Saturday, June 04, 2016

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to one of the sweetest, wisest old souls in the universe.

Today Amber Ale turned 16. For years in Michigan he was an amazing therapy dog, working with both kids and adults.

Now his muzzle and paws are completely white; he's partially deaf. He has liver disease, maybe cancer. His back legs sometimes give out on him: he has trouble going up and down steps, But he has a great huge beautiful boundless spirit. He wants to GO - not as far and not as fast as he used to but still GO! He wants to be part of things, to share stuff with his two- and four-legged pack. Everyday he gets his walk on the beach with the other dogs. 

I hope there is somebody to take me for walks on the beach when I'm his age.

Happy birthday, Amber!

Friday, June 03, 2016

Caballos del mar

Of course, four-legged horses are not the only ones. As I said in an earlier post, I also love hanging out with caballos del mar.

And at some point, they are all sea horses!

Thursday, June 02, 2016

On horses

Way back in the last century, I took a riding class for a PE credit in college. I learned a little about grooming and tacking and caring for horses. Mostly we did trail rides on Western saddles and gear. We didn't train the horses at all. We just got them ready, got on and rode off.

I imagine that's kinda most folks' initial construct with horses: yes, there are some fancy show riders and jumpers and some horses race around a track and some prance in the Olympics. But basically, horses are for riding.

Fast forward a few years (decades) and I found myself in Puerto Rico, helping to care for Elaine's horse, Chocolate. When we only had one horse, he was her horse. I helped out occasionally, feeding and all. I learned a little about caring for him, but only enough to do what I needed to do to help. I was not going to be a rider. While Elaine's passion was the horse, I was learning to scuba dive. That was kind of deal: you ride, I dive. When the opportunity presented itself, I did a little riding. Eventually, Elaine became a certified scuba diver. We both did it so we could spend time together doing what the other loved. Don't get me wrong: I like to ride; I just wasn't very good at it. Elaine likes to dive but if it's a choice, she'll ride.

Then we got KTJ, our - Elaine's - big dark bay Thoroughbred rescue from the race track. She is a sweet smart girl and training and working with her quickly became Elaine's focus.

When Elaine went to St. Lucia to work three years ago. I stumbled along doing the best I could taking care of both horses. When Elaine came back, I decided I wanted to get more serious about this. She was working with KTJ so more and more Chocolate became "my" horse.

Most of what little I knew and what I read talked about the need to be the "Alpha horse," the herd leader and to become this, I had to dominate. Those of you who know me know that's not my strong suit. But I tried because that's what you're "supposed" to do with a horse. We had some success but many "training" sessions ended in all kind of frustration for me, but more importantly for my horse. I talked about these frustrations with Elaine and other horse-people friends but didn't really get anywhere.

One night, Elaine handed me a book and said, "I think you're ready for this." The book is Horses Never Lie by Mark Rashid. Simply put, we mostly look at our interactions with horses from our point of view, not the horses. And they are very different! In a herd there is a dominant horse who gets his way by, well, dominating the other horses. But there is frequently another horse Rashid calls the passive leader that the other horses follow because they trust and respect this horse.

This was an eye-opener, a game-changer, for me! I don't dominate well. Maybe I could become this trusted passive leader for my horse. Now, nearly a year later, I have a relationship with my horse.

And that's what this thing with a horse is about - a relationship. It's not about riding; riding a mutually agreed upon part of the relationship. It's certainly not about "breaking" a horse. It's about working together with trust and respect. That means listening to what the horse is telling me. Sometimes, I have to trust him more I trust myself. He has to learn to trust me that I won't put him in danger, that even if his prey-animal instincts say, "RUN!" he'll stay because he trusts that I won't let him get hurt. Sometimes he has to do training things he doesn't like (circling on a lunge line for example) because it helps get us in sync with each other. (Sounds the demands and requirements - and joys - of any great relationship!)

I can't believe how far we've come together in such a short time. Not having to or trying to dominate is so freeing, so relaxing. There are lots of trainers now doing some variation of "gentle" training. This feels so much better to me. I keep reading more, watching more and practicing more. Chocolate is a very smart, very sensitive horse. Now we both enjoy our time together and look forward to it. We are working on a great relationship!

Loving people and our dogs I understand. I am totally surprised at how much I've come to love this horse.

By the way, I just uploaded a whole bunch o' photos of the horses to Flickr. You might want to take a look. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Happy Hurricane Season

Happy first day of Hurricane Season! It is a happy first day because there are no hurricanes or storms on the horizon. Okay, there is a low off the Carolinas headed out to sea but that shouldn't affect us - unless it produces some waves.

I read a forecast for this hurricane season. Based on current conditions and computer models, we have a 45% chance of a more-active-than-normal season, a 45% chance of a less-active-than-normal season and 9% uncertain. Who knows what the other 1% think. NOAA says 45% chance of near-normal season, 30% chance of above-normal and 25% chance of a below-normal season. A "normal" hurricane season in the North Atlantic is 10-16 named storms, 4-8 hurricanes, and 1-4 major hurricanes. We already had one hurricane, Alex in JANUARY!

One issue is the ocean temperatures. This winter our dive computers didn't record anything below 80 degrees. In previous years we've gotten don to 78-79 degrees. Most of the winter was 81-82 degrees. That's warm! Tropical storms and hurricanes feed on warm moist air over the ocean so having the  ocean this warm this early is a little scary.