Monday, December 17, 2012


The holidays are almost upon us.  I have three nieces and two nephews, all in the same family.  About 5 years ago, I stopped buying Christmas presents for them.   I was disillusioned and disappointed with the "gimme, gimme" attitude that they had; they had lost the meaning of Christmas, in my mind.   Instead, I starting sponsoring an animal on their behalf.  Each year I pick out a needy cat, dog or horse at a shelter or rescue and with the help of staff, get a picture and the story of how the dog/cat/horse ended up at the shelter.  Sometimes these animals are strays, sometimes their human has passed away, sometimes they have been taken from a bad situation.   I print and frame the picture and story, wrap it up and give it to my nieces and nephews.  Delightfully, they actually get quite excited to learn who "they" have helped and after checking it out, the framed picture and story is placed on the bookcase for future reference.  This year the sponsorship will go towards helping some rescued dogs that have medical issues.

There is no doubt in my mind that this simple gift has made a difference on how my nieces and nephews view other living beings and perhaps makes them think about how their actions can affect others.  Each one of them has an affinity to animals and my hope is that they will pay it forward.

In addition to supporting my local shelter, here are some of my favourite animal donation sites. 

Circle of Hope Canine Rescue - This rescue group deals with the horrific over-crowding/high kill situations in rural Tennessee.  And, just when you can't get any worse, it does. Yet, this group continues to work through it.   Personally, I don't know how they keep going;  these dedicated people must be angels.  They have also opened a New England branch. 

Hopeful Hearts takes in and re-homes palliative care and senior dogs from Ontario, Nunavut, Quebec and occasionally the U.S. that are high risk at shelters because they are not considered "adoptable". 

RR Refuge is a sanctuary for horses, located in Ontario.  Some of these horses are loving retired, others come from sad and bad situations.  RR Refuge provides them with a peaceful environment where they can just be horses. 

The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition works towards ending horse slaughter in Canada and having laws changed to protect horses, whether they are domestic or wild.  They have an adopter rebate program and an euthanasia assistance program, where qualified applicants are eligible to receive $150 toward the cost of euthanasia performed by a vet; a much kinder solution than sending a horse to slaughter, in my mind. 

Sophie's Dog Adoption - Quebec is home to Canada's largest number of puppy mills because of poor legislation and law enforcement of commercial dog breeding operations.  Puppy mills in this province ship puppies across Canada.  In addition, Quebec shelters have a very high kill rate.  Sophie is a force to be reckoned with!  She continues to fight "city hall" and the Quebec provincial government to get laws changed and she protects those dogs in dire need.

Project Coyote - Coyotes play a very important part in keeping nature in balance.  In the U.S. it's estimated that 500,000 coyotes are killed each year by ranchers, trappers and government-funded programs.  These animals die grisly deaths - neck snares, traps, aerial shooting, hounding and canned kills, to name a few.   Project Coyote's mission is to work towards co-existence, through education, consultation and community outreach programs.

The Animal Alliance of Canada's focus is to protect all animals and promote a strong relationship between humans, animals and the environment.  This means that provincial and federal laws need to change and this group tirelessly works at achieving that goal.

I am grateful for those who take on these tremendous challenges.  Every single day they work in the trenches, trying to make it better for those that cannot speak.   They work towards making the world a softer, kinder place.  At this time of year in particular, it's nice to remember that there are angels amongst us.  :-)

Have a great week, everyone!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Going Straight

I have just completed 4 regular group lessons.  It's been 5 months since I was in regular lessons.  I admit that initially I was nervous!  Yes, I have had some private lessons over the last couple of months, but for some reason I was a bit shy about riding in front of my two classmates, particularly nervous classmate.  I worried about how my performance would be judged by these two riders.  Had I improved over the last few months?  Could they see how Gem has improved since his boot camp?  Am I doing the hard work LA put into Gem's boot camp justice?  And, to be honest, I was also a little apprehensive about loping.  I hadn't really done any loping for months!  Yikes! 

I still need to work on his flexibility, but heck I need to work on mine, too!  What I really need to work back up is my endurance - after 5 months of no regular lessons, it sucks!  :-)   Our transitions have been pretty smooth; walk, jog, posting trot, changing diagonal.  I know that we are doing well by the look on nervous classmate's face (pinched) and her lack of eye contact with me.  :-)   LA's encouraging comments have been a bonus.   Posting trot over poles last week?  No problemo!  LA said that Gem and I got a "gold star" for our efforts.  Loping?..... It wasn't perfect, but it felt sooooo much better than pre-boot camp! 

You know what has been one of the biggest challenges for me?  Walking a straight line....and I don't mean after I've had a couple of vodka sodas!  :-)   Now some of you out there might think that walking a straight line isn't really that difficult.  Well, I beg to differ.  When you and your trusty steed are moseying along the perimeter of a field, you think you are walking a straight line.  In fact, the path in front of you looks straight, so you must be walking straight, right?  It isn't until you are in a confined area, picking a letter on the wall to walk towards that you realize that you aren't walking a straight line.   You sway, you drift, you sway, you drift a bit more.  You want to start nudging the bit a little or use your legs to keep your horse straight.....

LA wants me to walk a straight line with my hands and legs in neutral!   This exercise is to build trust and promote communication;  Gem has to learn to wait for me to make the decisions.  He is not allowed to decide where we are going because that's my job.  So, unless I tell him otherwise, he should walk straight ahead until I tell him to stop.  I guess this is how cowboys were able to sleep in the saddle while their horses continued moving forward - point and go.  :-)

Little drifts are not bad as long as he comes back to "centre" and ends up at the designated spot or letter.  A BIG mistake is when he drifts way off course, in affect making the decision on where the two of us are going.   When he makes a BIG mistake, I have to correct by turning him in a small circle a couple of times in the opposite direction of where he was going and start again. 

It is really hard for me to let him make a BIG mistake.   I have a tendency to micro-manage Gem; I fiddle with the reins or my legs to keep him straight.  I start to see him drift and I immediately want to correct it by putting my leg on.   It takes everything out of me to be in neutral and not correct!  It feels like when you are talking to a complete stranger and they have a piece of lint on their sweater and you have this uncontrollable urge to reach out and just pick it off! 

We have been practicing and I am happy to report that our straight lines are much, much better.  In fact, more often than not, Gem will walk to the designated letter and continue walking until his forehead is touching the wall.  :-)  During this week's lesson, he was a little bit of a brat.  However, when it came to walking or jogging a straight line from one end of the arena to the other, he was great.   In fact, it was probably the best example to-date of our straightness.  What an easy way to build confidence and promote communication. Next:  Incorporating nice sharp neck-reining turns with walking straight lines.  :-)

 Enjoy your horses and have a great weekend, everybody!