The Muse

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Sometimes You Bet on the Bay


One reader thought I wanted to be a horse.


 I don’t. 


I don’t even want to own a horse at this stage of my life. 


So, why am I writing this?


To alleviate sadness. Maybe it’s grief. Perhaps it’s a longing to feel as I once felt riding bareback around the orchard trees as though I was Slalom skiing. I was atop a perfect horse.


Years later, I can say with perfect confidence that Boots was a perfect horse. I thought he was then, but experiences with other horses have told me how accurate I was. I now see that Boots was what Pat Parelli would call a “Superhorse.”


He was only five years old when my dad bought him, so he couldn’t have had too much training. I was 12 and didn’t have much training either. Yet, we soon learned to be a team. He neck-reined, which means you could ride one-handed, and with only a slight turn of the wrist, with reins against his neck, he would turn on a dine. At the time, didn’t know about the horse-human connection. I had not learned what the more-recent horse gentler/whispers say that a horse responds to light pressure. A slight movement of my body would cause him to leap into a canter smooth as silk and would eliminate the bumpy trot.



Why in the world a prey animal (the horse) would allow a predator (the human) on his back is beyond me. 


 A horse bucks to get a mountain lion off his back. He shies, which can put him, in a split-second, four feet away from a harmful object. (A snake, maybe? Or a plastic bag. If you have ever ridden out one of those split-second maneuvers, good for you. It can put you on their neck, on their tail, under their belly, on the ground.) 


Last night my husband called my attention to an article on Firefox called The Horse human corporation is a neurobiological miracle. (He knew I was interested in horses and brains.) And what happened? I slipped into sadness. 


I grieved over selling Boots. I thought of the horses we have had. Then, I thought of getting Duchess, a 24-year-old Arabian 40 years after Boots. Duchess lived out her life with us, eased me back into riding, rescued a mustang, and raised two young fillies to adulthood. 


(Read, It’s Hard to Stay on a Horse While You’re Unconsciousness by Joyce Davis. Paperback only. Long title, but appropriate.) 


I learned from a horse named Dee that my daughter bought and ended up selling because she bucked. Dee tended to go in circles. However, I found that if I focused on something ahead, like a fence post, she would go right toward that object. Don’t tell me there isn’t a brain-to-brain connection between the horse and rider. 


A horse will do just about anything he can for you provided you know how to ask—there’s the rub.


Thanks to the horse gentler/whisperers, only recently have we learned some of the subtle cues a horse uses to communicate. Their very nature has allowed him to be a partner with humans.


A twitch of the ear can tell another horse to move away. A pressure as light as a finger on your eyeball will move a horse. Yet for eons, we have used ropes, bits, spurs, and whips because we thought that since he is big and powerful, we need to use force to control him.


We evolved as hunters and being a predator, we believe in using control. Horses evolved as flight animals. If it looks scary, smells scary, or is believed to be something scary—RUN.


Years ago, when the Hermiston Horse Auction in Hermiston, Oregon, was in Vogue, my second daughter and I loved going to their once-a-year big sale. We would drive the two or three hours necessary up the “Columbia River Highway to Hermiston, Oregon, stay in a motel, and go to the Auction. One year we accidentally killed a TV set by placing an ice cream cake on it. Sorry about your TV, guys. We sold Dee there to a really nice woman who would finally give her the home she deserved, for she had been alone for a long time without attention.


Once at the Auction, three guys and two Norwegian fjord horses put on a show. Norwegian fjords are striking animals, buckskin or cream with a dark mane and tail. Their distinguishing feature is a white stripe that runs the length of their mane. The horses are husky and small, so a rider can hop on their backs relatively easily. The fellows were playing musical chairs with the horses. As the horses were cavorting around the arena, one guy would jump on a horse, another would pull him off and hop on, three men trying to be that last man riding. So, it went with one jacket getting torn to bits and the bidding going wild. My daughter bid on one, but the price went too high.


                                                     Norwegian fjord


Thinking there was money to be made at the Auction, Daughter Dear bought a gentle little mare named Sweetie. Poor Sweetie’s feet had been so neglected that the Ferrier I called in for a trimming thought her legs might be permanently damaged. We boarded her at the Auction yard for a week until time to drive to Hermiston. I rode her between the stalls just to see how she handled. Sweet horse, neglectful owner.  


Sweetie sold at the Auction to a mother and daughter who were as tickled to get her as two kids at the ice cream store. A few months later, my daughter received a call. “Who was Sweetie bred to?” 


“What?” Well, Sweetie gave them a foal that day. They were over the moon.


 A horse can make you a gentler person if you watch and listen. Let your adrenaline go up, and the horse feels it. Be calm, and the horse knows it. I suppose part of my sadness came from realizing that people have yanked horses around—because they didn’t understand. This animal will do just about anything he can for you—provided you know how to ask.


My dentist boss used to say, “Horses smell.” I would say, “Yes, a dirty horse, or their yard. Not a clean horse.” I bet my boss bathed each morning and wore a deodorant. A real horse person can bury their nose in a horse’s mane, breathe deeply and relax into an “Ahh.”


Besides having my daughters, my most exciting days were getting a horse. The day my dad led Boots down the drive and told me to make friends with him is permanently emblazoned on my brain. The day I bought Duchess, I told myself, “I’m going to be happy every day of my life.” The day I bought six-month-old Velvet at the Hermiston Horse auction driving up my bidder higher than I wanted, everyone applauded. A cowboy told us afterward: “Watching you guys buy a horse is more fun than buying one myself.” The day I bid on six-month-old Sierra at the Burns Wild Horse Auction only to drive her 5 hours home then have the truck, and trailer jackknife on the hill brought my adrenaline up. With a mustang stomping in the trailer and knowing that if I lost a mustang, I must pay for its capture, I trudged up the hill, remembering what a horse book told me: “A horse is prone to stampede, especially a young horse.” I saddled Duchess, and after Husband Dear opened the trailer, Duchess and I stampeded up the hill and into the round pen with little Sierra hot on our trail. 


 Slip out. Close gate. Horse penned. Success.


What would I have done without Duchess? Trying to get that truck and trailer out of its predicament would have severely shaken up little Sierra. 


In my mind’s eye, I see Sierra and Velvet racing up the drive. I see Velvet taking a Lipizzaner leap off the embankment onto the driveway below. A freed horse is such fun. They would frolic around the house, run on the gravel drive, roll in the Oregon red dirt, then settle down to nibbling the grass around the house. 


“A horse, a horse, My Kingdom for a horse.”  Shakespeare’s Richard III


Point? That important things can change suddenly.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Running with Poodles

When my daughter was a few months shy of three-years-old and my second daughter was a few months shy of being born, we got a little poodle puppy and named her Licorice.

She was owned by a groomer, so she came perfectly coifed with a puppy cut, and a pink ribbon in her hair. She was black, although already, she had the tell-tale gray muzzle that told us she would be silver/gray. We named her Licorice anyway.

Can you believe my husband and I had been married almost nine years with no dog? I had never been without one for so long. With school, moving across the country—for school and jobs, it didn’t seem fair to have a dog, but now we were settled. It was time this family had a dog. We had met a friend’s charming poodle, and thus we decided on a poodle.

She was a perfect size for the little baby stretch outfits that were popular at the time, and the girls used to dress her in those outfits. She didn’t object, and would walk around on stretchy legs. She grew up to be silver/gray with a perfect confirmation, long legs, and about 15 inches tall. 

If you remember the pilot Jack Carol the pilot I wrote about, 

he took this picture of my kids and Licorice.


For a few Christmases we drove from San Diego, California where we lived to The Dalles, Oregon to visit grandparents, and we took Licorice. At that time not many motels were pet-friendly, so we smuggled Licorice in with the stuffed toys we had loaded into our arms.

When my second daughter was seven years old, and my first-born was ten—see moms tell time by their children’s ages—we took a three-day vacation, driving from San Diego to Los Angeles, and decided to leave Licorice with a pet sitter—at the pet sitter’s house.

I don’t recall all that we did in L.A. except we took the kids to see Star Wars, (the original) at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.  I think we decided to go home a little earlier than planned, and both girls talked about it most of the way home. “Won’t Licorice be happy to see us!

he trouble was, when we got to the sitter’s house, Licorice was gone.

She had escaped the back yard.

We were devastated.

Quickly we set off searching. We ran around the neighborhood calling and asking whomever we met if they had seen a little gray poodle.

All day we searched, and I had called the pound. Dejected, we went home without our dog.

The following morning, I awakened early, got up before the others, and set off to find Licorice. I went to the pound, and into the back to search cages.

There before my wondering eyes should appear, but a man opening a cage with a little gray poodle under his arm.


 She turned—amazed , as I was, hardly believing her eyes, so it seemed, and then came the joyous cries. We carried on until the lady told us to quiet down.  Hey, don’t dogs bark at pounds? Besides, the ordeal she had been through called for celebration.  I sat hugging her until we were released from lock-up, for I had to wait to purchase a license.

Somehow, we heard the story that she had left Mission Hills traveled through an underpass beneath I-5 freeway and made it to Mission Beach, where they said “There is no life east or I-5.”  There she was following a surfer/drifter, until he was stopped by a policeman. He said the dog didn’t belong to him, and thus Licorice was escorted to the pound by a policeman.

The surfer? Well, he had to be a good guy, for Licorice trusted him. (You know how lost dogs can get disoriented, and scared, and not let you catch them.) Licorice, however, found a friend, and through that we found our dog. Licorice’s little foot pads were worn from all the walking she had done. The man? I don’t know what happened. To me he is an unsung hero on the highway of life. It was a miracle to find our dog in a city the size of San Diego.

As I recall, I never paid the sitter.

Licorice remained with us for the rest of her life.

I was convinced that Licorice’s purpose in life was to love and be loved.

Thirty years later we got another poodle with the same purpose. Must run with poodles.


Peaches poked me, and said she wanted to chime in here, so this is from her, via


I Peaches, am a happy dog.

I was happy on earth, am happy here.

My job is to help others be happy.

I didn't have an easy life. I had Addison's disease, which meant my adrenal glands were stuck on low speed. Momma treated me for most of my 10 years on the planet. The last year she gave me fluids subcutaneously--big word, I learned it from Momma.

But, whoa, I loved going to the beach and on trips--I went on an eight- state trip once with Bear my Newfoundland house mate, and my sister, that is Momma's daughter and her baby.

(And both Bear and I got McDonald's hamburger patties along the route. El Yuno.)

You wouldn't believe the fun we had.

We moved to Hawaii for a year. Yep, Bear and me and the family. And I agreed to ride in a carrier, didn't like it, but trusted that we would arrive someplace stupendous.

In Hawaii, we met a veterinarian who showed us where to get my medication on the internet.  And when it arrived in the mail, the package contained a dog biscuit for me.

That's it. You must seize the day.

Dog's know it.

Our job is to teach humans how to do it.

Listen to your dog.

I still dream I am sleeping with Momma, and Dad was pretty fun too.

And here's the pup I picked out for you.