Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cody is a gorgeous young stallion

But however gorgeous, even though he is mature in years, the breeding process does not always "come naturally".
Inexperienced stallions can be confused, sometimes difficult, but Cody started the summer teasing mares with great enthusiasm, focusing nicely. He was very vocal, touching noses, squealing and bellowing with great interest and nibbling necks through the corral rails.

Amarilla, the first mare he was to breed, was showing strongly in heat, was a herd mare with live cover experience, so I decided the best option was live cover with the mare controlling the situation. During teasing she sidled up to the fence with no reluctance, obviously thinking he was, in fact, a very handsome young man. I wrapped the tail, moved her back from the gate and opened the gate, expecting Cody to charge in to the mare.

Oops! First little hitch in the program. Cody gets one jump through the gate, looks at the mare … and stops to sniff the ground where the mare has been. Amarilla and I are both looking at him with surprise as he completely ignores her to step to the next interesting spot. Sighing, I step forward and urge him away from interesting spots on the ground toward her.

Oh! He trots to her side, arches his neck and bellows. She cuddles up beside him, he keeps stepping forward to sniff her ears, she keeps stepping forward to present the proper rear view. This little “dance” goes on for several minutes until she manages to block him in a corner of the corral, bump him in the chest with her rump and instinct kicks in. Up he goes!

Well, sort of. He now has both front legs over her back and a very confused look on his face. She scoots out from under him. He tries again and ends up with one leg around her neck. Again, Amarilla slides away and presents the correct end. After several more tries, success! One leg on each side and facing forward! Not very steady but Amarilla is getting backed up under him and he's trying for the connection, at least.

Again, several tries, but finally the connection is made! Enthusiastic thrusting, everything is working well … but I can see that in his enthusiasm one small facet of this process is being ignored. He needs to stay balanced and hang on with the front legs. Three strong thrusts and …. oops!

The shoulders go down, the off foreleg slides over the back, the hind feet kick up sideways into the air and the ribcage hits the dirt flat, an audible thump with an explosion of dust around the black body. For an instant four black legs wave aimlessly in the air, reminding me hilariously of a beetle turned on his back.

I'm now hanging onto the corral rail, laughing, while Amarilla, having put up with all this juvenile scrambling, turns her head to look at her hapless lover. The look on her expressive face is one of complete disgust and scorn … then she snorts!

At that point, I completely lose it. Abandoning the corral rail, I wrap both arms around my aching ribs and slide down to sit in the dirt of the corral, laughing until the tears are rolling down my cheeks. Although the next attempt was successful, I'm sure I will never look at the foal resulting from this breeding without giggling.

Naming the foal should be a challenge!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Horses of Spain

My first husband was posted to the Air Force base in Madrid, Spain and the nearly five years I lived there were incredible. I loved Spain ... the country, the people and the horses!

Oh, the HORSES!

Having grown up on the little Quarter Horse type working cow horses of the west, the Andalusians put stars in my eyes from the first day I saw one. They were my introduction to a different way to ride.
Unfortunately, nearly all of the photos taken in Spain were lost and I have not found any of the incredible gray gelding I owned while I was there. By a strange quirk, recently found two slides that were taken of me on my instructor's "school horse", and got photos made from those slides. Not great detail, but will at least suggest the general type of horse and the type of equipment.
The bridle is a straight shanked curb, with a "moscera" on the browband, something I had never seen before, a double row of long leather strands which, when a horse was walking properly, would brush back and forth across the face. This served two purposes, brushing the flies from the horse's face, plus it provided the rider/trainer with an indication of correct gait. If the animal was not walking with the proper cadence the moscera would not flick back and forth and the rider would not see the ends as they swept back and forth.
The basic saddle most reminded me of the Austrailian saddles, they had a squared pommel, with no horn and a curved cantle, also squared at the top. This was covered by a heavy sheepskin pad over the seat, which came down along the sides of the horse to about the rider's knee level. The metal stirrups were on a English style stirrup leather, but the stirrup itself was very different, a solid side, triangular, down to the foot plate, which was solid and roughly 6" long. You can see the crupper which helped hold the saddle in place as well as a clearer view of the sheepskin pad in the this photo.
My first instructor was Spanish and my first lessons were in the traditional Spanish style, primarily developed for work on the fighting bull ranches and in the bull rings themselves. The rejoneadors of Spain are the mounted bull fighters and their only partner in the ring is the horse on which they are mounted. I never developed a fondness for the usual bullfights, where the actual work with the bull is done on foot, but the ballet of the rejoneadors never ceased to thrill me. The horses were incredible, the rejoneadors themselves skilled and daring and the choreagraphy of the duel between the bull and the horse and rider was never dull. The photo below will give you an idea of how closely both rider and horse are to the bull during the passes. It looks as if they cannot possibly avoid injury, but I never saw more than minor scratches in any of the fights I saw personally.
I was once priviledged to see Angel Peralta, then in his 20s, who became one of the premiere rejoneadors of his generation. It was a display of horsemanship I will never forget. Several horses are used during a fight and on one, a black mare, he made his first passes, then removed the bridle. The next series of passes were made with the mare working only from weight and leg cues.

Not content with that, he then moved the mare to the center of the ring, broke the last pair of banderillas in half, leaving him with 18" banderillas, which he then proceeded to plant on the next pass across the bull's charge. A truly incredible demonstration of communication between horse and rider which brought many of the spectators to their feet with cheers.

I will always have a deep love and respect for the incredible Andalusian horses I was so priviledged to see and to ride during my years in Spain.

Friday, October 9, 2009


If I was given the opportunity to clone just one of the many wonderful Rottweilers I've had in my life, it would have to be Hummel. He was the epitome of the working Rottweiler, intelligent, attentive, quick to respond. He had been imported from Germany into Canada and I purchased him when he was not quite 2 years old. He had been trained as a working security dog and was intended as a "dual purpose" Rottweiler, a stud dog for my American linebred show and obediance breeding program and a working dog for my husband.

He was very different from my American dogs, incredibly well trained, but had absolutely no idea what "play" was. It took me close to six months to teach him that he could "chase" a ball ... he didn't have to sit until he was given the order to fetch and he didn't have to return it instantly to my hand. The more relaxed situation confused him for months, but eventually he decided that it was obviously not going to change, but that I was going to be "his person", perhaps because he thought I was so careless I needed protection.

He did learn to play, finally, and one of his favorite companions was a bitch from one of my first homebred litters that we called Catty. They both loved the winters and snow and would play for hours, though it did sound and look serious. One of my favorite photos was taken as they were playing in a snowdrift the second winter he was with us.
He was selectively sensible about his duties, although we did have occasional discussions about what required his protection and what did not. He often travelled with me and he was my shadow at home. He would work for my husband but if he gave him an order when I was present, he would look at me and I would have to repeat the command.

My husband was a police officer and did competition shooting, so often had handguns in the house. Hummel was not comfortable with him having one in his hand, stayed between us and would eventually "grumble" about the situation. On the other hand, I could carry my revolver into the house and he wouldn't even look up.

He was never shown, thanks to an argument with one of the horses, which left him missing lower front teeth. He absolutely never believed I should be allowed to lead one of those huge beasts around, they needed to be somewhere behind fences and even after years of travelling with me hauling horses, never trusted them.

His sons and daughters, however, proved that my feeling about his qualities as a sire were correct, as he produced many winning Rottweilers for my kennel, including youngsters that were AKC champions, obediance title holders, won or placed at Rottweiler specialties and several that went on to be rated top-10 nationally through AKC.

I did this portrait of him as an older dog, after he was starting to feel the effects of arthritis during the northern winters. He would sneak into the bedroom and nap on the heated waterbed when I was out doing chores even though he knew it was not something he was supposed to do.

"Who's been sleeping in my bed?" was always my first comment when I caught him ... and he always responded with this very typical Rottweiler expression, flattened ears and the "oops ... must have been sleepwalking again" look.
He has been gone more than 15 years now and I still look at his portrait, remember the love he gave so whole-heartedly, the sense of security I always had when he was with me ... and find a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I have had one or more dogs almost all of my life, except for the few years I was a city dweller. A friend introduced me to dog shows in the early 70s and I started looking for "my" breed a year or two later. All puppies are adorable, but I was lost the minute I picked up my first Rottweiler puppy.
My first puppy came from Arizona, the second came from the Merrymoore Kennels in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1976, and my Rottweiler experience began, a love affair that lasted for more than 20 years. My last homebred litter was whelped in 1991, shortly after my mother died and my father came to live with me. I moved from Montana to Kentucky in 1998 with the horses and my last two Rotts. The following year, my last homebred dog died of cancer and the year after that I lost Heidi.

My first show dog undoubtedly gave me an unrealistic view of the show dog world in some respects. Merrymoore's Ric-O-Shay got his AKC championship as well as his AKC obediance title and went on to be shown as a champion and was in the top-10 standings nationally for two years, with very limited showing. Not only was he a superlative showdog, but was an incredible ambassador for what was then a comparatively rare breed.
My breeding program was primarily based on Rottweilers from the Merrymoore Kennel in Georgia and my plan was to have several linebred bitches to establish a foundation, then bring in a dog from completely different lines. The outcross was a German import, making the bloodlines as much different as possible, with a more compact body, which I wanted and an extreme head. and "Hummel" became my personal companion.

He was a trained working security dog when I purchased him at just under two years old, intended originally as my husband's working dog, but he decided I was "his person" and he because my personal companion. He produced a number of outstanding show dogs as well as many working police dogs and several search and rescue dogs.
Hummel himself was never shown, thanks to an early introduction to horses, which left him with several missing teeth, but his offspring certainly made their mark in the show and working world, particularly with his daughters. One daughter finished her championship at Westminster by taking Winner's Bitch from the open class and went on to go Best Opposite the following year as a competing champion. Another daughter won or placed at both Regional and National specialties as well as being top-ten rated in the AKC national standings both as a class bitch and as a special.

His portrait and more details about him are on my art studio website:

Pennybrooke at Westminster

Elsa at the Region VI Specialty

I no longer have a Rottweiler in my home, but somehow, after so many years, it seems wrong that there is not a big black dog by my side as there was for so many years of my life.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I always wanted a pony

The only child I can ever remember envying was my cousin. She had a pony.

She not only had a pony, she had a black and white pinto pony and she got to ride it to school.
I bitterly resented the fact that all I had to ride was my mother's retired cowhorse, who was too tall for me to get on and off to open gates so I couldn't ride the 3 miles to school like Betty did. And it wasn't a PONY!

I had other horses over the years, but I never lost my desire for a pony. I was in my 50s when that dream finally came true for me ... a black Connemara Pony stallion.

Stonybrooks Curragh Kildare (Stormy) was a 4 year old when I found him, just barely started under saddle and he immediately went to a trainer in Colorado to be put in harness. From there, he went to a friend/trainer in NW Montana to go under saddle and for the next two years stayed with Pam and was shown by a young woman, Lori, in what local dressage and hunter shows were available.

He posted respectable scores at 1st level dressage in USDF shows. He even won his first open green hunter class against the "big guys", having to show against Thoroughbreds and warmbloods in the open classes. He never belived he was only 13.3 hands, he was convinced he was 10 feet tall and bulletproof.

He was one of the best trained animals I ever owned. If I wanted to ride to enjoy myself, it was Stormy that got saddled. I rode him on trails and up in the mountains, I rode him after cattle. He loved having a job and he was always ready to go to work.
He came with me from Montana to Kentucky. I didn't ride much once I got here, after thousands of unfenced acres in the Montana mountains, 17 acres on a hill was not really "riding". Stormy adjusted to the changes, like the gentleman he always was, happy to show off and pose for anyone who came to look at him and his offspring for the next 10 years. He produced a number of talented offspring and was one of the foundations of my sportpony breeding program as well as a personal companion and the "dream pony" of my life. When downsizing became a necessity due to age and old injuries, Stormy stayed. He was older, perhaps wiser, but never lost his sense of mischief.

The best photos I have of him were taken several years ago, in his "old age" ... at eighteen ... still showing the energy and charisma he displayed all of his life.

Stormy, thank you for all of the wonderful years you gave to me. You left on your journey across the for the Rainbow Bridge before I was ready for you to go. There are still times I wake at daylight, listening for you rattling your grain tub.

If there is any justice anywhere you are learning to use the wings you always believed should be there.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Back to basics ... draft horses

I have always been intrigued by draft horses. One of my earliest memories, when we were still living in a small town, is of watching coal being unloaded at the neighbor's from a wagon pulled by a team of big black draft horses.

When we moved out to the ranch, most of the ranch work was still being done with a team of draft horses. We raised all of our own hay for 80 to 100 head of cattle and since there was no irrigation, all of the hay meadows were along the creek that ran through the home place. My grandfather did all of the mowing as there were lots of little bends of the creek and banks to watch for and he knew every foot of the ground like the back of his hand. Once the mowing was done, the hay was raked into winrows and it was ready to start stacking. It was my grandmother that drove the team to the buckrake while my father and grandfather stacked, not an easy task, as the seat for the buckrake was over a single wheel in the rear, the horses were separated by the running gear of the buckrake and the sweep was ahead of the horses, the hay pushed ahead of them, so it could be loaded onto the overshot stacker to be thrown up onto the haystack.

Then all winter that same team hauled the bobsled with a hayrack from the stackyard to the feed ground to feed cattle, sometimes in blizzards and 3-foot snowdrifts and at temperatures that could reach well below zero. I loved to go feed, as once we were on the feedground, I got to hold the reins and "drive" while Dad and Grandpa pitched hay off to the cattle. I held those reins in a death grip and listened for every word from my grandfather, thinking I was really helping, but of course the horses knew exactly where to go and what to do and were reacting to my grandfather's directions, not to anything I was doing.

When my children were young, we had a small black pony that was trained to drive to the cart and we drove quite often. For several years the kids' birthday parties were quite the neighborhood attraction because we always had pony cart rides for everyone.

That was my last real experience with a driving horse or pony until recently. After the move to Kentucky, it was obvious that a lot could be done on this small, hilly, wooded acreage with a draft horse that absolutely could not be done any other way. I didn't feel I'd had enough experience with driving horses to be able to train a draft horse but there are several Amish communities in the area where all of the field work is done with horses ... and the search was on.

I first "met" Dolly when she was responsible for taking the owner's daughter to the church to be married. She was trained to ride and to drive single and double and had done just about everything that can be done with a small draft horse. She was exactly what I'd been looking for.

That winter was particularly difficult, unusually wet and warm, so the mud just got deeper and deeper around the barn, corrals and up in the pastures. We were tearing up the pastures trying to get in with hay for the horses, so we made what we term the "mud toboggan" for Dolly and started feeding with her. It isn't nearly as fancy as her buggy was but she seems not to mind the come-down in status.

She is invaluable for snaking logs from the "tree pastures" down through timber to the area where we cut our winter wood supply. When we start haying the horses in the fall, she comes in on a full time basis, is hitched to the mud toboggan morning and evening and hauls loads of hay to the pasture horses. She has been used to harrow the pastures and this coming year I plan to design a packsaddle arrangement that will hold weed sprayers so I can get back along the fences and keep the briars and weeds down. With so much rain and such heavy vegetation, on the rough ground you cannot get into those areas with a tractor and it is just getting too much for my 60-plus year old body to carry the sprayers and fight through the briars to do it on foot.

She puts up with being driven by a very inexperienced "teamster" ... handling being driven without blinders with perfect aplomb. If I turn too sharp and she ends up stepping over one of the traces she stops and waits for me to sort things out, though the look she gives me is definitely one of long-suffering patience. I'm sure she thinks I am very difficult to train!

She is placidly willing to give visiting non-riders a taste of what it is like to ride a horse and she is gentle and careful with any visiting child. She is always the one who poses for pictures for everyone, though as a model, she does expect payment ... grain is best but a handful of green grass will be accepted.

She can be picketed out on a line and is a wonderful lawnmower and edge trimmer so saves many hours of lawnmowing, which I hate. I have a definte aversion to loud, noisy machinery which may explain some of my attraction to draft animals. From Dolly's point of view, she obviously much prefers her summer work schedule to the winter schedule.

In other words, Dolly is the ideal small farm draft horse for the inexperienced teamster, quiet, patient, willing, very well trained and not inclined to take advantage of inexperience. We very often tell visitors that she will be the absolute last horse or pony to leave this farm ... and will go only when we are no longer able to be here. The farm wouldn't run without her.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Requiem for Black Jack

I have been blessed to have had a life filled with wonderful dog companions, from my first ... an Australian Shepherd that played hide and seek with me as a child, many outstanding Rottweilers that were wonderful show dogs and working dogs, to my current "little brown terrierist" who runs the household with an iron paw and consents to be a lapdog in the evenings in front of the wood fire.

But one I will always remember with tremendous affection and gratitude was Black Jack ... a true poster child for the abandoned, difficult to adopt "big black mutt". He was sitting in a snowbank by the side of the road on my way home to the ranch in the middle of a Montana winter, maybe 6 or 8 weeks old. I could not drive past.

A year later, he moved with me from Montana to Kentucky and settled in with great delight ... a born redneck at heart. He rode on the tractor up to the fields, was fascinated by the crawdad holes around the springs and never met a stranger. He learned who was supposed to be where and while he would do the usual "farm guarding" barking at strange vehicles, wandering coons and possums and the occasional stray dog or cat, he also had a "something's wrong out here" bark. It was very distinctive and he would not stop. On several occasions this announced horses that had gone through fences and were out and on at least 4 occasions his alert probably saved a horse from serious injury or death. We have portable panels for corrals and stalls and several times he alerted us that there was a horse tangled in a panel. The "unadoptable mutt" saved us losses of thousands of dollars.

You could believe he knew he had been rescued from a certain, unpleasant early death and was grateful for every day of his life after that. He was always delighted to see you in the morning. He was overjoyed at every little treat or "extra". Dinner leftovers were greeted with bounces and whirling, with the tail practically wagging the dog. Fresh hay in the house was tossed and pawed, with quick trips back out to wag and bounce, to make sure you knew he was just delighted with it. He greeted every little treat with an attitude that seemed to say "Mine? All mine? Really? I was a good dog?"

His big introduction to Kentucky was at a wedding held here at the farm, where he discovered a local product, Red Dog beer. We weren't even aware that Jack was quietly retrieving empty beer cans until fairly late in the afternoon. One of the boys suddenly noticed the half empty beer can beside his chair was no longer there to hand and was now completely empty. Sprawled beside the now-empty beer can, chin on the porch deck, Jack was the epitome of "Oops, maybe that wasn't such a good idea" with the Red Dog can beside his paw. For the rest of my life, that is going to be the first image in my mind's eye when I think of Jack.

On his last day he been delighted to be able to announce the UPS truck and the meter reader both with his "company coming" bark and "tail wagging the dog" wags. There was leftover spaghetti that evening, which he loved, so I walked out with the "Jack snack" and frowned when I realized he wasn't already in front of his house, waiting, as he normally was when he heard the house door open.


He was lying on his side in his house, as if he'd just fallen asleep, only it was the sleep from which he would never wake. He departed this life quietly and peacefully, as easily as you could hope for, no long debilitating illness, no visits to the vet. He did his job efficiently and ebulliently as always that day, as he had for 10 years, and then crossed the Rainbow Bridge as he fell asleep, knowing he had once again been helpful and earned his keep.

Jack, your memory will always remain bright and when we meet over the Rainbow Bridge, I won't scold if you jump up with muddy feet again.