I haven’t written in quite a few days, which is unusual for me. Things have been very busy with a lot of changes (hence the title of this post).
I think if we are in touch with our bodies, we know what it is we need to do to take care of our minds and bodies. I expect a lot of people, myself included, don’t listen to that little voice. We keep on doing things that are harmful to our health, mentally and physical. Some people eat unhealthy food, some take on more than they should, some drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, etc.
On Thursday, I worked all three dogs. Careful what you name a dog. Split was living up to her name. As I was wearing the sheep around the field (for those of you who don’t know what the term “wearing” means, it isn’t that I was literally wearing the sheep like clothing [although as cold as it was, it might not have been a bad thing]. In herding terms, “wearing” means that the dog keeps the sheep going in the same direction you are. It’s something that well-bred Border Collies do naturally.) Split was putting pressure in the middle of the flock vs. keeping to the rear of the flock. Sometimes, that would have been the correct thing for her to do. If she was at the rear of the flock, she probably would have been pushing them past me. What she was doing, however, was splitting the flock, leaving sheep behind. That’s not a good thing. I corrected her for it once, making her go back and get the sheep that she left behind. She did it again and I corrected her again, this time it was a stronger correction. She stopped doing it and more importantly, she kept on working.
She’s almost got her flank commands down. She moves freely like Gel did when I first started him. That makes training flanks and most other things so much easier.
Fern, on the other hand, is hard to keep moving. She locks in on the sheep. She may flank a quarter of the way around the flock, but her eye draws her back in and she locks in. When this happens, I send her around again and in time, she ends up flanking freely, but out of contact with the sheep. I’m glad I didn’t start with Fern as my first stock dog. I may not have a fully trained dog like I do with Gel.
I worked on shedding with Gel and he did well.
Friday was a very eventful day. Wally told me that morning that he was going to get off work a bit early to take me to look at a horse. Yes, a horse! Whenever he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I would tell him a pony. I did this as a child, for ten years in a row before I finally got a pony. When I was asked where I’d keep this pony, I’d say in the parlor. Wally and I have already discussed Christmas and we are not going to exchange presents so this discussion about what I wanted for Christmas was more in a joking manner, usually asked when we watched those stupid advertisements on television.
For a long time, I wanted a dairy goat. Subconsciously, I knew that milking a goat would help keep what I am sure is arthritis in my hands from getting out of control. It has worked and those dairy goats have brought so much into both of our lives. I’m glad I listened to that little voice.
A horse: I got my first pony when I was about ten. It was a 20-year-old white pony named Princess that my step father bought for me. He couldn’t afford a saddle at the time that he bought her so I learned to ride bareback. I rode, and rode, and road, and road that pony. We got another pony for my sister named Diamond, but he came to us as a green youngster. My sister couldn’t ride him so I gave her Princess and I broke Diamond to ride. I think I was about thirteen when I got my first horse: a dappled gray Quarter Horse/Arabian cross named Rebel.
Rebel and I went places. I showed him extensively. First in Western pleasure and trial classes, then barrel racing and other gymkhana events. We cleaned up at the shows. That horse could outrun, out jump and out turn almost any other local horse. We moved up to more regional shows and I switched from Western riding to hunt seat. The last few years I had Rebel, I showed him as a hunter/jumper. The competition was a lot stiffer there, but we held our own.
When I turned 16 and started to pay attention to boys and not ride Rebel quite as much, my stepfather sold him and bought a tractor with the money. It has taken me a long time to forgive him for that. While I didn’t see him again after he was sold, I heard that Rebel went downhill. He was frequently lame; just never the horse that he was with me.
I left home as soon as a I graduated high school and lived with my Uncle and Aunt in the Amherst area in Massachusetts for several years. While I lived with them, I showed on the Morgan horse circuit. I didn’t have my own horse, but always found one crazy horse or another to ride. Always a horse that no one else could ride. I never did as well on these horses as I did with Rebel, but that I could ride these horses in the show ring was accomplishment enough. For a while I played with polo ponies and was involved with the equestrian program at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Then I got into one bad relationship after another and got out of horses and into dogs, but only for a little while. I showed in obedience and conformation. In 1993 I moved to Boston and got into showing and breeding purebred cats.
I have not ridden a horse since the early 1980’s, but my love for them has never gone away.
Friday afternoon, Wally and I loaded up the goats and two lambs that were going to Janice’s house. I had $200 in my pocket from the goats I sold to Janice (which was really payment for Champagne). The two lambs were traded for a Saanen goat named Lilly who will be coming here to bring my dairy goat herd back up to six goats which is where I want it to be. Lilly will stay with Janice until she is sure she is bred. On the way home from Janice’s house, we were supposed to look at a horse that Wally had been told about: a supposed 12-year-old registered Quarter Horse (“QH”). On our way there, I talked to the woman who had him for sale and it was then that the story changed. He was not a registered QH (not a problem) and he limped on his rear left leg, but “it didn’t bother him any.” Great. She had three other horses for sale so we decided to look anyway.
The QH, named JP was in very poor condition. The limp wasn’t terribly noticeable, but when I rode him, I could feel that he wasn’t sound. He was also very, very slow. He just plodded along. I rode him bareback with just a halter. While JP may have been a nice horse in his time, and maybe with good food and exercise, he could be a good horse again, but we decided to pass on him. The other horse that was for sale (three horses for sale changed to one when we got there) was an Arabian that they called “Hoppy.” Wally wouldn’t let me get on him.
There is a horse auction in Vale every other Friday and there was one this past Friday. We went home, took care of the animals and headed to Vale. After the experiences I’ve had at the livestock auction that Wally goes to, I was very apprehensive about this sale, but it really wasn’t too bad. I didn’t see any horses in poor condition. They all looked quite nice. There was a lot of them there. We walked around, Wally talked to several people he hadn’t seen in many years.
I didn’t really know this before, but Wally was quite the horseman in his time. He knows an awful lot about horses, I do too, but my experience has been a lot different than Wally’s.
Anyway, after we walked around for a while, my eye was drawn to a gray gelding that was being ridden around. His movement reminded me a lot of Rebel. I approached the man riding him and asked about him. I looked over and saw Wally watching me, shaking his head asking me to get away. This horse, named Chief, was a five year old. He was bought for the man’s daughter, but in addition to Chief, she had a young purebred QH that was getting all the attention. Chief wasn’t getting any exercise and the man said that he wasn’t going to keep a horse that wasn’t being ridden. Since coming to North Carolina, I have been amazed at the number of horses sitting in pastures who are not ridden. Remember, my stepfather sold Rebel when I stopped riding him every day. I was still riding him, but not every day. My stepfather ran a tight ship in the barn. Everything, the barn, tack, paddocks, etc. had to be clean and if it was not, there was hell to pay. My stepfather had a vicious temper. Where we went to look at JP, there were 15 horses in that pasture (it wasn’t really a pasture as there was no grass left). I feel sure all of them were not being ridden.
I asked the man if I could ride Chief. Even though my ride on JP was a simple plod up and down the driveway, I was on a high just from being on a horse. I couldn’t wait to get on another one. By then Wally had come over to where we were talking and I could see by the look on his face, that he didn’t want me on that horse either, but on him I was.
It was love from the first step off. Chief hadn’t been ridden in three weeks so he was pretty wound up, but he was always in complete control and had a good way about him. There was a lot going on around us and it was getting dark. That he was acting reasonably sane said a lot about him.
When I came back from riding him, the man said that we could buy him then and there if we wanted. It was around 6 PM then, the auction didn’t start until 8. He said to make an offer. I asked him what he wanted for him: $500. I told him no, I didn’t have that much money on me and could only afford $200. He came down to $400, then $350 and that was as low as he’d come. We walked away and in a little while I saw someone else riding Chief. My heart fell. Wally talked to more people and after one man told him that there were no good horses at this sale, that anything you bought there had something wrong with it. He also said that you couldn’t buy a well broke horse (the type of horse that Wally wanted me to buy: meaning a half dead horse). After hearing that, Wally said let’s leave. I was very disappointed. We walked by Chief one more time and the man called me over. He asked if I still had that $200. I told him that I did and he said, well then take him home. If I leave now I can be home in time to get up to go hunting tomorrow morning. I hugged him and did a happy dance.
Chief loaded into the trailer without any complaints. We went back to one of the vendors that was selling tack and bought a bridle for $25. I couldn’t afford a saddle. By the time we got home, it was dark. We off-loaded Chief and put him in the section of the goat pasture that we put the kids up at night. He didn’t give us a lick of trouble.
I had a horse! I hardly slept all night. By first light Saturday morning I was up and out to check on my horse. He was still there. It wasn’t a dream. He whinnied when he saw me. I fed the chickens and got the goats’ food and went in to give him some apples and a bit of grain. When he was finished I let him out into the main pasture and he started eating grass. There is a lot of grass in that pasture. The goats rarely eat it. I went back and got another apple and approached him in the pasture. He came right too me. Good thing as I couldn’t use Gel to round him up as I would almost any other animal; although Gel would have loved to be able to round him up.
I didn’t like the name Chief. Wally and I were playing around with names and came up with the perfect name: Merlin. Like Merlin the wizard, he cast a spell over me. After I road him, I don’t think that any other horse would do.
Wally and I went out and did a few errands, spent a bit of time up at the Christmas Tree Farm, then came back to the house so I could ride. It was raining, but I still wanted to ride. We caught Merlin and put the bridle on. It fit without any adjustments. Wally gave me a leg up and off I went. I was scared; but exhilerated at the same time. Merlin was a bit spooky, but he behaved wonderfully. Gel didn’t know what to make of my riding an animal that he clearly thought he should be working. At first he tried to work him, but I told him to stop and he did. He ran back to Wally, howled, then ran back out into the field where I was riding.
Saturday afternoon I found an English saddle to borrow, but I still need to find a girth which is proving to be difficult to locate. Most people in this area ride Western. I don’t care to ride in a Western saddle. I like more contact with a horse. Riding bareback is great, but given that I haven’t ridden in so long, it really isn’t too safe for me to be riding bareback. My muscle tone isn’t what it used to be. It will come back, but not overnight.
I rode again Sunday morning. It was cold and frosty and Merlin was very frisky. As soon as Wally gave me a leg-up onto his back, Merlin started dancing and prancing. The look on Wally’s face was hysterical. I know he wanted me off that horse. No way! I took Gel with me and after a few attempts to work Merlin, he relaxed and be-bopped around. I rode for about 30 minutes and came back to get Split and Fern. Split was happy to come along with us, Fern acted like a whipped dog the whole time. She’s such a quirky little dog.
There is a beautiful training facility right less than a mile from where I live. I can ride Merlin there. As soon as I get his Coggins test papers (the Coggins testing procedure is a classic example of how incredibly stupid conventional veterinary medicine can be. A Coggins test is a blood test for Equine Infectious Anemia, a disease that is not terribly common and isn’t easily transmitted) I can take lessons without driving three hours or driving at all. I plan to take a few lessons to get some direction on what I can do with Merlin. Primarily, however, I’m just going to ride him. I’ll take the dogs with me so they can get exercise. I’ll be getting exercise and won’t be using gas. Merlin has shoes on, but as soon as it is time for trimming, I’ll have his shoes taken off and ride him barefoot. He’s a small horse, 14.3 hands, in beautiful condition and I believe he is going to be an easy keeper.
As I was riding Sunday morning I thought about lessons. I can drive 80 miles to get to agility lessons, but I’m really not interested in agility. I can drive three hours to take herding lessons, but I’m not going to do that. As I rode past my agility field I made a huge decision.
I called my friend Cheri who lives in Charlotte. Several months ago, I was going to place Fern and Cheri was one of the people who was interested in her. Cheri really wants to get into agility and Fern would be the perfect dog for her. Fern is happiest doing agility; she is going to make a kick-ass agility dog. I decided not to let Fern go then because I didn’t have another dog capable of working stock if anything happened to Gel. I have a back-up dog now: Split. She’s no where near trained well enough to do all that Gel does, but in a pinch, she can get the job done. I called Cheri and asked if she’d be interested in Fern and all of my agility equipment as a package deal. It’s a done deal. Fern goes home with Cheri today and we’ll deliver the agility equipment to her after Christmas. Over the past few weeks, I had been thinking seriously about selling my agility equipment. I just hadn’t made the final decision.
Once the equipment is gone, we’ll finish fencing in the agility field and rotate Merlin between that pasture and the goat pasture. That way, hopefully, he’ll have enough grass to eat and only need supplemental hay. I still push the dairy goats out into the front pasture when I’m home to keep an eye on them. When I do that, they get exercise instead of just loafing around and are able to browse which is how goats like to eat. Merlin is getting along well with the goats and Rose. At first, Rose barked at him, but now she’s his buddy. Rose is a hoot sometimes. Sometimes an irritating hoot.
I’ll continue grooming Gel to run in Open and get Split trained up as well. It’s been almost torturous looking at all that unused agility equipment and the nicely groomed field. I know Wally was thinking the same thing every week when he went in there to mow. Now the field and the agility equipment will be used.
Life is a journey. I could sit on the couch and feel sorry for myself for being unemployed; or I could do things that I feel like are right for me and enjoy this time off. Of course I’m still worried about finances and maybe I shouldn’t have bought Merlin, but it really wasn’t new money. It was more of a trade: a goat for a horse. Granted a dairy goat contributes more than a horse, but the enjoyment I’ll get out of riding will make up for what he’s not contributing in the way of milk or meat. There comes a time when you need to make difficult decisions. Working with Split over the past month has really opened my eyes up to how quirky Fern really is. All Border Collies are quirky in one way or another, but when the quirkiness interferes with work that needs to be done, changes need to be made.
There’s more, but I need to get outside and let out the chickens and ducks and feed everyone.
Until later …