Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Today was bittersweet.....

Over the years I have witnessed lots of fur kids cross Rainbow Bridge. Many of them were my own and several others were clients. Although it is a tough and emotional event for anyone to go through, I consider it an honor to be asked to accompany anyone who wants me to be present when the final goodbyes are said. However today was a bit different. Today I stood next to my parents as my dad said goodbye to his 20 year old cat Missy.

Missy was a wonderful spirit….extremely grateful for her life and the love she received. She especially loved to lie on the newspaper as Dad read it, and despite the fact that she was not transparent, he managed to just read around her. She also loved to clean out his yogurt containers and be given bites of ham or turkey. She seemed to have a special detector that just sensed when someone was going to make a sandwich. As soon as the meat drawer opened she would show up from nowhere and meow loudly (yell was more like it) until she got her taste.  Dad has seen a lot of animals come and go out of our family over the years but the connection that he and Missy had was uniquely their own.  So special was their connection that he was the only family member important enough that she would eagerly wake from her napping to greet him when she heard his voice as he walked in the door.

Today was bittersweet for me because the tables were turned. Instead of my parents standing with me as I said goodbye to a fur kid, I stood with them as they said goodbye.  Both of my parents have always understood the importance of animals in my life and have been very supportive of my career choice but I particularly owe a special thank you to Dad and I’m not sure I’ve said thank you for this one.  Let’s just say he’s owed a big thank you for tolerating the times that he wasn’t always given advance notice of new furry family members. I can’t count how many times he would walk in the door from work to find a new furry face and wonder where that one came from! And Missy was one of those many stories.  She was a rescue like most every other pet we ever had. Dad actually knew we were bringing her home after a horse show but she was so feral when we got her that she hid in my sister’s room for the first several weeks she lived with us.   At some point the relationship between he and Missy became apparent to all of us – Missy decided she was Dad’s kitty and Dad decided that was fine with him!  She slowly developed her courage and by the end of her 20 years she was a very wise little southern lady who knew what to do to get what she wanted…just nap until Dad got home and then show up and turn on her southern charm!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Just a little more about Pinky....

I've heard from many friends today after publishing Pinky's story last evening.  As I said, she was known by many and loved by all. Thank you to all who've contacted me, and feel free to continue to share her story with others as you wish.

Several folks have asked about the newspaper article which featured Pinky in 2011 so here is the link to the archived copy from the News & Observer.  The article was an interview I did about equine massage therapy and it included a picture of  Pinky being massaged but the archived copy eliminated the picture.  If you link to the article, just imagine her looking like she was asleep as you read it.  Massage therapy for equines and canines can be just as therapeutic for them as for humans, and the photo was taken just before she fell asleep in the session.


"Anything but Speechless"

We first met when I was 6 years old. I remember looking up at you thinking you were the most beautiful strawberry roan I had ever seen. You had perfect white stockings up to your knees, the biggest blaze right down the center of your face, and a perfect horseshoe mark of chestnut hair on the side of your tummy. You were every little girl’s dream and nightmare rolled into one. Apparently you were way too much pony for me. Actually you were way too much pony for most everyone!

You didn’t have the best reputation thanks to your very permanent vices: pulling your mane was non-negotiable and so was lunging. But most of all you were well known for grabbing the bit and running out open gates and stall doors, for your colic history, and, of course for your hopping lead changes.  I thought it was all great fun. I think it scared the dickens out of everyone else. More than our fair share of rides ended in bleeding blisters on my hands, tears in my eyes, and mud on my clothes. But eventually you taught me to bury my knuckles in your neck and hang on for the ride. You taught everyone else to close the gate!  Yes, you taught me a lot more than how to ride. You taught me how to listen.

I thought I was going to lose you the day you bowed your tendon at the fairgrounds. I was back at the barn tending to Glenmore’s Beaumonde (Beau), who had already pulled a suspensory earlier in the show.  Local legend indicates it was an awful sight to watch you coming off that jump, not able to take another step after landing. Mere immediately jumped off your back as you stood on three legs and both of you waited for me. Dad drove the trailer right up to the show ring and we loaded you and rushed straight across the street to the vet school with Beau riding right beside you.  Lots of talk among the adults about what to do. After countless x-rays, ultrasounds, 2nd and 3rd opinions, and a healthy competition between the staff and the vet. students at guessing your age, there was still more conferring to be done.  While we waited, one of the interns tallied the scores on guessing your age...highest age guessed by anyone -- 9 yrs (You were already 19 at the time). Now it was time for a diagnosis --the worst bow the doctors had ever seen. Given your age,  they said not only would you never jump again but you would most likely never walk soundly again. The advice they gave, “Put her down.”  Beau was in the stall next to you, having had his suspensory exam by then, and the report was he should recover just fine but not you. I looked in your eyes and “listened” to you. You and I disagreed with everybody else. I knew how tough you were and I fought for you. Mere and I swore that no amount of rehab was too much for us “kids” to do. We at least wanted a chance to try. We were young but we were determined to care for you. After all you took great care of us.

So we moved you to a farm where we could spend the summer months working at the rehab task.  The family that owned that farm had a pony a lot like you and their children were too afraid to ride her. Waltzing Matilda (Millie) was her name and when she took off it was much faster than a waltz! It worked out great for Mere because she now had a pony to ride to finish her show year. Another kid had a 4 year old pony named Mr. Razzle Dazzle (Rascal) who was very fond of bucking. You had taught me how to handle those flying lead changes so Rascal and I got along fine with his bucks while Beau’s suspensory healed. That summer was a turning point for all of us.

It was time for our own farm. You were recovering but it was slow. We thought so highly of you we considered breeding you while you were laid up. You were beautiful, talented, and won everything you ever competed in, so clearly any foals out of you would be complete knockouts! Boy did you have no interest in that, and it didn’t matter that every stallion we introduced you to was as talented and gorgeous as you! Add that to the list of things you were never going to do. So we listened to you…eventually. We settled for a stone statue of a foal and we named it Baby Pinky.

Not only did you recover from your bow but you went on to jump for several more years and win a lot more ribbons for more lucky kids. There was no stopping you from doing what you wanted to do. You loved teaching lessons; not just teaching children how to ride but teaching them lessons about life. Your determination was undeniable and often quite comical. You were never satisfied with the idea of retirement although you clearly had earned it. You always wanted a job and even settled for the job of babysitting my other horses and the ponies that I bought and trained. You saw a lot of horses and ponies come and go out of our barn but one fella came and I just couldn’t let him leave. The plan had been to sell Manassas (Nas) when I left for college but you were so good at keeping him company that Mom and Dad just put that plan on hold…there you were taking care of me again! You and Nas were a lot alike… both of you won everything I ever showed you in, no one else could ride you consistently, and you both would do absolutely anything for me. You loved to swim in the creek when you got hot or bored and he was happy to stand behind you so you could splash him and cool him off without him expending his own energy. That was until the day you both got silly and jumped out of the creek bed.  I was teaching a lesson and looked over at you and saw that something was terribly wrong. You couldn’t move, at all. A new vet on call came who figured you pulled a muscle and at your age (32 by then) it was hard to tell how badly. In her defense, she had just met you and didn’t understand the insignificance of your physical age. We gave you all the pain meds we could but you still couldn’t walk. She took some x-rays out in the pasture to develop back at the clinic and said she would call when she reviewed them. She left us with instructions to bring the hay and water to you in the paddock and see if you were still standing in the morning…and most importantly,to not put you in the stall.  What was unsaid in that instruction was…If she had to come back to put you down it would be best done out in the pasture. I wasn’t satisfied with that but I had a business to run and there were rounds to make. I brought your hay and water out to you and told you I would be back so you and I could talk about what we were going to do… just the two of us. I barely finished rounds before Mom called and said “she’s down and can’t get back up.”  I was panicky…I wasn’t ready to let you go. I could see the pain in your eyes when I got there but the look you gave me was even louder. I knew that look very well…you were headed back to your stall with a side of  "don’t you even think of putting me down over this!"  Whether we helped you or not you were headed back to the barn. You were always headed back to your stall if you needed to handle things your own way. You just needed to get back up on your feet. Not an easy task to say the least with a 700 lb. pony. But you trusted me and knew I could help you get all four under you. I remember whispering in your ear that for all the times you carried me I would return the favor if I could. It took the whole family but you gave it a go and up you went. It took every ounce of energy out of all of us, especially you. Aside from the pain it was dark by now and you couldn’t see where you were going.  I had Mom drive the golf cart and light your path with the head lights. I tucked your forelock into your halter so it would stay out of your eyes and with Dad on one side and me on the other to steady you along the way we got there, one step at a time, all the way up that hill to your stall. The vet called later to say the x-ray showed a fractured elbow, and with sorrow in her voice she offered to come back that evening if we were ready to say goodbye. Needless to say she was flabbergasted when we reported that you were in your stall and had given us a message for her…..I’m not planning to take “the big nap” quite yet. Once again, you recovered.

That was the first of many phone calls from you for my help.  It wasn’t long after that we sold the farm and I had to move you and Nas to separate farms. We found a lovely place for you real close to home with a woman who tried her best to learn how to care for you. She eventually got accustomed to calling me when you needed something. But you had a few lessons for her. I gave her your “list” the first day I met her with explicit instructions to never underestimate you, especially as it pertained to open gates. It wasn’t long before she let her guard down and you slipped out the crack in the barn doors. She called with terror in her voice, “Pinky is loose and I can’t catch her. I’m shaking the grain can and she won’t come…she’s so old… she must be deaf!” My reply, “no, she can hear just fine, she’s just having a good laugh at you while you chase her around in the woods. I’m on my way.” After all you could still hear me unwrap a peppermint for you from 200 yards away at that point. You and I had a little discussion after that about you not giving her a hard time. I told you to remember that she loved you like family and that I would never find someone else to board you and care for you like she did.

Over the next several years you started to have little strokes and the arthritis made it hard for you to get up and down but you still found a way to gallop in the field on your good days. You were finally starting to show your age. Your eye sight started to go and you had some rough days but you were no quitter. I eventually lost count of the times that I would get a call that you were down and waiting on me for help. I always knew that one day you wouldn’t be able to get back up. But I vowed to never give up on you so long as you still wanted me to help you. We went through five years of thinking we were making “the call” to Dr Jim or Dr Bob. I will never forget that cold winter New Years Eve night we struggled with you down in the mud for what seemed like hours. I finally decided we wouldn’t get you up without someone getting hurt so I called Dr Jim. I could barely talk through the tears when he picked up the phone and he calmly said “I’m already on my way.” So as we prepared for what was to come, you gave me that darn look again, and shot up like God had just sat you on your feet…just as Dr Jim pulled in the driveway.  We just couldn’t help but turn the tears into laughter and celebrate the New Year with Dr Jim!  You made it a few more years, including the time Dad insisted on helping you back onto your feet instead of waiting for me.  The next week a surgeon reattached his bicep tendon and he still kept coming to see you!

Then one sunny day last May my phone rang and I knew this time was different so I called Dr Jim on my way to the farm. When I turned in the barn driveway I saw you out in the field trying to look for me. You weren’t getting up this time. Mom had gotten to the farm ahead of me and she and Pat were trying to keep you calm but you just wanted me to get there. I sat down in the pasture with you, gave you a peppermint, put your head in my lap, rubbed your ears, and you relaxed while we cried, a lot. Dad arrived and Dr Jim got there and we all cried a lot more. Saying goodbye to you was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Despite all the tears over the years I still wasn’t prepared.

Oh the memories you gave me Pinkerton…You were so good at breaking the mold. Other than the past year, you were a part of my life as far back as I remember. Every accomplishment, every success and failure, every break-up and graduation, you were there for every one of them. You are as responsible for who I am and what I do today as Mom and Dad. I learned so much from you over the years. You are one of the reasons I chose the career I have today. You are why I take the job of “listening” to the animals that cross my path so seriously.

You loved to suck on your tongue after eating every peppermint so you could savor the flavor and you loved being rubbed behind your ears. I remember going to the tack shop to buy you a new pink halter, pink splint boots, and two hot pink buckets shortly after Mom and Dad bought you for me. Guess what….I still have all of them! I remember you running out the gate at the fairgrounds and dumping me on the drain pipe on your dash back to your stall. I remember how mad Shep was at you for doing that to me; so mad that he went back to Barn E himself to bring you back up to the show ring. I remember sitting on the bleachers watching as you turned right around and did the same thing to Shep. I remember you dumping Mere at the Sedgefield Show and the braider hearing “loose pony” over the PA just as your thundering hooves rounded the corner. Apparently you over shot your stall and came to a skidding halt only to quietly back up into your stall as if nothing had happened. I don’t know why everyone was always so amazed that you went back to your stall when that was what you did (with or without a rider). It’s  just not what most loose horses or ponies do. I remember riding you bareback chasing the geese around the pond at Triton. And I vividly remember the time I took you out to the power lines and fell off. Those power lines are now I-540! It was a long walk back to the barn and I didn’t hear your galloping hooves. I knew I was going to be in big trouble once you made it back to the barn without me.  Lucky for me Alvin heard your shoes headed towards him and he grabbed you as you tried to fly by. And as I turned the corner from the tree line there you were, furious with Alvin for delaying your arrival back to your stall. Boy was I lucky he caught you! He kept us both out of trouble that day! I have 23 years of memories with you and I will always treasure every one of them.

Thirty nine years is a long time for a pony to be on this earth and you were special to many during all those years. They say cats have 9 lives and I’m not sure how many a pony gets. What I do know is that you used up every one you were blessed with. Many people thought you were stubborn; to me you were just smart. You loved everyone and everything. As far as I am concerned you were a saint long before we said goodbye to you a year ago today, May 23, 2012.

Northlands Speechless

First Championship - Short Stirrup Hunter Division

Baby Pinky

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2013 - Starting the New Year

It is that time of year again where we all find ourselves making resolutions. Things we want to accomplish, changes we intend to make, stuff we are going to do differently this year.  Although I too have set some goals for myself, I can’t help but think about how different this year will be for me. This time last year I had no idea that by year end I would no longer have two of my fur kids to ring in the new year with me.

Many of you know that I said goodbye to my border collie, Snow, in November of 2012. On January 14 of this year she would have been 14 years old and although she was already 6 years old when she came to me, I feel that we spent her lifetime together. She would probably agree.

What most of you do not know is that in May, just two days before I found out that Snow was terminally ill, I had to say goodbye to my childhood pony, Pinky. She was 39 years old and I honestly do not remember any of my life without her. My parents bought her as my first competition pony when I was 7 and as far back as I can remember she was there for me in every break-up, graduation, success, and failure of my life. She was such an important part of my development that I attribute most of what I know about communicating with animals to her. She was the first to teach me how to listen to an animal, and thankfully, she taught that lesson well because I use that valuable education every day in my profession.

I know what you are probably thinking as you read this….39? How long does a horse live? Short answer...not that long. And certainly not with cognitive skills still sharp enough to communicate with me right up to the point of goodbye.  But Pinky did just that! Naturally we knew she was living on borrowed time but it still was a shock to all of us that day, even to my veterinarian.

While I sit here and finish thinking about what I want to accomplish this year, I cannot help but think of the two who will not be here to share it with me. But I know that both of them would say to me, “No matter how busy you get this year and no matter how hard you work, take time to enjoy a sunrise, a sunset, or time to smell the roses, but most importantly, take time to enjoy what you have at the moment.” They would tell me that because that is what I tried to do with each of them.

I always try to live life fully and I feel very fortunate to have a career that helps me live just that way-----spending my time with and listening to the many lovely furry ambassadors I work with daily.  So whether it be in the sun, rain, sleet or snow, it will be an honor for me to have all of them in my life in 2013.