Living in the country sometimes stinks...especially with a dog that wakes up every day like Drew Barrymore on 50 First Dates, with no memory of the past. Jag has not met a horse he doesn't TRY to herd, a cat he doesn't chase, or a skunk he doesn't irritate. Apparently his failed attempts are not stored in his memory banks.

Belle has warned him many times, by lifting her front hooves and planting them right by his ear, not to try and pick her grazing spot. (Trust me, this is a warning, not a miss. My girl has aim.) Poor Gibbs, the barn cat, makes sure to hiss a warning and show his claws every time Jag invades his personal space. And skunks, well, they see him coming...

The first time Jag encountered a skunk, my husband was knocked over by the stench as the dog crossed the threshold into the house and made his way to our bed....I was woken from a dead sleep by the assault on my senses and kicked them BOTH out of the house.

If you have never experienced the smell of a true skunking, you are grossly unaware of just how life altering it is OR how strongly your smeller is attached to your gag reflex. It's one thing to drive by skunk road kill - it's quite another to have skunk oil permeate your skin, every fiber in your home, even your jewelry. (a week after this first episode I grabbed my watch and bracelet off a high shelf in my bedroom and donned them. A few hours later, in a meeting with my employer, I was sniffing and distracted by a stench.  I finally narrowed it down to the jewelry on my arm and was MORTIFIED. I had to explain to this skeptical city boy that I did bathe on a regular basis.) A bad skunking burns your eyes, your nose, your throat....and it makes kids home for some parent pampering run back to school.

When my husband witnessed Jag putting his nose in the rear of a skunk again yesterday morning, he knew better than to let this boneheaded dog back in the house.....he also had the sense to create a work emergency and leave as quickly as humanly possible. My poor older daughter, Cameron, was home for Jag's first tango with a skunk and again for this one.  We both considered leaving Jag home alone and heading with Tank to Hotel Zaza.

Instead, I put on my de-skunking uniform (rubber boots, rubber gloves and throw away clothing) and she went into home freshening mode, mopping the floor with orange oil, lighting candles, buckets of Febreeze... I put Jag in the playpen we used when he and Tank were puppies - WAY out in the pasture under a tree. You couldn't even see him from the barn and somehow I felt better - like if I couldn't see him, surely I wouldn't have to smell him. Cameron, an old pro at this point, mixed up the vet suggested combination of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and Dawn liquid. (The scientist in her decided that vinegar would be a great addition to this formula - and she was right - except for the explosive effects.  It was a little like uncorking a bottle of champagne without the buzz.) 

I proceeded to hop in the playpen with Jag and bath him with Cameron's concoction while she and Tank looked on. Tank was clearly disgusted with his brother.  He also had a bit of a cocky look because he knew what this meant - Jag would get no snuggle time in the near future - more for him! After the 15 minute "processing" requirement, we let Jag out and went to the pond to rinse off. 

We're a long way from the end of this cleansing - the effects linger for what seems like eternity. Jag knows he screwed up AGAIN and he's keeping his distance. After all, he smells the consequence of Skunk Wrangling much more intensely than his human family. Tank won't even sleep next to him! But has this experience improved Jag's decision making skills? Probably not.  We will no doubt have to pull out the hydrogen peroxide again.

Jag is not unlike a lot of us. Why do we not believe people or circumstances when they prove to us time and time again who or what they are?   Like the perpetually late friend - why do we get frustrated that they are late when they have never been on time for anything? Haven't they already shown you what their plan is?   Or the "true" liar - you know the one - that person who would make up a tale when the truth fits better. Why do we give them the benefit of the doubt  when they've already proven they prefer fiction? How many of you have walked up behind a skunk and yelled "BOO"... TWICE?!

Good old Dr. Phil says, "When people show you who they are, believe them". I think this applies to situations as well. Like Jag with the skunk, believing what we are shown removes a lot of unnecessary drama from our lives. Why be disappointed with that late friend you adore when you can just smile and ask them to meet you 15 minutes before you plan to arrive?!  
 
 
I'm feeling pretty exposed.  I've been experimenting with this blog thing for three weeks. I’ve talked to a few friends about how uncomfortable I am with this whole process and they unanimously suggested that I address this issue with you, whoever “YOU” are. In truth, I don’t even know if I have an audience or how to go about getting one.

I thrive on relationships – family, friends, the lady at the Exxon that tells me Milkduds stick to her teeth, horse, dog – all kinds. I have definite opinions. I love to learn. I get great pleasure from taking a photograph and even more when someone viewing it is touched.  But writing my thoughts and thinking someone else might be interested in reading them?…..well, that’s a presumptuous and vulnerable place for me.
 
So why am I doing this? Simple and cheesy answer  –  I am trying to grow. Maybe this is my version of a mid-life crisis, although I’m pretty certain I’m past my personal mid-life. I prefer to think of it as me finally doing something that requires me to take a chance, risk embarrassment, hold my breath!  

The true goal here is to create children’s books. My passion for fueling a child’s literary appreciation comes directly from my mother. She didn’t encourage my brother and me to read – she required it. For her, it was as necessary as breathing. 
Learning fueled her and she could find a lesson in anything. (There were  days as a teenager that this was incredibly annoying!) She read to me from as far back as I can remember. Books were gifts to be treasured around our house. 

My brother was much better at showing her appreciation for this important lesson.  He always had a book in hand and amazing drawings came from his reading.  For me, I’m not sure she understood her influence on me until I had children of my own. My girls can tell you that I followed my mom’s example when they were little – I was on autopilot. It was ingrained in me and I was determined to ingrain it in them! I still tear up when I recall the first day that my oldest read confidently out loud to her dad, her voice getting stronger and more excited with every word….or the memory of my youngest sitting up in her crib before she could talk, jabbering away while she turned the pages and made voice inflections just like I did when I read to her. As they grew up, I remember the complete joy I would experience when walking into a room to find one or both of them engrossed in a book. 

I have a terrific family. It’s made up of a colorful, loving husband who is the happiest redneck I know, a daughter that is the most focused and determined individual in my world, another daughter that makes no concessions that would
cause her to lose her stunning individuality and who is  unknowingly influencing me to do this, two Welsh Corgi pups that make me laugh every day, eight horses that are still trying to figure out why they aren’t invited in to watch TV with us and a barn cat named Gibbs that is crafting his way into my heart. My life is full. And I am happy. 
 
So we’re back to why – why am I putting myself out there when life is good and I am so uncomfortable saying “Look at ME” (the true social media curse)?  My motives are selfish. I want to make a child say, “Look, Mommy! That horse is blowing bubbles!” while pointing to a moment I captured with my camera.  I want to share my love of animals and the happiness mine bring me. I want to encourage observation and the use of it to increase appreciation of the every day journey. I want to take Mary Oliver's  advice from her poem Instructions for living a life that I referred to in my first blog attempt:  "Pay attention. Be amazed. Tell about it."

This blog was suggested by my friend Leslie who believes in me probably more than I do myself. She is the energy, the organizer, the motivator I have needed to make this step. She has suggested that networking through the social media is the best place to start. And although this self-promotion makes me feel completely vulnerable, she has convinced me that I need an audience to get to know me and trust that I have something to offer. The old saying, “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is indeed true. Failure is not a possibility if I don’t even try. 

SOOOOOOOO, do you “like” me? (Okay, that made me LOL at
myself!)
 
 
Our dogs are the perfect example of polar opposites. If you’ve visited the Corgi Boys page on this website or read  some of the past blogs in C4 Chatter then you have had a small introduction to our boys’ personalities. 

Tank appears to be laid back and nonchalant but quietly demands attention and affection. Jag is a wild thing if you are opening the cleaning closet or playing a game of fetch but the first to settle down at the end of the day.  If we sit  on the sofa, Jag finds his place on the back near our heads -  close but separate.  Tank cocks his head and whines until you make room for him, jumps up next to you and puts his head ON you.....your leg, your shoulder, somewhere ON you. (Let me try to give you a visual: If Jag is in your lap, it's his whole body sitting up straight and it feels like you're holding a two pound Chihuahua. He doesn't lick you or invade your space. If Tank is in your lap, he has his head clamped down on some part of your body and feels like a 200 pound Saint Bernard. If you attempt to move, he increases the pressure. He only needs a sign that says "MINE!" to finish the picture. Oh, AND you're getting a bath whether you need one or not.) 

Jag is extremely sweet and affectionate but he seems to understand that Tank is needier in that department and graciously allows him priviledged access.  Even in bed (yes, they sleep with us and we KNOW this is a no-no and frankly don't care), Jag is at our feet and doesn't move.  Tank's face will greet you on the pillow and he periodically gets up to rearrange the covers. Even during the day he will go to a room to take a nap and literally cry for you to come hang out with him. In other words, Tank thinks he is a prince and should be treated like royalty. Jag is perfectly comfortable stepping aside and allowing Tank his throne INSIDE. (Outside royalty is another blog subject.) This  hierarchy is the general rule.

However, they say there is an exception to every rule.  In the case of the boys, it is the Thunder and Lightening Escape Clause. Tank, like us, thinks a storm is a great time to relax and listen to the sounds of rain and thunder. Jag, on the other hand, thinks he has stumbled into a war zone.  It's at this time that Tank takes a distinct back seat.  He makes a conscious effort to back away and make room for Jag to have a whole lap. OR if Jag finds a dark spot to hide and tremble, Tank will lay in front of him as if to say, "I'm right here if you need me".

I witnessed this with awe when we had the tornado scare a couple months ago and again last night during the storm. Rain was coming sideways at the windows and the pounding on the tin roof was loud. The lightening was very close and the thunder following was deafening.  We lost power and all the horses were hovering under the porch overhang.  (They have the option of their stalls, but apparently like to be close to us when the weather is wicked. Rey literally plasters her nose to the door window begging to come in!)

Jag was terrified.  In preparation for the rain, we had gone outside to check the barn and I tripped over him twice in his attempt to become one with me.  When we got in the house, he jumped in my lap, alert and trembling.  The normally invasive Tank jumped up next to me, but not ON me, and faced the opposite direction. Every now and then he would turn and lick Jag's face.  His concern for his brother was obvious and touching.

This went on for a couple of hours.  Not once during this period of Jag's terror did Tank even request any attention. I kept reaching over and petting him with a smile on my face because I was so proud.  My selfish little Tank was acting like a protective big brother. 

Eventually the storm was over and all was right in Corgi Boy World. Jag helped my husband close up the barn by making sure that our barn cat Gibbs' feet didn't touch the ground and barking loudly so the neighbor's cows would know that he survived. Once inside, he took his spot at the foot of the bed.  Tank quietly jumped to his place near the pillows and rearranged the covers before settling in for the night. Tomorrow was another day and Prince Tank had some throne time to recoup.
 
 
Belle's life reads like a script from a Lifetime movie - you know the ones - lots of drama and tears that result in a happy ending. I like to believe that I would sense this about her even if I didn't know the truth behind her eyes. She has MANY stories to tell, all of them proof to me that animals are loving, loyal, intuitive and not immune to emotional pain. There are too many tales to put in one day's blog - so I'll start at our beginning.

I "met" Belle at a barn where we first boarded Sugar and Beau, before the C4 Ranch existed. She came to the barn with a beautiful filly at her side name Skeeter. That little girl was adorable!  She was petite and playful, quite a contrast to her cautious and protective dam. Belle allowed only a few people to interact with her foal and she was only truly comfortable with her owners.  It was obvious that she had trust issues. Her owners spent some time telling me her incredible life story to date which included kidnapping, abuse, and subsequent rebellion.  It was their goal to be kind and gentle with her and prove to her that the world was not a bad place.

Skip ahead a couple of months to an awful accident at the barn that left Skeeter with permanent brain damage. The owners of these two horses did all they could to save Skeeter but sadly Belle came home from that last trip to the vet alone. 

I was managing the pasture horses in exchange for board of our two so I was on site a lot. I remember the next four days like it was yesterday.  Belle was released into her pasture and proceeded to run and scream until she had no voice. At first she would have nothing to do with me. She was crazed with anguish and continued searching and calling out for Skeeter. I sat on the fence for hours at a time watching over her and doing my own share of crying.  There was real concern that she would hurt herself so we all pitched in to help the owners keep an eye on her.  

On day two she noticed me. She changed her path, which was worn in the ground from the day before, to come by my spot at the fence. Even with her at a dead run, our eyes would meet. She continued to cry but almost no sound came out of her mouth. She would run until she was foamy with sweat and then run some more.  I didn't see her sleep at all.  She wasn't stopping at the trough. She wasn't grazing. Her grief was palatable. 

On the morning of day three, she watched me as I    climbed to what was now my place on the fence. She would run at me full pace and stop like a reining horse right in front of me, staring intently at me as if to ask why I cared and daring me to be afraid of her. This day, I was armed with a small bucket of water and a rag. After several passes and angry snorts, I think she realized I wasn't going anywhere. She stopped to sniff and thoroughly check me out. She slowly began to allow me little opportunities to touch her face with the cool cloth before she would take off again.

By the end of that day, she had taken a carrot from me and drank a little from the water bucket. She had been so unpredictable that I had known better than to get in the pasture with her, but now she was walking and tired and she invited me to join her. I'll never forget how overwhelmed with emotion I was when she leaned her heavy head into my chest and just stood there. I rubbed her neck and her face for what seemed like an hour and she didn't move.  I honestly think it was the first time she had rested in 3 days.
 
On the fourth day Belle was hoarse, exhausted and sad. She would take off every now and then, running and crying that guttural scream, but she spent most of my time there that day looking straight into my eyes or laying her head on my chest. She let me brush her and put water on her hot face and neck.  She cautiously allowed me to lead her to the trough. She was communicating volumes to me by letting me take care of her. Her sadness was profound but she had grown to trust me - and I had fallen in love with her.
Picture
Skeeter and Belle - Easter 2004
 
 
Today I am grateful for the patience Belle continually practices with Jag by snorting loudly and stomping her hoof forcefully on the ground instead of on his head. He barks and dances in front of her every time she walks by and most times she looks at me with the question in her eyes, “Can’t I just squash him?!”.

I am also grateful because my older daughter is feeling much
better and is looking forward to starting an externship in her chosen field  tomorrow…..I am grateful today that my youngest daughter called me to chat and had a smile in her voice because she’s started painting again…..I am grateful  that my husband, who had my mouth watering with thoughts of the meal he was planning to grill tonight, knew that I would be just as happy with peanut butter and crackers after he wore himself out mowing in this heat all day…I am grateful  that Rey wanted to hang out in the corral with Beau so he wouldn’t have to be alone…..I am grateful that I have clean sheets to crawl between tonight and that we have a “sleep” button on our TV remote because I love the comfort of  both…..I am grateful for the strength and accuracy of my hands today that allowed me to use the death slap on the three horse flies torturing Kit….I am grateful that the C4 turtle showed up today to entertain Tank and Jag and give us something to laugh out loud about….I am grateful for the view of the pasture and eight peaceful horses that I am looking at right now....and I am grateful to you for reading this blog and giving my words an audience.

You may be wondering what kind of blog post this is – what
purpose my gratitude list could possibly be serving. I just wanted to share another tool I’m using in my attempt to pay more attention. One of my husband's cousins has used a gratitude journal for years.  (There are days she’s grateful that the car won't start so she can’t run over her husband on his way out the door  -  but grateful is grateful.) It  has become part of her daily routine and the focus she has on her surroundings is astounding.  She is so aware of  her own strengths, weaknesses, curses and blessings that she is able to avoid imposing harsh or quick judgments on others. She looks at things in a unique and  positive way and has empathy where it’s warranted. She is my “go to” person because she approaches life logically and with appreciation. I have watched her grow immensely since starting her daily gratitude journal routine. Now I’m FINALLY starting my own in hopes of a similar journey. 
 
You will be amazed at the guidelines and examples you’ll find  if you GOOGLE “Gratitude Journal”.  I’m still figuring out exactly how I want to structure mine but I’m determined to make a habit of writing down at least ten things I’m grateful for – and why –each day. I may include some of my entries here occasionally but I promise this is not turning into a “Gratitude Blog”!  I’m simply sharing this goal with  you in the hopes of inspiring you to do the same. After all, Wikihow says, “A gratitude journal is a great way to keep yourself in a thankful and positive state of mind".  Who are we to argue with Wikihow?!
 
 
 
Can one look from you make a 1200 pound Tennessee Walker go back in his playpen?  Yea, me neither.  I have watched our smallest and oldest mare, Sugar, run the show around here for years in complete awe. Horses have come and gone but the one constant has always been the mare in charge.  I tried to employ her techniques with my kids and husband but they do not respond well to head tossing and stern looks and I could never figure out how to flatten my ears back. She hardly ever resorts to physical contact but the threat is there if a member of the herd does not get the message.

Our gelding Beau towers over her but his massive size does not intimidate her even slightly. From the very first day  we brought them home together, she has been the ruler of his universe. When she got ridden and he was left behind in the pasture (with nine other horses for companionship I might add) he would pitch such a fit that we feared he was going to hurt himself. I, being a complete and total softy at the time, would halter him up and take him to where he could SEE her and he would immediately calm down. Sugar practically rolled her eyes at him as if to say "Silly boy", but you could tell she enjoyed the spell she had over him.  Back then she was his whole world. It's been years now. He has found his place in the herd and can survive with her out of sight, but he still adores her and Sugar continues to remind him daily who is in charge.

Beau is susceptible to grass founder, a condition that has painful and possibly deadly consequences. It is brought on by the high levels of sugar stored in seed heads in Spring and Fall. Because of this, Beau's pasture time is limited during these crucial times of year. The daily routine has been memorized by the herd. When it's time for Beau to be released, they are gathered by his gate.  When I call for him to come in, no one else rushes the entrance. 

However, there is always that herd mate - like that friend of your child's that thrives on mischief - that figures out a way to get them both into trouble. At the C4 Ranch, that little devil goes by the name of Derby. ("The Devil in Derby" may be a future blog title.) Just yesterday I watched from the window as Derby worked for twenty minutes unlocking the latch to Beau's corral. He anxiously observed her skills  from inches away and practically danced with Derby when the gate swung open......

Enter: Sugar. 

She had been grazing a few acres away when she witnessed  this great escape. She quickly made her way to the scene of the crime. Both Derby and Beau froze in their tracks when they saw her coming. She scolded them, tossing her head around, and herded Beau back into the coral.  Her rear was pointed at Derby in a threatening manner just daring her to intervene! However, the stance was unecessary.Derby's head was already hanging low in shame. Sugar stood guard at the gate until I got out there to lock it again, this time with my extra special Derby-proof loop.

Sugar waited for me to offer my thanks in the form of a hug and a kiss on her graying face and then went back to grazing. I was, as I always am, amazed at her confidence and conviction. She knows her "job" and she does it well. She is mother to our herd and she loves them all with a firm hoof. 

Most of us would benefit from going through life with Sugar's philosophies. She pays attention to what those around her need and realizes that what they want is not always what's best for them. She takes care of things quietly and with authority. She demands and gets respect because she operates with common sense as her guide. She is the epitome of an alpha mare.

I, for one, should take to heart the lessons I have learned from observing her. What about you? Are you paying attention?
 

    My name is Jamie.

    I left the culdesac for the country. My life is run by two Welsh Corgis. I discuss the biggest obstacles life throws at me with a horse named Belle. My family has suggested that I consider having my camera surgically attached. I pride myself on the fact that my armchair psychology has only caused a few disasters. And I love to write. I am not certain if I'm finding my sanity or losing it. That's where you come in - YOU decide! 

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