Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Slept in My Own Bed

Slept in My Own Bed

When my dad got really sick over Memorial Day weekend, I started to sleep in the living room—right outside his bedroom. That way if he needed me, I was right there. It was a little adjustment for Thunder, but he got into the routine. When my dad died, I decided to continue to help Maggie with the transition and since we had a hot spell, it was much cooler.

The other night, something happened. I’m not sure what, but all parties looked guilty. I heard Maggie jump up and run quickly. I don’t know if she was guarding me and Thunder got too close, if Thunder pounced at her, or maybe he sniffed her, woke her up and that caused the ruckus. Thunder was nervous the rest of the night, I had trouble sleeping and literally had nightmares of Thunder getting hurt by the dog.

It was time to start sleeping in my own bedroom.

My room is on the top floor—up the metal, circular staircase. The stairs are not safe for any dog to climb—but particularly a clumsy one like Maggie. She falls going up the regular steps. I have it blocked so Thunder can go up, but Maggie cannot.

I brought Thunder’s water dish upstairs, filled his dishes with dry food and made the bed. He was watching everything I did. I filled up Maggie’s Kong toy to help out. It was a nice feeling to bring up my pillows. Next step—I brought up Thunder. As typical, he sniffed around and went back downstairs. This is his routine if he isn’t real tired. I gave him some fresh can food downstairs to fill up his belly and brought him back up. It worked. He curled right up and fell asleep.

I tried listening for the dog to make sure she didn’t get into trouble. I forgot how much louder the crickets were up in my room than downstairs, and I was actually straining me ears. It sounded like she was chewing her nylabone. I read for a while and went to sleep.

Thunder slept with me the whole night, except when he went downstairs to eat every scrap of canned food I left for him. He ate some of the dry upstairs, too. He seemed so happy in the morning—filled with purrs. I then discovered that Maggie got into the only garbage that was available to her—from my bathroom. She ate some toilet paper tubes. Well, I can eliminate that problem. Let’s see what she gets into, tonight.

Maybe this is why Thunder has lost some weight since the ordeal began. He may not be relaxing enough at night to eat his normal amount. He currently looks like a Siamese with long hair. He has always been a thin cat. He still seems healthy, and it isn’t unusual for him to lose weight I the summer heat, but I just don’t like him this thin. Maybe the dog situation at night was more of a stress than having other people in the house during the day?

I sure hope Maggie doesn’t get too destructive, so I can continue to sleep in my bedroom. I think it will be good for both Thunder and me. My mood was much happier this morning, too. Waking up in the living room was just a reminder of things I’d rather forget. I really want to go forward in my life instead of dwelling on the sad times of the last few months.

Please, Maggie, let this work.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Getting Cole’s Training Back on Track

Getting Cole’s Training Back on Track

Now that I have time to ride, I want to cross off a few things from our training goals.

I decided it was time to ride Cole down the huge hill that is over by the show ring. I’m sure you are shocked to know I haven’t done it yet, but that’s only because you haven’t seen the hill. It is a long, very steep hill. Combine that with the fact that Cole loved trying to trot down all hills, I was in no hurry to attempt it. I would just lead him, and click him for walking down like a gentleman.

It was time to ride down. I had Ellen take Ranger first to encourage him to step slowly and carefully like Range. As he walked down, I periodically clicked him for good behavior. That also helped keep him from building momentum. At one point, I had to thread him between a deep rut and the hill on the edge of the trail. It was the only spot I was really worried about. As I guided him where I wanted him to step, he paid perfect attention and stepped right where I wanted him.

We made it to the bottom perfectly. I was quite pleased.

The following week, we had an opportunity to work on a training project that we hadn’t touched since last fall—trotting up the hill leading to the barn. We are so close to home—literally right across the street—that horses tend to get worked up if you go faster than a walk. I like to work them on the hill at a trot and canter when we can’t cross the river at the bottom. With the drought this summer, we were able to cross most of the time. We finally got a good rain where we couldn’t, and I decided to take advantage of it.

We had already ridden Cruiser and Ranger on it three times. We don’t trot up it with them, anymore, due to their age and Cruiser’s bowed tendon. There are level places that we do trot on. I took Cole on the hill with Ellen on foot.

We rode down the hill, turned around and headed up—leaving Ellen behind. He seemed surprised at first when I asked him to trot. He trotted at a moderate, steady speed, and I was so pleased. I stopped him about two thirds of the way up. We walked out to the street, turned around and headed back. I clicked him for his first few steps back. They never want go down the hill again with home so close, so I figured I would reward him for doing it willingly.

We made our way back to the bottom—trotting on the level parts. I had a feeling that the second trip wouldn’t go as smoothly, and I told Ellen so. I just thought that now that he knew what we were doing, he would get excited.

I was right. As we trotted, he began to build speed. I tried to slow him down, but he decided it would be better to canter. That was at the halfway point. I was able to stop him after about 3 strides and immediately turned him around and headed all the way down to the bottom. I thought that was punishment enough.

To test my theory, I asked him to trot up a third time. He was as good as the first time. I was either right, or he was tired from the work. Once again, we stopped at two thirds and walked to the top, turned around and headed down, again. My rule is that the last trip up must be at a walk. That way, they will learn that trotting and cantering on the hill means we are not going home. It has worked in the past. I used to trot Cruiser and Mingo right to the street. I want Cole to know that, too.

I’m sure we will have more high-river days to practice.

I had one more opportunity to expand his training this weekend. There was a horse show at the show grounds. We like to ride up there each weekend, though we don’t usually ride right by the show ring unless we have a lot of time.

Last fall, we did ride Cole to the edge of a show so he could look around and then left. He had a little temper tantrum just as we left, that time.

The trail loops away from the show ring on one side, so we figured we would go that direction. He was doing really well until we neared a horse trailer parked right by the trail. There were no horses in it, but I didn’t realize that a person was. When she started banging things in it, Cole flew back and tried to spin. I stopped him and made him stand for a few moments. I then asked for a step forward. When he gave it to me, I clicked and treated. I repeated it a couple times until we went by. I was careful to only click brave behavior. If I clicked frightened behavior, it would teach him that that is what I wanted.

We continued down the trail. On the other side of the loop, it goes right through the heart of the activity—the bleachers, viewing stand, loud speaker, pavilion, horses, horse trailers and people all over the place. He was fine. We would go a little, stop and let him look around and then go a little further. He was very interested in the goings on, but never got excited. He was so much easier than Cruiser…

When we made it all the way around the loop, we trotted off to the main trail and headed home. It was a very positive experience—and probably the closest he will ever get to being in a show. We would much rather spend our time riding on the trails than hanging around a show ring all day.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Equine Therapy

Equine Therapy

When times are tough, the tough get riding. There’s no staying home, moping about. That’s no way to feel better. Saddle time—that’s what’s needed.

With the passing of my father, I just needed to ride. Ellen, my sister, and I met each other at the barn the following morning and headed out for a ride together with Cole and Ranger for the first time in over a month, and it felt good. There were moments that I actually forgot for a little bit. My sister and I also got to talk about what was going on, and that was good for us, too. We did it again the next day, too, but it was an even longer ride. Of course, when I got back each day, I went for a ride on Cruiser, too. Ellen caught up with us on the way home and walked with us—just like we used to. Things are starting to get back to normal.

We went on a quick ride the following day on Cruiser and Ranger. We didn’t have time for Cole Train because we had to go to the wake. The ride made us stronger to face what was ahead. There wasn’t time on funeral day, but we were there the next day. It was my last bereavement day, and we had another terrific ride together.

Then came the tough day. I went back to work. Work itself wasn’t the problem. The problem was that it was an ordinary day. I always called my father twice a day, and when those times came, the pain came with it.

After work, I rushed out to the barn, saddled up Cole and headed out for a solo ride—no Ellen or Kevin. It was wonderful. Riding by myself meant I could go as fast as I liked without worrying about the other horses. As soon as I got to a good part of the trail, we were cantering away. I felt that I could canter faster than the grief. The more we cantered, the faster he went. It was as if he understood the urgency.

Despite the speed, he still behaved. He slowed down when I asked him, and I was very pleased with him. The last section of the trail is all out in the open going along the street. I only cantered him there a few times in the in the past. It can be a little intimidating until you trust your horse. I decided I trusted him and just let him go as fast as he liked. I got far ahead of the grief that time. My heart just soared. I felt great.

We reached the end, turned around and headed back at a trot. Even after the excitement and with the fact that we were trotting toward home, he behaved. He may have been tired. We did a combination of walking and trotting for the next 15 minutes, and then I decided it was time to cool off. It was a hot, humid evening up into the 80s, and he was quite sweaty.

After about 5 minutes of walking, the sweat on his neck began to dry. I was very pleased that he was cooling so well after such a vigorous ride. I pushed him harder on this ride than I ever did before. Fifteen minutes later, when we got back to the barn, he was dry except under the saddle. I sponged him off and took Cruiser out for his quiet ride.

I got away from the sadness for a little while. I recommend horse therapy to everyone.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It is just Thunder, Maggie and me.

The house is much quieter, now. It is just Thunder, Maggie and me. I told Thunder that we will probably have to adopt Maggie, because no one else wanted her. He immediately crouched down, wiggled and pounced her. I don’t think Thunder wants to adopt her at all.

We cleaned out my dad’s room of all paper products so that she can stay in there instead of in a cage when I’m gone. It has worked out, so far. She hasn’t destroyed a thing. I think she is safer to be locked away from Thunder. Maybe it is Thunder who has to be confined in the rest of the house for Maggie’s sake.

Maggie seems to be somewhat needy, but Thunder is perfectly happy because he has his cat tower. They will adapt. I will adapt. Life goes on…

Monday, July 16, 2012

Training my cat and dog to jump through a hoop

Having extra time at home, lately, I have restarted Thunder the Wonder Cat and Maggie’s (aka dumb dog) clicker training.

One major development—since I have been using a tongue click with Maggie for grooming so much and a clicker click with Thunder, I can now work with Thunder and Maggie usually doesn’t even come in the room. It makes it much easier since she would distract Thunder. It is one of the main reason I stopped his training. Maggie kept getting in the way.

It has been a couple of years since I have regularly worked with Thunder. I had him targeting through obstacles and jumping through a hoop. I didn’t hold it high—just high enough for him to hop. Upon restarting his training, it appears that he remembers targeting and sitting up, perfectly. We do that in the beginning to charge the clicker and then move to the hoop. I target him through it at a walk, and he got it the first day. The problem with Thunder is his little belly gets filled up, fast, and we might get 10-15 clicks at the most. I even break the treats in half, but he just quits when he is full.

After about 5 sessions, I picked up the hoop, and he walked straight through it without any targetting! I was so proud of the little guy. We did it 4 times—and then his belly was full.

Maggie has her own hoop—much bigger. I cut them out of a cardboard box. The first few sessions were a disaster. She was afraid of the hoop and ran away. I was frustrated. I know that as a rescue dog, she has baggage, but seriously, was she beaten with a hoop?

I then decided to try her outside on the leash. It makes it a little tougher to coordinate—but I don’t trust her off leash—she runs off and won’t let me catch her. (Rescue baggage, I’m sure.) Anyway, I sat on the ground and held the hoop in front of me. To get to me, she had to go through the hoop. She was hesitant, at first, but once she understood, she did great.

I then changed to holding the hoop and having her walk through it—not to me. The leash was able to guide her. I got her stepping through in the same session.

I then put aside the hoop, sat down on the ground and stuck my leg out and asked her to jump it. She knows the jump command, and figured it out quickly. I did lots of clicks for her. When I stood up and held out the hoop and said “jump,” she hopped through.

Now we have had 3 sessions, and we are working on improving those two tricks. She will jump back and forth over my leg 3 times before a click. She is really good at that. She will hop through the hoop, but is having trouble getting her back legs through. I will keep it lower until she figures all of it. I may be clicking too soon, causing her to stop before she is through.

So, it appears she isn’t dumb—just challenged. She has been enjoying her sessions quite a bit and gets very excited. I will keep up with it.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Gone in an instant

Gone in an instant

This has been a very sad time in my family’s lives. My father’s cancer has gotten the better of him. He is very weak and hasn’t been able to walk in a month and a half. He lives in his bedroom—either on the bed or the recliner. Someone has to be with him all day. Since I live with him, I get the bulk of it. I am getting help from my sister and my brother’s family. He doesn’t want any outsiders helping him. We do have hospice assisting us.

This has cut into my riding. I still ride, but less often and the rides are shorter. My time with my boyfriend is limited to riding together and when he visits me at my house. I don’t even get to see my sister enough. She is working weekends, now, so she can be on Dad Watch a couple days during the week. I take a couple vacation days every week, too, just to stay home. I do a lot of gardening, the dog is getting a better walks and I read. Thunder the Wonder Cat, loves having me home so much. He’s the only one happy with the situation.

My sister and I have both learned to never take anything for granted, again. I never was one to do that in the first place, but now I realize that it applies to EVERYTHING. Our lives have been turned upside down. I have learned to appreciate any horse time I can get. I am even enjoying the chores at the barn more than ever. I like going to work, too, since I can’t go as often as before. But it is more than that. I have seen what has happened to my father. I have learned to appreciate walking, looking out the windows, eating a big meal, taking a shower and stepping outside the door. These are things he hasn’t been able to do. He took them for granted, too.

He would love to look at the garden I spent so much time taking care of—and he would love to be able to eat more of the produce I am harvesting. The appetite isn’t there, anymore, and food doesn’t taste right.

As I walk down the driveway to get the paper in the morning, something that used to be his job, I look at all the lovely trees and I notice their beauty. I never paid attention to them, before. They were just the trees I saw every day. They look different to me now; because I know the ability to see them could be gone, in an instant.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thunder's Gift

I indulged myself. For Thunder’s birthday/anniversary, I bought him a cat tower. I ordered it from Petco. I really wanted it—and then they had a sale and the price came down. I couldn’t resist it any longer. It took only a week to ship, and I received it on Tuesday—the first day of Dad watch, so I was thrilled to have something fun to do..

Thunder was very interested when I was assembling it. Once it was done, I took it to the big picture window that overlooks the front yard. It took him 10 seconds to reach the top. He loves it! Most of the day, he is either on it or close by keeping an eye on it. He watches the sunrise there—even though the window faces west. He purrs and purrs and purrs. On the second day, he showed me how he learned to sharpen his claws. This morning, he demonstrated going from the window sill to the top perch all in a single bound.

My sister is on Dad watch today, while I am at work, and she said he has shown it to her many times and how he can climb in different ways. He is on it, now.

He is one happy cat.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Hot ride

We couldn’t cross the river on our ride last night—too high. I rode with a friend, Julie, who was on Kevin’s horse, Starry. We went up and down the hill 3 times. We trotted on the level parts. Starry didn’t see the point in it all. Cole thought trotting was great fun and Julie said that he was floating off the ground. Yes, Cole can truly trot. That was his extended trail trot. He has a bunch of trots, but that’s the one that just eats up the miles. It seemed like it would take only a few seconds and we would have to come back to a walk.

It was so hot. I think I sweated gallons on that short ride. When I got back, I sponged Cole off and saddled up Cruiser. It was his turn. We did our 3 trips. He trotted like a normal horse on a hot day. Actually, I think the warm weather is doing him good. Sometimes his trot is a little stiff. It has been feeling better, lately. Also, he hasn’t been laying down so much in his stall. The old guy is feeling good. I still sweated gallons.

When I got back, I had to clean 3 stalls and sweated more gallons. It was a tough night.

There is going to be a break in the heat on Sunday. Hurray! this has been one long, hot heat wave.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Recent Rides

My riding has been sporadic and abbreviated since we have been taking care of my Dad. I didn’t get out at all on Saturday, so my sister-in-law took pity on me and said she’d start her shift a few hours early on Sunday so I could get a longer ride and be able to spend time with Kevin. I jumped at the chance.

I took Cole up to the show ring trails. It is the first time since this whole thing started that I could ride somewhere different. It is only the second time I rode him there, alone. My sister and I usually go together. I did it once last fall, and he misbehaved. Well, he wasn’t a whole lot better this time. He was fine until we got up there, and then he got very hyper. Our trotting was very fast, which I don’t mind, but he broke into the canter countless times and wasn’t easy to bring back down. We got to the turnaround point before I knew it. Since he was so wound up, I opted to skip the trails out in the field and just go home. The bugs attacked, so I tried some trotting. He went very, very fast and I could hardly stop him. We took a break for him to settle down and then tried it again. He was steadier with his trotting, but when I wanted to stop, once again, he didn’t think it was a good idea. I’m not used to this from Cole. He usually has a very good stop.

I decided we would walk home from there. He was very hot and sweaty. He finally had a ride vigorous enough to tire him out. The walk home was uneventful and he behaved just fine. I sponged him off and then it was time for Cruise.

We had an easy ride, and Kevin met us on foot. He said that since we had extra time, he had the urge for some Steak and Shake. We haven’t gone anywhere for dinner except a quick stop at Burger King for weeks. Steak and Shake it was. We ate too much, but it sure was good.

I rode last night, too. this time, Kevin came with me. we went on our usual ride, except skipped the part that puts us right by the street. There are too many idiots with fireworks this time of year, and they are worst in the evening. Starry and Cole were well behaved and we got some good cantering in. I then took Cruiser on another easy ride.

I will ride tomorrow morning, but I can’t get out in time to ride with my sister. She goes in to work at 10:00 and I can’t get there before 9:30. I really miss my rides with her. Kevin will be there, though.

I will stay at home with Dad for the 4th of July. I don’t mind missing the fireworks, but I will miss Kevin. He has been great through this crisis by riding with me when he can, taking care of my horses when I can’t get there and visiting me when I can’t get away, but I sure do miss going out with him. July 5th is our 16th anniversary of our first unofficial date.