"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Mist

I FINALLY made it to the barn last night.

I drove through fog on the way up to Maryland to work, and we all figured it would burn out during the day, but at 2:00 pm the view outside the hospital lobby was still this:

I didn't care. There was nothing stopping me from seeing Lily last night. My cough was finally under control-I wasn't waking up coughing in the morning anymore. You have NO idea how bad it is to get bronchitis with an allergic asthma component-any allergen exposure will immediately set you back. I've been there before in my stubborness to get back to the barn ASAP. I've never mentioned it here, but I'm severely allergic to horses. A long time ago, just grooming Lucero could put me in a state of anaphylaxis. Sheer will and finding the right combination of prescription allergy meds with the help of a doctor who understood my love of horses, helped make it manageable. It's better when I'm exposed to them daily-I can eventually wean myself from the meds and be fine. But whenever I get a chest cold, the allergies resurface with a vengeance-if I'm sick with anything involving coughing, no meds will control the additional coughing and wheezing that ensues when exposed to horse dander and barn dust until I'm at least 90% cured. Otherwise, it is a surefire major setback in the healing process that often involves rounds of antibiotics. I'd already been coughing 2 weeks-it was worth it to wait it out a few more days, just so I could get back on a consistent barn routine.

So yeah-I was feeling better, plus it wasn't pouring, snowing or sleeting, and I didn't have to wake up at 4:00 am the next morning to work. What's a little fog?

It was a weird day at work. It was the warmest it's been since we moved up here - in the 70's, I heard, though I didn't get to step outside to confirm - so this meant a lot of people were out with their dogs, it being the weekend. We had a lot of dog vs dog cases. More than half of our cases were dog vs dog. It was bizarre and unusual. Someone even brought a mouse (our hospital used to see pocket pets, but not anymore) and guess what was wrong...it had been bitten by another mouse! One of the dogs even bit one of our doctors. Halfway through the day, we started wondering if it was a full moon.

Of course, dog vs dog cases almost always seem to involve some pitbull-like dog. We don't always get to see the culprits-it's always the owners saying, "My dog was attacked by a pitbull." As a side note, did you know that a veterinary study was done on this subject about 6 years ago? Dog vs dog accounts almost always involve accusations against a pitbull. Yet according to this study, only 10% of the population (including veterinary professionals!) can truly recognize a real pitbull!! Most of us working in the veterinary field adore this breed-we get to work with them on a daily basis since so many people have them. In 5 years of working in veterinary emergency and ICU (very sick and often cranky animals), I have met only 1 pitbull that was aggressive towards us. ONE. (I could tell you some pretty amazing stories involving pitbull patients, including some with improper guard dog training-even those were awesome patients. I LOVE this breed, and if we owned our own house, I would have a couple of them. It's just a nightmare trying to rent while owning one-so many apartment owners will refuse to allow them...) Meanwhile, I would say that about 75% of daschunds, which is another VERY popular breed, will try to bite us. Same goes for min pins and chihuahuas. I've heard of Jack Russells maliciously killing other larger dogs. But you never hear stories of "A chihuahua mauled my shi-tzu." That story would go, "A small dog bit my dog."

With Amaretto, one of the family dogs in PR. He is a true boxer-lab cross, but looks very much like a pitbull mix. He has the same sweet nature and incredible intelligence as well. :)
My point? We had a client bring in 2 shih-tzus that had been attacked by their neighbor's 2 pitbulls. One of the shih-tzus was fine, the other had a puncture wound on his head that was easily fixed. We were annoyed when we heard the news initially, because this is the kind of thing that gives pitbulls a bad rep-we assumed that the pitbull owner had been irresponsable. The 2 shih-tzus proved to be a handful-both of them were confident, dominant little things, trying to bite us and being generally unruly. The one that was fine had to be muzzled and held down firmly on the table just so the doctor could perform her physical exam.

Well, the story changed A LOT when the neighbor showed up with one of his pitties. The poor dog looked terrified and like she was having a really bad day-ears down, eyes wide, tail between her legs. She had bruises on her nose, and there were bite wounds somewhere on her, but I didn't get to see because I was triaging other patients. I just saw her briefly when she was brought back into the ER by one of my coworkers.

The pitbull, despite being afraid, especially with the commotion we had going on (including a full blown code, where half the hospital came in to perform CPR on a dying poodle), was quiet in her run and gave the doctor kisses during her physical exam. A physical exam she was able to do by herself, with no one restraining the dog for her. Not the case with the shih-tzus...

As it turns out, the fight was started by one of the shih-tzus...who was off-leash.

I wish the general public could hear more stories like this one. A lot more stories like this one.

6:00 pm arrived, and I ran out as soon as I could to go see Lily. The fog was no better, but it was driveable and mine was the only car in the parking lot when I got to the barn. The horses were already in for the night and Lily was eating her hay. I poked my head in over the stall door. "Lily" I whispered. She looked up. "Lily, ven." "Ven" is "come" in Spanish. Hey-cops get to train their dogs in German so only they will know the commands. I get to train my horse in Spanish just so she'll only come for me!

She swung over to me. She is a very sweet horse and she always checks people out, but I've always seen a little bit of tension in her during initial greetings with someone new. There was that little bit of tension in her now as she took a step closer, and then she stuck her head out to sniff at me (I was wearing a scarf, and this is what she chose to sniff), and I saw when her expression changed-her eyes relaxed and softened, "Oh, it's you!" She loves her home and is very happy there, but it's nice to know that she misses me, despite the fact that she's living the dream.

Growing up, my family was always into metaphysics. There is a belief that when someone pops into your head out of the blue, it's because, wherever they are, that person is thinking about you. Have you felt that before? It's like all of a sudden you fall into this warm mental current with that other person. Maybe a few days after that you'll get a call, an e-mail or a text from said person. Sometimes you'll call them first, and they'll say it, "Oh, I was thinking about you the other day!" I don't know about you, but this happens to me a lot. And it happens to me with my animals. Of course I can't get verbal confirmation from them that they were thinking about me at a given time, but some of them will just be really present psychically when I'm away from them. I had a really strong bond with Cloud like this, and it was one of the things that was so emotionally wrenching when he was taken away from me-I knew, I felt, that he thought I'd abandoned him. I think Lily thinks about me when I'm not there, but not like Cloud. He was just one of those once-in-a-lifetime horses-he had an incredible work ethic and he loved our time together. My relationship with Lily has come a long way from a year and a half ago, but it is still maturing. So yes, I had felt very distanced from Lily this last week while I was sick, so I figured she was really happy enjoying being a horse, but it's nice to know that she did miss me.

She was covered in dry mud. Since it had been warmer, she had been turned out without her sheet and blanket, and she was filthy. Laughing, I took her to the cross ties by the indoor, and worked on cleaning her up. While grooming her, I noticed the casting on her right Epona is starting to peel off behind the heel and texted my trimmer/farrier to let her know. She's coming today to check Lily out.

The indoor had been watered and dragged, so I clipped Lily's lunge line on and took her into the arena to stretch her legs. I like to check how she's moving after all of the drama with that left hind frog. I warmed her up at the walk in both directions.

Shiny! I should've taken "before" pictures prior to grooming...she was FILTHY!

I then had her trot and canter a bit-she was "up" but not crazy-hyper. After she had trotted for about 10 minutes in both directions and done a couple of circles at the canter, I then set her free in the arena. She flagged her tail and galloped around, blowing loudly at the corners of the arena, then settled into her floaty, snappy trot (God, I wish she'd do that under saddle!!) I had her work in both directions, and then at one point she just stopped in the middle of the arena and looked at me, asking for permission to come.

"Can I come now, Mom?"

She just stood there waiting, while I took that photo -so stinking cute!- so of course I gave her permission. I loved on her, scratching her withers and the top of her tail. There was a little stretch I used to do with her that involved running my thumbs down both sides of her spine on her croup, from the point of her hips to the base of her tail. This always made her tuck her butt in, and it's supposed to work the abs. I did it, and she did not react. Surprised, I palpated her entire back and discovered one very happy horse without a single sore hair on her. She's always had a sore lower back, and after consulting with different professionals (her saddle fits perfectly, her hips are aligned, she didn't have problems with her stifles or hocks that were reflecting in her lower back), we arrived at the conclusion that it was from years of incorrect trimming. I had noticed an improvement back when Marianne started trimming her in FL, but nothing like this. This is one true pain-free horse. She used to have a slightly weak connection between her croup and loins-there was a slight dip there-that has been progressively muscling up over time. I'm proud to announce that the slight dip is completely and 100% gone. This is a sign of a solid, strong back. Correct trimming and proper turnout are da bomb. :)

I then started walking, and she walked next to me, no lead attached, while we circled and did serpentines around the arena, and she stayed right by my side. She was especially lovey, nuzzling me, sniffing at me, letting me hug her head and give her kisses.

By then it was 8:00 pm, and I started to worry about the fog, so I led her back to the cross ties, washed her legs, getting all of the mud off from her hooves, and brushed her out again. She kept reaching around to nuzzle me-so sweet! :) I then picked her stall, and let her settle in for the night. I think she almost looked bummed when I put her away.

Outside, there was a thin veil of cloud over everything-the fog had certainly thickened, and the lights in the parking lot were haloed and appeared to float in the darkness as I walked over to my car.

The drive home was interesting.

One disembodied street light floating in the gloom
The fog changed the way everything looked. I was glad this was happening now and not when we first moved up here, as I now know this route like the palm of my hand and can find my way home even without being able to see the road signs. I was fascinated with how the lights and trees looked in the fog (no, I have never driven through fog like this-another one for the lists of "firsts" in our new home)-everything looked eerily unattached. The inspiration for Stephen King's "The Mist" was obvious.

I drove within the speed limit (some people were driving retardedly and unnecessarily slow), avoided changing lanes if I could, and kept a good distance between myself and the car lights in front of me (I could see the lights, not the cars...) It could have been a lot worse, which was a source of constant tension as I made my way down the GW, half expecting to find visibility reduced to a few feet with every turn of the road (the GW runs right next to the Potomac, with only a nice cliff separating the road from the river as you get closer to DC). I was surprised to discover even more fog in Alexandria. This was the view in the parking lot when I stopped at the grocery store by our apartment:

It was beautiful. And wet-the entire world was dripping with the moisture from the mist. I've always had a fascination with fog since I read "Season of Ponies" by Zilpha Keatley Snyder as a kid. (If you love horses and you've never read this book, you're missing out. Go read it. It's a children's book, but even as an adult, you'll still get caught in its spell.)

After reading it, you will understand why there was a very special kind of magic in going to find my own pony in the mist.


  1. I love nights like that with the horses. Just some simple fun ground exercises and bonding time. It really rounds out the whole "training" thing to have moments like that. I find I especially need to do them often with Q as her connection is much stronger with her equine herd than me still. Ah well, lots of time spent soaking feet tonight should be good!

    And I agree with you that pitbulls are mis-labeled. They are seriously some of the sweetest dogs ever. Those damn little dogs SUCK though. UUUGGGHHH.

  2. I agree! Hopefully now that we'll be living a lot closer to the barn, I'll be able to get in more groundwork and play time with Lily. I have the same problem as you with Q-she has a strong bond with the other horses. It's better here, with so many horses, than it was when I had her at the Parkland barn in FL last year with just 3 other mares.

    I hope Q's feet are getting better! The thrush didn't look bad at all in the last pics you posted.

    I've never been a fan of little dogs, neither as patients nor as pets.