Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Heart Attack

Yesterday afternoon I wandered outside to collect the mail. While outside I made my way back to the corrals to check on my critters. Bella came bounding up to me spraying blood with each stride. Her entire right side of her head/neck area was bright red. My heart lodged in my throat I tried to get her to lie down so I could take a closer look. There was so much blood I couldn't tell where it was coming from. Running back into the house I pulled on a pair of latex gloves.

Bella knew something was up and I was home alone so I was on my own. Using my happy voice I coax her into her shed, using my hands I carefully start sifting through her hair looking for the source of the blood wondering all the while if this would be another vet bill. Meanwhile blood continues to stream from her head. Gently lifting her ear I discover the source. She has somehow sliced the tip of her ear open. Relief settles in. I have no idea how she cut her ear but I was so happy it was something so small. I locked her up so I could check to make sure the bleeding stopped.

You could tell it was a long way from her heart because when I let her out she was as playful and bouncy as ever. Other than the dried blood all over her side you couldn't even tell she'd hurt herself.

Photo: Bella after being cleaned up a bit.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Derek the Farrier

This morning when I completed my chores I also put halters on everyone, flipping the attached lead rope over each back and leaving them to eat breakfast. Derek the farrier was coming out to do our bimonthly ritual. Every six to eight weeks Derek comes out to my place to trim, shoe or reset my various horses feet. While in the dregs of Winter my horses generally run barefoot. All this means is he trims their feet much as we trim our toenails. Like it is for us, it's uncomfortable for a horse to have too long of toe nail (hoof). The foot is literally the foundation of the horse. If there is something wrong with your horse's foot, the likely-hood of your horse being lame is quite high.

Derek is a cowboy who always entertains me with a story or two and his opinions. His current story circles around his new (1 month old) baby boy. It's funny for me seeing someone like Derek get googly eyed over a child. Today Derek and I started with my babies. Buddy was up first. Because Buddy hadn't been touched prior to July when I bought him he sometimes tests Derek. Buddy had been showing improvement with daily handling but the weather means I've been neglecting his training. Buddy of course had to try to mouth Derek and myself. While I'm trying to hold his head off of Derek's back and my arms, Buddy is doing the leg jig. Derek has been blessed with unlimited patience when working with young horses.

Roxy (formerly Stella) came next. Roxy also had had no handling prior to my purchase of her. I was geared up for a battle but she was a little superstar. Stood there like a champion. Whiskey my old campaigner was the last horse of the day. By this time my hands and feet are cold, Derek looks up and dryly wonders if I'm as cold as he is. Whiskey is normally easy to maintain. Unfortunately because she's been sore on her hind she's compensating and the pressure on the remaining feet is causing a strange growth pattern. This means she will need to be trimmed more frequently.

While Derek was working on Whiskey we got to talking about some current events. Making news here is an outdoorsman who abandoned two horses in a somewhat remote mountain clearing. Remember the weather has been brutal north of the 60th these past few weeks. Derek went off on how this man is a disgrace. This past week the horses were discovered by snowmobilers. The snowmobilers who lived in a nearby community organized a rescue operation for these horses. I'm attaching a link to the Edmonton Journal for you to read the story. Will it upset you as much as it upset Derek?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Reba's Road Trip

As my alarm went off this morning at 6:30 I opened my eyes to the dark and wondered what on earth possessed me to wake up this early on my holiday. I was cozily pondering life when I recalled why I was getting up before the sun. Reba's road trip. I had made plans with Abe Marshall to go work sheep at his place. Suddenly motivated I got myself chored up, showered, fed and loaded up for the little over 2 hour drive to Abe's.

My car's heated seats made me particularly happy as the temperature of the car remained on the cool side to prevent Reba from getting too warm on the drive. After some slight navigational issues (he had told me West when I needed to go East) I found Abe's farm. The weather when I left home was a balmy -15 with absolutely no wind. The weather at Abe's was a not so balmy -15 with a frigid wind. Snugly in my wind resistant, water resistant lined jeans, toque and mittens on I began reminding Reba of the simple things like coming to her name and lying down on command.

Using one of Abe's older dogs to help keep the sheep centered we started our work. Reba of course did not do any of the things she so enjoys doing at home. Instead she was entranced with the brown sheep of the group. She would chase after this sheep, out of the flock and around the pen. You could then watch me run through the snow trying to cut her off. I'm sure Reba had more fun than I did.

While I didn't have a super good work with her the mission was to work some different sheep. Abe thought Reba was a dandy little dog. (Yea!) And it turned out he had raised her father so he was very interested in her papers. He also reassured me that taking it slow was okay and to not worry so much about seeing progress as she's still young.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wanted: One Good Ram

A year ago when I made the decision to get some sheep for the dog I needed to figure out precisely what I wanted and needed. Was I looking for dog broke vs fresh, wether vs ewe, wool vs hair? What breeds and ages would I consider? How many could my pasture sustain? To help me make an informed decision I borrowed Ken's 3 dog broke wethers thus giving me time to do some research. I contacted the Sheep Producers who sent me out a fabulous little information package. All I needed to know about sheep basically. I also had a number of drawn out conversations with my uncle who had bred sheep for years.

I finally settled on buying some ewes that I could breed and help pay for their hay. I'd also need some wethers for when the ewes were out of commission. After much thought I felt the Dorset breed would suit what I wanted from them the best. I knew that I could count on Ken for the dog broke wethers. My uncle told me not to worry about buying a ram. When the time came, he'd bring his Ille De France ram down to do the duty. My uncle lived 7 hours north of me in Northern British Columbia. This fall he lost his battle with cancer so my trip up north didn't involve a ram but a funeral.

Needing the ram now (I want grass lambs), I had to do some problem solving. One of my dog guys, Norman Schmuland (who I bought my ewe lambs from) offered the use of his Dorset ram. Yesterday we went to Norm's place and picked up the ram. Now I wait, and watch for action.

Ahh, the joys of farming.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Cabin Fever

I woke up this morning to a much warmer world. Warm by my arctic standards anyhow. For the last few days I had been highly irritated by everything in my little world. (Being sick is not helping.) Reba was being a super brat and the horses seemed out to spite me. So last night I sat down to think it out. It came to me that not only did I have cabin fever, but the animals also had cabin fever. Let's face it, I was not the only one who has been cooped up for the better part of two weeks.

It was great news to discover the weather is supposed to break this weekend. With temperatures moving up into the -10 degree range. So I sit in my home office, day-timer out in front of me and begin emailing and calling my "dog guys". A huge part of being successful at a sheep or stock dog trial is to understand that even if your dog is well trained at home, they need to be well trained at a variety of strange locations. In order to accomplish this you (the trainer) need to be willing to travel and work you dog at other people's places.

Over the course of the next week (while I'm on holidays) I'm going to attempt to take Reba to 3 different stock dog guys places. Even though Reba is at the Kindergarten stage of her training getting her out is a very important step. As a trainer its also good to work with other trainers. I spend most of my time working alone. This means I have no one to watch me, perhaps Reba's bad behavior is an off-shoot of something I'm doing, this can only be discovered by a second set of knowledgeable eyes. Good trainers are willing to learn from other trainers and adapt their behavior to meet each animal's needs.

I'm literally vibrating with excitement.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pet Peeve

While this is slightly off my normal way of doing things one of my greatest pet peeves occurs during this time of year. I fully and completely hate it when people give animals as Christmas presents. All too often when the cute little puppy or kitten becomes an adolescent full of vim and vigor they become casualties of the house. Ending up in pounds or dumped to fend for themselves.

An animal is not something to bring into your household as a whim. They are long term commitments that cost money to maintain and time to train and care for. I strongly encourage anyone considering getting a pet, spend some time at the SPCA, talk to qualified professionals. Become educated animal owners before you bring your adorable bundle of joy home. Before you even commit to your cute bundle of joy.

Okay - I'm done venting.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dad's Cows

This past spring my father was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. His treatment plan would involve him having surgery on the prostate. Because he had his prostate checked, the cancer was caught at an extremely early stage, meaning the surgery was the only thing he'd need to have done. While this was good the timing was particularly bad.

His surgery was originally scheduled in January but got bumped back to March. Traditionally dad starts calving out around the middle of March. Dad has been downsizing his herd for the past 5 years and he only has 8 cows left. (Plus a bull.) With my brothers conveniently working out of town or night shift, this left me to take care of my father's crazy cows. In March in Alberta this means tractor chores such as moving bales of hay and straw, in addition to doing calving checks.

The day prior to my dad's surgery he's outside bellaring for me to come learn how to feed the cows. You can imagine his surprise when he goes to teach me how to drive the tractor and I already know how. (I have all kinds of skills I don't always share with my father lest I get sucked into one of his backward and antiquated strategies for handling farm life.) Lurching off we go, and I successfully get the bales moved and strings cut. Meanwhile my dad's "cow" lesson continues. He points out a brown cow (they're all brown and look alike) telling me this one gets snuffy when she has a calf. Fabulous. Just what I wanted to hear.

While dad is in the hospital the calves start to come. Because I'm still working full time I do my only and final night check at 11 pm. This means the cows have to fend for themselves until I get up at 6. Not ideal but I'm one of those need a lot of sleep people. Normally the cows have no issues calving. Of course with my dad out of the action this year has to prove the exception. When Big Red calved she ended up dropping twins. Seeing she'd had one and she was cleaning it up, I went back into the house. An hour later I went out only to see her in a different straw pile licking a calf. Baffled I walked around the herd only to see the first calf lying where she left it. This got me to worrying. So using my handy rattle paddle I get the calves up, moving them into one of the fenced three sided shelters. With a wary eye on mom I get the whole family locked in the shelter. Pitch fork in one hand, paddle in the other I begin the tedious process of forking straw and hay into the shelter. Next job is hauling water by hand out to the cow. Finally I sit back to watch. Big Red didn't seem too interested in the first calf. So I call up Dee (a veteran of calving time) and ask about twins. Telling me not to worry too much, make sure both were sucking and leave them alone. Good enough.

The next day when I got home from work I noticed a cow with a dirty bum. (Afterbirth.) Only I couldn't find her calf. My dad who by this time was home and getting more mobile comes out to look with me. He kept trying to tell me one of the twins was hers, I kept trying to tell them they were both spoken for. Finally in the deep straw was a stillborn. The calf had clearly been born dead. My mom and I suit up, grab the sled and begin the grisly process of removing the calf from the corral. This is necessary to keep the predators away and to keep the corral space cleaner and more healthy. (Yes, after each calf I'd walk around with a pitch fork removing afterbirth.) We manage to get the calf on the sled and begin the hike up the hill in thigh deep snow to drop the calf a safe distance away from the yard. (Sorry no quad and my horse was at a barn that year.) It was a nasty and upsetting job.

As the weekend rolled around it was time to drop more feed and bedding for the cattle. My dad being mobile felt it necessary to come supervise. There I am on the tractor with a bale in front and behind me, ear protection on and watching my dad gesturing with a pitchfork to drop the bale here, no a foot to the left, a half a foot to the right. I'm sure the sky would have come crashing down if I'd put the straw anywhere else.

I'm not sure who was happier my dad or myself when he was once again well enough to do his own chores. Wondering about the snuffy cow, of course she dropped her calf first. Good times.

Photo: One of dad's cows.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Being a Farmer's Daughter

I am a farmer's daughter. In fact, I'm a farmer granddaughter and great-granddaughter. I was raised on stories of how my father's family brought the first Arabians into Russia as the Tsar's horse trainer. Truth or fiction it strongly anchors my heritage as one of being involved with the land and with animals. To further cement my heritage, my maternal grandfather was a pioneer who brought the first rape seed (think canola) to Alberta.

The unfortunate bit is I'm a really bad farmer's daughter. I don't like icky things, I will squeal and jump if a mouse runs across my foot and I have an undeniable panic attack when a grasshopper climbs up into my pants. While these are farmer's daughter's flaws my greatest fall from grace is my fear of my father's cows. (I also have three brothers which means I didn't have to deal with the cows very often.)

Now understand, these cows are not normal cows, they are evil incarnate. These cows will happily chase you. They are spooky and wild-eyed. (For those of you in the cow know they are Limousin crosses.) Perhaps if my father was not in denial about the true nature of his cows and perhaps if my father fostered modern livestock handling skills my fear would never have developed.

Once while visiting a friend who raised and showed purebred Herefords I watched in shocked amazement as she walked out amongst her herd and patted cows here and there. I stood on the safe side of the fence and kept asking "Are you sure that's such a good idea?". Dee meanwhile had a good chuckle at my expense. My father's cows would have run through a fence.

While living in Consort (more cattle than people live there), I had the opportunity to "help" the cowboy I rode for. This would on occasion mean going out and helping round up cattle. These range animals were also not the friendliest of creatures. I have a clear memory of being sent to open a gate (they neglected to tell me the wire was hot), using my rein end to pull the wire apart so I didn't get zapped, and then hearing one of the guys yell, "Better get on your horse, they're coming your way!". Of course the mild panic I was experiencing didn't help me get the gate open any quicker and with my anxiety transferring to the horse I then had to mount a jigging dancing fool.

A few years ago my parents left on vacation, leaving me to take care of their animals. As it was October dad put out a bale of hay for the cattle, telling me to not let them in with it until at least the end of the month. As best laid plans go awry, we got snow in the middle of the month. A lot of snow. This meant no grass for the cows to eat. As they ate the bale down I began to worry. Calling my brother who lives 3.5 hours away I asked him who he knew that could help me.

My godsend was a guy named Stroh. Because the concept of using the tractor with a round bale on the front (it's an old school with no cab) scared the crap outta me - courtesy of a visit to my maternal grandfather's farm directly after someone had flipped their tractor and killed themselves - I needed someone to move the bales. I politely warned Stroh that I was a very poor farmer's daughter. I don't think he believed me until he saw me in action.

My job was to cut the binder twine after he dropped the bales into the feeders. Well, the cows were good and hungry and proceeded to swarm the bales. This sent me clambering up the bale feeder putting me safely out of bunting range on the bale. Stroh of course calmly walked over and began cutting strings. It was with mild embarrassment that I carefully climbed down and made my way to the safety of the fence. While my reaction may have been over the top, I have been hunted down by these cows and it's left a sour taste. (While I was still in college one of the cows cornered me in the hay shed, I would still be there if my rope horse hadn't come in and kicked the crap out of the cow, ears pinned letting me exit.)

Stroh even offered to teach me how to drive the tractor, you can imagine his surprise when I told him I knew how, I just would rather not. I did warn that I'm not a good farmer's daughter.

Cow saga to be continued...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Training Time

I'm waiting for December 21 on pins and needles. This marvelous date is the shortest day of the year here in the Great White North. (Is it the shortest for everyone in this hemisphere?) This means I'll be eventually be able to train my coterie of animals after work. Currently the animals are getting the short straw when it comes to training time. Its somewhat of a challenge to train by yard light. When Tessa's in working mode I've practiced arena herding skills illuminated by the yard lights, a flashlight and a miner's light (the ones you wear on your head). So while do-able it is clearly not ideal.

Reba currently gets two training sessions a week, both on the weekend. While I'm willing to work the dogs when it's miserably cold, I'm not willing to saddle up my colt and continue with his ground work. (I have the feeling he'd not appreciate my efforts and it's too hard to hold onto things with mittens.) So I sit and wait and fret about my babies sitting idle with no training progress. Watching the days pass by I know after the 21st it can only get better. Now if the weather would just cooperate...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Singing Dog

Tessa is a very vocal little girl, she groans, moans and grunts when she chews her squeak toys. To the point that people I've been talking to on the phone ask who's talking in the background. When she's having a particularly good sleep she whines, yips or snores. But my absolute favorite sound she makes is when she's happy.

When I get up in the morning and take her out Tessa sings to me her appreciation for the start of a new day. By sing I mean howl with various tones and intensities creating her doggy song. When I come home from work and bend down to give her pets she makes these happy little grunts and howls me a song. Some days she howls so hard she falls over backwards. My dad calls her a little coyote. Tessa, when you ask her if she'd like to go work sheep, gets this wild eyed look on her face, bounces to the door and sings her happiness. When she arrives at a location she likes (such as "Uncle Kens"), she will howl her excitement. If you don't seem to be paying attention she'll howl longer, harder and louder.

Based on people's reactions to my singing dog I've discovered this is not normal doggy behavior like wagging a tail. I'm sure there are other dogs out there who howl to their owners, but I've yet to meet them. Does your dog sing to you?

Monday, December 15, 2008


Moxie arrived about a month before Bella. As there is a crazy cat who lives near the house, we made Moxie an insulated cat house, filled it with straw and put it in with the square bales. When Bella arrived she had been living outside and in an uninsulated shelter with her mom and siblings (with sheep). Being the paranoid person I am, I of course worried Bella would be too cold (it was bloody cold when I got her). So she was moved into the hay shed with Moxie. Bella is no longer the small fluff ball puppy, rather she's a 70 pound barking, coyote chasing machine. Bella is anticipated to mature at around 100 pounds. (She's adolescent lean.)

While Bella no longer lives in the hay shed, Moxie's house remained behind. Last night doing my night check I discovered Moxie had also moved out of the hay shed. She was sitting with Bella in her straw pile. Not wanting her to freeze her ears I moved her house out to Bella's space. Now I have no idea if Moxie actually used it last night. I have my doubts. This afternoon I noticed Bella curled up beside the barn. Moxie sitting on top of Bella's back, also curled up. I wish I had had a camera.

An animal's capacity to love is a beautiful thing to behold.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What's in a Name?

I thought the issue had been settled. Except last night as I was doing chores Stella escaped. She must have felt she had done something special with her head held high, spring in her step, prancing around the larger corral. Watching her I decided I wasn't going to try to herd her back into her pen, she could wait until daylight.

Today I waddled out in my winter boots, Carharts, winter jacket, mittens, toque and balaclava. Stella took one look at me, snorted and began the prance, blow routine. Thinking she'd settle down, I got on with the business of feeding everything. With everything thing happily munching on breakfast I began the let me catch you dance with Stella.

She'd gallop to a corner, I quietly (well as quietly as one can in winter gear during frigid temperatures) walk towards her, doing the sideways shuffle hand held out. She'd squirt out and begin to run around the corral, stopping only to bounce and blow. Around and around we danced. Starting to feel aggravated as my nose burned from the cold, I stepped up the pressure. Muttering unkind words about her heritage I tried to chased her into her smaller pen. Stomping back to the hay storage shed, I pulled out the big guns, shaking the oat bucket I walked into her little pen and dumped some oats into her feeder.

Back to the get her into her pen dance. Finally she went into the small pen. I once again began the let me catch you dance. Starting with her sniffing my hand, I moved up to touching her neck and face. The next challenge was to get the lead rope around her neck. More dancing. Rope on, I began the operation of no sudden movement haltering. Finally, finally the halter was on. I snapped the lead rope to the halter and led her to the water trough and back. She happily pranced along side of me. And this got me to thinking, was she really a Stella or was she a different name?

Initially, when thinking of names for her I went along alcoholic lines, to fit with the rest of my horse herd. Whiskey (for the song 'Whiskey Girl"), Buddy (works with Budweiser), and Stella (for the British beer). However, the name Stella seems to stumble off my tongue when I try to use it. The name implies to me a lady-like quiet, classy horse. I'm starting to wonder if Stella is really a Roxy. I usually resort to calling her Squirt. But I really don't like the name Squirt for a name. My friend's horse is named Dirt Face so I really shouldn't be so picky. But I am. So I ask what's in a name? Does it really matter?

Top photo: Roxy (December 25/08) deciding if she's going to let me approach.
Bottom photo: Roxy (October 2008) just after she came home, running away.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I was going to write about cold weather precautions tonight as it's -32 Celsius without the wind chill factored in (for my southern neighbors, that's -26 Fahrenheit.) But instead I'm asking the question what makes a person a horse trainer? Whiskey my coming 10 year old mare was started by what cowboy's up here call a Gonzo. The word Gonzo is a derogatory term loosely interpreted as a wannabe idiot who thinks they're all that and aren't. The Gonzo sent her out to a feedlot rider/trainer for extra seasoning (this after she pile drove his wife into the ground).

When I got her as a 4 year old she was a stressed head case who could run and roll back. Not what you'd expect from a horse with supposedly 3 months training by a "real' trainer. She was a jittery, twitchy mess. I by no means consider myself a horse trainer. While I have years of horse and riding experience and I've rode with some fabulous trainers, this is not how I make my living. It's not even how I'd like to make my living. I freely admit I don't ride nearly as well now as I did as a teenager.

If you made the mistake of flicking a rope or moving too quickly Whiskey quickly became an equine freight train. The first time I round penned her (which I do with all new purchases) I thought she was going to go through the fence. She ran and ran and ran. All I did was stand still and make soothing sounds. Eventually she got so that she didn't jump out of her skin when I flapped a stirrup. I spent the first winter I owned her doing what I called retraining. I started her as though she was a baby who'd never been touched.

It took close to a year for her to settle down. The thing that amazes me is this mare while very, very athletic, is also very, very quiet. (So quiet, my farrier actually crawled under her to show me he could!) Whiskey is now a very broke horse with all kinds of bells and whistles. We can do flying lead changes, basic dressage moves, go over jumps, track a cow, stop, spin, go over a beaver dam. If you ask her, she'll try for you. (The only thing she hasn't done is hit the roping pen because I hurt my shoulder and can't rope.) Except she has these moments that I call her ghosts.

She will never make a starter horse because of this. She's one of those horses that will buck you off if you get stupid on her. By this I mean if when you go to mount you hang off her side or kick her in her belly. She's not particularly tolerant of human stupidity. And she dislikes pressure. Put too much pressure on her sides or on her mouth and she will express her displeasure with you. While she bucked my dad off (not a horseman), it really was his fault for pulling, kicking, and taking an excessively long time to get on. Quite frankly, I'd have bucked him off too. She has never bucked me off, she's never actually made an honest effort to dislodge me. The most I've gotten out of her are high spirited crow hops when she's particularly fresh.

So I sit and wonder what type of a horse she would have been if she'd had an honest start. A good start. Would she still have these little quirks? Or would she be a superstar? Either way she's still a fun ride. And I kinda like knowing that not just anybody can ride her. (And yes I've had horsey friends ride her with no issues.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Doggy Physio

Today while I was working, my mom kindly took Tessa in for her consultation with the vet at the Edmonton Veterinary Rehabilitation Clinic. The clinic was recommended for her care by the surgeon who placed the plates and screws into her metacarpals (paw bones). This clinic will be doing the doggy equivalent of physiotherapy with Tessa. Even though I anticipated what types of things they'd plan for her, I was still surprised be just how similar her treatment plan is with past treatment plans I received while undergoing physiotherapy for various injuries.

Tessa's current treatment plan is for four weeks, with a re-evaluation during week four to decide any further action. She will receive one hour of treatment twice a week for the next four weeks. Yes, this is going to cost an arm and leg! But it will be worth it if she's happy, healthy and working. (Working goes a long ways to making her happy.) Tessa will use the Underwater treadmill to begin to redevelop muscles that are weak from being in a splint. She will have manual therapy in the clinic including ultrasound, laser, icing, heating, stretching, range of motion, possibly electrical stimulation and massage. (I had all of these things when I tore my ankle up!) She will also be sent home with a "home exercise program".

At this point in time the vet anticipates needing an eight week program. (I however am only committing to a four week program then deciding based on progress.) I find the similarities slightly amusing. Even the costs are similar. Except Tessa is NOT covered by my excellent health plan. I'm beginning to see the benefits of having pet insurance.

The vet who is leading Tessa's program has specialized training making this her area of expertise. I'm attaching a link to the clinic site. ( All in all it's pretty cool what they can do with animals these days.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Reba First

Tonight I had planned to write about something else, however when I was doing my chores something happened that forced me to change my focus. One of those special moments. It's minus twenty-five degrees Celsius with the wind chill here tonight. (That's about 25 Fahrenheit.)

As usual the animals were all running about like wild things. Because Reba's young and doesn't seem to have as thick of a coat I'd expect, I've been watching her closely when the temperature drops. I have this deep and enduring paranoia about her getting too cold. I just worry she won't be able to stay warm enough in her little straw filled house. So each time I see her I pull my mittens off and put my hands on her, feeling for shivering. Any sign she needs to be moved into the barn with a heating pad.

Reba was fine as she has been on every instance when I check on her. She ran and played, ate snow and snoodled. Happy to be out of her kennel running around with me, "helping" me do chores. Occasionally stopping for a pet and a rub. Finishing my chores, I put Tessa back in the house, did a final animal check and headed back toward the house and Reba's kennel. When Reba came up for some pets. Leaning into my leg, she began bumping my hand with her snout for more pets. Reba never does things like this. She a very business-like dog. Not very needy and attention seeking. So I continued to pet her. Realizing she was feeling somehow out of sorts, in the softly falling snow I sat on the ground. She snuggled up close (which she never does) and leaned into my body. This is the first time in the 5 months I've owned the dog that she has actively sought out attention in this manner.

Even now I wonder what caused this change in behavior. Is it the weather? Has she finally decided I'm her human and bonded on a deeper level? If so, why? I'm fully and completely fascinated and wonder if she'll be like this later, or tomorrow.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Darn Cat!

Moxie is somewhat of an adventurous soul. She is playful and spunky but also has a fairly high pain in the ass quotient. Moxie considers all open doors as an invitation to snoop. Tonight, post garage parking I saw her running up the driveway, headed straight for the garage. Wearing winter boots I ducked and dived attempting to get in the way of her mad dash. Being a cat she is a wee bit more agile than I am. Into the garage she goes. The garage is a supposedly cat free area. This is to prevent those annoying foot prints all over the hood and windshield. Giving up, I leave the big door open, gather my bags and head to the house and warmth.

Later, out doing dog chores, I see Moxie streaking past headed to the barnyard. As I move through my chore routine, Moxie follows. Going into the feed shed I nearly squash her with my feet. You would think this would faze her. No such luck, she just moves onto the hay stack and waits for another opportunity to ambush. As I give the horses their grain, she shares her good spirits with the horses by brushing against their legs. This always makes me distinctly nervous, envisioning what a 1400 pound horse could do to a 10 pound cat. (She's a pretty small cat, probably smaller than that.)

At the round bales, she stays on mouse patrol while I fork off layers of hay for the sheep and horses. Happy as could be in the snow. With each fork laden trip, Moxie follows faithfully in my shadow, sometimes running ahead scouting the way.

She detours when the dogs thunder by. Stopping to pounce out at them and start a game of chase, easily climbing the nearest fence. I once came out in the morning to find her curled up with Bella the 70 pound Maremma pup. She is fearless when I feed the dogs. Fully expecting them to allow her a tidbit or two from their dishes. Bella will sit and wait patiently but Reba gets anxious and stomps her with her front paws. Yet, each day, Moxie's in there like a dirty shirt, attempting to eat Reba's food.

The funniest Moxie story would be when Tessa was being reluctant to get into the car. I had the door open, walked away to grab Tessa's collar when the cat hopped into the car and sat down. Tessa moved like streaked lightning, leaping into the car to glare at the cat. The look on her face clearly said, "This is my car, beat it furball!" Moxie, being Moxie, didn't bat an eyelash and just moved to the drivers side, where I scooped her up and sent her on her way.

She may be a pain, but she's a cool pain. Who wouldn't want a neat cat like that? Oh yeah, the person who dumped her on the side of the road.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Roo's Story

Years ago, when I was first starting to learn how to rope, the one piece of advice I took to heart was, "Go out and buy yourself an old campaigner that you can learn on." And this is what I did. By this point in time I was fairly proficient roping the dummy, and I had rode a couple of friends rope horses so I had an idea of what I wanted.

I started scanning classified ads, talking to the ropers, putting the word out I was horse hunting. One of the 4-H dads gave me the contact info for the person he'd bought his rope horse from. This is how I discovered Roo. When I called Bill and told him what I was looking for he said he had just sold a horse that completely met my requirements. Lucky for me Bill sold the horse to one of his friends. Bill feeling poorly for me and my hunting, called his friend and got his friend to agree to let me try the horse.

Down the road with trailer in tow I went. First I rode Roo in the field. Then we loaded up and went to a nearby arena to try him on cattle. I knew he was what I wanted. Roo was one of those once in a lifetime horses.

When Roo came to me he was 18 years old. The last few years he'd been bounced around from owner to owner and wasn't in the greatest condition. He was under weight and needed some care. But Roo was special. His original owner was a team roper who'd won a pile of money on him, roping with one arm. Whenever I walked into an arena with Roo, people came up to me and exclaimed over the horse. Roo was rodeo and roping royalty.

When I brought Roo home, I immediately began feeding him up, had the vet and farrier out. I began a fitness program and a babied this horse like no one had ever before. Roo began to look pretty spiffy. Roo taught me what a good head horse does. He had the uncanny ability to know when to tone things down and when to ramp things up. At a rodeo, one of my friends toddlers wanted to ride him, so we boosted the baby up on to the back. Roos ears went sideways and he took the most careful baby steps until we lifted the baby off. Same night when we entered the arena, he was snorting and blowing, prancing and hopping around in one spot, waiting for his go. Explosive out of the box. Same horse, same day. This was classic Roo.

I had had Roo for about two years when I lent him to a fellow roper and my current boyfriend. A day later I received a phone call telling me Roo was at the horse vet in the city. Could I come up. In a mysterious accident Roo had completely shredded his tendon on his hind leg. I would have done anything to save this horse, sell off all I owned to pay the vet bills, but there was not enough tendon left for the vet to reattach it. That night I cried myself asleep. I cried until I was sick.

Roo was a once in a lifetime horse. He deserved to work until retirement and rule a pasture until his last breath. However, this was not his path and I count my blessing to have been a part of his life. He was a great horse.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Tessa's freshly splint free leg looks strangely shriveled. It's considerably smaller and floppier than her other legs and feet, in addition to having all sorts of interesting looking scars, rubs and tender bits. She basically has a bit of a Frankenstein vibe going.

Her commercial dog boots fit too tight and have too rough of a seam for her to wear right now. Initially, I tried to rig an old sock to put on her leg for when she goes outside. After a number of socks gone missing I decided to call upon a friend for some help. One of my friends has a commercial sewing machine and makes horse paraphernalia. So I asked her if she was up for the challenge of making a Tessa boot.

Last night we spent 2 hours cutting and figuring to create the ultimate custom dog boot. Except I'm having issues keeping it on her. Because her leg is so floppy nothing wants to stay put. I've been experimenting with using an old tensor bandage clipped to the boot to help it stay put. But the tensor has a bit too much stretch and with each step her boot gets lower and lower.

The challenge here is not in creating the boot. It's in creating a boot that will protect her tender toes from the elements, as well as stay on without aggravating any of her ouchy areas. Tomorrow I'm going to use an old piece of fabric clipped to the boot and see if that help. I have a feeling my boot adventure won't be over soon.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


This past spring some kind soul dumped a dog near one of the local golf courses. One of the ladies at work has been worrying and working towards finding this creature a home. During a lunch conversation she discovered I have a similar big white dog. This has sparked a number of conversations about what type of dog it is. As best as I can tell, based on the picture she gave me of the dog, it looks like a Maremma, and is definitely one of the livestock guardian dog breeds.

Pondering what would cause someone to be so cruel as to dump an animal it reminded me of an article I had recently read (sorry I can't remember where) about how responsible breeders should be careful who they sell their animals to. This would reduce or eliminate the issue of irresponsible owners. Makes sense.

Being the proud owner of a Maremma I can surely sympathize with the person who saw this adorable, fluffy, polar bear of a puppy. And their subsequent shock when this beautiful puppy grew into a gigantic dog. Not so cute anymore. Most livestock guardian dog puppies are not cheap. And good livestock guardians are highly coveted in the farm and ranch world. So how did this dog end up unwanted guarding a golf course?

Because this dog has been guarding the golf course. Diligently chasing coyotes and deer away. Clearly trying to do what it has been bred for centuries to do.

I've offered to assist in the search for a home for this lovely dog. Currently I don't feel I have enough land or stock to support having two guardian dogs. However, after explaining this dog's plight to my family, if necessary, we will foster the dog until a suitable farm home can be found.

Wanted one good home...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

First Snow

There's something about a first snowfall that makes animals act like babies. This winter has been abnormally warm and snow free, making today's snowfall a treat to behold. The light and fluffy snow covering makes everything fresh and new again.

Reba and Bella became doggy rockets. Zooming here and there, running for the sheer joy of it. Stopping now and then for a doggy snoodle in the snow. Even the Moxie the cat had to get into the action, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce out at the running dogs. The dogs and cat then took turns playing chase or sneak attack. You would think the cat would be waiting out the weather in the comfort of the dry barn. Instead she's in the think of things.

As I was completing the evening chores I was constantly tripping and stumbling over one exuberant animal or another. The horses had to prance and blow. Spooking at imagined evils. Acting as though the grain bucket, (you know the one they get their grain in every night) has suddenly grown horns and is going to eat them.

I can't help but smile. Snow and animals one of life's simple pleasures.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Last night, Tessa and I made a quick trip to Calgary.  This is where her surgeon is located.  Today is officially week eight.  Meaning the splint comes off!  First they took her into the back to take a set of X-rays to see how well she has healed.  Then they meet with the owner (me) to discuss what things look like and what the next step is.  

Because Tessa is a high end dog, that is a high energy dog, it was recommended she go to rehab.  For the next eight weeks she'll slowly be brought back to a normal fitness level.  This will be wonderful news for my now tubby little girl.  Tessa doesn't want to walk on her paw just yet, but I'm told this will change.  Tomorrow I contact the Edmonton Veterinary Rehab Clinic.  Apparently they have a doggy swimming pool, which is a highly recommended exercise.  

I'm counting down eight more weeks before Tessa hypothetically could start working her sheep again.  Yay!