Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Technical Difficulties

Once again, my internet is on the fritz. Once again, Verizon insists on running the same unnecessary tests over and over again, all of which are coming back inconclusive.

This, of course, is making school work, blogging, and lots of other stuff extremely frustrating. So, if we're around less than usual over the next couple of weeks, don't worry and please forgive us.

A couple of things..
  • A few of you commented on my treat-giving during my Rally competition. The Rally we ran was APDT Rally (Association of Pet Dog Trainers). They allow handlers to reward their dogs at specific points on course. The courses in APDT are longer than AKC courses and many (including myself) argue that they are harder as well.
  • Agility class was last night. Unfortunately, once again, I have no pictures or videos, since I went alone. Marge's agility was fantastic, but her behavior left a little bit to be desired (just a little).
  • My next AKC trial is a week from this Saturday and Sunday. I'm currently in the process of buying a canopy/tent for it so we can hang out in the shade. (I got the trial schedule, and Marge's runs are nearly 6 hours apart! I think we'll be going home in between.)
  • Oh, and it looks like we're going to get some press. The local newspaper is, indeed, doing a story about mixed breeds in AKC competition, and I believe Marge and I are going to be a large part of it.
That's about it. Not much going on around here - just figured I'd update, since it's rare that I go this long without writing on here. Hopefully, just hopefully, this internet nonsense doesn't drag on forever like it did last time.

In the meantime, enjoy this photo of Marge noshing on a beef trachea last week.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Level Up!

What a long weekend! We had Rally trials scheduled at the club on both Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday was a small trial, which was good. Louie came to my house at 8 or so and after a brief stint of what I like to call intestinal revolt (I thought I was going to die), the Pepto Bismol kicked in and we headed to the training hall. She stayed in her crate with Louie while I walked the course. There were literally only 10 or 15 dogs in the class, so we didn't have to wait around long at all.

Here is our run Saturday. It was good enough for a 209/210, a qualifying score and first place in the Novice A class.

They offered a second trial on Saturday, but I didn't want to push it. So, Louie and I spent the rest of the day together, mostly sleeping (who knew Rally could be so tiring?).

Today, I wound up having to go to the trial by myself. As it turns out, the club decided to offer a second trial that day, too, under a different judge. (You need to have 3 Q's under at least 2 different judges to get your RL1 title.) So, after running the course successfully in the morning - a perfect 210 and another first place! - I decided that I may as well go for the title.

Marge and I went home for a while. I wasn't about to keep her there for hours waiting for the other levels to finish up. She played with the toy that she had won as a prize in her first run.

A little while later, we headed back. Marge had to wait around for about two hours before she went back in the ring. She did REALLY well with this - didn't give a peep out of her crate about it, and was very sociable when I had her out on her leash. I could tell she was starting to get antsy/tired, so I was really surprised at how well she held it together.

Before we ran, I was warming Marge up in the room adjacent to the main room, and went over near the doorway. A dog was in the ring and saw Marge (who was just looking around, not making noise), and he started growling and got all upset. I felt SO bad. They still wound up Q'ing, and I don't think I really did anything wrong, but since Marge can be kind of funny with that kind of stuff, too, I felt bad.

The third run was just the same course as in the morning. This run was actually pretty good in terms of attention. She looked like she was enjoying herself. Her turns were nice (she doesn't always like to do nice right turns) and she seemed to be paying attention to me. We hit some trouble when she decided that she wanted to go straight to heel position when I called her front on one of the signs. We had to re-do that one twice. I thought we NQ'ed, but we managed a score of 201. We got our Rally Level 1 title! We were first place again, but that was only because we were the lone team in the Level 1 A class.

We were the second to last dog to run, so we left pretty quickly thereafter. Here, Marge poses with her loot from the weekend (we're missing a first place ribbon because my club ran out).

Over all, I'm totally happy with our success this weekend. I'm glad I waited as long as I did to be absolutely sure that she'd excel at Rally when we got in to the ring. Our next Rally trial is in July, but we'll be practicing before then, too. I think we're going to go ahead with Level 2, which is off leash!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dog Crap and Dandelions

Mom, I'm sorry I rolled in mushy dog s^%& on our walk. Can you please, please, please not get the water and shampoo out?

Thanks a lot.

At least I look nice for my APDT trial this weekend now.

Marge had quite a good roll in the, er, grass yesterday. I was going to turn around and go home after she did it, but it was so nice out and she was feeling so good that we wound up walking for almost an hour. At least I had an excuse to tell people if any one tried to approach her. Thankfully, no one did, but that would have been a funny situation.. "Yeah, she's afraid of people and covered in crap. Are you sure you want to pet her?"

We had more nice, long walks today. Two, in fact. I took these pictures as Marge posed among the dandelions. I like 'em.

In about 12 hours, we'll be in the Rally ring for the first time. It's so funny how different I feel compared to my agility trials. I'm pretty relaxed about it, which I'm happy about. I guess the fact that we'll be indoors, on-leash, and in a familiar place is keeping my nerves in check. Of course, there's still that tinge of worry that Marge will be scared of the judge, though. On the bright side, Marge is only the 8th or so dog to run tomorrow and the entries are low - so, it won't be crowded and we shouldn't be there more than an hour. I'll probably update about it on Sunday, after both trials all over. Wish us luck!

(PS - we might be in the local newspaper sometime within the next month. They interviewed me regarding the AKC Canine Partners program! Keep your fingers crossed for this, too! I told them all about the fact that Marge was a fearful rescue whose life was changed by agility.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Interspecies Relationships

We don't officially participate in Wordless Wednesday, but very few words are needed to describe this series of photos.

That dumb dog.

- Play?



NO, dog! NO!!!!!!!

Sigh. They operate on the same wavelength sometimes, I swear. Tonight was just not one of those times.


(And if you think this was bad, you should have seen her last night at agility class. Miss I'm-picky-about-my-friends wanted to smoosh her favorite Portuguese Water friend with play bows and paw smacks, not to mention the flirting she did with her Vizsla lover boy and the laps she wanted to run with her Lhasa classmate. Not that I'm complaining!)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesday Training 32

Sunday Session

On Sunday, we had a training session with my friend and her Westie, S. I was originally set up to be disappointed, as Marge heard loud sounds in the parking lot while we were waiting to go in to the training hall and got all stressy. (She also hates interacting with dogs when she's like this, so she did send a snark or two poor little S's way.) I put her in a crate inside the hall for a couple of minutes for her to cool off, and the sounds seemed to have gone away (though, as I loater found out, it was simply that we couldn't hear them inside the building), so she calmed down.

We ran Rally first. Our first Rally trial is Saturday and Sunday, so I wanted to get in one more practice before then. We set up two courses - the AKC course from S's recent debut (where she qualified!) and then another course with some APDT signs in it. Marge did pretty well. I have been fine-tuning some of my handling, trying to exaggerate my body language to better prepare Marge for making right turns and lefts. It seems to be working.

Then, we did some agility. I didn't want to overdo it, since we're back in to the swing of outdoor classes and don't like to over work Marge, so we worked on the teeter, the weaves, startlines at the tire, and some directional stuff. I helped S and her Mom with back crosses, too.

By then, Marge was feeling fine, and had a little play-bow/chase session with her friend. At the end, I snapped a photo of them looking up at the tempting roast beef in my hand. Aren't they cute together? Both S's Mom and I are thrilled that they get along - we're roughly in the same stages of our training, so it's going to be nice to have a trial buddy who Marge likes. We're hopefully going to have another training session together in two weeks.

Walkie Walkie
Marge's walks have been mostly uneventful. We've been doing a lot of walking in the field, honestly. It has been quiet, so there hasn't been much to test her on, BUT she is dealing decently well with the things that she does encounter, like construction noises. She's perking waaay up when she sees dogs, so I really need to go back to the clicking and treating for both looking calmly and then making eye contact with me. (Strangely enough, strange dogs really aren't a huge issue at doggy sport events.) The warm weather is always a challenge for Marge, as she seems to react more strongly to stimuli when it's hot out. We've been doing roughly one long walk a day, and sometimes a shorter one thrown in.

I want to continue walking her at night, but I'm being very selective about when I do it. Friday and Saturday nights are usually no-no's. If it's too warm, I usually scrap it, too. I do NOT want her to hear a firework and then decide that all walks are bad.

I want to start heading back to the parks, but haven't yet had the time.

Speaking of Fireworks..
We have had a few. Already. #@%$#! On the plus side, I'm pretty much grabbing treats as soon as I hear them and feeding Marge. She isn't running away as badly as she used to, but she is still getting pretty scared. I know I need to step the conditioning NOW if I want the summer to be bearable.

I've thought about playing firework sounds on the computer, but most of them go EEEEEK-POP and she is really not ready to deal with the high pitched "EEEEK." She reacts the worst to that. She's been doing better with whistles, sirens, etc., so I'm not sure I really want to touch that at all. If I play regular bangs and booms on the computer, she usually doesn't think anything of it. Hmm.

I might get some bubble wrap for Marge to go crazy with. She really did love the game in the past where I clicked/treated for her stepping on the wrap and making the popping noise. That might be something to do again.

We're going to agility tonight and also having a private lesson afterwards. But, so that this post isn't ginormously long, I'll save that for another day!

Monday, April 19, 2010

This Time, Last Year

I was going to skip updating today, but then I realized that today is the one-year anniversary since Marge passed her Canine Good Citizen test. It feels like eons ago! I'm not sure if she'd pass the test again - I think she'd need a refresher in a couple of areas (meeting/ignoring a strange dog and 3-minute separation test are the big two I can think of), but I like to think that she has retained a lot of the doggy etiquette that led her to pass last year.

A few days from now, it will also be one year since Marge first started agility. I'm pressed for time, but I thought I'd leave you with this little amusing clip that you might not have seen before... Our first agility sequence, sometime last spring. It makes me smile when I watch it.

Now, I'm headed out for a field trip for school that I can definitely do without (who wants to ride the subway for an hour on a Monday afternoon?), but I'll get back on track with blogging tomorrow.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Back on Schedule

It feels like for ever since I've written about the individual for which this blog is named! After a week long stray from that topic, I do have a little bit of news about Marge.

We went back to agility class on Tuesday! I was SO excited. Though I didn't mind the indoor classes and think I learned a lot of good handling skills for tight courses, I couldn't wait to get back outdoors under the stadium lights. You can kind of consider this a late Tuesday Training post.

Our class is full. We've got a Rottweiler, a Golden, a Vizsla, a Cane Corso, a Portuguese Water Dog, a Lhasa Apso, and a Papillon with us. Only one of these dogs is one that Marge has a real issue with, but so far it looks like it will be okay. Only half the class was there this week, so it meant extra time for those who showed up.

The course was a bit easier than the courses we typically saw last year - still probably above the Novice level, but it just didn't feel like the Excellent level stuff we did last year. Some of the dogs are a bit greener than Marge is (can you believe we've been doing this a YEAR already?) so I think that might be why. I'm planning on having several private lessons with my instructor to begin to get ready for Open Standard (I forsee us flying through the rest of Novice Standard) and working on our Jumpers With Weaves skills (which I think are lacking - I feel like we might be in Novice for a long time).

The course (we ran each half twice, here's the better of each half):

The breakdown of the course:
  • I led out to jump 2, just so I could be there for her to go over the teeter. I was happy to see that she wasn't really spooky about the teeter after her last sloppy one at the trial. She's still waiting at the pivot point, but I'm kind of letting her get used to it on her own - I know it will add seconds on to our time, but I'd rather that than make the teeter scary for her.
  • Down the line to the triple - I sent to the triple and then front crossed as she came back to me. Her contacts were OK - I didn't use the post-it and she did some freaky stuff at first (like targeting the contact zone itself), but looked better each time.
  • Back crossed before the jump to get to the weaves - the stupid Weave-O-Matics kept moving around and made it so that the poles bent the wrong way, which explains her issues tonight. Her entries looked good. She did pop out a couple of times at the 10th pole, though. Need to work on these for sure. I want to make them more independent.
  • Really beautiful through the 180 to the tire. And an AWESOME send to the table. She did spin back towards me on this run but I don't think I cued it enough. I was shocked at how far out she went in front of me to get there.
  • A-Frame/tunnel discrimination went crappy, as usual... took the Frame the first couple of tries. I adjusted my handling a little bit on the last run, using my off arm to guide her back in toward me, and she did take the tunnel, but she looked at the Frame first. She's even worse with the dog walk (always chooses the contact obstacle even if I'm shoving her in the tunnel and then gets stressy when we repeat it).
So, over all, we ran this pretty clean. She was so fast that night, I think it was cold and I hadn't walked her much during the day, so she was really feeling good. She took a couple of faceplants, too, just from being such a crazy girl and speeding around her turns.

No behavior problems, either. Friendly towards all people and indifferent towards most of the dogs. She's warming up slowly but surely to the Cane Corso, who has been so generous to provide his rear end for her to sniff, and the Golden Retriever, who she's gotten snarky with in the past.

There are roughly three weeks until our next agility trial, a local AKC trial that we're doing both days of. I will use my time well to get her prepared for it!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My Incredible Journey - Part 6

It ultimately took weeks before I would feel even remotely like myself again. But, it didn't take long before I was back at the barn. In fact, I went back the weekend following Taco's death. I told myself that it would be hard no matter what, so waiting before going back wasn't going to help or change things.

I continued riding and grooming the other two horses there for a few months. It was nice, and I was glad to have them in my life, but things would never be the same. Once again, just as it was at the beginning of this whole journey, I found myself without a horse of my own. I loved both of these horses very much, but they weren't mine. It was impossible for my partnership with them to grow as strong as the one I had with Taco.

At the very beginning of July of that year, I was told that I was no longer welcome there. It was through no fault of my own - to summarize, the two barn owners, who were romantically involved, were in the midst of ongoing disputes, which had been brewing for months and eventually reached a climax. I became a pawn, one person kicking me out to get the other one upset (I was the only one who came there on a regular basis - the other two horses belonged to the barn owners). I accepted my fate as best as any kid could, and said my goodbyes to the place where I spent so much of my youth, knowing I'd never return. I tried riding at another stable a few months later, but never felt that special connection again and gave it up after just a couple of lessons.

Taco's ashes sit in a wooden box in my room. If there was anything to be glad about, it was that he now really was mine, and would stay with me forever. His halter lies in a drawer under my bed, and those locks of hair that were clipped off of him the day before he died are in my desk. His name plate that used to hang above his stall is stored in my basement. These mementos and the dozens of pictures I took of him are the only physical items left from what was something that used to encompass my existence.

It's easy for me to still feel sad about all that I had and all that I lost. I think about it a lot, especially around this time of year. Every birthday is a silent reminder, too, of that day when I turned eleven years old and got the gift of his friendship. What makes it worse is that I know there will never be any horse - or animal - in my life quite like him. But, at the same time, I know I must be thankful for the fact that I got to spend so much time with him in the first place. To have lived to forty is an impressive feat for a horse. And, although I still have those nagging thoughts that wonder about what would have been if the vet had chosen a more aggressive treatment approach, I know deep down inside that our time together could not have been much longer, anyway.

Taco taught me so many lessons in those six years I spent with him. For one, he showed me that friends can come at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected places. He taught me about what it meant to be motivated, to be dedicated to something that you find important. He taught me to never take for granted life's simple pleasures. At death, he showed me that even the most horrible of endings cannot take away from what was a magical, storybook friendship. I am a different person - a better person - for having known Taco. He has had a profound impact on my life.

I guess it's those themes that I wanted to convey to you all by retelling this story. That when you love, you should love deeply. That when you make a decision, even if no one else agrees with you, what matters most is that you yourself believe that what you did was right. That when do you something, you must do it to the very best of your ability. And that when you come along someone who needs your help, you just might be able to change both their life and your own with a little bit of time and effort.

Taco, where ever you are, I hope it goes without saying that I love you with all my heart. Thank you for everything that you did for me. It was an honor to have been by your side, an experience that I will never forget as long as I live. No matter where my life takes me, my heart will always be in the aisles of that old barn, in the middle of that green paddock, in the places where I was with you.

Here marks the end of one of the most heartfelt things I've ever written. In telling this story, I feel like Taco came back to life for a little while, in a spiritual sense. Thank you for reading along and making this experience possible for me.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My Incredible Journey - Part 5

This is a sad post, there's no hiding it. However, in taking you on this journey, it wouldn't make sense to leave this part out. This is the slightly shortened version. After this post, I will have one final post in this series - a more uplifting, inspirational, and nostalgic post - reflecting on all that I have written here.


Me and Taco, March 2007 - just three weeks before.

"Exhausted" is how I described myself as feeling. Physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. A feeling of total depletion, unlike any I had felt before. Couldn't get out of bed. Couldn't go to school. The preceding weekend had taken a massive toll on me.

Sunday had typically been the weekend day that I chose to go to the barn. But, rain was in the forecast for April 15, 2007. So, we made a call to the barn owner to ask if we could come a day early, on Saturday. She said yes, that it would be fine. But, they were having the vet come out because Taco seemed to be colicky. (This is an intestinal/stomach ailment, for those that don't know.) She didn't think it was serious, but wanted to play it safe.

I remember feeling angry about him being sick. Why did this have to happen again? I hated worrying about him, but, naturally - involuntarily - I did it all the time.

The barn owner called my mom's cell phone a while later, when the vet had arrived and examined Taco. As it turned out, this episode of colic was much more serious than originally thought.

The world began to spin around me. My mom handed me the phone, and the vet started talking to me. "It would be best to put him to sleep." "He's lived a long life." The things he was saying could barely even be processed in my mind. I get chills just thinking about it. I had not expected this at all.

We rushed to the barn, tears pouring down my face like a waterfall. The vet didn't know exactly what was wrong, but had three ideas, each bleaker than the next. The vet explained that if Taco were even 10 years younger or so, he'd consider operating on him. But, the reality was that at forty years of age, surgery was not an option.

As is a recurring theme in my friendship with Taco, I couldn't just give up like that. He was up on his legs, walking around, picking at grass. Uncomfortable, yes, but in distress, no. How could we euthanize him without giving it a second thought?

All involved parties agreed. Barn owners, Taco's owner, and I all contested that we should at least try something. Maybe, just maybe, this would pass.

They gave him an injection and decided to "oil" him (pump mineral oil into his system), in hopes that it would get his insides moving, so to speak. I didn't watch the procedure. I went inside with another horse, who despite his stoic personality, offered me a ton of comfort.

Then, we played the waiting game. Nothing changed through that day or that night.

Fast forward to Sunday, April 15. It was raining buckets. I still remember that haunting rain all too vividly. The back of the barn was completely flooded. Taco's field was a muddy mess, but keeping him outside (with shelter, of course) rather than in his stall seemed like the best thing to do, in case he went down on his side during the night.

Back out to the barn I went. Taco looked pretty uncomfortable, slowly lifting up each of his hind legs from time to time. But, he was still standing. I wondered, if the vet's possible diagnoses were so poor, why hadn't he greatly worsened? I called my own (small animal) vet, I scoured the web for ideas, I posted on a horse forum and got all sorts of suggestions. Every one said that the vet should come back out to re-examine him and possibly give him more medication. There was a chance this colic wasn't as bad as originally feared. I tried so hard to convince every one to get that vet back out there. But, long story short, on that Sunday, he did not come. It was out of my control.

I held my composure until the latter half of my visit that day. The barn owner began talking to me about how she was going to clip off a piece of Taco's mane and tail to give to me, "just in case." At that point, it all felt real. This was really happening. There was a good chance that I was about to lose my horse.

We made the trek from the house back down to his field, the rain still banging against the metal barn roof. The barn owner went off to feed the other two horses, leaving me alone in Taco's small shed with him.

That was the last time I was alone with him, and somehow, I knew it. I couldn't do anything except stand there and cry. I hated seeing him the way he was, with his head in the corner, his eyes sad and low. The past six years raced inside my head. I didn't know what the future held. I didn't want to know, either. I just didn't want to leave him.

I went home from the barn that evening with the intent to return the following afternoon. Monday, April 16. That fateful day. Upon speaking with the barn owner that morning, she, too, finally thought it was a good idea to get the vet back out to re-evaluate Taco. He didn't seem to have improved or worsened, making it the third day of relative status quo. The vet was due back out later in the day.

It was not soon enough. Around 3 PM, my mother walked over to me, visibly upset, and handed me the phone. It was the barn owner.

Taco had suddenly worsened that afternoon. I'll spare you the details. The pain that he seemed to have kept at bay all weekend suddenly shot through his body. It, at that point, became apparent that he was in visible distress. He was put to sleep, with his owner there beside him.

I can't convey to you the sadness I felt. It was like being stabbed in the heart. My one and only Taco was with me no more, after a three-day struggle, and I had no idea how I would go on.

There is one more installment in this series. Please come back for Part 6.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Incredible Journey - Part 4

Thank you for sticking with this story so far. As I hope I've made evident, this events were among the most important in my life. This "anniversary week" is always a hard week for me, and talking about him has led to the revisitation of some of the happiest times in my life. If you're wondering, the series should be about six parts total.

Taco's life was transformed in October 2003, when he suddenly became one of only three horses living in what was once a barn filled to capacity (twenty five horses or so). My life changed a lot, too.

Me and Taco, October 2003

The barn owners were extremely accommodating; they treated Taco as if he were their own, and allowed me to come on weekends. I even got to ride their horses from time to time. I started a routine that lasted three or four years and went there once a week, every week. I think I missed a grand total of one weekend (due to the flu) in that amount of time. No matter the weather, I was there. I even went with stitches in my back following a small surgery, though I couldn't do much in the way of grooming or exercising. In short, there was almost nothing that would keep me away from him.

Taco did have a few bouts of illness in that time. In the summer of 2004, he had a pretty serious episode of colic. It was extremely scary for me, since he hadn't ever been seriously ill before then. He rebounded from it, but lost a lot of weight that he only partially regained. That weight loss wasn't a terrible thing - he was a bit pudgy before then, and being on the skinny side meant less stress on his old joints.

Later that year, he had a very strange episode of lameness. For a little while, we thought it was the dreaded laminitis, a devastating and potentially deadly form of lameness. However, what ever it was went away after a couple of weeks. It did come back the following year, leading us to believe it might have been some form of arthritis that flared up depending on the weather.

Winter 2004-05

Otherwise, Taco's life was a great one. These were his glory years. He stayed outside for hours and hours each day, an enormous upgrade over the short turn-out times he had when the stable was full. Eventually, he was kept on full turnout, weather permitting. He had a small shed with rubber matting and wood chips at the back of his field. His indoor stall, too, was spacious. It was good to keep him moving around.

Me and Taco, Spring 2005

He and I made thousands of little memories together, too many to ever list here. Some of my favorite moments were spent simply sitting in silence on a mounting block next to him in his big turn-out arena. Others were when I'd sit in front of him while he was on the cross-ties (which is usually not advised, but I trusted him with all my heart) and he'd lower his head and run his nose through my hair. In the winter, when turn-out wasn't always possible due to the weather, he became so riled up and full of life that you'd never guess that he was approaching forty years old. I remember having to turn him out in a snowy, icy pen for just a little while because of how stir-crazy he was getting.

Like most horses, he used to love to roll in the dirt in the summer, especially following an extensive grooming session. He'd grunt and groan and wriggle on his back. We always held our breaths while we waited for him to get up, but he never failed us. Tough as nails, that old man was.


I took him for walks up the road, and let him graze in the huge, grassy field across the street. I bathed and groomed him until he was spotless, as if he was the most valuable show horse on the planet. And, when I couldn't be there, during the school week, I'd e-mail the barn owner to find out what he'd been up to in my absence.

I had essentially grown up with Taco. At my Sweet Sixteen party (they were so popular back then), I had a candle on my cake dedicated to him. That was special, for it marked the first time ever that I opened up even just a little bit to others about my partnership with him. He had been with me since I was eleven years old - now, I was a young adult. He was the constant in my life through bad high school relationships, the sicknesses of people close to me, and all of the other problems that typically plague teens. I'm glad I was able to recognize that, and never - not once - did I take our relationship for granted.

Me and Taco, December 2006

For a long while, probably longer than I could have imagined, things were perfect.

Stay tuned for Part 5.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Incredible Journey - Part 3

My relationship with Taco grew steadily as time went by. I was now the sole source of his grooming, exercise, and companionship. He had transformed into an old gentleman, a marked difference from the dirty, depressed horse that I saw a few years earlier. By then, I could not remember what it was like before I had him.

All through that time, I had continued riding. I even leased a horse one summer, so I was at the barn several times a week. I also competed in local horse shows for two years, and racked up a number of blue ribbons. Things didn't seem like they could be more perfect. I had my riding career, and I had my old man, too.

However, one summer day in 2003, after making my way down to the riding arena to say hello to everyone there, I heard words that, at first, I thought were a joke.

"We're being evicted."

Now, I won't get in to the details of this, but basically, a great schism was set to happen. My riding instructor and her throngs of students and horses were being kicked out of the barn by the property/barn owner. There was a lot of he said, she said on both sides - to this day, I couldn't tell you who was wrong, and who was right.

Though I was told that it wouldn't happen for months, my mind instantly raced. Taco was owned by a whole separate party, and had lived here his whole life. He was around thirty-seven years old at the time. Should he stay behind, to live out the rest of his life with the few horses that would be there? Or, should he go to New Jersey, to a place over an hour away from me? Would I still be able to see him and care for him in either of these scenarios?

It was a hard place for me to be in. The barn owner actually invited me to come back and continue caring for Taco, even after the riding group was gone. But, as some of you may know, when two groups in the animal fancy (be it dogs, cats, horses) start feuding with one another, it usually boils down to every one taking sides. I tried my hardest to avoid doing so, but the tension was mounting and the barn became a very unpleasant place to be. It was basically assumed that I would stick with the riding group and sever my ties with the people here. Things got very nasty.

My riding instructor did try to convince Taco's owner to move him to the new stable. But, he did not wish to do so. The picture was originally painted as bleak for Taco's future - there were horror stories circulating about how badly he would be neglected if he stayed where he was now. I do not know where those claims came from or if there was reason to believe them, but I was scared for him. I was told to start distancing myself from him because it was unlikely that I'd ever seen him again.

The day finally came where the last horses were loaded into the trailer, and the evicted group was set to leave the scene forever. Not knowing if I would ever see Taco again, I broke down in to a million tears. I was given the unsatisfactory statement by my riding instructor that there would be "plenty of other old horses for me to care for at the new place," which totally demeaned my relationship with this one, very special old horse, for whom I could never find a replacement.
Me and Taco, summer 2003

For a week or two, I basically treaded water. I knew I had the opportunity to continue going to see Taco, but faced the whole issue of allegiance to my riding friends. When they caught wind of the fact that I was considering doing so, they once again told me that it would be dangerous to go back there (implying that the barn owners were nuts).

But, I just couldn't give up like that. Not on him. So, the phone call was made, and I set up a day to go to the barn and see him once again. Whether my riding friends knew about this or not, I'm not sure. Eventually, due to a misunderstanding with one of the barn girls, I lost touch with them all. I still think back to what might have been if I continued riding and showing, but I made my decision and they made theirs, too.

Though, for the most part, I no longer keep in touch with the barn owners, either, the years that would follow would be some of Taco's best - maybe the best in his life.

Part 4 to come soon..

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Incredible Journey - Part 2

He had been around for ever. Been in this barn since the 1970s or 80s. He was supposedly bought from a cowboy around age 10 or 11, as a present for a young girl. What's weird about this is that he had supposedly jumped on top of someone (I'd assume that cowboy) in protest of crossing a stream - he never did like water.

Either way, he landed in the girl's possession and was to be her riding horse. Apparently, though, she was upset one day after losing at a horse show, and so her interest in him eventually waned. He was never sold by the father of that girl, and was still in his possession that fateful day when I found him.

The details of his history are fuzzy, yes; that's because literally decades had gone by since those days when he was used for riding. Taco had sat around for years without a real job or a real friend.

It was no surprise, then, that his coat was dull and dirty, his mane and tail unkempt, his movements slow, and his appetite non-existent. I don't know how he managed to keep weight on, because he would literally turn his nose away from a heaping bucket of feed.

A few months had passed since our first encounter, and I repeated the same process over and over again - go to the stable to ride, and then, when finished, go hang out with Taco. This was the first picture I took of him. After it was taken, he flew to the back of his stall and wouldn't come back out. We had startled him with the flash - he didn't have great vision.

Little eleven-year old me hadn't yet worked up the courage to ask if I could take him out and brush him. But, my riding instructor spotted me near him at the crossties after he had gotten his hooves trimmed, and asked if I wanted to groom him.

The answer? A resounding YES!

And, so it began. I spent hours upon hours brushing and cleaning that horse. All the other girls in the barn had "their" horse; even if they didn't own them, everyone kind of knew which horse belonged with which girl. After some time went by with Taco, the same began to happen for me. Even though I could not ride him due to his age, he became mine, and I became his.

Me and Taco, 2002

I absolutely slaved over him. Walks, baths, and lots of hair removal during shedding season were just a few of the tasks I undertook. I just really loved being with my new friend. Our relationship was just beginning to flower.

Stay tuned for Part 3, where I must make a big decision...

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Incredible Journey - Part 1

Like I said earlier in the week, April 16 (next Friday) marks the third anniversary of the death of a very special friend of mine. Because of that, I've decided to spread a series of posts throughout this week in his honor. Writing about this subject is something that has been historically hard for me to do, but the story is one that I would love to share with all of you.


I began horseback riding in 2000. After toying with the idea for quite some time, we finally went to a riding stable to inquire in August of that year. About a month later, I was finally sitting six feet in the air, on top of the most gentle, dead-broke school horse in the barn, a mare named Lady.

For that year, I continued riding that horse, learning some of the basics of horse care along the way. However, one afternoon in June 2001, my mother made a call for me to have another riding lesson, and was met with the words "Lady is sick."

I didn't know the gravity of her illness then (botulism), nor could my ten-year-old mind really comprehend that she was going to die. Sure enough, that's what happened, and on the morning on July 4, she was euthanized.

I remember writing in my journal that I didn't think I could ever love a horse again. I was devastated; I am, characteristically, fiercely loyal to those who are close to me, so the fact that I was going to start having to ride a different horse was something I took as a blow.

I did not return to the stable until my birthday - July 23. A friend of mine had to pick something or someone up, and I was invited along for the ride.

I can still remember it like it was yesterday - walking around that barn, looking back at all the big, brown eyes that were staring at me, but feeling a certain emptiness. Lady was not there. In my horse experiences up until that point, she was all I had known, and it was hard to swallow.

Then, as if by magic, I took a turn in to a rather secluded area of the barn that housed but three horses. I could see one horse peering out over the stall guard (ropes, basically, that keep them inside the stall without having to use a door), his face with a white blaze down the front that reminded me of Lady's. I knew it couldn't be her, but I went over to him, anyway.

Taco, circa 1994

I went over to him, talked to him, and petted him. His name was Taco; he was the thirty-five year old boarder horse who every one knew, but no one really bothered with. I stood there for a long while with him, until the party I had come to the barn with discovered me and told me it was time to leave.

I rode the whole way home in the car thinking about him. Little did I know that those first few moments on my eleventh birthday would be the start of something that I couldn't have imagined even in my wildest dreams.

stay tuned for Part 2...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mutts in the Ring

**A little disclaimer: This post might touch on some sticky topics in the dog world. All remarks are my opinion only and are brought up because they, in my eyes, are relevant to the discussion of the AKC Canine Partners Program. If you'd like, you can ignore my ramblings, and just look at the cute photos. :)**

Everyone at the AKC trial last week was extremely nice and welcoming of the handful of mixed breed dogs that were at the show. Both judges included a special "welcome" for the new dogs in their briefings and seemed genuinely happy that we were there competing.

It didn't really feel like Marge, as a mixed breed, was any different from the other dogs there. That's how I hoped it would be. Perhaps I'm biased as the owner of a mixed breed, but I see no reason why there is an issue with having all dogs compete in Obedience, Agility, and Rally competitions in the AKC. In those events, a dog is a dog.

Some people - mixed breed and purebred owners alike - have said that this is just another way for the AKC to make money. To that, I say, who cares? They are giving me an opportunity to compete locally that I otherwise would not have had. I couldn't care less about the corporate reasons for the decision. What matters is for me to be accepted and welcomed by the majority of my fellow competitors. I hope that the AKC makes a million bucks from it.

I'm a little sad to go to the American Kennel Club's Facebook group to find some negative comments among the many positive ones. One woman said (I'm paraphrasing, the comment was deleted) that she was angry that she would have to "wait in line behind mutts" to get her paperwork filed. Not every person is going to support the Canine Partners program - I completely understand that, and respect opinions that differ from my own. But, in my opinion, a comment such as this gives absolutely no valid reason for disliking the new program, and I think it sends an awful message to mixed breed owners like me who are trying to do something productive with their dogs: You don't belong here.

Another argument advocating against this program is that it gives people an incentive to breed mixed breed dogs, since they will now have AKC titles. In general, I do not support the intentional breeding of mixed breeds. However, I don't think this program really benefits "breeders" of mixed breeds, or at least it shouldn't; dogs listed as Mixed Breeds with the AKC are required to be spayed or neutered. Of course, not every dog can be checked to find out if it has been altered, but I'm sure the AKC will not hesitate to revoke a particular dog's listing number if it is being used for breeding when it shouldn't be.

Besides, as I've found, the world of dog shows is generally all about protecting those who haven't done anything wrong. The reason why no one likes BSL, for example, is that it punishes good owners and dogs for the actions of a select few. Many people do not like mandatory spay/neuter laws because it complicates the work of reputable hobby breeders who place their puppies in proper homes and remain responsible for them for the entirety of their lives. So, how should this be different? Perhaps some will exploit this program for the wrong reasons, but should it not be implemented at all just so those corrupt few can be stopped? (I don't think it will stop them, anyway.) What about the responsible mixed breed owners who don't want to breed, and just want to have fun? What about the rescue dogs like Marge, who want an opportunity to compete close to home? - doG knows, without that opportunity, we wouldn't be able to attend very many trials at all.

Over all, I think this program can do a lot of good. The American Kennel Club is, and always will be, a registry for purebred dogs. This was their original purpose, and it should remain as such. They oversee a great deal of things that uphold the integrity of the purebred dog fancy, something I, one day, will benefit from (I'm sure I'll have both mutty-mutts and purebreds in my life). This decision to allow mixed breed dogs to compete does not undermine the importance of good purebred breeding practices - it only opens a larger population of people to the world of dog training, dog sports, and, most importantly, responsible dog ownership. How can that possibly be a bad thing?

(PS - I ordered the first and third of these photos. Can't wait to get them!)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tuesday Training 31

We were tagged by Sammie to play the photo game. The rules are to go to your first photo folder and find the tenth picture. Here is ours (from our first folder on Photobucket):

It's the picture from our Novice Regular run in NADAC in November. I posted it on the blog back then, but it's a good enough picture to re-post it. That trial will always be special, since it was the first one. (Though, I must admit, this recent one was more special - it took more hard work to get there, and we had the added bonus of qualifying!)

I'm supposed to tag 5 more people, so I'll tag Nubs (a great new blog!), Tula (a fellow behavior-mod buddy), AC & Kona (fellow fearful dog buddies), The Teacher's Pets (a blog we just started reading), and Walter & Lucy (since their mom takes some AWESOME photos). Don't feel obligated to play if you don't want to - half the time I don't even get around to posting when I'm tagged - just think of this as an excuse for me to shout out some blogs!


We went to the training hall on Monday for some practice. Though I originally intended to stay for agility class, I decided against it. It was hot, Marge was coming off a weird day on Sunday (not sure what was bothering her, but she just didn't seem "right"), and we're moving back out to the field next week, so there wasn't much of a reason for us to go.

We did get in some Rally practice, though. I set up a pretty long APDT Level 1 course and ran Marge through it. Here it is. (I zoomed in on each half of the course using video editing, but we ran the whole thing continuously.)

I think she did well. It was pretty warm in the building, which may have made her a little bit lackluster compared to other days. But, that tail was still wagging. Our trial is in a couple of weeks - we're doing both days. It should be a small trial, but it will be Marge's first indoor trial. I'm only doing it because it's on our home turf - otherwise, indoor trials are off-limits right now.

The photos from this past weekend's agility trial have been posted. The photographer took a lot of pictures - probably at least 15 or 20 of Marge. I'm going to order at least two or three of them. I'd like to blog more about the trial and especially my (good) feelings about the AKC Canine Partners program now that I've experienced it, but I simply haven't had the time. Spring Break ended this week, and all of a sudden I feel as though I've been hit with a ton of school work.

Later in the week, or possibly next week, I'm probably going to begin a series of posts about a very dear four-legged friend of mine. The third anniversary of his death is coming up, and I think sharing some of the many stories of he and I together will be a good way to remember him.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Walking In A Cloud

Marge, Jessica and I took a walk in a totally fogged-over field this morning. Though we were minutes from our house, it felt like we were in the middle of no where. Anything more than a few hundred feet away was totally invisible. No sounds, no sights - the complete opposite of our successful day on Friday in the midst of a 300+ dog agility trial, but a cool experience nevertheless.

Here are just two candids of Marge from our outing. I was dropping pieces of cookie into her mouth and trying to snap a photo.


After this weekend, where Marge got a well-deserved rest, we're going to switch gears a little bit. Our APDT Rally Trial is in three weeks. So, I plan on using my ring time tomorrow to set up a course and practice a bit. We also might be dropping in to agility class, the last indoor class before we move back out to the field. I love doing all of this work with my dog - and I'm glad that she enjoys it, too!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Where We Belong

Man, oh man. Rather than make it all suspenseful and drag on the story forever (kind of like I did after our very first trial in November), let me just cut to it.

Today could not really have gone much better. Our first taste of AKC agility - our first runs under its newly instituted Canine Partners program - was deliciously sweet.

As I hope will be the case several more times this year, I woke up at the crack of dawn and geared up for a long day out at the park. Louie (thanks so much for everything) was at my house before 6 AM, and we were at the trial site before 7. After what looked like some intial nerves to me, Marge settled down and trotted around in the dew-soaked grass. My feet were completely immersed in water within minutes of getting there.

She was measured by the AKC field representative, who was extremely nice and patient with Marge, who was somewhat afraid of his hatted, sunglassed, and tall self. She measured 20.5", putting her well within the 20-inch jump height range.

Then, the wait began. My good friend from the club offered to let us stay in her tent, since Louie, Marge and I are still basically trial nomads (think I'm going to invest in a tent later this year). This turned out to be really good for Marge, who was able to settle in her crate repeatedly for long periods of time, even while I left her with Louie to go walk the courses.

Novice Jumpers with Weaves was the second class to run in the first ring, following a smallish Open class. I have the course map in a folder somewhere, but haven't uploaded it yet.

All of a sudden, I found myself back in the ring with Marge. It feels like it's been an eternity since we competed, and, in many ways, still felt like it was our first time out (it kind of was).

We ran really well on this course. I knew the opening would cause us trouble, and it did. I know exactly what I did wrong. But, I didn't fret about it then and I'm not fretting about it now. Why? Because Marge came out of this run with a big grin on her face and her tail swooping back and forth. One silly off-course kept us from a qualifying score, but nothing - nothing - could stop our happiness.

Then, more waiting began. We walked around a lot, hung around the crate a lot, mingled with friends from both near and far. Though there were a couple of things that took getting used to (like the sudden voice coming over the loud speaker), Marge ultimately took everything in stride. This may not be the usual indicator of a dog's comfort, but she even pooped in public. On leash. She hasn't done that in nearly a year. Don't worry, no photos of that.

After at least two or three hours, I was back in the ring again, walking the Novice Standard course. I do have the map of this one uploaded to my computer. I could already tell from the map that this flowy course was one that Marge and I would enjoy immensely.

And, we did. You'd better pinch me, because I might be dreaming, but Marge QUALIFIED in this class with a CLEAN RUN. It was close on the teeter (because she thought it was the dog walk and barreled over it quickly), but the rest was flawless. Really and truly flawless.

We were a few tenths of a second out of first place. We went and got our second place rosette.

Our future trials won't be perfect, and many won't be as good as this one, but I think this was just about the best start we could have gotten off to.

While talking to a friend, he said to me that he knows that "it is not easy," referring to our shared experiences of working with fearful dogs. I told him that no, it was not easy.. but that this makes her come alive. And, then I thought to myself, that this is why I do it. This is what makes it all worth it.

I'm so happy I could cry. Not because of the agility - but because my dog spent nine hours at a park today, surrounded by hundreds of strangers, and actually enjoyed herself. Because my dog slept in a crate. Because she tried to play with other dogs (and only grumbled at one). And because of the image that will be for ever embedded in my mind of Marge clearing the final jump and spinning around to look at me with an expression on her face that seemed to say, this is where I belong.

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