Thursday, October 21, 2021

It Is Better to Have Loved and Lost

 (Loki giving me kisses.)

Every time we lose a beloved pet, I wonder if having such a big, beautiful animal family is worth the pain of loss. Every time, my answer is yes, yes, yes. Yes, to infinity. My heart aches today, but it is also full of love for my sweet Loki boy. 

Our dogs are always with us. Sometimes, we don't even know they're with us, because we're so used to them always being there.  They're watching. Waiting. Protecting us.

I think one of the hardest parts about their passing is having to make the decision to put them down. Loki refused to eat, which was very unlike him. We began to watch, and he definitely seemed depressed. But by morning, he seemed back to himself, and slept by the fire at my feet, like he always does. Later that afternoon, he was crying, and in extreme pain. We loaded him, and my husband took him to the ER. He had the dreaded bloat--a twisted stomach--similar to colic in horses. After some thought, and consultation with the vet, my husband made the very difficult decision to put him down.

He was 7 1/2 years old, but only 5 1/2 of those years were spent with us. He had been rehomed from his first owner, whose life had become too complicated for a wolfhound. He always seemed a bit sad to us, like he never really got over that loss, but he did love having the freedom to run around our property. He loved our other wolfhound, Riagan. They became like a married pair--inseparable.  He loved us.

I believe that we will see these souls again on the other side, and I believe he was reunited with Riagan, who passed last November, 2020. 

I am very thankful to have loved, and to continue loving him.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Return of Mama's Milk

A few days ago, when I went to get Epona and Cowgirl, I saw Epona herding her mama into the nursing position again. Cowgirl moved away before she could be successful, but it did send off warning bells in my head. I kept them apart the next day, then, two days later, reunited them again. After a few hours, I went out to check, and Epona was bouncing around like a happy little camper, and Cowgirl was standing, motionless, and confused, further away. She had what looked like milk droplets on her legs. I approached her and squeezed a teat--and yes, indeed, out squirted some milk.

And that was the end of the that. There were no signs that Epona had expressed any milk herself, but it was just a matter of time before mother nature prevailed, and Cowgirl would have to stand for her.

Mother and foal reunion has come to an end. It's amazing, because they have been apart for almost 3 months. Crazy!

Speaking of mamas, the season of babies ended on a positive note--our grandson was born healthy and happy last Friday. He does have a bit of a tongue tie, which makes it difficult to nurse, but they are going to take care of that this week with an easy laser procedure.  (It did make me wonder if tongue tie is something horses can also have.)

I was so happy to be there with them, and to be able to see him come into the world, but it was also difficult to see my daughter in pain. I didn't know the right words to help her, but I offered as many as I could. To me, she looked like my baby--so young, innocent--and here she was having her own baby. 

Yesterday was our anniversary, and every year we go back to the small town where we were married--Sandpoint, Idaho, to celebrate. We couldn't have chosen a more beautiful location.

Here are some more photos. Since we had Lucy with us, we ordered a burger to go and shared it on a picnic table at the edge of Lake Pend Oreille. The Burger Dock. Yum. Yum. We got some kind of yummy burger with jalapenos and special sauce, thick slices of bacon. Their fries were homemade, shaken in some special seasoning, and were to die for, too. 

We followed that with a quick trip to the Pend Oreille winery. That has been our tradition for 19 years--every year we buy a few bottles of wine from their winery, and we open them at our 6 month anniversary and our year anniversary. Every year we tell this to the ever-evolving staff at the winery, and they are always mildly interested. In this year of Covid apathy, even less so.  (It doesn't matter, I tell them anyway!)

It's been quite a week, hasn't it? Quite a summer. Quite a spring. Maybe now we can all take a deep breath and enjoy the bounty of babies. Oh, and we have 5 more tons of hay being delivered tomorrow, which will be quickly followed by filling the breezeway full of our round bales. A barn full of hay is the surest sign we are ready for Autumn and winter! Thanksgiving. Christmas. Ohhhh, I can't wait!

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Life On Hold

Since we are on baby watch, life has to be on hold. I can't venture too far from home, just in case I get the call to head to the hospital. Today is the day they will induce my daughter, but that won't start until 7 pm. The idea is to start labor slowly, go through the night, and, hopefully, deliver tomorrow during the day. I really hoped the baby would come without induction, but he's a big boy, and it is probably best to do it now.

Luckily, there are plenty of things to do around here while I wait. The farrier is coming Saturday, so we've been practicing holding Epona and rasping her little feet. She does pretty well with it. 

Morning turnout with mama is always fun. I bring Cowgirl into Epona's area, and they get so excited. Cowgirl stomps in like, let's go kick some butt, little one. And Epona jumps around and runs off with her like, my mama is the beast! She has a look of deep respect, mixed with a bit of fear, when she's with mama. I haven't released them with the herd yet, but I might try that next--with a few of them. There is one issue...

Tumbleweed wants to take on Cowgirl. Yes, the boy is dominating the herd, and has assumed a de facto leadership position. Cowgirl knows it, and the last time they were out together, she made it her one mission to go after Tweed. She's an extremely aggressive mare, and I do not want her hurting my boy. Any turnout she gets will be sans Tweed and Beautiful Girl, his self-appointed protector. 

Beautiful Girl loves Tweed with a slavish adoration. If any other horse thinks about entering a stall before him, taking a bite of hay before him, they will feel her wrath. It's funny how the herd has set up a semi-wild hierarchy, with the gelding (stallion) as the head. Tumbleweed is the only young gelding, therefore, he is the head when the mares are around. Take the mares away, and Little Joe quickly becomes the head. 

Today I plan to ride Tweed and work on side-passing to the gate and opening and closing it. I'll take as much as time as necessary to get it done right.

On another note, the new mutation of Covid--Delta, I guess--is going around like crazy. My dad got it, and received monoclonal antibody treatment which turned him around immediately. Another family member, in another state, also got it, fully vaxxed, and will receive monoclonal antibody treatment today, hopefully, with the same good result. I have no idea what is in the monoclonal antibody treatment, but from our experience with my dad, it sure seems to work wonders if you get it early. For some reason, it's not automatically offered.  You have to know to seek it. So, if you're high risk, and get the damn virus, despite all your other precautions, might want to consider the same.

And here's another tidbit, macarons are low in calories. After binging on coffee, salted caramel, hazelnut, and chocolate macarons, I finally decided to google their caloric content. I was surprised to find they are one of the lower calorie cookies. Yay! I also seem to have gotten them out of my system, because I do not want to see another macaron for a long while! I know there are two spellings for macaron / macaroon, but the bakery chose the one I've been using. Maybe someone with more knowledge can explain this variance to me.

Since I'm killing time with this post, I'll venture onto another subject--the weather change. Last night we got to freezing temps. We've turned on the water heaters, and I need to start adding salt to their feed again. I'm also preparing to bring in the plants that I want to over winter. After last summer, I can't complain about this change. It sure beats 109 degrees and smoke. I'm also excited about the flies getting killed off. They've been horrible. 

During our last vet visit we had a fecal test done for Epona, so that we would know which wormer to use. Our vet forgot to get back to us with the results until yesterday, but she recommends ivermectin.  I've heard there is a shortage. I have quite a bit in my fridge, but I might have to purchase more. I'll try to get that done today, too. Any suggestions on which brand for babies?

I guess I have a lot to do today! Better get to it!! Hopefully, my next post will have some very big news.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Sweet Season of Babies

This has been the year of the babies...first, a new puppy, little Lucy--

Lucy was followed quickly by the birth of Epona--

We had a wedding at the ranch--

And now, we are waiting patiently for a grandson to be born, who is 4 days overdue.

If he doesn't come soon, I'm going to gain 20 pounds. Since my daughter's husband is working out of town, I am her support person, and I thought it would be fun to follow every doctor's appointment with a trip to Mi Flavour, a modern french bakery in Spokane, Wa.

The decadence!!

Mi Flavour makes the best macarons you'll ever taste. Everything is made in-house, from macarons to gelato, to Creme Brulee, to custom chocolate bars--croissants, lattes, macaron-gelato much yumminess!

Every time we go, we try something new, and it's all equally delicious. 

It's so strange to have a bakery of this caliber in our city. It seems they'd be more at home in Seattle or Coeur d' Alene, somewhere a bit fancier than our blue collar town. They're located on a gritty city street, too--Sprague Avenue, rather than the more posh Riverfront Park across from The Davenport Hotel and The Grand Hotel. 

I'm not sure why they chose our city, but I'm sure glad we found them. They've made waiting for the baby's arrival a lot more sweet.

Monday, October 4, 2021

More Love and Trust

This photo popped up on social media today, and I wanted to share it because it represents this stage of my life--in all areas. After a year and half of the pandemic, and so much divisiveness, I felt like everywhere I looked there was nothing but toxicity. Screw you. No, screw you. Screw you double. Screw you triple. And so on. I also realized that even with people I agree with 95% of the time, the 5% on which we don't agree was also divisive, and there is no way two people can agree 100% of the time. Our opinions are like fingerprints--or snowflakes--no two are exactly alike. We seek to congregate with like-minded, but even in that group, we will find places to be not-like-minded. 

But there are things we can all agree on, and that feed us--love, kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, tolerance, and joy. 

And those things also translate to our horse-human relationships. 

If our horses are mirrors of anything, it is the list above. The prey animal knows what's important: when to fight, what's important to fight for, and when not to fight. They understand real trust, and only give it when it's earned. They understand your smile, when your heart wells up inside with love, as you approach them. A horse motivated by fear gives you fear responses. A horse motivated by trust and love, gives you trust responses.

The photo above is Epona on the bridge. I asked her to come up, and she did so--over and over and over. At first, she jumped back off, but after a while, she stayed on for as long as I wanted her to. That's trust and willingness, and it's exactly what we should have with all our horses. It takes more time. And it takes giving up something in us that wants to force and fight. 

We had planned to go on a trail ride yesterday, but ended up digging out a wire that was shorting the automatic water heater. It took all day. I decided it would be a good time to put Cowgirl and Epona back together, for the entire day, and see how they did.

They did very well. No nursing. So, I think it's safe to put them together like this everyday, and soon join their stalls and runs back together. I would do it now, but I want Epona to have access to more and hay and grain than would be possible if Cowgirl is with her. Soon though.

As I was sitting out there with them, Tumbleweed made his approach, trying to be as non-threatening as possible. Epona is really drawn to him, but is also trying to mind mama.

My refocus on love and trust really started after the summer wedding. You may remember I told you that the attendees represented all walks of life--and they did. However, there was one thing that united us all, love. We loved the two people getting married enough to say, if you love them, too, something is really right with you, and I want to extend my arms, my heart, my friendship. And I thought, if only all of life were that way, divisions would disappear instantly.

The scripture that was read during their ceremony is one we have all come to know very well, but hearing it in that setting, at this time, it resonated more deeply than ever before--

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, 
but have not love, 
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, 
and if I have a faith that can move mountains, 
but have not love, 
I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, 
but have not love, 
I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

Love never fails. 

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

That kind of love is powerful. The plants know it. The horses know it. The universe knows it. And, we need it. If we think we can act one way in life, but another with our horses, we are lying to ourselves. Our horses are a more perfect mirror, and the image they're seeing is the whole person--the person that woke up this morning, the person that greeted their neighbor, the person that logged into Facebook and Instagram, --all of what we are, they see. 

I'm thankful for that, because there are days where my heart is really troubled, and I go to the barn to clean stalls and play with the horses I adore--and they remind me to let it all go. Harbor no grudge. Offer no excuses. Cling to what I know is true, and take comfort there.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Hitting the Trail with Tweed


I finally hit the trails with Tweed yesterday, and everything went off without too much excitement. If you want to watch eight seconds of a quite boring video, here it is.

Of course, that little clip does not tell the whole tale. (I'm laughing now) What does it leave out? Mostly that Tweed is an aggressive little stinker who thinks every horse is a cow that needs to be bit and herded. 

I went on the ride with a good friend who exhibited the utmost patience and allowed me to take all the time I needed and to choose the route. I didn't want anything too steep, because he is just learning to balance himself and a rider up and down hills. It's impossible to avoid hills at this riding area, but I deliberately chose the most solid footing when we had to go up or down. 

I wanted him to lead and follow, but he wasn't keen on following, and that is when he showed his aggressive side. That is also where my kissy kissy training turned into kicky kicky training.  (insert more laughter.)  He's lucky old Mo is such a solid boy and tolerated his nonsense. There was some pinning of ears, too. None of this surprised me because it is the same behavior Tweed would show when I ponied him. He wants to be the big boss. I like his confidence, but not his bad behavior, and it is something I will be working on diligently so that he is a well-mannered trail companion. That is all part of the trail riding life--being good around other horses he may not know and tuning into me.

He's only three, and I worry about how long a trail ride should be at his age. He's not used to anything longer than 30 minutes. Our ride was about an hour and a half, with lots of time standing. He didn't like standing either, but when I'm out with the other cowgirls, he will have to get used to a lot of that.

At one point, when he thought we'd been standing too long, he turned and bit my boot. 

But you know, these were all small, manageable things. He didn't buck, balk, spin, or spook. He started out looky and reactive, but calmed after about ten minutes. That was all to be expected, because it was new for him. New horse buddy, new trails, new experience.

At one point, he saw the trailers, and he thought we were done, but I had purposely taken him that route to show him that just because he sees our trailer, it doesn't mean ride over. We went out on new trails. He showed some displeasure and poutiness, but he did it.  I remember when Leah was in the same situation, and she tried to bolt to the trailer. I had to spend an extra hour riding her out from it, back and forth, until she realized she wasn't going to get what she wanted. Tweed needed no such lesson, and I was relieved, because I didn't want to have to do that. And, when the ride really was over, I took him through a few obstacles, to further the point.

Nothing beats the trails for teaching, there are so many natural obstacles, and great learning experiences. The obstacle course does present a great opportunity to get them in the "thinking side of their head" before and after a ride though.  

I haven't decided how much is too much when it comes to trail riding him at this age, but it is something I'm going to discuss with my trainer.  I feel like everything we did yesterday was well within the range of what he can handle, but the wider trails we usually take will be more steep. We probably have 1 to 2 more months of trail riding weather, and then we will back to working at home for the winter, and more training next spring in his 4 year old year.

He is going to one heck of a fun horse to ride, and I am looking forward to our future.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Building His Confidence

Things were crazy around here when I pulled out yesterday. Something got the horses riled up, and they were all running around like crazy, which scared Tumbleweed as he was loading. Part of me said, abort the mission! But the other side of me said, you can't make everything perfect, and he needs to know he can trust my decision to work today. The latter side won.

When we arrived at the trail head, he was still on edge, but we started our work on the obstacles in-hand. I didn't want to overburden him, since he has shutdown on them before, so I chose only one on which to concentrate. It's the bridge he has gone over 1000 times, but after the teeter-totter bridge, he firmly believes it is a teeter-totter in disguise. Before we can even think about mastering the TT bridge, we need to circle back on this one.

My daughter, who is due any day now, accompanied me. She and I think a lot like when it comes to training, so I bounced ideas off of her as I was working. Too much pressure? Need more? What do you see happening?

The winning approach for Tweed was a little bit of pressure, but lots of reinforcement. At one point, when he committed his front feet, and most of his back momentum, to the bridge, I stopped and kissed his sweet little mouth--which is something I do a lot around here--and he just immediately melted. It paved the way for several successful tries. A little pressure, a little release, lots of kissing. My training method!

After that, we did some work in the round pen and arena, and then rode out to try the obstacles in-saddle.

The Sand Box

The Poles. (This is one is good for teaching him to balance a rider while picking up his legs to maneuver over obstacles, something that still scares him. He seems to be very worried about his balance when we do these obstacles, so I take them slow.)

I apologize for the next one being crooked, but I sent it up to YouTube in the correct position, and it still processed it skewed. The Ladder. Last time I  tried this one with Tweed, in saddle, he refused it. So, this was a big, big win for us.

We did more of the obstacles, like the labyrinth and poles--going in, and backing out, but that gives you a good idea. I'm starting to use the obstacles more as a supplement, rather than an entire session. I'm going to build on them slowly, as he gains confidence. 

Today is going to be our first trail ride, and I think he's more than ready. It's a beautiful day, and I'm looking forward to it!

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Finding Our Way In a Big World

After my post, "My Mama Don't Want Your Advice," this photo popped up on Facebook. I liked it.

I also enjoyed reading the wisdom you all shared in the follow-up post, "Now That I've Scared Everyone off..."

I suppose this is all front-and-center in my mind because Tumbleweed and I are moving from a private relationship, working at home together, to a public relationship, riding the trails and integrating into the wider community of horse people. I don't want to be unteachable, yet I do want to carve out a private space to work through things in our own time, and our own way. It's a fine line.

I'm getting ready to go back to the equestrian area today, and I'm envisioning what it will look like. The  plan is to work on getting our bodies and communication in sync. So far, Tumbleweed seems to prefer work done in the saddle. It could be that the training he received as a 2 year old, then 3 year old, last spring, have conditioned him to thinking riding out his reward. My trainer said he really excelled in that area. 

I remember some more advice from my former farrier. Sadly, he retired. I really miss him. He told me that when you start a horse you should spend a little time in the arena, but get onto the trails as soon as you can, and ride them out a lot. That seems to be the progression Tumbleweed wants, too.

So, at this point, I just want to make sure I'm strong enough in the saddle to sit a spin, or a spook, or whatever we might encounter.

Off we go--into the great big world.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Now That I've Scared Everyone Off...

Now that I've scared everyone off from ever giving me advice again >insert laughing emoji<, I would like to shift gears and ask you to share the best piece of advice, or maybe more accurately, wisdom, you ever received.

For me, it was probably the day my vet told me Cowboy was a smart horse because he had a strong survival instinct. I was thinking about it from the negative--he's not a bright horse, because he's not allowing my vet to give him his vaccination shot, and I was making apologies. He turned that back around to the positive so fast my head was left spinning.

I was Cowboy's fifth owner by the time he was seven, partially because the poor guy had been caught up in a divorce situation. He was also an orphan foal. Cowboy must have thought if he was going to survive, he'd have to take matters into his own hands. When I look back, every blow up, every refusal, everything--was a failure of not meeting that most basic, essential need.

1. Have I done the necessary conditioning / training?

2. Have I earned this horse's trust?

3. Does my horse feel like he / she can communicate their needs to me and have them heard and respected?

4. Is anything I'm doing contributing to my horse's fear and survival instinct?

5. What's the best way I can get this horse past his fear and not make him more fearful?

6. At the end of the day, the relationship is more important than the results.

It took me a long time to get there with Cowboy, and I had to let some things go. He never enjoyed riding in super large groups. He always hated desensitization clinics. He wasn't good crossing water, and always took extra time. When he got it, he'd do it forever, but only that particular water crossing. In all other things, he gave me everything he had--really poured it out and wanted more time with me on the trail. 

How about all of you? What is that great epiphany? What piece of wisdom changed everything about your outlook?

Oh, and we introduced Foxy and Epona last night.

It was extremely uneventful.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

My Mama Don't Want Your Advice


I saw this onesie at a store last month and it cracked me up. My Parents Don't Want Your advice. There have been times this last week that I wish I had a shirt that said, My mama don't want your advice!

Let me back up for a moment and clarify two points:

1. I often ask for advice on this blog, and I'm thankful for your input. This does not apply to the blog.

2. I am guilty of what I'm about to describe.

When you train at a public park, you're going to run into well-meaning people who see you struggling and want to help. Unfortunately, help is often a distraction, and it almost always leads to a worse outcome. I'm not sure why that is, but every time I've taken someone's advice--I'm not talking about trainers, but random people who show up-- it got worse. It could be that it interferes with my natural method--which to someone on the outside might look "wrong". When I feel pressured to try to adopt their advice it makes me see it from their eyes--and not my own or my horse's. It interferes with the communication going on. I start seeing where we should be--and not where we actually are. It's frustrating, and it happened to me twice last week, setting back our progress.

Today the park was pretty full, and I shared a spot with a young woman and her horse. She backed her trailer up to the round pen right as I was going in. I started to feel the dread well up in me. Is she going to offer advice? Is she going to judge my methods? I mean, I think my methods are pretty solid, actually, but different horses need different things--and different people have different ways--and each horse and person is--for lack of a better word, different. 

Well, she didn't...because she has better manners than me. I have been that know-it-all person before offering help when it wasn't asked. I look back and cringe!  Please God, strike me moot if I ever go to offer unsolicited advice to another horse person.

Again, this advice comes from a good place and I in no way want to suggest it doesn't. It's just that it's not helpful.

We switched places and I went into the arena while she went into the round pen. As I was leaving, I saw her trying to load her horse, but she wouldn't get in the trailer. I didn't look at her, but walked slowly by, just in case she asked for my help. She didn't. She took her horse back into the round pen and started working her. As I drove off, I could see clearly, she was there to teach that horse to load properly, and that was all part of her plan. I was so thankful that I had kept my mouth shut.

Now, as I say this, I remember a time I did need help loading a horse, and a very nice man came over and gently asked me if I needed assistance. I had probably sent his group some imploring looks before he finally felt comfortable asking. I was very happy he did and accepted his help. Obviously, this isn't a hard and fast rule. It's delicate.

When we get past all of this elementary school training, and we've reached that greater plateau with our horses where we're doing all sorts of fun things on them--it is easy to forget how important the struggle was in getting there. It's also natural to want to share our many lessons with others who are back where we started, but this has taught me a valuable lesson that I hope I carry with me from here forward--Mama's Don't Want My Advice.

Here's my only video of Tumbleweed today. He still comes to me when I call him in, even though he knows I'm taking him off to work. That is something I never got from Leah or even Beautiful Girl. I've only ever had it with my first horse I raised from a weanling, Tanner, then Cowboy, Epona (so far), and Tweed.  The others will stand for me when I come and get them, but they're not going that extra mile to come to me. 

He had been way out in the pasture grazing when I called him in, and by the time it hit me to video it, he was almost there. It says volumes to me about his willingness and connection, despite whatever mistakes I've made.

Friday, September 24, 2021

No More BS

Have you ever experienced a moment with your horse where, if they could talk, you're pretty sure they'd say, This is bullshit? I had one of those today.

The beauty of my new system is that we're out at the park most of the day, so it allows me to stop and take a break and rethink my approach. Tumbleweed and I had started out with obstacles again, and I found him completely shutting down on me. Like, these were fun the first time, but enough is enough.

We went back to the trailer, and he ate his hay while I ate my lunch. I started to think, Okay, what's next then? I decided that part 2 of the day would be working him in the round pen to see if he had any frustration stored up, and to see if I could move his feet and get a connection. All of that went well, and I had his attention, so back we went to take another break at the trailer. 

It seemed the next likely step would be to ride him in the round pen. I saddled him up, and off we went. All was well in the round pen. The big empty arena seemed to be calling our name, and off we went to the big arena. After riding in both round pen and arena, we took another break, and my husband brought his work down to the park to join me.

At that point, I thought, Well, hell, why not take him out on the trail and over the obstacles in saddle, since he's doing so good?

We rode through trees, up and down the nearby trails, and then over the obstacles. Tumbleweed was a rock star.

By the end of the day, we had progressed from frustration and shutting down to, YOU DID AWESOME, TWEED! (kiss, kiss, hug, hug, kiss, kiss--happy boy.) I'm so thankful we corrected, because he does not need to be a frustrated 3 year old--he needs to build confidence--and LOTS of it. If I had gone down there and stopped at the first hour, we wouldn't have had the breakthrough. I wouldn't have figured out what Tumbleweed was trying to say to me. Four and half hours together gave us what we needed, and it increased my understanding of him.

Based upon everything I saw today, I think we are ready for a long ride this Sunday.