Thursday, September 16, 2010

I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can......

When I was in Junior High School (go Meadowpark Trojans)I had my very first crush on a boy. His name was Art Buck and he was an 'older man'. I was a freshman and he was a senior, and in those days that meant that we did not attend the same school.
But one of our horse 4-H members, Rocky Williams, attended the same high school as Art, and one day he decided to try out for the high school musical 'You're a Good Man Charlie Brown'. Now I am sure that I knew at the time why he decided to do this, but for the life of me I cannot remember why now. I do not remember Rocky as being someone who walked around singing and dancing and I certainly do not remember him as seemingly theatrical. But try out he did and he was cast in the starring role of Charlie Brown.
Rocky was dating the sister of one of my best friends at the time and we all showed horses together. So when opening night came along we all headed to the high school to watch Rocky's debut.
As I said, I was a freshman and I had never had a boyfriend or been out on a date. Never really had even a crush on someone (well...there was that brief-couple of weeks- crush on Dan Lauer, but he turned out to be such a good friend that I never really thought about it anymore).
If truth be told, boys were really scary to me. Horses and dogs were a lot easier and the thought of actually going out on a date was terrifying to me. Hmmmm....now that I think about it, junior high school was really not that much different than my life has been as an adult!

So anyway, off we all went to watch Rocky sing and dance. I had never seen a school play, or any other play for that matter at that point in my life. Ours was not exactly a culturally filled family life- I don't ever even remember going to the movies with my Mom and Dad- so any play, let alone a musical, was foreign to me.
About two minutes into the show I started watching the actor playing Snoopy. He was a cute looking, all American type of guy, blond hair, blue eyes (I imagined) and by the end of the first act I was smitten down to my toes. I thought he was the cutest boy I had ever seen and I just knew that he was the man that I would someday marry.
By the time he was singing Suppertime, I was naming the kids and choosing the family dog.
For about the next four years I had a deep crush on him, even though he never even knew that I was alive (sigh)......

Because you see, life does not always turn out the way that our childhood fantasies wish. Art never fell in love with me, we never got married and....well.... naming the family dog just does not have the same impact when you have a pack of them.

However what did happen was that (in no small way due to falling for him), I also fell in love with the musical theater that night. After attending that show I started seeing every musical I could get to. I went to all of the high school musicals that came along, along with several college productions and eventually was even lucky enough to attend some first run musicals down in Los Angeles when I lived there such as Chorus Line, Cats and Phantom.

Yes...I LOVE Musical Theater!

I have lots of homemade CDs that are filled with show tunes. Even back when I was a teenager, while my friends were listening to current groups and singers, I was listening to the soundtrack from Bye Bye Birdie and West Side Story.

I can listen to Broadway all day long.

What I cannot do is sing a note. Or for that matter, dance a step....
I am a bad singer and I am clumsy as an ox.

If I was granted the wish to be able to do anything career wise I would have been a singer and dancer on Broadway. I would love to be up on that stage performing. But the sad truth is that I have about as much chance of that as I do of competing in gymnastics. It just is NOT going to happen.

But then a few years ago a friend introduced me to Canine Freestyle. She said that it was a combination of obedience and tricks set to music. At the time I was competing with a couple of my dogs in agility and since that kept me pretty busy, I only paid about half attention to her while she was telling me about the sport. I think I even sort of dozed off when she invited me over to watch a video with her about training and competing in freestyle.
But she decided to give it one last shot. She showed me a video on the Internet of a woman dancing with her Golden Retriever to 'You're The One That I Want'. And while I was duly impressed by what the two of them were accomplishing, more than anything I was struck by the joy that was in both the handler and the dog's faces.

AND they were dancing to a musical number from Broadway!

I was hooked.

That was back in 2004 or so. Since then I have trained and retired my first dog Jakey (i.e. see: attacking Sheltie from earlier blog) and have multi-titled my current dog TillyBelle. I have been fortunate enough to become certified as a judge and to get travel around the country and across the ocean to be involved in this sport.

I have been able to dress as a Warrior, Aladdin, a Pirate, a Cat, a Broadway Star, a Pink Panther, a Cowboy, a 50's girl and many other characters along the way. And I get to dance out on stage to my favorite music in my own clumsy way.

People clap for me, they congratulate me when it goes well, they commiserate with me when it does not, but most of all they support me.

You see, that is what our sport is best at. Being supportive of each and every one of us who give it a try with our beloved dogs. And for at least a brief time, we all get to be a star.......

Tomorrow my daughter Kaity and I head down to Norman so that I can compete and judge an event. We are taking TillyBelle, Flag-puppy and Spur with us. Tilly will be competing for another two legs to add to her many titles that she now has earned. Flag and Spur will get to dance in the Show and Go each day to start to prepare for the day when they will be competing.

Two months ago Flag lived in a barrel in a back yard and last month Spur was on the verge of being put to sleep at a shelter.

And this weekend we will dance together.

Just like on Broadway....

My life is amazing.

Thank you for reading about this......

Laura and the dancing pack......

Monday, September 13, 2010

Busy Days

Fall always seems to get so busy! After spending the summer hiding from the heat and humidity it is as though the cooler autumn months want to both make up for the misery of July and August and to give us a gift before the icy days of winter.
I went to the races Friday night which was great. It is so nice to be able to sit and watch the races, have a decent inexpensive dinner and visit with friends.
Saturday was spent dog training and attending a cookout at work. I was called in a bit unexpectedly to stay overnight at the clinic to care for an emergency and then spent yesterday catching up on some cleaning and a bit of nap time. It was a rainy day and I love sleeping while I listen to the thunder and rain.
The next few weeks will get really hectic. I have a freestyle competition coming up this weekend where I am judging and also competing. I get to dress up and play a pirate in the morning with my dog TillyBelle and friends Kris and her dog Roxie. Lots of friends will be coming in to compete and to help so it should be a grand time for all! Spur and I will be dancing to Soul Man from the Blues Brothers with friends that also have big blue merle dogs and Flag-puppy will be making his debut also during the Show and Go....
The following weekend I am doing demonstrations out at A Dog Walk In The Park to benefit the Bella Foundation. This is a group that in addition helps to find homes for unwanted dogs and cats helps to pay for vet expenses for senior citizens who cannot afford to keep their animals healthy. It is a great cause and I am proud to be able to help them raise money. The three freestyle dogs will be attending with me.
The next day I will be taking TillyBelle up to Edmond to run her in a couple of agility games. That will be her reward for working so hard doing what I like to do over the next couple of weekends.
The healthy eating lifestyle is going pretty well. I take a couple of steps back on occasion but for the most part I am sticking to a much healthier way of eating than I have been doing in the past. It is funny how even a few days of proper eating makes you feel better. And how just one meal of not so healthy options can make you feel pretty crummy. It sure shows that our bodies are crying for us to care for them.
Another interesting development. I have been suffering from Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) since I was a teenager. When I complained as a child I was told that they were growing pains, but I think it is time to give that idea up for good. Anyway- these creepy crawly feelings in my knees and calves have kept me from sleeping many times over the years. I read the other day that taking a bar of soap and putting in under your fitted sheet down by the foot of the bed can help control or even cure them. Sounds crazy- but I went ahead and gave it a try. The jury is still out- but the feelings did seem diminished last night. So I will leave my two bars of soap under there and see how it goes for awhile.
I have a big draft cross gelding named Cali. It is short for Excalibur (from the Sword in the Stone). I got on a bit of a Camelot phase a few years ago. My Border Collie that I showed in the breed ring is Celestrials Lady Guenevere, another horse is Joyous Guarde (the name of Lancelot's castle where he held his trysts with the Lady Gwen) and another is Princess Elizabeth (LizzieBeth)...
Anyway it is time to get Cali trained. He is a big quiet boy and has worn a saddle and bridle, has done a bit of round pen work and is in general very quiet. I got him out of Canada when he was just about three months old. He was pretty sick when he arrived, but after a few months he rallied and became a big strong boy.
The night that he came down to Oregon from Canada the news station came out to do a story on the babies. There was a cattle truck filled with about 60 of them that various people in Oregon and California had saved. They wanted to do a story to raise public awareness about the problem. Even though Cali had never been handled by people before that night he stood quietly with wires and lights draped around, over and on top of him while they broadcast that night from my backyard. I knew then that he was probably going to be quiet enough even for me.
This was at the height of the Premarin problems. Premarin is an estrogen replacement that is made from pregnant mare's urine. A few years ago it was the most widely prescribed medication in the US. Any woman who was past menopause was offered the chance to relieve her symptoms by taking this. But then studies started showing a correlation between the medication and breast cancer and the stock in this Wyeth product plummeted. At the time there were hundreds of Premarin farmers scattered across Canada who all owned hundreds of pregnant mares each that stood for 9 months out of the year tied up with their urine being collected 24-7. At one time all of the resulting foals were slaughtered immediately at birth and 9 days later their moms were bred back to insure that they stayed in foal about 50 weeks out of the year. Pressure from animal groups caused regulations to be put into place that allowed the foals to be born outside and allowed to stay with their mamas for the first two months of their lives while the mares became pregnant naturally while running with a stallion within their respective herd. However after two months the foals were still allowed to be sold for slaughter purposes.
People started to step in and try to save these foals. And that is how I got Cali. I became the US rep for a rescue group in Canada and we saved over 800 mares and foals in the year that we did this job. After the first year the industry had whittled down to just a few farms and the need for heavy duty rescuing stopped.
But the personal result for me (other than the expenditure of literally tens of thousands of dollars that I spent) was that in my back yard stands Cali, Lizzie and Joy, just three of the dozens of PMU mares and babies that came through my backyard over a couple of years.
My driving mare Splash was also a PMU mare that I purchased after moving to Oklahoma. She is a wonderful driving horse, but when she is loose she still reverts back to the nature of most PMU mares....untrusting and fearful of people. I have had her for 5 years and she is still terrified when I go to catch her. Once she is caught she settles and works, but it is a very difficult process to get her caught in the first place.
But anyway....back to Cali..... he is a big buckskin guy with a couple of white body splotches. He is a pretty crude moving horse, but hopefully as he goes through training he will learn to be a bit more of an athletic boy. After this coming weekend when I know that the hot weather is probably pretty much gone for the year I will start him back in training and I have hopes that by next spring he will be a nice riding boy.
It is hard because at his size and age (he is 7 years old now and I think that he is done growing) I want him to be big and really fat, but I know that I need to keep him on the light side for his health and soundness sake.
So part of Cali's life will be in my blog.....my animals are such a big part of my life that it cannot be any other way.
And that is how these past few days and the next few days will be going. Busy, happy, stuffed with music and dance and dogs.....

Life is good.

Thank you for listening, I really appreciate it.

Laura....not even sure what her weight is today.......

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Racetracking These Days

It has now been longer since I have worked on the racetrack than the number of years that I was actually there. I worked at the racetrack for 17 years and I have been away for 18 years. And yet it seems like yesterday when I was last there.
When I left the track I really believed that it was only for a short time. I was pregnant with Kaity and the doctor had put me on full bed rest. My husband and I were separated and contemplating divorce. It was a time of struggle and I imagined that I would be back at the track and amongst my friends within days after Kaity was born.
But as we all know, life is not always as we plan for it.
Kaity was born with several birth defects with the most pressing being congenital heart disease. She was in the intensive care unit for months and by the time the two of us were back home I knew that my life had changed forever.
Rather than being back working in the racing office with Kaity sleeping in a snuggly she was in a crib with feeding tubes and machines hooked up to her around the clock. And instead of being able to go back to working seven days a week I was having to figure out how to work to pay the bills and still be able to watch her 24 hours a day.
The racetrack to me was more than a job. I loved the horses and I loved the racing. But first and foremost the racetrack had given me a sense of family that I had never felt before. Growing up had been a struggle for me. These days we look at children who do not fit in and we work to give them the tools that they can use to help adjust to life. But back then it was something that just was not even considered. Growing up I had heard over and over that I was a very expendable part of my family and that if I did not appreciate being in a family I was welcome to leave at any time. Looking back now I can see that my parents did the best that they knew how to do. They were married at an extremely young age and I was born a year later. Alcohol played a large part in our family and while it was an accepted part of life in those days I now see that it played a part in the way that my family interacted with each other.
As an adult I had come to realize and accept that my parents were alcoholics but I did not realize it back then. It just seemed that everyone's parents drank every single day and that it was a normal way of life. But as an adult it became clear (after my brother, sister in law and many childhood friends helped point it out to me) that there was much more than just social drinking that was a factor in my childhood days.
So as an adult I get it. I know that my parents did the best that they could and that for some reason their lives were not what they had hoped they would be. And that I and my brother were casualties of that mind set. My brother often pointed out to me that he had chosen to live across the country from then as an adult for a reason. But even as a young adult I was desperate for my parents love and approval. And while it was painful to me then, it was excruciating to me as a child. I just felt that it was obvious that there was something wrong with me when even your own parents tell you that they do not love you. Because if your own family does not love you then who ever will?
But when I started working at the racetrack I felt as though this must be what family feels like to most people. I was surrounded by people who cared about me and I felt a part of things for the first time in my life. And while there was the usual broken heart every now and then and some generally sad times, at least I felt as though I was with my 'family' to help me get through these growing pains.
So when I realized that I had to leave to care for Kaity it was beyond description. My friends continued to call and try to stay in touch, but their friendship was actually more painful and more of a reminder of what I was losing than it was comforting. They kept talking about the future and that they knew that at some point everything would be back to normal and that I would be able to come 'home' and bring Kaity with me. And yet I knew down inside that I would never be able to come home with Kaity because I would not be able to go back and still be the kind of mother that Kaity would need.
So I left for good. I moved to Oregon to get away from everyone and all of the memories. I went back in to the show horse world that I had known growing up and refused to stay in touch with anyone. Slowly people stopped calling until finally I had gotten what I wanted- complete solitude from anything involving the racetrack. I refused to watch racing on television and avoided conversations with any horse people that referred at all to the track. When the track was brought up by show people I never even shared that I had ever been a part of that life. It was horrible- but it was the only way that I knew to get through the transition.
Then about 6 years ago I started missing it again. Things had been fine. Kaity was growing up and still needed extra care but it was better than before. I had a good life with my new friends. I was involved in lots of dog sports and still had saddle horses in my back yard. But something was missing.
I knew that my life at the track was over. But for the first time I wasn't so sure that it could not still be a part in some small way. And then one day driving to work (I was working as a real estate investment officer) I decided that it was time to start getting my life back on track.
So I set up some major needs in my life.....

1) I needed to be able to live where I had my horses in the back yard and where my dogs had a yard to play in.
2) I needed to be near major hospitals for Kaity.
3) The property could not be expensive (less than $100k).
4) I needed to be near a mid to large size airport so that I could fly to my dog judging assignments.

All of the above had already been a part of my choices in where I lived. But now I added one more need to the list...

5) I needed to be within 30 miles of a solvent racetrack.

And that was the thing that changed my life.

I looked all across the country and only came up with a couple of options. All of the above were easy....but keeping it within my budget was the killer of most of my options. But I looked hard and came up with Oklahoma City. I was not sure how successful the racetrack in OKC was since I had not kept up with industry news, but I decided that a quick phone call was not too much to do and so I called Remington Park.

My timing was pretty amazing. Just days before, the state of Oklahoma had passed a ruling that a casino could be built within the grandstands of the racetrack. The person that I spoke to that day admitted that prior to this vote, racing prospects were looking pretty dim for the future of Oklahoma. But with this successful outcome of just days before, it was hoped that the viability of racing would now be more likely than at any other time in history.

That was all I needed to hear. I knew that the timing of my phone call was more than a coincidence. I also knew that it was time to head to the Sooner state.

Within days I had purchased a house sight unseen over the Internet. It was a foreclosure and I was warned that it was in terrible shape. But it was on 5 acres, it could be fixed and it was within 25 minutes of Remington Park. I was not sure why that was important- but I knew that this was meant to be.

So here I live....and while I accept that my life as it was at the track will never be the same, it is a comfort to know that it is there. I go to the races on occasion. I am back in touch with many of my racetrack friends (many of whom have retired and gone on to different lives themselves over the years) and I am able to blend my current life with my past....... and more importantly with my future.

It is not the way that I had envisioned it........but it is pretty darn good.

Thanks for listening,

Laura

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Still Struggling

It was so easy when I first started my diet and my blog......and then I just fell off track. Nothing really changed, nothing bad happened, nothing was the apparent cause of the detour, but off I fell.
So I have just been plugging along. I worked a couple of extra shifts for a friend at work, Kaity got sick and had to stay home from school and then I got bored and painted my bedroom with a can of mis-tinted paint that has been sitting on the sun porch for about a year now.
My bedroom used to be sage green and cream. It is a very small bedroom as we have a very small house. Living with a dozen dogs, a teenager who loves to wash her hair and put on makeup plus all of the art work and antique furniture pieces I have collected over the years makes it a pretty tight squeeze in 900 square feet, but we do it....and do it pretty well.
The main part of our house was built over 100 years ago. Then in the fifties, an addition was added to it that brought the grand total up to the 900 square. We have just one very small bathroom that is only 4x8.....the size of a sheet of plywood. Our closets in the bedrooms are only 18 inches wide- so in essence, no closets at all- so we converted one of the small bedrooms into a closet and storage room.
But I digress.......oh that is right....the painted bedroom saga........
So to reiterate, it used to be sage and cream. It is an L shaped room with lots of windows. I think that it probably used to be the drawing room when the house was first built. When I moved in the walls were covered with this sort of press board paneling that had been glued onto the walls. It took a couple of weeks of scraping with a chisel and hammer to get it all off and ready for painting. Under the paneling was a couple of layers of very old wallpaper that was equally as stubborn about giving up the cause.
I started out by painting the walls cornflower blue- which I really loved. But about a year later I saw a great bedroom that was a deep chocolate brown with cream accents. I decided to repaint and keep my blue and cream accents. And it was fine- but this is not a house that embraces that sort of look, so a year later I painted the inside walls of my 'L' shaped room sage and the other 4 walls a cream and then added red accents.
It has been fun- but I was ready for another change.
A year ago I purchased a $5 can of mis-tinted paint that was called cantaloupe. And the paint dot appeared to be a light melon color. I have been using it to prop open the door of the sun porch for the cats for this entire year. So I decided to put it to better use (do not worry about the cats, I have found another doorstop to allow them free access).
Now, as I watch some of the design shows I realize that the proper way to paint a room is to empty it of all furniture, artwork, curtains, etc,..... but when you have a 900 sq ft house there is not a lot of options for even moving something around temporarily. Plus, I am an immediate gratification person (see earlier blog i.e. weight loss problems) and want to get started painting RIGHT NOW!
So I pushed things to one side just far enough for me to get in on my step stool and paint. I decided to leave the two sage walls alone since my curtains are also sage and I really love them.
That left the outside 4 walls.
Now keep in mind I had just worked 7 out of the past 9 days of 13 hour shifts. That is 117 hours in a little over a week. And they had not been easy nights. An emergency almost every night. So perhaps I should be cut some slack for not thinking through the ramifications and eventual outcome of taking a can of essentially orange paint and combining it with sage green walls and curtains. Oh yeah....and I have black bookcases and a black iron headboard.

Yeah.......it is like living in a giant pumpkin in my room right now. Kaity said 'Oh Mom- it looks just like Halloween in here'! Not exactly what I had in mind....but I am actually going to live with it for awhile and see if I can just start to think of it as the color of my favorite season of Fall.

Trained dogs yesterday. I have a couple of amazing greyhounds and their equally amazing owners in Saturday class. These are rescued dogs and they are so gentle and loving. I can see why the people in greyhound rescue are so passionate about this breed. This dogs are truly the perfect therapy dogs for assisted living and hospital visits. They want nothing more than to be loved and touched. Hmmmmmm sounds like what most people want.....yes- the perfect combination.

Then I worked TillyB, Flag-puppy and Spur. Actually I worked Tilly and Flag and mostly played with Spur. Kris and her Beagle Brigade came to join us and we worked out the choreography needed for our pairs routine in two weeks. I have seen a lot of pairs routines during my years of judging, but I have to say I really love our routine. It is fun and exciting to do and I love the costumes and music (we are pirates). There are a couple of new behaviors that I have to teach Tilly in the next two weeks, but the weather is cooler now for training and I have faith in her to pick up the new moves.

Then I played/worked with Flag-puppy. He has started losing his baby teeth this week and is also starting to lose that puppy look. Kris asked me yesterday what breed do I really think that he is? I told her that I am not really sure. I know that he is supposed to be an Aussie (full) but he sure is not a very pretty one. But he has a lot of personality and drive and I am very excited about his future as a freestyle dog. He worked well yesterday and in two weeks he will make his debut (at the grand age of 4 1/2 months) during the Show and Go at the freestyle competition here in Oklahoma. I will do both days with him and I have selected the music 'I Can Show You The World' from Aladdin for one day and 'The Wizard And I ' from Wicked for the 2nd day. I also plan to let the girls (Kaity and Lucy) play with him in the ring while we all clap and cheer for him to get him used to lots of excitement in the ring. I want this puppy to thrive on applause!

Next up was Spur. He ha now lived with us for three weeks. He is recovered from surgery (although he has another smaller tumor on his throat that I will have taken off in a few weeks) and is an amazing dog. He just loves people so much. He is rather a clumsy boy, but he has also gained 17 pounds since we got him. He seems amazed that we have 'magic' food bowls here that always are filled with things to eat. Free feeding is not a great way to go when it comes to training performance dogs, but with the number of dogs we have here it makes for a lot easier life style.

Spur just had a ball playing yesterday. He now has learned that he loves to weave and while he has not grasped that the heelwork is a position, he knows that he just loves to trot next to me which is good enough for now. He has a really hard time going in a circle (spinning) and his hind end tends to go out from under him when he tries to follow a lure even really slowly so I doubt that this move will be in his future. But I will keep doing it slowly so as to help build up his hindquarters and hip muscles. I just love this dog more than I can say.......

So that is how my week has gone. Bought a rice steamer and a bunch of brown rice. Bought veggies and fruit and ready to step back on track. I will be at the gym and in the pool on Tuesday (they are closed until then). Today is a lazy day of catch up, tomorrow is a day at the races and watching the All American Futurity on the television.

And tonight is another night of sleeping in the great pumpkin bedroom.

But I am thinking that if a plain orange pumpkin can become a princess carriage and 4 white mice can become 4 white horses then maybe my life can become my own again.........

Thanks for listening, I appreciate all of your kind words and thoughts,

Laura....still heading back to the right track.....