Thursday, November 24, 2011

Coming Saturday: Overeat? Don't fret, your growing girth ain't nothin'

Shortly after you contemplate which type of pie you will have, you may find yourself wondering if you could possibly stuff any more food into your mouth without exploding.
Ah, Thanksgiving!
If you're chowing non-stop, bracing for days of guilt about all the vittles you partook of, don't be too hard on yourself.
Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011, In Search of Ponies will show that not only are you not alone in the animal kingdom, you just might be surprised at how far a gluttonous, “Need for Feed” will take some critters and how much trouble it can get them into.
So, enjoy the season, let go of the guilt and eat up... 
What the heck, have a second, or third slice of pie and be sure to look for In Search of Ponies Friday evening on and and in newsstands Saturday morning.
Happy grazing!

Horses share strength

As featured Nov. 19, 2011, on
Her voice was strained and tired as she described the stress and challenges their family was enduring.
But most of all, what she wanted was her baby boy with her. Though it’s been years, I can still remember hearing her pain as she told me how it just wasn’t right leaving him there at the hospital and driving home without him.
As if it weren’t enough that little Jamie was born two months premature and had to be hospitalized, his parents were warned very early that his future would be challenging and he would likely experience developmental delays.
The warnings came true and then some.
At 3-years-old, Jamie was diagnosed with autism.
My friend did everything the experts suggested, making sure Jamie had occupational and speech therapy, doctor’s appointments and more. Of course some things helped, but with it all, Jamie still had a ways to go just to master the simple tasks in life.
Willing to do anything to help her son, my friend even took suggestions that yanked her outside of her own comfort zone.
After all, who would have thought someone like Big Bob could help a little kid whose problems had names like, “sensory integration dysfunction.”
But he did.
My friend was terrified the first time her little boy was placed atop one of the huge therapy horses and stood anxiously waiting for the panicked explosion that was sure to come, but it never happened.
Instead, something magical took place and in no time, the same child who struggled with coordination on the ground was doing “helicopters” with his arms and stretching across the back of a moving horse.
Jamie didn’t fall, he didn’t scream and he didn’t shake in terror.
He smiled.
The difference in Jamie was instantaneous and grew with each excursion to the riding stable.
“I had no experience with horses whatsoever — beautiful creatures, and whatever it is they have, it is very special,” his mother recently wrote to me when I asked her to write a guest piece telling her son’s story for online blog readers.
“Some of the children there were severely handicapped and they would arrive in their ‘zone’ but as soon as they were put up on the horse the laughs would begin… Need I say more,” she followed.
Imagine going through life struggling with difficulty walking, or running or even doing simple things such as swinging your arms in unison or balancing or connecting a smell with a shape and a sound, being able to understand how they’re all tied together — all those little things most of us take for granted and never even think about.
Beautiful to watch from the ground, somehow when you climb on the back of a horse, all that beauty and power is shared with you. Perhaps it’s because when you’re on the back of a horse the very earth changes beneath you or because there’s something surreal about a being so powerful and strong allowing you to direct its course.
Not only are they just fun to be around, but through the sharing of their legs, balance, eyesight and gentle spirits, horses are able to equalize, giving back the things that sometimes life leaves out. And as if all that weren’t enough, there’s a touch of something else they give, something special.
Whatever that magic is of theirs, there’s nothing else like it in the world, most especially for Jamie.

Be sure to read Jamie's story in the words of his mother: Guest blog: Something special

Horsin' around

I have always enjoyed Wendy's stories.
With a diverse roster of students and a troop of four-legged teachers both big and small, she has tons of adventures, laughs and Aha! moments at her place.
And in the way of a true mentor, she turns each story into a lesson of some kind – a woman after my own heart.
Luckily, Wendy has created a blog where she is sharing some of her stories, the perfect solution for those times when conflicting schedules prevent hearing them in person.
Though it's not quite the same as being there, it's nice to know Horsin Around With Wendy is just a click away. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Coming Saturday: What a difference a horse makes

For a mother who knew very little about horses other than the fact they are very large animals, the thought of putting her special little boy on the back of one was intimidating, but on the advice of specialists, she crossed her fingers and took the risk.
It was a decision that made a huge difference in Jamie's life and one she will never regret.
Forging a bond with the horses, Jamie flourished and his mother discovered there was magic in the relationships he made – a magic no medicine or occupational therapy could quite replicate.
Jamie's mother was kind enough to write a guest blog about her son's experience with riding therapy, featured exclusively on and his experience is also the topic of this week's In Search of Ponies column, which will be available Friday evening at and and in newsstands Saturday morning, Nov. 19.
Be sure to read Jamie's story: Guest blog: Something special

Guest blog: Something special

My son Jamie was born eight weeks prematurely due to complications with pregnancy. He was in the neo-intensive care unit for nearly three week before we could bring him home. I remember the pediatrician telling us that due to his size and weight that we would have a ‘baby’ for longer than most, and not to be surprised if, and when problems with his developmental milestones occurred.
He didn’t do anything according to the norm, and at a year old the Early Start Program stepped in and started intervening with his age appropriate learning; helping with feeding problems, simple things like eye-hand coordination and suggestions in methods to calming him down when he got himself all worked up and out of sorts. Jamie’s pediatrician had a referral put into the University of California Medical Center, Developmental Pediatrics at around 18 months and was officially diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Delay; later at about three years old re-diagnosed with autism. With all the interventions of occupational therapy and speech therapy, we have a great little boy.
Our coordinator with Kern Regional Medical Center suggested we try Jamie with therapeutic horseback riding to accommodate his toe-walking and sensory integration dysfunction. When a child rides a horse they experience all of their senses; vision, hearing, smell, tactile, vestibular and proprioception, all of which have been a big problem for Jamie. We wanted to find a way that was fun and enjoyable, but also beneficial for our little boy.

We were introduced to Saddle-Up Therapeutic Horse-back Riding Stables 2008. What a wonderful experience – the first day, there I was afraid Jamie would freak out with the horses, but he calmly walked up the gangplank with the aide and hopped on the back of this lovely Norwegian fiord horse called Bjorn. This was the beginning of a three year relationship with the riding school. There he progressed to a 17 hand thoroughbred called ‘Big Bob’ walking freely around the paddock, with his aide doing helicopters and stretches to help his movement. The spatial awareness that he had to understand between himself and the horse is an ongoing issue, and something that is improved with horseback riding.

Jamie would face towards the tail and stretch across the horse’s back, at the same time using his thigh and calf muscles to support him – and smiles the whole time. Once on the horse the leader would call out commands to the children to outstretch hands, touch their nose, flap their arms and keep their thighs firm against the horse’s flank, all the time with their horses walking calmly around the paddock. This lasted for about thirty minutes when the children would dismount and hand feed their horse its carrot, and then lead them out through the gate; all-in-all a learning experience.
The riding center had a goal in mind the entire time for a gala when the children put on a horse show. They pinned on a number on their backs like a proper horse show and answered questions about their horse. Lisa, the owner of the school set up the stable and paddock as an arena with flowers and banners, and even a celebrity to announce their names as they entered the arena to carry out their routine: The children loved all the cheers and at the end were presented with a rosette.
Watching my little boy sitting atop that enormous horse with the big smile was absolutely priceless. Autism is finally being made aware everywhere and sports like therapeutic horseback riding is one area where all these children can feel confident and successful and is an absolute joy to watch.

Story and photos submitted by Caralyn, exclusively for In Search of Ponies,

Dogs adept at catching birds

As featured Nov. 12, 2011, on

Oh yeah, they eat crow. And pigeon, dove and grackle too.
In fact, their prowess has grown to the point that I am actually starting to think Sylvester was miscast and should have been played by a dog.
You would think the fly-boys and girls would spread the word amongst themselves to avoid my yard, yet every morning they march across the porch like a bobble army, searching for leftover pieces of kibble. For each on the porch, there are at least two more perched on the edge of the roof as if they are waiting to see how their comrades fare below, craning their smooth heads and beady eyes to watch as they explore the food bowls and make way to the water dish.
Morning isn’t the only busy time, with the bobble-ones also choosing to visit when the yard is nice and quiet during the dogs afternoon nap, making the porch a madhouse of tweeting, hopping opportunity.
For the winged ones, the back porch is the cultural Mecca of birds, a nexus of societies and a melting pot if you will, with everything from outspoken grackles to peaceful doves gathered there in hopes of finding just one beef flavored pellet.
The dogs usually seem to ignore it, lounging on the warm concrete in the sun, or snoozing on the nearby grass with their legs sticking up in the air.
But occasionally, a slightly lifted lid in an otherwise frozen body will reveal an amber orb intently following the flitting visitors from one side of the porch to the other.
And inevitably, one of the sleeping ones suddenly animates, bounding forward, jaws snapping. The charge is followed by a multicolored squawking cloud rising to the air as the birds make their way back to the edge of the roof to wait for the pooches to go back to sleep again.
I can’t help but wonder if they think it is some hyper-interactive game of ball, where the ball changes direction in mid-air, evades and squeaks. Or perhaps dogs take to playing ball so well because it’s the closest we humans have come to replicating their beloved pigeon game.
Having seen the attempted snatch-and-grabs, but have never witnessed them succeed, I still have had no doubt the dogs are quite good at the game.
Not because I just believe it, but rather because the feather piles around the porch are kind of giveaways.
Admittedly, it was a bit surprising the first couple times I found a dead crow in the yard because I had always associated bird-catching and hunting with cats; credited much in part, I am sure, to Sylvester and Tweety.
Had Looney Tunes chosen instead to make Sylvester a burly bull dog or snappy schnauzer, maybe I would have seen it differently. So too, might the birds on my porch, because they don’t seem to get it that the dogs are a threat to them until it’s too late.
That’s not to say the cats don’t try. Any given day you can see them skulking through the yard, or tucked behind some tall brush watching a fowl foe nearby and it seems most of their time, when they’re not dozing of course, is spent in some type of hunting, stalking or thinking about hunting.
Of course bird hunting does fit cats quite well, with their agile, tree climbing ways and of course the fact they always land on their feet.
But at least at my house, the dogs are far more adept at it — their feather piles outpacing the barn cats at a rate of about 5-1.
The cats don’t even have the corner on mousing, considering I saw one of my pooches happily toting one around in its mouth not too long ago.
You know, on further consideration, maybe Warner Brothers knew about the dog-bird thing and made a wise decision in choosing a cat instead.
After all, thinking back to those cartoon days, what made the cat-bird combo succeed was all about how many times and ways the cat failed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Coming Saturday: Puddy tats stealing the show?

Cats and birds, cats and mice... There's little doubt cats hold the corner on the market when it comes to hunting little things that flit and scurry.
Or do they?
What if their drooling, stinky, clumsy barking counterparts are actually the better hunters?
After seeing evidence supporting the possibility, I find myself wondering if the cat vs. bird relationship might just be the greatest marketing spin perpetrated of all time and cemented in pop culture by cartoon antics.
This Saturday, Nov. 12, In Search of Ponies asks which of the two is the true bird hunter and could cartoons be wrong? And if they are, what is it that makes the feline fascination with birds such an entertaining subject?
Look for it on or Friday evening and in newsstands Saturday morning.

Pet rentals great for commitment phobic

As featured Nov. 4, 2011, on

Commitment-phobe? Just not ready to take the plunge?
Or maybe just looking for a temporary good time...
Well, there’s a solution.
Rental pets is a new rage sweeping through metropolitan communities and apparently it’s an idea that is really taking off and gaining popularity, particularly in the concrete jungles.
I stumbled onto the concept while reading a story on weird things one can rent and was fascinated by the concept.
After going through an application and screening process, a potential renter can select a pet and take it home, to the park, on vacation or where ever their fancy directs.
Not an entirely new idea, in a 2008 New York Times article, one woman said she liked renting a cockapoo named Oliver because she was lonely after relocating and found the dog to be a great ice-breaker, attracting attention and conversation when she was out and about.
Other reasons people give for renting pets range from not being ready to make the commitment to a full-time pet, to making the kiddos happy by giving them a chance to throw Fido a ball for a while.
The potential is intriguing... Your kid wouldn’t have to stare at their feet during pet day at school, you could use the critter to pick up a date, get that impulsive desire to get a dog out of your system, or maybe even confirm that you are indeed ready to share your life with a dog from the chewing start to the incontinence end of its life, with all the shedding and vet bills in-between.
One of the most interesting aspects of the pet rental trade is the fact that many of the companies offer rental animals from shelters that are looking for homes.
The concept of getting people to pay money to foster and love homeless animals by playing on their love of convenience is absolutely brilliant!
It turns out in addition to dogs and cats, you can also rent exotic animals, horses, ponies, reptiles, birds, fish (complete with tank and maintenance if you’re keep-fish-alive-impaired like me) and — making childhood dreams come true — monkeys (I’m sure an hour is more than enough).
You can even rent a goat to mow your lawn then send it back — now there’s an eco-conscious approach to chores without long-term risk to your trees and clothesline of dungarees, and the owner gets their animal fed and your money, again, brilliant.
There are certainly valid reasons for renting, after all, why purchase a backhoe for one job, a car for a week-long vacation, or tables and chairs for one party?
The most profound part of the whole rent-a-life thing is that it is completely fueled by and based upon people accepting the price tag for embracing their limitations and owning up to the fact they don’t want the responsibility — a novel concept indeed.
And it’s arguably a little cloudy as to whether that’s a good, or a bad thing. After all, I’d be the last one to look down on anyone for loving a critter.
The position could be made that rental animals will get shuffled from one environment to the next and of course there’s always the possibility of a bad renter getting their hands on one. Then again, a trip through a shelter will show you rows of snouts already in varying stages of that very cycle, considering there is no screening process for pet ownership.
I wonder what they’ll think of next. Maybe for the sake of humanity, one day you’ll be able to rent an abandoned baby, or a toddler, or even a neglected elderly person, and then send them back before the obligations and work kick in.
I suppose until they do and until the pet rental option reaches less metropolitan areas like ours, our choices are a little limited. But I guess if we were so inclined, while we wait for it to come to our area we could always mentor local kids, visit a nursing home, volunteer or donate the money we might use for pet rent … We could call it renting happiness and gratitude.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Coming Saturday: Rent-a-what???

Renting poses a solution to someone who, for a multitude of reasons, can't or doesn't want to own.
In some cases it may be a matter of not having enough money to make a purchase, while in others it may be more about only needing something for a short time or wanting the short-term benefit of something without having to maintain it and give it a long-term investment.
Typically when we think of rent, things such as houses, cars, tools, furniture, party supplies, hotel rooms or even movies come to mind... Those things a person needs or wants to use without paying full price.
Probably stemming back as far as feudalism, maybe further, an entire business model has evolved around idea of temporary or term-ownership arrangements and now in some areas the concept has been applied to pets.
That's right, when you don't want to or can't make the full investment in a dog, you can rent one.
It makes perfect sense in some ways and the rental of animals isn't a new concept. Visitors to the Grand Canyon, for example, have for years been able to rent a donkey to tour the landmark, hunters can hire horses and guides for long treks into wilderness areas and parents can rent ponies for rides at their child's birthday party.
But a dog?
With all the homeless animals out there and pets being given away free, what would motivate someone to pay rental rates just for a few hours or days of having a dog or a cat?
Perhaps you are glancing down at your own pooch as he slumbers in a cloud of gas on the floor by your couch and thinking, “Would I rent a dog and trade the fumes for just the fun times?”
Or perhaps you're wondering if anyone would pay you rent to borrow him for a weekend, after all, who is the “pet-lord” in the scenario? Are they just in the pure profit mindset, using animals for personal gain, or is it something else?
This week, In Search of Ponies will take a look at the concept of pet rentals. You can find it at and as early as Friday evening and in newsstands Saturday, Nov. 5.

Big friends good thing to have

As featured October 29, 2011, on

Make no mistake, there’s no name calling going on here.
Rather, that is the sound one makes when 100-some pounds of dog barrels into you, somewhere between the air rushing from your lungs and your hands flying out to stop your fall.
I discovered the root origins of the word as I was filling the large concrete mixing tub that doubles as a water dish.
He was playing with his little buddy, Gilligan, and I was regrettably not paying attention.
Struck by one of his bouncing axles as it swung my way, I planted my hands inside the water dish and prayed the rest of me wouldn’t follow.
Water dripping from my nose, I had an instant epiphany.
Amazingly, not only did the utterance come about naturally, it perfectly described the bumbling large goofball that knocked it out of me and I have no doubt it must have entered our language much the same way in a cave long, long ago.
He just doesn’t think — or at least not a lot — about a lot of complicated stuff. Nor does he pay a lot of attention to detail.
It would be easy to attribute to the fact he only has one eye — he came that way — but it’s more his state of mind than anything else. Rather than using his good eye to view the minutia, he just kind of plugs through life with the same happy-goofy expression, regardless.
He does try to go around anything on his right and usually stops short of bulldozing, but some days he’s so oblivious, I have to check to make sure his good eye is still there.
For the most part, he gets along just great with his one-sided view of the world, except when you yell hello to him from across the yard and the electric fence — which happens to be at head-level for him — is on his left.
I would say in all reality, we’re the only ones who seem to notice the missing eye, and, as if somehow casting him as a mercenary or complicated hero pirate would make up for it, we named him Demetrius.
But his name is rarely used and things like — Move you big Galoot! are more commonly heard as I navigate the obstacle course that is him. Or, “Slow down Meat Head!” when he comes at me like a cross-country skier, legs going left-to-right in unison, ears flapping and slobber strings trailing in his wake.
Knowing how I feel, being at least relative in size to the bumbling drool monster, I figured he’d get along best with those who at least draw breath in the same stratosphere as he.
Instead, I was shocked when a deep bond form between him and Gilligan, the littlest, scrappiest mammal on the place.
I understand Gilligan’s side easy enough ... he has someone to look up to (literally), a great big, warm, floppy, furry pillow, and when you’re little and mouthy, big friends are a good thing to have.
Gilligan, however, is something of an acquired taste whose 30-some pounds of unthinking, whirling dervish, stand-still-to-spring-action ways can be a bit much.
Then again, Gilligan doesn’t seem to mind the drool, snuggling under the jowls from which it drips in the most apparent, ignorant bliss.
Maybe it’s because opposites attract, or when you only have one eye it’s harder to size things up, or even because friendship should be blind.
Better yet, with one who looks but can’t see and one who can see but never seems to look, together, maybe they have the perfect view.