Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Truth In Advertising

The legal requirements to be a carriage driver, in the state of Utah, are as follows:

You must be 21 years of age.

You must hold a valid Utah drivers license.

(If you find this lax, understand that years ago I worked at a Ben Franklin, which was a Five and Dime. They sold health and beauty aids, craft supplies, select grocery items, rented videos and games, and had a pharmacy. I was a pharmacy tech. At that time, in the state of Illinois, to be a pharmacy tech the only requirement was that you were a high school graduate. Scary.)

Unfortunately, nowhere does it say you must have at least two brain cells.

In Utah, carriage drivers are classified as Statutory Employees, which essentially means that we are independent contractors. In our particular case, we are hired as drivers and operate the equipment (horses and carriages) owned by the carriage barn owners. For that we are paid a commission for each ride we sell. We do not get an hourly wage, health benefits, vacation, sick days, or even a going away party.

(Sorry, I threw that in because I've been watching both season of "Dead Like Me" on Netflix. I'm entranced by the fabulous going away parties at the Happy Time Employment Agency. Sometimes, if it's a person we're particularly fond of, we'll go to a bar, but frequently you won't even know someone has left until it's done. Most of our drivers don't quit, they just fade away.)

The company I work for also has a little spot on the application asking if you have any weight lifting restrictions, up to 30 pounds. The equipment is heavy. Plus you control a 1800-2200 pound animal with your upper body. Wimpy people need not apply. Only a couple of our drivers could be classified as "thin" and I would bet the house on either of them in an arm wrestling contest.

Other than that, pretty much anything goes. I've run through trainees with horse experience, and without. I even had a guy who was afraid of horses, which my buddy Bill equated to hiring a non-swimmer as a lifeguard. A man in his 70's was training and by the time he called it quits, on his first night, around 9pm, he was lying down on the grass at South Gate because his back hurt. He had his wife come pick him up. We do a lot of standing around. So, you must be able to stand.

So here are a few of the New Rules we occasionally implement to qualify prospective employees as carriage driver material:

No more drivers named D**e. The last D**e had a nasty habit of sitting on the box and never getting down. This is not necessarily nasty in itself, however he also would pee his pants while on the box, which made for a gross experience for the next unfortunate driver to use that carriage. Plus he was an ass. So, no more guys named D**e.

No drivers that sing opera. We have enough of a Carnival worker image, and that shit is just weird.

When asked what your horse experience is, if by way of responding you indicate your clothing, which includes a shirt with a horsie on it, your fancy yet totally inappropriate/useless just-for-fashion cowboy boots, and your pants that looked like you stole them from the set of " The Electric Horseman," you fail. Also, riding a horse once 13 years ago is not "horse experience," it's "Vacation Experience." Go apply at Marriott. And just because you have some Native American in your blood does not necessarily impress us. Horses are not indigenous to the Americas. We would, however, be highly impressed if you were either Bedouin or Mongol. They've been at the whole living with horses stuff a lot longer.

If you show up wearing a cowboy hat and have a faded circle on the back pocket of your Wrangler jeans from a can of Skoal, we will probably write you off as a Rodeo wanna be. This is carriage driving, which is not the PRCA. Go ride bulls.

If on your first day you show fear when grooming the horse, you will wash out of the program. Is it because the horses can smell fear? I don't know about that, but the carriage drivers can, and they will eat you alive, just for shits and giggles.

The job is considered part time. This means you get to pick the days you want to work, not the hours. We're all on the street from 6-11, Monday through Thursday, and 6-12 on Friday and Saturday. If you are looking for 3-7, 5-8, or any other combination that is not 6 to 11/12, then may I suggest you get a job at a Snowy-Shak selling snow cones. And tell your spouse to quit freaking calling every ten minutes to 1)see how it's going 2)see how you like it 3)if you are working with a trainer whom your spouse is afraid you will have an affair with or 4) wants to know exactly what time you will be home. We employ grownups, hence the 21 years old requirement. That shit is so Junior High. A lot of our male drivers are here to make a little extra cash to support their families, and the women are just plain mean. We'd rather beat the crap out of you than date you any day.

If you cannot tolerate temperature extremes, go away. Until such a time as we colonize the moon with temperature controlled bio-bubbles, we will continue to work outside. There is no indoor professional carriage driving (as opposed to competitive carriage driving, which is a sport, often done in an arena). And if I have to listen to a newbie whine and cry about being cold/hot/hungry/parched or wet, I will personally walk over and jam your head in the poop bag. We're all out in the same weather that you are. Deal.With.It.

And if you start your first day of training by using baby talk to communicate with one of our horses, you might as well bag it. It just proves to us that the horse is smarter than you. We prefer it to be the other way around, although I've worked with drivers where the intelligence ratio is questionable.

The New Rules are subject to change without notice, depending on the situation. We had a "No more guys named 'Don' rule" because we had two Dons in a row that were annoying nutfucks. But then we got a non-annoying non-nutfuck Don, so we made an exception to the 'No Don' rule.

Until the next one. Then I guess it'll be on a case-by-case basis.

The D**e rule, however, still applies. So if your name is D**e and you want to be a carriage driver, practice asking, "Do you want fries with that?" Because, "Can I interest you in a carriage ride this evening?" will never pass your lips. At least not on my watch.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Too Much Stuff, Too Little Time

Once again it's been hectic over here at Casa Del Slave Driver. Fall brings an entirely new set of "shit that absolutely must get done" including draining the pool (the weekend before last) taking down the pool (this past Sunday) putting away the pool (still working on that) and swapping out the soft top for the hard one on my Jeep (not even close). All these things are on a timeline depending on the weather i.e. they must get done before it snows.

It's supposed to snow tomorrow. Welcome to "Rocky Mountain Living."

This week, probably today, I have to go to Gardner Village and do some reconnaissance. The gig has changed since last year. We no longer are doing "Ride With A Witch", we are doing "Ride To A Witch" which changes the parameters and I have to scope out the path they want us to use.

Why? You ask.

Because I hate surprises.

I also have a different role to play this weekend than usual. Historically, I'm the driver. This weekend I'll be the stager. Hardrock and Coco will be driving, so that puts the onus on me to make sure the operation runs like clockwork. Being the driver is easy, albeit boring. I firmly plant my ear buds, crank my iPod, and cover the entire mess with sound deadening hearing protectors. Insulated in my music filled world I simply drive in circles for eight hours, watch the cartoons in my head, and take visual cues from Ro when the flatbed is loaded and it's safe to drive off.
The music protects my sanity. I use the iPod to drown out not only the loud drone of the tractor engine, but also the uber-annoying sound of screaming children.

I can't use the iPod this weekend. Not only will I have to talk to people, but must be nice to them.

Slave Driver shudders

Added to the mix, I have to cobble together a witch-y costume to dress up in. Driving the tractor, I wear black jeans and a black turtleneck. Nothing spook-tacular (har-de har har) but as Ro found out last year when she stepped off of the tractor and did a face plant, nothing flowing that might get caught on the equipment, either.

Safety first. (That's my story. Sticking)

So don't look for a new blog until next Friday, barring any strange or unusual occurrences. Right now the only thing on the horizon besides Gardner is the publication of the non-fiction eBook I've contributed a chapter to.

And you will be hearing about that. Yes.You.Will.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bringing Up Baby

I'm in the midst of revision over here. What that means to you non-writers is this: Imagine, if you will, that you've given birth to what you consider to be a beautiful baby. You've nurtured this baby for a long time: Your book baby's gestation has been close to two years from conception to birth.

No, wait, that's not right.

Okay, imagine that you're a type of marsupial. You give birth (your original idea) to a tiny caterpillar like thing which then climbs up your belly and plops into your pouch. There, nestled in the warm confines of your baby pocket, you nurture it, watch it grow and develop (the actual writing process). Finally, one glorious day, after much teeth gnashing and hand wringing, you go into labor and it pops out, fully formed, like Athena from Zeus's head. Or so you think.

Poof! You have finished your novel! YAY!

Oh, wait, no you haven't. First, you need to go in and clean your baby up, count it's fingers and toes, and of course push gently on the soft spot. Get rid of all the grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting errors. Then, you give it to a friend or two (or six or seven, in my case) to read through and point out the errors you've missed. Why would you miss errors? The same reason that classical musicians are advised to never memorize a piece: While memorizing the music, you tend to also memorize your mistakes.

So, after your "Beta Readers" have done their job and pointed out all the things that, while obvious to them are not so obvious to you, you fix it. This can be compared to having an orthodontist put braces on your kid's teeth. The teeth are there, they're just crooked and a little fugly. It's not as painful as it looks because it's really a mechanical thing.

So you get the braces done (first revision), and sit back, admiring your beautiful child. But, not being sure if you’re kid is as beautiful as YOU think it is (because we all think our kid is beautiful) you go into round two, submitting your child to a beauty contest (critique).

During the critique process more technical errors are found, but not nearly as many, for which you are relieved, but now we're working on the esthetics. Your critique buddies, who are never as nice as your friends (which is a good thing because the worst feedback you can get on your writing is: "I just LOVED it!" because that is not helpful at all) ding you on point of view shifts, merit of dialogue to the story, pacing, character, and plot.

This is where the real work begins. This is where you go to your child and tear it apart, keeping it on life support while you make changes to its fundamental personality and body image. A little taller, a lot leaner, slightly more buff in the upper body; you sculpt your child into the epitome of a person, applying all the current societal rules for perfection while trying to maintain your child's unique individuality.

Which is all very difficult if you've 1) never written a book before and therefore have no idea what you're doing and 2) have never been one to play by the rules.

Now, forty-seven revisions later, you have achieved what you believe to be the ultimate child, and you have to sell it. And by sell it I mean defend it, justify its existence, and try to get someone (an agent or publisher) interested in buying your child so they can send your beautiful offspring out into the world for the rest of humanity to enjoy. You know, pimp out your kid.

That, dear Confessions of a Slave Driver blog readers, is where I'm at now. I have donned my purple feathered hat, slightly ratty fur coat, Italian loafers, and am standing on a street corner looking for Literary Johns to sell my baby to. Next month I will attend the Utah Romance Writers of America conference and "pitch" my novel to a stranger in an attempt to get an agent and conversely a publishing contract. Which brings us to The Pitch:

Carlin "Carlos" Farley's life is an open book. Unfortunately, she can't remember most of it. She's losing her barn manager, Bill, the guy who's been running her carriage business while she's been in extended care recovering from the accident that killed her husband and son. The same accident led to the loss of her left foot, along with a does of brain damage. Bill has always been there for her, in fact they've grown up together, but now he wants to pursue the career he put on hold and Carlin's resigned to the idea that he's leaving her.

Bill Fantazma is the kind of guy who always tries to do the right thing. But sometimes doing the right thing is not the right thing to do. He's been harboring a secret for a while now; he desperately wants to resume a romantic relationship with Carlin, one he instigated while she was still married to her philandering jerk of a husband. He's been in charge of her care and the business he helped acquire for her, and has accepted the accident and her subsequent brain damage as a chance for a "do-over", since his previous actions to attract her affection were less than honorable. It's a romance that Carlin can't remember, and Bill can never forget.

Richard Cooper appears the answer to their business problems. Knowledgeable about horses, willing to step in and take over the barn manager position, helpful and solicitous to Carlin, he's not put off by her sometimes bizarre and quirky behavior.
Behavior that often puts the image-obsessed Bill into a tailspin, between trying to take care of her, running the business and keeping her out of trouble, managing all aspects of her life for the last two years.

The situation of Carlin's brain damage, and her inability to remember the true nature of their relationship, which Bill once considered a blessing, had become an increasingly frustrating problem as her perceived attraction to the man he hires to replace him ramps up the intensity of his desires.

When Richard sees an opportunity to move in and draw Carlin's affection, Bill realizes just what she means to him and must make a decision; come clean about their past and risk her anger, or step away and allow Richard to have a romantic relationship with the woman Bill has loved all of his life.

With the help of their small tribe of friends and co-workers, Bill and Carlin are directed down the right path to secure a future for them both.

As you can see, it needs a lot of work. What do you think? And don't tell me you love it, because that shit is weak.

Monday, September 21, 2009

There Must Have Been Something In The Water

Bart, with girlish ribbons in his mane, which he was not happy about, but sometimes it comes with the job
(This pic's for you, BPA)

I worked Friday night. Nothing strange or unusual there— I work most Friday nights, unless 1) I have other plans 2) there are too many people already signed up and I know I won't make any money or 3) It's conference weekend, which only happens in the spring and fall or 4) I'm doing a specialty off site or 5) I've forgotten to sign up which is rare and even if I do Ro will call me up and write me into the schedule anyway. So, working a Friday is not a new or different experience.

Odd things happening during the course of an evening is not unusual either. We get visits from the Drunken Horse Whisperer, fistfights, and customers making strange requests. We handle all of these things on a regular basis because we have to. We work in an arena filled with the general public, in all weather and traffic conditions, because it's part of the job. There is no status quo for us. A driver must be able to think on their feet and often has to improvise. What is a strange and unusual occurrence is to get your monthly quota of weird shit all in the same night. That was this past Friday.

The evening started out normally; Kar had a trainee, several of us had appointments. We stood at South Gate killing time when from across the street at the construction site one of the workers, up in the air on a man-lift, had a melt down and started swearing at one of his co-workers. We listened while he screamed and yelled, dropping the "F" bomb numerous times, until the foreman came over and put him in a time out. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, because the Trax train, traffic, and noise coming from the construction site would mask the obscenities, but for some weird reason at that point in time our block was almost silent.

That little piece of street theater concluded, and then it was time for appointments. Mine was at 7:15, and I was to pick a family up in front of the Artspace condos on 200 South, drive them around for half an hour and drop them at Abravanelle Hall for the Cirque de Symphonie performance. All was well, and kind of slow, as I waited to leave from South Gates, when the wind picked up and a front came in. I was hoping that it would pass, but Kar gave me her trainee because I had my appointment and she was still standing at South Gate trying to sell a ride. As the trainee and I headed out for my appointment, which I left a little early for (because I'm anal retentive and hate to be late) the rain started so I pulled the carriage over on West Temple and we put the top up. When we arrived at the pickup point the family was waiting on the street so I flipped a u-turn and they got into the carriage. Going forward to the light, we were waiting for it to turn green when a gust of wind picked up a 3ft X 3ft wooden "Event Parking $3.00" sign and, with much noise and clattering, blew it from the north side of the street across all five lanes to the south side, behind my carriage, where it came to rest on the sidewalk.

Charlie Horse, during a lull in the insanity

Now, I'm going to discuss "having an out". When I drive either my car or my carriage I always try and have an "out". That is an escape plan. When I stop somewhere I always check my surroundings and see where I could go if I have to move out of the way in a hurry. I look for holes in traffic, open access to the sidewalk, curbs I could go over (you'd be surprised how well a carriage can handle a curb if you take it straight on) and I like to give myself a lot of room in my lane in case the horse I'm driving decides to have a fit about something. This is very rare, but as stated earlier, I'm anal retentive and I think about stuff like this so often that it's automatic.

I tell trainees all the time, to do this job you have to be a defensive driver, extremely vigilant, and constantly aware of your surroundings.

My "out" in this case was a right turn, which I did not have to use, although I was prepared to if necessary. So when the sign became a missile, rolling across the street, almost nailing a pedestrian on the sidewalk, making Charlie do a vigorous tap dance, I was prepared to make a right, but he calmed down and the situation was handled in a safe and secure manner.

I finished the ride and returned to South Gate. A little later I hooked a ride up to Memory Grove. It was a young couple, casually dressed, nothing different or unusual. On the way up Canyon Road, I passed Kar, and it appeared that she had long streamers, at least 30 feet, hanging off the back of her carriage. It was strange, but I figured she knew about it so I didn't say anything.

I went into the Grove and back down, and was almost to the gate when the young man in my carriage whispered in my ear, "Can you pull over for a minute?" I stopped Charlie, and the customer proceeded to get down on one knee and propose. This was only weird because it's typical to do "it" at the bridge, or in the park, not on the carriage almost out the gate.

Eh, what are you going to do? It's not like we have a sign in the carriage "To propose properly, ask the driver to stop at the bridge, get out and do it there. We'll pick you back up on the way down."

The girl, while ecstatic that he had popped the question, was a little embarrassed because she was wearing sweats. She had planned, she told me, on having dinner with his sister, and he had surprised her by showing up instead. So now, instead of that little black dress I'm sure she has tucked into her closet, whenever she puts on her "Raging Waters Lifeguard" sweatshirt, she will be reminded that this was what she was wearing when she got engaged.

I got back to South Gate. ~A~ pulled up behind me just as a red sedan came to a screeching halt at the corner of South Temple and Main street. The door flew open and people started yelling and screaming, the driver attempting to pull a passenger from the back seat. All kinds of swearing was going on, and I thought it was going to get violent so I called the cops to report a domestic issue, but they passengers exited the car, it took off down Main, and the people walked away.

Finally, Kar returned from her wedding appointment, and we mentioned that all of us were happy not to be driving our carriage right behind her. She had no idea what we were talking about, and got off the carriage to look at the back. Her wedding people had, unbeknownst to her, looped several rolls of toilet paper behind the carriage (that was the "streamers" I'd seen earlier) and she'd been driving around town like that for about an hour.

Weird shit happens to us all the time, but not usually all in one night. It wasn't a full moon, so there must have been something in the water.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sometimes It's Better To Be Lucky, Or Anal Retentive, Than Good…

Dreamer, the day I got him

This blog is called "Confessions" of a Slave Driver, so I'm going to confess something to you;

My horse, L.P. Prairie Dreamer, is a World Champion Halter Horse. This means that at one point in time he was considered, by a club, to be the finest specimen of his breed in that club at that time. And I even have a halter to prove it. How we got it, however, is rather unconventional.

We purchased Dreamer in July of 1992. At the time the breeder we got him from was showing him on the Appaloosa Horse Club circuit (ApHC) in Geldings of '89, Most Colorful, and a stupid class called "Suitability for Dressage". Now, the first two classes involved walking your horse out into the arena and having the judge gauge him against the other participants for conformation and Appaloosa markings. He's a little guy, 14.3 hands but with excellent conformation, but at that time in the horse world there was a stud named Impressive who had been used to breed into the Appy, Quarter horse, and Paint breeds. Impressive, and conversely his get, were built like brick shithouses. Imagine, if you will, a horse with spidley legs, small feet, and ugly head, and a body like a Sherman tank. At the time, this was considered the epitome of Horse Perfection. Of course, the ultimate way of moving was called "Peanut Pushing" because the horse jogged with his nose almost touching the ground. Both of these eventually went out of fashion, along with ugly shirts and "taco" cowboy hats, but Impressive left his mark on the horse world, unfortunately with a muscular condition called HYPP, but that's a story for another day…

Anyway, when we purchased Dreamer he had enough points on him to be eligible for the ApHC World Championships being held that year in Fort Worth, Texas. Excited, and with huge dreams of having a World Champion horse, we assured the breeder that we would take him to the "World".

Besides being registered with the ApHC, Dreamer was also eligible for a registry known as the "Colorado Ranger Bred" Horse. This is a very selective group of equines that are descended from one of two studs, Max#2 and Patches#1. The history is interesting, and you can read all about it here, but being that I was a newbie at owning a horse, I made sure to cover my bases by registering him in the two afore mentioned clubs, and a new one I had read about in a magazine, the International Colored Appaloosa Association (ICAA).

Triple registered. Yes, I am anal retentive, why do you ask?

We never showed him in any of the Rangerbred shows, but it was pretty cool that he was eligible for their registry.

So, we went about the rest of that summer and autumn, showing him not only at "A" circuit shows but also little backyard and local riding stable shows too, to accumulate points for the ICAA's open show point program. It was a time in my life when Mr. Slave Driver and I were DINKS (Double Income No Kids) and we had both money and time to burn. Almost every weekend was filled with horse shows and the accumulated travel and experience that accompanies such.

Dreamer at the 1992 ApHC World Championship Show in Fort Worth, Texas

By the end of the showing season, Dreamer, who already had enough points on him to attend the ApHC World in November of 1992, was also, I was advised by the ICAA, in the running for the Champion of the adult division of the ICAA. This was very exciting stuff for me. All those long hot weekends spent running to non-A circuit shows paid off by accumulating points that eventually made us the winners! My horse was to be presented his title and all the accompanying accoutrements the following August in South Haven, Michigan at the ICAA's championship show. Would I, the ICAA secretary asked over the phone, be able to attend?

"You betcha!" I told her. It was January of 1993. We had taken Dreamer to Fort Worth in November of 1992 and it was a bust for us, although he did receive a 6th place ribbon in the "Geldings of '89" class. They place 1st - 10th at The World, and 6th sounds pretty good for amateurs like us. Of course, when speaking to a group of seasoned horse folk, we would neglect to mention that there were only six entrants in the class, so 6th was actually last. But that's a minor detail that was conveniently overlooked. I got a ribbon. Technically, it still counts…

Fast forward to August of 1993: I am asked to attend the ICAA Presentation of Awards Show. I'm also requested to drive from Northern Illinois, up to Kenosha Wisconsin to pick up the Junior Champion, her horse, and her guardian. Then I get to drive the three of us, along with two horses and our dog, Stormy, back down around Lake Michigan, take a left part way through Indiana, and go north into South Haven, Michigan. I do this during the height of Construction Season, driving a 22 foot motor home, pulling a two horse trailer, with no air-conditioning because the RV's thermostat keeps edging towards the red zone. It's predicted to be in the upped 90's with 90-95% humidity all weekend. Ah…weather in the Midwest! And the best part?
I'm now seven months pregnant.

Oh. Yay.

Dreamer and Slave Driver in a field, South Haven, Michigan

But I did it. (Looking back I see now that I was insane.) The junior champion's guardian was no help at all- she'd never driven a vehicle larger than a pickup truck, OR hauled a horse trailer (that was her husband's job…) We made it up to the show grounds, only to have a thunder and lightning enhanced downpour the next morning.

The show was cancelled, and our awards were presented in a tiny barn on the show grounds.

The ICAA secretary was there, and face to face I was able to ask exactly how well we did in the standings compared to the other participants. Remember, I'm anal retentive; I love to see the numbers in relation to my achievements. And she told me.

Dreamer, she advised, was the winner of the 1992 ICAA Adult High Point Halter World Championship because…He was the only horse entered.

But, technically, it still counts…

And, no matter what the numbers say, he'll always be a champion to me.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rain Delay...

In case you've stopped by to read my post for today, sorry but this is it.

I have to pitch my novel at a Romance Writers of America conference that our chapter is hosting next month and it needs work… lots and LOTS of work. So, since not much has happened this week (thankfully!) I'm focusing on my fiction.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog hopping.

OR you could go watch the My Little Pony Trailer on You Tube because it's freakin' funny

Thursday, September 10, 2009

When It's Time To Say Goodbye...

This one's serious, so if you're looking for shits and giggles, may I suggest you visit Cake Wrecks for today?

It isn't often that a pet will outlive you. It's a numbers game, you see. So, unless you are old, sick, accident prone, or own either a sea turtle or one of the members of the parrot family that live well into their seventies, most of us will, at some point in time, have to say goodbye to the furry members of our family. Those that do not pass because of an emergency such as poisoning, bloat, or a car vs. pet incident, or succumb to one of the many ailments that they, like us, are not immune to, will force us at some point in time to come to terms with that final decision.

We're getting close to that here in the Slave Driver household, and it's rough.

Cowboy as a youngster

We've had the pleasure of knowing Brown Dirt Cowboy, Border Collie Extraordinaire, as a member of our household since 1996. He was a replacement dog, as all of our canines have been. We started out as a two dog family way back when Mr. Slave Driver and I first cohabitated, somewhere around 1983. We added and subtracted over the years, having to do the unmentionable twice. We were fortunate that two other of our canines left of their own accord, one coming over to say, unbeknownst to me, her goodbye, gently placing her head in my lap for one last cuddle, before curling up in her favorite chair and slipping quietly into the night while I worked only a few yards away. And although she picked her own time, it was still very difficult on me, because I'd had raised her from a 12 hour old pup, abandoned along with her litter mate to die in a box on a loading dock. Mr. Slave Driver found them, brought them home on the back of his motorcycle, and we did what a Vet later told me was almost impossible; bottle raised them from birth to adulthood. Ginger Blah Blah was 13 when she died, the same age Cowboy is now. I loved her very much, but she was not what one could call a good dog. A pain in the ass, the polar opposite of Cowboy.

We brought Cowboy into our household, the first registered, purebred dog I have ever owned, to help me with the sheep on our farm in Missouri. As usual when I begin a project, I had no idea what I was doing; I only knew that their innate sense of what they were supposed to do was meticulously bred into them. He came from sheepherding stock, both of his parents working dogs, and together we learned how to accomplish what needed to be done. Cowboy would keep the various rams we had at bay when I entered the sheep pens to do the chores necessary for maintaining a small flock of sheep, (and if you've never been butted at full speed in the thigh by a ram, I can tell you from experience that that talent alone is worth its weight in gold). He would gather the ewes from the grass pasture, herd them into their smaller paddock for the night, or, when the apples had fallen to the ground in late fall and we allowed the sheep to roam our unfenced back yard to graze, he would keep them on our property, and away from the road.

As he got older, and caught on to what his position on the farm was, he expanded his duties. When we brought the horses into the barn for the night, opening the pasture gate for them to run into the barn for the evenings meal, he made sure they each went into their assigned stalls, nipping at their heels if they dawdled, standing guard in the barn aisle until each stall door was closed and locked, always with a pleased look on his face. Neat. Tidy. Border collies appreciate things being buttoned up tight, everything square and shipshape. It, along with their driving need to work, is genetically pre-destined.

Our chickens and ducks posed problems for him. Figuring out what to do after they would jump onto a fence rail to avoid him, you could see his brain working out the quandary, trying to figure out how he, too, could fly. Once the mallard drakes we raised were old enough to fly, and their testosterone kicked in, they didn't appreciate his herding and retaliated. I opened the side door once to let Cowboy out of the house, and all three of our ducks were waiting on the stoop, like a small flock of paparazzi. As he exited, they began to chase him, one of the tenacious little guys latching onto his tail with his bill, and laughing my ass off, I wished for a camcorder as Cowboy raced around the yard, trying to dislodge his hitchhiker, while the duck held on and madly flapped his wings. After that episode, if I opened the door and the Duck Gang was waiting to jump him, he would walk to the back door, and patiently wait until I caught on...he knew that to foil the Mallards you didn’t have to be real intelligent, you only had to be a little smarter than the ducks.

He hates baths, but on a hot day would leap into the horse's water tank to cool off, only his eyes and nose visible. We called this game, "Alligator in the stock tank" and it never failed to make us laugh as a hapless horse would approach for a drink then run away in terror as he popped back out right under their nose. Shaking himself off, he would stare at us with his expression of, "What? I was hot! Have you lazy butts not noticed I'm working here?"

Cowboy at Strut Your Mutt 2008.

Cowboy taught be that although it alright to be driven, to throw yourself into your work with a single minded purpose, and it's okay to have fun when the work is finished.

He has been the most intelligent, agile, and athletic dog I have ever known. He would watch you, anticipating that at any moment you might need his assistance. Like most Border Collies, he has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and if you were not giving him a job he would invent his own. Killing the crickets that infested our old farmhouse was one of them, catching flies was another. On numerous occasions we would return to a home that looked like it had been ransacked; lamps overturned, phones knocked off end tables, books on the floor, and incriminating paw prints half way up the walls. But we knew better; there had been a fly in the house and Cowboy had taken it upon himself to hunt it down and catch it. Flies, by the way, are tasty. Spiders, apparently, are not. And while crickets are cunning and worthy prey, they are downright yucky, as evidenced by his willingness to catch them and crunch them with his teeth, but the spitting out and shaking of his head a testament to their nasty flavor.

There are so many things I want to tell you about him, his quiet loyalty, strength, intelligence, and willingness to jump in head first to whatever fray you were involved in. One night I heard a commotion out by the barn; it was 4:30 in the morning, still dark, and I took only a flashlight and my dog to investigate. We found the neighbors Rottweiler bitch and her grown pup attacking our sheep. One of them had ripped half of the tail off of our pygmy goat, and they were closing in on a ewe and her lamb. Cowboy, all forty-five pounds of him, chased both dogs off of our property, following them all the way to their owner's house down the street. It was one of the few times he ventured into the road, past our property line. He stopped at the edge of their driveway, making sure they retreated back into their yard. Returning to me he was ready to battle any other intruders, vigilant and faithful. Cowboy, I knew, always had my back.

Another neighbor was a dear friend, but he was also the propane delivery man. Cowboy never took a liking to Don, and I can only surmise that it was because the smell of propane gas followed this man around like a stinky shadow. If I could smell the acrid odor, I can only imagine that for Cowboy, with his millions of olfactory receptors, it was like having the gas sprayed directly into his face. One evening Don stopped by, and our then four year old daughter wanted to show him something upstairs. As Don and The Kid walked up the stairs hand in hand ahead of me, Cowboy inserted himself between them and kept trying to nudge their hands apart as they climbed. He did not like Don, and therefore did not want him touching a member of his pack.

Now he pants a lot, spends a lot of time staring at a blank wall, and occasionally groans when he lies down. We left Cowboy and Sammie Two Chews, our Pomeranian, at home with ~A~ house/dog sitting when we made our week long trek to Southern Utah last month. Cowboy couldn't make the jump into or out of the travel trailer, so we thought it best to leave him home. ~A~ reported to me that on one occasion he slid down a couple of stairs coming up with her from the basement. His vision is alright, with the exception of depth perception issues most noticeable when he's trying to catch popcorn. He loses the ball or Frisbee in the yard, usually finding it by scent. And he's deaf. That, or he's finally decided to just ignore us, which goes to show how intelligent he really is.

Now it's me who is waiting on him, watching him in anticipation of his needs. Now it's me who follows him around and herds him back into the house if he's wandered too far. Calling does no good, so we use exaggerated hand signs, which he seems to understand. His pride is such that, since he can no longer jump into or out of the truck, he'd rather not go. Unlike the Pomeranian, he is not a dog to be dressed up, fussed over, or carried around, and will not tolerate it. He has always had a great sense of honor, never steals food, or roots through the trash. He is not as obedient as he is well mannered, his own sense of propriety the guide he uses to choose right from wrong.

He is still, and has always been, a most excellent example of a furry family member, and as he has always done right by us, I will do right by him.

It's just really damn hard. I don't want him to go when he's still okay; but both Ro and MBA say their greatest regret with their dogs was: They felt they waited too long. I have no desire to rush into anything, but neither do I want him to suffer. But every time he groans, every slip on the stairs, every bad day when he limps from too much activity the day before, is another little hole punched into my heart. So, when the time comes, I can only hope that I can show him the same strength, loyalty and honor that he has shown me.

He's set the bar high, you see, and I'm only a human. I hope I can get it right. He deserves nothing less.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

*It Must Be Something In The Dairy Air

My tribe took a ride north this weekend to visit Wease. Because her house is small we brought my travel trailer along to stay in. So, essentially we camped in her front yard.

All six of us were there Friday night; ~A~, Oli, Bill, The Fabulous Todd, Wease and yours truly. We went to a restaurant down the street from Weases for dinner because when we get together we tend to drink a lot, and after the first round of drinks we don't drive anywhere. The restaurant is within walking distance, so they get a lot of our business. A lot.

We checked on Kid, retired carriage horse, and fussed over Wease's new baby.

"Slave Driver fussing over a new baby?" You wonder."Is she sick or something?"

Well, it's a horse baby, so yes. If it had been the human kind we would have avoided Wease's place like it was infested with plague carrying rats and perfume snipers from Dillards.

Wease took The Fabulous Todd and I on what she calls "The Cemetery Tour", which is a ride through her neighborhood to, you guessed it, the local cemetery. It was quite beautiful, and Kid did excellent, only acting up a bit when a curious cow stood at the fence and mooed at us. Kid, you see, is a city boy, and it confirmed my suspicions that our horses are desensitized to the noise and pace of the mechanized city but if confronted by a bovine they would have reservations. Kid's reaction was to pick up the pace and jog a bit, which was a little uncomfortable for me since the gig is a two person vehicle and we had stuffed in three, The Fabulous Todd essentially sitting in my lap.

Wease wanted to show us a secluded house she likes, so under cover of darkness we rolled up their private semi-circular drive, Wease admonishing us to "Shhh," since we were giggling the whole time. Of course the clomping of Kid and crunching grind of the buggy wheels was totally not noisy… We called it an Amish Drive-by Shunning, and I have to wonder what the owners thought the next morning when they found wheel tracks and hoof prints in their driveway…

I imagine it was a "WTF" moment.

Upon our return we drank a lot more and played Rummikub, during which our conversation turned to a well worn topic—Zombies.

(I bet you thought I was gonna say Radical Animal Rights Activists, huh? They do have certain similarities.)

Wease noted that since my trailer has sleeping areas that flop down and are soft sided, similar to a pop-up camper (referred to in the Western RV camping world as a "Grizzly Bear Boxed Lunch") that Zombies would have easy access to the area where certain members of our tribe would be sleeping. Wease, you see, keeps a sword hanging on the wall in her living room, a la "Sean of the Dead", in case of an attack, stating that, "One can never be too careful when it comes to Zombies."

I had always thought the quote was "One can never be to rich or too thin", but that obviously does not apply to us.

We mapped out our plan, just in case, and it was decided by a majority that since Bill was inebriated, he would sleep on one end and be used as bait, so the rest of us could escape into the house to barricade and arm ourselves in case of an attack.

Bill, however, foiled our plan by sleeping in his car. Luckily the night was Zombie-free.

Saturday morning brought the end of the visit of both The Fabulous Todd and Bill, both of whom had other, seemingly better, things to do, so they left and we decided to go into Idaho for breakfast, a bit of shopping, and lottery tickets (no gambling of any kind is tolerated legal in Utah).

We were also running a little low on booze. Go figure.

After shopping we spent the rest of the day drinking, eating, and playing Rummikub, with the exception of taking a break to watch an old movie called "The Dancing Pirate" which we picked up at a five and dime in Preston, Idaho, mocking it Mystery Science Theater 3000 style.

Ah, good times.

We even manages to have a campfire and roast marshmallows.

And, of course, we got tattoos, which is traditional when we go visit Wease. They're the stick on kind, but it still counts. Because, as everyone knows, Like garlic for vampires, tattoos ward off Zombies. Which is another reason we used Bill for bait. He does'nt have any.

We never did fall victim to a Zombie attack. We did, however, learn that Oli not only considers "7" to be a number, but it's also a color.

*Cache County, Utah, is famous for its dairy products. The overall odor surrounding Wease's home can only be described as "cow".

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hey, Tony, Why The Long Face?

Excuse me while I do a little bit of personal business here for a moment, would you?

Slave Driver raps on her laptop screen

SD: "Belle's Personal Assistant, Helllloooooooo, BPA, wake up!"

Slave Driver shakes her laptop to get BPA's attention

SD: "Last night I was informed by a person in a KSL chat room during a discussion about the carriages that our horses are worked until they are near death then sent to slaughter houses and turned into dog food or shipped overseas for human consumption. Can you look out your window and tell me if Belle is standing out in your pasture?"

BPA: "Absolutely, she's looking at me right now."

SD: "So she's not in a can of Alpo?"

BPA: "No."

SD: "Does she look like she's been worked to death?"

BPA: "Absolutely not."

SD: "Was she near death when you got her?"

BPA: "Absolutely not."

SD: "Do you think she misses carriage driving?"

BPA:"No. This is a horse that doesn’t miss carriage driving, but she probably misses pulling. She wasn’t cut out for it that’s why she was done."

SD: "Do you think that she's a better riding horse because of it?"

BPA: "She is a better, safer horse now because of her exposure to the downtown environment. The thing about the horses in Salt Lake is, they are given a chance to acclimate and if they don’t they are sold, and not for meat. Mia & Carl are in pasture, Mikey, my favorite, is in a pasture, and since he was so important to me the owners let me know that he was sold to an older couple so they could give their grandkids rides."

"I would sign up to drive Jim, Charlie or Bart any day of the week, because I know they will not freak out. I also know that the carriage horses never suffer from malnutrition, which is a problem that I've noticed in other horses I've looked at."

"Belle has no foot problems because they kept regular trims on her and farriers tell me that she has excellent feet."

SD: "Thanks, BPA. When I was told all of our horses go to slaughter I was worried."

Slave Driver calls carriage driver Wease.

SD: "Hey Wease, can you look outside and tell me if Kid is still in your back yard?"

Wease: "Yes he is."

SD: "And do you still use him to pull your meadowbrook cart?"

Wease: "Yes, I do."

SD: "How does he react when you put on his driving tack and pull out the cart?"

Wease: "He loves it. He starts acting like a four year old colt."

(Kid is around 28-30 years old)

SD: "Has he had any problems since he retired?"

Wease: "No. He lives in a pasture, eats lots of food, he has weight problems like any older horse might, but that's not the carriage barn's fault."

SD: "Does he seem stressed when you drive him?"

Wease: "No, he loves it. Horses need a job, just like people need a job. I hook him up and he steps out. His personality has not changed since he came here. He's still the same rock solid horse who wants to work which was why everyone loved him."

SD: "Okay, Wease, thanks a lot. I was just checking."

(I'm going to visit Wease, along with other members of my tribe, and I'll be driving Kid on what Wease calls" The Cemetery Tour" this weekend.)

See, I contacted the two former carriage drivers because when I was told this information I was worried…

Okay, not really, because while listening to the Director of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition part of his argument for banning carriages was because, "The horses look sad."

(Anthropomorphism: an.thro.po.mor.phism : the attribution of a human form, human characteristics, or human behavior to nonhuman things, e.g. deities in mythology and animals in children's stories.)

He also stated that "The horses are denied water."

Really? Then why do I haul that five gallon bucket of water around under my carriage? So when we're bored we can bob for apples?

Charlie likes to look around at stuff when he's working. Ace typically falls asleep at South Gate. Jerry will follow you around the pen when you walk in to get the horse you're working with, and will repeatedly attempt to stick his face in the halter. Bob tries to cuddle up with you when you're standing at South Gate holding his lead rope. And Jock, who was 30 when he retired and 33 when he passed away, lived out the remainder of his days at the Carriage Barn. The owners would close the gates and he was free to wander the property. He would occasionally walk into the shed housing the vehicles, turn his big body around, and back up to the front of a carriage, waiting to be hooked up, which he never again was, because he was retired.

That, my friends, was a horse that looked sad.