I’m Back in the Saddle Again…

Ever since I can remember I’ve loved horses, and as a child Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were my idols.   I used to dream of visiting them at their ranch and riding Trigger with their trusty dog Bullet at my side.  I talked, played, and dreamed horses and asked for a horse for every birthday.  When I was very young we lived in the country and farms were all around us but my parents never gave in to my childhood dream of owning my own horse. 

We moved to the city when I was eight and much to my delight there was a retired racehorse living in the back field.  His name was Brewer Jet and he had proved his worth winning several races before being turned out to pasture.  These were the days before zoning laws disallowed livestock within city limits and kids could hardly wait to go outside to play every day.  My new best friend Ruthie lived in the bottom flat and was one year older than me.  She was just as crazy about horses and on her tenth birthday her dad brought home the best birthday gift ever – a palomino pony!!  

He was christened Trigger (could there have been any other name for a palomino) and was as nasty as most ponies are rumoured to be.  When ridden he would try every trick in his never ending bag of tricks to dislodge us.  He disliked being groomed and heaven forbid if we tried to pick out his hooves.  He also liked to bite so he didn’t last long and was sent to a family friend’s farm to frolic in the fields and be a nuisance in someone else’s life.  Trigger was replaced by Goldie, a more mature mare, who was still pony sized but almost the height of a quarter horse.  It was on Goldie’s back that I learned most of my riding skills and my affection for horses deepened.

Fast forward to present day and although I haven’t ridden a horse in over twenty years, my affection for them has never lessened. A couple of years ago I decided that it would be fun to ride again, but other than researching stables in the area I never acted upon the notion.  A month ago I was sitting in the dentist’s chair, my first visit to this dentist, and he started talking about his horse ranch and the eighteen rescued horses that he and his wife care for.  His wife is a trainer and gives lessons and he encouraged me to visit their facility.  I did and I am now a student and I couldn’t be happier.  I ride a gentle Belgian mare named Princess Molly and she has the sweetest temperament.  I was concerned about my mobility issues while mounting and dismounting but Molly stands patiently and allows me to lie on her back as I manoeuver my dead leg. 

I rode Western as a youth and now I am learning English so not only am I back in the saddle but I am discovering a whole new method of riding.  I’ve returned to a world that I love and my MS is not holding me back.  Instead, I feel that I am more challenged because of my disability and that pushes me to try harder and be stronger!

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Best Buddies

Besties at Last

Don Diego de la Vega and Luz Maria enjoying deck time April 2013

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A Week at the Puppy Spa

Two pooped pups on their first night back at home

Two pooped pups on their first night back at home

I don’t travel as much as I once did.  I find that not being able to walk distances pretty much confines me to the use of a wheelchair when travelling, so I prefer vacation destinations within driving distance thereby allowing me to take my portable power chair and the freedom it provides.  Since being diagnosed with MS, I have flown to a destination twice and took my manual chair with me, but it just isn’t the same having to rely on someone to push me about.  That being the case, imagine my shock when the Cuban surprised me with a trip to his homeland and actually managed to talk me into going. 

At the top of the list for discussion was the question of what to do with the pups while we were away?  The Cuban is against kennelling but I don’t see anything wrong with it if the facility is properly run, so off to the computer I went in search of the best boarding spa around for our most adorable babies.  After two days of diligent searching, followed by emails and phone calls, I found, what I felt to be, an amazing facility and made a reservation.  When the contract arrived and I read it over, I was even more confident that I had chosen well and that my precious Luz Maria and Sr. Don Diego de la Vega would be in very capable hands. 

And then it began.  As the date of departure grew ever closer my misgivings ballooned into full blown anxiety.  What if I had made the wrong decision and it would not be the warm and welcoming environment that I envisioned.  What if Luz and Diego didn’t fit in and were ostracized, or, horrors to even think of this, what if another dog was a day care bully and attacked one of my babies!  I had based my decision largely on the fact that the facility is a doggie day care as well as boarding facility and it has a huge indoor playroom where my pups would be able to socialize with other dogs all day long.  Also, there is a lot of interaction between staff and dogs so I knew my babies would feel the human touch frequently throughout the day.  These were very important points to me when searching for the right place but what if it turned out to be the wrong place even after all my laborious background checking?   

Finally D-Day arrived and I went over the list one last time. Did I pack their favourite blankie? Did I remember to take the page long list of do’s and don’ts when it came to feeding? Were the toys already in their travel bag and would their cushions be soft enough? Oh yes, I was one frantic momma sending my babies off to camp for a week. Finally the van was loaded with all of the bags, beds and luggage and off we set.

Diego does not travel well but on this drive he calmed down immediately and did not appear to have any anxiety. This was a clear sign that things would be well with my pups in our absence and I too calmed down. We were greeted by a welcoming committee of one human and two dogs and neither Luz nor Diego appeared too anxious by new surroundings, smells or canines. We left immediately, not wishing to embarass ourselves by shedding tears, and within hours we were on the beautiful island of Cuba where the beaches stretch for miles and the mojitoes are amazing. I thought of my pups often while enjoying sun, sand and warm temperatures and my inner self told me that they were happy. And boy were they happy!! Diego made friends with a huge yellow lab and Luz, well Luz was Luz, observing all and playing mother hen to Diego when necessary. When we picked them up we were greeted by two very happy dogs and we were shown photos and a video of the week they had while at the puppy palace.

Will I worry about leaving them again? Of course I will, but I have found an amzing facility where my babies are well looked after and socialized and I couldn’t be happier because the Cuban is already planning a return trip to Cuba next year.

The Arrival of Spring

Spring has finally arrived in my neck of the woods and the birds are singing in harmony.  One of my greatest joys in my rural location is the ever present spectacle of nature at her finest.  I am surrounded by little critters such as porcupines, raccoons, and skunks, on up to the larger deer, moose and the occasional bear.  Granted, I have to go deeper into the woods to see moose or bear, but they are part of the community in which I live. 

And then there are the birds.  This is mating season and the birdsong is a joy to the ears.  The variety in song is limitless and fills the air with the most beautiful melodies.  We have the same birds returning year after year and we wait in anticipation for the first sight of robins, finches and my favourites, the hummingbirds.  We feed our feathered friends and they, in return, assist us by providing insect control. 

We are also seeing an explosion in the population of the majestic bald eagle.  In past years I have often seen them circling high in the sky above me and I love watching them ride the air currents.  Twice in the past few weeks however, an eagle has flown in very close proximity to my vehicle as I have been driving, on one occasion so close that I could see its eye and even the nostril on its beak.  I have never been so close to an eagle in the wild before and it thrilled me to know that an animal as majestic as the eagle, once on the brink of extinction, has made such an incredible comeback.   

The other wonderful thing about spring is that my pups can be outside on the back deck for longer periods, enjoying fresh air, warmer temperatures and the sights and sounds of nature.  It has been a long time coming and they want to enjoy every minute of it. 

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Communication

The way in which we communicate with our pets is well worth documenting and a story came to mind as I was driving Luz to the spa for her bi-monthly grooming and all round pampering session.  Luz has always demonstrated her intelligence and sometimes uses unusual methods to tell me what she wants.  The paw scratch at the door is an easy hint to inform me that it’s time to let her out to take care of business, but her fixation on an object that is not a play toy, often puzzles me until I finally distract her with a toy of a similar shape as the object which has drawn her intense scrutiny.  Sometimes, when I look into her eyes, I feel as if she is  trying to communicate with me telepathically, willing me to understand her.

Luz has taught me much about dog language, and the various methods of communication, but perhaps the greatest lesson occurred when she was a puppy and I was the idiot student.   Pre Diego, my second Havanese, my morning routine was always the same; roll out of bed, take Luz out for her morning business, coffee (for me), breakfast (for Luz) and a few hours of computer time (also for me, she’s not that smart).  On the morning in question I was deeply engrossed in composing emails and had Luz on full ignore mode, even though she kept trying to get my attention by pawing at my legs.  A few minutes later I heard her barking in the bathroom and decided to investigate.  Luz was barking at the toilet, and I, the idiot student, thought she wanted me to flush it so she could watch the water escape and refill the bowl.  I even flushed it twice, thinking that would really make her day, and returned to my computer.  Undeterred in her mission to teach me, several minutes later Luz trotted into the computer room and dropped her empty water bowl at my feet, but again I ignored her because she often played with her water bowl.  Remember, I did say that I was the idiot student in this comedy.

Poor Luz, by now she must have thought she had the dumbest owner on the planet but did she give up on me?  No sir, she scooted to the kitchen and resumed barking.  As her barking intensified and she began to leap in front of the sink I finally clued in to what my sweet and very patience little diva dog had been trying to tell me.  Feeling totally stupid at not understanding the very clear message Luz had been trying to communicate, I retrieved her water bowl, filled it and placed it at her feet.  I swear the look she gave me before she lapped the cool refreshment was one of utter disbelief.  How could she, Luz Maria, the diva with superior intelligence, be  stuck with such an inept human companion with no idea of dog speak?

That was four years ago and I’m happy to report that under her excellent tutelage Luz has groomed me into a knowledgeable and  understanding human.  Hats off to my adorable canine teacher with outstanding communication skills.

Winter Woes and Bitter Cold

015The temperatures have been in the frigid range for the past five days and my pups and I are beginning to go stir crazy.  With the exception of the extremely brief outdoor trips to take care of business we have been housebound all week and are beginning to get on one another’s nerves.   For example, just yesterday Luz Maria was taking a well deserved nap on the sofa, a diva needs her beauty sleep, when Diego decided to use her as a springboard to catapult himself onto a nearby chair.  Had I not witnessed it I never would have believed it, and as the scenario played out before my very eyes I could not help but wonder if being housebound was at the root of the extra mischievous behaviour of my most adorable Diego de la Vega.

With that thought firmly in mind I decided to wrap myself and my pups up well against the extreme temps and venture out to have some fun in the sun regardless of the bitterly cold wind.  It was definitely a good plan, but by the time I had the jackets on both dogs and I looked like I was imitating the Michelin Man in my puffy red jacket, I was pooped and ready to call off the whole exercise.  Then I looked at the two pair of pleading brown eyes and knew I had to suck it up and take my two pups outside for a romp.

Luz hit the ramp running with Diego in hot pursuit.  They raced to the back yard and did the Puppy 500 in nanoseconds.  They were flying with their paws barely touching the ground, which was just as well, because with a wind chill of – 27 the ground was pretty damn cold on their tender puppy pads.  They jumped on one another, had a mock battle, played tag, and finally, with one last run around the circuit, they headed for the front door and warmth.

As I stood there in the bitter cold, watching, laughing and enjoying the moment, I felt warmed by the joy and unconditional love that my two little dogs bring into my life each and every day and I asked myself, what’s braving a few minutes of freezing cold when the result is so heart warming?

Fetch vs. Tug of War

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Don Diego de la Vega & Luz Maria

Anyone who knows me or follows my blog also knows that Luz Maria is perfect.  She does however, have one teensie tiny problem that I feel compelled to divulge at this time.  Luz does not fetch.  She even has a T-shirt with the logo, Diva’s Don’t Fetch, to prove it.  She will run after a toy that has been thrown for her amusement, but, once she has the toy in the firm grip of her tightly clenched jaw she will, under no circumstances, give up the toy.

It has always been a great disappointment to me that my darling little diva dog will not take part in this age old ritual of bonding.  That is until the arrival of  Don Diego de la Vega. This six pound bundle of energy fetches the toy, brings it back and gives it up, all without any instruction on my part.  Diego was born to fetch and he likes nothing more than to race up and down the hall in pursuit of a throw toy or ball and I am only too happy to oblige. That is until Luz Maria decided to join in the game and turn it into tug of war with Diego.

Yes my friends, the diva awoke, reared its ugly head and screamed for attention.  No longer was Diva Luz content to sit on the sidelines and watch Diego have solo playtime with mommy.  How dare Diego claim all the attention and verbal praises while Diva Luz was ignored?  This was totally unacceptable and Luz plunged into the game of fetch with a will and a mission to destroy.

Diego proved to be a worthy adversary and the the game of tug of war began.  Luz raced to the rope toy at top speed but Diego was hot on her heels and had agility on his side because just as the toy was about to hit the floor Diego did a half turn in the air and grabbed it.  Luz latched onto a piece of it and the game was on.  Luz outweighs Diego by ten pounds so has more pull power but Diego was not giving up easily and the two dogs tugged and pulled their way down the hall ending up on their doggie bed.

It was there that Luz quelled the diva within and opened her jaws to let Diego take complete ownership of the prize. Was I proud of my diva dog?  You bet!!

Did I mention that Luz Maria is perfect?

Welcome Addition

One would think that I would be satisfied with the relationship I share with my little diva dog, Luz Maria.  Being of sound mind, but not so sound body, I should be totally happy with the bond that exists between Luz and me, but I’m not.  I have a perfect dog yet I want more.  What is wrong with me?!!

As the winter months crept by I pondered the question of  what to do to add a bit of spice to our almost perfect daily routine.  Many ideas came to mind until I hit upon the solution and the answer was as plain as the nose on a puppy dog’s face.  That’s right, I adopted a second Havanese puppy, this time a male, and already Diego has enriched our lives with an extra daily dose of  joy and laughter.

His full name is Don Diego de la Vega, a.k.a. El Zorro, and the credit for this rather clever moniker goes to one of my close friends.  As a child I was an avid fan of the Zorro television program starring Guy Williams, so as soon as this name was suggested I knew it was the correct choice.  Diego is already living up to the El Zorro side of the name by stealing Luz Maria’s food and treats, and by stealing the toys right out of her mouth.  Luz seldom protests over Diego’s mischievous behaviour, instead urging him to run the Puppy 500 throughout the house or join in a game of doggie hide and seek.  Her acceptance of Diego was almost immediate and he is proving to be a wonderful playmate for Luz.

And so it was that our family expanded to include a tiny black and white terror who has stolen our hearts as well as everything belonging to Luz Maria. : )

Luz Maria & Don Diego de la Vega

The Devil Wears Black!!

We have great neighbours.  They are there if we need them but otherwise never interfere, that is until yesterday.  To be truthful,  it wasn’t our neighbours who caused the upset in my perfect space, rather, it was their 20 year old son who no longer lives at home.  At least I hope he no longer lives there and hasn’t moved back into the nest.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good kid, but he owns a rather aggressive black dog who trespassed onto my property yesterday afternoon. 

This is how the story unfolded.  I was just finishing my delightful lunch of couscous and roasted chicken breast when Luz began her “get off my property” bark.  Luz was emitting her low and get out of my face bark from her favourite footstool which has been strategically placed directly in front of the living room picture window, thus allowing Luz the freedom to observe her domain in comfortable luxury.  I proceeded to the window to see what was causing my little Luz Maria to escalate in her barking frenzy and discovered the culprit,  The Black Demon Dog that belongs to The Son.  Demon Dog was merrily cocking his leg in all of Luz’s favourite spots, trying to obliterate her smell with his own.  To make matters worse, Demon Dog then decided to have a dump right in the middle of my front yard.  I pounded on the window and he totally ignored me so I flung open the front door and charged outside.

What happened next is a blur and I challenge any mother to find me guilty of my actions.  I was like a momma bear defending my cub, or in my case, my precious Luz Maria’s toilet spots.  How dare this Black Demon defile and desecrate my lawn with his urine and feces!!  This was war and I was ready to meet the enemy full on.   I yelled and Demon Dog turned to face me, snarling and barking in an ominious way.  Yes, the devil was practically salivating as he eyed me but did I turn tail and run for cover?  No sir!!  I got an adrenaline rush and I yelled even louder for the beast to get home.  My stance was of a true warrior queen and my alter ego Grace O’Malley would have been proud. 

I guess my fearless posture and bloodcurdling yell was enough to win the battle because, without a backward glance, the demonic beast turned tail and ran for the safety of the yard next door.  I entered my home triumphant and Luz showered me with doggie kisses.  The danger had passed and all was well once again in the Kingdom of Luz.

Need for speed!!

Luz Maria is a marvel.  She can accelerate from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye.  I have always noted that her speed is impressive, but following her  gold medal performance of yesterday, there is absolutely no doubt that she is a sprinter with olympic ability.  I am sure that her performance will go down in the annals of dog history and be passed from one generation to the next.  This is how the story unfolded.

Luz and I were on the deck, relaxing on the swing and enjoying the sun.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Lucky the Squirrel, Luz’s sworn arch nemesis, make his stealthy approach to the seed strewn area beneath the bird feeder, aka, squirrel paradise.  Actually we have dubbed this particular squirrel a name that rhymes with Lucky and begins with the letter F, but I want to keep this blog wholesome.  It appeared that this was indeed Lucky’s day because, once achieving his goal, he still went undetected by the ever-present Luz patrol, and settled in for a mid-afternoon snack.

He may have been successful at staying under the radar had it not been for the noisy landing of a family of mourning doves.  Instantly Luz was on the alert and within nanoseconds picked up the scent of Lucky.  She leapt from the swing and took up her aggressive stance at the edge of the deck.  She had just begun her growl and back claws digging into the wooden deck planks routine when the Cuban opened the front door, thus allowing Luz a tiny window of opportunity to get at her prey.  Did she hesitate?  Hell no, Luz was peeling out that front door and racing to the back yard as fast as her stubby legs would carry her.

Luz was a blur as she came into and disappeared from my line of sight.  The next thing I see is a panic stricken squirrel, and I swear he was foaming at the mouth, racing at me on the deck.  In that instant, that will forever be etched in my memory, I felt as the matador must feel as the raging bull charges at him, and I didn’t even have a scarlet cape.   I moved, Lucky flew past and launched himself into midair.  Did I forget to mention that my deck is fifteen feet off the ground?  That squirrel took flight and didn’t land till he was a good twenty feet away from the launch pad.  He was gone in an instant and up a tree with Luz following his every movement from the ground.  She was hot on his trail as he blazed up the tree trunk and he narrowly missed the jaws of death closing in on his fluffy tail.

Luz was very proud of her performance and I allowed her a victory lap before presenting her with one of her very special, best dog in the world, couldn’t have done better, treats.  Yes, I’ll say it again, Luz Maria is a marvel.  : )

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