The recently past Veterans’ Day weekend had a few memorable markers, a one year mark since the day my daddy died. 11/11/11 was also was the date our Yorkie Gracie was born making her now one year old, and, there was a big birthday for Heidi, my geriatric German Shepherd, this time her 10th. Despite the number, Heidi’s attitude is still good even though she aches and can’t move with the lightening strike she used to be able to do. Most of her teeth are broken from years of gnawing on large tree limbs that she used to carry around until it was time to chew them into shreds.
Heidi and Gracie have formed an interesting relationship since Gracie joined the pack with the Shepherd teaching the ways of the farm to the tiny pooch, and together they rule the farm yard. Heidi has taught Gracie about house training, staying on the front porch when the people leave the house, and untold things needed to survive on this farm on the edge of a swamp and, Gracie has victoriously made it to this first year marker. I had my doubts at first whether her size and or her attitude would make her a target for the many dangers out here but their co-allegiance seems to be working, and so far, Gracie has avoided being sat upon by the grand baby Margaret, stepped on by a hoof, picked up by an owl, or swallowed by a snake. These are good things.
Over her many years Heidi has seen the coming and going of many dogs who have shared the farm, some she has shared with more peacefully than with others, (the very stupid provocateurs were not suffered lightly.) Stoic as a statue she has remained a passive sentry and only once did she act upon feel a need to rise to defend me from a person.
I had driven with her, well after dark, to the airport to pick up my friend and long time dressage instructor, Jeff for the next days’ clinic. Heidi was in the back seat behind the tinted windows, sitting up watching the parade of folks coming and going. I was slowing down to see if I could find Jeff in the crowd, when I noticed the “Barney” airport officer start towards my truck. I had the window partially down and turned to see what he had to say. Instead of quietly telling me that I had to keep moving, which I already knew, he surprisingly blew up in my face and angrily screamed and gestured stuff at me. Suddenly beside my face and reaching out the window from the back seat was a very big set of barking and very angry teeth intent on making that man stop his verbal attack on me.
If the window had been fully open I do think she would have been out of there and would have taken him down. The scared fellow tripped falling backwards and mumbled something about not having seen my dog, like that might have made a difference in his behavior. I just told him he didn’t need to have been quite so rude, and drove on. Upon my next lap around the airport terminal there were no patrol officers, no guys to get luggage, there was just Jeff standing there without a clue as to what had just happened and why the terminal was now a ghost town.
The past four days have been intense, again another dressage clinic with Jeff. I figured that Heidi has been a witness to these twice a year clinics for all of her ten years, making this past one her twentieth or so and she could probably ride a horse quite nicely by now, if she magically morphed into a human and chose to give it a try. Gracie remained on a leash through the clinic as this was her first and she was very interested in all the nifty smells that rolled in on the trailer tires bringing the visiting horses and their riders. We are still working on that part of survival training.
Anyone who has put on a riding clinic knows the hard work and out on a limb commitment it takes to put one on successfully. The list of things to do before the clinic, seems to be endless, and after all the years of hosting it hasn’t gotten any shorter. The days of the clinic itself, there are so many factors that have to go right. The weather has to be nice, the horses have to behave, the people have to get along or act like it, and fortunately, this one went as well as any could. There was no champagne bought for the group from any rider getting bucked off, we all ate very yummy food that everybody pitched in and brought. Dinners in town were great too. No one cried, and all the horses went so well., oh and we all learned a lot. All in all well worth the effort.
There have been some special moments in the history of our group of riders. There was one lady who came for a first time to ride with Jeff, who began crying at the beginning of her lesson when he asked her a few questions about her experience. Totally benign in his intent to know more about her level of riding, it must have sparked a nerve, she left the ring weeping with no answer leaving us all sitting there with our mouths open. She also left her traveling companion and her horse behind which was quite an inconvenience for the other stranded lady.
Many have been bucked off over the years but the most spectacular was not too long ago. A lady on a young recently started horse came in the arena and it was easy to see the horse had an attitude of really not wanting to be there. After a few minutes of tolerating the situation, the horse ducked its head and began a series of bucks that few cowboys could sit. The rider was hanging on until the beast ran away, straight across the arena, and then once close to the fence, at full gallop dropped its shoulder and gave the last heave ho, slinging this person head first towards the wire mesh fencing.
Jeff, the few riders who were still there, and I were watching this unfolding event like it was going in slow motion, and helpless to help this poor rider avoid what was coming. Her head hit straight into the fence like an arrow shot from a bow, and she then bounced back towards the horse faster than she had gone into it. Finally her body became one with the ground and she lay there while the idiot horse ran over to a corner and stood and cocked a hind leg.
For some unknown reason, Jeff and I were in uncontrollable giggles, the nervous "know you are not supposed to be laughing" at someone’s bad luck and possible injury, but her hitting that fence the way she did and bouncing back was simply hilarious. It would have made a great YouTube video. The good news was that the fence had been a good catch for the body in motion and the soft sand that she landed on softened her fall and no injury was had. Seeing it was the last day of that clinic she luckily avoided the penalty of having to buy everyone a round of champagne at dinner since all were heading home, too bad for the rest of us.
The totally trashed barn has now been cleaned back up, the stalls cleaned and re-fluffed, my horses and I have taken the day off to ponder the teachings of Jeff and enjoy a day of some rest. Worth the effort for sure, I always look forward to the next time, but never know if there will be one. As I watched the last trailer take the last rider home yesterday, I felt my shoulders drop a notch like the weight had lifted and felt the relief of working so hard for something to work out well when so much could have gone wrong. The evening’s martinis went down just fine, and I slept well too, I think. Tomorrow I will ride again and see what I remember of it all.