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Archive for August, 2009

We’re All Getting Brave

Brought out the saddle this week. It was a semi-cool morning and everyone was in good moods so I thought I’d just see what would happen if I put the saddle on Cass & Becca. As per her usual, Becca sniffed it, looked at me while chewing some grass, I tossed it on her back and she didn’t flinch. She basically said, “so…what’s the big deal?” The treeless saddle I bought for training fits her perfectly now and she’s only 16 months old! It’s very light so there’s no harm in using it sparingly for getting her used to something being on her back. Cinching it will be the next step.

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Becca even walked around with it on and was not phased in the least. Everyone keeps telling me she is going to be bomb-proof.

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Momma Cass had to be reassured and convinced that strange thing wasn’t going to eat her. She was such a good girl despite being nervous and scared. I feel so honored that she does trust me. I spoke gently with her and would lightly rub the saddle on her neck and side, then back off. I’d let her sniff it again and do more rubbing. We did this for a while and she may have even had a cookie or two to really convince her things were fine. My big girl let the saddle be put on! She was unsure but she listened to me. She didn’t bolt or jump. I took it off and back on a few times before ending our session. She was not nearly as comfortable as her daughter but she did great. I believe a bigger saddle will need to be purchased for her if I do plan to really get on her. She’s got a long back. I know nothing about saddles so I’ll defer to experts when the time is right. But, for our training purposes, this one will do fine. I’m so proud of her!

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A Day On The Farm

Have to leave my car outside the gate because the girls won’t let me drive in. They aren’t afraid of the car, even if I honk the horn.

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Snuffy (now known as Chunk) and crew ready for breakfast.

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Eva ready to go to work getting those cows!

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Our old man at home, Ramirez, even snuggles up to his favorite little lamb. Ah, life on the farm!

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A few months ago we were contacted by United Animal Nations in regards to their upcoming magazine featuring former PMU mares. They asked if we would like to be interviewed and if they could use some of Scottie’s wonderful photos of his favorite model. Of course, we said YES! We always jump at the chance to educate folks about the plight of the PMU mares and the other castaways that eventually wind up slaughtered. Cass & Becca are both excellent spokesmares. You may see our superstar on the cover here (click the image to download a PDF file of the magazine):

If for any reason you can’t get the file to download, click here to go directly to the UAN Journal page.

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Walkin’ w/Cass

Today at the barn was a pleasant day, well, it’s always pleasant there but we had an exceptionally pleasant morning. I got there a bit earlier than my usual time and found both girls sleeping in the barn with the cows. They didn’t even come out to see me as I went about cleaning up the pasture and preparing for their day. Cass, Becca, Snuffy and his girls all just stood calmly watching and waiting as I puttered about with Eva the cattledog as my constant shadow. I picked up poop, turned on the fan, swept the barn and then it was time to start some real work.

I haltered Becca up and took her to the round pen, whip in hand. I think she thought she was just going in there to eat grass but quickly figured out I meant business. She started trotting around like a big horse as I directed her by applying pressure by moving the whip. She didn’t want to go very fast so I had to make her step it up a bit with a pop of the whip behind her. I’m still real clumsy at making my turns and she tried not to do them but we got a few accomplished. Cass had been standing outside the pen watching but when she saw me make Becca move she ambled off to graze, hoping it wouldn’t soon be her turn in the dreaded round pen. When I put the whip down at my side, Becca immediately applied her brakes and then walked to me, which is exactly what she’s supposed to do. We did this a few times, too. I then had her stand still in the middle and I ran the cord of the whip all over body, from her ears to around her rump. She stood still and listened to me telling her what a good girl she was. Then I flopped the whip over her head on both sides and she still stood still. Everyone keeps telling me the girl is gonna be bombproof and I guess they’re right.

It was getting hot so I put her lead rope on and walked her into the front of the barn. Cass was already standing in there waiting. She puts herself directly in front of the fan. I hooked Becca to the tie-line and then gave her a quick grooming session. I’ve had problems with her not wanting her feet picked up and cleaned. The other day I was getting frustrated and made myself stop and think as to how I got Cass used to such things (though Becca has had this done from the beginning!). So, I now brush her and talk to her before picking up her feet. This has been working. Still not perfect but better. She is very antsy and does not want to stand still. I had to move everything out of her reach because she was having too much fun pulling stuff around and playing. Now there’s nothing for her to play with other than me. She tries that, too. I kept her tied and then cleaned Cass’s feet. She’s so good now I don’t even have to tie her, she just stands for me and lets me do it. I am hoping Becca is learning something as she watches. Becca is learning patience while being tied, she gets better each time. I need her to have nice manners like her mother does and the only way that’ll happen is if I make it happen.

I put her in their pasture and she went to chill out under the fan. Now was Cass’s turn for an adventure! I haltered her up and we went for a walk down the street. I made Eva stay on our property so I could concentrate on Cass. I let her munch some of the long grass on the side of our driveway and then we walked across the road. She thought that grass may taste even better! She was very alert, but calm and confident. We casually walked down the road, stopping at certain points for her to sniff something or grab some grass. Neighbors came by us jogging and walking and she said “Good morning” to them by letting them pet her. Cars were in sight but never came down as far as we were. As we strolled, Becca was working herself up to a tizzy, especially when we got out of her sight. Eva had followed us in our fence as far as she could then she sat to wait. The neighbors commented that Cass is just simply stunning looking close up. I was very proud of her. We got about halfway down and then made our way back to our barn. She was in perfect position beside me at my shoulder. Normally when I lead her on our property she lags behind.

Eva was relieved to see me return and Becca was thrilled her mother actually came back. She had worked herself up to a sweat in the short time we were gone. When Cass walked in their gate, Becca just came up and stood beside her. Both were more than ready for their breakfast by this time. Cass was so calm and cool, I’m beginning to think maybe she’s not as spooky as some may think she is. Walkin’ with Cass is going to happen more and more. I think my girl may have had a pleasant morning today, too.

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August 13th, 2004. The day our lives got turned all upside down by a storm named Charley.

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The official path had it coming on shore near Tampa and skirting us to the north. Of course, Mother Nature doesn’t always pay attention to official paths laid out by weather forecasters. Instead, Charley decided to make landfall as a Category 4 system with sustained winds of 150 mph near Port Charlotte, which put it on a straight line to nail Orlando.

I’m a third generation Florida native, been here my whole life. In 33 years I had never witnessed a hurricane move directly across the state… but Kathleen and I were about to. She’s from St. Louis, so her experience with tropical weather is a bit more limited. Not that it would matter this time. This was a whole new ballgame.

I can still vividly recall the moment when I knew it was going to be bad. It was around 6pm, a couple hours before the worst would arrive. We let the dogs out for one last potty break, and as we stood in the backyard a big cloud line full of wind quickly pushed through (one of the first “bands” of the system). Our two-person swing with a heavy steel frame blew over like a child’s toy. I believe I said something to the effect of, “oh poop.”

As Charley grew ever closer, we secured all of our animals as best we could. There were no horses to worry about then, just dogs, cats, some little critters and birds. Unfortunately, two of the birds, a dove and pigeon that were a romantic couple, had no place to stay except in the cage on the screen porch. We covered them up and hoped for the best. All the others were in various parts of the house, with blankets over crates to protect from flying debris if windows busted out. The good thing about a hurricane is, you usually have plenty of time to hunker down, unlike a tornado that can come at you without warning.

When the winds finally started getting really nasty around 9pm, Kathleen secured herself in our master bath shower stall with canines Ramirez, Frank and Joey, as well as kittycats Sarah and Kobe. I put myself in the bedroom closet, with the TV turned around so I could monitor the radar as long as the power held up. Our greyhound Theo was loose on the bed, as he had no crate to safely be in. I crossed my fingers, and for an extra amount of good luck, proceeded to place around my own neck the collar of our departed dog Jackson. We always thought of him as my guardian angel when he was alive, so I hoped he would still be able to offer some form of protection even from beyond the grave. Sounds silly, I know, but when the wind is howling at your door, you start thinking crazy thoughts.

And what a howling it was. Charley had dropped from a Category 4 down to a 2 by the time it hit Central Florida, but that still meant sustained winds at around 106 mph. Shortly after 9pm The house started making noises I had never heard before, all kinds of creaking and moaning. It wasn’t long before the the lightbulbs started flickering, which really freaked me out because I had only seen that happen in the movies. Then they suddenly stopped flickering, as the power went completely out. Now we had no TV, no way to see what was happening. I yelled to Kathleen to turn the radio on in the bathroom, but I don’t think she could hear me at that moment because she was crying too hard. We seriously feared for our lives.

The heart of the storm finally passed  after an hour or so, and then it got very quiet. Quiet and dark. We were all in one piece, at least those of us in the bedroom and bathroom. We grabbed our flashlights and went to check on everyone else. Thankfully there were no broken windows, no signs of leaking from the roof. All of our furry children were okay. And we were delighted to find two birds alive and well, if just a bit shaken in their cage on the porch. The only damage I could spot was a few missing sections of our wooden fence.

I headed out front to see how the neighborhood looked – and I couldn’t see, or hear, anything. It’s a very eerie feeling when all the power is out everywhere. There’s just nothing. I could see there was a power line down in the street, and just then a police car was driving down the cross street. I flagged him down and told him about the power line. His response was, “there’s power lines down everywhere. Just go back inside.”

We tried our best to get some sleep. The next morning our neighborhood looked quite a bit different than the day before.

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Yes, that chunk of tree is hanging on a couple of power lines.

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No trees fell on our fence, but a block over they weren’t so lucky.

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Everywhere you looked, there were uprooted trees.

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This was our neighbor just across the street and a few houses up from us.

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Their driveway was destroyed by the roots ripping through it!

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The walkway on the other side didn’t fare any better.

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This poor guy couldn’t tell how much of his pickup truck was left under there.

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Amazingly, they still have this truck… it was totally restored.

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Kathleen (rocking her short red hair look) makes a call amidst the carnage.

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Just past our neighborhood, the local Cuban restaurant lost their sign.

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And up the street, Charley made child’s play out of this playground display.

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Here’s the church, where’s the top of the steeple?

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Oh, there it is!

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Our house somehow managed to avoid getting damaged. We were thankful for that, but there was another problem –  no power. No power means no air conditioning, and when you live in Florida, that is very bad. Especially with a houseful of senior dogs that can’t handle it… not to mention a cranky, sweaty mom and dad. Sure, we tried to put on a happy face about it:

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Ramirez was all, “hey, I’m cool with it”:

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Frank tried to act like it was no big deal:

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But by the second, or  third, or maybe fourth night without power, we were a stinky, crazy mess:

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Frank’s brother Sam is looking a bit out of sorts, wondering when this will end.

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Kath tries to keep cool with her personal mini fan.

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I try to keep cool with… interesting hair.

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Ramirez finally breaks down and begs mom for some fan time.

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And on it went, for an ENTIRE WEEK WITHOUT POWER. We almost got divorced about twelve times in those seven days. To call it a struggle would be a massive understatement. Every morning we had to embark on the quest for coffee for Kath or I’d really be in for it. Crowds at the stores that did have power and food were massive. There was one McDonald’s open but all they had were chicken McNuggets and fries. People were all a little bit on edge. Driving was treacherous! Seems no one understood when a light is not functioning it should be looked at as a four-way stop. Don’t know how many close calls we had with being jackknifed by some idiot. We were lucky to have a petsitting client that was out of town, and their electricity was on. So I charged our cellphones and did our laundry there. And I might have even spent a couple nights there in the cool A/C… but don’t tell Kathleen that.

All kinds of workers from other states came to help get us back online, but it was a slow process. One of the most frustrating things was knowing there was a staging area for them just down the street. It was a giant tease seeing all that hardware sitting there, still not getting to us.

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We were  the very last block in our neighborhood to get electrical service restored. It was quite a happy day when the trucks arrived!

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And so it ended. But as we all know, God has a sense of humor. He thought it would be funny if we had to deal with TWO more tropical systems over the next six weeks, and so we had to go through it all again with Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. Fortunately neither of them had the strength or fury of Charley, but it was a trying time nonetheless. We got really good at setting the house up for the oncoming storms, with all the critters in the family room:

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All the essentials secured in plastic totes in the kitchen:

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And the rest of us all crammed in the master bedroom:

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As bad as it all was, we were blessed to have a wonderful pack of dogs to get us through, including one of our most treasured in Rebecca. She was the very first Cattle Dog in the family, and is the reason we have Eva today (and a certain horse is named after her too). She wasn’t scared of no storm!

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I think I speak for every resident of Florida in saying I hope the hurricane season of 2004 was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If not… Canada, here we come!!!

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We lost our beloved chinchilla today. I had known for a while that things were not quite right, her eating was off and she went through a bout of diarrhea. I thought things were maybe getting better but yesterday I felt she was leaving. When we got home for the night, she was laying as if asleep inside her little wooden house.

Her name was Chili, but we mostly called her Chilla. She was a rescued animal like most of ours are. Clients had her bought her on a whim from Trump Tower, of all places, for their teenage daughter. The newness of an exotic pet wore off rather quickly so she came to live with us. At the time, we had a lone chinchilla who had been confiscated by our local animal control in a drug bust. So, Chocolate and Chili took up residence together in a cage on our kitchen table. It took up the entire kitchen table. Chinchillas are interesting creatures and have the softest and most dense fur of any mammal. Our girls were not meant to be coats, though, and they entertained one another and us for several years. I hate to admit it, but I have no idea right now how long they lived with us. The last year or so, Chilla lived alone after Chocolate lost her battle with cancer. She never left her side, even in death. They are now together again.

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Who do you pink for? Cass & Becca got their new fly masks today. They’re not just any fly masks. Part of the proceeds go toward breast cancer research and they are adorable in the pink & gray motif, complete with pink ribbon on one side. Both girls were perfectly fine with me putting these strange things on them. Cass needed a bit of coaxing with a cookie but realized it was no biggie and how stylish she looked. Becca took it in stride like she does everything.

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We pink in particular because two of our favorite people are breast cancer survivors. My sister, Peggy, was diagnosed in her early forty’s after beginning hormone therapy for early menopause. Isn’t it ironic, Cass was a byproduct of the hormone industry. Peggy has been cancer free now for several years after surgeries and sickness. Our friend, Therese, was diagnosed a few years ago, she fought her battle and won. Both women are inspirations to me and I’m sure anyone who meets them. Cancer did not define them but it did change them and we all agree awareness is key. I’m part of a research study called The Sister Study (http://sisterstudy.org) to try to figure out what links breast cancer has with siblings. So, we pink every chance we get and now my girls are also in the fight! Woman by woman…Sister by sister…We can make a difference!

This is Therese with Cass…

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and with Becca. You can see the cute pink ribbon on the side of the mask. We got these masks in preparation for hurricanes and flying debris. Look at the size of that head! Keep in mind, she’s only 15 months old.

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