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Thursday, October 20, 2011

The OTHER Grand Prix Jumper

I have been wanting to write about her for some time, so allow me to introduce you to my "horse substitute," Omarvelous Sunshine, Blue Skies, a.k.a. Sunny:
I have about eleventy-billion pictures of this dog, but I will try to restrain myself...
Sunny is an 8-year-old Liver & White English Springer Spaniel. She has our entire family wrapped tightly around her paw, but none more so than her mommy. She is my pride and joy and light of my life - after her human brother and sister, of course! ;-) Although she comes from a very long line of champion show dogs (the kennel is named after her great-grandfather Omar, and the "weather name" comes from another illustrious relative whose call name was "Stormy"), we did not show her and she has simply been our family pet ever since she joined us at 10 weeks old. Despite the fact that her branch of Springers are not really supposed to be hunting dogs ("bench-bred" vs. "field-bred" - they pretty much have split into two breeds at this point), Sunny thinks that birds and squirrels and especially kitty cats are meant to be spotted at a far distance and chased with every ounce of her strength. Her very favorite things to do are run around in fields and woods looking for small game, or swim after ducks in the lake. This field happens to be empty space belonging to my employer and is perfect for letting her get her jollies out. It makes me very happy to see her "springing" into the air through the tall grass, all four feet off the ground, or vacuuming the earth with her nose, little stump of a tail going a mile a minute.

In case you are wondering, yes, all that hair does take quite a bit of grooming. And who do you suppose has the sole responsibility for that? Yep, she is a good sport about putting up with my laboring over her with the clippers, combs and brushes. Most people with pet Springers settle for simply cutting off all the feathers. I prefer to spend lots of time picking things out of her hair and picking it up off the floors and furniture. Stupid, maybe, but I appreciate her beauty and am willing to work for it. I had never groomed a dog before we got Sunny but as soon as I found out the pros wanted in the neighborhood of $50 a pop to "do" her, I decided I would learn how. I had done some horse clipping in the past so I figured what the heck... it's been a lot of trial and error over the years but generally I think she looks pretty good. Fooling around with her satisfies my "need to groom" when I can't be with horses.
This was taken for Valentine's Day last year, after a haircut and a bath. She likes to pose and is quite the little model!
Like I said, Sunny is a real "Mommy's girl." Wherever I am is where you will find her, preferably touching me. I guess this stems from the fact that I was a stay-at-home mom and her primary caregiver and trainer when she was a baby, although Hubby works from home and certainly did more than his share of puppykeeping. My family had a Toy Poodle when I was growing up, and while I loved Barbette she was a dog who kept very much to herself. I never had a true emotional connection with her. Not so with my Sunny; in fact, I think of myself as quite the doggie psychic when it comes to her. I really do know what she is thinking and vice-versa. We often make eye contact just to check in with each other and "speak" that way. When I am sad, she gets so upset that I have to reassure her that she's a good girl and has done nothing wrong. When she is scared, nothing will do but for her to pressed up against me. I still think of the day I took her to the dog park and she was swept up in a pack of large, running dogs the instant we were in the gate. They wound up knocking her down and sending her rolling. When she had scrambled to her feet she ran to me and literally up my front into my arms - quite the trick for a 40 lb. dog. I did manage to hang on to her but we beat a hasty retreat, and to this day she's never been the biggest fan of the dog park.
The first photo I ever saw of our girl. She's in the middle looking right at me!
If I am headed towards the door you can bet she is right behind me with a hopeful look on her face. Nothing makes Sunny happier than me saying, "Puppy go bye-bye?" and nothing makes her sadder than me telling her, "Puppy stay. Mommy go. I'll be back." The latter is a little touch phrase I adopted after reading somewhere that if you tell them something every single time you leave, they will learn that if they hear that, eventually you'll come back through the door. Poor girl... the head goes down, the ears go down, the eyes go down, the little tail goes in and she sloooooowly droops across the floor to install herself in her bed with a deep sigh. Boy, do you feel guilty... I do take her everywhere I possibly can, including into the video store and the office after-hours (shh, don't tell my boss!). Even if it's just a quick trip to the grocery store she's always ready to leap into the car.
Here she is waiting outside the BR door one day when I was sleeping in -
keep in mind that the rest of the family was home at the time! ;-)
Despite the special closeness Sunny and I share, she really is devoted to everyone in the family. Daddy is her food, treat and playtime guy. The kids are for snuggles, hugs and ear-rubbies. Here is a shot from the day we picked her up from her breeder - I can't believe how small she and my kids are!
The kids have an extensive collection of stuffed Springers. They couldn't wait to introduce them to the real deal.
She puts up with an awful lot from all of us:
Yes, there IS a real dog in there!
Yeah, I get it, it's Christmas, can I take these off now???
When Sunny was younger, I decided it would be really neat for both of us to learn how to do Agility. She likes to jump. I like to jump horses, but had had to stop taking lessons due to finances. Therefore, teaching my dog how to jump over/go through things seemed like a good fit. Unfortunately, I discovered that agility lessons were kind of expensive as well. So we settled for learning things on our own. I taught her the commands "Over," "Up," and "Walk," and built little courses for her in the back yard. We even entered a "Silly Pet Tricks" contest one time where I had her go through hula hoops. The crowd thought we were a smash hit, and we got the most applause, but the judge fell prey to the charms of a little ankle-biter than someone had taught to "pray" by sitting with its head on its paws that were propped up. Yeah, it was kind of cute, but seriously... *mutters about mean real estate agent from whom she will never buy anything*

Sadly, our plans to one day do real agility fell apart when my darling doggie managed to rupture not one but both ligaments in her left knee. No, she wasn't jumping at the time; the trouble started after a brisk romp one morning in a field. She was limping later that day and I had a bad feeling. The limping quickly went away but over the next couple years it gradually got worse after exercise. The vet took x-rays and said yes, she's got a bit of separation in the joint, but nothing catastrophic so there's not much we can do yet. I started her on a joint supplement. Then one day 2 1/2 years ago, we were over at my friend's farm, friend and I were chatting in the barn, Sunny was exploring around outside (she never offers to run off) not far away, and I heard a single high-pitched "YIPE!" She came trotting in on three legs, like, "Oh hai Mommy this kind of hurts but I'm still smiling and do you think I could have a drink?" My heart had almost stopped at the cry and I just knew what had happened. This is a dog who rarely ever shows pain; you have to practically mash her foot flat by accident, for example, for her to say a word. Even after I raced her to the vet and they manipulated the leg not one sound came out of her. I read on the Net that some dogs will simply lie on the ground and scream when they've blown a knee (I figure that's what I'd do, too!).

We did a traditional repair on the knee, which involved securing the joint with what is basically fishing line, and I was able to employ my equine leg wrapping skills trying to keep the stapled wound covered in gauze and vet wrap. The whole arrangement constantly wanted to skootch down, exactly like a hock wrap on a horse. My canine was an excellent patient and left the bandage alone, but it was challenging. The other challenge was looking at her sad face when I went upstairs to bed; stairs were expressly forbidden and we humans became skilled in climbing over the baby gate we had to install at the bottom. The wound healed perfectly and we began the long process of rehabbing.

Two months after Sunny's surgery things were going pretty well; she was finally allowed to walk around and go potty in the backyard off the leash and we had worked our way up to walking about 75' down the street and back with no discomfort. Then a "perfect storm" of events occurred. I went out the front door to go to the neighbor's house four doors down. Sunny saw me. She ran to the back door and asked to go out. Dad let her out, not knowing I had just left. Dog raced out the back door, into the front yard, and straight down the road after me... all at top speed. We have an electric fence, and she is about 98% good with it, but when Mommy is fast-disappearing, all bets are off. Immediately after this little escapade, the knee made a popping sound, and we discovered she'd torn the meniscus. ARGH.

Suffice it to say, for a long time I did not think my dog would ever be able to run freely in a field or jump over anything ever again. I felt awful and horribly guilty. It broke my heart to think I could never let her do her most favorite things. But - BUT - I am so thrilled to report that she did finally, in fact, recover complete use of that knee/leg and is back to her old self. We had some limping for a while on her other leg (the vet had told me that dogs who tear up one knee stand a 50% chance of doing the same to the other one, so I was prepared for this), and I toyed with the idea of going ahead and fixing that, but amazingly that has gone away - even after heavy exercise - and she is fit, happy and sound. *KNOCKS LOUDLY ON WOOD* Thank you, Glycoflex III, I'm sure you have something to do with this!

By this point you are probably wondering why on earth I titled this post the way I did. Well, when I was over at the Charity Show, I found a number of exciting items standing in a grassy area next to the Grand Prix arena: they were miniature jumps produced for kids by Brody Robertson Show Jumps, Inc., a local company (that has prospered mightily and even made jumps for the WEG). A bunch of young riders were entertaining themselves leaping over the little course, including some usually dignified Maclay entrants, which I thought was hilarious. :-) Although I suffered from pangs of envy (I would have killed for these things as a kid!) I of course immediately envisioned running my now-recovered pooch over them. The following video is the result. Presenting "Sunshine, the Show-Jumping Springer," and my very first YouTube upload ever!

I was so tremendously proud and happy! :-)

If you made it through all this, thank you for allowing me to rattle on about my girl. At least I know a lot of horse people are dog people as well, so hopefully you understand!

(Note: I have tried and tried to embed the video here and for some reason it just Will. Not. Go. Not the techiest person around but not the worst, either so I am quite frustrated...)


  1. I'm glad I'm not the only person who's willing to spend ridiculous amounts of time/energy/worry on my dogs! :)

    Seriously, though. Sunny is beautiful and I enjoyed her jumping video.

    My own Abbie grew up on the show circuit and would often spend long days tied in front of a mobile tack shop. This was boring for her, so whenever a kid would ask to walk her, I'd always say yes. Pretty soon they were all walking her. It wasn't until later that I discovered they were taking her to the warm up ring and getting her to jump the fences!

    It's too bad my current dog Darcy doesn't have the same opportunities. She's actually a much better jumper.

  2. Goodness, Abbie must have been quite a star in the 1-Meter Division! ;-) I can just see her trotting off happily with the little equestrians. Sunny enjoys horse shows very much, aside from all the Corgis and Jack Russells, of which she has an inexplicable dislike. :-) People there and elsewhere always compliment her, which pleases me, but I'm always quick to tell them that's she's a Very Good Girl in addition to being pretty. She really, truly is - both our neighbors who have dogsat for us have raved about how sweet and easy she is to have around. I'm very blessed!

    Sunny also loooooves little girls, especially if they are holding lollipops (she's nabbed a few right out of sticky fingers). They never fail to go "Squee!" over the pretty soft doggie and will rub her belly for ages.


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