Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mark a big black "X" on our door

Thursday my daughter came home from school complaining of a sore neck and took a two hour nap.  She woke up with a fever and nausea.  There are two things going around our neighborhood - a 24 hour nasty stomach bug or a 7-10 day flu that seems to have escaped the flu vaccine this year.  I gave her some ibuprofen and literally had to carry her upstairs to bed but she slept all night and never threw up.  The next morning I took her to the doctor because her fever was much higher and her neck still hurt and she was very weak (and the not throwing up made me think it wasn't a stomach bug).  The doctor thought the same thing and gave us Tamiflu and sent us home.  But then I looked up information on Tamiflu and it scared me so I thought I'd hold off and see how my daughter did and if she continued to stay that sick I'd give it to her. 

But by evening her fever had pretty much gone away and she was eating her weight in toast and jello.  I think next time before I spend a lot of money on Tamiflu I'll ask the doctor to do a blood test to confirm she actually has influenza.  Especially because we all get flu shots so we will most likely never need it.  Too bad you can't donate medication you won't use to people who need them but can't afford them. 

I don't feel very good this morning so we'll see how the weekend goes.  I hate throwing up almost to the point of a phobia but at the same time I am relieved this is a 24-hour bug instead of the almost two week thing that's going around.  I guess I'll take 24-hours of dealing with a phobia over being super sick for a week.   That and honestly, I'm feeling too drained and tired to get really anxious.

I was bummed that I had to miss my riding lesson yesterday.  And Toadie is doing well these days in training so I was bummed to not get to be there for that yesterday.  In general Toad is doing really well.  I'm starting to recognize things that cause her to flip out and am able to stay calm during her flip outs which helps her come down much faster.  In some things she is already starting to be able to check herself during spooks.  We've been walking around outside the last week after she free-lunges and a few things scared her - like a branch brushing against her or the sound of a car coming down the driveway - and she'll jump but then come down really quickly as long as I keep her focused.  Those are small steps of course - she's still not ready for big challenges because her panic takes over so much she can't focus on me yet at those times, but we're working on it.

Thursday Toad had a chiropractic appointment with her vet so I went to the barn early enough to do some free-lunging with her so she'd get some of her energy out and be calmer.  She was already worked up for some reason (in heat, it was windy outside ... she's Toad) so she was bouncing around when I put her in the groom room to take off her blanket and put on her bell boots.  The Western trainer from the other side of the barn was in the arena cleaning up poop and when I brought Toad out in the aisle to go to the arena.  Perfect timing (sarcasm) - the barn owner was coming up behind her with a wheelbarrow of shavings and the other trainer was coming out of the arena was a bucket of poo and Toad decided there was a monster behind her and in front of her so she panicked and tried to spin the aisleway (which is too small).  That scared the other trainer (who has many times expressed fears about Toad) so she said she's just stay in the arena.  I should've spoken up and told her just to walk by because it would be easier but I was busy setting boundaries with Toad that she stand still.  So, I took Toad in the arena and she veered away from the other trainer, who then got more anxious and expressed concern about Toad (can't remember what she said) and Toad started to dance.  I corrected her and firmly said, "Whoa. Stand still and be polite," and Toad panicked and reared straight up.  The other trainer gasped and said she needed to close the other gate and ran across the arena to close the gate.  I said everything was fine and to just take the poo bucket out and Toad would calm down and then we would close the gates ourselves.  But her rushing across the arena freaked Toad out more and Toad started jumping backward.  I held onto the lead rope, got dragged about a foot and then Toad when straight up in the air in a full-on straight up rear.  I sighed and said firmly, "That's very pretty, Toad but it's not appropriate. Knock it off."  I told her to "Whoa" again and walked firmly and authoratively to her side and she was shaking but she stood still.  I told the other trainer just to go and I'd close the other arena door, which she did and Toad walked next to me quietly, although still very anxiously alert.  I told her we needed to walk around and calm down and be polite before she got to run around and she complied. 

When Toad was finally breathing normally and not quivering I let her loose and she bucked and raced around like crazy.  I chased her around for a good fifteen minutes until we were both exhausted and her vet had poked her head up over the arena door to let me know she was there.  All I had to say was "Time to go in Toad," and she ducked her head and walked over to me at the arena door, said hello to the vet, then lowered her head and followed me to the mounting block and stood quietly with her head down while I put on her halter.  Then she was an absolute angel during her chiropractic.  She was relaxed and didn't resist and didn't freak out over anything her vet did on.  She's starting to really relax into massage and chiropractic and we could tell she was really enjoying her adjustment.

What I'm seeing in her is that she is literally a sponge of the emotions of those around her.  The other trainer has no experience with her other than hearing all the horror stories about her and her reputation as a "dangerous" horse.  So any apprehension she had - even if it was well guarded by an outward veneer of necessary professionalism - Toadie picks up on it and freaks out.  I'm always saying to her "Be your own horse. You are your own horse," in order to remind me to treat her like that and to help her work towards that.  I know she's a Thoroughbred and will always be high strung but I see tiny glimpses of the improvements she's already made since last August when I got her.  And I know that she does not need to be written off as a "dangerous horse" and when I think of her that way things get much worse. Because she's not a dangerous horse.  She's a complicated horse and needs a ton of work to be safe in a lot of situations, but right now that is what she is - a complicated horse.  Not the "D" word.  And if I could I would keep her in a bubble away from all the people who (despite how hard they may try not to think of her that way but still feel that way about her) believe she is "the D word". 

She's a lot like a kid with ADHD who is underneath a wonderful kid.  There are very rare exceptions of kids who are sociopaths and have no conscience and are dangerous - but that is very rare.  I believe the same about horses.  And Toad is not one of those extremely rare dangerous horses.  She's like a really sweet kid with ADHD or Autism who *wants* to be good more than anything, but needs special help to get there.

Monday, March 26, 2012


This is horrible validation, but it is validation that you just don't know what any horse is going to do.

The last couple days since I made the decision to keep Toad and just put in the work that she needs every day and be patient with her - I've felt an enormous weight off my shoulders.  I feel more motivated and definitely more relaxed because I know what my goal is and I feel committed to it.  I also feel slightly on edge about people judging me for it - but that's one of my flaws is that I feel slightly on edge about people judging me about *everything*.  And anyway, my friends are all very sweet and have shown that they will support me no matter what I decide - crazy or not.

Then today I was texting Trainer K. about lunch tomorrow and she said she needed to wait and see how she felt because Temple kicked her across the stall today.  Temple is actually the horse I had in my head as "it would be so much easier if I had a horse like Temple".  Of course, Temple is also a new mama so that brings a whole different aspect to things.  But she hauled off and kicked Trainer K. because she was eating, Trainer K. touched her side to ask her to move and she swung her butt around and kicked her full force across a very large, double stall.  Now, to be honest, I am terrified to go into her stall.  I used to go in and clean it out if I happened to be by there while she was pregnant.  Then I went in a couple times to help Trainer K. hold her right after Bogo was born.  But now I'm just staying away from her until I understand what is going on with her - because I don't understand where the boundaries are for new mama horses and I can just imagine me really pissing her off on accident.  But even then, she has been more comfortable with Bogo and humans - letting him stick his nose out of the stall for people to pet.  Temple even let my daughter and her friend pet him yesterday.

Still, it reminded me that all horses are unpredictable and they are all animals who are very strongly run on instinct first - thought later (if at all).  So, in some ways Toad is safer for me because I know her so well.  She could still surprise me - and I'm sure she will on occasion - but on a day to day basis I spend so much time with her I'm starting to recognize her cues and when she's upset and when she's just being ... The Toad.  And there is no perfectly safe horse out there that will never surprise me.  The best I can do is keep my eyes open, be safe and thank God I got over that crazy idea that I wanted to someday learn to be a trainer!

The cycle of fish life

Well, our old catfish died a couple days ago.  That was sad.  I think he was just overwhelmed by having all the new fish.  And our old Tetra (who had outlived her brothers and sisters by about four years) died just before him.  It was interesting to me that she swam over and stayed right next to him when she died, and then right after she died he went over to her old spot where she hung out and stayed there till he died. I thought fish were not supposed to get attached to each other because they did not have that level of consciousness? Hmmm ...

Meanwhile one of the Platys apparently had a couple babies at some point because every now and then a tiny little orange fish will dart out from under a rock, eat something and dart back under again.  There are two of them, a darker one and an almost transluscent one.  My daughter has named then Fin-Fin and Flipper.

Yesterday during my daughter's riding lesson I took Toad out to a back pasture to get outside for a bit.  I also tried to walk her around a little and she was all sorts of freaked out.  She can definitely be a bit agoraphobic because in open spaces she acts like any minute a monster is going to appear from out of nowhere.  So, now that the weather is getting a little nicer and the ground isn't all frozen I'm going to have to take her out for more walks to get her used to places other than the barn, the arena and her outdoor paddock.   Walking around yesterday she was so freaked out and when a gust of wind came by and she jumped and tried to turn in a circle I told her to stand still and tried to get her attention on me so she'd focus and relax - but she was too panicky and couldn't focus so I said we would just walk.  I'm learning to recognize when she gets to the point where she is so all-consumed with panic that the only thing that brings her down is to move around and have "a job" - even if that job is to just focus on following me (or in the case of yesterday staying behind and following me instead of just running off like a looney-tune with her spinny, scared head taking her in circles).  She'll come along.  She's still just a kid - and emotionally more of a kid than her chronological six years old because of that almost two years she did nothing but live in her stall unless she was dragging her previous teenage owner around, and just be all sort of freaked out because she had no herd leader to protect and guide her. 

My daughter did really well in her lesson.  She's working on the same thing that I'm working on in my lessons with Misty - which is balance and strength in our legs.  Although she made it all the way around the arena standing up balanced in the stirrups and I have yet to do that.  I wish there was some way to practice that at home.  I think it's really just all about lack of strength in my legs now that I'm old because no matter how hard I try I keep falling back.  This is standing up in the stirrups without using my hands for support or balance.  I know that probably sounds really easy to someone who doesn't ride horses, but it's a whole different story when the horse is moving.  I can stand up and balance just fine when the horse is standing still, but it's the movement that automatically throws my butt back down in the sitting position because I'm not balancing properly.  I can stand up and then after two steps, thwack! I keel over back into sitting position.  It is really frustrating!  And it's no easier at the trot either.  Although my daughter couldn't stay standing up at the trot yet either for very long.  I try to console myself that she has short little eight year old legs and only fifty pounds to hold up, whereas I have three times that amount of weight being pulled down by gravity.  Sigh.  My pilates for dressage riders will help too, I hope.

Also - it is time to start gardening! I'm getting a really late start this year on getting my seedlings planted but it's also been so unusually cold so late this year I figure I won't be able to put them outside until mid-June at least.  I had managed to forget how truly horrible the "soil" (or lack thereof) is in our yard.  I bought some lavender and rosemary to fill in an empty space by our house and when I went to dig the hole for the rosemary I once again hit the construction waste, huge rocks, chunks of concrete all piled up in hard, gray clay - all underneath a couple inches of mulch.  So, I spent a long time trying to slam my shovel through the clay to dig out the rocks and chunks of concrete and construction debris to make a big enough hole to put in actual soil to plant my rosemary.  I succeeded but not without the price of my hands and forearms hurting horribly the last couple days.  So, I'm trying to be gentle with my hands for the first part of this week and not do much with them other than what I have to.

I had an idea that my husband is on board with (thankfully - because with this horrible ground I can't do it myself) and I'll need to get another couple guys in the neighborhood to help with it.  There is a couple who live next door who are really nice and we only recently started to get to know them.  Then they got the most horrendous news - the husband had been moody, forgetful and "not himself" for awhile and he figured it was depression.  The wife's instincts told her it was something more and urged him to go to a neurologist and they discovered he has stage 4 brain cancer and they give him only months to live.  It's just horrendous news and there's nothing I can do to make it better for them.  Their yard is like our yard was when we moved in - mulch over the construction debris crap and three what I call "developer plants" - boring, hard to kill, big old plants that just keep growing like weeds.  The wife had aspirations to make a really pretty garden but now it's just not a priority.  So, I said I wanted to clear out some of those plants and plant a tree for them and it would be her husband's tree.  Even if she eventually doesn't live there, everyone in the neighborhood will know "This is J.'s tree."  They said they would like an Oak, so I need to rally the neighborhood dad troops to help me dig out the old developer plants and dig a big enough hole to plant an Oak tree.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

It's decided - and I'm relieved!

Well, after much mulling back and forth I finally put my foot down with myself and made a decision - I'm going to keep Toad.  I don't know if I'm going to keep her for the next 15 years or even the next 3 years, but for today and the future that I can conceive of (like say a year) I'm planning on keeping her.  She is so much my horse that I realized there is no one out there I'm willing to sell her to.  And I'm looked at a bunch of ads about horses and met a few and emailed with a lot of owners selling horses and none of them match up to Toad.

My reasons for selling her were that I felt she was out of my league (which alone she would be!).  But I thought a lot about what my horse-life would be like without Toad and without the rigorous 6-day a week schedule of working with her and 3-days a week of training (plus all my non-training days when I'm following Trainer K. around with questions) and I realized that although fun is very important to me with horses, learning is far more important to me.  I told Trainer K. today what I decided and asked if she was disappointed or thought it was a foolish decision and she said no, as long as I don't mind being patient and continuing to put in the work.  She also agreed that I will learn a lot with Toad and already have.  So, I feel very secure and relieved that I've made the right decision for myself.

Another reason I feel like this will work is that I've started taking riding lessons every week on Misty so I no longer feel like I'm backpedaling with my riding because I am out there on a horse at least twice a week practicing and getting lessons, even when Toad is not in a space where it's good for me to ride her during her training.  And add my new pilates classes - designed especially to help riders with their balance and riding - I feel like I am still moving forward instead of spinning my wheels with a horse I can't just hop on and ride whenever I want.

Some of the things about Toad that I would miss in another horse are - most importantly! Our connection with each other and the trust we are developing together.  Also that she is so incredibly sensitive, attuned and smart.  And that she tries so hard and learns so quickly.   I'm so spoiled from lunging her because she does everything to voice commands and is so push-button about it.  She's also being trained from the beginning the way I want her trained.  She's being trained to raise her back and have proper horse-posture and she's learning to stretch naturally.  Trainer K. sent me this video which is like a synopsis of the way Toad is being trained (ie: Classical Dressage) and I like that she is being started like this as opposed to having to take an older horse and having to re-teach old bad habits away.

What I want for Toad is that she only be with someone like me.  So there are so many requirements: must be willing to work with her 6 days a week every week (that it's possible - and if not then find someone to fill in like if they're sick or out of town and can't work her every day), must be willing to keep her in training with a qualified Classical Dressage instructor, must be willing to do massage, stretching, wash off her belly every other day at least, and all the other high-maintenance things she needs.  Must be willing to do chiropractic on her once a month.  Must be quiet and patient and not prone to losing their temper and getting into fights with their horse over every little thing.  But at the same time must be authoritarian and not put up with bad habits.  And must never use the "D" word (ie: "Dangerous") to describe her (unless it is in jest because they're frustrated).

Normally I'm fine with labels but to me a "dangerous" horse is a horse that can't be handled and can't learn - no matter who is handling them.  It is true that the situation would be dangerous with Toad and the wrong person, but any horse can be dangerous with the wrong person.  I've never actually met a real, true dangerous horse but I have heard a couple stories that they might exist - though very rare.  For me Toad is not dangerous.  But that is also because I am always vigilant, and if I have a question I go to someone way more advanced in horsemanship than me and ask them how to handle her. 

Slowly but surely I'm starting to understand what is behind some of her "crazy" behavior.  A couple weeks ago when she freaked out so badly about having her stomach brushed Trainer K. discovered that her skin under her fur had been burned by the acid in her pee.  So I started rinsing her off instead of brushing her when she gets pee on herself and now she's fine about having her tummy touched.   Before putting her saddle on I either use a very soft brush or my hand to wipe off any dust and dirt and she's completely fine - even on the right side. 

Today she flipped out really badly over having her bridle put over her head and I wasn't able to do it.  Trainer K. had quite a battle with her and ended up having to get on a stool to be tall enough to get it over her head.  When she got up there she gasped and said, "Didn't you say she hit her head in the free lunge?" and I said yes (she was trying to eat bits of hay off the ground when she was supposed to be running and I began to chase her and she swung her head up and banged it on the gate), Trainer K said, "Look up here. She has a huge wound!"  I stood up on the stool and sure enough she had a huge, bloody welt on her head - no wonder she didn't want the bridle on!  Once we knew what was going on and comforted her that we wouldn't be touching it she got all lovey and sweet and snuggly again.

I told my daughter we're not selling Toad and she was so relieved.  For some reason she is really attached to her and cried really hard when I told her I was selling her.  I don't know why - my daughter has been on leadline rides over a hundred times with Girlfriend and there is no way I'm doing that with her with Toad - at least not for a few more years.  But she loves Toad and loves to pet her and give her treats.  It might be because Toad is so beautiful and looks like a super-model of horses.  Or she just senses what a sweet girl she is.  I don't know.  But my daughter is thrilled I'm not selling her.  She seems to think that in a few years Toad will be her horse.  We'll see although I think Toad will be way to big for her even in a few years.  She's a little too big for me even, but we're working that out.  Me and my tall, leggy horse and my short little legs.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

One last try ...

There is a girl who is kind of interested in buying or lease-to-buying Toad.  She's the only one of the numerous queries I've gotten on Toad (from Craigslist and Dreamhorse) who has actually made it out to meet Toad.  The majority don't even get written back to because their query email is so freaking outlandish and not at all going to work out as a new home for the Toad.  Then the people I do email back I lay out all the issues very clearly:  hard keeper, super-high-strung, needs to be worked 6 days a week or she goes koo-koo-for-Cocoa-Puffs, has major trust issues and is a pain in the ass for people she doesn't know so it takes patience and time to develop a relationship with her.  Of course that is all they need to hear to not want to pursue even meeting her.  But this one girl said she wanted to meet her and came out and hung out with us for a couple hours and said, "Wow. I expected a lot worse.  I mean A LOT worse.  She is a really sweet girl."  Which is true.  When all the stars are aligned and she's being worked and cared for every day she IS a really sweet girl.  But she takes a lot of work.  I can't just let her hang out in the pasture for a week and then jump on her without lunging her.  And I can't just take her on a leisurely ride on the trails.

But hanging out with this potential-buyer for a couple hours was kind of eye opening.  Toad was being very much her sweet self and when she was on the lunge line she was doing very well to voice commands.  While I have her I'm just going to continue to make the best of it and enjoy who she is.

Today was crazy windy out at the barn.  I was riding Misty for a practice ride and it was completely not bothering her.  She was a little wound up and after I was out riding her I realized I had been advised by Trainer K. to lunge her first and hadn't.  But we did lots of trotting and I worked a lot on posting correctly and a lot on maintaining contact with the reins and helping remind Misty to stretch her neck.  We also did some cantering and that was fun.  I think we were cantering too fast though.  Misty is - like Girlfriend - an old gaming horse so she likes to tear around the arena.  I did manage to keep her on the wall, but I didn't know how to slow her down to an easy, quiet canter.  I have learned to keep her at a nice even slow trot which feels like an improvement on my part.

I have to admit while riding Misty and listening to branches pounding across the roof the arena and the stallions in the stalls on the other side of the wall screaming and flipping out over the sound of the wind - and Misty completely ignoring it - that I did wish that Toad were so unspookable.  Not that Misty is perfect.  When I brought her out in the arena to lunge her before my lesson on Friday I accidentally dropped the lunge line and Misty was dancing a little from excitement, stepped on the lunge line and reared straight up in the air.  Surprisingly, Trainer K. was riding Toad who did not freak out - but I got a sharp reprimand for not paying attention and causing that to happen.  It could've been really bad! But on the plus side, Toad did not freak out and Misty did something "bad".  That said, it seemed today like it would've been suicide to try and ride Toad with all the noise from the wind in the arena.

After my practice ride I took Toad out to free lunge her.  I asked Trainer K. if that was incredibly stupid and she said, "Well, what's the worst that will happen? She'll run around like a lunatic because of the noise from the wind.  And how is that different from every day?"  Actually, she's been kind of tired from getting worked so much so she hasn't been quite as much a lunatic during free lunging.  Her routine now seems to be roll - jump up with a squeal - give a few huge bucks in a circle while farting like crazy - then run around the arena once - then attempt to stand at one end and socialize with other horses until I chase her.  Anyway, I figured it would be good for her to be in the arena with me while it was loud so that she could get used to it without having to worry about focusing too much.  And as it was she seemed unaware of the wind and noise.  She went about her usual routine, although in the last week she has added wanting to walk up to me in the middle and ask me to pet her nose for a bit to "check in" before I ask her to go out and run some more.  When she's done running I snap the lead line back on and we practice walking together.  She's gotten really good at just lowering her head and following me like a puppy.  In fact, the test for her today was that she did that for me coming in from the pasture! Outside is a much different story for her then in the arena because there are so many things happening and so many opportunities for "monsters".

What freaked her out was before free lunging when she was in the groom room and I was putting on her bell boots.  All the sudden she went straight up in the air and flew backwards.  I stood up in a huff because for a split second I thought she was just being a spaz, but then I saw something waving out of the corner of my eye and a roll of paper towels had been blown off the shelf in the wash room and was flying down the aisle like a giant streaming white banner dragon.  Ok, that was definitely worthy of a spook.

I picked up the paper towel roll and pulled off the streaming paper towels and took the roll over to Toad.  Of course she flew backwards into the wall and started shaking really hard.  But we talked about it and I just stood there with it talking firmly and calmly until I was finally able to put it up to her nose so she could sniff it.  Then I "brushed" her with it and let her sniff it again and she decided it was all right.  But that awful paper towel stream in the aisle - that was the real monster!

So, I picked that up and crumpled it and then let it drop open, and crumpled it again.  I slowly waved it around a little, all the while talking about how it was not dangerous or scary and the scariest thing about it was that a whole roll of paper towels had just gotten dirty and was totally wasted.  Toad seemed mildly interested until I crumpled it up and brought it into the groom room with her and she smashed herself back in the corner again and started shaking even harder.  Same thing - just talked to her and held onto it until she started to come over and investigate.  Finally, she stuck her nose on it to smell it and the minute it touched her nose she squealed and tried to rear up and go backwards, which made me laugh, which was apparently embarrassing for her.  Finally she let me lean over and touch her with it and she tried smelling it again, then licking it, until eventually she took a big bite of it and started waving it around in front of her.  That was all she needed to know she had conquered the paper towel monster!  The whole thing only took probably less than a half hour so I thought she did really well going from "OMG! Monster!" to "Hey, cool toy!" in such a short amount of time.

The only other thing she spooked at from the wind was when we were coming out of the arena and a big gust came through the back door and made all the extra blankets on the stall doors billow up and fly around in the wind.  But that kind of spooked me too!

North by Northwest ...

I had aspired to get out to the barn to do my practice ride with Misty in fifteen minutes but somehow that isn't working out quite as planned.  Part of the reason is I want to finish my coffee and sit for a few more minutes.  I've added walking the dog through the loop in the woods every morning and that sucked up some time I thought I had.

I think I've posted this link to this song before but I was reminded of it again last week when following a thread on a friend's Facebook page about how her neighbors are upset because her daffodils on the side of her driveway sometimes touch their pant's leg when they get out of their car in their driveway.  And it is very upsetting for them.  Another neighbor wants them to take down a tree because it is too close to their (my friend's) house and that means that (according to the neighbors) my friend's will now get a bad rat problem which will then pass on to all the neighbor's houses.  All because there is a tree on their property and it is kind of close to their (my friend's) house.  Ugh.  This is just a few blocks from where we used to live in the city.  It reminded me about how much B.S. went on in my life from PTA mom's and neighbors when we lived there.  And these upper-middle-class liberals.  The type of people that I aspired to be when I was little teenage punk rocker rebelling against the "moral majority" and right-wing fundamentalist Christians.  Now I think there is a new type of people to rebel against and that's the stick-up-the-ass-faux-liberals.  They think because they dress "alternative" and feel sorry for homeless people that they are super-enlightened and float above the rest.  But they're not real liberals.  They don't actually have any friends who are different from them (ie: rich, white, full-of-shit).  And if they do it's because they're being charitable and being friends with the immigrant or the token gay-couple (that is really only there to boost their liberal-cred).  It is really quite disgusting.  They're just as bad as the freaky far-right Tea-partiers only on the other side of the spectrum.  And I like that song because it validates what I see as the Faux-Liberal-Seattle-hypocrisy (or FLS).  My Pentacostal neighbor is more open and accepting than some of my old FLS neighbors.

So, yeah, very happy to not be living there anymore or having my daughter at that school anymore.  I've been helping my new boss research public schools in her school district because she's not happy with her son's private school and it's really nice to be finding good curriculums and good social programs in the districts out here (lots of anti-bullying programs).  Oddly enough, in a good portion of the schools the ethnic diversity is a lot higher than in Seattle.  If you are in North Seattle is very white, if you are in South Seattle it is very black/immigrant.  Which would be diverse except you lack the white component and "all minority" just makes for "minority as the majority" as opposed to diverse.

Do you people not from Seattle know why Seattle is so segregated? It is because of a couple things.  Part of it is that during World War II this area housed some of the Japanese concentration camps, so even by the 70's when I was a little kid there was still a very strong anti-Japanese sentiment among some not-so-enlightened folks.  But it is also because up until the last 60's (within the very first portion of my life even!) many neighborhoods in Seattle had covenants that said that "Jewish, Oriental and Blacks" were not allowed to buy or rent homes in those neighborhoods.  It wasn't until the late 60's that it became illegal to enforce those covenants.  But some of the house titles of older homes still actually say that on the deeds unless new owners have taken action to have that wording removed.  Listen to the song - it makes it very clear how Seattle has done a lot to airbrush over our scandalous recent past regarding race, but all it has done is create a layer of silence and hypocrisy giving people the impression we are so much better than the Deep South.  But Seattle has a long way to go.  And I guess the punk rocker still lives on in me because despite all the protestation I hear around me that Seattle is so liberal compared to anywhere East of us, I know it's all pretty bells and whistles and in many senses we are just Alabama dressed in hipster clothes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The glory of fish

I need to get off my butt and start doing a lot of work that I need to get done today but first I want to warm up with a cup of coffee and blog a little.  I took the pitbull out for her morning walk around the loop in the woods and it was freakishly cold for this area for mid-March.  It's doing that kinda rain/kinda snow/really just bits of frozen water whacking you in the face weather thing.  It's also raining non-stop.  I guess it does that at this time every year. I'm glad we're high up from the creek.  The creek behind our house is really high and a couple neighbors on my route to the barn now have creeks where their driveways used to be - that is people who are set way back off the road.  They are set so far back and the land is so overgrown and crazy that I don't actually know if anyone lives in the houses or not.

Yesterday I took Lil Girl out with me to get some new fish for a fancy new 20 gallon aquarium.  We just upgraded after six years from a 10 gallon.  The 5 year old catfish (Catfish) and the 4 year old Tetra (Katie) seemed pretty happy.  But we needed new fish.  So we got some Platys and Mollys and three snails.  My experience with Platys and Mollys is that they rarely live past a couple months but we'll see.  I really wanted three rainbow sharks but they said they need a 20 gallon wide tank not tall tank to really thrive.  So now we have Midnight, Shadow, Sunrise, Sunset, Sheldon, Goldy, Ocean and Ebony.  Sheldon is my fish.  The rest are our daughter's.

It's actually pretty entertaining to watch them.  Katie took up with Sunrise and Sunset and is now swimming all around the tank instead of hiding in a decorative castle like she has the last couple years since the rest of her school (Team Tetra) died out. Catfish seemed a little cranky and stayed in his spot under a decorative bridge until Goldy the snail made the mistake of slithering under there into Catfish's spot. This was very upsetting for Catfish and he immediately tried to knock Goldy out.  Even though Goldy had originally intended only to be passing through, having Catfish head-butt him made him curl up in his shell and hold his ground.  When I went to bed Catfish was still having a snit and head-butting Goldy to get him out of his spot with absolutely no success.  I almost expected to see Goldy and Catfish in the same spot this morning but Catfish must have given up and let Goldy slither out on his own.  I also noticed for the first time that Catfish can recognize his bag of food pellets through the glass and knows when he's getting fed.  That's pretty cool.

Hopefully, this weekend I'll help my neighbor and her kids put together the 10 gallon tank they just inherited as a hand-me-down from a friend.  Right now they have some sort of yucky stomach sickness passing through their house.  And my friend who babysits my daughter on my work day has had her daughter out of school for one and a half weeks because of some really awful virus.  Ugh.  That's been challenging with having just started my new job a week and a half ago, but thankfully it has been working out.

Toadie threw an enormous grand-mal tantrum day before yesterday because she didn't want me to brush the dried pee of her front leg.  To the point where she was swinging her butt at me, going to bite me and when Trainer K. stepped in she literally acted like she was going to throw her body over on Trainer K.  So, it took a good half hour before Trainer K. could get her to stop and let her brush it.  She ended up having to put a twitch on her mouth (basically a chain that pinches the gum if they try to fight you).  What really confirmed it was a behavorial issue and and not that she had pain in that leg, was that we could brush the exact same spot from the other side and she could handle it.  But she has issues with her right side and tries to get worked up just when I brush her on that side.  I'm sure something awful happened to her at that track on that side, but that does not make her dangerous behavior acceptable.  And the biggest problem for her is that for 18 months before I bought her from the teenager, the teenager would either immediately stop what she was doing when Toad acted like that, or get her a bucket of oats or treats to try and bribe her into letting her finish brushing her.  Usually the latter didn't work, so Toadie just got lots of rewards for her dangerous behavior but never learned to put up with the problem - like not wanting someone to brush her leg.  Trainer K. finally got her to let her brush her leg without acting dangerous, then we immediately praised her and put her in her stall where her lunch was to show her that's all we wanted - was to be able to brush her leg without her threatening us.

So, yesterday when I took her out, I put her in the same groom room and picked up the same brush, fully expecting her to be a nervous wreck and sure enough she acted like I was going to kill her just by holding the brush.  Now mind you, the brush never did anything to her - she was never struck with the brush (that is just cruel) and the only time she was struck was with a crop when she directly tried to physically harm Trainer K.  Still, she is such a high strung girl who's had so little boundaries set with her she was a quaking wreck.  So, our grooming session took a long time with me just gently touching her with the brush, letting her sniff the brush and at one point letting her chew on the brush and play with it in her mouth for a minute to see it wasn't a huge, evil monster that was going to kill her.

Then I took her out to free lunge and she got her ya-yas out then walked around the arena with me like a very polite girl so that she could cool down.  I took her back to the groom room and was able to brush her really well this time and clean her feet just fine.  Then I picked up the curry mitt and went to clean the dried pee (again) off the same leg and she started to flip out.  But thankfully, all of Trainer K.'s work the day before paid off, because I just stayed out of the line of fire as best I could, held my hand up against the side of her nose so she couldn't turn to bite at me and just kept my hand with the curry mitt against her leg and followed her around the grooming room as she danced around in a panic - all the while saying firmly, "Calm down. Just stop. You're not being hurt. Calm down." And sure enough, I guess logic finally won out in that hysterical little head of hers and she decided she didn't want to repeat the hysterics of the day before and she finally sighed and let me scrub off her leg.  Of course then she got all sorts of pets and love and kisses on the nose and sugar cubes!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Best day of my life

I've been waking up the past few days with a lot of complaints in my head.  Everything hurts, I'm tired because I didn't sleep well because I'm so achy, I keep getting up and one of our four pets keeps peeing on the hallway carpet (this morning three time!!!), it seems like I am always in a rush to get the girl out to the bus, and there has not been enough time to do a proper housecleaning so everything is messy, and I've had a headache for the past week.  Oh, and I gained 8 pounds during my period of having hypothyroid and it won't go away.  And my hair looks awful and all my white hair is growing in way too fast (did it just appear overnight? I'm so tired of dying my hair but I'm just not ready to have white hair!) and what the hell is up with these enormous bags and dark circles under my eyes that never go away? They seem to be concurrent with how fucking achy I am.

I've been trying to counter-act my inner-whining by taking the girl to the bus and then walking the dog through my three-quarter mile loop through the woods.  I don't take my phone with me and we just walk and I watch the creek and the birds and notice plants that are starting to emerge in the wetlands (like skunk cabbage which seems to have popped up overnight).  I have also been singing this song by Dido to myself to try and remind myself of everything I'm so thankful for in my life.

I keep wondering why I'm in such a funk (so that when I identify the reason I can fix it) and I have come to the conclusion that it is because my birthday is tomorrow and I'm going to be forty-five years old.  This just does not register in my head since I still feel like I should be twenty-nine at the most.  This weekend I was complaining about how I can't deal with the reality of how old I and Trainer K. and M. were scoffing at me because they are older me.  Then during my daughter's riding lesson Trainer K. said to my daughter, "You need Tasha out further on the circle because I can't make these tiny circles while lunging her," then she paused and said loudly, "Cause it's not like I'm forty-five anymore!" to which M. muttered in response, "Which is as old as Methusala" to which I muttered, "I heard that." Stuff like that makes me feel better.  It didn't help though when my very good friend, T. said the other day "Don't feel bad about your birthday coming up.  I mean SH is forty-five!"  Sigh.  It's nice that people don't realize how old I am, but it'd be nicer if I really were as young as they thought I was.

In happier, less geriatric news, my daughter is now excited to get back into weekly riding lessons.  So, between that and gymnastics (which she starts today) and piano she is filled up with extracurricular activities.  Maybe with the gymnastics and riding she can eventually aspire to be perform in Cavalia.

Monday, March 5, 2012

New stuff

We upgraded from a 10-gallon fish tank to a 20-gallon fish tank this weekend and I have to say that our family may be way more excited about it than we should be.  But the fish are really excited about it too.  Right now we only have two fish and they are really old (for fish).  One is Catfish (who is a ... well, a catfish) and the other is Katie who is a Tetra.  The last surviving member of Team Tetra: Alex, Julie, Jack and Katie (for comic book geeks yes, they were named after the Power Pack). 

We had two catfish about four years ago, then we got an algae eater.   We didn't realize that algae eaters are really aggressive.  We just thought he liked the catfish cause he was always swimming right now to them and "cuddling up with them". Doh. Ignorant fish owners.  Algae Eater (yes, that was his name) harrassed one of the cat fish so badly that he managed to jump out of the tank through the small hole in the lid next to the air filter.  We found him dead on the floor one morning.  So, we went to the pet store and they suggested we get a "school" of fish and we brought home Team Tetra and they put algae eater in his place.  Over the course of four years the other three Tetras died out but Katie is still hanging on.  And she's doing much better now that she has a giant, super clean tank.  Before she was hanging out in one of the rock structures and never came out.  And I think it's because the tank was much filthier than we realized because when I switched them over it occurred to me we hadn't cleaned the tank since we moved - which was a year ago.  Ooops.  Bad, bad fish owners.

I really like fish.  I like watching the way they swim and it's a meditative exercise for me to just sit and watch them swim and listen to the bubbles from the air pump.  I've always been drawn to water and I don't think I'd be happy living in the desert because one of my favorite things in nature is seeing the tiny little fish swimming around the shallow parts of lakes or swimming around in creeks.

In other news, I start my new job today.  And as per perfect timing my babysitter and her daughter are sick.  Luckily, with the timing of my duties, I can bring the boy I'm tutoring with me to pick up my daughter after school and I can bring her back to work with me.  That might even be better because my new boss and I have some office work to go over and my first activity for the kids is going to be writing story problems for each other to solve.  So, maybe it actually works better this way.  I'm trying not to be too nervous but whenever I go into a new endeavor I'm always kind of a nervous wreck no matter how comfortable and nice the new situation appears to be.

And in horse news my daughter took her first riding lesson since last June yesterday.  I was wondering if she would've forgotten everything but she did really well.  Trainer K. had made a comment once that the girl who I bought Toad from wasn't even as good a rider as my daughter and I had thought "My tiny, delicate little 7-year old daughter doesn't really know how to ride - she's too young and tiny!"  But watching her lesson yesterday and seeing her up on a full size horse (Tasha ... sweetest old mare in the world when it comes to lessons for beginners!) I realized she's still tiny and only 8 years old, but she still knows how to ride a little bit.  She's very much a beginner but she has an idea of the basics and can hold her own.

Trainer K. doesn't have any lesson horses or ponies of her own.  She has two clients who let her use their horses for lessons but they are full size horses (Tasha is around 15.1 hands).  We are looking at leasing a pony named Sugar but we're waiting until the owner has a saddle for her and stuff like that.  Then my daughter can take lessons on her.  But she did well on Tasha even though her legs barely hit Tasha's side below the saddle.  She said she wanted to be on the lunge line and after five minutes Trainer K. said, "Are you sure you want this? You don't need it," and my daughter said "Yes!" but I noticed five minutes later somehow Trainer K. had made the lunge line disappear.  She put it back on by my daughter's request for when they did some trotting and after a bit Trainer K. said, "Is this fun or is it scary?" and my daughter announced, "Fun!"  Afterward she said that Tasha was way easier to ride than the ponies.  I agree.  I didn't feel like I had my heart in my throat the whole time like I did when she was riding Tiny - the demon Shetland.  Tiny is the sweetest little pony on the ground when the kids are grooming her but under saddle ... good lord.  She drove me nuts watching my daughter fight with her and get thrown off or having to hang on when Tiny bolted with her.  I *know* that is the point of ponies and that is how kids learn but it was still hard to watch as the mom. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The latest in my on-going horse saga

Tuesday Trainer K. and I took Girlfriend back to her old owner's farm to live out her days with 24/7 pasture turn-out.  She went into the trailer just fine, but then was a little ancy and calling to the horse's back in the barn.  But when we got to her old owner's I could tell as soon as she came out of the trailer she knew where she was.  I took her over to the pasture that's hers, let her loose and she ran up and down the pasture, then rolled and hopped up and ran over to the fence to say "hi" to her old pasture mate, Maddie.  They touched noses then ran up and down the fence next to each other a few times, then stood touching noses together for awhile.  It felt more like a homecoming than moving her away from her home.  So, I feel incredibly relieved.  Because they have such big pastures and only two horses there is a ton of grass and it's not boggy or muddy at all except up by the shelters and only a little bit there.  So, her mud fever will clear up much more easily. And I bet she'll be less stiff now that she's not stuck in a stall most of the time.

I had one breeder who was interested in Toadie, but she's in Ohio and couldn't afford the transport fee across the country.  The rest of the people who were interested were either young teens who didn't seem to understand how big, green and high-strung she is or much, much worse, kids looking for horses to barrel race.  All you have to do is look at a photo of Toadie and see that she is NOT a barrel racing prospect because of the way she's built.  I was not emailing any of them back and finally one day I emailed one of them back and explained confirmation and physique to her and why Toad was a bad prospect and there were some great gaming AQHA's out there and here are some pedigrees to explore for top gamers (I only know this from owning Girlfriend and researching her pedigree which is all about gaming).  And this kid actually emailed me back and said, "But is she fast? That's all that matters. Everything else can be fixed!" Duh. Fixed how? By cutting her legs down and shortening her body and completely changing her confirmation? I'm sorry but NO! I'm not selling someone my horse after they argue with me that they can "fix her" to "force her to be something she's not" only to have them get frustrated after a year of failure and send her off to auction or worse.

So, as of right now it looks like Toadie is here to stay.  I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing with her - training and working with her six days a week and I'll keep her listing up and keep my eyes open for a perfect new home.  But that may take a long time since I'm not willing to just unload her off on anyone.

 I don't mind keeping her because I am so bonded with her and when we're on the ground 98% of the time we're great together.  But I'm not getting any riding time in now that Girl is retired.  And I'm concerned that I'm not developing in my riding and how will I ever ride my green horse if she's getting trained and I'm not?  So, I figured out a way to make it all work.  I'm adding two lessons a week on Trainer K.'s lesson horse, Misty.  Since I'm not paying as much for Girlfriend I can use that extra money to pay for lessons.  Well, except Trainer K. said if I'm only riding Misty twice a week she wants me to take one lesson and do one practice ride on my own each week.  That way I can have riding time to figure stuff out on my own and a lesson to get instruction.  Her reasoning is that if I don't take alone practice rides I will become very advanced at being given instruction and not adept at all at working stuff out on my own.  I guess that's good - it means I'm far enough along in riding to actually know how to work stuff out on my own.

Taryn told me yesterday I need to give myself more credit because I'm a much better rider than I think. But what I'm concerned about is not staying on the horse's back if she's a mellow horse like Misty - it's getting my technique right.  I've developed some bad habits over the last four years and I really don't want to develop any more.  I'm a perfectly good rider as far as just riding around staying on a horse and getting through to them what to do, but not as far as riding really well and riding dressage goes. Compared to knowing a language - I am fluent enough to get by, order food, hang out and chat but I'm not fluent enough to have a deep, meaningful really in-depth conversation with a perfect accent.  And the latter is where I want to be with riding.

One of the things I started a couple weeks ago in a lesson on Misty was doing stretching exercises in the saddle meant to help my seat and to help me learn to isolate different parts of my body while keeping other parts still.  I've really struggled with my seat at the canter over the last four years and it seems like no matter what I try I end up bracing my feet in my stirrups at a canter.  Right before I moved from my old barn my old instructor did get me to the point where I did canter without stirrups, but then I moved, went through the fiasco with Trainer V., was out of lessons for awhile and didn't get to work on that as much.

But the last couple weeks when I ride (well, any horse but Toad who is too green and nervous for me to be doing stretching exercises on yet) I'm supposed to do the exercises to warm up.  Then day before yesterday I was riding Misty just for practice (it was supposed to be a lesson but Trainer K. was busy with the new foal who was a few hours earlier) and I tried cantering because I try to do that every time I ride because I know how much it needs work.  And an amazing thing happened! My butt stayed glued to the saddle, my feet were completely relaxed and loose in the saddle and Misty was thrilled that I was so quiet and balanced!

So, I'm feeling much more relaxed about the horse thing now.  I don't mind keeping Toad as long as while she is progressing in training I am also progressing in training.  She's not my perfect horse because I can't just hop on her and ride her whenever and wherever and she will probably never be a relaxing horse to go trail riding with, but for now she's just fine and right now she's my horse and I'm going to make the best of that for her and for me.  Maybe one day the right person will come along and want her but until then I'm enjoying everything I'm learning with her and watching how much she is learning.

It also helped that after her fiasco with neck pain, then cutting her leg and then needing to get back into regular work enough to not be a goofball I finally got to ride her again yesterday.  I think it was the first time in six weeks at least.  I hopped up on her and half way around the arena I had a momentary panic attack where for a second my brain and body felt like it froze up and I thought, "What if she freaks out on me?"  Last time I rode her was when she got mad at me because she didn't want to trot and had a little tantrum - but I stayed on, corrected her and we went straight back to work.  Then the time before that I was riding her and she spooked and spun - but I stayed on and we moved on and kept going that day too.  So, I took a deep breath and told the panicky part of my mind, "Just shut up. Stop trying to scare me and just let me be the responsible, safe adult that I am without trying to freak me out!" Then I was fine.  And Toadie did well.  She tried very hard and put up with a lot of steering exercises that we were working on.

It's hard and takes constant concentration on my part because she's so green that anyone that rides her is in the position of a trainer - everything we do is teaching her what it's like to be ridden.  So, instead of just riding and not paying attention I have to be constantly vigilant.  If I screw up or use too much leg or don't loosen the left rein enough when steering to the right it isn't just an annoyance to the horse - it is confusing and teaching her that being ridden is confusing and uncomfortable.  So Trainer K. is right there the whole time making sure I do everything perfectly and it has given me a whole new view of what trainers do.  They REALLY have to be absolutely perfect riders.  I used to think I wanted to work hard and study and eventually be a trainer but lately the  responsibility of being a trainer sounds overwhelming.  A bad trainer can really mess up a horse and I'm not sure I would ever have the confidence to start a horse without a huge fear I'd ruin them - even if I studied and worked really hard for the next twenty years - I'm not sure I would want that huge responsibility.  It also disturbs me how many bad trainers there are out there and how that is a much bigger deal as far as bad for horses than I originally realized.  I don't mind learning how to ride Toad really well and learning how to ride a green horse well because I know Trainer K. is there when I am and constantly helping me do it right, but I'm not sure I'd ever want that responsibility on my shoulders - especially with someone else's horse.

Still, the upside is that I am learning a lot.  And now that I'm going to be riding consistently again and have lessons that focus on my riding too it all works out much better.

Meanwhile, I heard something the other day that brings up a moral quandry.  Another trainer is apparently going to give lessons to a mom of one of her students on her horse.  I've ridden her horse about four times and won't ride him again because he's green like Toad but a hundred times more spooky.  The woman she'll be teaching knows nothing about horses and I wouldn't even ride this horse.  So, I'm wondering if I should mention to her that he is not a beginner's horse at all and it sounds very dangerous.  I doubt she'd believe me though and it would start a bunch of drama around the barn since this trainer already doesn't like me.  But at the same time it puts my stomach into knots just thinking about what could happen.

Photo of my girl.  Not a barrel racer!