Apache Love

Why am I writing about my horse relationship issues? Surely very few people who read my little blog are well-meaning but somewhat clueless horse owners like me. Well, the growth you achieve when working with horses (or other animals) spills over to all other parts of your life. I’ve become much more confident at trying new things, secure that mistakes will teach me important lessons, and like I’ve been saying all week, braver. (I’m still me, but I’m learning to love my little quirks and care less if the way I am isn’t how someone else wants me to be…that’s for later.)

On to yesterday. I almost didn’t go do work with Apache yesterday, because it is so damned hot, and I was feeling bad that I was bothering the neighbors. Then I told myself that spending time with my horse is one of the most important things I could be doing right now, so Mandi and I just waited until later in the day to take a walk.

Mandi is telling Apache to not be a dick. He’s not having any of it.

DAMN. After taking some photos of Mandi with Apache for some dating purpose or something, we headed off in a direction we’d never gone before. Now, bear in mind that prior to this, I’d never been able to take Apache in that direction farther than the big barn with the beef freezers in it. He has always gotten nervous, looked back at the other horses, and pranced around.

Mandi says, “Isn’t this the cutest little ass you’ve ever seen?” Note that she’s finally getting closer to shedding out.

Not today. He and I walked slowly and calmly down the driveway, with Fiona and Mandi following at a respectful distance (to be sure he wasn’t relying on Mandi, who was so busy on her phone that I’m sure she wasn’t sending him vibes). We walked, I occasionally let him eat some plants, we talked.

Standing on my tiptoes behind his giant belly.

I walked him to the big cattle tank/pond where he likes to eat the sedges, and he plopped his foot in the mud and munched away. We walked around the tank, and he didn’t even flinch when Fiona panicked due to not being able to see us and galloped to find us (a hilarious sight, I guarantee you). I never ONCE had to tighten the lead rope, and only once had to ask him to move over to the other side of the path (to avoid an electric fence).

When we got to the farthest I intended to walk, he looked longingly as if he wanted to keep going to the end of the driveway! Who IS this horse? We walked back, calmly. He was in no hurry to get to the other horses. We stopped to take some pictures. I dropped the lead rope and he just stood there, just as he’s been trained to do.

In other words, not only did he act like the “old” Apache, he acted BETTER. I’ve always wanted to be able to come out during the week and just walk around and hang out with him. I see now that I should have done what I did this week long ago (as Sara has repeatedly suggested and I resisted). It’s helped our relationship very much, and made both of us feel more confident. So, I say to Sara, “You were RIGHT!”

In this picture, we are hugging each other. Just resting in the shade and relaxing. It was really great. Photo by Mandi.

This weekend I’ll need to start riding again. I’ll stick to my plan of not using the bit again until his teeth are looked at (scheduled for the week after next). And next week I may try riding him alone, with Mandi, Sara, or Kathleen following along just in case I need them. The goal will be to feel safe to ride alone around the ranch at some point.

We’re on our way. Photo by Mandi.

Apache and I are on our way. Thanks for listening.

Horse Detective Work

One thing that happens when your circle contains a lot of former horse trainers is you get a lot of advice when you’re having horse troubles. I am fortunate to have not only Sara’s wise counsel, but also nephew Chris and my friend Mandi to help me think about what could be going on with Apache’s recent behavior.

I know there has to be something going on in his head that would make him completely freak out and refuse to walk down a trail he has gone down over and over again for years.

I’m acting freaky, but my tail sure is pretty.

Chris offered many ideas, and later, when I talked to Mandi, she had many of the same ideas. First, each of them asked what had changed recently. That was pretty easy:

  • New gelding arrived
  • Started training with a bridle and bit
  • Been ridden a lot more by Sara

They offered some other ideas, too, some based on what has changed.

  • He could be in pain from something. Saddle? Feet? Bit?
  • Something he is eating could be affecting his mood (Chris is not fond of supplements and thought they could be “hot”).
  • He doesn’t want to leave Spice alone with “the new guy.”
  • The differences between how Sara rides and how I ride confuse him.
  • He’s gone back to testing me.

So, yesterday, Mandi came by to do some observation and maybe eliminate some of the possibilities. It was fascinating to watch her work. I swear she changes into a different person when she is working with horses.

First, she looked at his food and supplements. She checked the protein content and other ingredients. His plain beet pulp (no molasses) was deemed benign, which I knew. Then she looked over the SmartPack supplements he gets, which are for calmness, digestive health, and hoof health. None of them are “hot” supplements and are things that he needs. So, that ruled that out. Chris later said that was a wild guess, anyway, because he’s been on the same ones for years and had a great attitude.

Then, while he was quietly grazing, she brought his halter over to him and just held it next to his head. After she put it back she said he tensed up, stopped chewing, and froze up. I had noticed that, but thought he was being willing to put on his bridle. Aha. She also noticed a lot of teeth marks on the bit.

Next, Mandi looked at his teeth. It was funny, because that made Vlassic bark. I think he thought she was hurting Apache. She said he has two very sharp teeth next to where the bit goes. Aha. Even on Sunday, when I’d ridden him with the halter, Sara had wanted the bridle on so she could ride him.

After that, we went for a walk (and dammit, my watch had run out of juice, so I lost ALL those steps). Of course, it’s always a parade around here, with Fiona and Vlassic both joining us. Apache was better walking than he was riding, but he kept turning back toward where he came from. I would lead him into a circle and walk forward more. He was also rushing, not walking with me.

We made it all the way to the end of the race, though. At one point, he really wanted to go back and Mandi said, sternly, “No, you walk.” He walked. Aha.

We chatted about what she’d observed and her ideas for improvement. She told me Apache seems to think he’s getting his way when I let him turn all the way around. He’s thinking he got to head home. So, I need to do something else other than the circles I’d been doing.

Then, after some nice shade and grass, we headed back. Mandi was on the alert for him to rush toward the other horses or otherwise act up. Nope. The dang horse walked beside me like the well-trained horse he can be. Only a little nudging into my space happened. He was a totally different horse. That ended the day on a good note, so we were all happy.

Other testing also went on yesterday. Vlassic tested how close he could get to Fiona before she warned him to get back.

We will try more today. At least I can be happy that Mandi said Apache obviously loves and trusts me, judging from how we interact. That made me feel good, too.

A Plan

So, from what we’d learned and all the advice I’ve received (with gratitude), I have come up with a plan.

We are getting his teeth floated. That will help with the sharp tooth issue. That was already on the agenda.

I’m not going to ride him with the bit for a while. He does fine with me using a halter, and maybe I’ll get a hackamore. We have time to try it again later, after his teeth are happy.

I’m going to ask Sara not to ride him for a while, unless absolutely necessary. That’s not because she isn’t good, but so that Apache and I can concentrate on our relationship and getting it on track.

Rather than circle him when he doesn’t do what I want him to, I’m going to try two things. First I’m just going to stop him, pointed in the right direction. We will both breathe, then move forward. Over and over and over. Mandi had suggested I make him go fast every time he starts to go back, but I worry he’ll run back. I’ll try that if the first idea doesn’t work. It was MY idea, but it’s something we did when we were in training.

I’m going to walk around with him a lot with neither Lakota nor Spice around. I have been meaning to do it, but putting it off. I need to invest the time. I’m hoping that will help our relationship and develop more trust in me. Of course, Fiona will come along. She doesn’t seem to be a problem. She’s stopped running around or interfering, now that she knows she gets to come every time we go somewhere.

Goal: back to our beautiful trail rides in the pastures! Photo by @ivanatilosanec via Twenty20.

I know few of you readers are horse people. But, if any of you are, your input is welcome.

Old Houses, Theater, Work: No Deep Thoughts Today

I have been too busy getting things DONE to get any of my writing tasks done. No complaints there! I have things to write about in all my work blogs now.

One Old House

Yesterday was a lot of fun and messy as hell. Anita had a home inspection scheduled at the cute little house she’s buying from us in Cameron. We took that opportunity to clean up what was left in the house, which has been waiting for TLC for four years.

You can barely see them, but we put decorations in front of the Nash house.

So , we moved lots of bags of things the family of the first owner didn’t want. We removed furniture that wasn’t fixable. We cleaned mildew off furniture we want to keep.

The clean stuff we are keeping and a cleaner living room floor.

My most odious task was sweeping up the baking soda the folks who sold us the house had put down to deal with the odors. Whew. That was dusty.

Continue reading “Old Houses, Theater, Work: No Deep Thoughts Today”

Guest Blogger: Are You Ever Safe from Snakes? No.

by Mandi Shuffield
Sarge, 9 years old. He will let his boys do anything they want to him. They seem to love putting things on his head…

The weather is finally cooling off here in Central Texas! I see a lot of folks are catching up on yard work and home improvements. I know the contractors I ‘ve talked to are sure happy about not sweating to death just from stepping out of their houses! But does this mean that we should be lured into believing that the venomous snakes are not active right now? It does not!

I have seen people share a post that gives the seasons that snakes are not out at this time of year. In my experience of almost 38 years, I’d say ignore that and pretend that even when there is ice on the ground, you could find a snake.

Just be vigilant, and then you won’t have to retrain yourself this spring. Don’t get lulled into security because some zoologist somewhere says they are “less likely” to be active. That’s the key phrase there, “less likely.” That doesn’t mean there is a 0% chance of finding them. That’s especially true if you’re moving leaves, debris, or climbing under a house where it is probably sort of warm.

Continue reading “Guest Blogger: Are You Ever Safe from Snakes? No.”

Get Ready for the Kitchen Witches!

Hello again, friends and readers. I’ve been asked to occaasionally blog about the goings-on at the Milam Community Theater group, which I’m very happy to do. My hope is that those of you in and around Milam County will come join us for a performance or volunteer to help out in some way.

A Sneak Peak

These ladies look like they mean business.

Last night, I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek into the MCT’s latest production, the Kitchen Witches, a darned funny play by Caroline Smith, starring Mona Butala and Martha Lee. They are joined by Jonathon Deal, who is also the director, and the trio make for some fun moments. (For more on the play and actors, visit their Playbill page, which has some good photos and information.)

Mandi pays attention to the action on stage so she can make the lights and sound seem effortless. She even has a cameo appearance in the play.

I was up in the balcony-level booth with my friend Mandi. the Queen of Sound and Lighting for the production. I’d never been upstair at the Lester and Beatrice Williams Event Center before, so I enjoyed tripping around on steps and checking out the equipment. They have a really good sound board, and some high-tech new speakers, which make a big difference in the sound.

Modernity.

Mandi was kind enough to give me a tour backstage, so I got to see the new wall system they have, and even to glimse into the glamorous dressing rooms the actors share. I was kidding about glamorous, but it is nice and clean.

Action!

Here’s the set from way up high. I love the floors.

The most fun was being the only actual audience member at the dress rehearsal. I was able to enjoy the experience and watch Mandi expertly bring in music and lights exactly when needed (mostly). I also was impressed at how the stage hands brought in and removed props quickly and efficiently (mostly).

The kitchen witches engaging in snappy comebacks, of which there are many in the play.

The set is really a good kitchen (it has a genuine kitchen island, from the kitchen in the building!), and the actors really are enjoying their parts. I’m always impressed by how they not only memorize lines, but come across as so authentic and genuine. And funny. Don’t forget that. I kept laughing, even though I was trying to be quiet.

Thanks to the team for letting me sit in.

Hey, do you want to see it, too?

Well, of course you want to see this play! As always, MCT productions are among the highlights of life in Cameron, and this is no exception. This post is probably going out a bit late for you to make the dinner theater opening night tonight, but you have plenty more opportunities this weekend and next weekend (performances are March 8-10 and 15-17). Check the website or Facebook page for exact times and prices.

Plays are at 408 S. Columbus Avenue, Cameron. There’s a sign pointing to the Williams Event Center from US 190, if you need help finding it. The turmoff is right near where the feed store used to be (that’s a country way of giving directions).

And you know, if you are reading this after March 2019, don’t despair! MCT always has something in the works. Upcoming productions include Peter Pan (youth play) and Driving Miss Daisy, among others.

So please attend a production, sponsor them if you can (our company is a sponsor!), or even try out and be a part of a production.

Guest Post: More Dog Sadness

by Mandi Shuffield

Country life is a special and different kind of life. It is even more important out in the country to form bonds with neighbors and their animals, in case an emergency ever happens. Country life does have some rules that are sometimes very heartbreaking for the families that have to abide by them. My family is one of those families.

Sleepy Maggie

I am, by all accounts, an animal lover. All of them. Even skunks. I believe they all have their own beauty to share. The most special animals in my life are my dogs. We operate by pack law, and it serves us well. We have a big collie named Sarge, a “hefty” husky/collie named Wink, a little furry Pomeranian/Yorkie named Sully, and a tiny piebald dachshund/Chihuahua named Maggie. We adopted a beautiful new dog that was a dalmatian mix named Sweetie. 

Fuzzy Sully

The four other dogs get along rather harmoniously. They don’t fight or get physical with each other. They will growl over who gets to sleep on which blanket, but they are called off easily. Sarge and Wink are a protective team. They have been taught to work together to neutralize a threat by command, or by recognition. Sully was bottle raised from 3 days old by me after his mother became sick and passed unexpectedly. Maggie came to me from a cousin of mine. They are not trained like Sarge and Wink. 

King Sarge

We brought 2 year old Sweetie into the pack, and I had very high hopes of her joining in the ranks of Wink and Sarge (who are 7 and 8 respectively). Sweetie seemed like a great fit, and then things turned south. But I want to include pictures of what she was like before that happened to really capture who she truly was before the trauma surfaced and took over her mind.

We have no idea what her life was like for the two years before we had her. She was named very well with her personality. She was an astounding cuddler, and loved the kids. She often slept with my two younger kids, as a matter of fact. She got along very well with the other dogs, the cat, and loved her big yard. 

Wink, with Patsy Catsy

One day she started getting out of the yard and chasing cows, sheep, and anything else she could find. We worked on making the fence more secure, but it just never seemed to work.

Then that escalated. She attacked Maggie unprovoked. It didn’t leave serious injuries, so I let that slide as a bad day. Then it happened again.

The third time was really bad. Maggie came out of it with no permanent damage, but Sweetie threatened the kids (the same ones you see her cuddling in the pictures) that time as well. Sarge and Wink did their jobs and protected Maggie and the boys. Sweetie had to be locked up in the house and isolated to assure that she wouldn’t hurt anyone. That’s no life at all. 

Sweetie with her sleeping buddy

At some point in her life, she suffered trauma that caused her to just snap. She was then unpredictable and dangerous. We only had one choice. To take her to see the vet. February 7th, 2019 I laid on the warm, green grass with Sweetie (who had to be muzzled for behavior there) and held her, and cried so hard that I thought for sure I would vomit. Her trusting eyes had looked to me to be protected, and trusted me fully. I felt like I was plotting her murder behind her back. 

Happy days

The night before she had meat lover’s pizza and chicken wings. I felt like I was the worst person on the face of the planet for not being able to fix this with her. My heart is broken. I took every bit of strength I could muster to tell the vet what had happened, ask about alternatives, then make the final call that I knew had to be made for her own peace. So many people I talked to who are professionals with dogs reassured me that this was the right thing, the only real choice, and most humane thing for her.

Peekaboo

The alternatives of her being hit by a car, or a neighbor shooting her and missing so she suffers, another animal injuring her, Wink and Sarge having to gang up on her 2-1 to protect us, were something that I couldn’t allow her the chance of having to go through. She died next to someone that loved her, who held her, who cried for her, who apologized for whatever had happened to her, and who wished beyond wishes that we were anywhere but there at that moment.

We loved her.

I’m so heartbroken, and so angry that someone hurt her in such a way that made an innocent life have to be cut so short. All sorts of mean things against whoever did that have run through my head. But the main thing I have thought was, “There. I cleaned up your mess for you. I broke my own heart to bring peace to hers that you had broken so badly.” 

I wanted to scream “STOP!” when her heart rate and breathing rapidly declined. She was very heavily sedated before the bad shot came. I just kept saying, “I’m sorry.” over and over again until the vet told me it was over. 

This isn’t a nice, warm, fuzzy, funny post that we usually try to make. This is a real life post of what happens when someone is an irresponsible pet owner. Sweetie’s mother and father were allowed to have a litter of puppies that were unwanted. Those puppies were given away, and at least one of them was abused, then tossed on the street to starve. This is the reality of allowing puppies to be born that you do not want. There is someone like me whose heart is breaking over making the choice to have a dog put to sleep because someone else made a bad choice and was not responsible. 

Sweetie stole my heart, and she deserved to grow old with me. She deserved to watch the boys grow up and meet grandkids to play with one day. She deserved a full, healthy, happy life with us. She is now at peace under the tree with Ricci (my old mare who passed in ’17) and my mom’s little dog (also a rescue who lived to be 18 years old). She belongs under that tree. No matter what man made faults she had, she was my good girl.