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Category Archives: Menagerie
Wow — it has been a long time since I updated my blog! There has been a good reason for that: I’ve been heads down on a huge project at work. Lots and lots of overtime. But the largest part of it wraps up this weekend (handoff on Monday), and it’s time to do an update. Lots of changes around here.
All three dogs are doing well. Pax is getting older, which breaks my heart. I can’t stand the thought of losing him — ever. Most of my critter update isn’t dogs, though — it’s horses. Back in August, Mr. Blue came home again. I was inordinately glad to see him! I’d missed him terribly. Our barn is in no shape for horses, so I’m boarding him at Eden Farms where I’m taking riding lessons. Here’s a picture of him at a clinic acting as a demo horse with Monica.
A couple of months later, Monica posted the picture of a horse in the Enumclaw kill pen. (Translation: a horse who had been purchased by a guy who sells them by the pound to slaughter houses.) We made a deal: I’d buy him and cover his stall, she’d train him, and then we’d sell him in the spring.
Yeah, that selling part? So not happening. This is Charlie, right after he came in:
Can’t get a good look at him there — sorry. He’s a quarter horse, extremely similar to Blue in size and build. He is an absolute love! He’s doing well in his training, and hopefully will get his first ride soon. Right now I’m intending to keep him. If he ends up being unsuitable for me under saddle, I’ll go ahead with the plan to sell him.
Miss Guin is still down in Olympia, happily retired at my friend Leslie’s place. I get down there once or twice a year, and Leslie gives me updates. I bought her a new purple blanket for Christmas. Hopefully Leslie will send me a photo!
My long-term plans for the horses are up in the air. We were planning to rehab the barn this spring so we could bring everyone home, but my job situation (and our funds) got iffy, so I’m not sure what will happen. More on the job situation further down.
We still have no walls in the basement. However we have propane, and the electrical and plumbing have been done, and we’ve got a brand new whole-house generator installed! That was a huge part of the project, and we’re thrilled to have it done. It means that winter can throw its worst at us, and we’ll be fine.
It also means we can have horses at the house again. See, our well is wired into the house. No power = no water. That’s not a huge problem for humans and dogs, but it’s a MAJOR issue with horses. That generator solved the last big horse-owning problem we had.
The next major step in the remodel is to redo the stairs to the basement and finish Jay’s office. Both parts of that are huge, expensive undertakings. Right now those steps are on hold, because of my job.
The major project was a major success. It was, without reservation, my favorite project ever. I’m extremely blessed to have gotten to spend the past six months focused exclusively on it. I’ll be sad to see it end. Technically, though, it isn’t ending. I am.
As kudos to a job well done, my job said, “We love you! Come take a massive pay cut and work for us full time! And if you don’t want to do that, get out!” Okay, maybe that’s not exactly what they said, but it felt like that. I’m a contractor, you see. My division at work has roughly 15 long-time contractors, and our senior manager put together a report showing how she could save the company money by converting all of the contractors to regular employees.
It’s not as bad a deal as I made it sound. They offered straight conversions for most of us, meaning we didn’t have to interview. (I’ve never heard of them doing that before.) And if you factor in the value of their benefits package, the total worth of what they were offering was essentially the same as what I make now for 40 hours a week.
That doesn’t work for me, though. My husband works for the state, so I don’t need their benefits. I need cash. The job would have required me to work in the office three days a week — 50 miles a day on my 13-year-old car, plus two hours a day lost to the commute. I just couldn’t agree to that, so I declined the “offer.”
The theory is that I will stay until they backfill my position. As I understand it, they won’t be interviewing for it until early January, so I’m hoping I can ride this out until the end of January. The *ideal* would be the second week in February, because I’m going out of town then anyway.
All of this caused me a lot of stress. I had been doing really well with my eating and exercising, and all that came to a crashing halt with the news of the re-org. I haven’t gotten back on track yet. I have processed the changes though, and I’m really not upset about them anymore. I wish the situation were different, but it is what it is.
Good question. I have to get another job in my field without question. My mortgage and those hungry horses insist upon it! But I think this is also a call to pursue some things for myself that I’ve put on the back burner.
I’m signed up for a Reiki Level 1 class in January. I’m going to focus on the animal communication again. And probably most importantly, I’m pulling Doubting River out of the drawer. The Universe asked me to write that, but I got too comfortable in my life and put it aside. Now I’m on the edge of being not-so-comfortable. I’m going to get to work before I become decidedly UNcomfortable! There are a few other things I’d like to work on too. (Honestly, if I didn’t have to get a job again, I wouldn’t be bored. Promise!)
December 22 will bring not the end of the world but the beginning of a new cycle. I think it’s a good time for a new cycle for me as well, eh? Reinventing-Melissa, indeed.
Yesterday — a gorgeous, sunny spring day in western Washington — I trekked down to Olympia and spent several hours communing with dear friends and horses.
I started the day at Leslie’s place. Leslie trained my (former) horse Blue, and my mare Guin is retired there now. I can’t say enough good things about Leslie. She’s an AMAZING horse person — everything I aspired to be when I was young. I wish, wish, wish that we lived closer. If so, I would still be in horses. I really appreciate that she spent so much time hanging out with me yesterday!
One thing I wanted to do while I was down there was get some pictures of me and Guin. She had been off property for a while, but she was getting too fat, so Leslie brought her home where she can better control her diet. Guin was none too thrilled about the photo shoot. She didn’t like being taken away from her friends, and so unless she was getting treats, she didn’t have much interest in sticking around. I laughed, because she managed to stick her tongue out in just about every picture.
While I was at Leslie’s, I also spent time with Jennifer, a good friend who keeps her horses there. First we played in the arena with Nemo. I can’t remember Nemo’s breed, but he’s absolutely stunning. He’s also quite the character.
I have some fun video of him as well, but it shows him rearing, and even though it’s on cue, I know there are too many people who would think it was terribly dangerous and reckless, so I’m not going to post it.
This is Izzy. She’s Jenn’s Kiger mustang. She has a reputation for being pissy, but I love her anyway!
This is one of Leslie’s Kiger mustangs. I can’t remember his name, but he was a pocket pony. Leslie described him as a big dog. She decided to teach him to step up on the stump in his enclosure. Clicker trainers do random things like that. 🙂
Leslie, Jennifer, and I ate lunch at Red Lobster, because I was craving snow crab. I’m pleased to say that even though there were cheesy-garlic (crack) biscuits on the table, I not only didn’t eat them, I didn’t WANT them. Yay!
In the middle of the afternoon, Leslie and I went to Heidi’s house. Heidi is the almost-14-year-old girl who now owns my beautiful Blue boy.
Just a note: I didn’t take a SINGLE picture of Blue yesterday. (Sorry, LaShawn!) However, they are going to be showing in quarter horse shows this summer, and I’m going to try to get to a couple to cheer them on. I’m sure I’ll get some pictures then.
Heidi is participating in the Washington Youth Mustang Challenge. She was given a mustang yearling, and she has three months to gentle it and begin its early training. Then she and the yearling will compete against other teens who have done the same thing. The kids can either keep their yearlings or, if they don’t want to do that, the yearlings will be auctioned after the competition.
Her yearling is an ADORABLE filly named Harvey. (There’s a story behind the name, but I love it! I think it’s darn cute for a girl.) Yesterday was day 14 (I think) of their time together. She has accomplished SO MUCH in that time period. While we were there, Heidi demonstrated:
- Leading at a walk and a trot
- Backing — light as air!
- Lunging in a circle on the lead rope
- Free lunging
- Touching her all over
- Lifting and holding all four feet
- Desensitization (like wearing a Hula Hoop!)
- Bowing ON CUE
- Beginnning steps of ground riding
This horse is plugged in and very, very responsive. So soft and light. Gorgeous soft eye. Loves people. Beautiful mover. And very brave.
And, in case I haven’t gotten the point across, Heidi is an amazing trainer.
I don’t want Harvey auctioned off at the end of August. I want Heidi to keep her. Heidi wants that too — at least from the perspective of wanting to do her early training. What Heidi wants is to keep her and start her, and then for me to take her when I’m riding again.
I love that idea, but I’m afraid the timing is wrong. Heidi would have to keep her a minimum of three years, I think, before I would be ready for her. That’s a LONG time for them to feed her, and with us in the middle of a remodel, we can’t afford to pay any part of her upkeep. Plus, ANYTHING could happen in the next 3 years. I could go back to riding, get hurt, and decide I’m too old for horses. Or I could lose my job and have my income cut way back.
Even if Heidi (and her parents) decided that they were willing to take that chance, at the end of three years I’d have one big problem: no truck and trailer. Without a truck and trailer, either my horses live on my property and go nowhere else, or I have to board them. Boarding is very expensive, and unless I suddenly lose Guin — God forbid — I think we would be hard pressed to afford to board another horse.
Is it a possibility? Sure. Would I want to do this? YOU BET. I loved Harvey, and Harvey liked me. She’s going to be the right size and temperament, and I would TOTALLY trust her background.
But it would be a risky, risky proposition for Heidi, because of the time frame and the lack of guarantees. I can say this: Heidi, if you want to keep Harvey and start her, I support you completely. I can aim toward eventual horse ownership (and I would LOVE to have Harvey), but I can’t guarantee it.
I miss horses. I miss them a lot. I was chatting with a lifelong friend the other day, and she was shocked that I hadn’t ridden in years and had retired my remaining horse two hours away. When I lamented these facts, she said, “Of course. That’s the Mel that’s supposed to be.”
And that I think is the crux. (My throat is tight as I write this.) There are three things that have defined me since childhood: writing, dogs, and horses. Without any one of those, I’m not complete, nor am I the person I am supposed to be.
Sunday was day 2 of the workshop. This day was tougher for me than day 1, but St. Francis came through again. Thank you, St. Francis!
The first half of the session was spent working with three dogs who were there at the workshop. Aries is a black Lab mix who belongs to the woman who hosted the workshop, Aspen is a golden retriever, and Murphy is a beagle. They were all sweet, delightful dogs.
We did several exercises before we tried direct communication. One was an exercise of awareness. I have trouble extending my awareness to other energies around me. I just don’t feel anything. I had trouble with that exercise, but it turned out that the impressions I got were spot on.
The next exercise was an exercise in imagination. I was excited about this one, because THIS I do well. My imagination is extremely well developed! We were supposed to imagine greeting each dog, imagine them greeting us, and imagine what each likes to do. I loved that exercise, and I felt completely plugged into the dogs, because I’d already met them and gotten a feel for their personalities.
It turned out that I was again pretty much spot on with what I imagined. This made me wonder if maybe all the “imaginary” conversations I have with my beasties on a routine basis is more real communication than I thought.
I went into this workshop expecting animal communication to feel external — to feel like I was hearing or seeing something that very clearly didn’t come from myself. Instead, what I learned is that it feels more like you’re making something up. Only what you make up ends up being correct! The secret is practicing so that your accuracy goes up and TRUSTING that you’re not actually making this up.
That’s tough. The exercise with my partner on day 1 really helped with the trust, because it didn’t feel “external,” but the precise accuracy was immediately confirmed.
After our mid-session break, we worked with photos of animals provided by the workshop participants. I brought pictures of my three dogs, and Guin and Blue, the horses. (Blue isn’t technically mine anymore, but Heidi gave me permission.)
There were two rounds, so each person spoke with two animals. Mary provided a list of 13 questions. After each session, we went around the room and gave the answers we had gotten, and the animals owner told us what we got right and wrong.
In general, concrete facts like color of the food dish was difficult. At the same time, many people were able to provide really detailed descriptions of houses (inside and out). Mary also cautioned that sometimes people would think something was wrong, but then later would realize that it was right after all. We had an example of that with Aspen, the golden retriever. One person asked if she had a red toy — said the red toy was her favorite. Aspen’s owner said she didn’t have a red toy. Later in the workshop, Aspen’s owner casually mentioned that she gave Aspen a stuffed Kong anytime she left. Bingo! The favorite red toy.
The animals I spoke with were Ying Mo, an African Grey parrot, and Whisper, a black cat. I am fairly unfamiliar with both birds and cats. I think, though, that’s a good thing, because I had fewer preconceived notions about them.
I didn’t do well with Ying Mo. I did better with Whisper. The highlight with WHisper was that I saw her crunching bugs. It didn’t really fit any of the questions, so I noted it, but didn’t report it. Whisper’s owner said that her big thing right now was encouraging Whisper to eat all the bugs she found in the house. I showed her the notation I’d made.
That was cool.
The person who read Blue did a phenomenal job. His report back gave several people goose bumps, which I’ve learned is a common sign that a reading is accurate. (This is true both with animal communication and Tarot. Probably with any intuitive reading.) He said that Blue had a message for me: “Thank you for making it possible for me to live the life of my dreams.”
You’re welcome, Blue man.
There were solid things in every reading. Some people had a success rate of probably 80-90%. Those readings were AMAZING. I’m not that good, LOL.
Mary reminded us to focus on what we got right. As she said yesterday, this is like learning a foreign language. After one workshop we’ve just learned a few words. It will take time and practice to become conversational — much less fluent.
Next step for me? Practice. I’m going to try to set aside some time each evening for meditation and practice. I have many animal friends who have shared pics of their pets and who will give me feedback. My goal is to ask just a few questions at a time, and work with the same animals in many different sessions. Hopefully my accuracy will improve over time.
Today I attended the first day of a two-day basic animal communication workshop with Mary J. Getten. So. Much. Fun.
I have always wanted to communicate with animals. Animals are my life, and to communicate with them… well, there is no higher blessing. So through the years I’ve read books, and I’ve practiced now and then, but I’ve had only limited success.
I have always known — and Mary said it’s nearly always true — that I’m a better sender than receiver. Two examples:
- Anyone who has every moved a pet to a new house knows how stressed they get. It is, in fact, in credibly common to lose pets during the transition. I read an animal communication book that said to just talk to your animals and tell them very clearly what’s happening, what will happen, why it’s happening, what it means to the dog, etc. So when we moved to Duvall, I did that for Rain (an extremely insecure dog) and Pax. Neither dog showed even minor stress about the move, during or after. They transitioned to the new house as though they’d been visiting here for years.
- I tried an exercise from an animal communication book where you visualize an image and send it to your dog. This was right before we got horses, so I decided to send a picture of a breed of horse I liked. I happened to have a call with an animal communicator the next week, and I asked her if she could ask Pax what image I had been sending him. She said, “A black and white horse with feathers?” I had been sending a picture of a Gypsy Vanner.
I have had only one clear experience as a receiver, however, and that happened just a couple of weeks ago.
Miss Pflouff had been coming inside from the yard soaked in urine. It was like she had lain in a puddle of it… but there were no puddles. Or like she had peed while she was lying down, but she was clean and dry around her own lady bits. She was too tall for the boy dogs to hike their legs and get her back like that. I had no idea how this was happening, but it was happening regularly.
One morning she jumped up on the bed to tell me good morning, and when I leaned over to kiss her head, BAM! An image just appeared in my head. I saw her squatting to pee, and one of the boy dogs lifting his leg to mark her spot — while she was still peeing. I wasn’t thinking of the situation, and I had never even thought of that possibility, but I saw it plain as day.
So I believed it was possible, but I had never been able to open that channel at will.
Today was the first day of the workshop. There are sixteen students, plus Mary. Some are experienced; some are just like me. She explained to us that learning animal communication is like learning a foreign language. You don’t go to a class and come out speaking fluently overnight. You learn a few words. Then you get haltingly conversational. Then a bit better. And only with time, practice, and immersion do you get really fluent.
Today we didn’t practice actual animal communication. We talked about various aspects and did some exercises and meditations to help prepare us.
We did the COOLEST exercise with a partner. We sat face to face and visualized a tube connecting us heart to heart. One of us was the sender and the other the receiver. Mary would say a color — out loud, so we both knew. The sender was supposed to pick a shade of that color, pick an object or objects in that shade, try to imagine how it feels, etc. Then the receiver had to say what he received. Each person was the sender twice and a receiver twice.
My partner and I got all four right!!!!! The colors and our objects were:
- Pink / Pepto Bismol
- Orange / Orange juice
- Yellow / Baby chick
- Purple / Eggplant
I was a better sender than receiver. I sent pink and yellow. She said both correct answers IMMEDIATELY — no hesitation or working up to it.
I got the right answers for mine, but I kind of worked my way to it.
- For orange, I said, “Orange Crush, and I see an orange with juice spurting out of it.” But I never actually made the leap to “orange juice.”
- For purple, I picked up the color Mary was going to say before she said it, and then had to push an image of Barney out of my head. LOL. I knew it didn’t come from my partner. I saw like thick swirls of slick, deep purple oil paint, then it turned into an eggplant. And she was sending eggplant.
Tomorrow morning we work with live animals, and then tomorrow afternoon we work with photos. I’m not taking one of my dogs — there are only going to be a couple there and they needed to be smaller and cat-friendly — but I have photos of both my dogs and horses ready to go.
By the way, when I decided to do this, I prayed for help from St. Francis, Patron Saint of Animals. And he really came through! Thank you, St. Francis!
Last summer I officially rehomed my gelding, Blue, with his 13-year-old soul mate, Heidi. She had leased him for a couple of years under the tutelage of his trainer (and amazing clicker trainer), Leslie Peeples. They’ve made great progress together. He’s a fun horse with a great sense of humor, and Heidi gets that. She is patient with him and willing to explain things to him in a language he understands. It’s a fantastic match.
Heidi sent me this update the other day:
Blue and I have made some new developments lately and I thought you might want to hear about them. In order to get the whole story, I’m going to have to explain.
Well last month, I started working on lots of reining stuff, fencing, spins, stops, etc. He actually did his first sliding stop (all of 8 inches) which he has yet to do again. Anyway I got to thinking, and I was like, you know what? I miss gaming — maybe I should start doing it with him. I’m sure he would enjoy the challenge. Well right as I decided maybe I would do this, a big snow storm hit and it was like 16 inches of first snow, then ice.
So during the 10 days I had sitting at home doing nothing in the snow I read every barrel racing tip and training plan my favorite barrel riders/trainers had ever written. So when the snow went away I was properly armed with all the info I needed to start my training schedule. I spent 3 days walking him around the barrels (stopping at the “rate” point, where he is eventually supposed to slow and shorten his stride, and clicking him when he stopped on his own and did nice turns).
It was all going perfectly until I got bronchitis and an ear infection. 12 days of lying on the couch watching daytime TV (I might add daytime TV is not especially interesting or educational in any way) and thinking about how I was going to incorporate clicker training into gaming with Blue.
So today I was FINALLY able to ride him again and was pleasantly surprised. I walked the barrel pattern about 3 times then decided he felt ready to try trotting to the barrels and slowing to a walk at the rate point and walking around the barrel. As I started doing it with this sequence, I was extremely surprised — after about 2 times doing it, he would trot up to the barrel and before I even got the chance to sit and cue him to walk, he would walk right at the exact point I will eventually want him to rate (shorten his stride and slow a little). According to what the pros were saying, he shouldn’t be self rating for at least another few weeks. I thought about it, and I was like, gosh am I lucky to have such a smart clicker horse.
Anyway, Blue and I have been enjoying the adventures of training a clicker gaming horse. So far I have only patterned him on barrels and figure 8 stake race. Eventually I will pattern him on all the events. He’s not going to be one of those crazy free runners — he’s going to run more of a ratey push style pattern (at least I hope).
Anyway, I’m working on reining and sometimes western pleasure as well as gaming right now. He, being the smartest horse I know, is taking it all in stride (pun intended). Sorry about practically writing a novel in your email. This was probably totally pointless and boring to read BUT being the one who picked him out and brought him into my life, you deserve all the updates on his life no matter how boring :).
And then she delighted me with a picture and another update the next day:
More good news today! I started out practicing figure 8 today and he was totally acing trotting the pattern, so I decided despite being 4 days ahead of schedule, I would take the next step and start loping in between the barrels/poles and trotting around the barrels/poles.
The first two times I did it like this on figure 8, he was pretty shaky and confused so I walked the pattern once and did something else before I came back to trying the loping again. Third time’s a charm ’cause he was PERFECT. He self rated, got all the leads right, and stayed under control.
After giving a hefty amount of treats for this, I went to try it on the barrel pattern. At first he was pretty confused and got a little out of sorts and frustrated, so I took a deep breath, petted him to reassure him, walked the course twice, and practiced other things for about 10 minutes. When I went to try it again, he did it PERFECTLY. It just clicked in his brain all the sudden and he got it right.
So after that he got lots of reward and we quit for the day. Anyway I’m so impressed with how he is improving by leaps and bounds already.
BTW the picture I have attached is of him in his gaming stuff (minus the barrel saddle cause the fit hasn’t been approved by Leslie yet).
Isn’t he adorable? Isn’t she an amazing trainer? I’m encouraging her to start a blog to document her training. I think it would be great for her to document her plans and what works and what doesn’t. Pictures and video would be fun too!
I think Blue is incredibly blessed to have her and Leslie in his life. He’s one happy pony!!! And I’m happy to get to watch them learn and grow together.