WELCOME!

This blog is dedicated to my friend, my mentor, and the best teacher I have ever had. Without him, I would not have embarked on this amazing journey. Split, this blog is for you!
Ponderosa Misty Icon, aka "Split," is a handsome gray Welsh pony who came to me via a phone call "out of the blue" (actually Peterborough, Ontario). Our first few months together were rocky to say the least, which made me question my ability as a horse owner, as a horsewoman, and as a rider. Forty years of horse ownership had not prepared me for this little gray pony!
But we muddled through and because of Split, I have begun a journey that is both spiritual and enlightening. I hope something here resonates with you and that you'll check back now and then.
We leave you with one of our favorite quotes: "The best whisper is a click!"

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mom & Dad?

My husband asked me a shocking question last night - one I never expected to hear from him! (And no, it did NOT involve Fredrick's of Hollywood.....sheesh!). He was petting our beagle and suddenly turned to me and said, "Do you REALLY believe that our pets can come back as people we've known? Do you think it's possible?" I was shocked! I never thought he'd become so enlightened! I said, "Well, sure, why not?" "Well," he continued. "The cat reminds me a lot of my dad and he did show up the weekend after Dad died. And this beagle reminds me a whole lot of my mom and you know how she loved her beagles. And look at the relationship between GrayKitty and Jelly." He paused to chuckle. "Jelly takes no crap from GrayKitty and she's the only animal who can make GrayKitty cringe and skulk away quietly." HA HA HA That's absolutely true!! GrayKitty IS like Harry - taciturn, prone to small hissy fits when things don't go his way, determined to always get his way, thinks he's totally in charge! Jelly's a lot like my mother-in-law, Nellie.....she welcomes everyone lovingly into our home, she's short and a little stout, she's very strong - physically and emotionally - she's forgiving, and she puts GrayKitty (Harry?? LOL) in his place with nothing but a dirty look or a short bark! Oh, and she had a GRAND sense of humor and certainly would have worn the reindeer antlers pictured above! She would have plunked them on her head and struck a few funny poses while laughing uproariously! John and I got laughing as we talked about the similarities between the animals and his parents. Sorta makes me wonder...........................


"The soul comes from without into the human body, as into a temporary abode, and it goes out of it anew - it passes into other habitations, for the soul is immortal."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, November 25, 2011

She Shoots! She Scores!

Well, not really, but Jelly is really catching onto our soccer ball game!! After she got the hang of touching the ball with her paw, I began withholding the treats in order to encourage her to offer another behavior. Naturally, she went to the ball several times, touched it with both her nose and paw and returned to me for a C/T. She would cock her head and look at me, asking, "Well?" I waited until she "batted" the ball with a paw and then clicked and treated her. Of course, as round objects are wont to do, the ball rolled away. This provided an interesting scenario! Once she received her treat, Jelly returned to where the ball WAS, looked perplexed for a second, then ran back to get her treat! LOL I was wondering if she'd figure out that she had to look around for the ball but apparently she hadn't made that connection and she continued to turn around and look at the spot where the ball had last rested! I finally went to the ball and nudged it with my foot so that she could see where it was and then returned to my spot by the counter. Jelly looked at me, looked at the ball, and then went to the ball and pushed it with her paw! C/T! From then on, she knew she was to find the ball, go to it and bat it with her paw. This has been a fun game and one that Jelly seems to really love! Her tail starts wagging and she has this big, ol' beagle grin on her face! I'm not sure what our next game will be but my daughter's fiance asked me yesterday, "Could you ever teach her to bat it into a little net like a goal?" Hmmmm..........Well, of course!! I'm thinking I could cut the bottom out of a box and make a square goal...........
100 Things To Do With A Box...and a ball!!! Clicking really allows us to use our imaginations. If we can imagine it, we can click it!

"I myself have known some profoundly thoughtful dogs." James Thurber

Yeah.......me, too!!! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pony Manners

The other day I decided to clean the stall area of my barn while Split and Jingle were enjoying their meager handful of hay pellets. Split's pellets always go in the old wooden manger; Jingle's go in a little rubber tub on the floor. For some reason, Jingle will only poop and pee on Split's side of the stall.....right in front of his manger! Some sort of statement? Who knows........Anyway, while Split was tuckin' into his pellets, I grabbed the manure fork and started scooping up the piles in back of him. He turned and looked at me, clearly saying, "Seriously? I'm eating here." Ooops. I guess I wouldn't want the waitstaff vacuuming around me while I was dining, either. "Sorry," I apologized. What a funny pony! He shook his head as though saying, "Geez. Humans!" And he turned and walked away and stood in the stall doorway with his butt to me! I started laughing and he turned and communicated, "Please. Just get on with it so I can get back to eating." I quickly finished the job at hand, stepped aside and called to Split, "Ok. I'm done." He looked at me and I bowed slightly and motioned toward his manger. "Your pellets, Your Majesty." Without a word, he walked politely back to his manger, snorted slightly, and resumed eating. What a hoot!!!

A man's manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Perhaps that's true of horses as well?? 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Watching The Paint Dry..........

Yeah, that's pretty much what clicker training is all about.....watching the paint dry or the grass grow. Ho-hum....at least to the casual observer. To those of involved in the process, it's really exciting to see those little, tiny steps toward success. And sometimes they're so microscopic you think, "Did I just really see that?" Take Jelly and that soccer ball........
So...I bring the soccer ball into the kitchen and place it on the floor in front of Jelly. She glanced at it, walked around it and sat in front of me. I nudged the ball with my foot. Jelly gave it a cursory glance and went on staring at me. No interest whatsoever. I got out my treat-filled fanny pack and suddenly those little beagle eyes lit up like high-beams and her tail started wagging "to beat the band" (my grandmother's expression!). She knew then that she was in for some fun! 
Jelly hadn't yet associated the ball with the treat at that point so I gave her a little help. I nudged the ball with my toe again and when Jelly looked at it, I clicked and treated (C/T).
It took several minutes for her to associate "look at the ball" with getting a treat but once she got it, you could see the wheels start to turn. She looked at me, cocked her head, glanced at the ball, and then looked at me again, clearly asking, "Is that it?" I then added lavish verbal praise. (I tend to be quiet when I'm clicking for a new skill because I don't want to confuse or distract the animal. Occasionally I will add a quiet "good, good.") When "look at the ball/CT" was established, I stopped C/T for looking at the ball and simply waited to see what Jelly would offer once she figured out that just looking wasn't working anymore. She looked at the ball and then at me several times - not receiving a treat - and then stood up and looked at the ball - C/T! She remained standing and looking at the ball. We repeated this loop several times. Because Jelly was clearly enjoying the game and wasn't frustrated by it, I decided to add another criteria - would she go to the ball and put her nose on it? I helped her out a bit by pointing to the ball and saying, "Touch it." As soon as she did, she got a small "jackpot" treat (3 treats instead of 1). She caught onto that right away! I probably could have gone right to "touch it" from the get-go since Jelly has targeted a box before but I thought I'd try starting at the beginning. Anyway, after 10 successful nose touches, I again extended the period between clicks, wondering what other behavior she would offer. She touched the ball with her nose several times and returned to me for the treat. She never gets disappointed when the treat is not offered.....she simply stares at me (and one must have a lot of patience at this juncture! LOL). I smile and wait, hands behind my back, smiling and waiting, smiling and waiting.......She finally went to the ball, touched it and tentatively put a paw on it!! Exciting stuff!! I immediately clicked her and gave her lavish praise and a jackpot. When she had completed 5 successful paw touches (being C/T after each one), I called it quits for the day. I have no idea how long that all took us. I've discovered that when you're first teaching or wanting to shape or capture a behavior, you should take off the watch and just allow things to develop on their own. If I'm pressed for time, I find I WANT IT NOW and that just makes things more difficult so I choose a time during the day when I know I have "all the time it takes."
We're doing more with that soccer ball and I'll fill you in as we go along.
Remember.........

THE BEST WHISPER IS A CLICK!!!!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

100 Things To Do With A Soccer Ball

Jelly and I attended our final agility class for 2011 last Thursday. It was a MOST WONDERFUL experience thanks to the warmth and positive attitude of trainers Cathy and Glenn. We'll resume again in mid-January, somewhere inside - place to be determined. But what do we do til then????? 
Neither Jelly nor Lucy have ever shown a bit of interest in dog toys. How odd. The first time I presented either one with a squeaky toy, they literally shrunk back in horror! "GAAAA! What IS that thing? Take it away!" No amount of fooling around, tossing it, or even holding it in my teeth and growling could get them interested. I was used to my old yellow lab who, when presented with a new toy, would virtually turn herself inside out! "For me? For me? YAY!!! I can toss it and bite it and gut it? YAY!" 
My theory about Jelly and Lucy is that they spent all their "formative years" in cages as part of puppy mills - their lives were to produce litter after litter. They don't know what toys are or what to do with them. In fact, they were afraid of lots of things when they first came into our lives - snow, grass, loud noises, TREATS! Yep, the first time either dog was presented with a hand-fed treat, they pulled back, then stepped forward and sniffed cautiously. They nosed it, licked it, and finally - reluctantly - took it in their teeth. They spit it out and walked around it suspiciously. Once they actually ate it, however, they were HOOKED! LOL But I digress.....(what else is new?)
So here we are - Jelly and me - with no agility class for 2 months. What to do? Karen Pryor has an exercise she calls (I'm paraphrasing) "100 Things To Do With A Box" and it's about capturing and shaping behaviors with the click. I was in the garage the other day and spied a soccer ball left over from the days when my kids tried (and failed miserably) to be soccer players. ("A speeding ball? AAGGH!! Get it away from me!") I had a light bulb moment - we could play with that ball! 
I brought the ball inside and set it on the kitchen floor in front of Jelly. She looked at it, looked at me, and then went off, sniffing the floor in search of crumbs. Well, clearly this was going to be a challenge! I donned ye olde bum bag full of treats and thought, "Well, let the games begin!" How's it working out, you ask? I'll let ya know..................

"Men cannot think like dogs.... [There exists] a sharp difference in the mental capacity of humans and canines. For example, a human who is given an intricate problem will spend all day trying to solve it, but a canine will have the sense to give up and do something else instead."
Corey Ford

Yeah.....ain't THAT the truth??

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Under where? UnderWEAR!!!!!!

I found this very strange creature in my laundry basket! Is it a rat with mutant ears? Is it a zombie dog? Is it a grannypantsasaurus?
Oh, wait! It's just Lucy the minichi! LOL
I love this picture and just wanted to share with you. Lucy loves to burrow down into my laundry basket when she comes for sleep-overs and sometimes I even forget she's here until I go upstairs into my bedroom and notice that the laundry is....aliiiiiiiiiiiiiive! Sometimes I bring laundry up from the cellar, warm from the dryer, set it down in the hallway and leave it. Imagine my surprise when I go to pick it up and fold it and instead of grabbing hold of socks or shirts, I reach in and grab..........Lucy! ha ha She always gives me THE LOOK - "Excuse me. I'm trying to SLEEP HERE, MADAM!" I'm way past worrying about a little dog hair on my clothes. It's a given around this place.

Even the tiniest Poodle or Chihuahua is still a wolf at heart Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

Yep, that's true! That little Lucy.....she's all wolf! Well, until she sees the cat staring at her and then she runs for the hills...............and hides. Under where? UnderWEAR of course!

Monday, November 7, 2011

OOPS.....A Daisy!


Kathleen Kelly: I love daisies. Joe Fox: You told me. Kathleen Kelly: They're so friendly. Don't you think daisies are the friendliest flower?

I love the movie "You've Got Mail." And I love daisies! In mid-summer, the entire perimeter of my paddock is covered with daisies! It looks like I deliberately planted a border of thousands of daisies. And they ARE the friendliest flower - they're always so sunny and bright and they make me smile every time I go out to the barn. I miss them, especially at this time of year. BUT.........I was riding in the paddock last week, just 2 days after the big snowstorm, and I looked down and THERE WAS A DAISY! I took a picture of it because I thought, "No one will believe this!" I got down on my hands and knees and just relished looking at its bright, yellow, smiling face! I thought, "What a wonderful gift!" This little daisy popped out just to brighten my day! It was only there for a day or two and then............gone again. I'm sure he'll come back next summer. Maybe he missed me, too!

"Daisies are like sunshine to the ground." Drew Barrymore

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Soccer Ball Training


I never realized just how hard dog agility is! As you can see by the photo above, most of the time it's the handler getting the exercise and many times we have to give our dogs a little "boost" to help them understand what we want them to do! The secret to success (besides "practice, practice, practice") is for the dog and handler to be able to read each other's body language. I realized that Jelly and I were sadly lacking in that department when I'd point to an obstacle and she'd go off in the other direction. One afternoon when we were practicing, I decided to try to block her with my feet as she skittered off in yet another direction. She would dodge to the left and so would I. This made her stop and think. She dodged to the right and so did I. We continued this way until suddenly Jelly found herself directly in front of the jump. "Hmmm...." I'm sure she was thinking. "This is interesting." She looked at me. She looked at the jump. I was pointing at the obstacle and saying, "Over, Jelly, over!" She thought about it for a second and then over she went! I immediately clicked and treated her. I pointed to the next obstacle (the tire) and said, "Tire, Jelly, tire." "Boring," says Jelly and off she went in another direction. Again I blocked her with my feet and I thought at the time, "This is like playing soccer." Of course, my goal is not to kick Jelly over, thru, or onto an obstacle, but rather to guide her to where I want her to be. As we practiced this over the weeks, I began to realize that were anticipating each other's every move. She now watches my feet and ankles to see where I'm going and I've become much quicker at anticipating which way she's going to scoot! We've become much more successful at negotiating a course of obstacles! Does that mean we're ready for competition? Uh....I don't think so. But we're getting closer. And it just reinforces what most of you know already - body language is SO important when we're communicating with our animals! I have to be very clear when communicating with Jelly. Of course, she still sometimes sits down, glares at me, and then sticks her nose in the air, and gazes off in the other direction. THAT body language clearly says, "I'm thinking about it!" She's a funny beagle!!!

"The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too." - Samuel Butler

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Permission Granted!

Despite our early snowstorm on Saturday night, it's shaped up to be a beautiful autumn week here in upstate NY. Daytime temps have been in the upper 50's and it's been sunny every day - perfect for some bareback rambles around the paddock. Those of you that know me or have been reading this little blog for a while know that my Welsh pony, Split, is a real gentleman. For a variety of reasons, I haven't sat on him since sometime in August yet I hopped aboard on Sunday and he was as well-behaved as if we'd been riding every day. Yesterday, tho, he gave me a most amazing gift!
Because I am short of stature, I have a mounting block (yes, I even need it to get on a PONY! LOL) and I usually lead Split over to it and line him up. He never protests. He just stands quietly while I shinny onto his back. When I first got the mounting block, he wasn't sure what that big, green plastic thing was and wasn't too keen on getting near it. However, we clicked and clicked and he finally figured out that a) it wasn't going to kill him and b) he got a treat every time we stood next to it! But the treasure eluded me. I was hoping that at some point Split would INVITE me to ride, i.e., I would love to have him - at liberty - walk up to the mounting block on his own and "invite" me to hop on. Haltering is easy - I show him the halter and 9 times out of 10, he will walk up and simply put his nose into the nose band, letting me know he's willing to play or ride. But he never walked to the mounting block of his own volition.
Yesterday I carried the mounting block out into the paddock and plunked it down in the mud. Then I fiddled with the halter and lead rope (I don't use a bridle), straightening everything out and as I was doing that, I noticed Split moseying over from the other end of the paddock. I assumed he was going to come to the halter. But NO.........He walked over with a very peppy step, ears up, nickering. He walked to the mounting block, lined himself up perfectly, then turned to look at me, clearly saying, "OK, Mom! Hop on! Let's go!"
I think my heart actually stopped for a second. I was speechless, that's for sure! I was totally gobsmacked - completely over-whelmed with emotion. A little gesture from a little pony, to be sure, but it meant the world to me! You can have all the championship ribbons gathering dust in my closet. They pale in comparison to the "award" I got yesterday - my pony INVITING me to go riding! There are no words............................

To understand the soul of a horse is the closest human beings can come to knowing perfection.

Author Unknown



Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Poor Man's Manure



This is our garden. This is our garden with snow all over it on October 29!! My grandfather and father-in-law always referred to these late autumn/late spring snowfalls as "poor man's manure." There are any number of explanations for this, including some that are very scientific - adds nitrogen to the soil, etc. I'm not sure that my farmer relatives were into the scientific reasons for it - they just knew what they observed and, as farmers, they had to be very observant when it came to weather patterns! Today we have satellites and doppler radar and computers to keep us apprised of what's ahead weatherwise but "back in the day," it all came down to being in touch with the earth - the old-timers observed the sky, the wind, the animals' behaviors, plant growth........I'm thinking that, as wonderful as all the new technology is, perhaps we're losing those senses that once served us so well as hunter/gatherers.
There was an old farmer in Arlington, Vermont who, back in the '50's and '60's, based his haying on whether or not the Detroit Tigers were able to play home games during the summer. He loved baseball and would listen to it on the radio and read about it in the paper. He realized that whatever weather Detroit was experiencing would reach Vermont within 48 hours. If the Tigers were playing a home game in good weather, he put down the hay! No doppler radar or pretty weather girls for him!
"Poor man's manure." I love that expression. I wonder how many people (excluding farmers) today even know what that means?

"When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization."

- Daniel Webster



Monday, October 31, 2011

We're BAAAAAAACK!!!



Well, here it is the very end of October and I can't believe I haven't posted anything since July. September and October went by in a blur.........September found me down and out with Lyme Disease (there were days when I was literally unable to get out of bed) and October brought the death of my husband's oldest sister. On the up side, however, October 22nd was my oldest daughter's wedding - a truly joyous occasion! She and her husband have known each other for 11 years and our families are like "one big happy" whenever we get together! So congratulations, Colleen and Trevor O'Neil! I wish you a lifetime of happiness - you deserve it!
I have lots of thoughts whirling around in my head and stories about my beagle and pony and donkey to share so I'll be sitting down and writing more often. Stay tuned! Until then..............

Quit hanging on to the handrails . . . Let go. Surrender. Go for the ride of your life. Do it every day.
Melody Beattie





Friday, July 22, 2011

We're On Our Own!

Jelly and I have now completed 4 agility classes and have earned the right to train on our own at the trainer's facility! For me, this was the ultimate gift because we can go to the field and practice, using our clicker and breaking down each obstacle into small steps. During the class we usually have at least 5 other dogs and handlers in our group and naturally the trainers would like to keep things moving. They offer a lot of help and always give positive encouragement and suggestions but in the end, we must move along quickly. Those of you who understand clicker training can imagine how that makes us feel. But I know what the trainers are up against and they're doing an excellent job! The last words Glen said to all of us Wednesday night were, "You're doing fantastic, all of ya! Great job, everybody!"
Jelly is still reluctant to approach the obstacles at any pace other than a walk and she will often stop just before the obstacle, or mid-way over/thru/under, and stand there THINKING about whether or not she wants to continue. If we were on our own, this would be perfectly acceptable and I would simply let her figure things out. It's harder when you have 5 other teams waiting their turn behind you.
So yesterday morning - before it got too hot - we went to the field to practice our agility.
I began by C/T Jelly for approaching the first little jump with a happy attitude. Then I stood on the other side of it and called her name. I held the line and just waited. Jelly looked at the jump, "thunk" for a second, and then hopped neatly over it! Yay! C/T. We did this with every single jump. The next time, I C/T every 2 jumps and in the end, she was trotting and jumping beautifully over all 8 jumps - with no hesitation and a happy expression on her face. We then practiced the "catwalk" which is 2 steep ramps with a "catwalk" in between. The catwalk is pretty high and can be intimidating for small dogs.
Jelly did some hesitating when she got on the catwalk but again, I simply waited while she looked around and considered her options. I made sure my hand was ready to grab her harness if she should decide to jump down (not a good idea!) but other than that, I just talked to her and encouraged her. Finally, she simply trotted the rest of the way along the walk, down the ramp to the bottom. She immediately sat for her treat, grinning as only Jellybean Beagle can do!!!
Thank goodness for the power of the click! Here's a quote from my grandfather's favorite author. I think it rings true for many of us:

“Change your thoughts and you change your world” ~ Norman Vincent Peale

Have a great weekend, everyone and stay cool!! Oh - and look for new photos here soon because I just bought a CAMERA! Yay! Click and treat for me! Get it? Camera? CLICK? Oh.....never mind! :0)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Animals Do The Darndest Things

Anyone remember the old Art Linkletter show, "Kids Say The Darndest Things?" (Yes, I'm old. We've already established that fact. LOL) Well, I've discovered that animals DO the darndest things! (They also SAY the darndest things but that's a subject for another day.)
Tuesday Split and I went for a walk around the property (on line) and he was very interested in everything as always. He discovered some things on the lawn that shouldn't be there like my brother-in-law's bright green cooler that had suddenly "sprouted up" on the lawn or my husband's pitching net.......He walked right up, sniffed them, licked them and then turned to me, asking, "That's not supposed to be there, right?" So were moseyin' along, la la la, when suddenly Split snorted, jumped 3' sideways (away from me - he's a good boy), and stood there, neck arched and nostrils flared because there it was.....the big, the rusty, the faded green, hole ridden, black-tired monster.......THE WHEELBARROW!!!!! Dear lord, that horse has seen that same wheelbarrow every single day for 5 1/2 years and suddenly it's out to kill him. For a nanosecond, I too, was startled because I couldn't figure out what the heck had caused such an intense reaction and then..........I saw the wheelbarrow. I had to burst out laughing! I marched over to it (still holding the lead rope), touched the side of the barrow and said, "TOUCH IT!" (Targeting - don't leave home without it!) He trusts me so he tippy-toed forward, snorting slightly, and grazed the edge of the wheelbarrow with his nose. He drew back in surprise, snuffled, and stuck his nose right back on it again. I clicked and treated and then Split - clever boy that he is - figured, "Aha! The wheelbarrow! I got clicked and treated for THAT? This is gonna be good!" And he proceeded to touch that wheelbarrow with his nose over and over in rapid succession, each time looking to me - the vending machine! - for a treat. ha ha ha I c/t him a few times and then said, "Alright. Enough of that." The rest of our walk was great fun. We played, "Can You Match This?" I would walk slowly and see if he would match me; I'd speed up, stop, back up, etc. Great fun and it puts us both in the mindset of "I'd better pay attention here" so we really tune in to each other's body language.
Animals........they do the darndest things!
I googled quotes from Art Linkletter and found the following. For those of us who are clicker trainers, it's PERFECT:

I've learned it's always better to have a small percentage of a big success, than a hundred percent of nothing.
Art Linkletter

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Buck - A Movie Review

OK. I used to watch Siskel and Ebert. I can do this. I mean, how hard can it be to watch a movie and then report your thoughts to your adoring public? Well, harder than I thought....
My daughter Katie and I treated ourselves to a matinee yesterday and went to see "Buck" the bio of Buck Brannaman. I'd read a review in the "Preview" section of our local paper and it included a brief interview with Buck himself, talking about the movie. According to that article, Buck is pleased with the results of the filming and editing and has seen the movie 4 times himself! That seemed like a pretty good indication that it was a movie worthy of my $7.50 so off we went.
Three words: I LOVED IT. Is Buck Brannaman perfect? No, but then who among us is? (Well, there are those who THINK they're perfect but I don't like them and they're no longer my friends! LOL) But I found myself hanging on his every word because they rang very true to me. He talked about how the horse is a mirror of ourselves and sometimes we don't like what we see lookin' back at us. He talked about mutual respect, about how anger shuts down communication between horse and human, and - wonder of wonders - he told the people in his clinic that it's NOT JUST ABOUT THE HORSE!!! People interviewed for the film included Buck's family and friends, the riders in his clinics and - may I say one of my favorites - Robert Redford. At one point Buck was faced with a disastrously difficult horse and I won't give away what happens but when he lit into the owner about taking responsibility for her own life, telling her that she should take a good, hard look at HERSELF, I found myself biting my fingernails to keep from crying. Because I know how that human felt but I also realized that Buck was being 100% honest and I've had to take a hard look at MYSELF - much closer than I wanted to - in order to become the person my animals love and respect.
There's some very disturbing footage of "horse training" from the 40's or 50's and it's not pretty and I wanted to stand up and scream, "STOP IT!" How far we've come!
Go see this movie and take away from it whatever you will. The quote I most remember is from a woman who was talking about "horse whisperers" in general. She said that most trainers like Buck Brannaman are, as human beings, more sensitive than others; many of them are "tortured souls on some level" and that's why they identify so deeply with the horses. I intend to go see this movie again!

Your horse is a mirror to your soul. Sometimes you might not like what you see… sometimes you will. ~ Buck Brannaman


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Typos......Free Entertainment!

I love a good typo! I have this uncanny ability to find them and they always make me laugh. It's like free entertainment. I've decided to start sharing them with others and if you find any, please share them with me!!
From the internet today:
While the nation's third largest city was recovering from the sudden storm, much of the rest of the country was experiencing stiffing heat
Do they mean "stifling?" I thought you only got stiff if you were really cold....or dead...or..... (don't even GO THERE, you perverts!! LOL)
The other day WRGB on line ran an article about swimming pool installation scams. They ended with the line, "Many home owners have seen their planes end up in the deep end."
I couldn't resist....I had to email them and ask, "Were they PONTOON PLANES?" I never got a reply. Not even a "thanks for pointing out our error." Apparently they don't share my delight at finding others' mistakes.
Because I'm hearing impaired, I rely heavily on closed captioning to understand what's being said on TV. My favorite, all-time typo occurred during Hurricane Katrina. The reporter kept talking about "buckling asphalt" (I could hear that and the photos helped) but the closed captioning kept scrolling "bucking ass fault." I finally had to change the channel for fear I would pee my pants laughing!!
Send me your favorite typos!

The wastebasket is a writer's best friend. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer

I guess these days it would be the delete key, huh?

Monday, July 11, 2011

It's Not All About Me

Saturday was blistering hot here in the Great Northeast. I've learned to cope with the inevitable......When I work outside, I take out my hearing aides so that when I get over-heated, I can just grab the hose and "water" myself (without killing $4,000 worth of hearing appliances). It's so hot that I dry very quickly and I'm cool for at least 10 minutes. Sometimes I wear nylon shorts and a t-shirt and if I feel like I'm getting over-heated, I just take off my work boots and socks and jump - fully clothed - into the pool! Then I get out, put on the boots and socks and carry on.............
But the heat brings grief and misery to my animals, too. Poor Jelly is mostly black and even when she's in the shade, she gets hot very quickly and soon starts baying, "Moooooom! Let me iiiiiiiiiin!" I turn on the ceiling fans for her and she conks out on the sofa to snooze the hot day away. Poor Jingle the mini donk tends to collect flies on her skinny little legs so I have some wraps I fashioned for her to keep them away. She doesn't sweat the way Split does. She protects herself by scratching out a dust pile with her sharp hooves in the paddock and then she gets down and rolls in it. The dirt protects her body from the fly bites - pretty much. Split, on the other hand, is totally traumatized by flies. He sees them as his deadliest enemy and even when painted with fly spray, he will twitch and kick and swish his tail and bite at himself. Sometimes, he'll even come flying in from the pasture 5 minutes after being let out, whinnying, "HEEEEEELP!" Usually I take pity on him and toss him some hay inside the nice, cool barn.
Saturday the bugs seemed particularly ravenous and as I started to open the gate to let the horses out, Split was biting at his left flank and trying to reach under his leg. He stomped his foot hard and twitched and bit at himself. I could see a huge horse fly biting at his belly and tried to shoo it away but it was very persistent. I finally just opened the gate and Split took a few steps and then stopped and literally stretched his left leg out behind him. He stomped, he turned and bit under his leg again and snaked his head around. Danged fly! My husband had asked me to check the electric tape in the pasture because he'd taken some down in order to mow out back - he wanted me to "eyeball" it to make sure he'd gotten it all back up on the posts again. Split had stopped to graze so I just moseyed past him - as I've done hundreds of times - and continued out into the pasture. A few seconds later, seemingly out of nowhere, he blew past me, bucking and kicking out at me!!!! I was stunned and angry and let out a, "HEY! Don't you EVER kick at me!" This was highly unusual and I was offended! I was pissed off! Split wasn't listening. He was too busy running in a circle, snaking and shaking his head - yikes! And then he stopped and began frantically biting under his leg again. Aha. It was the flies.....It wasn't about me at all. I could see several large horse flies attached to his underbelly, near his sheath and I reckon I wouldn't like that either!! I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And clearly no kick had even come near me but it had startled me to see that left hind coming out in my direction and I took it as a personal insult. I walked over to Split and skritched his withers and reached under to shoo the flies away. He was grateful and nuzzled me. I apologized - several times.
How many times, I asked myself later, have I been guilty of punishing an animal for what I perceived as a personal insult when the animal was simply reacting to stress or anxiety or pain in the only way they knew how? It didn't have anything to do with me personally (unless I unknowingly inflicted the pain!) but I took it that way. I would get angry and blame the animal and immediately shut off any effective communication between us. Split taught me an important lesson on Saturday: IT'S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT YOU, SILLY HUMAN. Did he make a mistake by kicking out in my direction, thereby placing me in danger? Well, I don't know about that. He was in pain. He was trying to get away from it. I'm not sure he even realized I was standing there at that point. Sometimes accidents are just that.......accidents. But I like to think that Split knew exactly where he was when he kicked out - he knew he wasn't going to harm me. He never has.....never will intentionally. My husband told a friend just yesterday, "That pony doesn't have a malicious bone in his body." Sigh.........yeah, it's not always about me. Silly human.
I always look for a quote to stick here or there in my blog and today I found one that I really like but it has nothing to do with the blog. It just made me laugh and think, "Hmmm......If ol Frank were only alive today........" I think I may be one of those "fools."
"I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters."
- Frank Lloyd Wright (1868-1959)






Thursday, June 30, 2011

Self-treating!

My husband made me a nice little riding ring a few years ago. There's a hedgerow on each long side. At one end is a little pond and at the other end there is a stand of large fir trees and a small "meadow" which we usually don't mow - it's hard to get the tractor in and out of there. We recently discovered that a doe has taken up residence in that little protected meadow and she's raising two fawns there! They often come out to romp around in my riding ring and we watch them from the hallway window. Needless to say, I'm not going to go down there and disturb them so I had to find some place else to ride and play clicker games. John recently mowed down the big pasture beside the barn, turning it into a perfect play area for Split and me! Mowed down, however, does not equal NO GRASS so of course the first thing Split did when we went out there on Monday was declare, "Yeehaw! More grazing time!" Umm.......no. He's very good a lungeing (because of the temptation of the grass, he was wearing his halter and lunge line) so I thought, "Why not start with something easy?" I figured that would let him know that we were "working" and not "eating!" Good old Splitter. He was like, "Ok. Whatever you want." He walked and trotted and whoa'd like the prince that he is and accepted his treats nicely. But one time when I stopped and clicked him, he quickly reached down to scratch his front leg and discovered that (gasp!) his nose was touching the grass! He quickly snatched 2 mouthfuls. I laughed and said, "Well, I guess that's your treat then!" From then on, every time I clicked Split, he put his head down and grabbed 2 mouthfuls of grass!! He never tried to get more.........He was happy to do that as his treat! What a hoot!
I've learned to let go of that "oh, no ya don't!" attitude (for the most part! LOL) and am much more willing to let my animals be part of the decision making team. I'm always surprised, too, at how intelligent their decisions are!! I don't know why I'm surprised.......
they're often much smarter than I am! Letting Split take those 2 mouthfuls of grass and turning it into a positive rather than a negative allowed him to get the extra grass he wanted and we had a nice play session! When you have animals, that old adage, "Ya learn something new every day" really hits home!

A woman needs two animals - the horse of her dreams and a jackass to pay for it.
Author Unknown

My daughter gave me that quote on a plaque for Christmas. I display it proudly in my dining room.......

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A-Jell-ity Training

Jelly and I started agility training last week and what a hoot! There's nothing as humbling as a smart beagle, let me tell you! Our first task was to trot over some 10" high 'jumps.' Handlers were to trot and leap over the middle of each jump whilst cheerily squeaking, "Over, Fido!" to our canine companions. There were 6 of us in my group and every dog did exactly what they were asked to do, even if they approached the first jump warily. Jelly and I were last and we trotted off eagerly. I fully expected Jelly to do what every other dog had done so I leaped over the poles and chirped cheerily, "Over, Jelly!" I was caught up short and almost landed on my nose when Jelly slammed on the brakes. She hunkered down on her front paws, hiney in the air, little face scrunched up, and just stared at those poles. "No. No way. Uh-uh. Not doin' it!" she said. I started laughing and looked at the trainer and just shrugged my shoulders. To my relief, HE started laughing, too!
What could have been an embarrassing situation turned into a very pleasant evening. Glenn (of Crawmer's Dog Training) is a wonderful trainer who treated every handler and dog as individuals. He does not subscribe to a "one method fits all" philosophy, and throughout the evening explained every dog's personality to us.
He helped Jelly and me over and through every obstacle and gave us clear and concise instructions that fit our personalities perfectly and enabled us to be successful every single time! He pointed out how each of us approached new obstacles and what that said about the dog (and handler!). He reminded us to watch our dog's body language and to "feel" thru the leash.
There was the dog who was older, very balanced in body and mind, and who literally glided over and thru each obstacle like a gymnast. There was the pit bull who was more interested in a "meet 'n greet" with the other dogs than anything else. We had the terrier with ADHD who approached each obstacle with uber enthusiasm but 5 seconds later was in the, "Oh, look! A squirrel!" mind-set and would leap off or run around an obstacle with no warning, taking his teenage handler with him. At no time did Glenn become discouraged or demeaning. He simply smiled and offered advice. He heaped praise on all of us for a job well done and he approached every single dog as an individual! What a breath of fresh air!
At the end of class, Glenn told us how each of our dogs was likely to progress; that every dog can do agility but, like people, some are more competitive than others. Some will focus and take on every task like they're training for the Olympics. Some will start out enthusiastically but peter out as they progress and will do the task but they don't care about speed or endurance. And some need to think things over and scope out the territory before making a decision..........like Jelly! He told me that Jelly is definitely a "thinker" but that once she "gets it," she'll be a hard worker.
A thinker, eh? Well, I already knew that. She's a clever dog but never puts herself in a dangerous position. She literally thinks things out. The funniest obstacle we encountered during our first session was "the table." We were to trot briskly toward the table (very large square "table" with carpeting on the top, about 24" high) and as we approached it, we were to shout, "Table!" and the dog would leap up, stop on the table, and then with the word, "Ok!" leap down again. Again we went last. I trotted briskly and shouted, "Table!" I'm sure you know where this is going! Jelly again slammed on the brakes. She walked up to the table and slowly rose up on her hind legs. She placed her front paws on the table and looked it over. She sniffed it. She walked along the edge like a toddler checking it out.
By now no one could contain their laughter and we were all doubled over laughing!!! Yep, that Jelly is a thinker! I like to call our performance on the agility field, "a-JELL-ity!" But we're having fun!!!!

"If your dog is fat, you aren't getting enough exercise." -- Unknown

Jelly has lost 14 pounds since I got her!! Why is it so much easier for the dog?????
Keep 'yer tail waggin'!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Clicker Feet

Hey, I'm double-bloggin' today!! But I'm so excited about our latest clicker success that I just wanted to share with everyone!
Split has always been a gentleman about having his feet handled - as long as he was tied up. At liberty, his attitude was, "I don't have to stand for this." Literally - he would just walk away as soon as I tried to pick up a foot. I never really pushed the issue because as far as I was concerned, hoof health trumped everything else so I would just take Split into the barn, tie him up, clean out all 4 feet, and let him go. But this year I decided would be "The Year of the Hoof." I was going to have him picking his feet up at liberty and he was going to like it! ha ha No, that was NOT my attitude. But I did make that my goal for this year and was excited to see how it was going to play out. I was also anxious to see how I would handle it........I've learned a lot about emotions and behavior these past few years - equines and my own!
I donned the vest o' treats and moseyed out into the paddock early this spring with no other goal than to be able to touch Split's leg without having him walk away. Literally, if he was at liberty, the second my hand reached for his leg, he would simply walk away from me. Yep, that's just what happened. I sighed and followed him at a leisurely pace. I reached out to touch the leg again and again he sauntered away. At no time was he grumpy or exhibiting any signs of stress. He was just free to go so he did! I have no idea long how I spent walking around that stupid paddock, patiently, step by step, waiting for that nanosecond when I would be allowed to touch a leg. (I tend not to wear a watch when I'm clicking.) FINALLY Split stood still for that one second and allowed me to touch his lower leg. CLICK, TREAT, WITHER SKRITCH! Yay! Could I touch it again? Uh.....no. LOL And so we began again. After awhile, Split was comfortable with me touching his leg and he didn't walk away from me so we quit there.
If you're a clicker trainer, you know that progress is measured in microscopic increments and rarely in huge chunks of success. And so we plodded around the paddock until one day.....I reached down to touch Split's leg and, lo and behold and halleluiah, he stood still and let me not only touch it but rub it and give him a nice massage!! Jackpot! Then I asked him to pick it up. "Bye-bye!" And off he went! Oi vey.
I knew this was as much about me as about him so I kept trying to see things from his perspective and asking myself, what does Split want or what is he trying to teach me?
When he finally did pick his foot up for me, of course I WANTED IT ALL and grabbed it and held onto it and he slammed that foot right back down on the ground and walked away. Oops. I blew it. More sighing on my part. More plodding around the paddock. And on it went. I began clicking for the slightest forward movement, indicating that Split was going to pick up his foot. Slowly (like the 3 Stooges.....inch by inch, step by step.........), Split would lift his foot higher and higher but I made no attempt to hold it. Progress!!
A week or so went by and we had temps approaching 100 degrees here with very high humidity. I hung out in the house; the horses hung out in the shade in the pasture or in the barn. No clicking aqui. Today, however, is lovely! Temps in the high 70's with a really nice breeze. I picked the paddock, donned the vest o' treats, and proceeded to groom the heck out of both Split and Jingle. I really don't have to treat for that because they both love it but they're so quiet and stand like statues so I throw a few treats in "just because."
Then I decided to work on "clicker feet" again. To my total surprise, the minute I moved my hand toward Split's foot, he lifted it up and held it there, light as a feather!!! Was it a fluke? Nope. He repeated it over and over and in the end I was able to hold it, clean it, and put it down slowly and gently. WHOOOO HOOOO! Truly a peppermint moment!!!!!!!
Of course, that was his off fore. Tomorrow we'll try the near fore. I bet I'm going to be spending a lot more time plodding around the paddock....................

You Know You're A Horse Person When... (quotes from Horse Forum)
...someone does something nice for you and you pat them on the neck and say 'good boy'. (I've done that, actually......)
...you say "whoa" to the dog. (Yep, all the time)
...you show up for an appointment in your city clothes and when you get there people reach across the table to pick alfalfa out of your hair. (Guilty!!)

One time I was walking my first graders from school up the hill to the monthly mass and when they dawdled along, I literally turned around and said, "Walk on, please, walk on." Oh, geez..............


Hey, don't forget - June 14 is Flag Day!


Jennifer Aniston's Arms

I just read something interesting on line. (Well, where ELSE does one read interesting things these days?? LOL) It was about Jennifer Aniston's arms and how she keeps them toned and looking beautiful. Hmmm, thinks I, I could use some toned, beautiful arms. What's her secret? Turns out it's yoga! So I read the article and discovered that her secret is in the poses.......Sun Salute, Crow, Plank, One Arm Balance, Queenly Wave (ok, I actually made that up), etc. There are directions on how to pose and how to perform each move and I read them all, thinking if I spend time doing these each day, I could have arms like Jennifer Aniston!!!
Oh, who am I kidding? First of all, although I know that yoga is clearly beneficial to one's emotional and physical well-being, I don't do yoga. Where am I supposed to fit that into my schedule? I could take a class but it costs my daughter $15 for a 30 minute yoga session and I could get 3 bales of hay for that or a bag of hay stretcher or some fly spray! Yes, she has nice arms - no wobbly under arms or wrinkly skin like me - but then again she's 25 years old. I'm.........one year from 60!! Yes, yoga for toned arms sounds like a great idea but in the end I opted for my "tried and true."
I'm heading out to the paddock in a few minutes to shovel poop. And then I will probably toss a few 50 pound bales of hay, followed by wheeling many wheelbarrow loads of mulch up and down a small hill. And I won't have to fork over $15 every 30 minutes, either. Yoga schmoga! To arms, ladies!!!!

It's very important to have the right clothing to exercise in. If you throw on an old T-shirt or sweats, it's not inspiring for your workout. Cheryl Tiegs

HA HA HA HA!!! This is a joke, right??? Come on guys..............seriously?
Have a great weekend, everyone!!!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Race Is Not To The Swift

"The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong....." Ecclesiates 9:11.

Well, clearly that is the truth because I am neither swift nor strong but I FINISHED THE RACE!!!! Saturday's Freihofer's Run for Women was one of the most inspiring events I've ever witnessed! There were world-class runners from all over the globe competing for thousands of dollars in prize money but the majority of us were there for the friendship, the celebration of our beautiful bodies, the joy of being outside, of being among other women, many of whom have fought harder battles than running up the hill on Madison Avenue. We were 4800 strong - young and old, fit and "not so" fit, thin, heavy, white, black, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, atheist, Americans, Ethiopians, Kenyans, Canadians, short, tall, long hair, short hair and bald.....we were all there together in joy and happiness. We high-fived each other, encouraged each other along the run, patted each other on the back, cheered for our friends and for complete strangers....we were a microcosm of what the world should be. It made me proud to be a woman; proud to have run the race; proud of every single one of us!
Congratulations!! We are women, hear us roar!!!!!!!!

So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
While just the art of being kind,
Is all this sad world needs.
~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox ~

Friday, June 3, 2011

Freihofer Run For Women

It seemed like a good idea last March when all the teachers and some of the moms at school were talking about forming a team to run in the annual Freihofer's Run for Women in Albany. I was pleased that they would think to include me in their group so I sent off my $40 and eagerly anticipated the run and planned my training schedule and told myself, "You can do this!" And of course there's that free t-shirt.... Well, here it is the day before the race and I'm sitting here wondering why I let myself get talked into these things! I'm not totally out of shape. I walk for about an hour a day with a beagle attached to my arm and last winter Jelly and I went snow shoeing every day we could - that's a GREAT work-out! Still.............I did run a couple of times when we were on vacation in Virginia last week, mostly because it was just around the resort and it's pretty flat there. Well, maybe "run" isn't the right word. I think "jog" or "trot" might be more appropriate. You could also substitute "huff" or "puff." "Pant," "wheeze," and "gasp" might also apply. Hey, it was HOT! LOL
Wish me luck, friends! My only goal is to make it up Madison Avenue without tripping and falling on my nose or wheezing so loudly that everyone thinks there's a steam train comin'. If worse comes to worst, I can always just duck into my daughter's apartment which is right along the race route, get a drink of water, take a short nap, use the bathroom, and then keep going. No one will miss me. I'll let ya know how it turns out!

Jogging is very beneficial. It's good for your legs and your feet. It's also very good for the ground. It makes it feel needed. ~Charles Schulz, Peanuts

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I Miss What's Mine!

Ahoy, everyone! I know you've all been sitting in front of those computers waiting for my next blog entry so here it is!! (LOL!!)
Last week my husband and I joined his brother and his brother's wife for a week in Williamsburg, Virginia. Bill (B-I-L) has a time share at the Powhatan (pronounced pow-uh-TAN and not pow-HAT-in as we Yankees were quickly informed!) Resort and it's become our tradition go with them each May. It's a nice place - restaurant, fitness center, several pools, the old plantation manor house still on site (well-preserved and open for touring during the day), lovely ponds, and lots of Canada geese and the requisite goose poop. Each unit looks exactly like another inside and out, right down to the fake flowers on the kitchen table. No matter which unit Bill gets each year, no matter where it is in the resort, we can count on walking into the exact same thing.....
I realized about mid-way through this year's vacation, though, that I'm not a very good traveler. About 3 days into any vacation I begin to miss what's mine. My bed, my TV, my sofa, my pillow, my kitchen, my horses, my stinkin' beagle, my obnoxious cat, my truck.....I'm truly a homebody and take great comfort in the day to day rhythms here at my mini farm. If I need a "vacation," I go out and play with Split and Jingle or Jelly and I go for a long walk or I take my kayak out on the pond...........In the summer I will take a book and a cold drink and go float in the pool or sit outside in the evening listening to the tree frogs sing and watching the first flickers of the fire flies in the meadow...................
Virginia is nice and I do love walking the streets and paths of the historic triangle imagining how it might have been to be part of life 250 years ago but I was very glad to get home again. Home to my own "history" which, while not "quite" 250 years old, is still
mine.

Laughter is an instant vacation. ~Milton Berle

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Opening Night!

Opening night...........make-up, jitters, excitement, anticipation, costumes, malfunctioning sound system, anxious parents, missing props..............the curtain goes up!
And there I am in the "director's pit," biting what little is left of my fingernails, and praying that nothing goes wrong! But suddenly the stage is filled with smiling faces, all singing and dancing their hearts out. They're projecting, they're remembering their lines, they're helping each other......THEY'RE HAVING FUN!!!!! I'm caught up in the story, mesmerized by the children's performances, silently mouthing lines and song lyrics.......and there are tears running down my cheeks. WE DID IT!!!!!!!!!!
The story of "Little Orphan Annie" has come to life on my tiny school stage. Forty-two children, ages 9-13, have gone from a tone-deaf, stumbling, mumbling, jostling, goofing around "mob" to a tightly-knit team, working together and moving in sync with each other. It's nothing short of a miracle!
This is why I become so dismayed when I read about arts programs being cut in our schools. I have children in my cast who joined Drama Club because their parents made them or because their best friend signed up or because they dream big.... and suddenly, these children discover they have TALENT! I have kids who are so shy they can barely squeak through an audition yet they get up on stage and suddenly something in them opens up and out comes this amazing singing or speaking voice. I don't know who is more startled.....the kid or me! I have one child who has such a bad stutter that, even at 11 years old, he barely speaks, even to classmates he's known since he was 4 years old. He wanted to play Sandy, the dog, in the "Annie, Jr." (our current production) so I scuttled my plans to use Jelly the beagle and gave him the part. He plays it to the hilt and last night the audience was howling at his antics on stage! It's given him confidence; he's found his "voice" without having to use his voice. Amazing.
Not every child is going to be an athlete yet every child (in my opinion as a parent and teacher) needs to learn how to work as part of a team. What's a good marriage? A team.
What makes a good employee? Being able to work as part of a team. What is a family? A team.
When I cast a show, I tell the kids up front that not everyone can be the lead character but EVERY ACTOR IS IMPORTANT TO THE SHOW because we are a team! I tell them that I can have the most talented actor in the world for the lead but without the ensemble, the star will have no show! And I tell them that they can make their part uniquely "theirs" in some way - they just have to use their imagination.
I don't think kids today use their imaginations very much. It's tough to get them to see that theater is all about magic and illusion and thinking outside the box. That's important in every day life, I think. We may not always have the answers right in front of us; there isn't always a user's manual for every situation in which we find ourselves; we might not always have the right tool for the job so we need to improvise........
Team work. Imagination. Creativity. Let's keep the arts alive and well!

Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. Vince Lombardi

(Did you really think I could go too long without quoting Lombardi?? LOL)

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! I'm off on vacation next week and am looking forward to visiting all my most favorite historical sites......Yorktown, Jamestown, Williamsburg...........I imagine I am part of them 300 years ago.....(Once a drama queen, always a drama queen......LOL!)



Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jelly Clickin'

Jelly and I are taking a dog obedience class so that we can get our Canine Good Citizenship certificate and then hopefully go on to therapy dog certification. I wasn't sure what to expect at the first class - it was for owners only, no dogs allowed. The trainer is highly recommended by many of my clicker friends so I went with an open mind and a hopeful heart. At the first class, the trainer explained the type of equipment we would be using and how it would be used (leashes WITHOUT knots or frays - ha ha!). Those of us with "improper" equipment were told to purchase something appropriate so I used that as an excuse to buy myself a really nice leather leash!!! (Husband: "What's THAT?"
Me: "The trainer said I had to buy this." Husband: "Huh.") She also told us that we each had to have a "bum bag" (fanny pack) in which to keep our treats. YES! I was thinking, "I can relate to this!" While the trainer didn't specifically call it "clicker training," she did explain to the humans that we were to pick a letter of the alphabet, say it to our dogs during the coming week, and after saying the letter, reward them with a treat. I asked if it was alright to continue using the tongue click and she responded that that would be perfectly alright. We also got a short lecture on dog behavior that had me laughing out loud. The class ended with instructions to go home and practice saying our letter and giving out a treat. Well, that was a no-brainer for Jelly and me!!!
Our first dog and owner class rolled around and I wasn't sure what to expect from Jelly since it would be the first time she was in the midst of a large group of other dogs. But I was confident that the click would keep us connected. I opted for a chain collar for the class because Jelly can pull like a work horse when she wants to get to something and the chain collar, used properly, is like power steering for us. Like any other training tool, it can be punishing or it can be effective depending on who is at the controls. I'm happy to say that Jelly responds well to the energy between us and the slightest tweak of my finger tells her what I want. For us the chain collar is a good thing! But I digress..........
So in we go....Jelly was VERY excited but she listened well and after a few attempts at butt sniffin' with some other dogs, she sat quietly and just observed what was going on around her. And it was truly free entertainment! I would have to say that except for Jelly and me, no one had attempted clicker training with their dog before that evening and if you're a clicker trainer, you know that clicking is quite a bit like watching paint dry and is not always as successful as you might like during your first attempts. It's also frustrating for me to watch as the owners demand the "whole" behavior from their dogs rather than having the time to break down the behaviors into smaller parts but I'm neither condemning nor judging - it's just the way it is when you have a big class like that and the trainer is trying to reach everyone at once.
Jelly was clearly the "Supah Stah" (think Molly Shannon! ha ha) that evening and I was so very proud of her!!! I asked her to sit/stay and she plunked her little bottom down in the mud and didn't move until told to "heel." At one point, she'd been sitting and sitting while we practiced the "stay" and she was concentrating so hard on me that she didn't see the huge, unruly lab/newfie mix (who was wearing a full muzzle because he'd tried to attack the trainer!!), wrestling with his human right behind us! In a heartbeat, this dog was pulling backward and upward and wriggling at the same time, and I pulled Jelly out of the way a nanosecond before the big dog flipped over and almost landed right on top of her!!
Jelly looked over her shoulder at the dog, then at me, and said, "Sheesh. Can you believe it?" I was so proud of her!!!
Our second lesson went equally as well and I'm sure we're going to get that Good Canine designation! I just can't say enough about the power of the click! All of our homework paid off and I'm glad I've taken the time these past 2 years to lay a solid foundation for us. The click improved our communication, solidified our relationship, and allowed my once "afraid of everything" beagle to know that it's OK to make mistakes; it's OK to be afraid now and then; it's OK to make choices. When I see her prance along beside me, eyes sparkling, tail up, a happy smile on her face, I know that I'll always be a clicker trainer!
I haven't yet told my husband about my plans for agility classes this summer but I'll keep ya posted!!

"So…You Want A Beagle?" (From the BREW, Inc. web site)
I want a dog that will jog next to me and play and chase a frisbee off lead without running away.
DO NOT GET A BEAGLE
I want a dog that is easy to train and lives to obey me. DO NOT GET A BEAGLE
I want a dog that is quiet and unassuming. DO NOT GET A BEAGLE
I want a dog that doesn’t get in trouble in the house. YOU MIGHT NOT WANT A BEAGLE
I want a guard dog. YOU MIGHT NOT WANT A BEAGLE
I want a dog I can train if I’m willing to put some time and effort into the training. CONSIDER A
BEAGLE
I want a dog that will play with my kids and me. CONSIDER A BEAGLE
I want a dog that is lively and confident. CONSIDER A BEAGLE
I want a dog that enjoys the company of people and other dogs. CONSIDER A BEAGLE

I never wanted a beagle but it seems the beagle wanted me. (Karleen)




Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Beads On My Necklace

I made the comment recently (to a friend? posted on a list? I can't remember.....) that I'm amazed at how the Universe keeps stringing us all together. And then I thought, in my humble mind, "Hey, that's a pretty good analogy!"
"The Universe strings us together" like beads on a necklace; all connected yet all separate. All complementing each other in some way. All held together by a common clasp.
When my old yellow lab was diagnosed with cancer, Paula S. from the Animal Communication group sent me a gorgeous healing chakra collar for her and I got a bracelet to match. It was to ensure that our energies remained intertwined. Both pieces of jewelry are breath-taking! Every stone has a different meaning and purpose and all look different, but string them together and you have a never-ending ring of beauty! When Sassy died, I couldn't bear to bury the collar with her so I removed it and placed it around the neck of my St. Francis statue and dedicated it to the higher good of all animals. I still wear the bracelet (I have it on today!) so that I am forever linked to my beloved old lab!
Then I asked Paula to make me a necklace of my own and she asked me what I would like from the necklace. I told her I want to be calm; I want to remain centered and in touch with the world around me; I want to stay open to the spiritual; I want joy and happiness. It took several months but when my necklace arrived, I was again speechless at the sheer beauty of it! My pendant is eye of the tiger, chosen just for me by a spirit dog....I wear this necklace all the time. Just looking at it brings me serenity and a sense of joy.
And that's what all the people in my life are..........beads on a necklace. The Universe strings us together, and together we support each other, complement each other, bring out the beauty in each other.............
Thank you, Beads! I think we are a beautiful creation and I wear each and every one of you proudly on my "necklace!"

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one! C.S. Lewis

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Miss Fit

When I was a teacher, Halloween was one of the most-dreaded holidays. Think about it.......in our elementary wing, we had (this includes the day care center, Nursery & PreK classes) almost 200 kids dressed in bizarre outfits and driven to crazy behavior by a sugar-induced frenzy! We all paraded around the school parking lot while the paparazzi, dressed as parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and younger siblings, waved and snapped more photos than Walmart could process in a week. Great fun. Right. If you're a kid.
We teachers decided years ago that we should get in on some of the fun, too, and so began the tradition of wearing "theme" costumes. The first year we all dressed up as nuns, not knowing just how the staid old principal of our Catholic school, Sister Maureen, would react. One of 2 things would happen - we would all be fired on the spot or she'd love it. No in between. Fortunately for us, she took one look at us as we "nuns" crowded into her office at lunch time and BURST OUT LAUGHING! She literally had to put her head down on her desk she was laughing so hard! Ensuing years found us dressed as the cast of "Peter Pan," (I was Peter Pan!), witches, angels, and in my last year of teaching, beauty queens. (But no one ever took me up on the suggestion that we dress as prisoners with the words "Holy Spirit School" on the back of our shirts! ha ha ha) When I first heard about the beauty queen idea, I was like, "WHAT? Beauty queens? Give me a break." But then, being me, I went, "Hey, let's be Miss Fits." No one got it. I said to the 4th grade teacher who was the Drama Club director at the time, "You know....you'll be Miss Cast. Someone else can be Miss Spelled and so on." They loved it! Everyone donned beautiful gowns and tiaras and long, white gloves, carried fake bouquets of flowers, and we made sashes that had our names on them. Me? Well, in many ways in life I've always felt like a misfit. So I became, for beauty pageant purposes, "Miss Fit." I took an old bridesmaid gown and cut the hem all raggedy, I wore white socks and my work boots, I braided my hair messily and crumpled up my tiara and wore it crooked. Instead of long, white gloves, I wore my work gloves and instead of flowers, I carried a sack of potatoes. Oh, and I also blacked out my 2 front teeth. It was great fun and all the other teachers thought that "Miss Fit" was quite fitting for me!
Over the years as I've worked with various horses, I've often felt like a misfit. I've watched silently as riders and trainers have treated horses with disrespect; cringed as "naughty" ponies were whipped or driven to bucking by someone constantly drilling a spur into their sides. I've empathized with horses and ponies cooped up 22 hours a day or who've had their joints injected so that they could go out and perform for one more show season. There was always that NQR feeling......and that feeling of hopelessness. They weren't MY horses; it wasn't MY farm; they weren't MY riding students...............
As I repeat like a broken record, my success stories, the stories I'm most proud of, happened because I was the misfit. I ignored all the "sage" advice and flew by the seat of my pants, doing what I felt was appropriate at the moment, and listening to the horse instead of all the blathering humans. I'm proud of those successes.
Why am I boring you with them? Why am I tooting my horn now and in public? Well, because those success stories were few and far between and happened a long time ago. Somewhere I lost something.............I stopped believing in myself. I tuned out the animals' voices even though they tried to talk to me. I became conventional. I bought into systems. I took off my "Miss Fit sash," so to speak.
It took one little gray pony to set me on my arse; to dump me back on the right path. I admit, I tried to veer off that path a few times but always, that little gray pony nudged me back.
It was very hard to admit that I'd been wrong for so many years. When Split ran away with me, I suffered mental anguish for a year afterward, beating myself up emotionally, questioning myself, wondering if I really was a fit horse owner. But then "click!" People began dropping into my life and telling me that yes, I certainly WAS a fit horse owner but perhaps I'd be interested in.........NO! Did you ever think about......NO. And then......I saw the power of the click and Split said (no denying it this time), "NOW we're gettin' somewhere." As you know by now, things snowballed from there and it's been freeing to say to myself, "Listen. Learn. Observe without judgement. (Thank you, Mary!) Do what's right. Listen to the NQR. Listen to the animals!"
I am happy to report that, according to many of my acquaintances, I am now proudly wearing my "Miss Fit sash" again! (Well, not literally, but you know what I mean!LOL) I like it! It no longer bothers me that people accuse me of bribing my animals with food, of being "crazy" because I "think" animals talk to me, or that I practice "voodoo" because I understand and use Bach Flower Essences. I don't wear make-up. I wear what I like instead of what's fashionable. (My daughter told me just the other day that she thinks of me as "eternally vintage.") I hug and kiss my animals. I laugh loudly and with great gusto. I declare with great passion, "I LOVE WINTER!" (HA HA - that always gets me the strangest looks.......)
I was always a misfit as a kid but it suited me. As an adult, I wanted to fit in. It didn't work.
So, for all you other "Miss Fits" out there - wear your sash and your crumpled tiara proudly!!!! I salute you!!!!!!

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Steve Jobs



Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Advice From A Poet

Growing up in Vermont in the '50's and '60's, I had three things drummed into my head:

*It's winter - deal with it.
*There is only one breed of horse and it's called a MORGAN!
*Robert Frost is the finest poet on Earth and no one else is worth reading.

Well, I still love winter! Relative "old age" hasn't changed that and I have no desire to fly south for the duration. In fact, I was really sad to finally have to hang up my snow shoes this year. I love those crisp, cold days when you can hear the snow squeaking under your feet and the sky is so blue it's like looking at a giant robin's egg.
As a horse fanatic from birth and a voracious reader since I discovered the alphabet, I soon learned that there ARE other breeds of horses.........you just didn't mention them on hallowed Green Mountain soil. LOL!
I've read lots of other poets (American Lit was my other major in college so I was "forced" to read other poetry) and still believe that Robert Frost is one of the best. I read his poems over and over again. Every time I pass one of the beautiful stands of birches on my daily walk, I always smile and think, "One could do worse than be a swinger of birches." Ayup.
Lately, my memories of horses past and discussions on various horse group lists has made my thoughts turn to another Frost poem, "The Road Not Taken." I realize, upon reflection, that I've often opted for the less traveled path when it comes to my animals and those were the times when I was most successful.
When we're dealing with a "difficult" animal - one who has been abused in any manner - it's very often frustrating, anger-inducing, and frightening! In our quest to help the animal, we sometimes turn to systems or methods that "guarantee results or your money back!" The "beauty" of these systems is that it's all laid out for ya - read the book and proceed step-by-step. Book isn't clear enough? Well, here are some DVD's - that oughta do it! But MAKE SURE you follow the program and don't deviate......or it won't work. Yeah.
Or perhaps we send the horse off to a well-known trainer who guarantees to "cure" the horse within a month or two or three.............
The thing is that the horse isn't reading the books or watching the DVD's. He doesn't know the famous trainer and what his/her system is. We expect the horse, though, to simply do as he/she is told - no questions asked. Hmmmm.......I wouldn't like to be taught like that. Why should I expect that my animals would like it?
Several of the discussions on the horse groups lately have been about using an eclectic approach to horse "training" (I don't like that label but it's easy for us to relate to so I'll use it here), and about how we should listen to the horse and let HIM decide what method(s) to use on any given day. How interesting..............The tough part about that, though, is that we humans hate to give up what we perceive as control. WE like to decide on the training method and how and when it's administered. But what if................What if one particular method of "natural horsemanship" causes anxiety for a horse because of past experience? What if the sound of the clicker scares the daylights out of a horse or dog?
What if an animal isn't motivated by food? What if a horse has pain in their body that isn't apparent to the human eye? What if....what if......what if...........
I've come to where "two roads diverged in a yellow wood" many times in my life, and there have been those times when, left to my own devices with a horse, I've chosen the path less traveled. I've listened to my gut feeling; I've listened to the horse; I've chosen to ignore the voices of "experience" and "reason." THOSE were the times that I was successful with "difficult" horses! THOSE were the times that I let the partnership flow naturally and freely. THOSE were the times that I felt closest to the horse and felt that we TRULY communicated with each other! There were no magic tricks, no books, no dvd's. I just "did." And sometimes I "didn't!" I let the day, the circumstances and the animal dictate what we would do.....or not do.
But then, embarrassingly enough, there were many, many times when I fell victim to everyone else's advice or methods, believing with all my heart that they knew better than I. I did what they told me to do even if it went against every fiber of my being as a "trainer" and animal communicator. Which is not to say that EVERY trainer I've met has made me feel that way.....the good trainers (and you know who you are) have guided me and allowed me to find my own path and make discoveries for myself. Sally Swift and Paul Johnson were the first......many of you reading this are among the most recent and of course, I wouldn't have any of these deep thoughts or even be going down this path if it weren't for the horses and dogs themselves (who keep popping in and urging me to write this all down!).
Which brings me back to my favorite poet, Robert Frost, who wrote:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

"The road less traveled by.........." It does make a difference!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Attar

Sometimes my brain takes me on strange journeys. My thoughts wander around and I'll find myself going down a path I thought I'd forgotten. Such was the case today.........I have no idea why Attar popped into my head but perhaps he has a story that needs telling.
Attar was a small palomino Arab/QH cross who was used for lessons back in the early 80's at the farm where I took lessons. I had this propensity for taking a liking to the "odd" horses - the ones who were temperamental or goofy; the ones no one else liked to ride and only did so when all the other horses were "taken." Attar was one of those. He may have only been about 14 hh but he had a buck like a rodeo horse! He was flighty and nervous and various attempts to take him to shows had ended in disaster for whoever his unlucky rider was that day. I liked Attar. I liked his attitude - he took no prisoners and he did not suffer fools gladly. I don't know why we "clicked" but we did. It was only after we'd become a "pair" that one of the other riders commented to me one day as I was grooming Attar in the cross-ties, "He's blind in one eye, you know." No, I didn't know but it was one of those "light bulb moments." No wonder he was "flighty and nervous!" I asked what had happened to the eye because, to MY eye, his left eye seemed OK. "I dunno," the other person said, "I heard that he tried to bite whoever was feeding him a few years ago and they hit him in the head with the grain scoop and he lost the sight in that eye." Another missing piece to the puzzle! I'd be grumpy and distrusting, too, if someone had whacked me upside the head with a grain scoop!
My first dressage test on Attar was in early spring, a small schooling show at the farm where he lived and I rode. He was still hairy from the winter and I'd had a heck of a time getting him looking presentable for the day. To my dismay, the other competitors in the class were riding tall, sleek, shiny, obviously blanketed all winter thoroughbreds or maybe warmbloods. I suddenly felt small and insignificant. No matter, I told Attar we would be fine. But to make matters worse, my instructor (also the farm owner) warned me that I'd better "lunge the crap out of him" prior to my class or I'd get bucked off. Gulp!!! There was no time......We were the first ride in our class and I was grateful for that. We'd go in, do our best, and slink off quietly. I took a deep breath, smiled, and when the bell rang, entered smartly at A, working trot rising. As we departed from X (or an approximation thereof) and began to track right at C, the judge's Jack Russell terrier caught sight of one of the barn cats meandering across the ring behind me and shot out from under the judge's stand like a bullet, neatly dodging Attar's hooves, and causing him to bolt! We recovered quickly and I waited for the bell signaling us that we were politely excused but there was no bell. Instead the judge (who shall remain nameless) was frantically calling the dog and gesturing for her scribe to run and catch the little beast. I stopped and Judge waved me over. She apologized six ways to Sunday (after all, she had committed a serious breach of horse show etiquette - ALWAYS KEEP YOUR DOG ON A LEASH!) and told me that she would allow me to start over. I figured that it couldn't get much worse so we had our do-over and to my shock and delight we won the class and the women on their sleek, shiny horses were miffed! I'd like to think that we won on our own merit and not because the judge felt sorry for us!
Next up was an ENYDCTA show and I chose to ride Attar again. I could hear the snickering and snide comments behind my back but I didn't care. By then I'd developed a bond with the pony and nothing could deter us! When we arrived at the show, Instructor again gave me dire warnings about "lunging the crap out of that horse" or he'd end up jumping out of the dressage ring or bucking me off.........
Here's what is interesting to me now - I didn't listen to her; I listened to what my gut feeling was telling me and "lunging the crap" out of Attar gave me the NQR! I smiled at Instructor, looked at Attar getting all frazzled as he simply stood beside me, and thought, "No way. I'm doing this MY way today." I went with my gut feeling; I listened to my horse. I took his lead rope and we started walking. I let him stop and look at everything. We grazed beside the ring, we stood beside the judge's stand and listened to the bell, we moseyed all around the show grounds. I watched Attar carefully and could see him begin to relax. He nudged me with his head now and then as though saying, "This is neat, huh?" When I tacked up, he was calm as could be. Our ride was wonderful and we placed 4th and 5th that day - out of over 15 entries in each class. I was delighted and very proud of "my" little guy!!
It was one of those times when I listened to the little voice inside me......I trusted that voice and Attar trusted me that day. I realized that his show experience had been "arrive at show, unload, have lunge line slapped on, run in circles til I'm dizzy and sweaty, slap on tack, PERFORM!" Poor guy never had a chance to just figure out where he was or to see what was all around him and with one eye, that had to be especially difficult.
I wish I could tell you that Attar lived happily ever after but unfortunately that was not the case. Shortly after we began our "show career," I got pregnant with child number 3 and was violently ill and then got rather "large" and I stopped riding for a while. I did help out with a show just after Katie was born, tho, and someone else rode Attar. I tried to give her some friendly advice but she chose to listen to Instructor and lunged the poor guy to a frazzle before her class. As she picked up the canter during her test, Attar gave one whopping buck, launching Sarah neatly into the air, and jumping right out of the ring!
Poor Attar ended up going to auction after that
and I wasn't there to "save" him. I always felt badly about that. But I guess my point is that sometimes the "bad" horses aren't really bad - they're just misunderstood. They need us to see things from their perspective and to adjust our behavior accordingly.
Attar was a neat little pony and I learned a lot from him. I'd like to thank him for popping in to see me today (cue theme from "Twilight Zone" for those of you who aren't convinced about animal communication! LOL) and asking me to share his story. Another blast from the past...............

So live that your memories will be part of your happiness.” Anonymous