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Farms

Spring Fling

The happy couple

Spring has sprung and the ducks have shown up at our pond. I call it a pond, but it’s really more of a reedy, mucky puddle. No matter, they like the early vegetation that sprouts from the bottom. Being a shallow pond, they can easily reach whatever grows and I suspect they like the water that warms so quickly in the early April sun.

Follow the leader

I get a kick out of seeing them. This year they showed up as an attached pair, whereas in years prior I’ve watched the female get chased hither and yon across the water by several pursuing drakes intent on having her as a mate. Once they’re paired, they stick together like glue, but sometimes the drake has to spend a lot of time chasing off other suitors. Oddly, this year things seem very quiet and it’s been just the two of them.

Bright and showy
Understated and less obvious

His job is to keep tabs on her and protect his future progeny.

He’s watching me

Her job is more complex, as usual. ūüėČ

The soon to be busy Mom

To my surprise, they hung around all day. Usually I only see these ducks once or twice before they leave to raise their young in a safer location, but then they showed up again a few days later and spent the better part of another day eating the black oil seed that has dropped from my feeders and snoozing on a small island of grass in the pond. At the end of the day they left, and I haven’t seen them since. A nearby neighbor has a beautiful, huge, clear pond, so I feel quite honored that this couple even chooses to visit my little puddle when they could have much nicer digs right down the road.

Catching some Zzzz’s

Time to go!

Learning Curve

She needs to stop taking pictures and feed us!

I love my Canon 50mm lens for taking horse photos because it captures their proportions accurately with no distortion. It took awhile (and lots of photos) to learn that up close, anything longer than 70mm makes their noses and heads look like canal boats. Several years ago I bought this used, 50mm lens on eBay. Even though it wasn’t that expensive it felt like I was taking a big risk, but the lens has performed just fine. This lens, an 85mm and my 90mm macro (Tamron) are the only fixed length lenses that I own, and of the three, the 85mm Canon lens is the better quality lens. I also think foggy mornings (that means humid) work best for me. Even though I loathe the humidity, I like the “mood” it gives to photos, especially in my garden where it makes the colors really “pop.” Here, the “boys,” Bully (foreground) and Rascal (background) are waiting (not so patiently) for breakfast. I think they look like they’re sharing a secret. They’re probably saying bad things about me since I’m taking photos instead of feeding them.


Friends

Buddies?

Contrary to the body language in the image, my horses all get along pretty well. Dharla (foreground) is a bit of a trash-talker, but Rascal (background) doesn’t take her nonsense seriously. He rules the roost and his feet don’t move, even when she gets persnickety with him. Bully on the other hand, lets her push him around. Oddly, I think he actually likes knowing his place in the herd. Absent that, I think he would be a bit of a pill. He’s not great leader material, like Rascal is. Over the years, all of our heard leaders have been the fair, calm, easy-going type. That’s not to say Rascal can’t get goofy at times or take offense to something, but he doesn’t get riled unnecessarily, and when he does he gets over it quickly.

Truthfully though, it’s the mare who makes most of all the herd decisions, and Rascal just humors her unless he strongly disagrees. In years past when our horses got loose the boys were content just hanging out in the side yard and eating green grass. But it was the mare who winked and them and said, “Let’s go!” and took off down the road. And the boys followed. Mares. Who can resist their siren song?

Bully


Long Overdue

Chase

So, it’s been a long time.

Much has happened on the home/animal front since I last visited my blog. Chase (above) has left puppy-hood far behind and has grown into a respectable, fun adult, Gus is as grumpy and pushy as ever and sadly, sweet Nina has left us. Oh, and a horse (Arlo) has come and gone too. *Sigh* Like I said, a lot has happened in my absence.

Covid has, for the most part, been a non-issue at my household and with my extended family, including my 92 year-old mother-in-law. Ridiculous restrictions aside, not much is different in my day-to-day life. That’s not to say I haven’t known people who’ve had it or died from it, but as a healthy, middle aged person I have relatively few concerns for my own “safety.” Besides, I may have had it at the start of last winter anyway, well before there were any tests for it or even major concerns about a pandemic. I survived.

Nina will have been gone two years this coming April. Sometimes that seems like forever ago and sometimes it feels like yesterday. I don’t often run across pictures of Nina. She didn’t like the camera so I don’t have a backlog of photos of her like I had with Hazer. Still, any time I happen across a picture of her it makes me sad. I miss her. Losing her was less of a gut-punch than losing Hazer because it wasn’t sudden, but any loss is always too soon. I miss her simplicity, her unpretentious way of just being there and asking nothing in return. She was a very easy dog to love.

Nina

The other big change was deciding to let Arlo go. When Covid came I was still boarding him. Why, I’m not sure, since it had been my goal all along to bring him home to live here on our farm with my other horses. But I dragged my feet and one year turned into two, probably because I enjoyed having company to ride with and if I brought him home it meant I’d be back to riding alone. But when Covid hit and things began shutting down I saw the writing on the wall. I don’t have the disposable income to board a horse I can’t ride and by late March many barns were planning to close even to horse owners for an indefinite period of time. (That turned into MONTHS, some still not really open by any standard that one might expect) I panicked, and decided to bring Arlo home even though I really didn’t feel ready. He had been gelded late and while he did do turnout pretty well with most geldings (there’s always that one jerk in the group that NOBODY likes), I have two senior geldings and a mare at home that are all turned out together.

Arlo did very well initially. The first few days I saw some some basic, normal, horse-to-horse curiosity, squealing, and the general appearance of peace. Rascal seemed to take very little interest in the newcomer, but for some reason Bully, the low horse in the herd, took it upon himself to try to buddy up with the new horse. Arlo was fairly neutral with everyone, even shared a pile of hay or two with Bully, but then on day five or so the mare went into her first heat of the season and all hell broke loose. It became apparent in a matter of minutes that this arrangement was not only not going to work out, but it was fast becoming dangerous for the two senior boys. Arlo, (who had probably been used for breeding in his former life) became very stud-like with Dharla, who responded by alternating between hussy and hellion. The older boys didn’t seem to understand Arlo’s intense interest in Dharla and their desire to intervene put them at risk of becoming collateral damage.

Ah, how the best of plans can go awry.

Long story short, Arlo went back to the boarding barn and I put the word out that he was for sale. I couldn’t keep boarding a horse who was never going to come home and I wasn’t able to make the changes needed to accommodate his specific issues. I’d spent the better part of two years working to make Arlo into a good citizen and enjoyable ride. He’d made amazing progress in that time and was a delight to own, but some horse behavior is nearly impossible to change, especially when it’s deeply ingrained and hormone driven. I’d given Arlo as much time as I could to acclimate to his gelded state, but breeding rituals can sometimes stick forever. As sad as I was to have to let him go, in the right situation he was an absolute fantastic dream of a horse and my loss was certainly going to be someones gain. I found a local woman who wanted him and they hit it right off and made a great match. Arlo now lives about fifteen miles away and is loved by his owner and all who come to his barn. (He has such a winsome personality!) I miss him a lot and I try to make light of the situation, but it just wasn’t meant to be. To be honest, this was the first time I’d ever witnessed seriously intense stud behavior firsthand and I knew immediately that it was something I was not going to do at this age and stage of my life. Although Arlo was always the perfect gentleman on the ground, rode beautifully with mares and geldings alike and never had any problems being stalled next to a mare, turnout was a whole ‘nuther story. My first loyalty has to be to the horses I’ve had nearly all their lives and if that means admitting when a horse just isn’t going to be a safe fit, so be it. I do hear from Arlo’s owner from time to time, complete with pictures. She wanted me to try to come over to ride him this winter just for the fun of it, but I decided it’s probably not in my best interest to have to say goodbye to him twice. Once was hard enough.

I’ll see if I can bring more things up to speed a little at a time, but this is plenty for now.


Labor

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Herding: It’s hard work!

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Hunting: It’s hard work!


Hello!

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New horse, Arlo (named after Arlo Guthrie) on the day he arrived at Rockland Farm. (May) He just turned six years old and he’s a cute little (and I do mean little, as in short!)¬† Quarter Horse with a nice pedigree behind him. Yes, he’s probably the smallest horse in the barn. But it’s a small barn. (Twelve stalls) That suits me fine. I like my horses small. This photo was taken with a phone camera. Not anything I’m particularly proud of, but that’s not the point. I do love my new boy! ūüôā


Ride and Shine

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(Bully)

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In spite of everything that’s been going on I’ve been riding a lot. I’m actually kind of proud of that. Not that I don’t normally strive to ride every day that I can, but lately there’s been more than a few days where my get up and go got up and went. Sadness will do that to you. But yesterday was another two-horse day and both rides were quite good.

I’m working with a new (to me) trainer. I’m very please and excited about having access to her services, although I have to admit I’m suffering from some serious brain overload! But overload in a good way! Lots to think about before, during and after every ride. And Dharla is handing things well and responding nicely. I see a lot of “try” in her. I know I’m not always giving her the best support, yet she does her best. Yesterday we had some major background noise and distraction when our neighbor closest to our arena started clearing brush with industrial-sized equipment. They were nearby, but not visible, which normally would result in¬† Dharla¬† coming unglued. Fortunately, in our last lesson we also had a noisy, scary distraction that was out of sight, so I got an opportunity to work with Stephanie on how I could better manage Dharla’s energy in that kind of situation. I immediately went to work on circles, serpentines and some walk-trot transitions which put Dharla’s focus on me. In a matter of a few minutes we were back to working in a relaxed manner and all the crashing and shredding noise was forgotten.

Today we were distraction-free so I got to work on getting some nice relaxed bends in my circles. Dharla can get stiff and point her nose to the outside and I tend to collapse my inside shoulder, drop my gaze and tilt my head in the direction we’re circling. This morning I was able to focus on keeping my shoulders square, not collapsing to the inside and not tilting my head. (And looking UP) It’s a little like rubbing your tummy and patting your head, but I could immediately see how much better Dharla moved when I got the heck out of her way. Yay! I could feel when she gave her head nicely and was able to quickly reward her each time with a gentle release. I also did about ten or fifteen minutes of ground work before we started, which I think got her attention and focus more connected to me before I even got on her. I plan to continue with a bit of ground work prior to doing our ring work.

If the weather holds I’d like to try to do a trail ride tomorrow. All work and no play is no fun.


Shaken, Not Stirred

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Its getting close to that time of year when I have to decide what I’m going to do for vegetable gardens. (Planting for my area is traditionally Memorial weekend) Last summer we had a horrible drought and I spent way too many hot, humid days dragging a heavy garden hose from bed to bed. At some point I found myself swearing through my dripping sweat that I was done with vegetable gardening for good. I reasoned that we have several veggie stands nearby and our town does a nice little farmer’s market every Saturday morning.¬† I even visited the farmer’s market once to see what they might have and I discovered they sell most of what I usually plant. So I know I can get fresh veggies without having to invest in¬† all those hot, buggy hours of toil.

Easier said than done! I love watching things grow. For some reason that whole process from seed to produce never fails to trip my trigger. So I say I might forego the vegetable garden this year, but the truth of that statement remains to be seen. The lure of our local nursery might call to me and I may cave, but I’m seriously kicking some alternative ideas around. I think this might be the summer to shake things up and do the opposite. It just might be a better fit!


Dynamics

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When you lose a dog that had an enormous personality you have to expect a change in energy. I always knew Hazer’s persona dominated everything on our farm, but I never put any thought into what it would actually be like when he was gone. Oh sure, I let myself think about it those half gazillion times I was irked with him for one reason or another, but I never seriously considered the changes.

I spent the majority of last week trapped inside because it rained eight days in a row. I got a tad depressed, and several times I had to remind myself that things would get better once I could get outside and start working on projects in the yard and garden. It’s been said that keeping a routine helps ward off the blues, and staying “busy” does too. So when the weather improved and I was finally able to dig into my outside chores I was shocked to find I was more sad than ever.

Again, it’s not like I’m trying to dwell on the fact that Hazer is gone, rather, I’ve actually gotten to the point where I don’t think about him every waking minute of the day. But yesterday as I went about digging and trimming it occurred to me that I’m going to have to go through an entire year of seasonal changes before I can fully wrap my head around this loss. Because every season brought a different role that Hazer played. His personality was so large that he inserted himself into the middle of everything I did. In fact, just last week when I pulled my vacuum cleaner from the closet I hesitated, waiting for the scramble of nails as he dashed to grab the hose and give it a good shake. Every day I go through dozens of little moments like that, moments where I pause to do something with or for for a dog no longer there. Moments that feel empty and profoundly different.

Learning to do things without Hazer beside me is going to take time and a concerted effort to change my focus. I’m sorry to say that the first few weeks Hazer was gone I barely even noticed Gus and Nina. They drifted in and out of my peripheral vision, doing what they always did without any help from me. I’m paying more attention to them now, trying to get a fix on who they are without Hazer here to steal the limelight. Nina seems to be changing the most, which surprises me given how much Gus had to dodge Hazer’s propensity to pick on him. I thought Hazers absence would affect Gus the most, but it’s not.

Nina has always been her own dog; aloof to everyone but me and Velcro without being needy. She’s the perfect blend of “busy,” but with an “off” button,¬† the kind of dog who takes good care of herself, avoids trouble and will do ANYTHING you ask her with no questions asked. Inside, she likes to be near, not on top of you, but I can’t leave with a room without her immediately following. Outside, Nina marches to the beat of her own drum. Sometimes she’ll hang out nearby, but it’s far more likely she’ll be off poking around the property. She’ll pop by every now and then to keep tabs on my whereabouts, but generally she’ll¬† wander off out of sight. (She’ll come lickity-split if called.) And she’s happy to follow me out to the barn, but once there she’ll promptly part company to go off to do her own thing elsewhere. Nina is what I’d call an “independent” thinker: she’ll gladly take advisement from me, but if none is offered then she’ll figure out a way to entertain herself.

Since Hazer died Nina has become more “there” for me, especially outside. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find Nina has been sicking by me in the barn. Prior, she might have made a quick pass through the barn before going off to do something else. “OK, Mom’s here. I’ll just go poke around the stone wall or yard,” and off she’d go only to rejoin me when I was done. But now she’s actually planting herself out behind the barn right where Hazer used to lay to watch me pick the paddock and feed. Sometimes she scoots off for a few minutes, but she always comes right back. Her waiting doesn’t seem to be a fluke because I can tell she’s tuned into me. Every time I glance her way her eyes are on me, following my every move just like Hazer did. At first I thought Nina had an ulterior motive: She’s¬† always been a living Hoover for any of the grain the horses dropped. But she’s not even trying to get to the leftovers. Apparently she’s just there waiting for me. Two months ago that never would have happened because Hazer always had my back.

Yesterday when I was out gardening I noticed that every time I looked up Nina was laying some fifteen or twenty yards away, watching. Granted, she’s not ten feet away like Hazer was, but she’s there instead of going off to do her own thing. That’s VERY unusual behavior for Nina and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Do dogs consciously choose to fill a role when another passes? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so. I could¬† explain this behavior by saying she’s twelve years old and not as active as she used to be, but that’s not true at all. Nina is twelve going on eight and what’s more, this behavior only started after Hazer died.

Don’t get me wrong: Nina is NOT Hazer. Even though she’s doing some of the things Hazer used to routinely do, she does them HER way not his. For example, when gardening with Hazer if I took a little “break” Hazer would move in and flop down beside me looking for some attention.¬† Nina doesn’t do that. Instead, she keeps her distance or uses my breaks as an opportunity to go “off duty” and do her own thing. So the dance is different. It has it’s own rhythm and new steps that are unique to the dancers. And if you’re not careful that’s right where the sadness creeps in:¬† your ear hears an old favorite song, your eyes see your old dance partner. You don’t intend to go there, but you do. Old habits die hard.

It’s a struggle not to see Hazer sitting somewhere nearby, just like he is in the photo above. I thought summer would be easier, but I’ve come to¬† realize it will be rife with memories and habits that are going to be tough to break. Sometimes I’m OK with it, but more often than not this sadness sucks the joy right out of whatever I’m doing. I know this too shall pass, but I don’t know when. Until then I’ll just keep trying to give myself over to the change in our dynamics, knowing that eventually this new will become the norm.


That’ll Do

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Tanglewood’s Who Dunnit Again

“Hazer”

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I don’t know what the last eleven years of my life would have been like if I hadn’t had Hazer. For sure, it would have been a lot quieter. Simpler. Definitely a whole lot easier. But it also would have been dull. Dull in a way that I can only look back at now and see how all the chaos, calamity and constant challenge was exactly what I needed at the time.

Hazer was never a walk in the park: Complex, smart, quirky and both biddable and independent, Hazer was a handful. He never wanted to be cuddled, fussed over or loved on, but he was always with you, right by your side or under your feet. He was my consummate hiking partner, barn chore buddy and yard companion, and while the other two dogs were always eager to be off doing their own thing, Hazer wanted nothing more than to hang out with me while I worked around the farm. No matter where I was, I only had to look up or turn around and there he’d be, quietly watching and ready for anything.

There’s so much I’d like to share about our last few years, even our last few days together, but the pain and sadness keep getting in the way. Maybe at some point I’ll be able to pen something more memorable, but for now it’s all I can do to just look at his picture without getting lost deep inside my head.

Well done my beautiful, big red dog. Well done.

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Check, Please!

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I’ve had so many things go sideways on me lately, I’ve taken to saying my life has turned into a bad country western song. Most people chuckle when I say that, which makes me laugh a little too. I suppose that’s the whole point of saying something like that when the truth of the matter is, you’ve reached the end of your rope and you feel like your heart is breaking about a million times each day.

About two weeks ago, right around the same time I broke my leg (and around the same time I came down with a nasty stomach virus), Hazer decided to stop eating. Given this isn’t a dog who plays “games,” I took his aversion to food somewhat seriously. At first I thought maybe he was just having an ‘off’ day, but that’s not his typical MO. So I kept a close eye on things. Well, as close as I could given I was hugging the toilet and pinned down in bed for several days with my own form of hell. Some days Hazer would eat a little, other days not so much. I knew how he felt, but once I was¬† fairly confident I could hobble around on my broken leg without barfing, I made an appointment to see the vet.

As I stood on one leg and heaved Hazer’s forty-two pound butt into my (previously) clean and dog hairless SUV, I was once again thankful that he isn’t an eighty-five pound GSD.¬† Riding in the car is one of Hazer’s favorite things to do, but he didn’t show much enthusiasm for it that day. After a few wobbly attempts to copilot from the console, he curled up in the back corner of the cargo bay and didn’t move until we pulled into the office. As per his usual behavior, Hazer sprang to his feet and commenced shrieking while I went in to announce our arrival. Probably a moot point given the cacophony of noise coming from the parking lot.

Fortunately, the office was deserted. Hazer is dog-reactive and even in his weakened state I knew he’d never miss an opportunity to try to kick some doggy ass.¬† We didn’t need the drama, so he waited while I got the all-clear.¬† (Pet peeve: Vet’s offices that are designed in a way that fail to allow enough space for reactive or shy pets to get in and out without having to endure or cause additional trauma.) Thankfully, I was able to wrangle Hazer out of the SUV and gimp our way into the office together.

I love my vet. That bears saying again: I love my vet. First on the long list of reasons to adore her: she’s an experienced ACD owner herself. She GETS this curmudgeonly, stoic, serious breed. That makes for oh, so many things I don’t have to explain to her about my dog because she’s been there, done that with her own gang of bad-ass dogs. Whereas one vet might suggest an elderly dog sometimes plays mind games over their food, my vet believes me when I say food and games are not his gig. Like me, she’s known this dog since he was thirteen weeks old. She knows his quirks and his “death doesn’t scare me” attitude about most things in life. She knows that while he’d try rip any dog a new one, he’s never met a person he didn’t like and while he looks kind of mean, he’s really got a heart of gold. (Well, unless you’re another dog) But most important, my vet knows that when she looks Hazer in the eye and asks him how he feels, his answer is always going to be “ready to roll!” even when he can barely stand up.

We ran tests, took vitals (borderline temp), and did a very thorough exam (fine) while Hazer ate liver treats like they were gummy bears. (They’re about the ONLY thing he will eat). On the up side, nothing looks way out of whack. On the down side, obviously something is wrong. Since blood tests take about 12-14 hours, the best I could do is hope that I’d have a few answers in the morning. We talked about things I could do to try to tempt Hazer to eat (none of which have worked for us thus far) and returned home to wait for a call with the test results.

Meanwhile, Hazer is no longer interested in tagging along while I do barn chores, so for the first time in eleven years I’m flying solo. Between multiple trips to and from the paddock¬† I still expect to see him laying in the hay, waiting with that expectant look on his face that says.”I’m here if you need a hand, Mom!” And when I’m done, I can almost hear his shrieks of joy as he jumps back and forth behind me, herding me as we walk toward the house, hoping there might be enough time for a quick toss of the Frisbee too. Instead, as I limp along the well-worn path my eyes glance toward the edge of the woods, to the place where a smattering of early spring flowers are ready to bloom , flowers that mark the place where Dozer and all the dogs before him have been laid to rest. I choke back a few deep sobs and wipe away the tears. I’m not willing to admit defeat yet, but I’m worried that I’ve been so laid up myself that I haven’t had time to contemplate Hazer’s final resting place. The thought shatters me anew and my guts clench with dread.

Late the following morning the vet calls. Her voice is cheery and bright and because I know her so well I realize the test results are good. Actually, they are beyond good. Hazer is a very healthy senior dog. Well, mostly healthy. There is that one little issue with anaplasma. Again. *Sigh* We live in Tick Central. Both of my ACDs have been treated multiple times for three persistent tick-related diseases. Hazer has been treated about seven or eight times. That’s a lot. And while it’s very difficult to know if we’re treating a NEW infection or just the old antibodies, we go on clinical symptoms. So if the dog has a low-grade fever and no appetite and everything else is OK except the titer numbers, then we treat it. Again, with thirty days of harsh antibiotics. It’s a necessary evil.

Unfortunately, by Friday the lack of interest in food or water and the fever had taken a toll so that afternoon I had to shovel Hazer’s butt back into the (now hairy) SUV and run him back to the vet for fluids and a shot that we hoped would calm his tummy enough so that he might eat. Or at least get the antibiotics down his gullet. Because prying his mouth open and sticking your hand down his throat is NOT a pilling option for this boy! But before he could get that shot he needed X-rays because you don’t want to mask an intestinal obstruction by giving a powerful drug to settle the gut if there’s a blockage. I didn’t object, especially since X-rays would give us even more information that we could maybe use. (The X-rays were read immediately by the radiologist and they were EXCELLENT!)

Home I went with a lumpy, but well-hydrated dog who looked none the less for wear. He perked up a bit, had a little pep in his step and small spark in his eye, but he still wouldn’t eat more than a handful of this or that. Have I mentioned how frustrating it is to be opening multiple cans of dog food, frying eggs in bacon grease and cooking all different kinds of meat while combating the dregs of my own five-day stomach virus? Ugh. For a dog who would normally eat anything offered, it’s just weird to see him not want to sample much of anything. And we’ve tried it all. I even made a last minute, eleventh-hour drive across town to pick up a frozen specialty that’s known to snap all but the most finicky eaters out of their funk. He refused to even try it.

So far I can interest Hazer in a few dried liver treats, a moist training delicacy appropriately named “Great Bait,” and an assortment of holistic doggy biscuits. That’s what he’s been living on for the last three days while I cross my fingers and hope today will be the day the antibiotic starts to kick in and make him feel more like himself, more like the dog who used to eat anything we gave him with gusto and glee. He looks a lot better today. He’s got more interest in taking pot-shots at Gus, in pissing everyone off in general and launching into random fits of barking. That’s my boy! *Sigh* He’s also drinking more water (good), but he’s still not interested in eating a real meal. I don’t know how many times I’ve thanked God he doesn’t weigh ten pounds. I don’t know what I’d do if he was a small dog who wouldn’t eat. While Hazer isn’t a fatty, at least he won’t fade away if he misses a couple of meals … or that’s what I tell myself as I wrap another plate of home cooked goodness and shove it back in the refrigerator.¬† (My other two dogs are going to be fat as ticks!)

The clinical stuff is easy to write about, it’s the emotional toll that chips away at me; the hundreds of times a day that I look at Hazer with a mental check-list in mind. Is he resting OK? Does he look like he’s in pain? Is he freakin’ BREATHING? (I actually check several times a night. I’m up anyway.) Am I missing something? How long can this go on? Does he want to go?

That last question is the biggie. Hazer and I, we’ve had “the talk,” the one where I tell him it’s OK to want to go and just give me a sign if you’re ready. (Sob) Hazer stared back at me with clear, wise eyes. Licked my hand. Gave me his paw.

Not ready yet, Mom.


How We Change

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Yesterday I woke up to a disturbing new story that unfolded a stone’s throw from my farm.

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NEGLECTED HORSES, DOGS, CHICKENS, RABBITS SEIZED FROM EAST HAMPTON BREEDER

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture today seized 32 horses and numerous other animals from an East Hampton breeder as part of an animal cruelty investigation. The horses, along with two dogs, several rabbits and more than 80 chickens, were removed from the facility after an investigation determined the animals were malnourished, not receiving proper veterinary care and kept in unhealthy conditions.

The horses were taken under a search-and-seizure warrant signed by a Superior Court judge and brought to the department’s Second Chance large animal rehabilitation facility in Niantic, where they will be cared for as the investigation continues. The facility is owned by T. and M., who breed Friesian, Andalusian, and Gypsy Vanner horses.

The investigation began in September when East Hampton’s animal control officer received a complaint from a woman who had leased four horses to the breeder, and said the animals were emaciated when she picked them up a few days earlier. Those horses were subsequently hospitalized after being diagnosed with malnutrition and parasites.

The East Hampton officer went to the facility on Sept. 9, but was denied access to the animals. On Sept. 10, animal control officers from the Dept. of Agriculture went to the farm and found T. on the property, with no hay or grain available for the horses to eat. The initial assessment found that nearly half of the horses on the property were underweight and exhibiting signs of malnutrition including muscle wasting, protruding hip bones and visible ribs and spines.

T. was instructed to have hay and clean water available for the horses at all times, and to obtain veterinary care for numerous horses that had untrimmed of cracked hooves. A subsequent evaluation of the horses by a veterinarian hired by T. found that several had anemia related to malnutrition. The veterinarian advised T. to double the amount of hay given to the horses to 200 bales a week, and made a list of other detailed feeding and treatment suggestions for him to follow.

Dept. of Agriculture animal control officers made regular visits to the property to check on the horses’ progress, and observed that some had gained weight while others had not. T., however, admitted that he did not follow through on most of the recommendations made by the officers and the veterinarian, including supplying copies of receipts for the purchase of hay and grain.

On Dec. 4, state animal control officers returned to the farm and again found the horses with no hay available to eat, and two in a barn with no food or water. Officers gave the two horses water and they drank several gallons immediately, indicating that they had been without water for some time. T. eventually arrived at the farm with a load of hay he had just picked up.

Today, each of the 32 horses was evaluated by Dr. Bruce S., a veterinarian with the Dept. of Agriculture, who determined that all were to be removed from the property to ensure they were properly treated in a healthy environment. ‚ÄúOur goal was to work with the owner to rehabilitate the horses on site,‚ÄĚ said Dr. Bruce S., Director of the agency‚Äôs Bureau of Regulation and Inspection. ‚ÄúUnfortunately, our best efforts to bring the owner into compliance did not result in all of the horses being cared for to the degree that we required.‚ÄĚ The dogs, chickens and rabbits were taken to municipal animal shelters in nearby towns. The Dept. of Agriculture will continue the investigation to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

 

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After I got over the initial shock (the photos were graphic) anger set in. How is it possible that our local Animal Control Officer (ACO) acted quickly, getting the state on the premises the DAY AFTER he was denied admittance to the farm, but the state allowed these animals to deteriorate for another FIVE MONTHS? Excuse me? I understand that in a perfect world the owners would realize their error and make the appropriate effort to correct the situation according to the protocol outlined for them. However, I find it reprehensible that the state authorities would take the word of a chronic and pathologically negligent breeder. (Further reports since the original came out have stated that the owners neglected animals on a farm at a previous location)

This is not rocket science, folks. If you ALREADY have animals that are so underweight they are ALREADY suffering of malnutrition in September you DO NOT let winter advance and just hope that the owners are going to step up to the plate and do their job. No sir. You get your butts back there weekly … or appoint someone who can evaluate their efforts weekly to make sure the owners are in fact supplying hay and grain. If not, then you get those suffering animals out. There is no excuse for letting these animals starve for another five months. None at all. How long were these animals left there starved and malnourished? A MINIMUM of TEN months, if not longer!!

ARGH!!

‘Scuse me. That’s the sound of me retching.

In all fairness, the article says the state DID check back …. and AGAIN found the owners in breech of compliance. (And the animals stayed put?) So at that point you’d THINK the state would maybe hammer out an arrangement whereby someone would be given the authority to make weekly random checks at the farm. I mean, it’s pretty darn hard to disguise the fact that you don’t have 200 bales of hay or grain in your barn. What would that have taken … all of ten minutes?

As horse lovers, owners, breeders, trainers and riders we need to FIX THIS MESS. My question is, how do we get the authorities to take quicker action? I’m not interested in the condemnation or punishment of those who do this kind of stuff; the authorities can deal with that on their own terms. Because Honestly, I don’t think there is any way to stop or curb people from doing stupid stuff like this. I just don’t. You don’t have to have a license to own a house pet or to breed them and even if you did, that issue would be rife with problems. And here’s another rub: today these state agencies are getting sent out on bogus complaints about animal abuse: Farms that don’t blanket their livestock, barns that are not heated … truly trumped-up, animal rights nonsense. So how do we get these agencies to operate using good common sense? It seems to me that if you have already starving, emaciated horses with no hay or grain in September, you don’t wait until February (in New England, no less) to see if the owners will comply with your guidelines. Not without going back every week to make sure there is hay and grain on the premises. That’s not rocket science, folks, it’s just common sense!

Do the math, people! To feed 200 bales of hay a week to 32 horses it would cost the owners around $5,400.00 per month. And that’s just hay for the horses, not grain or feed for their dogs or other livestock. This wasn’t a boarding barn or a lesson barn, it was a BREEDING operation. In today’s economy, you’d have to sell a LOT of horses to make an¬† income to run a farm of that size. How could that fact be so very obvious to an idiot like me, yet the state agency just seemed to overlook it?

And enough with the “Oh, those poor horses,” and “We should just hang the owners.” And enough throwing money at fund raisers (Go FundMe) for the state agency that failed to remove these animals when they could & should. Allowing these animals to deteriorate for six long months did nothing but prolong their suffering and make their recovery even harder and more costly in the long run. Meanwhile, the next “vanity breeder” or hoarder is slowly going over the edge … maybe this time in YOUR town. And make no mistake, animal rights activists are just eating this stuff up. Our unwillingness to fix this mess gives them plenty of fodder for their ever-widening campaign to make sure none of us will get to enjoy domestic animals in the future.

Something needs to change. I’ve written my local state representative and I hope when some of the heat dies down I’ll hear back from her. I know my local ACO and I’ll try to connect with him next week. I have questions that need answers. I’ve had enough of waiting for someone to fix the system while these horses suffered right under our noses. And there will be more suffering, mark my words. Because you can’t fix the kind of stupid that’s always just another accident waiting to happen.

If anyone has any experience dealing with this, please feel free to share. I have absolutely no idea how to go about trying to facilitate change. Like anything else, I suppose I’ll just stumble my way through it, but if anyone has any suggestions I’m all ears!


Things That Matter

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Having animals should teach you something about growing old. The closer Hazer gets to the edge of his life expectancy the more we’re just trying to have fun and make every minute count. It’s not that he doesn’t annoy me sometimes. He does. Make no mistake about that! But I’m trying to overlook the stuff that old age tends to exaggerate. Like his propensity to want to control things beyond his control, and his tendency to shriek at¬† every little thing. Even imaginary things.

It’s ironic that a dog who in all his long years never wanted affection or attention, now seeks it unashamedly. I used to think that would make parting company easier (when the time comes) and then he goes and has a change of heart toward me these last few months. Does he sense his time is growing short or did he just give up the fight to be a bastard to the bitter end? I’d like to think he had a change of heart, that all the years of trying to break through his tough exterior actually had an effect. Either way, I’m enjoying it. Soaking it up like a sponge. It’s nice to be able to touch your dog without him giving you the stink eye and moving away, or sneak in a snuggle and a kiss …. as long as I don’t linger very long.

Hazer, you’ve always had my heart, albeit from the other side of a glass wall. My only regret is that it took age and infirmity for you to break through the barrier. Here’s to making every last minute count.


Clara Barton

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I’ve spent the last week trying to get comfortable with the idea of letting go of my winter plans. Boarding a horse when you have a barn in your own back yard is a big step, and not one I take lightly. It required a good deal of planning and forethought to move my horse and that isn’t something I’d decide last minute to do. In fact, I didn’t board Dharla at all last winter; a decision I’m still not sure was right or wrong.

That said, I know when something isn’t working. I get an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach and I can’t stop thinking about things. Although I’m not prone to insomnia, if I’m bothered enough about something I’ll wake up during the night and spend several hours tossing and turning while my mind goes over every little detail. When the same symptoms start to creep up on me during the day I know I have to address things.

The last few weeks have been a little stressful. I’ve had multiple animals all my adult life so it’s not very often that I’m caught off guard. I expect “stuff” to crop up now and then. Illness. Hierarchy spats. Changes in routine. What I’m never prepared for are multiple issues at once. Like the sick dog who needs a month of medication, and the horse or another dog who decides to develop a medical issue at the same time. That throws me for a loop.

And when talking about medical things can I just say that I like my diagnoses cut and dry? For example, your dog (or horse) has X, Y, Z. Do _____ (fill in the bank) and it will get better. I like it even more if the Vet can tell me an approximate time frame for when the patient will start acting and feeling better. For those of you who don’t have animals (first of all, my deepest sympathies. Go out and fix that oversight right now!), it’s a little like having a sick infant. You fret. You worry. You wish for the millionth time they could tell you what’s wrong and say exactly how they feel. But they can’t, so it’s a guessing and waiting game. It sucks. If you’re anything like me, you start steeling yourself for “the worst.” I’m never quite sure what “the worst” is, so I run through a completely different scenario about every hour or so. And by default, I go into “evaluation” mode, which is to say that every time I look at said animal I run through a mental check list of potential problems. It’s exhausting.

I have one dog who just finished 30 days of medication for anaplasma. For the fifth year in a row. To be honest, we’re not sure if we’re treating a new infection or the remnants of an old one. But with a list of very serious (potential) issues when left untreated, who am I to argue? I’m not inclined to play Russian Roulette with my critters. She’s a great pill-taker and she¬† looked a bit perkier after a week or so of treatment. That’s not to say she seemed sick. She didn’t. We caught the high titer on an annual tick panel that I run on all my dogs because we live in tick Central.

The red dog is struggling with mobility. It came on quickly, which leads the vet to suspect it’s not arthritis or typical old age. (He’s a healthy 11) He’s trying an arthritis medication for a week to see if it makes any difference in his ability to get around. Day 3 and I see no change. He’s willing to run and play and do all things dog-like, but his body isn’t buyin’ it. Next line of exploration is nerve and disc testing. We already know he has spinal fusion in his lumbar region, so it’s possible there’s an increasing issue there. He seems to be pain-free and the biggest problem is keeping him from doing stuff that he really wants to do, but can’t. Think: seventy year-old who wants to play rugby. This is a dog who requires a lot of mental and physical stimulation or he gets obnoxious. He’s like the high drive puppy breeders¬† warn you about, but sometimes fail to mention will quite possibly stay that way … f o r¬† f r e a k i n g¬† e v e r! Yes, this is a challenge and depending upon what kind of day I’m having, it can become a night mare.

The horses are doing pretty well. One is a little leaner than I’d like, but we’re not sure why. It’s not worrisome enough to run any tests. Thankfully, this winter hasn’t been to hard … yet … so we made some feed adjustments and we’ll see if that helps.¬† We recently found out Rascal is 95% blind in one eye. That’s not exactly a health issue, but it’s¬† interesting information nonetheless. We also learned that Bullet has diminished vision in one eye and Dhalra has a an ocular anomalie in one eye. What is it with eyes here?

And Gus? Gus is wonderfully normal. No health problems. No temperament issues. No worries. Just pure, unadulterated fun and love! Being the only “normal” pet on the farm is a big load to carry, but Gus soldiers on like it’s no big deal. Gotta love that rattitude!

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Three Steps Back

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As per my previous post, Dharla was moved to a boarding barn in the beginning of November. Unfortunately, due to a crazy, mixed-up schedule, she had to come back home ten days later for various vet & chiro appointments. These were appointments that had been scheduled previously, but had to be postponed until November. Since I wasn’t about to pay two trip changes (Really? A second charge to drive 2.5 miles to a second location?), I decided to ride her home. Naturally, once the appointments were over the weather wouldn’t cooperate for me to ride her the half hour ride back, so we lost a little over a week of training. Not a great start.

To say we didn’t start off on the right foot would be an understatement. Oh, she settled in OK the first time there, but it’s been one headache after another since she went back. I won’t go into the details here, but it should suffice to say that basic people skills and an attempt to make sure the customer is (somewhat) happy should be the core of any successful business. And when it’s not? Shit happens.

Dharla will be coming home after we get our fully paid month of training and board. We have nine days to “make up” but I’m not even sure if we’ll stay long enough to fulfill that. (Since I’ll ride her home, our departure is weather dependent.) My unhappiness at the barn has nothing to do with my trainer and it pains me that circumstances beyond her control will force us to move on. It ain’t her fault, but I’m too old to waste another minute of my time or spend another dime at a barn where there are so many glaring issues.

It isn’t always easy for me to recognize when something isn’t working.¬† Since I hate the idea of conflict, I’ll do just about anything to avoid it. But age highlights the fact that time is precious. More than ever I feel like¬† I don’t have the luxury of just waiting to see if issues will work themselves out. Nor am I willing to put up with circumstances that, two decades ago probably wouldn’t have bothered me a bit. Comfort. Safety. Camaraderie. Those things are important to me now and if they’re lacking … I’m gone.


Changing Gears

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I’ve been riding a lot. When you stop to consider we’ve had 17 days over 90 since June, it’s nice to finally have some weather that doesn’t leave me sweating and bitching as I drag myself back inside the house. However, it’s rained only five times since April and the landscape is crunchy and dead or rapidly dying. It’s unlikely we’ll have a “pretty” New England fall. A couple of recent rides through the woods made me realize just how severe this drought has been. Not that I didn’t already know; I’ve been watering my own gardens with a frightening regularity that makes me question my sanity and praise the good fortunate of a deep well. They say rain is coming, but they’ve been saying that all summer. I’m not holding my breath.

My goals for the next few months are beginning to come together. I’ve started taking English lessons and in a few weeks I’ll move Dharla back to the boarding barn where we’ll both start working with my trainer again. We took last winter off and while that worked out fine, the heavy snowfall and bitter cold meant no riding. The entire winter. Ugh. So despite the fact that the Farmer’s Almanac is calling for another snowy and bitter cold winter, I think I’ve got a better chance of riding in an indoor arena than if I keep Dharla here at home. Or so I’d like to think. Cold weather tends to turn me into a weenie PDQ, so while it’s easy to say I’ll ride, only time will tell. On the up side, I happen to be one of those people who hates wasting money, so If I pay to keep my horse someplace where I can ride, odds are pretty good I’ll do it.

Riding English has been an adventure. It’s been about five years since I took a handful of English lessons and I’ve forgotten most of what I learned. For now it seems like there are as many pluses as there are minuses to starting from scratch with a new discipline, but that doesn’t surprise me. Nothing new comes easily at this age and stage. Not that I was looking for an easy out. I’m not. But after a year of very little ring work it’s been a bit of a shock. There are times when I worry that being limited to riding in an arena will bore me stiff, but then I remind myself that it’s only for a couple of months and ring work is better than not riding at all. Kinda. I’ll adapt. Besides, I can always trail ride Rascal at home. When I remember that I feel a little less limited. Thank goodness for Rascal!

I won’t move Dharla for maybe another month or so. I’m playing it week by week. If the bugs stay bad she’ll stay home, but if it cools down and the flies diminish then I’ll get her settled in. I’m not in any rush. And if this winter turns out to be too cold to even ride in the indoor then I’ll bring her back home. No point in paying to keep her somewhere if I can’t or don’t fully utilize the facility. I often day-dream about living in a place where riding 7-8 months out of the year is a reality. As much as I love the four seasons we’re lucky if we get 3 months of solid riding a year. I’m not getting any younger and I want as much time in the saddle as I can get.


Improvement

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I’d been taking pictures only a short while when I learned that getting a good photo of a horse isn’t as simple as just pointing the camera and pressing a button. And yes, I found that rather surprising. I’ve always operated under the belief that every horse is beautiful, but when I took up hobby photography I learned that like people, every horse can have their photographic challenges. Most will have a good side and a bad side, a nice profile and less than perfect profile and an array of other funky angles and issues that can show up in a photo. So even though overall you might have a lovely subject, you can still end up with a flashcard full of pictures that aren’t very flattering of the horse you’re trying to capture.

All of my horses are good examples of this. Bullet has a lovely, expressive face that, as long as he’s not sporting any current scrapes or dings, looks good in almost every shot. However, his body is another story. Bullet is built like a tank, so if you don’t capture his image from the right angle, he looks blocky. (He’s fit as a fiddle, but being quite muscular, he can look thick in some shots.) Dharla has a pretty face in person, but her Arabian nose can look odd if you aren’t careful how you capture her profile. And little Rascal has his own unique set of photographic challenges.

I wish I could say I’ve mastered the art of shooting horses, but I haven’t. (To the non-photography geek that statement must sound horrible!) The only way to improve is to spend more time studying horses carefully, and by taking lots of pictures of horses.


Keeping Our Cool

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(Hazer, age 10.8 yrs.)

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It’s hot here. So hot that my dogs aren’t even thinking about going outside. They lay around all day on the cool tile and hardwood floors and when I open the door to let them out, they just stand there looking at me like I’m nuts. I’m going to take my cue from them and stay inside the next couple of days. Oh, I still have to stagger out to water the gardens and take care of the horses, but there isn’t much I can do for the horses except feed and water them. The horses don’t like the heat any more than the dogs, but I can’t bring them inside to escape this inferno. I would if I could. I wonder if the same animal rights activists who think barns should be heated in the winter think they should be air conditioned in the summer? Don’t get me started ….


Beating Heat

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Up until yesterday it’s been a week or so of miserable hot and humid weather. Not much turnout in the big pasture since the bugs are the size of a small dog. But the weather broke yesterday and it’s supposed to last a few days before gradually sliding back to that awful soup we call summer. We had a nice ride after unloading the hay. Rascal managed to lose a shoe in a boggy spot so we’ll have to add that to the list of things that need to get done this weekend. It’s always somethin’ here!


Food for Thought

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 Happiness is sunshine, low humidity and 350 bales of hay in your barn by 10:30 AM!


Herds and Friends

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I can spend hours watching my horses interact with each other. Herd dynamics have always intrigued me. Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful my horses all get along. Oh, sometimes they have an occasional ear-pinning, foot-flying spat, but I don’t have a truly mean horse in the bunch. I have friends who’ve had to carve out individual paddocks and pens because of personality disputes, so I consider myself lucky that mine all get along.

As the hierarchy goes, Rascal rules the roost. Dharla runs a pretty close second, but while she tends to respect Rascal, she’s not against giving him her opinion every now and then. Generally speaking though, Dharla defers to Rascal’s wishes. Bullet is the bottom of the herd. He’s persistent and he can be a big pest, but he always caves to any serious pressure from either of the other two horses. Bullet is a foundation bred buckskin and he happens to be one of most easy-keeping horses I’ve ever known. He doesn’t require any fuss or fanfare. He’ll gladly stand out in any kind of weather and eat anything you give him. He’s not married to any kind of routine and doesn’t even want the creature comforts our other horses seem to enjoy. If it’s pouring rain and Rascal and Dharla hog the run-in, Bullet doesn’t care a whit. Snowing like crazy? Rascal and Dharla want their blankets, but Bullet rarely wears one. He’s just the most easy to please guy. Nothing bugs him and he never complains when he gets booted from hay pile to hay pile. If he can share someone’s hay that’s great, but if not, who cares? He’s a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. At times when there isn’t any food around you can usually find the two boys hanging out together and Dharla will be off to the side on her own. She doesn’t like to be crowded.

While none of my gang are herd-bound, they do like to keep track of each other, especially when they are all turned out in the larger pasture. To get them to come back to the barn I only need to call to Dharla and the boys will follow. They find safety and comfort in their little band, and that works just fine for me.


Appreciation

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There are few words in the equine language that strike fear into the heart of a horse owner like the word colic. I’ve been around horses since I was a young girl and yet I somehow managed to escape ever having experience a bout of colic. Shortly after our first Arab arrived at our farm I learned what colic was. There’s nothing to prepare you for the fear and panic; it’s like jumping into the deep end of a pool for the first time.

As the years wore on we learned that both our Arabs were prone to colic. Like the boy who cried “Wolf!” they would exhibit an assortment of symptoms, but nothing much beyond that would ever materialize. (With hindsight I can say that’s a good thing) It was clear they were in pain, but they were both very stoic. Sometimes Tia, the mare, would camp out a bit, stand there like a rocking-horse. Other times she’d alternate between standing up and laying down. She never pawed, broke a sweat or acted any less than her calm, composed self. Finale, our gelding, was very similar. He’d stretch out, then turn to look at first one side of his tummy, then the other.¬† Phone in hand and ready to call the vet, I’d pace from house to barn, watching them or stroking their flanks, fretting until the episode passed. It seldom took more than a few hours for their pain to dissipate and they’d be back to normal. I’d sigh a sigh of relief, but it would take hours for my jangled nerves to settle. The last few years of their life these episodes of colic became so frequent, I rarely called the vet. We’d been over the symptoms and options a thousand times already. We kept some pain medication on hand, but we rarely needed to use it.

Ultimately, we lost both horses to colic. I still try to rationalize our loss by reminding myself that they were in their late 20’s, but try as I might, I can’t forget the underlying cause of their death was colic. Tia had starting having such frequent bouts of tummy pain that with winter closing in, I decided to take the path of least resistance. On a beautiful sunny day in early January I gently let her go. Three days later we were buried under three feet of snow. The next fall Finale suffered a sudden, horrific bout of acute colic, and we had no other choice but to let him go too. It was like having lightening strike the same place twice. Finale’s death haunted me for months. I’d never witnessed such a brutal, devastating demise.¬† We had complications getting a vet to come and my husband was ninety minutes away on a riding vacation. Finale hung on until my husband got home, but I suffered with traumatic nightmares for weeks. Finale’s frantic, final hours are forever etched in my memory.

It goes without saying that early this spring I was less than pleased to find Dharla showing some of the classic symptoms of colic. I’d gone out to the barn late that morning and was ready to tack up Rascal when I discovered Dharla in what appeared to be mild discomfort. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if something is wrong, but if you’re really in tune with your animals you get a sixth sense. I could feel Dharla’s tension. She wasn’t obvious about her pain, but there were almost imperceptible clues. She paced a bit and she looked unsettled. Normally, Dharla has a very calm, grounded demeanor. I brought Rascal inside and watched Dharla as I groomed him. She didn’t seem too “off” so I decided to do a very short ride down in the arena. Biased though it may seem, when a mare shows restlessness I tend to be less alarmed, as that can sometimes accompany her monthly estrous. And that is often the case in early spring, when a mare’s first few cycles can be the strongest.

Dharla was still pacing a little when Rascal and I left for the ring. We proceeded to do a few patterns, but my mind wasn’t in the game. I was more worried about the “what ifs” going on at the barn than I wanted to admit. I spent about thirty minutes trying to carve something useful out of our time, but I couldn’t focus. After looking at my watch for the third or forth time, we headed back to the barn. The minute we crested the hill I could see that Dharla was down. Not laying down like she might if she was taking a sun bath, but she was stretched out flat in the dirt. This didn’t bode well at all. Dharla never lays down. Ever. Well, certainly not like that. I’ve maybe caught her laying down all of three times in the four years I’ve had her, so this was definitely a red flag. I stripped the tack off Rascal, turned him loose and grabbed Dharla’s halter. I got Dharla up, slipped her halter on and started checking her vitals. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t awful either, but she clearly wasn’t OK. I started walking her around the hilly paddock and she followed willingly, yet every time we stopped she wanted to lie down.

It happened that just about then I saw a friend’s truck amble down the road that runs parallel to our farm. His window was open and he waved, to which I frantically responded by waving back and shouting “Stop! Please stop!” Kyle hit the brakes and asked if everything was OK? I quickly explained that my horse was ill and I needed to get to the phone. Problem was, I couldn’t leave her to go to the house … would he come walk her while I ran inside to call the vet? He quickly backed up the road. I tossed Kyle the lead rope and bolted for the house. It was one of those times when you wish everything would go smoothly, but it didn’t. Again, I had trouble finding a local vet who could come. The practice we normally use didn’t have a vet on call until after 6 PM and it was only 3:00. I’d never heard of this happening before, but I didn’t have time to argue or plea my case, I simply asked the receptionist if she knew of anyone else I could call. She gave me one or two names and I quickly hung up and started dialing.

I finally reached a vet who not only lived nearby, but was available to come. My luck, I just happened to catch her at a quiet time. (Later, after the crisis she told me she doesn’t always take emergency calls from new clients, but she could hear the panic in my voice and decided she needed to come.) She pulled into my farm in what felt like an eternity, but only about twenty minutes had elapsed. I can’t begin to describe the feeling of relief I had at that moment, but that was only a minor reprieve until the next round of panic hit. We still had to figure out what was going on, how serious it was and how we would proceed. Let me just say that this is not how I want to meet a new vet. I’m stressed, my horse is in pain and I was hoping my husband would soon arrive¬†in case we had to make any difficult decisions. That fearful,¬† un-askable question was pounding in my head: Was I going to lose my horse?

The vet was fantastic. Kind, compassionate and a great communicator, she set about doing her best to make my horse comfortable. My husband pulled in just ten minutes behind her, so he was able to give the vet a hand. Despite her pain, Dharla was ever the lady. She stood quietly while vitals were taken and a shot of pain medication was administered. In minutes Dharla’s relief was obvious, which gave the vet an opportunity to do a more thorough exam. She had little trouble locating an intestinal blockage and we immediately started discussing all our options. As colic typically goes, there were few. We would do an oil lavage and hope it would move the blockage. Either it would budge or it wouldn’t. If the blockage passed my horse still might re-block for a myriad of reasons, none of which we might ever know for sure. There’s no way of knowing the cause of colic until an autopsy is done and there’s no way to know if the cure will work. No matter what we did there was no guarantee she was going to be OK, and if so, we wouldn’t know that for awhile. Awhile being at least 24-48 hours. Waiting. It’s always the hardest part.

We did the lavage and Dharla had a good night. I made several trips out to the barn to check on her and aside from being hungry and wanting to go out, Dharla was fine. The boys both hung their heads over Dharla’s stall door, keeping her company. The vet touched base with me later that evening and again first thing in the morning. Since Dharla was doing well, we were able to start her on a small amount of hay.¬† I monitored Dharla’s intake and output over the course of several hours and everything seemed to be doing much better. By the 48- hour mark I should have sighed a sigh of relief, but I still found myself anxious and worried. We were told we could take Dharla off stall rest by dinnertime the next day and while we knew we’d be watching her closely, she did seem fully recovered.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Recovered, that is. I had nightmares about losing Dharla. I had several dreams about Finale’s death again. I mourned over the loss of Tia. It seemed like this one brief episode brought back all the grief and horror from our past episodes with colic. It took a few weeks, but I eventually got over the hump. Riding Dharla again helped make her recovery seem more real, but there are times when I know I’m still looking at her with a clinical eye. Is she acting like herself? Is she eating with her normal enthusiasm? And God forbid if I ever see her laying down. I’ll probably have a full-blown panic attack!

They say you don’t appreciate something until you lose it, but I beg to differ. We came close. Too close to losing Dharla.¬† I appreciate every single day she’s here.


What Is Home?

untitled-0136(Rascal, at home)

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Stable Relation: A memoir of one woman’s spirited journey home, by way of the barn

By

Anna Blake

When friends ask me why I like to read memoirs I usually say it’s because I’m the curious sort. Perhaps that’s just another way of saying I’m nosy, but there you have it. I like to read about how other people have navigated the challenges they’ve met in life. Because we all have them, you know. Some memoirs do a great job of telling you about everything that went right or wrong, but fail to really explore the nuts and bolts of the journey. That’s not a criticism; everyone tells their story their own way and for different reasons. But I happen to be most fond of the memoirs that tackle the grittier stuff. The stuff that makes you have to put the book down and really chew on the words for a bit.

Stable Relation is that kind of memoir. A perfect blend of tongue-in-cheek humor, confessional and a heaping dash of salt-of-the-earth common sense. This book not only challenges how you think and feel, but encourages you to become more present and aware of your path in life. Yes, there were several Kleenex moments for me. Actually, I lost count, but I’m a woman of a certain age and I’ve earned the right to lean more toward the sentimental side now. And no, I’m not ashamed. You won’t be either. It’s OK.

This memoir is about Cattle Dogs, Dobies, mutts, ducks, horses, llamas and goats. There are blizzards, bad memories, blistering sun and batty first dates, as well as the occasional flashback about dysfunctional family, distant relatives and old friends. Anna makes it pretty clear from the start that her birthright was an early life chock full of crap and crisis. By the time she hit midlife she was at a crossroad. She wanted to exorcise the crazy and decided to use a career dilemma as her turning point. With little more than burning passion, determination and an abundance of elbow grease, Anna begins to carve out a place of her own on the prairie.

As the story unfolds, Anna talks about becoming temporarily attached to the various assortment of birds and critters that share the daily routine at her farm. I can relate. The first Spring on my farm we were visited nightly by a methodical, comedic female raccoon who not only stopped by to see what we might have to offer, but for several years thereafter brought her entire family along for the ride! (We called her Sport) And I still search the trees by the pond where I once photographed a one-eyed hawk. I have no reason to believe she might still be around, except that I’d like to think she is. Anna writes about her awe for the creatures and the unique environment she shares with them, in spite of life’s ups, downs and (often times) harsh lessons. Anyone who grew up on a farm knows that as beautiful as farm life can be, an unforgiving and harsh reality is always lurking in the shadows. Survival depends on balancing what is perfect and good with the fear of what that can morph into in the blink of an eye. Mention the word colic around any horse person and you’ll see what I mean.

Anna shares several experiences that helped her find the strength to push past a miserable start in life and mature into a woman who, above all, values and models grace, kindness and generosity of heart and spirit. What makes this book so special is the hilarious cast of characters who mentor Anna on this journey and help her build a new trust in the healing balm of love. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be humbled by the author’s unfiltered adoration and devotion for her charges and impressed by her intuitive, gentle approach. These gifts seem especially unique given how little love or compassion she was shown as a child. How does one learn to use these tools if they’ve never been taught? Anna shows you how. And if she can do it, so can you.

I started out reading this memoir slowly. I wanted to savor every chapter. But as the story continued I no longer had to force myself to slow down rather, I NEEDED to read islowly.

This book is not just good.

It’s not just a winner.

It’s profound.

And if Stable Relation is any indication of what we might be hearing from Anna in the future, I can’t wait for more!


Aftermath

IMG_1510(Can’t quite make it to my bed!)

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After a long tense day at the vet, Hazer is back to “normal” this morning. I picked him up at almost four PM and although he seemed fairly alert, he wasn’t at all his usual self. I helped his wobbly butt into my car, where he wined the whole fifteen minute drive home. (Hazer is typically not a whiny dog!) Seconds after walking in the door he puddled up just feet away from his bed and fell asleep. An hour or two later he woke up long enough to eat a small meal, then slept through our dinner and into the evening. When Hazer was awake he was whiny and defensive toward the other two dogs, who were kept well out of his reach and behind gates. I sensed Hazer’s fear and trepidation about being so incapacitated and I did everything I could to alleviate his concern. I expected this and had a solid plan in place before he came home. Actually, the only thing that did surprise me was how long the effects of the anesthesia seemed to last. In all fairness, the only other time Hazer has ever had surgery he was a much younger dog, so I suspect his age might have had something to do with his response. This really drove home my belief that the less I mess with Hazer the better, and while I don’t regret my decision to have his teeth done, I’m glad I didn’t put it off any longer.

At nine thirty Hazer went out for last call, then directly to my bedroom to his bed. At that point he was slightly more mentally alert, but I could see he still didn’t have a good grip on things. He was, however, willing to tolerate sharing the bedroom with Nina. I suspect this was because Nina isn’t one to make a fuss over much. She gave Hazer a quick curious sniff, then moseyed over to her own bed and hit the hay. I love Nina’s matter-of-fact, non-threatening demeanor. I was pleased that she did as exactly as I thought and acted as though nothing was amiss. Hazer quickly zonked out and didn’t stir all night. This morning he’s fit as a fiddle and right back into our regular routine, none the worse for wear.

And his teeth? They look fabulous!