Thursday, March 31, 2011

Common Sense?

Good Thursday morning, folks.  I promised you last week I'd get to my issue of how little education and common sense people seem to have.  The farm is a good place to use common sense.  Unfortunately, I shouldn't count on it.  The farm is not a place one must have a Ph.D. to work, but I am frequently surprised how often my employees don't get simple cultural or literary references.  Let me share.

Last year about this time, I had a young man working for me who had just graduated from the Bible College. He spent the year between undergrad and graduate school with me.  So, by this time last year, he'd been with me nearly a year.

He was using the year to apply to fancy graduate programs.  He is now at an Ivy League seminary on a 95% scholarship.  He's no dummy, obviously.  But, don't count on the common sense.  This young man was frequently lacking common sense.

Once he called me to ask if he could turn one of the horses out, fully saddled and bridled--called "tacked up"--and put his dinner in his feeder while he waited on me to return and the lesson to arrive.  Well, what do you think?  Do you think a 1,000 lb animal can be trusted out in a paddock in several hundreds of dollars of equipment and not roll over in it and ruin it?  Or do you think the horse can manage not to get those reins tangled around his legs and break them or hurt himself? 

No. You cannot turn a horse out in a paddock fully tacked.  That is an accident waiting to happen.  That is tack waiting to be crushed when he rolls over in his saddle.

Even if you don't have any horse experience, it seems this should be obvious.  It's like asking if you should turn your two year old niece out in the back yard in her best white Sunday dress.  What do you think?

Think there'll be grass stains or worse on that nice dress?  You bet.  You'd think things like this could also be translated into horses. Nope.  They can't.

Of course, there are several feed bags in the barn that simply slip over a horse's head. We use them every day on Big Mac. The feed is put in it.  Put it on the horse's head.  He's able to munch on his dinner while he stands at the cross ties tie-up and fully tacked.  Nothing gets broken.  No one gets hurt.  Did this young scholar think of this option? No.

I could go on and on.  Tomorrow will be Part Two.  The things you expect Bible College students to know.

Have a good day and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Follow-up to Strange Bedfellows

Good Wednesday morning, folks.  This is a short one.  I've got a super busy day today.

Remember Monday's post "Strange Bedfellows"?  Well, this is a follow-up to that story.  It is also not G-rated.  It's not bad, but don't read it aloud to your kids, ok?  Don't tell your mother to read it either!  Elaine!!!!

Long time ago, I told Elaine I'd seen the movie "Two Moon Junction."  I said it was really interesting.  I said it was quite the sexy movie.  Told her she should rent it some time.  I did not mean when her mother came to visit!

A few weeks later, she called me all upset.  Her mother had been in town.  They went to the video store.  She saw "Two Moon Junction" on the shelf.  She told her mother I said it was a good movie.  Thanks, Elaine!  I know her mother.

They rented it and took it home to watch.  Once it got racy, did Elaine turn it off?  No.  She let her poor mother be mortified and blamed it on me.  Thanks again, Elaine!

So, now you're all warned.  Don't refer the faint of heart to these two posts.  All the rest? Fine. Not these two.  Ok?

As a "thank you" for loaning me his vacation home, I told Harry I'd take him out to lunch and buy him a bottle of good liquor.  Harry has a massive bar for someone who doesn't drink during the week.  Or, when he's home alone.  Or, when he's in a bad mood.  Or, when he's on a diet.

For a man with that much alcohol on hand, he really doesn't drink much.  But, he enjoys his collection.  He's always looking for something a little different.  I was about to accommodate him!

I was running errands last week when I  thought I'd go by the liquor store and take care of my promise.  I called Harry while I was in the car en route.  I asked him if he wanted anything in particular.

He said, "Vodka.  Get me something cute."

Yes, these were his exact words.  Something "cute."  Ok, then, Harry.  I'll see what I can do.

I went to the vodka section looking for something "cute."  I was not disappointed.  As soon as I was in the section, I saw it.  It was a lovely blue bottle that said, "Whipped."  What?!  It is whipped cream flavored vodka.

I could not resist.  Harry has a down on her luck, depressed, former professional dominatrix living with him on a just friends with no benefits basis, remember?  How could I not give him "Whipped" vodka?!  He said "cute."

So, my smart little self took it up to the counter and bought it.  Grin already on my face!  Ha ha!  This was going to be a good laugh over lunch one day soon!

It will definitely be the only time Harry ever gets "whipped!"  The man is the size of an NFL linebacker.  He has a concealed weapon permit.  His house is as well armed as any military base.  Harry ain't into getting "whipped" by his depressed dominatrix friend, trust me.  Nope, you want to "whip" Harry?  You better bring the Green Berets with you, buddy.  Harry hits back...with bullets.

Besides, Harry prides himself on his chocolate martinis.  He can try adding a little "Whipped" whip cream vodka to them!  There's a practical application.  I didn't waste my money or the laugh I'm going to get.

I'm really looking forward to having lunch with Harry now!

Hope you got a giggle this fine Wednesday morning!  Thanks for reading.  Have a nice day!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Phone It In

Good Tuesday morning, everyone.  Have you heard the phrase, "Just phone it in."  or "He's just phoning it in."?  This means someone really isn't giving it his all.  It's just a half-hearted effort, at best.

Well, in this day and age, the social mores of the workforce have apparently changed.  I didn't get this memo, but I'm finding out as I go along.  It is now apparently considered acceptable to phone in your tardies, your sick leave request, and your resignation.  I didn't know this.

When I was working for other people, even a part-time job for Elaine during college, it was customary to tell someone face to face that you were quitting.  Usually accompanied by a letter.

In the "Ice Age" a week's notice for a part-time job or two weeks notice for a full time job were also customary.  Not any more.  Once again, I didn't get the memo, but I'm learning.

As a quick aside, let me say, if I phoned in my resignation to Elaine, she would have hunted me down.  She would have strangled me for being so ungrateful.  When someone gives you a job, it's a privilege.  You're supposed to behave that way.  You came asking them for work.  They didn't ask you.  Remember that.

Tardies weren't taken so lightly when I worked for other people.  Apologies were expected for your tardy once you arrived.  You could phone it in so they'd know you were on the way, but once there, go apologize in person.

Yes, I used to be tardy a lot.  But, I made up for it by staying late without asking for extra pay.  I also gave 110% when I was there.  It kept my bosses from wanting to throttle me. 

This isn't so anymore.  They are late and they don't care. They are surprised if I'm mad about it.  Huh?  What's going on?

Sick leave?  Ok, well, you are sick.  I guess you can't come ask me in person about that one.  But, folks, listen-up.  There is something called "job abandonment."

It is a legally accepted term and practice in Human Resources Land and the courts.  If you don't call in again after three days of being sick, you've just abandoned your job.  Your boss can terminate you then and there.  Bye-bye, you're done.

It is good form, when you're sick, to call in each morning at the beginning of the business day to let them know you won't be in.  Yes, you should do this for the duration of your sick leave.  Or, if you're going to be on long term medical leave, call once a week at least.  Now, that's if you've given prior notice of your surgery, or whatever.

Even after my big accident six years ago with my bashed in head, my mother called my boss for me--because of course with a head injury, I didn't make a lot of sense.  She did it regularly.  Even though we knew I'd be laid up at home for two months.  You call in, people.  It's the professional thing to do.  Be considerate.  They are paying you, remember?

I could have been rid of Mindy sooner than I was on the "job abandonment" one.  She took eight days off for a twisted ankle.  Said she was having it x-rayed.  The x-rays never manifested.  She just had to wait at home, in that case.  Come on!

She didn't even phone it in.  She sent me text messages.  If I had counted Sunday among the "three days and you're fired," she'd have been a goner.  Damnit!  Why am I such a pushover sometimes?

Last week, good ol' Phil, my new employee, phoned in his resignation with no notice.  Thanks, Phil.  It was a very kind voicemail.  Yes, friends, you read that right.  He didn't even phone it in to me personally.  He left me a voicemail resignation with no notice.

Yes, he was very kind.  He thanked me for the opportunity. He used his manners. He said it was nothing against me or the farm.  He just needed to focus on his school work.

Of course, Phil only worked for five hours on Friday afternoons and one Saturday a month.  I'm not sure how much focus that could take away from his school work, but apparently it did.

Believe it or not, this is not the worst resignation I've ever received here at the farm.  I've also had people never show-up again.  I assume they are still alive.  I never saw an obituary in the paper.

I had one guy who was up on DUI charges. The day after his hearing, he didn't show up for work.  He'd done this twice before--just no showed.  I told him if he ever did it again, not to bother coming back the third time.  I was such a pushover back then.

Finally, he called around lunchtime.  Just woke-up from his celebration party after having the DUI dismissed, I guess.  He said he wouldn't be in.  My mother was working the office for me on Saturdays then.  I had her convey my message, "Don't bother coming back."  He didn't. 

I had another young woman who had been a wonderful employee voicemail it in, too.  She'd been having some medical problems--the kind I don't encounter in my Bible College employees.

She was going to move back in with her parents, but she said she'd work a week's notice.  Nope, a few days later, I got a voicemail.  Never coming back.

I called her the day before she said her parents were coming to pack her up, to remind her her saddle was still here.  No returned call.  But, over the weekend, her saddle disappeared from the farm tack room.  See why my stuff is in a separate place?

There was no note saying she'd been here and taken her saddle.  Nothing. Yeah, I started changing the combination on all the locks even after amicable departures, then!

I even called her cell phone and left a message about the saddle disappearance.  Just to confirm it was her, you know.  She never returned that call, either.  Surprised me.

She was a great employee.  I was very sympathetic about her problem, too.  Didn't matter apparently.  Gone with no note and no forwarding address.

I sent her W-2 to her parents' home address.  Never received it back.  No word from anyone.  Guess she's fine.

I had one guy just disappear in the middle of work one day without a word.  I was riding Merry while I taught a lesson from horseback.  I noticed I hadn't seen him around the property in a while.

I asked Cowgirl Slim if she'd seen him.  She said she hadn't.  I rode over to where I could see the parking area.

His car was gone.  He never came back.  I called the person who had referred him to me.  He hadn't seen or heard from him either.

I wonder if he was abducted by aliens?  If they got him, they got his car, too.  Didn't Sammy Hagar say just last week that he'd been abducted by aliens a few times?  Wasn't that on MTV?  I wonder if he saw this guy while he was on the mother ship?  You know, wonder if they passed in the hallway or something? Strange.

So, what did I do about Phil's voicemail resignation?  I sent him a text saying simply, "Good luck."  I thought it was an appropriate response.

Have a good day, folks. If you're going to quit your job, have the decency to tell your boss in person and at least offer to work a notice.  It's just nice manners.  I know you have nice manners, right?

Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Strange Bedfellows

Good Monday morning to you!  This one ought to get your eyes open on a Monday.  It's about a friend of mine who is truly one of a kind.

You've heard the saying, "Politics makes strange bedfellows."?  It means that politics will make people have unusual alliances in order to accomplish their purposes.  Having worked in politics for nine years, I'll tell you that can be very true.

This isn't about unusual political alliances, but it's a little strange all the same.  I know, people are thinking: You live on a farm with a bunch of animals.  You sell horse sh*t, which you think doesn't smell.  You love the smell of a barn.  You think animals have personalities.  And, that your body is simply a tool on the farm so why care what anyone thinks of your appearance.  Most people would think I'm weird.  Heck, my own mother refers to me as eccentric.

I don't know.  Maybe I am a little eccentric.  I'm pretty happy with it.  I run a business and pay my bills.  What's wrong with me?  What makes me eccentric?

If you want eccentric, I've got some eccentric friends!  Now, let me warn you here, this is not a G-rated post.  But, I couldn't resist telling you this priceless story.

I have a lot of friends and acquaintances.  It is possible I may have the most diverse group of friends and acquaintances of anyone I know.  That's ok.  Keeps my life interesting.  I've always said I have a wide continuum of normal.

I have friends from every possible religious and political group.  I have gay friends.  I have straight friends.  I have old friends and young friends.  Male friends and female friends.  Animal're getting the picture, right?

Besides, my friends probably think I'm weird.  I'm divorced, but I call myself single.  I don't have kids.  I like kids, but didn't want any of my own.  No maternal drive as it turns out.  I don't go to Little League games or soccer practice.  I'm not saving for college for anyone.

I don't care what the vast majority of people think of me.  I have no desire to marry again.  I talk to my animals.  I have a nice old car and a pick-up truck.  I have no desire for a new mini-van or a timeshare on a condo.  I'm very sure I am the odd woman out among my friends' friends.  I'm just ok being me.

But, among my interesting assortment of friends is my ex-boyfriend transitioned into really good friend, Harry. Yes, exes can be friends without benefits, believe it or not. I told you about Harry once.  It was in the blog entry "The People Around Us" back in February.

We dated for about a minute and a half after my divorce.  Read that entry to find out more. Obviously, we broke-up in the end.  We just weren't suited to each other.  You're about to find out one of those reasons.

Now, Harry, oh Harry is an interesting soul. Harry is my version of Hugh Hefner.  Harry is still legally married, but has a permanent separation agreement with his wife.  She lives with someone else, actually.  As if this wouldn't be enough to blow most people's minds, Harry also has two girlfriends.

The two girlfriends know about each other and rotate days.  Yes, they have assigned days they spend with Harry or not with Harry.  Right now there are only two girlfriends, sometimes he gets up to three or four of them at a time.  I don't do this rotational relationship thing, so we were exclusive for our brief romance.

Occasionally the girlfriends get on his nerves.  Then, he wants a new one or to simply get rid of them all and roam free. You never know with Harry.

Well, what makes Harry so special that all of these women want him?  It's his heart.  I'll tell you that right now.  His heart is what kept us really good friends after the relationship was obviously not going to work out.

Harry is not classically good looking.  No one will be calling him to model for GQ.  He's the size of an NFL linebacker.  He's balding.  He's over 50.  He's seen as arrogant by some.  He has the goods to back it up, so I just see him as excessively confident.

And, yes, he's wealthy.  But, that's not why women want him.  In fact, Harry likes a woman who can pay her own way sometimes.  He really doesn't like feeling like a sugar daddy.  That's pretty much a guarantee that he'll be trying to get rid of you as a girlfriend.

Harry simply has a beautiful heart.  He has nice green eyes.  He has a real sense of fun.  But, it's none of the external stuff that keeps him in women, in my opinion.  It's just that he has a really good heart.  This will explain the "strange bedfellows" stuff.

Harry also knows his fair share of characters.  He also doesn't have children, as amazing as that may seem.  Like me, he enjoys kids, but just never had any.  When you lack children, it makes it easier to know more characters.  Often, kids and characters don't mix.

Among the characters Harry knows is a former professional dominatrix.  Yes, really.  No, he wasn't one of her clients.  She actually worked for him prior to her career as a dominatrix.  Harry is in finance.  The only slapping around there is when people don't pay you, not when they do.

I've never met Agatha, but I saw her website when she was still working slapping people around for a living.  Turns out, beating people up to give them their jollies pays well, too.  People never cease to amaze me.

But, Agatha got tired of slapping people around for a living.  Then she got in the bookkeeping and tax preparation business.  See, you just never know about folks.

She was apparently very good at this and did very well financially.  That is until recently.  Harry called me the other day and said, "You're not going to believe this."  Oh man, when Harry says that, it's going to be a good story.

"Oh no.  What?" I said with a giggle.

"Remember my friend Agatha?"


"Guess where she's living now?"

"You mean she's not a state I shall not name, but it's not around here....anymore?"

"No, her business went belly up.  So, she moved in with me on Monday."

"What?!  Are you doing the deed?"

"No, she's too depressed for that.  She's in the guest room."

"Well, what do the girlfriends think of this?"  Lord knows, I couldn't handle it if Bart took in a depressed dominatrix.

"They don't like it, but they ain't left yet either.  They'll adjust."

Oh my!  Only Harry could pull this one off.  A married man with a permanent separation agreement, who has two rotating girlfriends, and now a live-in just friends depressed dominatrix.  I had to tell Bart.

I called Bart at work for this one.  He laughed out loud!  We agreed, only Harry could pull this off.  Every other man in the world would be in deep sh*t with some woman in his life for taking in a depressed dominatrix til she could get back on her feet.

I'm telling you, Harry has a good heart.  Only Harry wouldn't judge Agatha. Only Harry would take her in til she could get back on her feet.  Only Harry wouldn't try to get a free "ride" in the meantime.  Good ol' Harry.  What a guy.  What a guy.  What else can I possibly say?

He came by to drop off his beach house key to me later in the week.  Bart and I have got to get away for a few days soon.  We need a break.  See, good hearted Harry, loaning out the beach property to his ex-girlfriend/good friend and her "permanent man."  Nice.  

Harry told me Agatha had already found a job and bought a car.  Of course, I wanted to know if she was getting her pleather on again professionally.  No, she's managing an alarm sales company.  See, you just never know about people.  Nope, you never do.  Strange bedfellows indeed--actually I guess they are strange non-bedfellows.

Hope you got a good giggle out of this one.  I sure did.  And, so did Harry, Bart, and even my mother--who begged me not to blog about it.  Harry absolutely doesn't care if I blog about him.  I know because I've asked him.  So, onward with a good story to brighten your Monday.

Thanks for reading and have a good day!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It's a Small World After All

Good Sunday morning to you, everyone!  It's a really small world.  I don't necessarily mean the "global village" the world is becoming thanks to the internet.  Although, I will take this moment to say "Hi!" to my international readers!

I actually have readers from countries where I don't have any friends or relatives and where my friends and relatives don't have friends and relatives.  Wow!  Especially sending a shout out to my Middle East followers in Iran and the UAE as well as my Russian, Ukrainian, and Romanian following.  You guys have been a real surprise.  I didn't think this would translate as interesting in those parts of the world.

My Latin American folks, I suspect are my family and friends, but I'm so glad to see you, too!  I'm not forgetting Australia, Canada, Singapore, South Korea and the UK, either!  Thanks everyone around the world and the US who aren't actually related to me! Folks, let me just say, "If I knew you were coming I'd a baked a cake, baked a cake, baked a cake."  It's an old 1950s song.

Today, I am talking about how you find out you are connected to other people in ways you'd never expect.  Remember the theory of "six degrees of separation"?  Then there was a small indy movie with Will Smith based on this premise. Remember?  This theory says we're only six people away from knowing everyone in the world.  Sometimes, that's frighteningly true.  It happens on the farm sometimes.

My herd of little Christians are from all over the US.  None of them are from my home state.  So, I don't expect these things to happen, but it did just the other day.

Dod's wife-- in reality, not her blog name-- has a "double" first name.  You know those people named "Mary Kate" or "John William" and they actually use both names socially and professionally?  Well, Dod's wife is one of those folks. I call her "Julie" in the blog to keep it simple.

Julie's family is a family of double name people.  They are fertile people. I think she has eight siblings, none of whom are adopted.  These days when you hear about huge families like that, you kind'a think they went to an orphanage in a third world country and just decided to bring everyone home.

Well, one of Julie's siblings is expecting any day now.  Actually, two of them are expecting, but this is about just the Drama Queen sister.  When I asked Dod if Drama Queen was going to continue the double naming tradition, he said, "No."

Rose is from an area where double names apparently aren't prevalent.  She was unfamiliar with the practice.  We started explaining it to her.

Then Dod threw out a double name he'd never heard of before.  It's the name of a child Julie "nannies" for.  It's "Mary...."  Well, I'm going to save the actual second name.  It's a historic name.  I don't want to blow the cover of this family.  So, I'm going to say for the purpose of the blog it's "Washington."

Dod says this kid goes by "Mary Washington" like someone else might go by "Mary Sue."  He thought it was very cumbersome.  Rose pronounced it "weird."  Oh, my dear Rose.  I'm going to break you of your prejudices if it's the last thing I do.

I said, "Rose, that's a very historic name.  I know people with that name.  A friend of mine from high school has the same middle name. One of their ancestors drafted the US Constitution.  They are very proud of their heritage."

"Oh, " she said.  Rose is learning.  Once she'd insulted the Founding Fathers, she knew to step back.  "My family has only been here three generations," she added.  I didn't tell her to break out a US history text book, in that case, but I thought about it.

Folks with this historically significant name have served as diplomats, governors, drafters of historic documents, all sorts of high level muckety mucks, you name it.  It is a well-known historic name--even if it's not really "Washington." It astounds me the lack of education a graduate student can have.  But, that's for next week.  Oh, I'm getting to it.  Believe me.

So, Dod says he wonders if this is the same family that I know.  Well, Julie nannied in her home state which is not here.  I said, no, they must be distant cousins.  No, no, these people were here in this city.  Well, no, my friend lives elsewhere now and so do his parents.

Dod throws out the name of the father in this family with the kid named Mary Washington.  It's familiar, you know, my high school friend's kid brother has that name.  Then, Dod throws in the deal breaker, "Julie met them at the First Presbyterian Church."  Huh?

"Dod, you and Julie are Anglican.  What was she doing running around First Pres?"

"Oh, she was Presbyterian before we got married.  She's still friends with them."  It was as if the Presbyterians were another tribe and Julie had defected.

"Well, that can't possibly be the same family.  The family I know are all Episcopalians.  There was a very small Episcopal church where I grew up and they made-up half of it.  They are all still Episcopalians, even though they've all moved off to other places.  It can't be the same people.  It's got to be their cousins."

Dod started describing the father of Mary Washington.  He's a doctor.  He's got a bunch of kids.  He works at the VA hospital.  Wait a second. This was getting spooky.

My friend's kid brother is a doctor at the VA in this city.  But, how could he have become a Presbyterian?  That is a family of serious Episcopalians--they wear robes and serve Eucharist. What happened? Was he captured by the Presbyterians?

Was it like when Julie married Dod and becoming Anglican was a requirement?  Seriously, I don't think it was really a requirement. I think Julie is just that head over heels for Dod.

"Is he really tall?"  I asked.  Yes, in fact, he is really tall Dod told me.  And, his name is Sam?  Yes.  Well, ok.  That was strange but it had to be the same guy.

I emailed my old high school friend this story.  And, yes, indeed, that's his kid brother the Presbyterian.  He's very happy being a Presbyterian, it turns out.  Well, miracles will never cease!  My old high school chum agreed, it's a small world after all!

This is one of those stories that reminds me, when people tell me something and then say, "Don't tell anyone." And, then I'm tempted to tell someone because they'll never meet the other person.  Wrong!

That person may have gone from being a devoted Episcopalian to being a happy  Presbyterian and interloped with some Anglicans and they all are hanging out together now.  You just never know folks. You never know.  It's a small, small world!

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Power Struggle

Good Saturday morning!  I, of course, am teaching lessons.  You are likely relaxing with your coffee.  That's ok.  I'll have Monday off when you're back at work.  See, it all works out.

Right now, there's a bit of a power struggle going on at the farm.  All creatures, humans and animals alike, organize themselves in some form.  In these organizations, there are leaders and followers.

In horses it's called a herd.  In dogs it's called a pack.  On the farm with my Bible College employees, it's called a herd of Christians.  Although, Dod lobbied for a "Gaggle of Christians" as in a gaggle of geese.  But, we're on a horse farm, not a goose farm.

In all groups, a leader emerges.  On the farm, I am the human leader. I am the leader among the humans and the animals.

In my herd of horses, it would probably be Merry.  In horses, like dogs, the females tend to be dominant.  However, if there's an intact stallion in the herd, he may be the leader.  He is in herds of wild horses.  But, since all my boys are "fixed" or gelded, it would likely be Merry.  Although, Tar would give her a run for her money.

In my dogs, the pack leader has always been Spot.  He raised Coffee and Killer himself.  Although they are not biologically his offspring, they are defiantly his pups.  He trained them beautifully for me.  His methods, at times, were not so lovely.

He did the normal stuff adult dogs do with pups.  He barked and snarled at them.  He grabbed them.  He took their toys away from them.  He herded them around.  He "countermanded" their markings.  But, he took it one step further with Killer.

Despite Killer's name and development into a fine guard dog, as a pup, Killer was very passive.  Coffee would steal his food.  She would drag him around by the ear.  This was nothing compared to Spot's methods.

When Killer would urinate, not only would Spot have to "negate" it, he would negate Killer, too.  Yep, while little Killer was taking a wee, Spot would lift his leg and wiz right on little Killer himself.  That's some harsh training.  That really says, "I'm in charge here, boy."

But, Killer passively accepted his place in the pack.  Spot was the leader, the alpha dog; Coffee was the alpha female in training to take over when Spot passed on; and poor Killer was tertiary--definitely number three.

Well, recently, as Spot has aged, his aging has become more obvious.  He had spinal surgery in August.  That saved his life.  He could use hip surgery, but at 13, my vet, Doc, and I agree we're going to avoid hip surgery as long as possible.  Spot doesn't seem in pain.  He kind'a hangs low on the rear quarters when he's at rest, but he can still run and play when he wants.

Spot and Coffee have always played dominance games.  It's Spot way of training her to be a leader.  He still wins.  He still grabs her by the neck and pins her down.  That's what dogs do.

If Coffee wanted to harm Spot at this point in her life, she could. He outweighs her by 10 lbs, but he's no longer as physically strong as he once was.  I think Coffee knows this.  I've seen her run interference for him with other young dominant dogs before.  Coffee still respects her pack leader.

Little Killer isn't so little any more.  Spot may still negate Killer's markings, but no one steals from Killer anymore.  Not Spot, not Coffee, no animal steals from Killer anymore.

On the other hand, I will take anything I want from Killer.He will "drop it" on command.  This is necessary with Chows, remember.  They are bossy, dominant dogs.  They will dominate their owners with no problem if you don't assert yourself.

Unfortunately, as is normal when your alpha dog ages, it creates an upset in the balance of power in the pack.  Coffee may still treat Spot with deference, but Killer has other ideas.

Killer is the one who got peed on after all.  Now, he's ready to make his move.  If Killer can't be number one, then by golly he's going to be number two.  In his mind, he's just fine with old Spot falling all the way into third place.

Killer has growled at Spot around their rawhide bones. He's stolen Spot's bone.  He's snatched a biscuit that was tossed in the the air for Spot to catch.  He's tried to snatch a  reward biscuit being given to Spot for performing the command, "sit" which is now very difficult for him with his bad hip.

I've verbally reprimanded Killer.  I don't tolerate this behavior among my dogs no matter who's the low dog on the totem pole that day.  Growling and food guarding behaviors aren't allowed.  That's just setting up the road map to a disaster called a dog fight.

This change in the power dynamic of a pack is usually hard for owners to see.  It's hard for me, too.  I adore Spot.  I'd probably give him a kidney to transplant if it would help.  But, this is the difference in me and a lot of owners of animals...I know I'm the leader.

I have enough alpha mojo going on for all of us here at the farm.  Those who know me are again saying, "Yeah, tell me something I don't know about you."  I can correct a horse with a stern look.  I can do it with dogs and children, too.  No yelling necessary, but man do I have a look.  I can yell if I have to, but it rarely comes to that.

Spot will relinquish his position in his pack when he's damn good and ready and not a moment before.  Spot knows I'm the alpha be all and end all around here, anyway.  He's sorta like the Vice-President--well probably smarter than most US VPs in recent history, at least.

So what do I do when Killer begins to make a grab for power?  I do what any good alpha does, I calmly, quietly, but assertively, take away the treats.  I remove privileges with no fanfare, just cool and calm.  They get the message, believe me. 

When you get worked up, yelling, crying, all red in the face, you are giving your power away, folks.  Be it with humans or animals.  When you give into your emotions, you start giving up your power.

Is there a time and a place to strategically use your emotions?  Yes.  I raise my voice to an animal or a child on very rare occassion, but it happens when I want to really make an impression.  Intensity of voice and redness in the face are also rare and chosen to make an impression.  Crying?  If I ever cry, you will never see it.  Ever. 

In situations that are about leading, don't cry folks.  If US Speaker of the House John Boehner were a woman, he'd be voted out of office in a minute.  The man cries so much I wonder if he needs medical attention.  Tar would rule that poor man so fast it wouldn't be funny.  It would be pitiful and the ol' boy would probably cry.  Don't cry in matters of leadership.  Ok, back to the more specific topic at hand...the power struggle between Killer and Spot.

When I've made a leadership deision and removed the toys and treats, Killer looks very contrite and cute. It's a ploy.  Killer ain't no dumb dog.  He looks like, "Well, gee, I didn't know. Can I please have a biscuit if I roll over now?"

If he or Coffee are ever really misbehaving, like when Coffee jumped on my white 1200 thread count sheets the other night, it's the "roll over" command.  I don't have to get down and force them to roll over like you do a puppy.  I just give the command and the look.

I'm working on this with Pip, but he's a defiant little beast.  He requires me to physically roll him over and hold him there giving him the puppy treatment.  Plus "the look" doesn't work on Pip because he's blind.  So, it's the puppy treatment.  He'll learn one day, by golly. 

Why?  Roll over is total submission for a dog.  It's playing dead.  It's defeat.  It's saying, "I give up."

I don't yell.  I don't hit.  I give the look and sternly say, "Roll over."  They don't get a biscuit for it either.  I don't care how contrite and cute they look.

Of course, Spot never misbehaves.  He's the perfect dog.  He's absolutely obedient and considerate.  He knows which side his bread is buttered on.  Spot never gets in a power struggle with the true alpha around here--ME.

Even though I manage the behaviors and calmly assert myself as alpha, I know that Spot is getting old.  I know he won't realistically live forever.  But, I'm considering bionics for him.  Yep, Spot could be the bionic dog and live forever.

It's that or they better get a really big needle and put me to sleep when they put Spot down.  I've told Doc this.  He said, "I better start looking for a big needle then."  He believes in giving an animal some dignity.  He wouldn't bionic Spot up for me.

Gee, I'm gonna miss Doc.  Cause Spot and I are going to live forever...just like the theme song from that old movie Fame!

Have a good weekend folks!  Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Briefly, For Your Amusement

I was just regaling Rose with a story or two to start her day.  She's been driving me crazy this week.  It's a combination of her being tired and me being tired, I think.  So, I gave her coffee this morning, suggested she take a lunch hour, and told her a few funny tales to start her day off of which will start your day off right on Monday!  Just giving you something to look forward to.

After these tales, she said, "You should write these down."

I smiled and replied, "I am."

Oh, Rose, Rose, Rose.  Consider that I am writing my stories down and think about what you say, dear.  Maybe that's her lesson of the day?

No, the herd of Christians doesn't know about the blog.  If pressed, I'll say I'm writing a book.  They always respond, "You should!"  Remember this folks when the blog becomes a book...or a movie, as some have suggested!  Buy lots of copies and lots of tickets should that happen!

And, remember, I am always writing it down!  I'll change the names though, just to leave you some dignity.

Have a good Friday!

Don't Judge A Horse By His Cover

Good morning everyone!  When I was telling you about the skills of trail horses the other day, I remembered one of the things people often tell me about the trail horses they've ridden on vacation.  This entry takes that issue into consideration.

Some people tell me that the trail horses they rode on vacation look bad or that they don't look like my horses.  That's a sign of the owner, not of the horse.  RW's trail horses always looked good.  They looked healthy.  They looked well cared for because they were.  They were healthy.  They were treated well.

If a trail riding business doesn't take good care of their horses, not only are they poor horse owners, they are poor business people.  If you are running a business with your horses, it pays to take care of them.  It may be more expensive to take care of them than not, but the more you care for your investment, the more it will return in profit.  That's putting it in cold, hard business language.

So, if those trail horses look bad, it's not their fault.  It doesn't mean they are bad horses.  It means they have unskilled owners. Or, owners who are unaware of how important a well-kept horse is to his clients.  I am very aware of this.

My horses are thoroughly groomed before a client ever arrives.  It's good for the horse.  It matters to the client.  Even the horses I don't allow clients to ride, like Merry and Tar, are groomed regularly for their own well-being.  Merry and Tar are beyond my clients' ability level.  That's why they aren't lesson horses.  They are for me.

There is a saying the in the horse world: "A good horse is never a bad color."  Just as we encourage people not to judge others by their appearance, I would encourage you to do the same with horses.  Now, I don't mean that when you see a horse who isn't well cared for that you simply excuse it.  There is a time and a place to call the Humane Society.  Horses that are obviously starving or very ill--that's a time to speak-up.

I mean if you see a horse that doesn't meet your movie-influenced standards of what a horse should look like, don't discount him.  He may be a wonderful companion.  He may teach you how to ride beautifully.  Perfect confirmation doesn't always mean a perfect horse for your needs.

Obviously, in the competitive horse world, how a horse looks counts.  Remember, I am not interested in competition.  But, I want to acknowledge there is a place where adherence to breed standards really matters.  I'm not that "Pollyanna" about these things.

In my barn, personality and fitness are what matter most.  Some of my horses have lovely, spot-on breed perfect confirmation.  Some of them don't.  Half of my horses are registered and half of them aren't.  It doesn't matter in my world.  If I were a breeder, that would matter.  If I were a breeder, confirmation would matter, too.

My two favorite horses to ride are at either end of the spectrum. Merry is spot-on perfect for her breed specifications.  She is also a registered horse that is fairly rare in the US.  Speakeasy is likely a Quarter Horse-Halflinger cross.  He's called a "grade horse."  That's sorta like a mutt.  Grade horses are very common.  Merry and Speakeasy are night and day in those terms.  In terms of riding, they are both wonderful.  Very different to ride, but equally wonderful.

Speakeasy is a little sway back, but not much.  It's a genetic quality, not a flaw in his care.  He is a brilliant horse who frequently outsmarts my students. He's steady as a rock. I can only recall the slightest spook out of him once in over five years. He'd never hurt anyone.  He may outsmart them and knock over some obstacles for his jollies, but he's harmless. I love him.  I'd ride him proudly anywhere.

But, he doesn't look perfect if you are comparing him to a breed standard.  Is he a big, beautiful palomino in most anyone's eyes?  Yes.  Is he a fine horse in terms of personality and fitness? Yes.

He's actually Mack, my vet's, favorite horse among my herd.  That's saying something.  Don't tell Tar, he thinks he's Mack's favorite.  Tar may be smart but Tar is a little pushy sometimes.  Mack likes a horse with really nice manners.  Tar is perfect to breed standards, though.

Merry on the other hand, is perfect for me.  I can ride her all day long and be very happy.  She was perfect in the show world, too.  She is a retired multi-blue ribbon winner.  I know one show rider who won 90 blue ribbons on her.  She had many show riders.  She was the horse of the year for her association in terms of points one year.

Merry is not perfect for my clients.  She's fast. She's sensitive.  She requires such light pressure from the hands, legs, or seat that putting a beginner on her would be irresponsible.  A novice will fall off of her in a minute.  Even Cowgirl Slim is ready to get off after a very tense 15 minutes with Merry.  I'm in Heaven, less experienced riders are in Hell.

Do you see what I'm saying here?  Just as your grandma would tell you, "Don't judge a book by it's cover."  I'd also say to you, "Don't judge a horse by his looks or his color."  At least not if what you're looking for is a good pleasure horse or a good lesson horse.  That's where personality and fitness matter more than confirmation.

On paper, everyone would want to ride Merry.  She's the Ferrari around here.  In reality, everyone would much rather ride Shadow or Milagro.  One registered, one not.  One a pure breed, one not.  So, don't judge a horse by his color, his cover, his papers, or his lack thereof.  Judge him on his merit for what you need in a horse.

Have a great day and thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Don't Over-Estimate Your Own Abilities

Good morning, folks!  As I promised you yesterday, I'm going to talk about overestimating your abilities because you've been on a good trail horse.  Remember yesterday's entry was to help you appreciate trail horses.

So many people come to me for lessons because of the vacation trail riding industry.  That's great!  But, many of them assume they are "experienced" riders because they've had the experience of being on a horse.

The experience of being on a horse more than once does not make you an experienced rider.  Those are very different things.  Be glad I know this.  If I didn't, if I took your word for it, I might pop you up on Merry or Tar and you'd be scared out of your mind.

I'm not scared of them, but I am an experienced rider.  There is a difference between an experience and experienced.  Even as an experienced rider, I don't think of myself as an "expert" or "advanced" rider.  Maybe you do.  That's ok.  I'm more of an expert than the average person.  I'm a more of an advanced rider than the average person, too.

I have very high standards for myself.  I compare myself to my "experts" and my "advanced" riders.  I compare myself to RW in riding and knowledge.  I compare myself to my vets, Mack, Lucy, and Callie, in terms of medical knowledge and horse health.  I compare myself to some pretty awesome folks.  I do not consider myself in the same league with them by any stretch of the imagination!

If you want a more concrete example of ranking of rider skill, look at the American Pony Club standards for riders.  This is what I apply to my students.  I'm not a "pony clubber," but they've been at it a long time and have developed a good program and standards.  It gives me and my students something concrete to compare their skills to.  It brings a lot of my students down to earth.

They think they are "intermediate" riders because they were in an intermediate riding group at their last barn.  No, you were an "intermediate" rider compared to what they had to work with, not according to Pony Club standards.

People who walk in with their vacation trail riding experience have all sorts of wild over-estimations of their abilities.  If I just handed them Merry or Tar and said, "Have at it.  You're an experienced rider." or "You're an advanced rider, that's what you told me."  They would be dead.  Not because Tar and Merry are bad horses, but because they simply require more skill than these folks have.

I've only had one person come in and tell me he was an experienced rider and have that be an accurate assessment of his own skills.  After I assessed him on a moderately difficult beginner horse, and saw him ride that one like nobody's business, I finally let him ride my wonderful Merry.

This guy had been on his university equestrian team in Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis don't joke about horsemanship.  If you can be on a Saudi university equestrian team, you're good. Of course I didn't believe him until I saw him ride with my own eyes.  Then, I believed him.

You know what his assessment of my Merry was?  He said, "This one reminds you that you're riding," with great enthusiasm.  Merry was pretty excited, too.  She loves a good work out.

She thinks we spend much too much time plodding around with beginners.  Well, Merry, my dear, we have to pay the bills, sweetheart.  We can't go any faster than they can keep up.

What do my "experts" think of my abilities?  Well, I'll tell you with great humility.

Once I asked RW to ride my sweet Belle after I'd asked him to assess my abilities with her.  Belle is Merry's full blood sister.  She's gone on to her great reward now.  But, she was my teaching partner before Merry.  Belle was better than Merry.  Belle had more self-control.  Belle was hot--hot means fast in horse language.  Belle was precise.  Belle was wonderful.

I asked RW to ride her not because I doubted her or him.  I just love watching him ride.  It's a beautiful thing.  When he finished, he rode her up to me and said, "You ride this little mare as well as I do."  I kissed his ring like people do when they meet the Pope.  That is the single greatest compliment I've ever received on my riding abilities.

RW's wife and son were wowed that he said that to me.  RW doesn't blow sunshine up your skirt.  He doesn't give false flattery or unwarranted compliments.  He is slow to praise.  I think they were simply stunned that he'd go so far with his praise.  I was pretty knocked out, too.

When I asked if I could do anything better when I was riding Belle, you know what he did?  He adjusted my reins a 1/4 inch.  That ain't much improvement needed, folks.  I haven't stopped grinning about that one yet and it was more than four years ago.

Once Mack was telling me the sheriff's search and rescue posse he rides with asked him to be in charge of education for the group.  He said he told them he'd never had a riding lesson in his life.  What did they want him to teach?

We're going to take a detour for a few paragraphs here:  This is a truism about some wonderful horse people--we've never had a riding lesson.  Remember, real horse people are decided by God or genetics or something not human.  Lessons may help polish them, but a lot of them, like me, have mentors who do that polishing, not riding instructors.

A mentor will be much harder on you than a riding instructor.  Why? An instructor is paid to teach you, like me.  We have to earn a living.  You can't be brutal with people in these situations.  Brutal honesty is sometimes required to make someone a better rider.

A good mentor is hard to find.  A good mentor is hard to convince to take your worthless self on to mentor in the first place. Mentoring takes a lot of time and patience. I know, I am one.  I don't want to take on just anyone who asks.

I have one at a time and I chose who it is.  That's my barn baby.  Now it's Cowgirl Slim.  Yes, I am very hard on her.  But, she learns, she excels, and I'm pretty good to her 99% of the time.

Now, that 1% of the time, I kick her butt verbally.  Not abusively, no name calling, I kick her in the pants with honesty sometimes.  She needs it or I wouldn't do it.  It makes her better.

It made me better for my mentors along the way to do it with me.  It's made me better for my vets to do it too when necessary--when I'm feeling sorry for a horse and that's not helping anything, for example.

Ok, back to Mack's teaching dilemma.  So, he agreed to do it.  He said he started his first class with a test about the person's abilities.  It was a self-administered test.  He wanted to know where they thought they stood, so he'd know what to teach.  Uh-oh.

He said the best riders underestimated their experience.  He said the riders who needed the most help over-estimated their experience.  He told me this story after I told him how I ranked myself as a rider.

Do you think he was trying to tell me something, maybe?  He's seen me ride.  He's seen me ride Belle, as a matter of fact.  So, it was apples to apples comparison of what RW saw me do.

I'll take his little story and that look he gave me when I said I thought I ranked as a...rider....well, where I think I rank is below where people I admire think I rank, apparently.  So, I'm just going to keep that to myself.

You'd be better to keep your estimation of your abilities to yourself, too.  Anytime someone comes in and boasts about it, we know you're not a great rider and may in fact, be lucky to be alive.  I am not alone in this opinion.  Nearly every horse person in the business shares it with me.

So, do yourself a favor and don't boast to us about your abilities.  Show us.  Ask to learn.  A little less talk, a lot more action, baby--as Elvis would say.  I can't do better than the King of Rock and Roll, so I'll stop here.

Thanks for reading.  Go find that Elvis song and groove a little today!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Don't Discount Trail Horses

Good Wednesday everyone!  Many of you have been trail riding on vacation.  That's the riding experience most people have had.  That's fine.  Don't discount it.

Trail riding is my passion.  I love it.  It's how I met RW.  It's what I did between knowing the large animal vet who taught me to ride as a six year old and having my own horse.  It does actually take skill to trail ride.  Now, I don't mean when the average person trail rides.  I mean when you go with some friends, not in an organized group on some vacation package.

When you go trail riding on vacation or in some organized group with a guide, it's the trail horse who has skill.  Everyone wants to discount these hard working horses.  It really gets under my skin and aggravates me to hear it.

Ok, not all trail horses are masters of their trade.  Just as not all show horses or lesson horses are masters in their fields either.  But, here's the thing.  That trail horse has to be able to let any Joe Public idiot, no experience rider, get on him and then bring him back safely.  You can't have a bad horse and have him do that successfully.

A good trail horse needs to be patient with his rider.  He needs to know his job.  He needs to do his job despite boredom, despite idiot behavior from his rider, and despite walking through what is a candy store to a horse.

A walk through the woods gives a horse a virtual buffet on which he wants to feast--grasses, plants, berries.  They may not all be good for him, but he doesn't know that.  Why do you think colic is the number one killer of horses?  Because they don't know that berry that's so tasty is also deadly.

A good trail horse walks past that buffet.  Even if he bends down to snack occasionally, he knows his job is to continue on.  And, he does his job.  Most trail horses do not follow their instinct to graze and just wander off with their riders.  They do their jobs.  They carry their riders safely back to the barn.

I cannot tell you how many people have told me they've only ridden "dumb old trail horses that just walk in a line."  That's how I know that person is just a "dumb old person who has no business on my horse."  Ok, maybe they just don't know any better.  If they become my students, they will.

About half of my horses were once trail horses.  Speakeasy, Tar, Big Mac, Chief--all trail horses. I don't know if Shadow was a trail horse because they didn't leave a history pinned to his collar when they left them at the meat lot.  I will tell you he behaves like a trail horse.  He has trail horse skills.  He has a trail horse sense of calm.

Trail horses cannot be high strung.  Too many unexpected things happen on the trail.  Birds fly out in front of them.  Bugs sting them.  Limbs drop from trees.  To your average horse, these things are signs of impending doom.  To a trail horse, it's just another walk in the woods.

Trail horses are more able to step over obstacles without a fuss.  Trail horses go under limbs without thinking a tiger is going to jump on them from above.  Trail horses open gates more easily.  That gate isn't as feared an object for a trail horses as it is for a lesson horse or a show horse who is not expected to deal with a gate.

My lessons are composed of three things, for the most part.  First there is a 20 minute warm-up for the horse and rider to get in tune.  Then, there is a 20 minute segment on the trail obstacles--going over and through things.  Finally, there is a 20 minute segment on the barrel courses learning patterns to work on equitation.

My retired Paso Fino, high end, Paso of the Year show horse, Merry, does not excel on the trail course.  She does not want to open a gate.  Merry is entirely too high strung to ever be a trail horse.  Now, could I teach her to do these things with enough time?  Sure.  But, I don't have the time, unfortunately.  I ride a lot less than I'd like to ride.  Management is a dull and time consuming job.

Yes, Big Mac was a show horse first, who retired to become a trail horse.  But, his show rider/owner was RW.  RW's ideas about show horses are very different.  One reason Big Mac made the successful transition to trail horse was RW's handling of him as a show horse.

RW believes that yes, a few days before a show, stall your show horse.  Let him build up some energy.  That will let him give his all on the day of the show.  But, on those days and weeks between shows, trail ride him.  It allows his mind to relax.  It allows him to be a well balanced horse.

And so, there are few show horses as well balanced as Big Mac.  I wish he were younger and had less arthritis.  I'd certainly use him more.  He is an outstanding horse.

Many trail horses are outstanding horses.  It's why you have a good experience on vacation.  That good experience brings me new clients sometimes.  They had so much fun, they want to learn more.  That's great!  Just remember, give that trail horse the credit he's due.  Don't underestimate him and don't overestimate yourself.  That's tomorrow's topic!

I'll get off my soap box now.  Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Did You Learn Something? Part Two

Good Tuesday morning, folks!  I think this one will surprise you.  I bet you don't see me in this way.  But, it's true.

When we bought the farm a little over five years ago, I never intended to be the chief instructor.  I intended to be the owner and do the "big picture" stuff.  I hired a long time friend, Annie, who had worked for RW, to be the barn manager and chief instructor.  There would be Candy, the previous owner's barn manager that I kept on, who could also instruct.  Guys, don't hire friends and don't keep on former employees with suspect loyalty.

Candy was eight months pregnant when we bought the farm.  I felt sorry for her.  Her husband was not the money-making, support your pregnant wife type.  She really needed the job.  Unfortunately, she didn't know how to stop spreading rumors and making trouble.  So, her tenure with me ended fairly quickly, pregnant or not.

Annie had never been away from her mountain hometown for more than a few days.  Trying to move here was simply too much for her.  She took off for the mountains with no notice a month later.  She left me in a bind at the farm.  Again, don't hire friends.  It caused me a lot of inconvenience professionally, and it ended our friendship.  Little did I know, she was doing me a huge favor.

At that time, I had no intention or even confidence that I could teach riding lessons.  I knew I could ride.  I knew, I knew something about horses.  I did not know I could teach anyone else to ride.  I did not know I could teach anyone else about horses.  I certainly did not know I could produce some real winners.

Less than a year into teaching, Cowgirl Mo--the barn baby before Cowgirl Slim--went to a hunter-jumper summer camp.  I'd been teaching Mo general horsemanship, safety, equitation (rider skill), and western riding.  She was always interested in both english and western.  At the end of her camp, the participants were taken to a local town to participate in a junior show.

This particular local town is a horse town.  High end race horses winter there.  It is a big time place.  Even their junior shows are no joke.  This was Cowgirl Mo's first show ever.  I knew nothing about it until afterward.

The day after Mo got home from camp, I picked her up at home to come to the farm.  That was our morning routine.  It was before I lived at the farm.  I still lived at my house full time and her house was on the way to the farm. It was summer and she came to the farm every day.  She, like Cowgirl Slim, was a joy to have around.

Mo jumped in the car and started telling me about camp.  Then, she told me about the show.  She won her first ribbon.  It was a blue ribbon in equitation.

Equitation is defined as the act or art of riding horseback.  Just because you can hold on to a horse doesn't mean you've got equitation skill. Equitation is where riding meets art.  It's the beauty that emerges between a good horse and a good rider.

If you're going to win a ribbon, equitation is a damn fine place to win it.  I don't care if you win, place, or show in any other class.  If you win an equitation ribbon, you've got my attention.  It means you have a pretty good idea of how to ride properly.

When Mo came to me, she had some riding experience.  When I saw her horse experience, she had been woefully under taught.  I looked at her parents and said, "You mean they took your money?"  Mo couldn't even pick a horse's feet.  What had these people been teaching her?

So, I started from nearly the beginning with Mo.  And, her first place ribbon in equitation may have excited me more than it did her.  It showed me I knew what I was doing.  If she could compete against the junior talent in that town, I knew how to teach and Mo knew how to ride.

Eventually, Mo left my barn to go full time to that big time little horse town.  She got a show horse. She got into fox hunting and hunter-jumper showing.  I don't hear from her much now, but I am still very proud of her.

It's ok, these things happen.  Teenagers' interests change.  I am not interested in showing.  Mo moved on.  It doesn't change my pride in her.

A few years later came another little girl named Abby.  She was considerably younger than Mo.  Abby was eight when she started with me, I think.  Abby learned quickly and rode well, especially for her age.

On the weekends, Abby was riding some Puerto Rican Paso Finos for one of the very reputable breeders around here.  Her parents assured me they wouldn't leave my barn. He was a friend through church.  Ok, I still knew what was coming.

Eventually, Abby was asked to show one of this man's horses in a junior division.  The show was out-of-town on a Saturday.  I had lessons to teach.  I didn't get to go.

When Abby returned, she had many ribbons, the overall trophy for her age group, and a blue ribbon in equitation.  Abby had no prior experience with horses before coming to me.  Wow!  Holy cow! What a good job.  Now, this show circuit is not nearly as impressive as the one where Mo made her debut, but still, all of those ribbons were nothing to sneeze at for a then nine year old.

Abby continued on with me for a few more months.  But, a Paso Fino show trainer had approached them at that show.  She wanted to start training Abby.  The same thing had happened with Mo.  I don't have a lot of respect for trainers who steal star riders, but I accept that's the way it goes.

I understand kids' and parents' infatuations with trophy's and blue ribbons.  I understand a trainer wants someone who is already broken of all of the bad habits.  I don't understand the ethics of stealing.

It's one of the many reasons I don't have any interest in that area of the horse world.  Many of those folks, though not all, lack ethics.  It is a massive ego trip for them.  It has very little to do with learning or the horse.

Before I go farther, remember the blog entry on my competitive nature?  It's titled "Competition."  I am a fierce competitor.  I am not my best self at those times.  I know I could compete against other riders in the show ring. I am partnered with my horses.  I am a horse person in my heart.  I am also a ruthless competitor in my heart. That is a big reason I do not show.  I don't want to be that person.  Ok, back to the story at hand.

So, Abby left me about six months after her big win.  She went on to the Paso Fino trainer.  She loved the thrill of the show.  I was still pounding equitation lessons into her.  She was bored.  This happens with nine year olds.

They nor their parents have the patience to hang in there and learn the hard stuff.  It's that hard equitation work that makes you a winner.  It's the dull, repetition until it's perfect that makes you stand out...and get stolen by a show trainer.

I cannot teach someone all they need to know about equitation in a year and a half or two years.  You may stand out in a junior show with what I've taught you in that amount of time. But, you won't be remarkable on the adult circuit.

The winners on the adult and professional circuits are dedicated.  They still take lessons.  They work on it all the time.  Sure, there are people who just play around, but they aren't the winners.

But, as much as I miss teaching those girls, I did learn something from these stories.  I learned I can teach, obviously. I also learned I can produce winners when I'm working with good material.  So, if I know this about myself, why don't I become a show trainer?  Why don't I go get some ribbons of my own?  It'll be good publicity for the farm.

First, I don't have time for all of that.  Showing is expensive.  It takes time.  Who your trainer is, who made your saddle, who bred your horse have a huge impact on your success, especially in adult and professional circuits.  I don't give a rip about all of that.

Plus, of course, I have a business to run.  Showing occurs on weekends.  The bulk of my business is on weekends.  No, show prize money doesn't begin to make-up for that unless you're at the Olympic level.  Show prize money doesn't even cover the average show rider's cost.  And, the business takes up so much of my time, I'd never have time to train adequately--or at least what I consider adequate.

I don't like the mental intimidation that exists behind the scenes of the show world.  I don't like the trading up of horses that have served you well.  Trading just because you think you can make it at the next level and your horse can't.

Guess what? He's probably more qualified for the next level than you are.  I don't like that good horses are basically dismissed like used cars by many show riders.  Not all, but many.  Ok, I'll give you that.

Let me make a quick aside here.  When you get into high level competition with Olympic level riders, you are into a whole other ballgame.  Yes, there are still jerks among them. But in the interviews I've seen, those people appreciate their horses more than the average show rider.  Not all, but most.

Listen to the competitors in the World Equestrian Games.  They talk about their successes as partners with their horses.  You'll hear interviews where a world-class rider has to withdraw from an event because of a budding injury in his horse.  You hear him talk about the well-being of his horse, not his own disappointment.

That's a very different attitude than you're going to find among amateur show riders.  Why? Because those folks who don't have this attitude of partnership and the horse's well-being, aren't horse people.  They don't get it. They think ribbons and trophies are the goal.  No, the kind of partnership with your horse that enables you to produce ribbons and trophies is the goal.  See the difference?

That's how you get more true horse people at the highest levels of competitive riding.  It's the beauty of that kind of partnership that produces the most ribbons.  It's that level of horse-human understanding that gets those riders there.  That's what separates the milk from the cream.

And, let me assure you, those riders don't get bored with equitation lessons. They don't quit to chase more ribbons.  Because, friends, that becomes a very short chase when you don't continue to work on your equitation skills.  Without equitation, without understanding your horse, what else is there?  What's the point?

If I want to be judged on my skill with horses, all I have to do is watch how my horses respond to me.  If I want some human advice or validation, all I have to do is ask RW or Mack.  Those two things will give me a more accurate reflection than any blue ribbon ever can.  That's another lesson I've learned.

So, now you've learned even more about me.  You've learned I doubted myself in the beginning.  And, by watching my students and my horses, I've learned that I didn't give myself enough credit back then.

Do I think I'm the best?  No.  That will get you hurt, remember?  I still have much to learn.  I hope RW, my horses, and life never stop teaching me.

Thanks for reading folks.  Have a great day!

P.S. Here's another little surprise.  RW was quite the show rider in his day.  He won many blue ribbons.  He showed on the American Quarter Horse Association National Show Circuit. That's also a "no joke" show circuit. He showed from coast to coast.  And, he won.  He won many shows on Big Mac.  But, he eventually stopped showing.  Like me, he had to make a living, I imagine.  I've never asked him, though. See, some show riders really are horse people after all.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Did You Learn Something?

Good Monday morning, folks!  Sorry I missed you all together on Sunday.  I had a terrible allergy attack Saturday night, followed by a sleepless night courtesy of ol' Pip. This landed me in bed all day yesterday.

Let me tell you, if I can:

*take two Excedrin PM
*be absolutely exhausted
*suffered an allergy attack that felt like I'd been inhaling fiberglass

And that damn dog can still make enough noise to wake me up, then everyone should start getting concerned about ol' Pip's well being.  No, I didn't kill him.  I thought about it though.

I'm blaming that on the drugs.  Fortunately, I still had enough of my right mind left that I didn't fling Pip into oblivion.  It would be bad for my relationship with Bart.  It would be very bad for Pip's general well being.  Besides, I was too exhausted and drugged to actually move.  So, I didn't.

I managed to medicate Big Mac's eyes--he has conjunctivitis--give Bun-Bun hay, feed and medicate Spot, and feed and medicate the cats.  Then, that was it for me yesterday.  Back to bed.  I felt weak.  I had a low-grade fever.

I hate climate change!  I've never had bad allergies.  Pollen has never struck in March, either.  Again, if you don't believe in climate change, get a job outside and you will!

Thank God for Bart!  He stayed all day.  He fed all of the horses, the outside dogs and cat--Coffee, Killer, and Sasha.  He medicated Big Mac's eyes again.

He fixed wheelbarrows. He fixed Tar's fence in one of the places he broke--the other will have to wait.  He put the door back on my antique armoire. He filled up water troughs.

If it needed doing yesterday, my wonderful man did it.  There are not many guys out there who'd do these things, particularly when they have no vested interest in my farm.  Bart is a good man.

So, now you see why I missed telling you a story.  I'll make up for it.  You're kind'a getting two stories in one.  The one above and the one to follow.

When something goes wrong, like it did in abundance on Friday, my mentor, RW, says to me, "Did you learn something?"  He's right.  We shouldn't waste our mistakes and our bad days.  If we learn something from it, it wasn't all bad.  I told you, he teaches me about life as much as he teaches me about horses.

I pass his lessons on to my staff and students regularly.  I don't know if they appreciate it, but I do it anyway.  For example, with dear Rose and her black eye courtesy of Tar.  That was an ideal time to learn from a mistake.  No need to continue getting black eyes.  Wasn't one enough?

When I first bought the farm, there was a beautiful stallion here.  His name was Sabio.  I didn't name him, so don't ask me.  I was going to sell him because I didn't intend to breed.  My insurance company requires "separate facilities" for all stallions.  I wasn't going to build a separate barn for Sabio.  He would have to sew his seeds elsewhere.

In the meantime, I intended for Sabio to have a good life.  I wanted him turned out daily.  The previous owner kept him in his stall for days on end.

That's not uncommon for stallions.  Every one thinks they are so badly behaved.  No, they are cooped up, under-exercised, and grossly misunderstood, for the most part.

The previous owner also kept him stalled across from another stallion and between two mares--female horses.  This also makes a stallion act "crazy."  It's like locking up a teenage boy with his raging hormones for days on end next to a naked Playboy model.  They start acting a little wiggy.

And, the former owner had it double with the two stallions across from each other. They were staring down the competition, so to speak.  I had the other stallion gelded--"fixed"--to answer that question.

Stallions can't do that thing that teenage boys do for relief.  Nope, stallions just stand there all frustrated--filled with pent-up energy and testosterone.  Almost every man who is reading this knows how those stallions feel.  And, you guys feel sorry for them, don't you?

Well, I'm a woman so I don't know exactly how poor Sabio felt.  But, I'm a woman with some horse sense.  So, I made sure he at least got to exercise.

Why didn't I let him "hook-up" with one of my mares?  Because breeding is three years of money in with no guarantee of money out.  It's why I'm not a horse breeder.  I didn't need one more cost center on this farm.

One day, I arrived to hear my cousin, who was farm managing for me at the time, say, "Sabio bit Joe."  Ok, Joe isn't his real name, just like no one's real name is used here.  I asked what happened before Sabio bit Joe.

You see, horses are not a huge mystery.  They'll give you hints, usually, before they act out.  You just have to be smart enough to pay attention and pick-up on the hints.  Of course, there are exceptions to this, but not often.

"Nothing," my cousin told me.  He said nothing had happened before the bite.  Ok, well, then where was Sabio when this happened?  Sabio had been in Paddock One.  "But, he was fine when I sent Jennifer out to get him after it happened."  Jennifer is my cousin's adult daughter.

At that point in time, the mares were in Paddock Two.  Were they crazy?  Why'd these guys, who should have known horses, put a stallion out next to a bunch of mares?  Again, proof that just because you own horses or work with them doesn't mean you know sh*t about them.

I told him that Sabio smelled  their male pheromones when the guys went out to get him.  So, the guys smelled like competition to Sabio.  Jennifer did not.  Jennifer has female pheromones.  Jennifer smelled like a date to Sabio.

Don't put Sabio out next to the mares.  Put him on the opposite side of the barn from the mares.  Then, you won't have a problem.  I thought we'd learned something from this misadventure.

The next day, I learned the guys hadn't learned a damn thing.  I heard the same story over again.  This time, Sabio bit Jeff.  I gave the same instructions.  Maybe this time we'd learned something?

The third day, I found out these guys had more testosterone than brains.  It happened again.  This time Sabio bit my cousin.  Jennifer hadn't been there to bring him in after that bite.  So, they still had Sabio outside--still in Paddock One by the mares. Dumbasses.

I went out to get him.  Of course, it was fine.  No biting.  Why? Because like Jennifer, I smelled like a date to Sabio, not the competition.

After I brought him in and put him in his stall for the night, I asked the guys who worked for me, "Ok, have you all been bit enough to learn something or does Sabio need to start another round on you tomorrow?"  All three of them had been bit.  Did they all need to be chomped on again?

Finally, on day four, my instructions were followed.  Sabio was outside far away from the mares.  The biting stopped.  Turns out ol' Cowgirl Domino was right after all. 

I don't have a farm manager now.  I had one more after my cousin.  That guy was the all time worst of any employees I ever had.  Thief and a liar, he was.  Now, I am the owner/manager/instructor/any thing else that needs doing.

That's what I learned from these farm managers.  Don't hire someone else to manage your farm and expect it to be done right--even if they have a lifetime of experience with horses.  For the most part, men who work in the horse business won't listen to women who work in the horse business--even if you're the boss.  There are, of course, exceptions.  RW and Mack, for example, are fine men who listen to me and value my opinion.  Even if they disagree, I know they've actually heard me out.

I also learned it's one more reason to hire people who don't know horses and teach them myself.  I'm better off this way.  It gets my horses handled the way I want.  It better ensures, though not always, that my safety measures are followed.

Hiring "no horse experience" people has, absolutely, ensured that horses are turned out in the paddocks I say to put them in.  As you see, that actually matters! And, you don't have to get bit to learn it.  Unless of course, you're too hard headed to learn any other way.

So, I say to you now, "Did you learn something?"  There are a whole bunch of free lessons in today's stories.  Take advantage.  Learn something.  Don't let my experiences only benefit me.

Ok, folks, have a good Monday.  As you know, it's my day off.  I intend to be lazy.  I'm still in my pjs, as a matter of fact!

Thank you for reading.  I am so excited to see all of the international readers I picked-up last week.  Enjoy!  I hope it translates!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

All Is Well

Hi everyone! Just wanted to let you know all is well. We had a really good, if packed day today. Sunday's story may be a little late, but we didn't want you to worry. All the dogs, including Pip the Impossible, are laid out and happily asleep. Bart and I are about to do the same, save the rawhide bones!

See you later in the day on Sunday! Thanks for reading!

What's Going On?!

Good Saturday morning everyone! Yesterday was one of those days when I want to look to the heavens and yell, "What's going on?!"  Remember I told you I get in those Murphy's Law cycles?  I hope this is it for a while.  Yes, this long story, all happened in one day.  That's just how my life goes.

I got started at the farm a little late on Friday morning.  I went out to Mack's office to get some powdered aspirin. It's for Big Mac, Merry, and Milagro's feed.  I told you about that the other day. I give them aspirin to help with a little arthritis.  But, faithful Rose had gotten here on time to start the morning chores.

After I got Spot unloaded from my car and everything else situated--yes, Spot goes everywhere with me--I went in my office.  Rose came in.  She said, "Tar gave me a black eye."  Huh?  She looked fine.  I asked her to explain.

She said she'd gone to get Tar out of his paddock to bring him in for the day.  We're on reverse turn out for the black horses since it's already over 80 degrees here.  Black horses absorb more heat making them prone to heat exhaustion. Tar and Shadow had it last summer.

We're trying to avoid heat exhaustion this summer by bringing them in early in the Spring as soon as it hits 80 degrees.  By June 1, everyone will be on reverse turn out.  Reverse turn out means they stay inside during the day when it's hot and go out at night when it's cooler.

When Rose brought Tar out of his paddock, he was happy to see the green grass.  He was so happy, in fact, he immediately lunged down to eat it.  Rose pulled his head up twice.  He put his head back down.

On the third try, Rose bent down to grab the lead rope closer to his halter for more leverage.  This was a bad move.  It's one of those things I don't think to tell people not to do, because I don't expect them to do it.  Uh-oh.

This time, when Rose yanked, Tar decided he'd lift his head easier than the first two times.  Do you see where this is going?  Rose is pulling with all her might while she's bending down by Tar.  Tar lifts his head easily.  Rose has some velocity going.  Tar's head flies up.  Wham!  Tar's head meets Rose's head right in the eye brow.  Ouch.

He didn't mean to hurt her.  He was being a horse.  Her face just got in the way of his head.  That happens.  You have to be responsible for where you are in relation to the horse, because he's not concerned about it.

When she pushed her long bangs out of the way, I could see it swelling.  Uh-oh.  I offered her some anti-inflammatory. She turned it down.  Said she already had something else in her system.

"No it's an anti-inflammatory cream for horses. It goes on your skin," I told her.  I've never used it on myself, but Bob the blacksmith said he had.  He said it works well.

Bob was a medic in the Navy.  I'm willing to use his experiment on Rose.  She'd be an ok guinea pig, I think.  She said she'd think about it.  Damn, guess that experiment will have to wait til later. Hmm.  Maybe I'll never know.  Works great on horse hematomas, though.

We had a busy day, so I gave Rose a long list.  She was going to take my truck and go one way, while I took my car and went the other.  We planned to meet back here just after lunch to bathe Chief.

When it's over 80 degrees, that's bath weather.  Chief was in serious need of a bath.  Chief doesn't like a bath, but he was getting one anyway.  By Sunday, the temperature is going to drop to 66.  Tell me there's nothing to that climate change theory!  We had to strike while the warmth was with us.

So off we go on our separate missions.  As it's working its way towards one o'clock, I stopped by my house to eat lunch and give my tub another scrub--not at the same time.  The plumbers finally had to be called in earlier this week.

They had to fix the mess with the main drain line. This is the same mess with the drain line that the HVAC guys made.  It happened when they took the old furnace out from under my house in December.  What a mess that's been!

When the plumbers fixed the problem, they neglected to tell me what had been left in my tub.  It's an old porcelain tub.  There's a bad stain.  I won't make you sick with the rest of the details.

It's going to take a lot of scrubbing with bleach and anything else that might work.  It's a small bathroom in an old house.  There's not good ventilation.  I have to scrub off a layer of stain each day.  Or, I'll be reduced to a brain stem from all of the fumes.

As bad as this sounds, let me tell you, it beats what happened before I called the plumbers.  Just use your imagination. And, know I was thankful for disposable rubber gloves on Tuesday morning! Yuck!  I bought myself a hat that says, "One Tough Chick" after that.  Seriously.

Let me add in here, around this time I started not feeling well.  I won't worry you with the details.  These things happen to me.  Don't start making suggestions.  Normal stuff doesn't apply to me.  There is no rhyme or reason to me.

I have the body of Frankenstein held together by duct tape and baling twine.  I may not look like ol' Frank on the outside. But buddy, let me tell ya, on the inside, it's Frankenstein territory.

I fly 4,000 miles, round trip, several times a year to see the foremost doc in this field.  Even he calls me a "weirdo."  Says only 10-15% of his patients are like me.  That's not what you want to hear from a famous medical researcher.  It really doesn't make you feel special, trust me.

But, I refuse to be hindered by being Frankenstein on the inside. So I continue on.  Just as I did yesterday.  Sometimes I'm an idiot.

I went to the grocery store.  I'm sure they wonder about me.  I buy some strange combinations. Yesterday it was 2 bags of kale, 5 cans of salt substitute, 5 bottles of molasses, 4 bottles of wine, gummy bears, Jolly Ranchers, and a Hershey bar.  I'm sure they wonder what kind of freaky party I'm having.

Well, you already know that the salt substitute and molasses are for Shadow.  The kale is for Bun-Bun. The wine is to relax after a long day. When you finish reading about one of my days, don't you want a drink?

I don't drink all four bottles at once, no matter what kind of day I've had.  If you buy four bottles, you get a discount.  Geez, I may be a cowgirl, but I couldn't be if I drank four bottles of wine a night!

What about the sugary stuff?  That's for me.  It keeps me from passing out.  I was starting to feel like that might be a possibility.  So, I stocked up.  No, I'm not a diabetic.  Trust me, it's not that simple.  I wouldn't be a renowned medical researcher's "weirdo" if it were that easy!

On to the pet supply store.  Spot needed his special "Active Longevity" canned dog food.  Spot is 13 and we are co-dependent.  I need Spot to have as much active longevity as possible.  I ate the Hershey bar on the way, followed by a Jolly Rancher.

I called Rose to meet me at Lowe's after picking up Spot's food.  We needed seeds for the garden and a few other things for the barn.  It would save time if we met there.

By the time I got in Lowe's, I was on my third Jolly Rancher and it wasn't working.  I'd already had three "mini" Cokes at the house with lunch.  While we looked at seeds, my legs started shaking.  I gave Rose the rest of the list, the credit card and said I was heading to the farm.

By the time I got here, I knew I needed to guzzle juice and lie down quickly before I fell down.  I opened the door to my bedroom.  I smelled dog poop.  Oh no.  Spot had an accident.  It was too late. I missed his lunchtime run outside to take care of necessities.

At a time like this, you just have to grab the paper towels and hope for the best.  Fortunately, I didn't pass out face first in Spot poop.  Thank God for small favors!

After that stinky detour, I drank the rest of the juice in the fridge.  I laid down.  I waited to see if I felt my legs stop shaking and my brain start to come back together.

I called Bart at work.  I asked if he'd stop by to check on me when he got off.  That's a smart thing to do when your brain is feeling like a box of puzzle pieces scattered on the floor.  Of course, I couldn't let that stop me.

When Rose arrived, I talked her through bathing Chief over the phone.  I couldn't stand up long enough to help her. She'd never bathed a horse before, much less one that doesn't like baths.  Thank God for cell phones and small favors!  It apparently went without incident.  Good, she didn't need a matching black eye.

After maybe two hours, I could stand up.  My brain wasn't functioning on all cylinders, but my legs worked.  For all you blood sugar obsessed folks, mine was 77 by this time.  Normal is somewhere between 100 and 200.  Yeah, it had worked it's way up to 77.  Wonder what it was before? Eh, well, I had stuff to do.

I went in the office. Don't worry.  I took a Cadberry Chocolate Cream Egg with me.  I ate it while I worked, to see if I could feel normal by dinner time.  I typed a memo.  I faxed some documents.  I wrote Rose's pay check.  I did some other boring management stuff.  I told you, I don't let this Frankenstein stuff stop me.

As Rose is doing the end of the day chores, she comes into the office.  She looks bewildered. "Tar broke his fence again where Dod fixed it.  I can try to fix it but I don't know how."  My brain still isn't with it and my legs are unwilling to walk far enough to see the problem for myself.

I told her, "The best thing I can tell you is that Bart will be here soon."  She said some more stuff.  I don't remember what.  My brain was too foggy.  I repeated myself.  I called Bart.  He assured me he was walking out of his office.  That satisfied Rose.

Within a few minutes, Bart and Rose are scurrying around doing stuff outside of my open office door.  I don't worry about it.  Bart is good at these things.  There are some questions about where things are that aren't where they are supposed to be.  And, there was something about what kind of socket wrench I have and the kind of socket wrench he needs. His is at home. An adapter, something.

Even if my brain were working, I wouldn't know what he was talking about. I pointed at the high end ratchet he gave me. I keep it in my pencil holder on my desk.  I think of it as his version of a dozen roses, because it is. I used the jigsaw puzzle metaphor to describe how I felt and added, "So, I have no idea what you're talking about."

He said something else.  I tried to give him the Lowe's card.  That was my best answer.  No, that's not it.  He pressed on without the ratchet or the card.

Whatever, I had to do the schedule for today.  I had to figure it out minus Shadow, who can't work when it's over 80 degrees because of potential heat exhaustion.  Remember Shadow is my most requested lesson horse.

I have a full day of lesson kids today who love Shadow and I have no Shadow to work with. Think, think, think.  What to do?  Who will cause the least trouble for these kids? Same nightmare as last summer.  My life is like that movie Groundhog Day, sometimes.

This is what I'm thinking, "Ok, Big Mac can pinch hit.  I'll put Milagro in here, because this kid can stop her from eating the fresh grass.  Cowgirl Pinkie wants to ride Chief.  Gee, I hope that goes ok.  Cowgirl Slim can ride him before Pinkie gets here to ratchet him down some.  Plus I'll have Big Mac on stand-by for her."

As I'm typing up what looks like the Saturday schedule from hell, Rose comes in.  She looks bewildered, again.  Her eye is actually starting to bruise.  She's going to have a real shiner.  She says, "Tar just broke his fence on the other side."  Huh?

"He walked around to the other side and put his head through the fence to eat more grass and one of the posts broke off at the ground," she said.

Crap!  My posts are set 3 feet deep in concrete.  Replacing a post is no small task.  You have to get the three feet of old concrete out of the ground first.  I have the equipment for it, obviously, I just wasn't up for it.  After a full week at work, I knew Bart wasn't up to it either.  I sent Rose out to talk to Bart for them to figure it out.

They made a plan.  It involved setting up some corral panels.  They needed to find stuff Dod had misplaced.

Dod is losing his touch the closer he gets to graduation and his mission work in Rwanda. He has too much on his mind. I understand, but I wish he could keep his "perfect farm hand touch" til he leaves for Africa.

They found the stuff.  I could hear the goings on.  I stayed in my office.

I typed the schedule for today.  It makes me a little nervous.  If all of this can go wrong on a day when I don't have the place stacked up with lesson kids, what's going to happen when I do?  I'm going to write a few stories for you ahead of time in case this Murphy's Law cycle gets worse.

I would have yelled up at the heavens, "What's going on?!" But, I didn't have the strength.

Obviously, I'm fine now folks.  Don't worry.  I had the energy to type this.  It's my life.  I just keep on going.

Have a wonderful weekend! Thanks for reading.

P.S. I'm concerned enough about this Murphy's Law cycle and my full schedule today, that I actually wrote this on Friday night.  I set it up to post on a delay.  Just in case, you know.  I don't want you to go without your amusement at my expense.  Thoughtful bugger, aren't I?