A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Oh Sweetie!

Sweetie is getting some extra time spent on her training.  Why?  Because she has decided to be silly.  Seems the Sweetie is now scared of, well... everything.

Her saddle pad is terrifying.  Her saddle is a monster.  Fly spray is evil.  This all just happened one day this weekend.  No idea what set her off, but she's not been my favorite horse!

Ok, I still love her and all, but I do wish the 'fear factor' would go away now.  It seems that no matter what I ask her to do, she finds a way to be scared and spook at something.  She's tried pulling back a few times.  She tried spooking at something on the other side of the arena fence, and she's just not been all that into "work".  I almost wonder if she's hormonal or something (not that it's a reason to let her get away with all this).

Eventually though, we got through each lesson, and we did make progress.  I spent 45 minutes touching her with the saddle pad.  At first she jumped away, then she just turned, and finally, she let me pet her with it.  So then we moved to putting it on her back, from both sides.  Well that wasn't nearly as bad as walking up to her with it!

I think that much of the problem is that I've always used to the same 2 tack sets for her.  English, or Western, and always the same pads, girths, etc.  This weekend, I moved to a lighter weight pad (because her back is finally muscling up, and she doesn't need a heavy wool pad under the western saddle any more).  First, I tried to gold one (shown in the pictures).  That was scary, but ok.  The next day, I used a green and black one.  OH BOY!  Vivid colors!  TERRIFYING!

Everything has been like that lately with her.  This back corner of the arena... scary!  So, I spent time reassuring her, and praising her for doing what I asked, when I asked it.  And then I would spend some time desensitizing her.  Things like making a noise (yeah, I sounded like a moron, but that's ok) or jumping in place.  Anything to give her the chance to "win".  If I "spooked" her, and she stopped, lifted her head, and looked at the scary thing, then she got praise.  If I "spooked" her and she tried to bolt, we just do it again.  No punishment, no praise.  I just act like it never happened and keep on.

It's not a quick thing to fix, but when you spend time like this, consistently, it can be fixed.  The key here is the consistency!  I gave Sweetie the "weekend" off (we take Sundays and Mondays here, where Sundays are for play, and Mondays are for laundry).  Today, we're going to be back at it.  And tomorrow, and every day after that until Sweetie is ok with working again.

And, in all of this, I realize that she has grown again.  She stands 16.0 hands now, and still looks like she has room to grow.  She has started to (finally) fill in, and bulk up.  She's not "pretty" yet, but she is getting there, and I see many moments that lead me to think she will be stunningly beautiful soon.  The poor kid has just spent so much time growing awkwardly, that none of her parts ever fit themselves.  I bet, in 2 years, that she will look like a white version of her father though.  Now if she would just learn to stand up square for a picture, that'd be great.

And, now for some gratuitous puppy pictures.  my "Barn Help" found the grooming supplies, and thought that was more fun then they had seen before.  Jango looks more like a pitty every day, while Boba looks more Rottweiler.  Can you believe they are full brothers?  Love my boys!

Friday, May 18, 2012

How far they have come

 Last fall this horse came to live with us.  Her name is Moon, and she was skinny.  It's been a few months, and we've been in the middle of a drought, so regaining the weight has not been easy, but it has been consistent.

Now, about 6 months later, she's packed on the weight, put on muscle, and impressed us with how well she goes under saddle.  Moon loves to swim, and is often seen wading into the pond, and encouraging others to do the same.

But yeah, she's still filthy.  I'm starting to think that will never change!

And then there's Midnight, the bombproof Percheron mare I got about the same time Moon came to see us (I think it was 2 weeks later).  Well, she was also a victim of the drought, and was rather thin.  Unlike Moon, Midnight was older, which made the weight gain take even longer.  She started like this:
And ended up like this:
While Moon is currently a bit plump, Midnight still needs a few more ponds before I'm happy.  I am thrilled at HOW she is putting it on though.  Her hair looks nice, her mane is soft and silky, and she is a happy girl.

I just have to say that these mares both came with their names when we got them.  (Moon's came from her papers, Midnight was Midnight).  We kept their names because they both seemed to know them.  It's just fluke that we have a starry night theme going on.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Owning dogs of a "mean" breed

So we think we have figured out what breed mix our puppies are.  Pit Bull and Rottweiler.  So this got me thinking about all the aggressive breed hate out there, since by owning these pups their public impression is something I have to consider.

I've owned many bully breeds in my life, most of them rottweilers but I have fostered others.  From mastiffs to ridgebacks, with some interesting designer hunting crosses ("pig dogs" a mix of pit and ridgeback being one of my favorites).  I've only ever had one planned litter of puppies in my life, and that was part of the agreement for me getting my Susie.  The stud was selectively picked (a therapy dog), and the puppies all were sold before they were born, into well vetted homes.  I won't even go into the heart break of sending the pups home!

My first dog I got from a pet store.  I didn't MEAN to, but I had 30 minutes to blow at the mall (I was researching costumes for colorguard, and waiting to meet someone) and so I stopped in to look at the cuteness.  One pup there called out to me.  It truly was love at first sight, and I spent the next 17 years with him at my side.  Every dog after that has been a rescue.  I've never picked my dogs based on breed.  I have a handful of criteria: large (around 100 pounds minimum), short hair, and intelligent.  Color, breed, gender... those things don't matter to me.

So, when we went to pick our puppies, I looked for the smartest ones in the litter.  Jae fell in love with Boba at first sight, but when I was told we could take 2, well... I looked and looked, and noticed the cute little blue male watching everything intently.  Now, a week later, I can honestly say that he's exactly what I wanted.  Jango reminds me of Susie in many ways, with a touch of Hobbes (that first dog of mine).  He's smart, he's willful, and he's harboring an inner wimp.  Boba on the other hand is very different.  He is social, transparent, and gregarious.  Together, they are exactly what Jae and I wanted.  I love Boba, but he's very much Jae's dog, and Jae loves Jango, but he's very much my dog.  The puppies even agree, since Boba won't cuddle with me, but will lay on Jae's lap as long as he can, and Jango cries for "mommy" when I walk out of his sight, even if he's with Jae.

We've been working with the pups to learn good manners.  They can't bite at us, they need to come when called, and they need to be properly socialized.  This means we introduce them to something new every day that we can.  Jango gets fearful of new things, but I can't coddle him as that would only prove to him that he's right.  Take the goats as an example.  When we took the puppies to the barn, Boba heard to goats, and got nervous, but trusted his humans' lack of fear to mean that it was ok.  Jango, on the other hand, saw the goats, and when one walked to the stall mesh, Jango feared for his life - tucking his tail and running out of the barn, across the barn yard, through the parking area, and heading for home as fast as his stubby legs would take him.  We got him stopped some where about 300 feet outside the barn, but if I had tried to reassure him, or pamper him, well... there's a good chance I would have a goat aggressive dog. Instead, I simply picked him up, and carried him back to the barn.  We walked past the goats again, and he shook in my arms, but I just ignored it, and kept moving, while allowing Jango to see the goats, and see his brother sniffing the goats, and realize that no one else was scared as he lived through the experience.  The next day, the goats were only a bit scary, but mostly interesting.

So, I'm making a very intense effort to properly socialize my puppies.  They are learning "no", learning "good boy!" and learning to stay with me.  Because we have 2 of them, we get to work on human/pack handling now too.  Things like sticking my hand into the puppies when they are playing.  They should submit, and never try to bite.  Getting distracted, and confusing me with a brother is BAD, and gets scary noises made.  (They hate the "unh UH!" noise already).

And yet, with all this training and effort to make sure that the boys are good dogs, I know that the biggest threat to them is their appearance.  Boba (the black) looks like a Rottweiler.  Jango (the blue) has a very strong physical resemblance to the pit bull side.  This means that when they grow up, people will judge them on news stories, and not on the dogs they have been raised to be.

If my puppies ever break out, and go running across town, they won't be treated the same as a labrador on the loose.  No, people are more likely to shoot them rather then look to see if their tails are wagging.  This means I also have to train my neighbors.  I mean, they are puppies, and I have a lot of land.  There's a good chance that at some point, one will run off when he's working off leash, and "terrorize' the neighbors.  I have made sure to mention that we have new puppies.  As they grow up, I will be sure to take them for walks (on leash) so people can see them with me, and know where they live.  I will also do my best to make sure they never get loose.

I figure that it's much better to have someone call me about the evil dog I didn't keep contained, and to get my butt chewed, then to find my dog shot and dead.  Sadly, because of their breeding, this is something I have to think about, and plan for.  Most of us have a break out at some point.  The pups are chipped, but will also have tags on their collars.

I'm also planning to train Jango to herd the horses.  Boba shows NO interest or talent in herding, but Jango does.  This means I will have to consider the opinions of my boarders, and I might loose some clients because of my puppies' breeds.  I figure it's a price I'm willing to pay.  You see, I have always done best with the strong willed breeds.  My only problem with pit bulls has been that they are too small for me.  I love my Great Dane, my Rottweilers, and get along with dogs who aren't overly sensitive, like Australian Cattle dogs.  Labs make me crazy, while they are good dogs, they are just not a breed for me (in general).  And the working dogs, like huskies or border collies... oh my.  I can only do a few hours at a time of those breeds.  I couldn't even foster them with out going crazy.  I don't like the bully breeds because of their reputation, I like them because of the traits that the breed was created - centuries ago - to have.

And because I now have puppies that I believe to be pit mixes, I did some research on pit bulls.  Until a few decades ago, the pit bull was considered to be one of the best family dogs available.  Rottweilers' protection instinct comes from their love for their humans... they are notorious for not guarding the house, but being willing to die for their person.  It's only recently that bad humans have made these breeds (and others) notorious for their aggression.  Just look at Petey from The Little Rascals, a pit bull.

My point is, no dog is born mean.  Sure, they have traits that are bred into them in the creation of their breed, but those traits were chosen for their usefulness.  As a dog owner, it is my job to manage my dog, and train him to be a good canine citizen.  This takes time, it takes effort, and it's work.  I can't just chain my dog out back, and expect him to learn everything.  But when a human does that, we so rarely blame the person, instead we blame the dog, and the dog's breeding.

Now, I'm not here to tell you that all bully bred dogs are great dogs and can be rehabilitated.  Some times people do more damage then anyone can fix.  It's sad, but true.  I'm just thinking that with the stereotypes these breeds have, I need to be sure and do a LOT of work to make my dogs safe.  I think of it as protecting them, Boba and Jango.  I'm very happy that in my small town, we have no laws against owning these breeds.  I can't imagine what I would do if my breeds were ever banned (law suit comes to mind though, as I would not take it quietly).  The dogs I have always worked best with are the exact breeds that keep getting outlawed!  To me, it would make more sense to punish the owners who don't properly train and handle their dogs, then punishing those who may prefer strong willed companions. 

I don't think of my puppies, nor my older dogs, as "mean".  In fact, I often joke about Susie, my Rottweiler, never having met a stranger.  She thinks all humans are her friends, and doesn't understand the idea of "protection", except when it comes to guarding the horses.  Moose, my Great Dane, would rather run away from strangers then even think of doing anything aggressive.  My best "guard dog" right now?  My fox hound!

I've just always known, since I was a young child, that in order to be a good dog owner, I had to make sure I have good dogs.  That means training, and lots of it.  The puppies are nothing but balls of cuteness right now, but in a few short weeks, they will start to mature.  I'm already training them.  I already take my duties as their caregiver seriously.  I already worry that the misdeeds of other people will cause problems for them.

I worry about my boys just like a parent worries about their child.  I wonder if they will make friends.  I worry that they won't be treated fairly.  I hope that they will have a bright future, and do all that I can to help them achieve that.  I love them.  To me, it doesn't matter that they speak in wuffs and whimpers, they are family.  I always wanted a large family.... of dogs, and again I have it.  I'm as happy as can be.  The boys are all that I had hoped for, and I wouldn't trade them for the world. 

Even if they are bed hogs.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Our family is growing!

In the middle of April, things started happening around here, most of them for the good.  The first thing, is a friend fell in love with Soli.  She is almost 3 now, and starting to grow into her self, and I think she's looking attractive.  Well, Heather (yes, my friend is one of the many Heathers!) wanted her, but couldn't seriously consider her until she moved another horse.  After a couple of weeks of talking, Heather jokingly mentioned that she'd trade me for one of her Oldenburgs.  I said that was a trade I'd be very interested in.

Heather had 2 Oldenburg mares, a 2 year old chestnut, and a 5 year old grey.  While I LOVE the red heads, I have never bought a horse just because of color.  I looked at the videos, and mentioned that I actually preferred the grey.  Now, Heather had someone interested in one of the girls (they were going to be choosing soon) so things kinda got put on hold, and waffled a bit.  In the end, the other party was interested in the chestnut filly, which meant Heather and I really were free to trade.  We struck a deal that made both of us happy, and I picked up Indira, a very lovely 15.3 hand grey Oldenburg.

Indi and I just fell in love with each other.  She reminds me of Ash, my "ultimate" horse - enough attitude to keep things interesting, enough drive to want to succeed at what ever she does, and a desire to be a good girl, if she is respected.  Indi will never be my "mount" but rather my partner.  Personally, I'm just thrilled with that.

So Heather took home Soli, I got Indi, and then she leased Amber, my Champagne AQHA mare for a breeding lease.  Now, it looks like there's a chance that one of Heather's friends might be interested in Amber (with a WHOLE lot of things to consider, and a year to wait first) and it would be a WONDERFUL home for Amber.  Talk about a win for everyone!  Comes out we're all happy about the deal, and so are the horses!

Now, we just had the 3 amazing babies during this time too, and well, how can that not make someone feel "on top of the world"?  But, it made me realize that I needed something else.  Another donkey.  Maggie Mae is great with the babies, but she's only one donkey, and come weaning time, I'll have to move her in with the kids, and leave the pasture unprotected.  I put the word out that I'd be interested in a donkey looking for a home.  I didn't care about training, or such, I just wanted a good livestock guardian... the rest will come.

And then, a guy who works with my mom, out of the blue, asked her if she wanted a donkey.  She said "well, you know, I actually have been looking for one!" and the deal was made.  Daisy Mae (she was previously Daisy, I added the Mae, just on principle) came into our lives.  Daisy is a spoiled donkey, who loves to be pampered.  She's smaller then Maggie, but definitely not a miniature donkey.  (More then Sicilian, less then a standard sized donkey).  Daisy is a bit.. well, ok a lot obese, but she's settled right in, and is doing her job great. 

It's unfortunate that we need the donkeys, but people can't seem to understand that leash laws exist for a reason, and that my pasture is NOT the place for their dogs to pretend to "hunt"... especially not my foals!  As a dog lover, I dread the thought of having to kill a dog, so the donkeys are the perfect answer.  Both of my girls will "escort" a dog out of the property, using as much force as is needed, and no more.  Yes, they will kill a dog, but not unless they have no other option. 

But, that brings me to the dogs.  You see, I have a lot of dogs.  I've always daydreamed of having a pack like the goddess Diana (goddess of the hunt).  But as some of you know, I have been losing dogs recently.  Last fall I lost Rowdy, my medical issue dog.  She had seizures, and about 5 other conditions, all of which meant that her medication to keep her comfy was slowly killing her.  She passed away peacefully in her sleep.  I couldn't ask for better for her, but I miss her every day.  Shortly after that, like, within the month, my "puppy" (i.e. 10 year old Rottie who I raised from a baby and bottle fed) got into the garbage, ate onions, and had a hemolytic problem.  One thing lead to another, and nothing we did was helping, so I had him humanely euthanized.  At this point, I was beyond devastated.  It took me months to get near normal, and then a couple of weeks ago, Suzie (Anvil's mom) started having weakness in her hips and hind legs.

We put her on some long term medications (Prednisone) altered her diet, and made a few "quality of life" decisions.  Yeah, it will likely shorten her time with me, but she's a 12.5 year old Rottweiler.  She's beyond the "average life span" for the breed.  I'd rather her last days were great.  That's my goal for any of my dogs.  But, seeing her start to age before my eyes was a wake up call.  I was "down" to 4 dogs, and I realized that none of them are "young". 

I have been fighting puppy fever for a while, thinking it would be unfair to Susie to have her golden years taken up with puppy, and then I realized that Susie is bored.  She can't "work" any more with the horses, because she can't get out of the way fast enough.  All she does is come out to the barn, and watch us.  She spent most of her life "training" foster dogs who needed to be rehabilitated (usually aggressive) and did best as the matriarch.  When Jae said even HE thought a puppy was a good idea, I was sold.  I found some Rottie mix pups up for adoption, and they were babies.  The one thing I wanted was a PUPPY this time, and a big dog (because I don't do well with small dogs).  The pups were perfect, and the rescue had no problems adopting to me.  We made plans, notified references, and waited for the pups to get old enough.

Then, last week, my mother's dog Helga didn't want to go sleep with my parents.  She was adamant that she was spending the night with me.  None of us thought anything of it.  Helga was an older Rottweiler (11 - we like to keep them around a while here) and sometimes she just did things like this.  Before I went to sleep, I heard Helga cough twice and kinda "gak".  She was an obsessive licker, and often did this when she decided to lick the carpet.  I didn't think anything of it.  The next morning, I found that she had died overnight.  Helga wasn't "my" dog, but she was family still.  I will miss her very much, but I'm so glad she got to have her last years in ONE home, with many people to love and dote on her.  She liked to be the center of attention, and to be spoiled, and she was both.

But, this only made me more sure that my plans to adopt a puppy were the right ones.  My dogs are old, and I don't know what I'd do with out them!  So Saturday morning, Jae and I got up early, blew off our horsie friends, and headed to Fort Worth for an adoption.  Jae - who is the most laid back and subtle man I know - was excited about the puppy too.  He wanted to help pick, he was thrilled, and he was as excited as I was.  There were 7 pups, in many colors, and we only knew what personality type we wanted.  Problem was, we didn't exactly agree.  We hoped that our ideals would overlap into one puppy though.  Neither of us hated what the other wanted, but Jae wanted social, and I wanted intent on working.  It was possible it would happen!

So, we were the second to "pick" from the litter.  The first lady wanted a blue male, so we waited while she picked (there were 2) but Jae had already spotted his dream dog.  A cute little male, black and tan, who was going to be a big boy.  He was smart, he was gregarious, and he was all that Jae wanted.  Sadly, he wasn't exactly what I was looking for.  We debated, we discussed, and just as I was about to relent, and let Jae have his very own puppy - who I could love too, and spoil, and steal when I want - the rescuer said "you can have 2 ya know".  Oh... DONE!

Jae and I had said for a while that ideally we'd like to raise a pair.  Puppies are easier when you have 2, happier, and well... one for each of us.  So, if we got TWO, that meant that I could pick one to meet my standards.  The female was adorable, but the longer I watched her, the more I realized that she wasn't what I wanted either.  She didn't have much focus.  I checked the others, and debated a bit, when I realized that the other little blue male was keeping tabs on everything that was going on.  He wasn't as dominant as I had wanted, but he had everything else... and he was best buds with Jae's pick.

And so it was a done deal.  On a spur of the moment decision, yet 2 years worth of dreaming, we added a pair of Rottweiler/ Italian mastiff mix puppies. 

To make it even better, when we got home, the entire pack was happy with our decision.  The boys play together wonderfully, yet are willing to also interact with the other dogs.  Susie has claimed them as HER babies, and is really excited to be a "mommy".  She has a job, and she looks so much better for it.  Moose has new friends, that he is so interested in - yet a bit terrified of, and Sharra understands that they are not taking her place, so she can be nice to them.  Hobo... well... he thinks they are cats.  He's not that smart.

I figure, it's been more good then bad, and while I'll miss Helga, I'm happy to have all the other new family members.  Things just feel right now, like the pack and herd are more settled, and we all are where we belong.  And I can finally share the news, because all of the deals are final!