Tag Archives: horses

Spring update

Here it is almost spring, so I thought I should do another update.

I’m still in the same job. Without going into a long, complicated story, let’s just say my contract runs through the end of May. I love this job, so I hope, hope, hope that it will be extended beyond that, but it’s no longer about what my department, my director, or even leadership in our division of the company want. Now it’s a edict from the highest leadership in the company to get rid of contractors and trim headcount. Scary!

Still, like I said, I love my job. I started a new project last week, and I’m really excited about it. It will keep me busy through the end of my contract (or through the middle of the summer). I have a new manager, and he’s as awesome as the last two were. I’m still working with wonderful people, and still working from home. What more could I ask for?

The remodel of the basement is still on hold. We had one chunk of cash left from last year’s overtime windfall, and we used it to remodel the barn. My husband would have MUCH preferred to finish his office, but I asked him straight out: Can we afford to board the horses indefinitely? The answer was no, so we really, truly HAD to remodel the barn.

(I do feel kind of guilty about it, though, because I got my office AND my barn, and he got nothing. I’ve offered to trade offices with him, so he can have the warm, finished office. So far he hasn’t taken me up on it. He can though, whenever he wants — really.)

The barn looks amazing!! We saved a huge chunk of change by purchasing used stall fronts from a guy on Craigslist. He only had three, but that was fine, because I wanted to turn the  fourth stall into a tack room with a locking door. We just did the bare minimum this go ’round, which means new stall fronts, tack room, water, and electricity. Water and electricity means we don’t have to run hoses and extension cords anymore. Awesome! We’re working on shelving and such for the tack room so we can keep that organized too. We don’t have a garage, so it has to hold not only tack but also tools, garden supplies, and fence supplies.

Tack room and one stall

Tack room and one stall

Since the barn is (almost) finished, Blue will be coming home on April 1. Sadly, Miss Guin won’t be accompanying him. Her ringbone has progressed, and she isn’t doing well. She’s not at the point where we have to euthanize her, but she likely will be fairly soon. Leslie, the person who is boarding her, is a farrier, and is able to work on her feet in very short sessions — a minute here and there. (She can’t even do a whole foot at one time anymore.) There’s no way I could do that here.

I’m sorry Guin won’t be here, but I’m glad Blue will be. I’ve missed him! Since I don’t like keeping horses by themselves, he needs a buddy. I’m going to foster a horse for Monica. She’s pregnant and due in June, so that will work for both of us. I’m glad I can be of help to her. She has been soooo much help to me in the past years!

Oh, almost forgot — I didn’t keep Charlie after all. Monica had a come-to-Jesus meeting with me about loading up on project horses. She’s right, and Charlie has good prospects. His training is going super well! He’s really anxious to please and just a super, super horse.

In other horse news, I was going to adopt a mustang this spring, but it didn’t work out financially. We have a good list of what needs to be done so we can, though, so we’re going to work on those things a little at a time. We’re going to start with getting the shelter and corral ready.

Todd is going to raise the height of this old shed to 9ft and put a roof on it to make a good-sized 3-sided shed. We’re going to put gravel on the floor for mud control (and fill in some place on the driveway while we’re at it), and we’re going to use those round pen panels to build a temporary corral of the required height. Once the mustang is gentled and able to move into the regular enclosures, we’ll be able to remove the corral, add a front to the shed,  and turn the shed into storage.

Old shed (minus roof) and round pen panels

Old shed (minus roof) and round pen panels

Other random bits
Otherwise, things are going well. My mom was in the hospital for a while in March, but she rebounded and is back to 100%. (Amazing lady! I hope I’m even half as feisty when I’m 80.) My husband is doing fine, and all the dogs are doing fine. Pax is getting steadily older, which makes me sad, but he’s still hanging in there.

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Starting a new project

Because, you know, I have nothing but time for new projects.

Several months ago I begged and pleaded for a certain major project at work. I knew then that it would have super short deadlines and huge deliverables, but I was equally certain I was up to the challenge. We did a lot of preliminary work, but the project itself was slow to kick off. I watched with a sick stomach the days slip by on the calendar. Each passing day meant I would have less and less time to get my part of the project complete.

Finally the project kicked off, and yesterday I began what will be the toughest 3+ months of my life. Like it or not, the project is here, and I have to get it done in the time I have. I have a (terrifying) schedule that breaks the development down into two-day increments, and so now I just have to eat the elephant one bite at a time. The good news is that the overtime on this project is lucrative, which is good for both our remodel and my horse fund.

Yes, horse fund. I’m going to get back into horses. I’m going to do it right this time, however. I’m taking riding lessons and still trying to lose weight. I’ve figured out what went wrong last time, and I have a plan for doing each of those things differently this time. I’m not rushing into it. Lessons, weight loss, and money saving all take TIME.

I’m going to use these months to really focus my efforts, though. Lots of overtime plus a moratorium on books and dinners out will fill the coffers. The imposed structure — i.e., spend all my waking hours hunched over my laptop — is actually the perfect opportunity to regiment my diet and exercise to hopefully break this irritating weight plateau. (Cutting out cheese will probably help there too. Seriously, cheese is a gateway drug.)

Right now I’m very positive about the project. I’m focusing on the time off I’m going to take at the end of the project and the (hopefully) major progress I’ll make toward getting back into horses. My dear husband is less thrilled. He has accepted, but isn’t happy about, the financial investment associated with my return to horses, and he’s wary of the amount of overtime I’ll be working. As he noted, I work from home. When I snap, he’ll be the one in the line of fire.

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Communing with horses

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.

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Animal Communication workshop, day 2

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.

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Update on Blue

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:

Hi Melissa!

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.

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