Sunday, October 4, 2020

Ryder 01/01/11 - 10/04/20


Our beloved german shepherd dog Ryder, died suddenly from what we think was likely cardiac arrest; doing what he loved most – following the quad. Thankfully it was quick and painless and Gord and I were both with him as he drew his last breath. Although Ryder was my 50th birthday present, he and Gord developed an extra special bond which gave him special privileges our previous dogs had never enjoyed. Ryder was the first dog to live in the house but more than that, he even had his own sofa to sleep on. 

Ryder loved going for truck rides and Gord took him nearly everywhere he went. It seemed Ryder could tell if Gord had errands to run and would follow Gord around the house to ensure he wouldn't get left behind. Even when they returned home, Ryder would stay in the back seat of the truck as long as Gord would let him. And when Gord would ride Magic, Ryder rarely left Magic's heals.

Being the designated scooper of poop, I was delighted to discover early on that Ryder would not do his business on manicured lawns. In the nearly 10 years of having him with us, I could count on one hand how often I had to pick up poop because he always went out to the hay field, or horse pastures.

We have always adopted older dogs so we can better evaluate their temperaments. At 5 months old, Ryder was younger than we wanted, but we knew he was the right dog for us. We love GSD’s but we want friendly, calm dogs that we don’t have to worry about when we have visiting kids and pets. Ryder was so sweet, he wouldn’t hurt a mouse as proven when Gord presented him with a live mouse. Even when the mouse latched on to Ryder’s nose in self-defense, he refused to harm it – much to Gord’s chagrin. He was also very respectful around our kitties and although he would chase them on occasion, we knew and they knew it was a game and he wouldn’t harm them.

Ryder was plagued with itchy skin and hot spots - and we always wondered if it was because he was an indoor dog. Gord spent many hours searching for something to relieve his irritated skin and tried countless remedies to offer him relief. The last couple of years, a completely raw diet combined with Apoquel gave him the most relief and restored his beautiful coat.

As all dog lovers know, they leave a heartbreaking hole when they’re gone but the pain of losing them is offset by the many years of joy a great dog brings to our lives.

You were a great dog!
Tovie & Gord


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Perfectly Happy!

Navar's training continues to progress and while he is not "perfect" I have a reliable horse I am comfortable taking anywhere. This summer while encouraging him to go through a deep mucky pond, I was met with a lot of resistance. One gal who was riding with us, stated I was being too soft on him and to just give him one good wack. I am not adverse to "going to the bite" when my horse is not respecting my personal space but I have never found it beneficial to force a horse onto or into an obstacle or situation they are truly worried about. For one thing, I don't want my horse to rush over or through an obstacle or situation out of fear but would rather they think their way through it, as it makes things safer for both of us. I also believe this approach increases my horse's confidence in himself and me. Nevertheless, I didn't think Navar should be so resistant about going into the pond so I foolishly took her advice and gave him one good smack on the bum with the end of my rein. He nearly threw me off and could have injured himself in the process because he was deep into the mud at the time.

Thankfully nothing bad happened and I went about "helping" him through the pond by dismounting and sending him through a few times on his own. Going through the pond has not been a problem since.

Why I listened to that other supposedly "experienced" horse person is beyond me. This woman clearly dominated her obviously unhappy horse; and he didn't do all the obstacles perfectly either. This incident gave me pause and made me really think about what kind of experience I want to have with my horse. I am playing with horses for fun, not out of necessity. If it takes us a bit longer to accomplish something; staying safe and maintaining a trusting relationship with my horse is well worth it.

I came away from that seemly inconsequential incident thinking, "Navar may not be perfectly trained, but we are perfectly happy and having fun together"!

Tovie and Navar

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Graceful Healing

I met Ellen Equable several years ago on a flight from Calgary to Toronto. We were seated across the aisle from each other and while I don't remember how we started chatting - chat we did for the entire flight. Since that chance encounter, Ellen has helped us sort out a couple of critter issues by helping our cats, Buster and Mojo, find their way to get along. Then there was the "chat" she had with Magic, only to discover he had a fear of cougars. When he was tied too short and couldn't turn his head to see behind him, he would panic and pull back violently. Since then we now ground tie him or tie him longer and he has not pulled back since then.

Ellen contacted me a couple of months ago to ask if I would host a healing session, with our horses, for folks wanting help to neutralize negative energy in their lives. In June we set up the first session in our outdoor arena using barrels to create a safe zone for folks. The idea was that we would seat ourselves in a circle and the horses would be turned lose in the arena to do as they pleased. The first astounding thing that happened when Ellen sat down was that Magic came straight over to her and seemingly hugged her with his head and neck - a truly touching moment.

The other participants had little to no experience with horses so it was remarkable to see how the horses responded to them. A couple of the horses laid down and allowed complete strangers to approach them. My friend's horse Magnum is a bit of loaner and during one participant's session, he walked over to her and calmly stood beside her the entire time. I asked Ellen to help me clear the shame and grief I was still carrying since Dexter's death so I could allow myself to better connect with Navar. Surprisingly, Navar laid down during my entire session and leaned his body against my lower legs as if grounding me. The other participants stated that not one horse moved a hair until my session was over.

Navar was a horse I bought as a yearling because of his beautiful colour. It was shortly after acquiring Navar that Dexter came into my life and stole my heart. While Navar was loved and well cared for, I just couldn't seem to feel a bond for him. He has always been willing enough and is a sweet, sensible horse but I wanted to develop more of a connection with him. After my healing session with Ellen, I immediately started to notice small changes in my interactions with Navar. He has never been hard to catch but has also not offered to come meet me in the field. Two days after Ellen's visit, he came in from the field to greet me as I came through the gate. In the past, when I was leading him, he would balk and have to be encouraged to come with me. He has not balked once since my healing session. And our rides together have gone from OK to wonderful. We are doing things together with a mutual trust and respect I have experienced with other horses but didn't think it possible with Navar.

In July we conducted another session that was again, truly remarkable. This time I participated as an observer only. It was amazing to witness how different horses responded to different people. The horses are at liberty (free to come and go as they please) and yet they chose to encircle our group. During individual healing sessions, one horse would see their way to stand next to the participant, as tho a sentinel for that person. Magnum, Jack, Magic and Fonzi each chose to be with a particular person during their healing session. Very cool for me was that I felt Navar close to me most of the day, thereby solidifying my bond with him.

Thank you Ellen for your dedication and enthusiasm to help folks find their inner peace.

Tovie, Navar and the rest of the Boys!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Fonzi and Uli Moving On

Our goal is to keep our herd to 6 to ensure every horse can access shelter space when need be. We also pick up poop daily so each horse creates a lot of work. When my dear friend Uli bought Fonzi, I offered to let him (and Uli) stay until another potential project horse came my way. Well, I had an opportunity in the Summer of 2018 and so it was time for Fonzi to move. Uli took him to the boarding facility where her sister’s and husband’s horses reside at Sandstone Coulee. We knew it would be a tougher environment for Uli and Fonzi because it was a mixed pasture of mares and geldings whereas our place is a gelding only zone.

Uli asked if I would review her daily progress reports and offer feedback (i.e. “yes, that was good” or “no, that was stupid”, or “try this instead”). Uli’s comments were so funny and sincere, I simply had to share a  condensed version of her daily reports. Uli is German so if you don’t understand a word, it is more than likely a “bad” word in German. I know this is long but it is an honest depiction of the ups and downs of a dedicated horse person's life in a less than ideal environment.

Sandstone Coulee – Day 1
Got out there at 6 a.m. and saw 3 big elk run across the field, shrouded in a little bit of mist rising from the creek while the sun just came up over the hill….. good start to the day!!

Fonzi sneakily made his way a little closer to the girls while still keeping poor Cayuse away from them. Little bugger! The mares still give Fonzi the evil eye when he gets too close. Bitches!! Fortunately he only has a few more bite marks but nothing serious, just missing hide.

Walked into the field and Fonzi came trotting up to me. SO AWESOME!!! Then a mare came from behind, shot right past me and drove him away. I hit her with the end of my rope.  Sorry, mare. Don’t mess with my boy when I’m around!

Put the halter on Fonzi and started some groundwork, which caused the rest of the herd to leave toward the end of the field. This made Fonzi very agitated and unfocused, so I followed them until we were close enough that he wasn’t so stressed any more, and then started groundwork again. Initially he was still very focused on the mares and not paying attention, but after a while he relaxed and focused more on me. After half an hour he was licking and chewing, and only occasionally glanced at the herd. I walked back and forth with him and gradually a bit further away, and at first he was pushing into my space, thinking he could push me more toward the herd, but I kept wiggling him back and finally he was quite relaxed and respectful, and changed direction with me on a loose rein every time I turned. Then I asked him to back up and he lowered his head and backed up very softly….  HALLELUJAH!!! That was a good time to stop, I thought. 

Sandstone Coulee – Day 2
Is it ever smoky out there today!! I could feel it in my lungs when I went out this morning, so today we only practiced calm walking while keeping space between him and me, and walking in circles with the stick on his back, also making sure he does not push into my space. It went well, but I have a couple of questions for you:

When we start groundwork, he is very focused on the mares. After a while, he starts to relax and focus on me, but he will still look over to the mares frequently. When he does that, I’ve been giving him a tug on the rope to bring his head back to me, and he refocuses for a while until he looks over again. Is a tug sufficient, or should I give him a really good yank, or just start moving his feet right away every time he looks over, with more pressure? Just wondering what would tell him in the most clear way that looking over to the mares is undesirable? Or should I not worry about it at this point since he does pay attention to me again as soon as I ask him to do something else?

Also, I’ve been doing the groundwork a little bit away from the herd, thinking that gradually I should be able to move further and further away with it. Then the principle of making the space where he wants to be uncomfortable, and making the space where he does not want to be a resting place occurred to me. Should I do the groundwork closer to the herd and then move him away to let him relax? Or would it not matter to do the groundwork closer to the herd in an attempt to make it an “uncomfortable” space, since he will just go back there anyways once I am gone?

Looking forward to your thoughts!
And try not to breathe outdoors today…. Haha!

Sandstone Coulee – Day 3
Uli:  Yay, the horses are all by the shelter, I don’t need to walk all the way to the end of the field! 
Good morning, everyone!  Hi Fonzi!  What a good boy!  Nice job lowering the head for me to tie the halter…. Hey, where are you girls going?  You can stay right here…..  damn, they are heading to the end of the field.  Guess I’ll be walking anyways.  Oh well.

Fonzi: Ah, here comes the woman that brings me treats.  I’ll go check her out.  Oh good, she’s got the apple treats again.  I’ll let her put the halter on.  Wait, the girls are leaving.  No, girls, stay here!  It’s all good here.  She’ll only make me work, not you…..  Damn, they are heading to the end of the field.  I want to follow them and keep an eye on them so that casanova Cayuse doesn’t flirt with anyone in my absence.  Oh good, we’re heading that way, let’s go!

Uli: Fonzi, don’t push into my space.  We can follow these horses calmly.
I said calmly.  Back.  (rope wiggling)
Back!  (more energetic rope wiggling)
Sorry, had to do that, I really mean it.

Fonzi: Let’s walk faster, mom, I can see Cayuse ogling the roan!
Okay, not faster.

Uli: Okay, bud, here we are, let’s do a bit of groundwork right here by the mares.  Oh nice, you’re all relaxed, let’s walk away for a bit.  You’re starting to do the C pattern all by yourself… okay then, we can do that as we walk.  Send you to the left, take the hip and send you to the right….
Damn, the end of the lead rope got all tangled around my leg, one second….
Okay, carry on, send you to the right….
Tangled again, shit. One second….
Take the hip, send you to the left….
Oh no, now I’ve got the end of the stick rope wrapped around the lead rope wrapped around my leg….  one second, Fonzi…
What’s going on here, there’s a knot, how did that get in there…..  okay, got it, on we go….
For f…..’s sake, I am totally wrapped up in all these ropes and strings, why am I so clumsy with my equipment this morning…

Fonzi: Hahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaa…….

Sandstone Coulee – Day 4
TGIF! This morning went very well!!! The horses were hanging out by the shelter as they usually do when I get there, so I went out and got Fonzi, who much to my delight still comes walking up to me now – he hardly ever did that at your place. Wonder what changed that, I’m still the one making him work…  insecurity about the new place? Not as many humans around during the day? Or maybe he actually likes me? Could it be love?😊  I do suspect it’s because Cayuse and Mistral always come to me for treats and he doesn’t want to miss out. But whatever it is, it’s nice! 

Once I started doing groundwork with him, the herd left for the far end of the field as usual, but this time I decided to just keep working with Fonzi by the shelter. There is a patch of dirt in front of the shelter so I can actually move his feet. The grass is wet in the morning so if I work with him in the field, he slips on the grass quite a bit, but right in front of the shelter is good. He was very unfocused at first because the herd went to the far end where he could barely see them anymore, but after 30 minutes of foot-hustling he was quite relaxed and only cast glances toward the far end before he would focus on me again. I did feel like his sweet spot today! Maybe I’ll go out again after work and this time take him all the way to the round pen.

I feel like I have to “up my game” so I can start riding him again. I very much miss my arena mornings…. 

Sandstone Coulee – Day 5-6
It is two days later, but I really wanted to recap my experience with you and Fonzi on Days 5 and 6 as these were big milestone days for me, and I think putting things in writing will help me remember, too. Although Fonzi and I did make some progress over the past week, I still felt that something was missing, that he didn’t fully trust me or feel safe with me away from the herd, that I couldn’t find the right way to communicate with him, and I wasn’t very confident about being able to improve things. But on Day 5, after spending a couple of hours with you everything shifted back onto the right track again! 

As soon as you saw me start the groundwork, you realized I was putting too much pressure on Fonzi. This was me thinking that I had to move his feet with energy and determination to be recognized as his leader, while Fonzi is such a sensitive horse and so respectful that all it takes a slight turn and shift of my body. As soon as you demonstrated this in your calm, relaxed way, he relaxed, and after just a little bit of quiet groundwork he was so willing to walk away from the rest of the herd, it was amazing. It was so nice to take him up to the round pen and he only whinnied once for the herd. I also loved how he stuck with us when we took him off the lead rope to practice the walking C-turns with you being my horse, us wanting Fonzi to move away and he wanted to stay right there with us. It was great to see how you went about the trailer loading so calmly and only escalated the pressure a little bit when he started to escalate, which brought him right back down - that was a great lesson. Thank you so much for an awesome afternoon, for making it so much fun, for your patience when I am overthinking things or get tangled in my equipment, and for pointing out that the technique doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s the goal that I need to focus on.

Fast forward to Sunday morning, Day 6. Putting what I learned yesterday to the test! And man, did it ever work! I started out by the shelter like we did yesterday, calmly moved his front end and his hips with very little pressure, then walked up to the waterer and when he passed me I wiggled him back or sent him over and moved his hip to get him back in the right position. Cayuse and one of the mares came with us, but even with them walking around us, we calmly did our little walking exercises and then left through the gate to go up to the round pen…. no problem! I wanted to yodel I was so happy! He only whinnied once in the round pen but otherwise was really focused and connected, so we headed over to the trailer. A bit more heavy breathing and curious looking around on the way there, but no serious attempt to pass me, yay! And the trailer was very fun, he was quite willing to go in, and after going in and backing him out a few times I tried to extend the time we stayed in. After about 10 minutes or so he was very relaxed in there, I moved his hips all the way over to the wall and we had an apple. When he seemed really comfortable I called it a day and let him graze a bit, then took him back to the pasture. Since he walked so calmly I thought I’d go a little further so we walked past the gate and past all the other horses in the field, just being happy to walk with each other. That was a true sweet spot moment!! I turned around halfway down the field because I wanted it to be a nice experience all the way through, and on the way back to the gate we walked really slow, then fast, then stopped, walked fast and so on, it was very fun. I had such a fabulous afternoon just doing these small things with him, but doing them well and in tune with him, and everything felt calm and soft.  

So that’s my progress report for Day 6!  It was awesome, thank you so much for spending the time with me on Saturday and getting me straightened out again…. I get a little confused at times without my periodical Tovie fix.

To be continued……

Sandstone Coulee – Day 7
Morning mist was hovering silently over the wet field and tiny tendrils of steam rose from the horses’ backs as they stood in the cover of the shelter looking out at the gentle rain. A tender-eyed deer with a fawn still in his spotted coat slowly walked down the hill and crossed the pasture, pausing here and there to nibble at some tender shoots of grass. There were no sounds, other than the dripping of the rain and an owl hooting wistfully in the distance. An otherworldly peace had descended over the coulee and it felt as if the world was holding its breath for a brief moment in time….
I woke up around 4:30 and it was raining beautifully in Okotoks, so I changed my alarm clock from 5:15 to 6:15 and went back to bed. 
The end.

Hee hee….

I will go out tonight instead and hook up the trailer again and practice more trailer loading. I guess my next task will be to close the divider once he is in comfortably, but it’s a bit tricky because if it is not tied with the bungee cord, it will fall closed on its own, so I have to kind of hold it open while I load him and then close it. Picture me, leading Fonzi in with my left hand, driving him with my right, and holding the divider with my left foot while balancing on the other. I think that’s a yoga pose…..  the “hovering duck” or something? If you have nothing better to do, you are of course always most welcome to join me for an evening of horse play in the coulee….   😊  I know you’ve got plenty to do, just thought I’d mention it…..    

I want to take Fonzi on a walk along the other side of the creek where we ride, and one of these days I’ll saddle him up and see how he does trying to ride out, but it would be way nicer to ride with someone who has patience and lets me work through any issues we may face, rather than riding the first time with an impatient man.

Sandstone Coulee – Day 8
As you probably tell from my ecstatic phone message, I had an awesome session with Fonzi in the morning. It made such a huge, huge difference going about things quietly and softly right from the beginning. He was such a Rockstar, and such a joy to play with. And when we walked past the other horses along the gravel road, he was so calm and quiet, it made me cry again…..   what would I ever do without you!!  Can I write a post for your website or for your blog?  I just want people to know how awesome you are and what a tremendous difference you can make in someone’s relationship with their horse. The world needs more Tovie!

Sandstone Coulee – Day 9
Houston, we have a problem!
Fonzi is in love!
And it’s not me that he is in love with!
Good morning, by the way!  😊 

So, yesterday evening I went out to the coulee right after work, but I made a big mistake. Two mistakes.  First, Chris very kindly offered to wait for me so we could have a more relaxed dinner when I got back. While it was very sweet of him, it also made me feel rushed, which was not good. Second mistake:  I focused too much on one thing, the trailer loading, rather than helping Fonzi become calm and focused first.

Okay, so here is me, wanting to get things done. I have a limited amount of time because a hungry husband is waiting. Should have told him to eat without me, but how can I do that when he wants to spend time with me…..  argh!! Dilemma!!! Anyway, when I get to the coulee I see that Fonzi meanwhile has fallen in love with the little mare. Ignorante Schlampe!!! The grouping is now:  Mistral and two mares, Fonzi and one mare, and poor Cayuse by himself. Fortunately Fonzi still comes up to me when I come with the halter. Yay! See that, Schlampe??!! So we started doing our little exercises with very little pressure, and that went well, but every time I tried to walk toward the water trough and away from the herd, he would start trotting ahead and around me rather than walking calmly, and looking back at his girlfriend. So I wiggled him back or did the C pattern, but his attention kept drifting away and he would stop and look back at the mare. Then we did our exercises by the water trough, nice and calm, me trying to not pull on his head, to keep a loose rein, and to just focus on the walking. He did settle down a bit more but not as nicely as he did on Saturday and Sunday. I decided to skip the round pen and head to the trailer. Probably mistake number three, ey? I was able to load him in and out, and he would stand calmly in the trailer for a few seconds, but every time I lifted my hand to try and wrap the lead rope, he started backing out. I could ask him to come forward again before he stepped all the way out, but I was not able to get him to stand for me to wrap the rope. And of course every time he backed out of the trailer, he would turn right away and look back toward the field.  

Same thing this morning. He came up to me quite happily, yay, (see that, Schlampe??!!),  but as soon as we started to leave his girlfriend, he would get very worried about her.  I spent my time out there just walking in the field, trying to get him to walk calmly with me away from the herd.  Didn’t make much progress…… big sigh! Feel like after our awesome weekend we took a step back last night and this morning.

Okay, so my thoughts are:

a)      I didn’t have enough time to work with him. If I had spent more time, I might have been able to get him to worry less about being away from the Schlampe.b)      I was too focused on one goal – the trailer loading – when I should have decided that we have to accomplish calm walking first, and if we have time we could have worked on the trailer but if not, not to worry about it.c)      Should I have put more pressure on him to try and achieve better relaxation and focus?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Sandstone Coulee – Day 10
Well, at least I recognize what the problem was. I have to become better at being present with Fonzi. I tried to, but I think I was once more too focused on the goal than on the horse. It is a bit hard, knowing what we had accomplished at your place and now starting almost from scratch again. And of course wanting to be able to load him into the trailer nicely and calmly on Friday evening does add pressure. I feel like I should make more progress. But if I just let go of my lofty goals and focus on the basics, we’ll get there again. I have to stop thinking “I know you can do this, Fonzi, we’ve done it in the past” and think instead “where are you at, buddy, at this moment in time, are you with me”, and if not, try different strategies to get him there. 

I won’t be able to play with him at all tomorrow. It will be a tough day…..   😊

Sandstone Coulee – Day 12
Fonzi here…. my mom said she’s too busy this morning to write a report so I get to do it. I didn’t see her yesterday cuz she had a very busy day and today she is pretty tired but it was nice that she came out to play with me anyways. My buddies and I were all by the water because we were locked up overnight, so at least she didn’t have far to walk. And I did come up to her right away when she showed up, which made her very happy. I always forget she puts the halter on and makes me do stuff…… But she also said it was good because my girlfriend is in heat. I’m not sure what that means or what’s going on but my girlfriend puts her tail up in the air and turns her butt to me and acts really weird. I think she wants me to do something but I can’t remember what that was. Women – so confusing!

So my buddies all went down the hill toward the gate and I couldn’t see them anymore, but that was okay. My mom was very calm and purposeful this morning, so I decided it was fine to hang out with her. I think she was just tired. We walked around by the waterer for a while and she asked me to back up and move my feet, and I only got a little bit distracted. Once in a while I tried to pass her but she wiggled me back quite firmly so I gave up on that. And I did not whinny once! Then we got startled because Phil showed up.  He must have heard my mom’s car and wanted to check what was going on. He said he thought it was just us but wanted to make sure because they had some tools stolen. My mom told me later that she was quite embarrassed because she doesn’t wash her face or comb her hair in the morning when she comes to see me, cause it’s just us and she gets clean in the office, so she said she probably looked like shit. I don’t think she did, I mean, she’s not brown or anything, although her hair looked a bit like a bird’s nest……   Anyways, it was nice doing things with her, and then she took me on a walk out the gate and past all the trailers down the gravel road, which I really liked. It was nice to have an adventure and I forgot all about the other horses. Then I tried to eat some grass because I hadn’t had breakfast yet and she got after me. Then we walked back and she put me back in with my buddies and gave me an apple, and then she let us all run out into the field.  It was a very good morning. 


Dear Fonzi,
I am very happy you made things easy for your mom this morning. She has been getting a bit worried that you will end up liking that slutty mare more than her – especially after all the work she has done to earn your trust and your respect. Very glad to hear you don’t remember what to do when that slut winks her hiney at you. Me and The Boys are super excited to see you tomorrow. Hopefully you will be a good boy and load nicely into the trailer because I have a lot to do to get everything ready for the clinic Saturday morning. However, if you find her loading skills suck, tell her to give me a call and I’ll pop over and help you get in the trailer. Perhaps it will be easier for you to know that Mistral or Cayuse are coming with you and that you will get to visit with your old buddies.

Anyway, dear boy, stop teasing that poor mare because we both know how much you love your mom.

Auntie Tovie

Sandstone Coulee – Day 15
What a nice change to have a smoke-free morning!! It also helped to get a bit more light in the morning as the days are getting shorter and it’s now a bit gloomy out there at 6 am….  I think my coulee mornings are going to come to an end soon, unless I bring a big head lamp!

The horses were all at the far end of the field this morning, the little buggers. I walked out there with the very unrealistic hope that Fonzi would come running up to me as soon as he saw me, whinnying and wanting to hang out with me….. alas…. I have not surpassed the Ignorant Slut in the order of friends yet. Hmmm. Reality check. Can’t really expect him to give up grazing and hanging out with the herd that willingly for someone who wants to take him away from his buddies after just one weekend of heavy-duty bonding. Okay, more work is needed. I do feel, however, that maybe I understand him better and that we are connecting better, I just have to figure out how to convince him that he is okay coming with me and leaving the herd. So, we just worked out in the field by the other horses. I wanted him to follow without passing me, walking in circles. He was very good going toward the mares, but did speed up to pass me going away from them. I pushed him into a bigger circle with my hip when he sped up so he had to cover more ground and was only beside me rather than passing me. That worked quite well and in the end he was just walking rather than trotting when we headed away from the mares. I take that as a small success. Not as good as I had hoped but not a total failure either. I couldn’t think of anything else to do because the grass is too slippery with dew to hustle his feet out there. Do you think I should have just headed for the shelter area where there is dry dirt, making him do C patterns until we got there, and then hustle his feet? 

Sandstone Coulee – Day 18
What a beautiful morning!!  And I couldn’t go to the coulee… bummer!  I was out yesterday after work, though, and practiced more arousal management…   😊 

I thought I would add a bit of a challenge and go to the round pen, and we managed to get there mostly calm and quiet. Fonzi still wanted to pass me a few times and we just did some moving of the hip or the front end, and once we were in the paddock by the old chicken barn I could use that wall to cut him off. With a bit more moving of his feet and stopping and relaxing we walked up there quite nicely. I took the halter off in the round pen and he followed me around right away. It was actually quite funny, he would get distracted and stop to eat grass or to look for the other horses and I would keep walking, and after a couple of seconds he would rush to catch up to me. In the end we walked around the round pen very calm and connected and had a lovely time. I would have totally ridden him at that point if I had brought my helmet. Next time! 

Sandstone Coulee – Day 20
I went out to the coulee yesterday afternoon and brought Fonzi up to the round pen.  He still tried to pass me but this time rather than walking on and doing the C pattern, I stopped and sent him back to where he was supposed to be, making sure I didn’t yield any space, then I took another step but stopped again each time he tried to pass. I think after a while he realized that he was doing all the work while I mostly stood still, and he got bored with it and started to stay behind me much better. Yay!  Once in a while he still sped up but by then I was next to the fence and I could block him. We made our way to the round pen mostly calm, and in the round pen he got a bit excited and started calling to the mares but I took his halter off and asked him to follow me, and that calmed him down quite quickly. Then I put his bitless bridle on and took him over to my improvised mounting block. There was a black tub outside the round pen that I turned over and stepped on to heave my carcass up on Fonzi. Fortunately nobody was watching because during my first attempt he wasn't standing right next to the tub, so when I swung my leg over him he took a tiny step sideways but it was enough for me to shift my weight on the darn tub and tip it over. I wasn't far enough up on him to pull myself up, so I did a kind of vertical splits and then very ungraciously tumbled onto the ground. I am certain I heard Fonzi laugh! Anyways, we had a very nice little bareback ride in the round pen. Next time I’ll go into the paddock that the round pen is in, that will give us more ground to work with. And this morning when I led him from the mares to the water trough he followed me very politely a couple steps behind me. He stopped a few times to look back at the mares but I just waited for him to think about it and after a little while he calmly walked on. That was the best walk away from the mares we were able to do so far. They were all hanging out by the shelter so I’m sure it helped that they were close, but I think he’s also getting used to the situation. Just wish I had more light in the morning, it’s disappearing quickly! But what a nice morning, I saw pink clouds, deer walking through the field and a pretty little skunk. Fortunately the skunk was not interested in me, haha.

Sandstone Coulee – Day 24
We had a very calm little ride yesterday, it was great. I took Fonzi into the round pen first for a bit and then we rode down the gravel road to the cattle guard and back. I would have liked to go across the train tracks to the trails but there was a train parked there and we couldn’t cross it. Fonzi did very well, he stopped to look back at the mares a few times but then he calmly walked on and followed Mistral. He was really ouchy on the gravel so I’m hoping it’s just because he hasn’t been on any hard surfaces all summer and not because of too much grass. The grass shouldn’t have much sugar left in it by now, should it? Anyway, I will just talk to Chris briefly tonight to make sure we don’t have any plans for the September 30 weekend and then I’ll register for the cowboy challenge. 


Sandstone Coulee – Day 26
Dawn in the coulee, all is quiet, except the horses.

Mistral:  “Hey Fonz, here comes your woman!”
Fonzi:  “Huh?  I’m eating.”
Mistral:  “I can see her, she has a halter and a stick.  I think she means business, har har har….”
Fonzi:  “Shit!  I just woke up, I haven’t even finished my breakfast yet!”
Mare 1 (in a sing-song voice):   “Fonzi has to work now, Fonzi has to work now….”
Fonzi:  “Shut up!”
Mare 2: “Poor Fonzi-Baby, we’ll wave you good-bye…  ”
Fonzi:  “Shut up, or I’ll bite you!”
Cayuse:  “Don’t worry, Fonzi, I’ll look after the girls while you are gone.”  (Sniggering…)
Fonzi:  “No!!!  Don’t you dare touch them, you lecherous old goat!” 
Mare 3:  “I’ll miss you, Fonzi!”
Fonzi:  “Hi Mom!   Okay, you can groom me for a little bit but I’m not leaving here willingly.  I wish you would stop tugging on that rope, though. Oh well, let me think about it…..  maybe I’ll come for a little bit. I’ll pretend I’m behind you and then I’ll sneak by you on the right, that’s a fun game…...   Oops, what was that? Mom, that stick hit the ground really hard, that could have been me! I’ll just see if I can pass you on the left…..  hey, watch it! You almost hit me! I’ll run over to the other side, maybe I can get you all tangled in your stuff and I can pass you now……. damn, you didn’t get tangled. I’ll try one more time……   man, this is way too much work!   Guess I’ll just stand here where you want me.   But I’m not done yet, mom, just so you know!
(15 minutes later)
Okay, mom, if you really insist, I’ll just stay behind you and make sure you don’t have to whack that rope any more with your stick. I hate you, stick!!!
But it’s kind of nice to walk behind my mom and she’s telling me what a good boy I am and we’re both all happy. I bet I’ll get some treats when we’re done!!

And then it was all quiet in the coulee again.

Sandstone Coulee – Day 28
Almost forgot my coulee report, it was a busy day.  Nothing happened this morning because it was very frosty and slippery, so the Fonz and I just hung out for a while, and played a little game where I would take a step forward, he would follow, then I would square my shoulders and take a step backward, trying to tell him with body language only that he should take a step backward too, then one to the left, one to the right, and start over. I had to wiggle the rope a few times to encourage him to step back but overall he did quite well following my steps, and we both had a nice, peaceful time. It’s cold out there at 6:30 am!! Winter is coming!

Finally – its Spring again
It’s Fonzi here. I haven’t seen you in so long, can you come visit me some time? I miss you. I was thinking of you this weekend and I just wanted to say that I am very grateful for all the stuff you taught my mom cause it really helped us yesterday. You see, we went for a trail ride in the coulee on Saturday with Uncle Chris and that obnoxious Cayuse horse who always tries to hang out with my girlfriends, and I wasn’t a very good boy but it wasn’t really my fault. First of all, Uncle Chris is always in such a hurry and my mom didn’t make enough time to do good groundwork with me, and I could tell she felt rushed so I thought I gotta be on the lookout for danger because she wasn’t paying attention. Then we got to the big culvert in the creek and I stepped over okay, but Cayuse didn’t want to, and he got all upset and then Uncle Chris got more impatient and by the time Cayuse finally jumped over it, I was all upset! And then the wind was blowing so strong it scared me a bit because I thought there were dangerous things hiding in all the moving stuff……  so I really wanted to get back to the barn and my mom couldn’t do much with me on the narrow trail so she stepped off me and walked me for quite a while, and I kept trotting past her trying to tell her I really needed to get back to the barn and I just couldn’t calm down for a long time. I was okay when she rode me on the way back but the way out wasn’t so good….   I was very sorry but I just couldn’t help it. Sigh. 

But yesterday I did really good! My mom and her sister and another lady named Allison came out to ride me and Cayuse and Mistral, and my mom came early and took me into the round pen and gave me a good beating. Just kidding, haha.  She did make me work quite hard, though, I was huffing and puffing because I am a bit out of shape. Don’t tell the mares, that would be embarrassing because they find me very studly. But when we started to ride I knew my mom was paying attention and she was in charge, so I could be all calm and happy. I only tried to turn around a couple of times but we started out along the road and my mom convinced me with that hip moving thing that I was okay, and I was. It was just us three girls riding and we were all having a really good time. Clyde came along too but he is a good trail dog and knows how to keep his distance from us, so I wasn’t worried about him. We even encountered puppies!! There is a house where they had 6 or 7 chocolate lab puppies in the yard and four of the fat little buggers climbed through the fence and came to see us. They started trying to nip at our heels but we all did very good, nobody spooked or kicked. Then their owner came and called them back, so they were safe. They were very cute but very high energy. We rode all the way to the highway and through a big field and across the tracks and back on the other side, and a train came by but it didn’t bother us at all. And when we got back we all got a nice grooming with the massage gloves and we loved it. So I’m very glad you taught my mom this groundwork stuff, it’s all I needed.

Bye Auntie Tovie, love you lots!

Finally Spring Again – After Another Move
6:00 a.m., at the barn.

Fonzi:  Look, here comes the red car.  That’s mom!
Aria:  Oh yes, oh yes, do you think we’ll get treats?
Cayuse:  Yummm…..
Uli:  Hello kids, how are you this morning! 
Fonzi:  I’m good, mom. Can you bring out some hay?
Aria:  I’m good, too, Miss Uli.  I’m really pretty, look how I can toss my mane. Can I have hay, too?
Cayuse:  Yummm…..
Uli:  Okay, you three musketeers, we’ll have a little play time. Come over here, you three.  You too, Cayuse, don’t worry, Fonzi is not going to pick on you. You can stand on the other side of Aria.
Fonzi:  Cayuse, you just don’t get it, stand in a line! 
Cayuse:  I’m coming, I’m coming!
Aria:  Look how pretty I can stand, Miss Uli!
Uli:  Okay, that’s really good.  Now don’t move.
Fonzi:  Cayuse, you idiot, you took a step and now you’re going to get sent back. You’re making us all look stupid!
Cayuse:  Sorry, I just couldn’t help it….
Aria:  Look how pretty my feet are, Miss Uli!
Uli:  Very good, you’ve been great, now I’m coming over to give you each a treat. No picking on each other!
Fonzi:  Thank you, mom. That was easy.
Cayuse:  Can I have two? Or three? Or four?
Fonzi:  Cayuse, you’re such a pig.
Aria:  Look how pretty I can eat my treat, Miss Uli!
Uli:  Okay, let’s do it again. This time I’m going further away. Don’t follow me, you stay where you are. 
Fonzi:  Piece of cake.
Cayuse:  The treats are moving further away from us, I’m not liking it!! I sure hope she’s coming back?
Aria:  My neck looks so pretty when I stretch it far out, Miss Uli!
Uli:  That’s excellent, I’m coming back with the treats now, but I don’t want you to step towards me. Then we’ll do it again, but I’ll go even further away.
Fonzi:  Wow, that was really easy. It only took us two minutes to train her to bring us treats and walk back and forth and back and forth while we just stand here and lift a foot once in a while to give her some sense of accomplishment. She’s so easy to train.
Cayuse:  Yup. That’s why we keep her around.
Aria:  Yup.  And she thinks I’m pretty!
And all was well at the barn….

While I hated to see Uli and Fonzi move on, Uli said it was really good for because she had to up her game and has made their relationship stronger than ever!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Horse Rescuer with Good Intention

Navar’s training is coming along so well that I decided it was time to bring on another horse that needs special help.

Several days ago while browsing Kijiji, I found what I thought would be the perfect project. Whiskey was a lovely, 5 y.o. palomino gelding. In the ad it said he had trust and catching issues – perfect. Over the next few days, I learned she had purchased him and another horse from Bear Valley Rescue over 1½ years ago with the intention of training them to drive. However she also admitted, she had too many horses and life kept getting in her way. She also said he was perfectly healthy and sound and although he was nervous, he had never caused her harm and that he was prone to jump away from his handler than on top of them.

He was located at Duchess, AB - a two hour drive from our place. I asked as many questions as I could to ensure it was worth making the trip on such a beautiful day and with fuel prices soaring. I knew I could help Whiskey so Gord, Lena and I made the trip to go meet him. I was so certain I would be bringing him home that I even decided to rename him Memphis.

When we arrived, the owner had Whiskey in the round pen, haltered and ready to go. Upon closer inspection, I saw that his feet were terribly neglected and in fact she admitted he was not “foot” trained. Based on that, I asked her to move him around so I could detect any lameness issues. At the hurried trot and racing gallop, he seemed fine but when he walked, it was apparent there was something wrong.
Nevertheless, I worked at getting near him which was no easy feat. Just reaching out to stroke his neck caused him to suck wind and tense his entire body. She had told me that once caught, he could be handled. Not sure what her idea of “handled” is. Mine is a horse who is comfortable being touched from top to bottom and in every orifice.

Anyway, we agreed that I would take him and if he didn’t come up sound after proper hoof care, she would take him back, and would even come pick him up if need be. In anticipation of him being hard to load, I had the owner change out the halter to my stiffer Clinton Anderson 4 knot to give me better control. While I was back at the truck, filling out the bill of sale, I heard all hell break loose. The owner had tied the lead rope around his neck using a bowline knot and when she went to slip the halter over his nose, he ploughed her into the panels and bolted away, tearing the halter out of her hand. Now he was flying around the pen in shear panic with the halter dragging (chasing) after him and there was nothing we could do to help him. Every now and then the halter would tangle around his legs, causing him even more distress as he ploughed into the panels trying to kick off the foreign object wrapping around his legs. This went on for quite some time until thankfully, the bowline knot released. I stood in the middle of the pen throughout the entire ordeal because I didn’t trust walking into his path to escape the pen – he was running blind with fear.

Since it was already getting late and there was going to be very little chance of getting another halter on him, not to mention trying to load him, I made the very difficult decision to walk away.

There is no question this lady was in over her head with him, and I also learned she had a foal coming any day. It absolutely broke my heart to see a horse so mishandled (or neglected) with such good intention.

When we take on the responsibility of horse ownership, it is incumbent on us to create a good equine citizen even if that means getting help to do so. That is the only way to ensure the horse won’t end up in the slaughter pens. It made me so angry to see beautiful Whiskey in such emotional and physical distress – I didn’t sleep very well thinking about him last night.

I'm sorry I couldn't take you with us Whiskey - my heart goes out to you.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Vickie Keam to the Rescue

Last fall Navar picked up a cough that we attributed to mulch we brought in for the shelters. He started coughing 3 days after we spread the mulch and I can tell you, the mulch came out of the shelters faster than it went in.

We thought the cough would pass but it only seemed to get worse and when I started my weekly riding sessions with Marian Stav again, it became apparent that Navar needed help. At Moore Equine he was scoped and a minor amount of mucous was detected. We made the decision to go one step further and conduct a bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) to determine the severity of the infection. Dr. Ashley Whitehead advised last year was particularly bad for lung problems and was likely due to the wild fires that raged throughout Western Canada last summer.

Navar was prescribed 40 shots of a steroid called dexamethasone. I was definitely not looking forward to giving him that many needles but Navar took the treatment in stride. Every morning he came in for a treat and a shot which I rotated around his entire body.

The treatment got rid of his cough but despite additional feed, he was underweight and lethargic and also had a tucked up appearance. I was going to run a blood panel on him to see what else could be wrong but instead I scheduled another treatment with Vickie Keam. She discovered his spleen was not functioning well and said it wouldn't have mattered how much extra feed he was getting, the blood flow wasn't allowing his body to process the feed well. She also found a displaced rib near his flank. Within half an hour of Vickie starting his treatment, the change in Navar's appearance was quite astounding. I sure wish I had taken before and after photos.

The following week after Vickie's ministering, I took Navar to my weekly riding session. Marian noticed the change in his physical appearance immediately but what struck us most was his improved energy level. Prior to Vickie's treatment, Navar was lethargic and completely pooped out before our hour session was over. After his treatment he moved forward willingly and energetically (keeping in mind Navar is an energy conservationist) and he had plenty of stamina to last the entire hour.

Now that the snow has finally melted and we can actually practice our "moves", Navar gets better under saddle every week.

Thank you so much Vickie for what you do!
Navar and Tovie

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Clinic Woes...

Navar and I attended a Natural Horsemanship clinic last October and I have been ruminating over the experience ever since.

Over the years I have attended several clinics and feel quite proficient with my groundwork. I am now looking for more opportunities to transfer the natural horsemanship principles to create a better connection in the saddle.

There were a couple of reasons I wanted to attend this clinic; it was advertised as an advanced clinic with an unquestionably skilled horseman; and two of my favourite people were also participating. While I recognize I am nowhere close to being the horse person this fellow is, we have had some similar influences in our past. We both rode at the first Craig Cameron Extreme Cowboy Clinic at the Calgary Stampede, we both attended a Ray Hunt clinic, and he competed at the Road to the Horse colt starting in the U.S. the year after we had gone as spectators. Yet try as I might to connect with this fellow, it became apparent that his primary focus throughout the weekend was himself.

His program offers 8 levels of achievement which can be evaluated on-line. I overheard one of his loyal followers state that this was their fourth clinic and they were resigned to staying at Level 1 forever; or another person asking which would come first – passing Level 1 or Heaven. The journey toward exceptional horsemanship undoubtedly takes commitment to practice but I found these statements very discouraging for folks who are starting their journey later in life.

I did my best to practice the techniques being taught at this clinic which were somewhat different than how I do things. However, even with years of practice and success handling hundreds of horses, I would have been hard pressed to pass his Level 1.

It was discouraging to hear his response to folks who were asking questions; "that he had previously answered their question “many” times". Clearly, they had either not heard or understood his response and were seeking more clarification. Nobody should be treated in a condescending manner when they are eager to learn. I truly believe it is incumbent on the instructor to reiterate and demonstrate until the answer becomes clear.

There was much time spent standing around while the clinician “fixed” a confused or worried horse. However, it was especially frustrating when it was the clinician’s daughter’s horse. He insisted that everyone watch what he was doing rather than continue practicing with their own horses. Unfortunately some of what I “had” to watch was rather unpleasant and I remember thinking – this man is not touching my horse. In fact when I heard him asking for an introverted horse and an extroverted horse for a trailer loading demo, I excused myself to the biffy to ensure Navar was not chosen.

I even found it difficult to watch him ride and handle his own horse as the horse seemed overly reactive and nervous. It made me think of a recent article I read in my Linda Tellington Jones newsletter about being an advocate for your horse when others are handling them – whether it is a clinician, boarding facility staff, farrier, or veterinarian.

I have no qualms about increasing pressure when a horse is not being respectful but whacking a confused or worried horse across the head with a stick is not the kind of pressure I would encourage unless the situation became life threatening to the handler. There were folks in this clinic that were new to horses and/or Natural Horsemanship methods and if they were to go home and apply that much pressure without knowing why or when to release, they would undoubtedly cause more harm than good. Folks need to learn methods they can take home and work on to improve their confidence, not erode it further. It is for this reason I have spent much time studying a variety of philosophies and techniques. This allows me to offer my students solutions that will help a wide range of folks and horses progress safely and with joy.

Interestingly – most of the Ah! Ha! moments came during the group talks given first thing in the morning rather than during the time spent with my horse. At least there were a few things I will be able to share with others and I thoroughly enjoyed spending 4 days with Navar away from home. However, for the money spent, I would have liked to come away with more enthusiasm and inspiration and not have to listen to hubby say "I told you so".

Tovie and Navar