get them.  He didn't puff himself up to look 3 feet taller (like Cowboy does) or put on airs that he was tougher than he was.  He just did things quietly in the background.

4. Take pride in what you do.

Whether Red was giving a ride to a two year old or the Queen of England, on a parade route or in our backyard, Red would square up and hold himself with pride. Even though he had arthritis, he NEVER took a bad step with precious cargo on his back. If Red had a job to do, he did it well, or he'd die trying.  At 37 years old, Red still knew there was a job to be done, and he was happy--and PROUD--to do it.

5. Be the one people can trust.

We always knew we could put anyone on Red's back and he would keep them safe. Even before us, his previous owners loaned him out as a therapeutic riding horse. And before that, the rancher who had raised him used him as his "girlfriend horse." His whole life, Red was the horse people could trust. In return, it guaranteed him loyalty from humans and horses. A testament to that, he only had three homes in his life. When we bought him from his second family, his owner ran out of the barn crying. It tore her apart to let him go.

 Up until the day he died, he was still that horse we turned to for the kids, and the kids (and parents) were indebted to him.  In fact, I still do not feel like I fully repaid my debt. I was at the Country Store yesterday and, for once, I was not there to buy Equine Senior.  All I had was a truck full of wood shavings.  It felt empty.  And our bill!  It was so cheap.  I realized, I had NEVER regretted the trips to the store or the money it took to buy the special feeds.  It was an honor and a privilege--an honor and a privilege that I sorely miss.

We all want a safe place, a place with people we can love and trust to have our best interest in their heart.

6. Lose yourself in Duty, and live for others. 

Even though Red had arthritis, and it must have hurt, he never stumbled. He never stood over feeling sorry for himself either.  Red was always too focused on taking care of the herd.  The last days of his life, I had locked him up because I didn't want him to slip on the ice, and every time I went out there to feed him or groom him, he demanded I let him out to his family.  There were some nice days that I'd let him out for a few hours, biting my nails the whole time, but for the most part, he stayed in....and hated it.  No, Red lived to be with the ones he felt a calling to oversee.  It was his life's blood.  There's a saying, there's no "I" in team.  Well, there's definitely no "I" in herd.  At least not for Old Red.

7. Go with the flow.

When life brings you a new circumstance, even if it's not what you wanted, adapt. After Red's second owner ran out of the barn crying, he spent months at the end of his run looking up the road toward the direction she'd driven away. It seemed as if he was waiting for her to come back and get him, and it made me feel like I'd stolen him.

Eventually though, Red adapted to the circumstances and threw himself into his new friends--Shadow & Cowboy, and his new little girl, Shiloh. A few years later, he was helping to raise a palomino weanling, Cowgirl, the filly Shiloh had saved all her money to purchase. Cowgirl and Red bonded from day one, and when Cowgirl grew up, we called them the married pair because they were inseparable.

It became impossible to imagine our life before Red because it was as if he'd been with us, and all our horses, his whole life.

8. Never grovel, but instead, have pride in your principles.

Red wasn't one to beg, like some horses.  Not for a treat.  Not for a good petting.  He did what he was asked with pride and precision, and then he expected to be released to live his life.  Whether it was a night at 4-H, loping circles, or a four hour trail ride in the mountains, Red did the job.  In return, he demanded the essentials in life.  He wasn't a people horse--that is to say, an "in your pocket" horse.  Instead, he was the horse who got things done, fulfilled his end of the bargain, and expected the accompanying benefits in return.

9. Don't get caught up in other people's drama.

When all hell broke loose in the herd, Red was the one who would be quietly grazing a ways off in the distance. When the drama slowed down, Red would graze a little closer until the offender would come alongside him and graze, too--in synchronicity--trading in drama and chaos for peace and harmony.

10. When it's time to go, go. 

Whenever I eat or drink something especially yummy, I have to remind myself to stop and not eat more. I ask myself, will eating or drinking more make this (fill in the blank) taste better? The answer is no.

That's how I hope I'll look at my life when it's time to go, basically, that I've enjoyed it so much--a little more isn't going to make it "better."

Red did that. The winter of 2016-17 will long be remembered as one of the hardest in Spokane. It got cold early and it stayed cold. There were nights I'd be out feeding and grooming Red, and I'd apologize for asking him to go through it. I even told him, if he was ready to go, he could go--I wouldn't blame him.

And, he went.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Terrible Landing In Paradise

(Shiloh and Red during a parade in '03.)

When you have an old horse you always wonder, is this the year I'll lose him? How many times did I wonder that about Red--too many to count.  And, every time I traveled, I worried that it would happen while I was away.

It did.

(Shiloh and Red.)

In my mind, I always wanted to hold him as he passed. Comfort him as he passed.  Thank him and thank and thank him.

This winter was very hard.  It got cold in late November and it hasn't warmed up.  Last month, I found Red down in the snow and he couldn't get up without my help, so I made a decision to keep him stalled.

Yeah, he didn't like that.  Every time I went out, he'd greet me at his gate and demand I open it.  Usually, when the weather was a little better, I would.

But now-- I couldn't.  At least, most days I couldn't.

(Shiloh and Red)

It took 6.5 hours to fly to Hawaii from Portland.

 (Sophie and Red. Sophie at 4. Red 29.)

When we landed, my phone started to receive text after text after text.

(Dear Lord, I'm crying now.  This is so hard to write.)

"We need to call a vet out. Red isn't doing good."
"There is a vet coming. You need to call me ASAP!"
"We have to put Red down."
"We're doing it now."
"His heart rate is at 100 and normal is 40."
"T (my riding friend) is here, too."
"Red was put down."
"Did you get my message?"

(Sophie and Red when Sophie was about 4.)

There were more messages, from friends, but those were from my daughter, Shiloh, who had to make the decision.  Red had started out as her horse, and then became Sophie, my granddaughter's horse, and had lately become Catherine, my younger granddaughter's.

Shiloh never had to make a decision to put a horse down, but she did the right thing.

 (Sophie and Red being ponied behind Cowboy.)

I called Shiloh and the vet was still there, so she handed the phone to her.

"Hi. This is Dr. Pederson.  I'm so, so sorry you're having to hear this. was the right thing to did so well by him to keep him going this long....I've never worked on a horse as old as him....he looked good for his age.... I took his tail hair for you and we send it out to make an angel for you...complimentary.  Yes, there will still be some for you to have to make something else.  ....It was the right decision, we could have done a lot of expensive tests, gut sounds... I've never seen a horse pull out when they've gotten that far."

Of course, I was bawling at that point.  All the other passengers looked very uncomfortable.  We had, after all, just landed in Paradise.

My very first thought was how cursed I was that it would happen then.  Why me?  Why now?  Why Red? But then I wondered, did it happen like this for a reason?  Did I ask too much of Red to make it through this god-awful winter?!?  Did he leave the world when he knew I'd be gone?  Will it be easier for me to mourn his loss in Hawaii--away from it all--with the distraction of the ocean? 

Could I have been there?  

Should I have been there?

 (Sophie riding independently at 6 years old.)

But it was what it was.  Death is so unpredictable.  I had wanted to give him a chance to make it through the winter, and he had been doing pretty well....considering.

(Sophie riding alongside me as I pull one of my youngest granddaughters, Ariana, behind on Red.)

You know how Facebook puts up your memories.  Well, yesterday, the morning after we arrived home, this memory from exactly a year ago came up--Catherine riding Red and Sophie riding Penny.

That was a wonderful, mild winter.  He looked awesome!

The night I got home, I went out to see my herd in the dark.  As you know, we're a family.  We all feel each other.  Cowgirl was laying in the snow, near the round bale.  I dropped to my knees and  hugged and hugged and kissed her.  After that, I went to Cowboy, he was standing, but he moved his muzzle over to my mouth and I kissed and kissed him.

Horses are so emotional.  It was as if they were all telling me of the loss.

Now, we all  have to go on without him.

I'm not sure what that's going to look like yet.

(Red, last month.)

But I'm hoping sadness will turn to happiness and gratitude....  

I'm hoping I can incorporate some part of his character into my own....

Because he was a GREAT one.

**Thank you all for your condolences in the last post.  I haven't been able to respond to your comments yet, but I will.  

**For those wondering how old Red was in human years--like I was, here's a chart that converts it.  Red would have been around 111.

More pics:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Good-bye, Sweet Friend

I thought letting go of my 37 year old horse would be easier.

But I was wrong.

Please meet me in the pasture when I pass from this world to the next, lift me on your broad, strong back and let's fly through heaven together.

Until we meet again, sweet friend, I'll carry you in my heart and soul.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tossing the Head from Walk to Trot

In yesterday's post, I briefly described a problem I'm having with Leah. When I ask for the trot, she tosses her head and acts kind of mad.  At first, I thought it may be the saddle, because I didn't think she did it when ridden bareback, but last week she did it in saddle and bareback.

Hmmmm....another mystery.


1. Leah prefers the trot to the walk or lope.  I have a hard time getting her to start out at a walk.  She wants to get up and go. For the first half hour, it takes me about 2-3 asks to get her from trot to walk.  At the slightest provocation, she will start to trot again.

2. When SHE chooses to trot, she doesn't toss her head.

3. The tossing happens bareback and in different saddles.

Possible Solution:

I was watching Julie Goodnight last night (I tape all the episodes) and she had one on a horse that would buck when asked to lope--an "explosive departure."  The horse was very forward, sensitive, smart and athletic.  She pointed out that the horse was nervous about being asked to lope because he expected the rider to pull on his mouth.  The ask for movement, then the pulling back of that movement, was sending the horse mixed signals and he had developed a sourness or anxiety about the transition.

Here is a link to Julie's article on this topic.

During my lessons, I was always told to gather up my reins and make them short before asking for the trot and, I'm thinking now, my execution of that has made Leah anxious about the walk-trot transition.

Julie's advice was to throw the horse the rein before the ask and really emphasize that you WILL NOT get in their way or yank on their mouth.  AND, to use her seat only to ask for that transition. Then, let them move into the new gait for a few steps before gathering up any rein.

She also said to use his movement and don't try to hold it in all the time.

My plan:

1. Let Leah start out at the trot, if she wants, and stay off her mouth except when needed for control. (Julie said that allowing them to move out at first will help them get in the groove and listen better when they settle down.)

2. Throw her some generous rein whenever I ask for the trot and let her find that movement for a few strides before I shorten the rein.  And, if I don't need to, I'll continue to give her that rein--which I have been doing.

3. Use my seat ONLY for the ask--no clucking (which she hates) or leg--seat only.  Leah is extremely sensitive to cues.  I have to be very gentle with my leg cues anyway.  As for vocal, she even hates it when I'm talking to other riders while she's trying to work.  She'll pin her ears back anytime I start talking loudly.  On the ground, however, she likes voice commands.  Go figure.

Now, I just need to dig my trailer out again and get to the barn to put this into practice!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Snow Cancels Horsin' Around, A Hawaiian Vacation, & My Sweet Guitar

 More Snow

 We got dumped on again here in Spokane, and that, unfortunately, canceled our February horse clinic.  The roads were slick and dangerous--so it was a good call--but, oh, so sad!  Hopefully, we'll be able to reschedule for next Saturday--weather permitting--which will be one day before we leave for a Hawaiian vacation.  (More on that below.)

Before the dumping, I did get a couple more rides at the barn in.  I rode Leah in a new saddle and bareback, but this time I didn't see any difference in the two.  She tosses her head when I ask for the trot.  I had a friend ride her, too, and she thinks its a habit--a kind of tizzy over being asked to do something that differs from she wants to do.  Time will tell.


Hawaiian Vacation

I packed two days ago--completely packed--for our Hawaii vacation.  We've saved all year for this trip and we're making sure to stay longer this time.  We leave next week, but when it started to snow...and snow...and snow...I consoled myself by packing swimsuit, sun hat, shorts, sun dresses, sunscreen, etc.etc.  I also packed riding boots & jeans because I do plan to ride on the island again, but not at the same spot.  This time we'll be riding here.  Paniolo Adventures--picnic ride.  I need to book it!

I used to think a Hawaiian vacation was a waste of money, after all, you could buy a new horse or saddle with that $$--or guitar--or piano, but that only lasted until we actually went to Hawaii.

Hawaii is our How to Survive Winter drug.


After a year of playing the guitar, this is what my fingers look like. I promise, they don't hurt!  In fact, they're rather numb.  I was worried it would affect my piano playing, but if anything, it has improved it.  I hear music differently now--I see it differently, too.  I so wish I'd started playing the guitar at the same time I started piano.

I love my guitars.  I have the Big Baby Taylor and the Taylor 414ce.  The Big Baby is my porch/boat/office guitar and the Taylor 414 is my LOVE. I play so often now, everyday, multiples times a day, that I have to restring every few weeks.  I buy my strings in bulk and learned to string by watching this video by Martin.

Here are some photos of the process:


I  had over 3,000 pictures on my phone, so I weeded them out.  But while I was at it, I found this one of Cowboy's plate.  I kept it as a souvenir all these years to remember everything we've been through and how lucky I am to still have him.

And these  Beautiful memories of summer.  Yes, we will see sunshine and green grass and flowers again!