The horse's pasture to the East...

Monday, March 25, 2013


Sometimes an event pushes you past your comfort zone boundaries, in to a place that just plain hurts. It's how you decide to react to that event that determines what comes next. Do you sink in to a "sea of misery" or do you rise to the occasion, learn how to swim and push yourself to the next shoreline so you can move on?

Last week a well meaning, just a bit too enthusiastic young animal activist sent me a video. It was titled "A MESSAGE FOR YOU FROM A KILL BUYER". In the name of keeping to my word for this year, Center, and because I've always thought the other opinion was important to understand before I make decisions, I opened it. I thought maybe it would be from one of the people who used to work in that industry who had a story to tell or a suggestion to make about how to help. Or maybe it was even their side of the story, about why they thought horse slaughter had merit. On that one I already knew I wouldn't agree but listening and learning is always important.

It was an opinion, no doubt about it. And it was probably one of the most shocking videos I've ever watched because my guard was down. I was sitting here, drinking an afternoon cup of tea and catching up on email. I was relaxed, the sun was out and my huge, sweet smelling St. Bernard puppy was draped across my feet. I was open to suggestion and ready to listen.

It was a video made by a man from New Mexico, surprisingly well crafted. It starts with a handsome, young gelding standing in a small, slightly messy paddock. Sweet tempered young horse too, no fear on it's face...just curiosity. In the next frame you see the man,a skinny guy wearing a cowboy hat, walking towards the camera leading the gelding. He stops to pet the horse, then pulls a gun from a holster and shoots the handsome sorrel gelding (found out it was only two years old, later when I started to investigate the background on the video) in the forehead. The horse falls to the ground and, while the horse lays there thrashing, the man turns to the camera and says "F8ck you, animal activists!" He turns and looks at the dying horse and says "Good!" and walks out of camera range, leaving the horse there to die. 

I reacted all right. I cried so hard it made me sick. I cried for two days. I lost sleep, couldn't eat, had a hard time focusing on anything. I also ran for my own horses and Willow to check on them right away. It was an instinctive thing to do. The horse that died in the video looked exactly the way Lucky did when I brought him to anything I wanted to do, ready to go, sweet tempered and willing. Beautiful too. I felt like I had been sucker punched, right through the computer screen. I'd been accosted by a stone cold killer. That was the way it felt. 

It's taken a week of cleaning and organizing (I think better when I move) to make myself look at it from a different point of view. It's not easy to look death in the eye and do that.

This person, single handedly, has galvanized a much larger audience in to action with that four minute video. People who have been ignoring the issue of horse slaughter are paying attention. And people who've been vocal but not particularly active are doing something. Make no mistake, I would never condone that kind of video...ever. But he did kick the so called industry of horse slaughter in the pants when the video was published. 

I was already an activist. I sign petitions, write emails and make regular calls in support of the S.A.F.E. Act before Congress. If passed, it will make horse slaughter for consumption illegal in the USA and make the transferal of horses for slaughter,  across the borders in to Canada and Mexico illegal. It's a bi partisan bill, maybe the first in a long time, and my hope is that it will pass.

But what do I do? How do I react in a more effective way? My goals have changed direction because of that video. I need to pass, officially, through the upper levels of the Parelli program. I want my skills at a higher level so that I can begin to rescue horses, one at a time, and help to find them new forever homes. To do that I'm going to need help from a Parelli Professional or student who is much higher up than I am. I've pushed myself through Level 2 but I need to pass Level 3 and 4 (at least on the ground). I need advice on how to do this as safely as possible.

I've started an outline of steps ... my own patterns, so to speak. It's kind of scary when I begin to look at the whole picture. I can flip over to a RBE kind of panic when the goal begins to look like it's on the other side of a mountain range. So far I've been doing things by taking millions of baby steps, looking ahead but not too far. I can be very goal oriented and when I get like that with my horses things just don't work out the way I want them too. Much too direct line. So, step number one is : CENTER, my word for this year. Keep a balanced point of view. Use this huge wave of emotion to learn how to surf and reach the shore still standing.

Step number two : Improve my knowledge of technology. I'll need it to make audition videos and to send videos to the Parelli folks I would like to work with, so they can give me on line advice. Right now I'm more likely to be able to afford that rather than trying to get to a clinic. There aren't many of those in my neck of the woods anyway. (although I would probably go to one close in as an audit).

Step number three : Print out the list of things needed to do and begin to check them off, record them on Parelli Connect. I have a barn book that I write things down in but I lost my way a bit last year when I had an accident and scared the silly willies out of myself. Turns out that it's much harder to recover from brain freeze than broken bones. That will be my "million tiny steps".

Step four : Organize my time better. I'm an artist. I have a tendency to be intuitive about the way I structure my day. I've begun to change my habits and set times aside to reach my "million tiny steps" goals. Mornings have always been for barn chores and feeding horses, tidying up the house, and exercise. Now I need to set aside specific times to play/work with Lucky and Apache, Willow too. 

I need to clean up my act, so to speak.

Step five : Find a way to save money. I've already started making our own yogurt and kombucha, buying no packaged food at all. I'm going back to conserving the way I did when we were in college all those years ago. I need to be able to get myself to an instructor and spend an intense week or two being pushed outside my comfort zone HARD. We'll be growing the majority of our own vegetables this next year too. Buying organic is expensive and it's one of the places I won't give in or give up. Good food, exercise, sleeping well and being happy where I am, when I am and how I am are the best things I can do to help myself reach my goal. Those aren't hard goals to stay with. I already do that, fading hippy chick that I am.

My list goes on, but this is a good place to start. This is a hard old world. The only way to balance out the bad energy is by putting out my own little bit of good energy, staying positive and believing I can do this. I've stumbled through this so far. Now I want to dance.

Look out world, I'm coming through. 

I am, always, Nancy, smiling and taking a really deep breath... in with the good, out with the bad. " I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I KNOW I CAN.

Monday, March 4, 2013


Everybody loved Joe. In all the years he lived with us, more than fifteen, even the people who went out of their way to tell us they didn't care for dogs would say " Well, maybe he's the exception. I sure do like this little dog." But I'm skipping ahead to the end. I need to take you back to my forties, back to the beginning of the years of the Three Amigos.

Crazy Joe Cocker was the dog I thought I didn't need to have. We already had Gypsy and Newman, the coy dog my son had rescued. Two was enough while living in town, more than enough.

I met Joe at the local pet store. I'd gone to pick up kibble, canned food, cookies, bones to chew on, new collars ... all the things you need when you have dogs living with you that are barely a year old. They were growing and chewing us out of house and home. I didn't mind that. I expected to loose a few shoes and an occasional sock to puppies. What I DIDN'T need was another puppy.

At the back of the store were all of the dog aisles and so were any of the new puppies that came in. (This was the last year they sold puppies there. After that they had the local Humane Society come in for adoption Saturdays. They still do too. ) In the corner was a big tub where puppies were bathed and brushed until they shown, all ready to go home with the people who couldn't resist them. Standing next to the tub was a panicked young man with four soapy, excited puppies in the tub barking, playing and trying to get out.

He was new. Just the year before he'd been one of the young volunteers who helped around the store, acting like a young ambassador. He lived down the street from us too so I recognized him. I stood there and watched for a moment, waiting to see how he was going to handle his dilemma. And I have to admit I was enjoying the puppy rodeo he had going on there too. It was obvious that the puppies had the upper hand.All five of them, four leggeds and two, were soaking wet, covered in bubbles and the flood was heading down the aisle towards the dog beds. What a mess!

I walked over, took off my jacket and set down my bags, rolled up my sleeves and said " Let me help before this gets any more exciting. Don't want you to loose your job on the first day." And I smiled too. I knew this kid. He was shy, not many friends and in that horrible 16th year when your knees grow before the rest of you can catch up. " Thanks Mrs. Ness. I think I made a mistake when I put all four in at once. Guess I bit off more than I can chew."

"No worries. We'll get it done before anyone notices. You just knocked your nose a little bit, learning on the job. I'll keep these three occupied and you wash them each, one at a time." Actually, we made a pretty good team. Both of us got pretty messy but we did manage to get it done. He washed and rinsed, took the next one and handed the clean one to me. I'd rub that puppy down with a towel and set him in the puppy play pen with the warm air dry fan going and be there to catch the next one before he jumped out of the tub.

They were pretty too, four Cocker Spaniel puppies, big ones. They were big enough that I'd thought initially that they might have been Springer Spaniels. I have to admit I was really enjoying all of the puppy smells, kisses and wiggles. And I was also chanting to myself " I don't want another puppy. I don't need another puppy. It's the last thing I need." Uh huh. You already know how well that went down.

 One of them, a little male with all of these wonderful spots and freckles, kept following me around. He had these huge brown eyes and paws that were so over sized he kept tripping over his own feet. "Nope. No ... huh uh, nope. Don't need another puppy. You go on back with your brothers and sister. Go on now!" And then it happened. He sat on my foot. 

Every dog I've ever brought home sat on my foot...all of them. Oh noooo! I was in troubles. And I was in love. And I was also taking another dog home with me. Needless to say, that Pet Store loved me. It took two trips to get all of the stuff and my new puppy out to my truck. How in the world was I going to explain this one to John! We were now a three dog house. Every night was going to be a three dog night. 

Joe fit right in. And it didn't take long to see why, either. EVERYONE loved Joe. Gypsy and Newman rolled him over, sniffed all of the important parts, let him up and he fell right in to place. All three sat down in front of me, in a line, wagging tails and ready to go! Sheesh. It was full out pandemonium and mayhem having three puppies in the house together. Shoes were sacrificed to the dog gods, food bags were robbed, beds run over the top of with muddy feet and trash cans tipped on a regular basis. I was in dog heaven! And there wasn't one day, in all those years, when I didn't have something to laugh about. They saved me more than I ever saved them. Bringing home Joe was the best decision I ever made!

Everyone has a gift. Joe's was being stinky. He would jump in to the shower with me, get all soapy and squeaky clean and then run outside and roll on something dead 10 minutes later. His registered name was, I kid you not, Crazy Joe Cocker. But I think I may have missed the boat by not naming him Stinky Joe. 

When we moved out of town, on to the land, Joe discovered the unbelievable joy, the indescribable wonder of HORSE POOP. Mountains of it. It was Nirvana for Joe. He ate it, rolled in it, slept in it, carried it around, buried it and dug it up. After a few weeks he smelled so much like the poop that the horses stopped caring whether he was there or not. I'm pretty sure they thought he was a moving hill of poop. No worries there!

And then there were other joyous smells, like deer poop and little dead animals, chicken poop and compost piles. I mean, what's not to like? His people were throwing garbage out in piles of poop and then stirring it around! It was dog heaven only better. For Joe, life was grand, perfect and always just so Joe. 

This morning Joe died. He'd been sick for several days and I knew we were close, but he hadn't told me it was time yet so I didn't call the Vet. He was afraid of the Vet's office. He saw Gypsy when she came home, gone from her body and smelling of chemicals. And he watched Newman die in the front yard, again with the help of our Vet. He didn't want to go. He needed to do this his own way. It was the only time in his life he'd made a request of me, asked to have it his way instead of mine. I knew it would be hard for him. But I honored his need to die at home in peace. And that was exactly what he did.

It was a long weekend for all of us. Miniver never left his side and Annie, the cat that loved Joe and groomed him (an endless chore since he never staid clean for very long), curled up between his front paws. John staid home with me today, called in sick. Joe was his best buddy, his truck driving dog. He needed to be here too. 

Somehow Joe made it down to the barn one last time last night. It was hard going in the deep snow. We'd dug out paths for him, taking him to all of his favorite places, so he could go out to do his business where he always wanted to go. I'd even dug paths over to the compost piles for him so he could easily follow me as I went back and forth with the muck buckets. To the end he carefully sniffed and selected the very best pieces of poop to sit on. He couldn't roll anymore.

The walk there and back was long and arduous for him. He would take a few steps and collapse, then get up and walk a few more. He hadn't eaten since Friday but he was not going to let me be alone. He needed me as much as I needed him. Miniver followed him, laying down next to him to keep him warm, deferring to his status as "oldest" and letting him have the choice places to lay down. I would take a few steps, Joe right behind me and Miniver behind him. Then we would wait and start all over again. 

This morning he managed to make it down the stairs one more time and then collapsed in the hallway. He just couldn't go any further. I sat on the floor with him after wrapping him up in soft towels and we talked, Joe and I. We sat there and remembered the Cement Donkey the neighbors in town had on their patio, the one Joe would pee on every morning. We'd sneak up between the back yards before the sun came up, giggling, so Joe could make his secrete deposit. We talked about how he could open doors and taught Gypsy and Newman how to also. We remembered ruined shoes, the sofa cushions he decimated one afternoon when I went to the store without him. Who knew there were so many feathers inside a sofa? It was a sea of feathers!

I held him while we talked about the bunnies he would chase, the deer he almost caught but, being the nice guy he was, would always let go at the last moment. The truck rides with his head in my lap even when the windows were open because it was me he wanted to be with, not whatever was going on outside. 

His last and most wonderfully infamous trick was when he figured out how to steal Miniver's food. He would finish his first because he never ate anything slow and then would turn around and run at the deck doors, barking and growling. Miniver would leave her bowl to go bark and growl too and Joe would run around the back of the table and steal the rest of her food. No matter how many times he pulled his trick, it worked.

He died quietly, peacefully. He went to sleep like he had a thousand times before, in my lap. But this time he didn't wake up. He was gone. I felt his energy leave, gently changing the room as he moved on. 

John grieved in his own way, crying while he dug a grave for Joe outside next to Gypsy and Newman. I cried while I was down in the barn doing morning chores. 

Everyone was quiet, the air was grey and the sounds weren't as crisp. Miniver sat next to the pile of hay, the Joe nest, waiting for him. He didn't come.

And then Mrs. Miniver jumped up, running out the barn doors barking. I followed her to see what was going on. There she was, running in these big loopy circles out in the field next to the barn. She'd stop, put her tail in the air and wag so hard and fast it looked like her tail was wagging her, then she'd run and jump and turn back, running to the same spot to start all over again. 

My phone rang. It was John. He said, " Look up." There, flying in circles above us, were Canadian Geese. They stopped over here every year to visit the ponds. Joe loved to chase them, until they turned and chased him back. It was a ritual every Spring and Autumn. While we were watching, two of them broke off and circled down, flying over the barns, house and to the field where John was digging Joe's resting place. They flew around one more time, not more than thirty feet off the ground and then they rejoined their flock and they all flew off towards the East where the sun had just come up.

Miniver had stopped playing with her unseen friend and had come to me to sit and lean against me, watching the geese too. When they flew off it felt like a circle completed. Joe was gone ahead and we were here, left to celebrate his life.

Everyone loved Joe.