Benny is now six months old, halfway to a year, and it’s been a year since the Very Best Dog slipped away from us. Benny is a delight every day, and forming him into his own Very Good Dog is by turns exciting and fun, frustrating and puzzling. We’re getting to see a different aspect of dog ownership than we did with Cyrus, who came to us his own fully formed self, and I couldn’t take credit for any part of that forming. Things I took for granted with Cyrus, like his joy in jumping into the truck to go somewhere, are by turns struggles with Benny (he’ll reluctantly get into the truck if it isn’t running, but it takes a ton of persuasion when the trucks already on.) He’s still in the changing every day stage of growth, and my favorite nickname is “He got bigger.”

Benny is good, but we all deeply miss Cyrus and always will. He was our best travel buddy, Distinguished Gentleman, epic snorer. He took every situation in stride with grace. In a way, it’s a good thing that Benny is so very different, we never ask him to measure up to who Cyrus was or compare them. Benny’s bred to jump into ponds and puzzle his way through things, to leap into the unknown and bring things back to his people. I’m finding the Benny is a dog who wants to be with people, whereas Cyrus always thought he just was people. To be fair, we don’t miss his habit of drinking too much and immediately barfing (Benny can drink as much as he wants without being told to slow down!) or his room clearing farts.

In one of those not always welcome quirks of the universe, today is also my one year anniversary with Tarma. I was driving up to Graham to go get her when Tom called me about Cyrus, and I’m not sure I could have made it through the day as well as I did were it not for her and my best friends. I will always feel worse for my husband, who was home alone when Cyrus slipped away. That makes today’s post both a fond memory and a reflection point.

To say Tarma and I have come a long way is clearly an understatement, and yet it’s reassuring to hear it. She came to me with a pretty murky background, recently weaned of a foal, scared to pick up her feet and defensive without being dangerous. I’ve had a few low moments with her, when one trainer told me she shouldn’t be named for a warrior and taking over an hour to catch her in the field one day, a crisis moment when I wasn’t sure I could ever reach her and build a mountain conquering bond with her. My absolute high moment of the year was riding down the Deschutes River Trail, no hands on the reins, marching easily along between the sky and the river.

She still doesn’t love grooming (unless she can eat while I do so, then she’s fine). She will pick up her feet now for pretty much anyone, she lets me wash down her legs and feet while ground tied, and I’ve learned the difference when she’s telling me to get off and fix something (like the saddle sitting on her shoulders) and when she’s just being young and free to give her opinion. To her credit, she’s never really tried to dump me on purpose, and once I fix whatever’s wrong she’s fine. Riding circles in the arena is a struggle for us both, due to my sorry lack of condition and clarity in what I’m asking her to do and her not really seeing the point of it. At least after Wednesday’s ride I feel we’re ready for the Olympics, in that we were able to do several circles and turns nicely rounded without too much leaning, inside leg to outside rein like a real dressage pair! That it all fell apart when we trotted doesn’t really need mentioning does it?

The real win is that I can catch her, groom her, tack her up, warm her up, ride and cool down in about an hour. I check in with her for every step, using touches and just breathing, and wait for her to turn back to me and ask what’s next? Somedays it still takes upwards of 10 minutes for this, especially if I make the grievous error of wanting to ride or play at dinner time, other times it’s immediate. Once or twice a week I play with Benny and a ball in the ring while she is loose. Usually she hangs by the gate and watches us, trying to puzzle out what the heck we’re doing, not really afraid but not relaxed either. The other night, she watched us for a few minutes, seemed to give a mental shrug, and rolled a few times while we kept playing, showing that she’s becoming more accustomed to the dog’s antics, which will be helpful once he’s mature enough to come along the trail with us.

In the past year together, we’ve had 10 lessons with various trainers, tracked 190 miles on trails in Washington and Oregon, logged our longest ride of 13.5 miles in 4 hours, camped out three times, ridden solo 10 times, hauled her in three different trailers (soon to be four, my new Double D should be here tomorrow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), gone through buckets of treats and Biosilk, constantly futzed with tack (that’s endless really), lost one brand new Renegade boot forever over a cliff, and received a long list of compliments on her beauty and brains. I’ve given her the space she needs to express her opinion and built a certain level of trust that when I ask her to do something, she can work her way through it even if she’s a bit uncertain about it. She’s willingly and safely carted Kade around several times, and let’s be real, she much prefers Carrot Boy’s company most days! Her nicknames include “Tarmalicious”, “Tarmageddon”, “Baby Momma”, and my favorite, “Spicy Chocolate Lady”.

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After years of borrowing horses, working to ride and catch riding, I finally have my own horse, a spicy chocolate mare...but also a demanding day job (who doesn't?), a nerdy husband, a soccer loving kid who needs to be parented (by me, duh), and the ultimate trail buddy, a chocolate Labradork!

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