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

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2015 in Review: The Year of Not-Planning

2015 certainly overall was not the hell of a year I had been expecting it to be.

2015 started out with me halfway through my recovery from the concussion caused by Gracie in November of 2014. The concussion affected my center of balance and I fought with endless vertigo for a very long time, with barometric pressure changes and overexertion making it worse on some days. On some days I couldn't stand up to walk and literally had to crawl out of bed to make it to the bathroom to dry heave because my world was spinning so hard. I struggled with some major depression during this time, wondering if I was going to be permanently crippled by this injury, and refusing to get a second opinion on its severity (I had been told it was mild at my initial diagnosis based on CT results) because I just didn't want to know if it really was bad. I couldn't take any more time off of work than I already had, and there was also a limit to how much time I could take off from the barn, since I was expected to help at Kathy's, where we were boarding at the time. The constant physical exertion did not help matters whatsoever and only prolonged my recovery.

By January I had the vertigo under just enough control to start riding Lily again consistently and was doing groundwork with Gracie in an attempt to rule out a possible neuro condition: she had fallen repeatedly while running around in the pasture recently. After knocking me down in the field the day she injured me, she had slammed into a closed gate full-force. She had passed both a vision and neuro test but my vet gave me an exercise program to help test her agility: if Gracie improved, we could rule out a neurological problem.

As it turned out, Gracie's balance and fitness improved significantly with the groundwork and agility sessions. I started to get to truly know her and she started to become familiar with my cues and body language. For whatever reason, I felt safer riding her bareback while in my compromised state...I think because I liked the idea of being able to just slide off if there was an issue with her own balance. No tack to get caught on. And that is how G-Mare slowly started turning into the horse I had always dreamed of having: the one on whom I could do anything.

Riding bareback. In the snow. At night. Check!
January also dumped TONS of snow on our part of Maryland, which meant lots of snow rides. Charles rode in the snow for the first time and fell in love with the concept as much as me. (Remember we are islanders. This is all very much a novelty for us. Though I don't think this novelty will ever wear off...it's too much fun!) He also rode bareback for the first time, which would be a huge motivator for me to one-up him later on this year. ;) (He still wins though: he took Gracie out on the trail bareback. See February below.)

And he also snagged this photo, which was a blog header for most of last winter!

This month brought about a fair share of adventure: we had some frigid temperatures, and our first ride with Gail in which Charles and Gracie came along (I rode with her in 2014; this was the first time Charles joined us). On Valentine's day, Charles took Gracie out on the trails with me...bareback. And had his first fall. And then we drove through our first whiteout, which was NOT FUN AT ALL.

I sarcastically laughed (better to laugh than cry) over the tragic irony of us both dying on Valentine's Day as we drove through normally familiar roads where visibility was so nill, we needed to have the GPS on so we could know where the next bend in the road was because we had no idea where we were.

It was the most terrifying experience of my life. Especially the part where we almost wiped out against a snow bank. Oh and we were in my 2-wheel drive Corolla...

We made it home, the snow stopped as suddenly as it had started...and we got back in the car to go out to dinner for Valentine's on an ACTUAL Valentine's Day for the first time in 10 years. (I'm not sure if this means we are extra crazy or just insanely stupid. Probably both.) And there were empty seats at the restaurant. Thank you snow?

The epic wind that was still blowing when we pulled into downtown Rockville for dinner.
This time we were in our 4-wheel drive Silverado!!

February 14, 2015 took the award for Most Adventurous Day of  2015, no doubt about it.

We continued enjoying the most frigid temps of the year thanks to polar vortex after polar vortex, and towards the end of the month, as all the horse bloggers around the country complained about the extra-miserable winter we were having, Karen and I teamed up for our first blog hop. The goal was to allow everyone to vent about winter but the hop wasn't as big of a success as I had hoped it would be. :/

Our lease on the Rockville apartment was done and we had been looking into options for moving that would be less costly. Montgomery County in Maryland, where the city of Rockville is located, is one of the most expensive counties in the nation. We had fanned out our search to the surrounding towns, trying to stay close to our hospitals (Charles's and my jobs are only 3 miles apart!) but the price difference was not significant. We had always loved Frederick, about 25 miles north of our jobs, and on a whim I decided to check out rent and board prices there. Not only was rent a good $500 less a month, field board was a common offering (unlike Montgomery County barns: the majority offer partial 12-hour turnout starting at 3x the price of field board in Frederick) and was significantly more affordable. Also, there was a large selection of barns with field board within a 15-minute radius of the apartment complex that we fell in love with.

It was a no-brainer. We moved to Frederick. It was our first time hiring movers, for which we had saved up: in Florida the in-laws always helped us out with moves but this time around we were on our own and it was also the dead of winter. Let me just say this: we will be hiring movers again in the future! OMG SO EASY. Well worth the expense! The story of the move is here.

We had some more really, really bizarre weather patterns...like what you see in the photos taken on this day. Sampler below:

I was on a paved road. That's not water around us: it's snow covered in a sheet of ice.
Not water: fields covered in snow, which in turn is covered in ice.
Not the ocean: more ice-covered snow.
It was the most surreal thing I've ever seen, and so breathtakingly beautiful.
We got to know our new barn's trails and explored our new hometown.

Mountain trail two miles from the barn. It sadly dead-ended so this did not become a routine route.

Our favorite was this river, though.

For obvious reasons...
We discovered this store, which is a bibliophile's wet dream...
The Little Red Barn ice cream parlor became a favorite post-barn hangout as temps started rising!
Pretending to double-fist Blue Moon at our favorite Irish pub in downtown Frederick... -_-
Downtown Frederick at night. We've been here almost a year now and I just love it more and more.
Towards the end of this month, I finally started to feel comfortable riding out on both horses alone again and had a blast riding with the trainers at the new barn.

Riding with Amanda, one of the barn trainers, and her two dogs.
Charles and I were out riding every minute we were off work together and having a grand time. I stopped worrying so much about him on horseback as I started trusting Gracie more and more with him and also trusting his ability to make decisions from a horseperson's perspective.

Riding on a paved road past a dairy farm? No big.
I did not write about this at the time, but I have the photos taken this month as a sore reminder: March was also the month in which the mares started going into heat again. The farm we were boarding at was an Arabian breeding operation and they had two stallions: one elderly guy who did no harm, and one young stud who was fully aware of his equipment and how to use it. Both stallions lived two fields away from the mare herd but one morning the young stallion was found in the mare field: he had jumped over two 5' fences to get there. I learned that he had done this the year before as a 3-year old! If I had known that from the beginning, I would have chosen a different barn to board at! We discovered that there is a Plan B for mares: Lutalyse, which is a prostaglandin. An overdose of the hormone prevents fertilized eggs from implanting.
Lily sweating profusely and looking miserable 20 minutes after her Lutalyse shot.
Lily and Gracie had their first round of Lutalyse shots and I hoped the stallion situation would be resolved at the barn. I was horrified by the poor decisions BO would continue to make in this regard. I kept hoping things would change because I really liked this barn but it was not to be. The stallion exposure + more intense heat cycles + hormone shots to prevent implantation would turn poor Lily into a wreck: she started having initial ulcer symptoms for the first time in over a year towards the end of this month. I was in denial for a while. :(

The biggest event of the month was our one and only endurance ride of the entire year, which was Foxcatcher at Fair Hill in Elkton, MD.

This is one of my favorite ride photos so far.
Photo by Hoof Print Images, used with purchase.
We rode with Gail. This was Lily's third AERC event and her first LD (limited distance ride, which are usually 25-35 miles in length. Foxcatcher's was 25.) Yes, we are a little backwards around here: Lily and I started out with 50-mile endurance-length rides and then backed down to LDs. Fyi: it's supposed to be the other way around. ;) The plan for this year was to do as many LDs as possible so we could sort out her electrolyte issues but Lily would have other plans.

Even if I had known in advance that this would be our one ride of the year, I don't think we could have had any more fun than we did. Gail and I spent most of the 25 miles laughing, laughing, laughing. Nimo and Lily fell in love and paced great together. And we completed!

"Nimo, if you were a stallion, I'd be happy to have your babies..."
Lily, you had enough sexy-time to last the rest of your life this year and give me gray hairs...no more talk of babies, please!
This photo is a perfect summary of the entire day. :) Happy horses, happy riders!
Photo by Hoof Print Images, used with purchase.
Victorious but exhausted!
I was actually MORE sore and tired after this LD than I ever was after our two 50s in 2014. I learned the hard way that just because it's a shorter distance doesn't mean you still shouldn't take care of yourself as a rider!!
Gail, I really hope you and I can do another ride together!

Towards the end of the month, I gave you guys a recap about all of the progress I'd been making with Gracie behind-the-scenes.

Riding bareback in a rope halter.

She really started to turn into my buddy.
The month ended with me starting a round of omeprazole with Lily, since she had continued to be lackadaisical about her grain and was noticeably losing weight.

We bought a horse trailer! And promptly took it adventuring: first to Gambrills State Park and then Sugarloaf Mountain. This marked the beginning of our freedom...

Charles and G-Mare really became a team around this time, and he really, really started to look forward to riding on the weekends with me. It was awesome.

Among my top 5 favorite photos of them. And one I hadn't featured on the blog! :)
I ranted about the negative views of the general public towards vet med and veterinary care (this topic still makes me want to scream). I was going to take that post down right after publishing but I changed my mind and simply disabled comments for it. You can go read it if you want. It is a long, very angry tirade from an insider's point of view, and it was started by a combination of attitude we received from clients at work, several posts that cropped up on Facebook at the time, a post that Nuzzling Muzzles wrote about vet med on her now non-existent blog that made me furious, one dog in renal failure from the incorrect antibiotic prescribed by the owner's farm vet (Gentamicin is commonly used to treat ear infections, though a common side effect is deafness. It can be used injectably in small animals but it is known to cause kidney failure. There is a whole slew of better, safer antibiotics out there now!) and one choke victim dog that we treated at work: it had been nearly choked to death by an inexperienced employee at a cheap local general practice (a lot of general practices cut corners by hiring inexperienced staff off the street to handle, medicate, and take care of your pet, and they often have them doing multiple jobs in the clinic: receptionist, kennel person and veterinary technician, often unsupervised. Why? Because unlike an experienced/credentialed tech, they can get away with paying them minimum wage to get the job done. Take into account the depth of knowledge a registered nurse has, which is at the same level as a credentialed vet tech (remember Charles is a registered nurse. A good one, too. Him and I talk at the same level in med speak.) Now tell me what you prefer.) That rant post marked the exact point when my burnout reached its absolute maximum levels. I was DONE. Done, done, done.

We found the stallion in the mare field a second time (this nearly gave me an ulcer from the stress quite literally...I started taking omeprazole too!) and I started looking at other barns to move to and found one we loved. At the end of the month, we found the stallion in the mare field a THIRD TIME. Charles and I played in the river one last time that day. I didn't write about it, but here are some photos of the occasion:

Another favorite. He looks like a total boss!

And moved the girls to the new barn the very next day, where we have been at ever since. 

I got you guys caught up on the entire stallion saga and barn move in this post.

I wrote some off-topic posts in June, including my American Pharaoh post, which is a personal favorite. Gracie had her hocks and right front pastern injected, and we noticed marked improvement in her movement from there on out.

We discovered the river at the current barn, which was cause of much celebration for Charles and me. We are only slightly obsessed with water, and adding horses to the mix just makes it that more fun!

Summer was in full swing by now and Charles and I were taking full advantage of it, so that didn't leave much time for blogging. I gave you guys a photo update of all of our adventures here. I was really, really, REALLY happy with our new hometown, with the barn, and with everything we were doing during our time off.

I never mentioned it, but both horses were in heavy training for Ride Between the Rivers in Elkins, WV (Liz's hometown): my goal was to take both mares on the LD. It would be Lily's second ride of the season, this time over mountainous terrain to truly test the new electrolyte protocol, and Gracie's and Charles's debut in the sport. This was the whole point of the joint injections back in June: to have Gracie as comfortable as possible to start competing at the end of July.

For the 4th of July weekend, Charles and I made reservations to take the girls overnight camping at Little Bennett, which is a local park with 25 miles of horse trails just 10 minutes from the barn. We checked in then went to the barn to hitch up and load the trailer. The girls were munching on hay at the hitching post while we loaded up the trailer some 30 feet away from them...next thing I know, Lily is tearing off up the bridle path hill with the hitching post still attached to her lead rope.

She gouged her left hind with one of the hitching post screws, which resulted in a trip to the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton equine hospital on emergency: she fractured and displaced her splint bone which needed to be removed, and had a wound deep enough to require a drain, IV antibiotics and advanced bandaging. She was hospitalized for a week.

Depressed mare in the hospital. She received excellent care and I was beyond thrilled with my experience at New Bolton; she just doesn't tolerate being caged. It was a necessity though.
We picked her up and I was upset to see that she had lost weight during her hospitalization despite a solid appetite, high quality grain and two different types of hay available 24/7: she hates being locked up in a stall, and this was just the beginning of her confinement. I stressed because she was stressed.

Once home, I again started treatment with omeprazole for a second time this year. July was a hideously stressful month: I was given the option of self-care stall board so I could keep costs down (a necessity given the ever-increasing vet bills), which meant that I was not getting a lot of sleep during the workweek. Gracie had to be brought into a stall part time too at night to keep Lily company, since the stalled horses were on overnight turnout and Lily would pace all night long, not eating. We struggled with cellulitis in the injured leg. Between the lack of sleep, physical exhaustion, work stress, barn stress, general burnout, and the veterinary expenses that continued to pile up, this month was a monumentally stressful one and one that I really don't care to remember.

Except for the amazingness that is Blogland. I was moved to tears more than once from all the love we received. Liz and Karen set up a GoFundMe for Lily and we received enough donations to pay about a third of the remaining vet bills after what insurance covered. (The whole shebang was over $6,000.) Thank you again to everyone that donated! I just have no words. I love you all.

Liz prompted me to start with the pet portraits through Etsy and the requests for drawings started coming in.

One of the first commissioned portraits through the new store. :)
His name is Bowser and he is owned by a former co-worker with whom I've stayed in touch through Facebook.
She wanted him with the same expression in his eyes as in the photo, but with his ears pricked. For his ears I used other photos as reference.
And I received so many gifts and loaners from fellow bloggers: Beka lent me Archie's wraps so I wouldn't have to be doing horse laundry every day, Sara, whose mare Gem was also recovering from a serious leg injury, sent me a horse angel that I hung in front of Lily's stall to guard her, Karen sent me a lovely charm for Lily's halter that she made herself, and Amanda sent a box full of goodies and Vetrap for us to use.

It didn't end there: there were e-mails, texts, and messages from so many people around the country, wanting to know how we were holding up. I don't think I've ever felt so loved.

Due to exhaustion I lost all desire to ride during this time, but Gracie proved to be a balm to my worrying over Lily. She gave me spectacular rides when I did get on, and we did more groundwork this month.

Halfway through the month, Lily was cleared to start hand walks and to go in a stall with a run so she could move more. The handwalks were thankfully uneventful and were a huge help in lowering the now almost chronic swelling in her leg. I may have walked her more than the vet wanted me to, and I'm still glad I did.

Towards the end of the month she was cleared to start going out in a small paddock at night. I let her have access to the paddock 24/7 and she did fabulously.

My mom arrived to visit the very last weekend of July, which trickled into August. There had still been a possibility of us going to RBTR in WV to meet up with Liz, Dom and now Sara as a social visit (not competitive), but this was the only weekend my mom could fly in from PR before starting work after her summer break and I hadn't seen her in two years. So we stayed and she came. We had a blast showing her around Frederick.

With Mom. Can you tell she was having fun? :D
It was a gorgeous weekend spent with her, and also the weekend that Lily was cleared to return to full turnout.

Lily's return to the herd. Total non-event.
On August 3, exactly a month after her initial injury, I rode her for the first time since her injury. And it was like no time had passed since I last rode her. It had seemed like an eternity while it was happening: the stress of managing the leg and the stall work and lack of sleep and Lily's nerves, but once it was done, it all seemed like a blip in time. It's funny how stress and exhaustion can make something seem so, sooooo much worse than it is.

I gave another big update on the stuff I'd been doing with Gracie while managing Lily's injury. We were continuing to have breakthrough after major breakthrough as her and I continued to learn more about one another.

First bareback canter!!!! A lifetime goal: achieved!
Charles and I continued on our explorations of the barn trails, which I didn't get to write about. But here are some photos that I never posted. :)

We tried again and finally made it to Little Bennett with the girls, with much anxiety from me over this trip. Remember, this is the location we were trying to go to when Lily ran away with the hitching post. We weren't going camping this time, just to spend the day riding. It was blissfully uneventful and Little Bennett is now one of Charles's favorite parks to ride at.

At the end of the month, we met up with Gail again for a ride at Sugarloaf! Charles and Gracie came along too. We had soooo much fun!

I didn't write about this, but August also marked the month in which I officially started training in the Surgery department at work: in July I had been running over to Surgery during downtime in ER for training but it was very inconsistent, so I talked both department supervisors into letting me work the first half of my shifts in Surgery (when it was slow in ER) and then switch to ER when Surgery closed for the evening (which is when business picked up in ER anyway). This worked out very well for all parties involved.

In August I also started working out again consistently. I made it a priority on the weekends, squeezing in a Spinning class before going out to the barn to ride, which was sometimes a challenge...try getting in a 10 mile ride after a 45 minute Spin class where your instructor focused on HIIT! The results became visible quite promptly. Over the next 2 months I lost 10 lbs simply by adding the extra cardio. Since my down time at the beginning of my ER shifts was now being spent in Surgery, where I was now on my feet for 6 hours in addition to the following 6 hours of busy-ness in ER after that, I was walking anywhere from 5 to 6 miles in a 12 hour shift.  (Thank you iPhone health app!) Factor in riding two horses over long distances (each got a minimum of an hour of saddle time each time) four days a week, and you have my recipe for success. I normally make healthy choices when it comes to eating: I don't eat fast food and as a general rule don't keep sweets in the house. If I really want dessert, I have to want it badly enough to leave the house to go get it. (It does happen!) Indulgences are in the form of chocolate, ice cream or beer if I crave them on my days off.

This is why I have a hard time with desk jobs: my job keeps me so much more active.

I hate selfies but I was really freaking proud of this.
I started out struggling with Lily being a freak about being tied and vented about my general frustrations with her regressions after every major injury she has had, and the fact that this time was no exception. I later narrowed her behaviors down to being caused by her heat cycles, which seemed to be stronger and more frequent than they had been in a long time. My vet confirmed that it might take a whole year for Lily to go back to normal hormone-wise after all of the Lutalyse injections she had to receive to keep her from getting pregnant.

In the same post, I talked about how much I had been bonding with Gracie under saddle in the meantime. She had officially turned into the horse I knew she could be: the one with which I could do anything.

Riding Gracie in the mare field. Bareback. In a rope halter.
I wrote my anthropomorphization post, which was a huge, HUUUUUGE hit in Blogland and was featured on other blogs, like Sprinklerbandit's. :) It was awesome to see the ripple effect of that post, to read the discussions it generated and hear other people's opinions on the subject. If you missed it at the time, I recommend reading it now. I had a lot of fun writing it, and included all sorts of proof that animals understand us, featured in the form of videos, photos and links to veterinary articles. I'd say that, of everything I wrote this year, that post was my personal favorite, both because of the content I was able to find for it and the way it came out...but also because of the positive reaction it caused. Loved it!

Liz came to visit for a weekend on her way up the East Coast towards Maine for work. We had a BLAST, as always.

Liz took this amazeballs photo of Gracie and me.

And also this one of Lily and me!
This month I also started playing with hoof boots on both horses, and I never went into detail about this. Why were we playing with hoof boots? Because a dear friend and reader had offered to sponsor Lily and me so we could ride at the National Championships LD in October: she was paying our entry fee. (I had cancelled all plans to compete this year after the expenses involved with Lily's injury back in July.) I was hoping to bring Gracie along so Charles and I could drag ride one of the other two days of Championships: they were having a 50, an LD and a 100-mile ride on 3 separate days, so there would be plenty of opportunities for drag riding. Perks of drag riding? It counts as volunteering. Which means free food and all sorts of volunteer perks. :) The Old Dominion series of endurance rides treats their volunteers very well! The catch: National Championships was being held at the George Washington National Forest in Orkney Springs, VA, on the same exact course as the Old Dominion, the toughest endurance ride on the East Coast (it's called The Beast of the East for a reason!) and the second-toughest in the entire country. Which meant rocks. Lots and lots and lots of rocks. Which meant mandatory hoof protection.

Photo taken by moi from Lily's back as we climbed up a nonexistent trail through a wall of rocks on the Old Dominion 50 in 2015. Lily's ears are pointing at the trail. Do you see it? Neither did I!
Hoof boots: the bane of my existence.

I wasn't intimidated by the course at all, as we did the 50 in 2014 as our first endurance ride ever and completed. I knew what the LD's course entailed and it was nothing compared to what we had already done. BUT I was dreading the hoof boot saga.

So we went to Little Bennett to trial boots on both horses and after much, much, MUCH dismounting to fix boots on both horses, especially Lily, we finally kinda-sorta figured something out with them but I wasn't exactly happy: the terrain at Little Bennett was far more forgiving than at Orkney Springs.

Lily's mismatched boots at the end of our 14-mile ride.
I had packed 8 boots for her. She went through 5 boots. The 4th booth on her RF in this photo was actually one of Gracie's boots. Yeah: NOT promising.

The last weekend in September, we went down to Davis, WV for the Leaf Peeper's Festival (I wrote about it in October.) We stayed with Liz at Dave's house and had a truly amazing time. It was magical and I got to check more items off of my bucket list, starting with both riding Dolly Sods and riding through clouds, which we knocked out in one go. See video below! :)

I officially started working in the Surgery department full time in this month. I didn't write about it on the blog, but I very much celebrated IRL!

This becomes my life and I'm quite thrilled about it!
National Championships were October 8-10. I had requested the time off from work and had all of our gear ready to go. And then we had so, sooooo much rain the week prior that I started having second thoughts about this endeavor: I was already stressed about the hoof boots + rocks combo. Adding mud into that equation was just turning the whole hoof boot situation into an absolute nightmare (mud is even more likely to suck off boots that might already be spinning off from rocky footing.)

2 days before we were supposed to leave for Orkney Springs, I arrived at the barn after work to discover Lily had a fat hind leg. Guess which leg! Her LEFT HIND AGAIN! (This is the same leg she gouged this year, the same leg with which she stepped on barbed wire in 2014, the same leg on which she had an annular ligament injury in 2013, and the same leg where she sustained a puncture wound to the frog in 2012.) I didn't write about ANY of these plans or situation on the blog because my plan had been to write about the ride after the fact.

So yes: fat left hind. And she was sore on it. Stabbing her toe, refusing to land heel-first, and short-striding on it. I thought maybe she had an abscess that was about to blow out of her heel, which made sense after all the rain we had had. 24 hours later she was still sore on that leg and the leg was still puffy, so I cancelled plans to go to National Championships. I was not putting a mare with questionable soundness over that kind unforgiving terrain, even if she did end up being sound the morning of the competition. Also, heel abscesses + hoof boots are not a pleasant combination: the captivators on Renegades and the back part of the Gloves both touch the horse's heels. I could have taken Gracie instead but by this point I was just super frazzled overall and decided to ditch the idea of competing entirely so I could stay home and monitor this newest development.

Fat leg the night I discovered it.
And that is how our third and final attempt at going to a competition in 2015 was cut short.

48 hours later the leg was back to normal and she was sound...and then her right hind swelled up. I dealt with mystery swelling on and off on both legs for the better part of an entire week. I never did figure out what caused all of that: no abscess declared itself.

Two fat legs WTF?!!
After the initial lameness of the LH, she stayed sound so I treated for skin funk in case she was trying to blow up with scratches: in the past the first sign of a scratches infection has been swelling of the affected legs, usually a couple of days before the lesions and scabs start. She seemed to respond to the treatment though so maybe that's what it was? I will never know. Regardless, I didn't ride her during this time just in case.
And then, basically the moment her legs returned to normal, one day after work I discovered Lily with half of her face hanging off.

Okay, so maybe not half of her face. But I could see her skull.
Fun times.  

You can imagine why, by this point, I was about ready to scream. Instead, I did the complete opposite and  withdrew entirely from the situation.

This latest problem, of course, required an evening emergency visit by my vet to put Lily's face back together. I was so done with her injuries by this point. So, so, SO done. I had waxed poetic about my relationship with Lily just a month before but with this new injury I was ready to throw in the towel on her. I just couldn't deal with the injuries anymore. It wasn't just the financial stress of all of these problems piled up one on top of one another so closely together, it was also her continued regressions every time she needed to be off work: every time she needs time off, I need to re-start her with the solo rides out. It only takes a few times, but it is still a stressful endeavor because she can be so reactive.

I'll repeat it: I have owned horses for 22 years. 8 horses during that time. I am not new to this nor the expenses involved. However, I have NEVER had a horse as injury-prone as this one. I had Lucero for all 20 years of his life...the worst issues he ever had were scraping his knees one time he slipped on pavement (I managed them; no need to call the vet) and one time when he appeared to be colicky (the automatic waterer in his stall at the boarding barn wasn't working and it hadn't been caught by the barn staff: he was dehydrated. The vet came out, gave him Banamine and we started supplementing water in buckets as well. No more issues. It wasn't even an emergency call: my vet was available and he came right out). The one time he was lame was when the farrier at the time trimmed him too short. Lucero's feet recovered as they grew back out and the farrier was fired. No need for vet visits there either.

I took a watch and wait approach to Lily's injury. I wrote the sales ad for Lily in my head and put feelers out to friends and friends of friends who might be interested, but had to wait until she healed before I could seriously begin the motions of selling her. I withdrew emotionally from her and went to the barn to check on her bandages every single day like a good owner is supposed to do, and studied the wound every day in a cold and calculated manner.

Despite my emotionless state, I still dealt with a mare that was a nervous wreck about nothing and everything (see? Regression) which didn't exactly endear me to her more during this time.

Regardless, the bonus of this day-to-day approach was that I didn't worry. For the first time since owning Lily, I didn't worry AT ALL about managing an injury of hers, though I will say this was also helped by the new work environment: I was just calmer in general! The wound took forever to heal, it seemed, but part of it also was that that bandage became sort of a security blanket for me: if she had it on, she couldn't rip her skin off again. But I finally did take it off, and she wore only a fly mask for a while, even when it was freezing cold out, because my Cashel mask was the perfect length and fit to cover the wound.

World covered in frost? Yup, still wearing the fly mask.
I didn't think about the wound except when I had Lily in front of me and I chose not to write about it much either except as a sort of afterthought. I spent a lot of time with Gracie, both on the ground and in the saddle.

And she continued to be a steady source of calm and happiness when I needed it most. When I went out to check on Lily, whom I would have to chase down in order to just look at her, Gracie would simply come up to me to say hi and just hang out. It wasn't uncommon for her to nuzzle me or put her head on my shoulder while I scratched her neck.

How can you not fall in love with a horse like that?

Surgery discovers I can draw, and for the first time since starting in vet med, my coworkers are aware of my talent, which is pretty ironic given that drawing was the way I used to meet people in school as a kid and later growing up, and it is what would ultimately lead me into vet med.

The story is a funny one: we were having a hospital-wide pumpkin decorating contest, with each department participating. My coworkers had an idea: they wanted to carve the pumpkin and use a smaller white pumpkin as a brain so they could light it up from the inside, but then weren't sure how to stencil their idea onto the pumpkins nor create the lit effect on the brain pumpkin.

I finally spoke up: "I can draw whatever you want on the pumpkins." So I was passed the sharpie and within 10 seconds the large pumpkin had a face. And the second pumpkin had lines to form the texture of a brain. And while everyone carved the larger pumpkin, I took a dremel to the smaller one and created 3D lines that glowed when a light was shone from inside the pumpkin:  a brain!

Coolest thing I've helped create in a long time! And it took me to a whole other level with my coworkers. :D

The "brain" was crooked in this photo but you get the idea. I also drew the faces on the smaller gourds you see here.
Close-up of the white pumpkin with a light shining behind it to show the dremeled lines. :)
I participate in Inktober, at least until mid-month when the Christmas portrait orders really started coming in and I had to stop recreational drawing to devote all my extra time to the paid drawings. :)

Things got better with Lily when I started riding her again and remembered that she could be a lot of fun. And also that having her meant Charles and I could ride together. So the sale is on hold. For now, at least.

ANNNND... Karen visited!!! After two years of knowing one another through our blogs and talking nearly every day via text, e-mail or Facebook, I finally, FINALLY got to meet Karen in person! This was a huge highlight of the month. :D And one that I hope will repeat itself in the near future.

In November I talked about living in the moment for the first time and told you guys about the department change at work.

My coworker Alexei came out to the barn a couple of times this month because he had repeatedly expressed interest in riding, and I put him on G-Mare. It was Gracie's first time with a beginner on her back since Charles started riding. Both her and Alexei did awesome.

I was still bandaging Lily's head but now with a smaller bandage that went strictly around her nose (no figure-8). She was back in full work per my vet's clearance. Charles and I had what would normally have been an ordinary ride but its ordinariness and our enjoyment of its ordinariness is what made it extraordinary. Enough for me to write about.

At the end of the month I showed you guys my riding Gracie reinless video. Loved the reader feedback! :)

I declared Lily's face healed at the beginning of the month! We also drove down to Davis, WV for more adventures with Liz, this time in the form of the Jack Frost Celebration at the White Grass Ski Touring Center. I love every single visit to WV, but this one was among my favorites.

This photo perfectly summarizes the way we felt while at this event!
This was a fairly silent month on the blog as Christmas approached. I didn't ride at all because most of the time I was too busy getting the last Christmas portraits done, and on weekends when I could have ridden we had days of solid rain, making both trails and the arena unusable.

Karen's Red.
Oil pastel on paper. Another big, big favorite!
But that was okay. I continued going to the gym instead and started dragging Charles out with me more often, since he wasn't getting exercise at all otherwise.

I didn't get to write about this but we spent Christmas weekend with the in-laws and some of Charles's cousins down in Virginia.

Life with a man-child...hahaha...

Setting the wrong kind of example..
His cousin Bea lives close to Richmond and it was our first time visiting her at her house. It was a timely visit as she is due to have her first child this month! We spent the first night at her place then continued on towards Williamsburg and Busch Gardens, where the in-laws rented a cabin for the family to stay overnight after going to the park.

Beer or coffee? BOTH!
Busch Gardens is owned by Anheuser Busch. Hence, beer at every corner. We had not seen any places selling beer yet, so we got coffee...and walked out of the coffee shop to discover an outdoor bar right across from the shop. Instead of drinking our coffee and having beers later, we just went ahead and bought our beers and walked with one of each drink in hand for the next mile or so...
The in-laws were paying for food so Charles and I basically ended up spending what him and I had originally set aside for meals at the park on beer instead...because OMG did they have a huge selection at this park, and all of it on draft! Big change from the Tampa, FL Busch Gardens!

Charles's brother and brother's wife with their daughters and one of the Budweiser Clydesdales. :)
The Williamsburg Busch Gardens is usually closed in winter but they decorate the entire park for Christmas and open it as Christmas Town for a limited time between December and January. Price is reduced because a lot of the bigger rides are closed but it is so totally worth the visit! Charles and I ended up spending a lot more time than originally planned on our own, in which we basically pretended to be teenagers again and walked around the park a good 4 times.

It was stunningly gorgeous once night fell.

The park is divided into countries like Epcot Center in Orlando. Each country was decorated in a different color. Germany was yellow. I loved this enchanted forest!
This photo...
...was taken in front of this. It was a pedal boat pond that had been emptied and filled with blue and purple lights. They sparkled like water. It was STUNNING.

This was my favorite part of the park. An illuminated path towards that brilliant tree.
It was decorated in tiny, tiny white lights. We stood in front of it for a very long time. It was like something out of Fern Gully. So spectacularly beautiful.
I think my face says it all. :)
If you live in the area, I totally recommend going to this park, whether with other adults or kids! The nieces had an absolute BLAST at the park too.

The girls playing bumper cars.
Much immaturity was had by all.
This is Charles and his brother!!
The day after we returned to Maryland. And then it was back to work before New Year's Eve, which I told you guys about in my Introspection post. :)

I went into 2015 absolutely dreading it. I have never been more terrified of a specific year and there were multiple reasons for it that I can't discuss on the blog. All of those reasons vanished, though, and once we had the trailer, I had then envisioned a year full of endurance rides and adventure with the horses. We certainly had adventure, though not quite in the way I had expected. Still, so many positive things happened that I hadn't dared to hope or dream about!

It was an absolutely fantastic year, and I hope there are many more like it!


  1. I love your drawings! You have had a huge year but it makes me so happy to see you enjoying riding your horse again. And I hope that continues.

    1. I hope so too! Thank you Hillary! <3

  2. What a year. Such highs and lows. 2016 will be boring in comparison. Curious, what are you thinking of doing about the hoof boot situation? And Lily's tying issues, how are you handling that

    Show us some pics of your horse trailer. Did I miss that? Is it a stock trailer? It looks sturdy enough to handle a rollover.

    I love your reactions to snow. I'm the same - it's supposed to snow at 300 meters today and we're at 250 so I am hopeful to see some. I love snow, unless it sticks around for months, like it sometimes does. Of course I'm incapable of driving in it confidently.

    You said "wet dream." : )

    1. Hahaha yes, I did say "wet dream"! ;)

      Lily will get shod for competition. No ands, ifs or buts about it. If I do compete her at all this year, she will get shod in front and booted in back. I need to contact some of our local upper level endurance riders to see who they use as I don't like our current barn farrier's work at all. Gracie will get booted for now, as her feet are closer to the "ideal" shape required for boots. I just need to collect backups for her. I have a pair of Cavallos that fit her and she might do well with, since she has shorter pasterns (Lily's longer pasterns chafe in them) but I still have to test them. That'll happen in the spring when we have less mud, hopefully.

      I love snow! Part of the reason for the Silverado was to have a snow-friendly vehicle though we get such little snow overall that we don't even need snow tires on the Corolla. It did get new all-terrain tires this year though so we're ready!

      I meant to do a trailer post and never did, though I do have the photo "tour" of it! :) It's a slant load stock-type with a tack room and one emergency exit door. The brand is Calico and it is made of steel. I hadn't heard much of Calico trailers but a good friend of mine has one and loves it. We love ours! I really hope we can take one or both of the girls to an endurance ride with it this year! It will be the first time using our own rig for a ride!

  3. Here's hoping 2016 is just as fantastic...just with wayyyyy less injury and wayyyyy more endurance haha

    PS Can 2016 pleassssse be the year that you and I *finally* meet IRL :D

    PPS that pumpkin is so badass

    1. YES PLEASE! We need to coordinate our WV visits better so we can meet up!!

    2. YES. When I'm in school. I'm about and hour and a half from Liz!

  4. Alternate title, "The Year Carlos Rode Horses Nearly as Much as His Wife". =D

    1. I thought of that too! Also: The Year Carlos Became a Horseperson. Hahaha

  5. What a year it has been for you and your furry ones. I'm glad I found your blog and here is to a great 2016!

    1. I'm so glad I found yours! I hope we get to finally meet in person in the near future!

  6. wonderful recap - so many awesome memories and pictures!!! the injuries were definitely horrible but i'm so glad there were so many other good things going on to shift the balance to ultimately being a positive year! here's to an even better (and less injury-prone!) 2016!!! :D

  7. What a tumultuous year you had, which seems to have happened with a lot of people, especially in the East. I hope whatever energy has caused this issue has resolved and your 2016 year is much better in terms of work (I know it is) and the horses are in a "no injury zone".

    Meeting you was the high point of my year and made the three days of non-stop work/travel so worth it. Much love to you and your hubs.

  8. Here is to 2016 may it be better than any year previously, and if not that then not quite as bumpy!

  9. I just read your whole vet med rant for the first time and WOW, did you ever tell it, Sister! One of my favorite parts, believe it or not, was the end, when you said people should familiarize themselves with the costs BEFORE THEY GET THE PET. Let me add, "and everything else about the pet!" It makes me cuckoo bananas when folks bring home that cute free kitten, or dog they fell in love with and the have a fit over vet costs or dump it because the wife/husband didn't want it in the first place.

    As much as I adore animals, all I have right now is one (1) dog. And a snake, which wasn't my choice but my son brought her home and promptly left for college so I inherited her. Fortunately *knock on wood* she has been cheap and easy. I would LOVE to have a couple guinea pigs, my other favorite animal besides dogs and horses. But I refuse to get any because guess what? My senior dog is EXPENSIVE. And she's worth it as she has given me/us almost 13 years of undying love and companionship. So dropping $2-300 every time we hit the vet office, or spending $50/mo on meds* (see below, it could be WAY more) is okay by me.

    All told I think I spent at least $1500 on Sunny last year and that does include a single surgery (it was this, that and the other thing). I haven't added it up and don't really want to. I am not complaining because I'm glad I've still got her! I could *somewhat* afford this but holy cow, NO, I'm not acquiring any more pets!!!

    OTTH, your post does make me feel a wee bit guilty about getting Sunny's meds online. My vet has approved these purchases but I know it probably doesn't make her happy (we are friends "on the side", too). Let me make a recent cost comparison, though and I think most people would understand why. 18 thyroid pills from vet: $15.00. 180 thyroid pills from online pharmacy: $35.00 Just a SLIGHT price difference there... and one I can't help taking advantage of. So far my vet/friend has not complained because I have paid for everything else that was done/suggested in the office. Would I really like to get the meds from her and help put her two kids through college? Sure. Is it better for my wallet to order them elsewhere? Most definitely. So far we're cool, thank goodness.

    ANYWAY, I sure did enjoy your recap and you know I love your blog and all the discussion about your job in general. I hope that 2016 is a great year for you (Lily, for the love of God don't hurt yourself!) and Charles and ALL your four-leggeds!

  10. Edit for above: Does NOT include a single surgery. I spent all that on diagnostics, largely.

  11. P.S. I read somewhere that keeping a dog for its lifetime, doing "suggested maintenance"/feeding decent food/accounting for minor mishaps, is the neighborhood of $10,000. That will definitely be the case with my girl. WORTH. EVERY. PENNY. But you gotta plan on this, people!

    1. Really, really, really: don't worry about buying cheaper medicine elsewhere! At every hospital I have worked at, vets always recommended less expensive alternatives for pet medications, either at the pharmacy or ordering online. Here in MD a lot of people still choose to buy meds from us because of the convenience while they are in hospital, but we are always more than happy to give a script so the owner can get the meds for less money elsewhere. In the rare instances the option isn't given, it's usually because it's an animal-specific drug (such as meloxicam: it's not formulated for people) and/or it needs to be compounded (made at a special dose/formulation for a specific pet) and/or needs to be started right away (vs ordering online and waiting a couple of days for it to arrive). So definitely don't feel guilty about saving money on meds! :)

    2. Thank you so much for saying that! It definitely was NOT mentioned at my vet's, I had to figure it out for myself. Having to be on three scrips myself, including one that suddenly went up 15x in price in a month, it's not my first rodeo tracking down cheaper meds. So I am determined to chop that bill where I can. I really didn't feel TOO bad about it until I got an earful from a new friend whose hubby is a veterinary pharma sales rep. She told me horror stories about fake copies, improper storage, crooked vets, etc. etc. and basically made me feel like a dirtbag for buying online. :( Kind of freaked me out. So I'm glad that' not necessarily the case!

      I get two of Sunny's from KV Vet Supply and they have always been GREAT. The bottle and pills are precisely, exactly the same for Proin, I know that for a fact. They thyroid keeps changing brands but her blood counts are perfecto, so... Her Enalapril generic comes from Walmart because they had the best price.

      Thanks very much as always!

    3. My vet matches online prices if you bring in a copy of the online price data. They realize that a: some people would forego medication and animals could suffer and b: better to get the reduced price rather than none at all.

      Once in an emergency (because I loaned the smz's I keep for emergencies to a fellow horse person and they hadn't replaced them) I went to the on-island vet - not my regular - and she charged me $180 for a 10 day course, which is +/- $22 on Valley Vet.

      I know that marking up meds is a profitable revenue stream but that was highway robbery...

  12. Love the photos of Busch Gardens! My family and I try and make an annual trip out there or Hershey Park for the holiday light displays. Looks like everyone had a great time :) Hope you had a good start to 2016 so far and finger crossed you get to go to more rides this year because we need to meet up IRL, finally!

  13. Had to add to this: Just was reading a FB post from New Vocations about a lovely OTTB they've got, price tag $500 (one of their steals). Someone says, "Can I make payments?" Uh, listen, Honey, if you can't afford to buy the horse up front you sure as H*LL can't afford to keep it! As I always tell people who ask why I don't have a horse, it's not the buying, it's the keeping... I have been offered free horses and I know for a fact it would be the most expensive free thing I ever got! :D

  14. What a year! Sounds like things ended on a high note. I learned a lot from your blog in 2015 :)

  15. It definitely wasn't boring! ;D Lots of fun, though heavy on the health emergencies. Best wishes for 2016 - looking forward to seeing what you get up to. :D

  16. What a year!!!

    Can I ask what volunteer perks are usual for ride volunteers at OD?

    1. They get free food at ride camp (breakfast and dinner), and at the Old Dominion ride itself (it hosts a 100-miler)they also offer lodging and access to hot showers at a nearby campgrounds. :)