Sunday, May 24, 2009

Meet the world's greatest horse!

Icelandic horseAri, an Icelandic Horse, is my riding partner and best buddy. Now 21 years old, he is still healthy and sound, and has the best temperament of any horse I've ever ridden. I didn't start riding until I was almost 40 years old, so I've always considered myself a beginner, and have just in the last five years found myself completely comfortable riding. Ari is a big reason for my comfort-- he is a fabulous horse. 

We ride the trails with friends and as mounted Reserve Park Rangers for the City of Poway. A new book was just released, ASPCA Kids: Animals At Work, by my friend Liz Palika, and Ari is one of the featured animals! Two pages are devoted to the story of Ari at work as a park ranger. I am very proud of him! I was disappointed they didn't use his photo, but I'll post one here to make up for it :) Read his story here.

Ari has given pony rides to lots of children, including my nieces Kirra and 
Ember. Last summer, he gave rides at a birthday party for my next door neighbor's granddaughter. 

Ari and I ride in the Poway Days Parade every year with the park rangers. We have also ridden in the Horse Days parade in Norco, 4th of July parade in Rancho Bernardo,  and the Swallows Day parade in San Juan Capistrano with an Icelandic riding group. 

Ari was imported from Iceland in 1998, and was ridden in the Rose Parade by Valur Blomsterburg in 2000. Valur, from Iceland, is the person who brought Ari over to the United States. Ari was shown at Icelandic horse shows in the US before I owned him. Today we enjoy riding the trails, camping, riding in parades and doing ranger patrols together. We especially enjoy summer rides at Border State Beach in San Diego.

Ari shares his home in my back yard with his roommate, Star, another Icelandic horse. His former roommate, Little Red, now lives at the Shea Center in San Juan Capistrano, where he is also a working horse, doing riding therapy with handicapped children. 

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I clicker trained the donkey

In 2001 I adopted a burro from the Bureau of Land Management. Bandit was about 9 months old, and had been brought in from Death Valley, CA. He didn’t know ANYTHING about how to live in captivity.

At the auction, they ran the horses and burros down a long chute (several hundred feet) of pipe corrals and into the trailer. When he was delivered to my house, he was in a horse trailer with plywood over the windows so he wouldn’t try to climb out. The first thing he did was jump over the pipe corral panels and into the big corral (about ½ acre with wood rails). It was large enough that he didn’t feel confined, and didn’t try to escape. Plus, my two horses were there, so he had some company. 

He didn’t know how to drink out of a bucket. I dug a hole in the dirt and filled it with water, and he drank out of that until he worked up enough nerve to drink out of the bright red bucket in the corral. I left a lead rope tied to his halter, because I figured we’d never catch him, and herded him into a smaller corral, about 40’ x 60’. 

Over a period of several days I’d go out and sit in the corral. I quickly learned that he wasn’t going to come anywhere near me as long as I was sitting in the beach chair I’d set out. So I sat on the ground, and let him go explore the beach chair on his own when I wasn’t around. By the second day he was sneaking up behind me, sniffing and checking me out. He was friendly and eager to see me by the end of the first week.

Gradually I was able to touch the lead rope and put a little pressure on it. The BLM people recommend you leave the lead rope on because when he steps on it, he will learn to give to the pressure without associating it with a person. That seemed to work.

Time for clicker training

I won’t go into the theory and methods used in clicker training, but you can learn more here.

I had clicker trained several dogs, and found they caught on quickly, so I decided to try it with Bandit. He needed to learn to let me halter him. I started by holding out the halter, and every time Bandit sniffed it, I’d click and give him a small carrot. Gradually I got to where I could put one arm over his neck and take hold of one side of the halter. We continued the steps until Bandit was getting close to actually sticking his nose through the opening.

Here’s where I goofed. I accidentally clicked one time when he took the noseband in his mouth. I didn’t give him the treat, but it was too late. We had to start over from the beginning. We probably did that little step 100 more times over several days before he quit biting the halter! Eventually he got it right and allowed me to halter him quickly and easily. Then we moved on to leading, brushing, and playing with his feet. Bandit was a clever student, maybe smarter than his trainer!

Photo above: Terry letting Bandit approach and sniff. Second photo: Bandit and Sage the quarter horse playing

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Foxtails in California are a danger to dogs

Foxtails are the curse of springtime in California. I feel like I should vacuum my back yard. When my gardener mowed, I followed along behind with a rake, sweeping up as many of these nasties as I could. I’ll never get them all. They will attach to my dogs’ coats, and I’ll eventually be picking individual seed heads off of each dog. 

Beside causing mats and just generally messing up the dog’s fur, foxtails are dangerous. Their sharp barbs can penetrate the skin and get into the dog’s bloodstream, eventually lodging in a lung, abscessing, and killing the dog. One blade of grass lets lose hundreds of little barbed seedlings. Dried seeds are most dangerous, because they are sharp and penetrate the skin more easily.

Foxtails are notoriously hard to find in the dog’s coat. My sheltie Sherman had one between his toes. His foot was infected and he kept licking it. The vet anesthetized him and couldn’t find the foxtail in the wound. After a week of antibiotics, there was still an open hole between the dog’s toes. I poked around and pulled the foxtail out. It had moved back out. Once removed, Sherman healed up nicely.

The best prevention is to inspect your dog’s entire body every day, including the ears, rear end, and between his toes. Folds around the face, under the armpits – all are susceptible. Shorthaired dogs like Labs seem to get just as many as a sheltie. And foxtails are so small they are often hard to see.

People moving to this area are often unaware of foxtails, so educate your friends!

Dog Owners Guide to California Foxtails, by Curtis Clark

Foxtails, By Patty Mead, National Vizsla Association

The following article features information from a veterinarian and explains symptoms  a dog will show when a foxtail is imbedded somewhere on its body:


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Memories of a friend

It’s been almost two years since my friend and neighbor, Joan Malley, passed away. A well-known person in the Dachshund world (she specialized in the standard smooth variety), she had one of the top females in the country, Tori, pictured here. Shame on me: I don’t remember Joan's kennel name; I don’t remember Tori’s registered name, or the names of her two black and tan girls that finished their championships after Joan passed away. 

But I sure I remember Joan. I remember sitting on her back porch on a summer evening, sharing a few beers and a lot of laughs. I remember hearing the history of our street and all the people on it, the stories of her cat, Captain, and Gussie, her old Doberman. I remember she used to have dressage horses and Giant Schnauzers in the years before I knew her. I know she lived in that house almost forty years, and it was wall to wall in dog memorabilia. Heavy bronze plaques from the Dachshund Club of America lined her mantel. Dog figurines, dog books, dog art– everywhere you looked.

And friends. Every time there was a dog show in San Diego, her house filled with dogs and handlers, breeders and pals. Smooth, wire and long-hairs were welcome, standards and minis, and I had a blast photographing some of the many beautiful dogs to use for some future art project I hadn’t yet imagined. I arrived late in her life. Her friends and neighbors had partied at Joan’s for years.

Her back yard was full of chickens and a vegetable garden. Every spring, rows of giant sunflowers grew along the fence, bordering the squash and swiss chard, beans and zucchini. Her front yard overflowed with watsonia, roses, and crocus. When she died, I dropped a sunflower into her grave, on the plain pine box she chose to buried in. Today her gardens are gone; the house was sold and remodeled. What was once lush and green is now a weed patch full of parked cars.   

Recently I noticed something interesting in my neighborhood. In the midst of the weed-infested back yard next door, a tall sunflower grew and bloomed. At the same time on the other side of me, Jon and Linda have a volunteer sunflower growing by their fishpond. And across the street, Barbara has one near her picket fence out front. And then in my yard, out by the mailbox, a sunflower broke through the dry hard dirt and bloomed in golden glory.

I mentioned the flowers to another neighbor, Julie, who got her start as a dachshund handler through Joan and her friends. She stood there quietly for a minute, and as her eyes filled with tears, she said, “We have one in our yard…”

I’ve heard it said a person dies twice. First when the body dies, and then again when their name is said for the last time on this earth.

Joan is still with us.