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Posts Tagged ‘animals’


King7King is the closest I’m likely to come to having my own horse.  Though I’ve always craved the special relationship between horse and human, my lifestyle isn’t suited to the responsibility of owning that majestic animal.  Days are busy and, because of career choices, my husband and I have moved a lot over the years.  So early on we decided to have no kids and no horses.

As a child I rode with my father along the Wissahickon near Philadelphia.  He rented our horses and later treated me to lessons to gain confidence on the animal I loved but was intimidated by.  When I started earning a living I continued those lessons, progressing to an ‘advanced’ beginner – able to trot, canter and jump small fences riding English saddle.  But I worked constantly and had only weekends to practice on the variety of horses designated for lessons.  There were favorites, of course, but because I didn’t own anybody I couldn’t always have my choice.  Then came King.

King3Driving around my newly relocated town one Sunday I happened on a barn and impulsively pulled into the driveway to explore.  The familiar, delicious smell of horse and hay greeted my senses.  So did the proprietor who wondered why I was walking around her facility.  Minutes later she introduced me to King, a handsome bay colored Arabian with a gorgeous, attentive face and warm, trusting brown eyes.  I fell in love.  And we arranged for me to lease King and ride him each week.

Sundays were designated King days for me and they were sacrosanct.  I looked forward to opening the barn door, turning on the lights and hearing King whinny his hello from the other end of the stable.  It was usually just he and I at the farm and he knew who was approaching; he’d been waiting.  Our ritual started with grooming as I led him out of his stall to the cross ties, smiling while he would strut – head held high, tail twitching – bragging to the others that he was getting groomed, not they.  Then he’d get playful, bending his neck around to nibble on my shoulder – or my, ahem, butt – while I reached down to brush his legs.  He was a flirt even though he knew he had me at hello.

King6We’d run through gait and direction exercises in the arena – work on our trot and canter, move left, right and practice figure eights.  Occasionally he’d act silly, frightened to death by a new weed that had sprouted, certain it would gobble him alive until he went to sniff to determine he was safe.

Each Sunday I’d arrive at the barn frazzled from a long, hectic week and within minutes of burying my nose in his neck and looking into his eyes, the tension would lift from my shoulders to be replaced by the sheer joy of communing with King.  We belonged to each other, there was no doubt in our minds.

King and I spent four years of Sundays together, until I quit my job and took a months’ long cross-country trip with my husband.  We lost track of each other until four years ago when serendipity once again brought us together through Horse Haven of Tennessee.  Turns out that this horse rescue was now located in King’s barn and when I signed on to volunteer there I’d get to see King each week.  Though he was now too old to ride, he was not too old to remember me, and our special bond.

King5

King8

KingFinal1Yesterday King suffered a terrible accident in the pasture.  Somehow he tore tendons in his rear left leg.  Prognosis was poor and his pain was intense.  At age 37 he was not a candidate for surgery.  So his family made the gut wrenching decision to send him across “the rainbow bridge,” as it’s called.

King lived a most fortunate existence as a horse; he spent his whole life with one family and sired his own family who lived with him in the same barn and the same green pastures.

King&MeFinalWe got to say goodbye yesterday – me with my nose buried in his neck followed by kisses on his nose and apples to fill his belly.  He, with the familiar nibble on my shoulder and deep look into my eyes.

I love King.  I miss him already.  And in many ways he was my horse.

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Madison rolled on her back, legs splayed wide, teasing me to rub her belly.  That’s not something she usually does; she has to know we’re alone and not in danger of intrusion from her brothers and sisters.  We enjoyed our quiet 20 minutes together while she wrapped the nook of her paw around my wrist and wriggled under my tickles.  I thought she’d choke on her purrs while she wrestled my hand in sheer uninhibited pleasure.

She’s the newest addition to our four-legged family, joining us several months ago when our fostering morphed into full-time adoption.  We’ve fallen madly in love and every time she’s near I’m awed by her startling beauty and sweet temperament.  She’s a blue point Persian, my first pedigree animal and she’s nothing like the snooty elitist I imagined she’d be.  She’s just a cat that wants to be loved, groomed, fed and sheltered and reciprocates with warm affection and devotion.

In fact I find all of our animals to be appreciative of our family.  They’re all rescues of various backgrounds with unique stories of how they came to be ours.  At this writing we have 5 cats and a dog, Pogo, the first canine in my life.  Their energies are completely different from each other and so is their interaction with us.

My tickling session with Madison happened while I was collapsed on my bed after a vigorous morning at the barn.  Each Tuesday I volunteer at Horse Haven of Tennessee, an equine rescue that rehabilitates those horses that suffered abuse and neglect.  They come in starving and distrusting people and they leave hundreds of pounds heavier and ready to be ridden.  As a life long animal lover and an aspiring horse owner I choke with emotion at the difference we make in their lives.  And they know it and appreciate.

This morning, like most Tuesday mornings in September, I loved on Toby.  He’s a Tennessee Walking Horse who’s become the latest object of my horse ownership fantasy.  He’s steadily gaining weight, muscle filling in the gaps between his protruding bones.  Because I’ve been grooming him we’re forming a friendship that eventually I’ll have to break when he’s well enough to have a new home.

As I reflect on this month I realize how prominent a role animals and nature play in my life. I need both for my soul to thrive.  That’s always been true and now that I lead a self-directed life I seem to drift deeper in that direction.

Mornings are occupied with walks through my wooded neighborhood with Pogo.  His nose works overtime picking up scents of the most recent critter that’s crossed our path.  When I’m quiet and tuned in, I notice an active wildlife community.  We have box turtles, squirrels, hawks, blue heron, snakes, deer, gofers, chipmunks, fish and insects of all shapes and sizes.  The animals we occasionally see are coyote and fox.  People go to zoos to see the animals we live among.  I’ve come to realize I love the woods and if offered a choice to live near the ocean or the woods I’d choose the latter.  Everything about me calms down when I’m surrounded by wilderness.

That’s why I’ve finally decided to hike trails in the Smoky Mountains, a National Park within an hour’s drive from my house.  This month I bought a trail book and each week I grabbed a neighbor to tackle 7 – 8 mile trails rated moderate in difficulty.  They take 4 – 5 hours to complete and the scenery along the way can be breathtaking.  We pass by rock-strewn streams and rivers, gushing waterfalls, caves, wildflowers, trees of many species and nothing but mountainsides and valleys everywhere we go.   The hike, combined with the scenery clears my head, opens my heart and makes me appreciate everything about my life.  This is where I live!  I don’t have to take vacations to visit here like most everyone we pass on the trails.  The beauty of nature is unsurpassed.

Bike riding offers a similar pleasure.  Because I ride on greenways I can usually avoid traffic and allow my breathing rhythm to be influenced by the peddling.  When the distraction of cars is eliminated the bike pace becomes amplified and the world slows down or speeds up accordingly.  I see people playing in parks, walking engrossed in conversation and fellow cyclers – many of us going nowhere fast, just out to enjoy the fresh air, scenery and exercise.

As I reflect on how I spent September one thing that stands prominent is a daily realization that I’ll never get to live this month in this year again.  Kiss September, 2012 goodbye.  Perhaps this is what the exercise is really about.  That and recognizing how much living I’ve actually done.

Achievement stands out, or lack thereof.  More recurring than any other thought was whether I’d do something substantive with my days, something worth writing about and sharing.  My inclination is to share my thoughts, to turn this adventure into a writing exercise as a way to engage creatively.  So many people I know have creative outlets like painting, music, dance, jewelry making, sewing, cooking.  None of those things turn me on.  Though I may want to feel inspired by such activities, I’m not.  I used to be juiced by making television shows about those subjects and others but not so much anymore.

What is achievement about, anyway?  Does it require payment for time spent and efforts recognized?  More on that in my next “September, lived” post.

Any thoughts?

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Pogo

His dreamy eyes (I call them goo goo eyes) look at me as though he’s known me forever.  His heart bursts open with uninhibited love every time I walk through the door, jumping for joy to see me.  For years I’ve wondered what made this little dog choose me to be his mom when he had his pick of contenders.  I ask him that question repeatedly and all he does is look deep into my eyes, smile and wag his tail.

In June Pogo and I will celebrate nine years as a family.  June 9, to be exact, the day before my birthday during a fateful evening walk around the neighborhood.  I’d been hearing stories of a little brown dog that showed up, sneaking around at night devouring food left outside by sympathetic neighbors.  But he’d let no-one touch him.  Until June 9.  When we laid eyes on each other for the first time.

Then he jumped all over me like he’d been searching a lifetime for ME!  I sat down in the street and the little guy smothered me with affection, rolling upside down in my lap, covering my face with sloppy kisses.  If he could speak he’d have screamed, OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY!!!  I FOUND YOU!

Deep in my soul I think I know where Pogo came from.  Now for the back story…

More than 10 years ago my neighbors’ house burned down, the tragic result of a living room candle flame gone awry.  That fire stole much of what those people held dear — from photos to wedding presents to pets.  They lost a cat and a dog in the tragedy, rendering themselves numb and the rest of the neighborhood.

Miniature schnauzer in car, seatbelted

I was traumatized too, not only because such a horrible thing instantly wiped out a lifetime of collections for my friendly neighbors, but because their dog and I had a special bond.  Spike was my walking buddy.  He was a precious miniature Schnauzer with a giant personality and feisty spirit.  Everyday he waited for me to pass his house during my walks so he could accompany me home for hugs and treats.

Hans on St. Vrain Trail, Colorado.

He had this quirky little trot as we made our way to my house.  In the middle of a run he’d lift his back right leg and hop on the remaining three until we reached the corner.  He did this often enough to inspire me  to check into his health only to learn that the vet was as perplexed by the behavior as we were.  He never found anything wrong with that leg. It was just a “Spike thing” I suppose, a trait that endeared him to me even more.  In fact, Nanette often teased me that she’d know exactly where to look should Spike “forget” to come home sometime.  My heart was broken when my little friend was taken from our lives and I mourned his loss for months.

Fast forward a year or so to my historic walk around the neighborhood that lucky evening on June 9, when Pogo and I met.  From that day on we’ve walked the neighborhood together just about everyday.

And for the first few months as we’d pass Nanette’s and Spike’s now rebuilt home, Pogo would pick up his back right leg and hop to the corner.

And now you have the whole story.  No kidding

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Pogo

Pogo is thrilled to be back in our neighborhood to explore his old haunts, no longer tethered to a leash.  It’s not necessary at home;  the woods are familiar territory since the days he eked out a life before choosing me as mom.  For a month the little guy was lost, or abandoned, and became quite successful at rooting out small furry ground creatures and bugs.  He considers the wooded neighborhood his backyard and leads the way on our walks announcing every car, person and animal before they barely come within view.  He’s fiercely loyal and protective of me and our bond runs deeper than any other relationship I have.

Not Bow - but looks as beautiful as she was

It’s always been that way with animals and me.  When I was nine my best friend was the collie around the corner, Bow.  She’d wait for me on her front yard and then together we’d crawl into our fort among the bushes and tell each other secrets about our day, some of which made me cry.  I’m convinced she understood my tears, her chin resting on my knee cooing her soft soothing sounds of compassion while she stared sadly into my eyes.  I always felt better afterward.

My life is filled with stories of serendipity involving animals; most of my pets have happened into our family over the years, rarely invited but always welcomed.  I need them for soul survival.  Never had kids.  Must have animals.  Right now we have five cats and Pogo, my first-ever dog.  Somehow this 25 pound feist terrier didn’t cause the typical allergic reactions that plague Rick around dogs and horses.  Go figure; just one more example of serendipity.   Lucky Pogo and very, very lucky me.  We’re inseparable.

There are a lot of life’s lessons to be gleaned from animals if you’re quiet, observant and receptive.  They’re much more authentic than people, in fact, they have no capacity to be otherwise.  They have a smaller pre-frontal cortex, the brain part that allow us to reason and plan.  They don’t manipulate or have ulterior motives.  They teach unconditional love.  Their emotions, pure and concentrated, ooze out of their being – love, fear, anger, hurt, sadness, joy, loneliness – you just look into their eyes to immediately understand their feelings.

Beautiful Madison, our Persian cat

Rudy & Pumpernickel

Pogo & Willey

Scooter

There are few animals I don’t instantly feel attracted to.  They have an uncanny ability to open my heart wide, drawing me into conversation while the owners stand outside our circle disconnected from our secular communion.  The animal and I become immediate friends.  Humans don’t have the same effect on me.  They’re usually armored with defenses, allowing the approved facade to engage in superficial conversation that rarely leads to any true knowledge of one another.  But animals – the more open you are, the more honest and love filled they become.

Horse and Rider

Horse and Rider (Photo credit: Istvan)

I recently read a book by neurosurgeon and horse trainer Dr. Alan Hamilton called “Zen Mind Zen Horse:  The Science and Spirituality of Working With Horses.”  He too recognizes the spiritual magic transpiring between human and animal once you let down your defenses, open to your vulnerability and invite the connection.  Dr. Hamilton harnesses the energy or chi emanating between trainer and horse to non-verbally communicate instructions for the horse to follow.  And this guy’s a scientist.

James Cameron created Avatars to become divine examples of their human counterparts.  Animals serve as my avatars.  Life’s answers can be found during quiet meditation, interaction with nature and communion with animals.  That’s where my joy is born.

And yours?

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childhood memory

Image by AlicePopkorn via Flickr

Recently I find myself revisiting memories of my childhood that laid the foundation for who I am today and the direction life is taking me.  Back then is when I discovered a love for animals and a palpable need to commune with them.  That bond occupies a large part of my life today and can trigger flashbacks to earlier days.

Take morning walks with my dog Pogo for example.  He dances for joy each time we leave the house as though this tour of my wooded neighborhood is the first in his life.  Actually, he knows every square inch of it because during his month as a stray he foraged for food among our trees until the day he decided that I’d be his mom.  Though I’ve always longed for a dog, he’s my first one and the love of my life.  Believe me, it’s mutual and he loves our daily excursions where we visit with neighbors and fellow canines.

As Pogo and I reach the crest of a hill, I catch my first glimpse of Marley who’s already thumping her tail in anticipation of our visit.  She’s a beautiful Lab mix that belongs to a neighbor but she’s adopted us as family members too.  She can barely wait for me to sit down before plopping herself on my lap for hugs and kisses. Together we enjoy the beautiful view of the Tennessee River and the Smokey Mountains beyond. And I’m transported back to that nine-year old child who used to visit the collie around the corner.  Together Bow and I would crawl into our fort in the bushes and snuggle.  She helped me through some tough times back then, laying her head on my lap and cooing soft sounds as I cried out my troubles and accepted her soothing licks on my face.  We loved each other and it broke my heart when she died.  While I silently reminisce Marley looks up and smiles.  I think she knows.

There’s also a real familiarity at the barn where I spend Tuesday mornings with rescue horses.  They’re very sensitive creatures and have always tugged at my heart.  Maybe the seed was planted when we kids went with my father to his business and visited Murphy, a gorgeous Palomino gelding.  He’d jump on that horse’s back and take off as though the two were born as one.  My father was happiest on a horse and we went riding many Sunday mornings along the Wissahickon River into Valley Green, outside of Philadelphia.  We’d walk and talk while my father oozed vitality and a freedom of spirit that was contagious.  I fell in love with horses too and now when I’m at the barn feeding, grooming, turning out and mucking – I think of those days and smile.  And they look at me with those soulful, knowing eyes as if to acknowledge an understanding of our bond.

Over the years so much has changed while so much of me has stayed the child I used to be.  I guess that’s what it means to realize your essence.

What events trigger memories for you – and what are those memories and how have they defined who you are today?

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