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

Friday, September 30, 2011

America's Favorite Trail Horse!

Last night I was supposed to have a dressage lesson. I got to the barn early, armed with my clippers and a new set of blades, to see if Lily would tolerate being clipped. After giving Lily a hay snack while cleaning her stall, I put her on the crossties and turned on the clippers. She didn't care. I clipped her throat, and her entire belly in one smooth line, and was thrilled to see that she didn't even flinch. This is awesome! I love training horses from 0, but I'm not very experienced with body clipping in general, and it probably would've taken me the entire winter to get her trained to accept the clippers if she'd been afraid of them.

Elisabeth is one of Lily's greatest fans. (After me, of course!)
While doing this, Judy texted me, asking to reschedule the lesson. I told her this was okay, and rode anyway. Charles had come out with the camera to take photos and video of our now non-lesson. It mostly ended up being video, because it is already dusk at 7:15 pm, and the photos were pretty blurry. It was a really good ride, for the most part. Lily would get fast anytime we were circling towards the barn (everyone was being fed dinner...she forgot she had a snack 30 minutes before being ridden!) but she was otherwise excellent! She was soft and bendy right from the start, she cantered really well, and she didn't do her quick choppy trot during the entire session. She is just barely tracking up at the trot in the videos, but her whole body is nice and loose, no tension, and she is maintaining a nice, consistent working speed. And her head isn't sticking straight out with an ewe neck like it used to; her nose is starting to go into a more normal downward position while being ridden.
Warming up at a long walk on a loose rein. You can see how her neck is starting to develop right above her shoulder!Love that I can do this with her without being terrified she's going to explode at the slightest sound. This is only the 2nd time she's been ridden at dusk. Horses can see just fine in the dark, but at dusk and dawn they don't see too well.

Circling to the left, her stiffer side. You can see the tension in her neck and shoulder going to this side (she was still tracking up nicely, though!). I swear it's that little foot. I prefer to have a horse barefoot if possible, but I'm not a diehard barefoot fanatic-sometimes, especially with some breeds and some types of footing/climate/genes, you just need the extra support of shoes, especially when our horses aren't surviving wild in Montana anymore, where natural selection favors individuals with strong feet. I'm not going to have her get hurt just because I want her barefoot. The farrier comes out Wednesday. We'll see what he says.
Magic happens when I sit up straight. *lol* I almost have a true dressage seat in this photo, and her head is almost vertical! (Sitting up straight is still an enormous struggle for me-only been riding dressage 1 year after almost 20 in that forward jumper seat!)

When I first started riding her, she used to be completely all over the place at the trot-slowing down and speeding up every few seconds; it was very hard just to keep her at a consistent speed, and at any speed, it was like riding a jackhammer. Such a big difference! It felt so much smoother during most of the workout. She was more stiff than usual to the left, so I took it easier on her in this direction, keeping the circles slightly larger. She's not lame, but I think I'm really going to have to put those front shoes on her. It's been over 2 months since she was last trimmed, and she still has no hoof wall that can be trimmed! Her left foot seems to actually be getting smaller-she wears it down more, despite daily applications of Venice turpentine to all 4 feet. Front shoes will prevent this from happening. I think it's time. Boo...

Despite that, her trot was still loose and swinging. I was so happy with her! She actually had a nice sweat going when we were done (first real sweat in a while-it was cooler than it's been in a long time), and I think the partial clipping helped-she recovered quickly. I gave her a liniment bath and she finally got to have her real dinner.

Today I was at the barn early to work some more on clipping her before going on a trail ride with Elisabeth. I did the whole front end of her body (neck, shoulders, and chest) before Elisabeth arrived, then we tacked up and we were off.

That dark stuff on the floor in front of her is all the hair that came off of her shoulders alone! This was using a #10 blade, too!
We had been trying to go on a trail ride together for MONTHS, and our schedules never coincided until today. It was a lovely morning to be at the park-there was a nice breeze , and it was warm, not hot. There is a cold front coming down the East coast this weekend, which for us right now just means that nights will drop into the low 70s, but it also kills the humidity, which makes the daytime heat bearable.

These little pebble clouds never lie-they are usually followed by a cold front. They are only seen between October and April, and always make me smile!
We rode for a good 2 hours, mostly walking (I did want Lily to have an easy day today), with a little trotting and one canter down a straightaway. We talked about the barn and horses, and rode through our favorite trails. There are some very narrow trails at the back of the park, where I had not taken Lily yet. We ended up leading the way in, and she marched down them like she had done this every day of her life! We went up the powerlines and looped onto the park's back street, then took the pretty trail that I had shown Charles last time I rode with him. We trotted through the field among the baby pines. The grass was high, up to Lily's chest, but she just trotted on, ears pricked and head swaying with her motion, like it always does when she's happy and relaxed. I looked over at Christa, and she had a similar expression-I had to laugh: if they had been human, both mares would've been grinning from ear to ear! We continued on up the front of the park, around one of the lakes following the railroad ties, and back to the gazebo area. One of the paths that I really like leads around 2 of the larger gazebos by one of the main lakes. It's shady, often breezy, and involves riding straight through one of the gazebos. There is a bridge that leads over the lake, and Elisabeth wanted to know if  we could cross it. I wasn't sure about its sturdiness, if it was meant to hold the weight of a horse, but there were no signs saying that it wasn't allowed. Elisabeth rode Christa up to the bridge but the mare wouldn't even put a foot on it. I got brave then, and asked if she'd let Lily and me try. Lily took one look at it, and stepped onto the bridge with all 4 feet! She'd never even seen this bridge up close, but she went right on. I was going to have her quickly trot across and see if Christa would follow, but I felt her hind feet slide on the bridge-it was dry, but unexpectedly slick. There was no way I was going to have her try to cross it if she couldn't get a grip on the wood. I had her back up off of the bridge. "I'm jealous!" Elisabeth said. Christa has always been known as the best trail horse, and today Lily outdid her. :) Elisabeth then got off to coax Christa up to the bridge. She just wanted her to place one foot on it, but Christa refused; she is very stubborn, and very claustrophobic-the bridge had railings, making it about a foot wider than Christa on each side. Elisabeth eventually got her to at least sniff at the bridge, and after that she got back on and we continued on our way. Elisabeth said that now she has a new project with Christa: to get her to just place a foot on that bridge!

We trotted back down the powerlines on the way home, and cooled the mares down by walking the rest of the way to the barn. I was kind of sad to have the ride end; I think all 4 of us had a really good time. Lily got a bath and her lunch, and I returned in the afternoon to finish body clipping her. Towards the end, she was tired of it, and started turning her head around to look at me, "Mooom, I'm bored! Are you done yet??" So cute! I turned her out for an hour as soon as we were done. I clipped everything except her ears (that's going to be another project altogether...she doesn't mind the clippers anywhere except on her ears), her forehead (hair is short enough) and her legs from the hocks and knees down (no winter shagginess there yet). I stepped out to her walkout to call Judy to see when we could reschedule last night's lesson. The side paddock shares the fence with our side of walkouts. Lily walked over to me and stuck her head through the fence to say hi before walking away to go back to grazing. This made me smile. Afterwards, I went to her, and she turned around towards me and placed her head in my chest. I love when she does this; I've never met such a lovey horse, and she's mine!


First video of us together!! It sucks because it was taken by placing the camera on top of the wall that lines the arena, and I miscalculated how wide the shot was, so there are significant periods of time where we disappear from view and you can only hear her hooves. Oh well. At the beginning she does a near-perfect shoulder-in, and we do a couple of steps of leg yields. You can also see that she is, indeed, a pretty nice mover. This is the trot that we have been working hard to achieve for a while now, and this was the first time she really nailed it for the entire session.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Living with O.C.E.A.N.S.

This is just too good not to repost. *lol* I'm sure you horse lovers out there will discover that quite a few of these are scarily true!

Very little is known about O.C.E.A.N Syndrome, but it is hoped that further interest can be generated from researchers involved in the equine and psychological sciences and that this outline will enable readers to begin to identify similar symptoms in their own families. As is the case of similar conditions, knowledge is power and with increased knowledge comes the ability to cope.

Obsessive Compulsive Equine Attachment Neurosis Syndrome (O.C.E.A.N.S) is most frequently – although not exclusively – diagnosed in the female, and can manifest itself anytime from birth to extreme old age. Symptoms may appear any time and may even go dormant in the late teens, only to re-emerge in later years. A fairly typical case would initially show the syndrome in its active form for about ten years, beginning some time in mid to late childhood. Dormancy often then occurs for a varying length of time, with the syndrome reoccurring at a later date, at which time it generally become a chronic, life-long condition.

Symptoms vary widely in both type and degree of severity. However, certain key points may be used to enable family members to make an accurate diagnosis.

The afflicted individual:

Can smell mouldy hay at ten paces, but can't tell whether bread has gone stale until it turns bright green

Finds the occasional "Buck and Fart" session hugely entertaining when performed by a horse, but severely chastises her husband for similar antics

Will spend hours cleaning and conditioning her tack, but wants to eat on paper plates so there is no washing-up

Considers equine gaseous exhaust to be a fragrance

Enjoys mucking out four stables twice a day, but denies that the kitchen floor needs cleaning more frequently than once a month

Will spend an hour combing and trimming an equine mane, but wears a hat so she doesn't waste time brushing her own hair

Will dig through manure piles daily looking for worms, but has no intention of going fishing.

Twice a week will spend an hour scrubbing buckets and troughs, but has a problem cleaning the bath and the toilet bowl

Will pick a horse's nose, and call it cleaning, but becomes verbally and/or physically violent when her husband picks his.

Can sit through a four-hour session of a ground work clinic, but is unable to make it through a half-hour replay of highlights of the World Cup.

The spouse of an afflicted individual:

Must come to terms with the fact there is no cure. The syndrome may be genetic or caused by the inhaling of manure particles which, it has been proposed, have an adverse effect on female hormones

Must adjust the family budget to include equine items - hay, livery, farrier services, riding boots and clothes, supplements, tack, equine masseuse and acupuncturist - as well as veterinary expenses and insurance. Once you have identified a monthly figure, never look at it again. Doing so will cause tightness in your chest, nausea and pain

Must realize that your spouse has no control over this affliction. More often than not, she will deny a problem even exists

Must realise that there are strong indications of a genetic component of this syndrome, especially along the female line. In other words, your children are highly likely to become victim to this syndrome.

Must form a support group. You need to know you're not alone - and there's no shame in admitting your wife has a problem. A typical support group, for instance, involves men who truly enjoy Harley Davidsons, four-day weekends and lots of beer.

Now you can better see how O.C.E.A.N.S. affects countless households in this country and abroad. It knows no racial, ethnic or religious boundaries. It is a syndrome that will be always be difficult to treat because those most affected are in denial and therefore, not interested in a cure.

Diligence in research is essential in order to find information that will make it easier for the families and caretakers of the afflicted to cope on a day-to-day basis without causing unwarranted distress and hysteria in the victims. Initial indications are that statements such as "Don't worry, I'll do overtime to pay the vet's bills" and "I've got a pay rise so you can buy the lorry/trailer/4WD/saddle you want" will cause a rapid reversal of mood in most victims, but must be followed through with concrete evidence soon afterwards.

After reading this to him, Charles asked where could he find the phone number for the support group...*lol*

Monday, September 26, 2011


Today dawned super cloudy and wet. It had stormed all night and, looking out the window at 7:00 am, I thought surely I'd be lucky if I got to ride one horse today, let alone two, which was my original plan.

I was at the barn by 9:00 am, and the minute I put on my half chaps, it started to drizzle. I killed time-catching up with the barn manager on the weekend's events (I worked both days this weekend, and whenever anything happens at the barn, it's usually on weekends when everyone is there), and then following Dianne around when she arrived to catch up with her. I felt like I hadn't seen her in forever. She's been going through a lot of change in her life. She's one person who should probably have her own blog-she is definetely a Superwoman who should share her secret with the rest of us mortals! She has 4 jobs and a horse; Charles says she must have Hermione's time turner to be able to squish the equivalent of 48 hours into 24, day in and day out. Hi Dianne! ;) (yes, she's one of my readers) Lily was so cute-she had scarfed her breakfast and poked her head out her stall door when I was walking by with an alert, questioning expression; "Hi Mom! What are we doing today? I'm BOOORED!" I've had her locked up in her stall with the stall guard up on her walkout because it has been raining so much for the last 3 days. The walkouts turn into quicksand/swimming pools when it rains this much.

Suddenly, the drizzling stopped, so I dropped everything I was doing, got Lily out of her stall, and tacked her up before the weather changed its mind again. I rode in the arena, since she had had 2 days off (I was afraid she'd be too frisky to go in the field). We did more of the same we've been doing since our dressage lesson last Thursday, and BOY could I feel the difference!!! Lily was so much softer going into the trot today!! The eternal warm-up wasn't necessary today to get her supple. Right off the bat she started dropping her head for a couple of strides at a time, reaching for the bit. Her spirals were perfect, and she nailed the 20 meter circles at the canter, which she had not been able to do before; she always wants to use the entire arena. We then trotted the cavaletti, which were set as ground poles 12 feet apart, but I turned the 2 cavaletti in the center of the line into tiny little crossrails by setting 2 PVC pipes in an "X" on each of them. I should've taken pictures; I think it's hard to imagine unless you've seen our cavaletti. Basically these were crossrails that were about 6" high at their lowest, and about 1.5' at their highest. The point? To encourage Lily to trot through the center. She did okay. The first time she decided to stop and look at the cavaletti crossrails and tried to run out, but I turned her around and made her go over it. After that, she didn't hesitate again. She does slow her trot going through, but I think this is also my fault because I'm being too easy on her; I need to use more leg. She hasn't discovered yet how much fun jumping can be, so she is less than enthusiastic about grids. We'll get there. I also feel weird doing jumping-type exercises in my dressage saddle. After some more circling and changes of direction to end on a good note, I decided to take her down to the field. The gate out was partially open. She was so cute! She stuck her head and neck out to her shoulders, the part of her that fit through, and waited for me to swing the gate open the rest of the way from her back. She walked right on out of the arena and down the driveway. I laughed. I guess she's bored with arena work! We went down to the field, and once there, Lily acted like she had just come out of her stall. We had worked for 45 minutes in the arena, but she was not at all tired! So we did circles and lots of lateral work in the field at the trot. Her leg yields in the field were nowhere near as good as in the arena because she was so full of herself, so we did lots of shoulder-ins instead, until she was nice and bendy and paying attention. Afterwards, we walked down to the park just cause we haven't gone down in a week, then turned around and came back. She got a quick bath because it was threatening to rain again.

In the afternoon, I was able to ride Christa after all despite on again, off again rain. Elisabeth arrived when I had her tacked up in the crossties, waiting for another bout of rain to stop. She got to see our entire workout, and Christa was EXCELLENT!! Waaay less stiff than our last ride, listening, and responding to my requests for more energy. I wish someone had taken video. Her trot was long and easy, she felt light in my hands, yet round and powerful-it's hard to describe the feeling if you haven't ridden a horse correctly before. It felt like Christa's 900 lb body was rolling along between my knees, held back by the lightest touch on the reins. It feels like you are riding a contained storm-all that power is harnessed between your legs and your hands. Pretty awesome! We demonstrated shoulder-ins for Elisabeth (I didn't even have to remind her how to do them! Christa remembered right away), and she was doing them so well that we tried a leg yield at the walk. Christa crossed her front legs, but her hind end was trailing. However, this was a very good first attempt from the mare that was so stiff a week ago. "Who says Christa can't do dressage!?" I said to Elisabeth. It made her day; she was grinning from ear to ear like a little kid and oh so excited to see her baby working so beautifully! Cantering was way better today too-not so heavy on the forehand, and a lot more responsive. She did buck twice going to the right again, but she really is doing it in response to the touch of the spur when she tries to slow down in front of the gate. Silly girl. I rode her through it both times  and she did not attempt it again. It was a really, really nice ride and we finished right before it started to pour again.

All in all, a truly awesome riding day :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Good days

This past Wednesday at work was a good day. We had 2 Great Dane patients, both post-op GDV surgeries, one an example of everything that can go wrong, and the other an example of everything that can go right. GDV stands for "gastric dilatation and volvulus". Also known simply as "bloat". It is a common problem in large-breed and deep-chested dogs, where their stomach dilates and flips over on itself, cutting off circulation to the intestines and the stomach itself. It is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY!! The only way to fix it is surgery. Expensive surgery at that-the bill for the Great Dane with complications was at $12,000. Yes, 3 0's. The one for the surgery without complications was at $5,000. And note: we are not an expensive hospital, but we do provide the ideal in terms of care; there is no cutting corners when the pet's life is on the line. If the client can't afford bloat surgery, the dog must be put down. It is a slow, excruciatingly painful death otherwise. This is why everyone should have their pets insured. Especially if the pet is a dog. Especially if the dog is a purebred. Especially if it is a large breed dog.

Venus was a 130 lb Great Dane who walked in the door and at first hand, did not appear to be a bloat after all-her belly did not appear distended. Radiographs proved otherwise-her stomach had distended cranially (in the direction of her head), under her ribcage. This is why she didn't have the classic bloat presentation of hugely enlarged belly. Her insides were going crazy, too-she was already throwing some pretty scary arrythmias when we hooked her up to the EKG. Venus was one tough cookie-it was pretty amazing that she was still standing. She immediately went into surgery. Her stomach was dark when they went in, meaning that circulation to it had been cut off for awhile. It became pink after being untwisted, but whether or not the stomach's capacity to function fully had been compromised was something we'd find out later. She was in surgery for a long time; my shift ended before she came out of surgery. I returned to work 2 days later to find Venus lying on her side on our orthopedic mats, with an oozing incision site and her hind legs swollen to dramatic proportions. I was shocked to see her this way. Her body from her incision back was one giant bruise, all the way to her tail! This was highly unusual and a sign of very bad news. As the next week and a half progressed, Venus continued to have a very hard time getting up to go for walks-it took 3 people to get her up to go outside, and to get her to switch the side she was lying on because she continued to be laterally recumbent (we rotated sides to prevent bed sores, just like in people).  Bloodwork indicated a failing liver that was getting worse, delayed clotting times (her blood was taking a long time to clot), a low platelet count (this can prevent the blood from clotting entirely, hence the bruising) and low blood protein (the cause of all that edema/swelling). The doctors thought she might be going into DIC. (DIC = disseminated intravascular coagulopathy. Also known as Death Is Coming. There is no coming back from it; it is a death sentence). I very sadly said my good-byes to her at the end of my shift Saturday night, thinking that she would not be there when I came back to work on Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, when I came back in to work after 2 days off, Venus was lying on her orthopedic mat like a sphynx, head up and front legs stretched out in front of her, all the bruising done.  On Saturday, we had thought that surely she would die on her own. The owner wanted to give her one more chance; the doctors changed the antibiotics Saturday night, and everyone continued fighting to keep Venus alive. On Monday, her bruising was halfway gone. On Tuesday, Venus had ripped out her IV catheters herself, and out of the blue started eating on her own. On Wednesday she was wagging her tail at us and the surgeon and criticalist declared her ready to go home. It was amazing. Venus was amazing. At the end of the day, I was massaging her legs (the swelling was almost completely gone) and she lay her head in my lap. I was almost moved to tears. What a dog! "You have no idea just how incredible you are, baby girl." I told her.

 Nikkita was the other Great Dane in hospital that day. She was a harlequin color with black-rimmed yellow eyes. A beautiful dog. And so very, very silly. She had come in Tuesday night for the same problem as Venus-GDV. However, her surgery was uneventful and 7 hours post-op, she was already bright and wanting to move around. You would never have guessed that she had just had life-saving surgery. She was my favorite patient, though at times she made me want to bang my head against the wall! I took her on myself because the other technician working with me is new to the hospital and ECC, and I didn't want him overwhelmed. Nikkita was young, less than 3 years old, and oh so goofy. She kept turning and turning in circles tangling up her IV line and the lines of her telemetry pack into one giant knot. By the 3rd time I went to untangle her, she knew she was to lie down and stay still while I undid the 5 million lines. This was the story of my life that entire day. By the end of the day, she would melt against my legs when I went to do her treatments, and slide onto her mat, exposing her belly for a scratch. It was a good thing we were relatively slow, and I actually had time to do this every 5 minutes! That is a LOT of untangling when your shift is 12 hours long. She eventually relaxed and would sleep for an hour or two at a time. By the end of the day, the criticalist said it would be okay to discontinue the telemetry, since her EKGs had been normal pre-, intra- and post-op. She also gave the thumbs-up to discontinue her IV fluids once her current bag was done, as she had been eating and drinking well all day long. Yaaay! No more lines for her to get tangled up in! Nikkita is probably one of the best recoveries I've seen so far from a GDV surgery. You can't beat a recovery like this! That girl was bright and alert, going outside for her walks and wanting to go and explore (the surgeon said we were to keep walks short the first day, of course). She made all of us laugh with her silliness. I gave her a big fat kiss on that gorgeous face at the end of my shift.

I left the hospital with a smile on my face and was still thinking about these two while I cleaned Lily's stall. She had her dinner outside in the paddock, a nice change of scenery for her. She ended up being out for a total of 3 hours or so, which is a lot in the summer: days are too hot for extended turnout, especially in our turnouts, which don't have shelter from the blazing sun or the electric storms. I also get nervous with night turnout, as there is no one at the barn to check on the horses if something happens, and the turnouts are not large enough to keep the horses entertained; grass is scarce, and in the summer, we can also get lightning storms in the middle of the night. 2 horses died at the park in the same week due to evening storms at the beginning of the summer. My previous horse would get into trouble at night at this current barn-he tore down a fence board one time, another time he put a giant dent in the gate, and the 3rd time, he sliced both front knees open. After that, no more evening turnout. It still makes me nervous. So for now, while it's hot, Lily gets some late afternoon/early evening turnout between 5pm and 8pm. This is, of course, if it's not storming! You just can't win with Florida summers...

On Thursday morning, I took Lily down to the field to longe her for 15-20 minutes, as she had had 3 days off in a row and we had a dressage lesson that night. I wanted to get any extra energy out before the lesson, and it also gave her a nice break between the longeing and the lesson-lessons are an hour long and I knew she'd be exhaused by the end of it if I longed her immediately prior to riding.

She had one bucking fit at the beginning of the workout, then she settled in nicely. I had her warm up w/t/c without side reins, and then I attached them to her bit for another 10 minutes of w/t/c, using the entire field for the session. This is the nicest she has ever gone in side reins. She's starting to get it! She was even salivating a little with the bit!

 She was doing a nice medium trot when I took this photo. Now I just need her to be like this under saddle!

Cool down walk while still in side reins. She was overtracking by a good 6".
In the afternoon, I returned to the barn early to give Lily a snack before the lesson and to longe Bella, whom I hadn't worked in a week. We did some w/t/c, then I had her follow me around at a walk while I set up a bounce with the cavaletti. Bella thought she was done, and when I asked her to trot again, she gave me a whole lot of attitude, including a rear! I don't put up with her crap, though-I cracked the whip, growled at her, and got her going at a nice little canter. She popped over the bounce effortlessly. I had her do it 5 times in each direction, and then I walked her out before hosing her down and rushing to tack up Lily before Judy arrived.

The lesson went fantastic! Lily made progress, and Judy had us doing serpentines and spiraling in & out in both directions to work on getting her more supple. I could feel the difference in her with these exercises. Judy gave me homework-I am to warm up with spirals and serpentines every time I ride for the next week. We also cantered in the lesson, which I was a little apprehensive about, but Lily was an angel. Judy had me sitting back in the saddle in a more classical dressage seat-Lily tolerated it well! We reviewed lateral aids, as all I know is book-learned (I have been riding for 20 years, but in Puerto Rico we did not have dressage instructors; I had always wanted to learn because of its importance in the development of both the horse and rider.)  Judy was pleasantly surprised when she saw Lily execute a pretty decent leg yield. She came with this training; I just figured out that she had an idea what it was by playing around with the aids. As it turns out, I was doing everything correctly. Our shoulder-ins were also perfect, with the required 3-tracking. I was giving the aids backwards, but Judy told me how to sit to make sure I was doing my part correctly. I turned my shoulders, allowing my legs to turn in the same direction, and Lily did her shoulder-in just as well as when I had been giving the aids backwards. Gotta love my little mare!! I really like Judy's style of teaching-very low-key, relaxed, persistent, and patient. Very different from other instructors I've had in the past. Plus she isn't prejudiced against specific horse breeds, like some other dressage trainers in the area. 3 of us at my barn take lessons with her on our horses, all of us with non-traditional horse breeds (Crissy the paint, Big Boy the halflinger, and Lily the appendix) I still have a hard time with the sitting up straight-I have a bad habit of riding forward from so many years riding jumpers, so every time I take a dressage lesson, I feel like a beginner all over again. It's my favorite thing about being around horses, though-you really never, ever stop learning!

On Friday I rode in the afternoon. I set the cavaletti up as ground poles about 10 feet apart, so they could be cantered as bounces or trotted with 1 stride inbetween. We then worked on our homework after a nice long walk on a loose rein, and then lots of circles at a working walk. Lily's spirals at the trot were excellent! I took some video-will post it as soon as I have it edited. We then cantered around the arena and large circles in both directions, and then proceeded to trot the ground poles. I had her canter through the line once in each direction, but the ground was wet from rain earlier today, and there wasn't enough room to make the nice wide turns that I wanted, so we just trotted through a couple of times more. Lily did great. She's getting better with the ground poles-she used to be so apprehensive about them! We took a walk break with lateral work-leg yields and shoulder-ins in both directions, and worked on trotting some more circles. Our workout lasted about an hour, and then I took her down to the field to cool down at a walk. By then, dark storm clouds had rolled in, with thunder and lightning in the distance. The lightning sirens went off at the park as the storm got nearer, and we turned around after one loop of the field and headed back home. Riding past one of the barn driveways, the owner was fixing the giant pothole at the entrance with an excavator. It was extremely noisy as it pushed the dirt and gravel towards the pothole. Lily didn't even flinch and just walked on calmly past it. I love her!

Thursday, September 22, 2011


The vet came out Tuesday morning for Lily's first round of vaccines, and as it turns out, she is not 4 years old...she's 5.5 years old! I felt like an idiot-I can tell a horse's age by their teeth but I had never bothered to look because I have Lily's Coggins from last year saying she was a 3 year old at the time. I guess THAT vet (the same one that wrote her up as an Iberian horse...) didn't bother looking in her mouth. I probably could've guessed that, but oh well. Her body continues to change and develop; she's losing that filly look.

We had her Coggins, West Nile and Rabies done today. My vet doesn't use the 4-in-1 vaccines because they are more likely to cause adverse reactions, which I like, but due to the nature of my work, I get the heebie-jeebies about vaccines, too. Since Lily is still young and I'm not familiar with her vaccine history and possible reactions (all we got from the previous owner was her Coggins), I decided to split up her shots. I'll have her Encephalitis and Tetanus done in 2 weeks. She felt fine at end of day and yesterday; I iced the vaccination spot Tuesday evening in case it decided to swell (she jumped when she was poked with the needles, making it more likely she'd bruise) and I couldn't find any swelling last night. I love my vet, but he advised putting front shoes on her. She has been barefoot for 2 months, and is doing great-she has a flare in her right front which I think can be corrected with good trimming-I like my farrier and he does a beautiful job on shod horses, but I wish I could find a really good certified barefoot trimmer in this area...no luck yet.

Tuesday was also the second time ever that Lily has nickered at me in greeting. :) This is pretty exciting-I don't bring treats; she only gets them when being trained for specific things (such as trailer loading) and during her post-workout stretches. If a horse nickers at me, I want it to be because they are truly happy to see me, not because I bring food. This made my day.
I gave Lily the rest of the day off, and rode Christa in the afternoon. Christa is the little paint mare whose mane I trimmed last week. She is owned by Elisabeth, a sweet German lady in her early 60's (she sooo does NOT look her age!) who has owned the mare since she was a 3-year old. Christa is now 9; Elisabeth's daughter, Stacey, a hunter/jumper rider with eventing goals who is going to UF for vet school, helped a lot with her training, and continues to help when she is on vacation from school. Christa used to be a hunter, and was year-end champion at one of the local schooling show circuits with Elisabeth's daughter a year or two ago. Elisabeth mostly rides her on the trails now that Stacy is in school, but just started taking dressage lessons with Judy-she is interested in taking her to a schooling show early next year, and also wants to see Christa continue to develop herself correctly. Elisabeth's previous trainer shunned working with Christa simply because she is a paint and she was thought to be lazy overall. I think this is ridiculous-a horse's breed and/or color does not determine its athletic capacity (see Klein mare), but it is the typical show mindset here in South FL (and in a lot of other places, I know)-if your horse isn't a bay or chestnut TB or Warmblood, it is considered useless in the hunter ring.

Christa's back is sore, and I had been told by Stacy that it has been sore for years. She is usually ridden in Elisabeth's endurance saddle; Stacy used to ride her in a Pessoa. I am not an expert at Western-type saddle fit, so I have not checked the fit of Elisabeth's saddle. But it is concerning that she has had back pain for so long. They do have her adjusted by the chiropractor every 6 months. I already knew this when I started grooming Christa. When I ride a horse for the first time, I like to establish a relationship. I will groom the horse top to bottom-if the horse lets me touch every inch of his/her body and stays still and relaxed in the crossties, you can *usually* count on them being fairly well-mannered in the riding arena. The grooming process is also my way of introducing myself to the horse and saying, "Hi, nice to meet you. I'm here to work with you and help you feel good." There are a lot of things that you can tell just by grooming a horse-conformation flaws that can affect performance (Ex: a horse that toes out in the back usually has weak hind end muscles and his/her stifles may hitch when circling/cantering), uneven wear of feet (this can indicate tightness/scar tissues further up the legs, shoulders, hindquarters or even the back), old scars (Pink, for example, has a knot on one hind fetlock-it is a joint effusion, and it does affect her when picking up her hind legs over jumps if she is not warmed up correctly. She has a hard time snapping up her hind feet, which is why, when she gets jumped (not often), it is only with proper prior conditioning, only over low jumps, and she gets boots or polo wraps on her hind legs in case she grazes the jumps), and you can identify sources of pain or knots in their muscles that may be a cause of misbehavior or lack of performance.

Christa has perfect conformation with great musculature while still looking like the pretty girl she is, but her back continues to be sore. She flinched with the brush over her back, and tossed her head when I placed my saddle on her. I checked, and my dressage saddle fit her like a glove-perfectly. It was originally purchased for my TB cross gelding who had low withers and a rounded body like hers. It sat flat on her back, following her shape like an outline, with no pinching at the shoulders and no bridging under the saddle panels. Christa tossed her head and pinned her ears when I tightened the girth. I knew with her this was no bad habit-this was the truth. I didn't tighten it all the way at once, but took my time going from one side to the other, one hole at the time (my girth has elastic on both ends, so I can make it even), and then put her bridle on. She gave a big yawn for the bit and accepted it in her mouth cheerfully, which made me smile, as it showed her willingness to be ridden despite her back.

I led her outside to the arena, which she wasn't too thrilled about (I had already been told that she's not exactly excited about arena work) and gave a small half buck when I went to swing into the saddle. I could feel her stiffness with the very first stride. Even her neck is stiff-she holds it extended, and you can see the tension in the muscles on each side of her neck. Because of this, we did a very long warm-up-a good 10 minutes of walking, first 5 minutes on a loose rein just going around the arena, then another 5 minutes of more collected walk, adding in large circles. Still very stiff. We worked on trot, and more large circles. Christa's circles looked like eyeballs; it took a lot of leg to keep her tracking around correctly. We did this for another 10 minutes or so, changing directions a lot. We walked again, and Christa stretched her neck down, holding it below her withers. Good sign-she was feeling better and beginning to stretch her back, which proved that my saddle was not hurting her further. We then cantered. She picked up the correct lead without problems and was fine going to the left, but when we changed directions and cantered to the right, she bucked once-more of a kicking out. She broke the canter, we walked, regrouped and I asked her to canter again. In the next attempt, she swapped leads coming around the arena. We tried again. She bucked again, swapped leads again, bucked one more time. I corrected her each time, regrouped, and kept trying to just complete 1 uneventful circle around half of the arena without drama from her. She has a big canter for her small size (about 15.1 hands) and I just rode it in 2-point to stay off her back; she seemed to appreciate it. I wasn't 100% sure if the issues to the right were my fault (touching her accidentally with a spur? I focused really hard on keeping my legs absolutely still), her having issues with maintaining her balance in this direction because of her back, or just her being a brat (each time she broke the canter, either to swap leads or buck, we were riding past the gate). When I got the drama-free circle, we took a walk break. We did a slight shoulder-fore in both directions at the walk. She could do a full shoulder-fore to the right, but not so much to the left. The left side of her neck was very stiff in trying to get a bend, especially at the base of the neck and at the junction between her neck and head. I stopped and stretched her neck from the saddle in both directions-she knew what I was asking; I could tell has done it before. We did more shoulder-fores at both walk and posting trot, also asking for more collection. I have to hold her up for collection because she leans on the forehand so much-not her fault; her back pain is to blame for this, so I did not push her too hard. We trotted large ovals down the quarter lines of the arena in shoulder-fore, in both directions, then moved on to circling. Circles were WAAAAAY better this time; nearly perfect in both directions. Christa did a good job, and I felt her interested the entire time; she did not get bored by what I was asking her to do. We need to work on impulsion more, as she is a little lazy in the arena, but I was very happy with her progress flexibility-wise; big difference at the end, and I think the exercises helped her feel better. After walking out for 10 minutes, I got off and stretched her neck and all 4 legs. She was familiar with front leg stretches but not so much with back leg stretches, so I did not ask her for much. Her right hind is especially tight at the hip, which reflects on the issues of her left front/neck area. This could also explain her kicking out on the right lead at the canter. Horses are complicated.  Of all animals, I think it would be the most to our advantage, as humans, if horses in particular could speak. I'm sure we'd get cussed out a lot, but I think it would revolutionize the way horses are trained and ridden even more. They do talk, but not everyone listens or understands. I have met "bad" horses, really "BAD" horses, but these horses were "bad" as a result of years and years of people riding them incorrectly and letting them get away with murder. Horses do get overfaced and will let you know when they are scared, and they will tell you when a bit, a saddle or the way you are riding hurts. But you can't just give up and put them away, to keep making the same mistake over and over. You have to work with them-change the way you ride, change your tack, your bit, don't let the horse spook and then proceed to get off and put them away-you will create a monster. By the time I came along and tried to correct these guys, these horses were already well aware of how big and strong they were, and would do anything to get me off once they realized I wasn't going to just dismount and put them back in their stall at the first hint of naughtiness. I got lessons in bronc riding from one of these guys, and then there was another individual in particular that reared 3 times on me, and when he realized that that wasn't going to get me off, he simply flipped over backwards on top of me. That did get me off. He was fine. I was out of commission for 3 months. Oh, did I mention that this was a horse rental barn? Yeah, these horses were rented out to random people of unknown riding background and allowed loose on the trails with no guide. One time they rented out 2 of the naughtier guys to a couple. The lady was riding double with her small child in front of her in a Western saddle. Can anyone else think of everything that can go wrong in that kind of scenario? I remember watching them go with my heart in my throat. I feared for the life of that little kid and her mom about as much as if I'd seen them ride away on the back of a grizzly bear. And the individual that flipped over on me? No one at the barn would touch him with a 10-foot pole-he was that bad. He was used for pony rides. Yeah, I know. Still, I would've liked to have heard his story if he could have talked; I'm sure it would've been something fit for the movies. A horse isn't born that way; it is made.

Back to Christa.
Elisabeth arrived when I had just finished untacking Christa. She was very excited to see I had ridden her. I told her everything I had discovered about the little girl, starting with her back soreness, and demonstrated difference between soreness in saddle area (running a fingernail lightly down her back between withers & loins elicited a big flinch) and muscle soreness (pressing on her lumbar back or sacrum would cause her to drop her hips if she were sore. She was not). Christa was notorious for not engaging her hind end. I told Elisabeth I would check her saddle's fit, and recommended a good saddle fitter that I know in our area. If the saddle is making her this sore, she won't be able to engage her hind end-she needs to be able to lift her back to do this; this is why she is having problems. I showed her how this happens-her abs tighten so her hind legs can come up underneath her, allowing the back to round. I pressed upward on Christa's sternum, which normally causes horses to lift & stretch their back. Christa pinned her ears and tossed her head. "See? Her back hurts, so she can't lift it when she engages her abs and hindquarters." Elisabeth was surprised when she saw this, but thrilled by the amount of information I was able to give her from just one ride. I showed her where Christa's neck was tight, and demonstrated stretching exercises to do with her every day, to improve her flexibility, especially after riding when the muscles have been warmed up. One of my favorite stretches is called the carrot stretch, where you take a carrot (its length is ideal for protecting your fingers while encouraging the horse to reach for it!) and hold it even with the horse's flank. The horse must reach around for it while holding their body still. Ideally, they should be able to reach their hip bone with their lips, effortlessly. A lot of horses can't. I demonstrated it with Christa; she could reach the far end of her flank but not her hip. The good thing about this stretch is that the horse will only reach as far as he/she can; you aren't physically pushing them farther than their muscles can take. I also told her everything we had done during today's session and the reasons for it. Elisabeth is a great horse owner, and just wants to do what will be best for Christa. She mentioned having me ride her more often and paying me to do it, but I told her we can try just once a week for now and play it by ear-she has been taking dressage lessons with Judy on Christa, and I think these are just as important for both Elisabeth and Christa's development together. I know she can't afford both the lessons and multiple training rides.

It was a cool day overall. I like helping out horses and their owners.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A dog's life

I have a pretty cool job, but not many people even know it exists, or understand the seriousness of it.

I am a certified vet tech. An ICU/ER vet tech.

I get to run around a hospital (literally run on some days; I had a friend use a pedometer during a SLOW day one time, to discover she had walked 5 miles in a day) during a 12 hour shift (sometimes up to 14 hours...) triaging emergencies, performing CPR, doing involved ICU-type treatments (anything you can imagine doing to a person in an ICU, we do to dogs and cats in an ICU), taking radiographs, running all kinds of labwork (and sometimes fixing the machines we use to run said labwork), looking at blood smears, fluid, fecal and urine samples under the microscope to identify cells and organisms, assisting with surgeries (this includes anesthetic monitoring), assisting the doctors with appointments and emergencies in the exam rooms, restraining aggressive animals (this includes animals that are lunging at you, trying to bite you as hard as they can. Not exaggerating. Police dogs and dogs trained to fight are not fun to treat in the ER), performing physical therapy on cats and dogs that are not always cooperative (see previous example), walking patients outside (including some patients that are unable to walk. This is especially interesting when the patient is something like a 135 lb Great Dane that weighs more than you do and the walk is extremely important to aid in blood flow and keep the patient's muscles working. A down dog can begin to lose muscle in as little as 24 hours. You MUST get them moving asap), cleaning up endless amounts of poop, urine and vomit from cages, floors, table surfaces and sometimes yourself and/or your coworkers, keeping the ICU impeccably clean & disinfected and the laundry caught up (the amount of dirty laundry a full veterinary ICU generates can be astounding). I am grief counselor to clients whose pet is critical and going downhill, or the client who has decided to euthanize their companion of 16 years. I deal with distraught, angry and sometimes borderline violent clients, and often have to go over treatment plans (also known as estimates) so that they know in advance the cost of their pet's care. This is something not often done in human medicine-you just get a $30,000 bill in the mail 3 weeks later that makes you pass out- but it always astounds me how most people view this so negatively. It is the only part of my job that I truly dislike-going over estimates with people that I know can't afford it. I answer phones to respond to client questions about hospitalized patients in our care, or to help them determine if their pet at home needs to come in to be seen (the answer is: if you're concerned enough to be calling, you should probably have the pet seen by a doctor. Not all clients like to hear this). I do medical billing-keeping all the invoices caught up for all the patients treated during my shift. This is especially interesting when you have 15 patients and at least 3 super-critical ones that you have been performing treatments on every other hour-almost every treatment is accounted for in the bill. This gets even more interesting when you barely have time to sit down to do these bills BECAUSE you have to do these treatments on time every other hour and make sure that these patients don't take a turn for the worse while you're sitting at the computer across the room. But above all, and this is my favorite part: I am the voice of those who cannot speak. I am the eyes and ears of my patient's doctor, and have to know when to alert the doctor when there is any change in the patient's condition, be it positive or negative. This involves knowing all normal vital signs for 2 different species, what blood results mean, what the sudden change of the color of their serum can imply, why the smell of a patient's urine can become extremely foul or the odor of their breath change. I must be able to notify immediately of a change in mentation (patient's mental state-this ranges from bright and alert to dull and unresponsive). I have to know different types of breathing patterns and know that I must alert the doctor immediately if I see them (paradoxical breathing and Kusmaul breathing, to name two), I should be able to identify a heart murmur or an arrythmia with my stethoscope, and be able to recognize abnormalities on an EKG; I need to know body temperature normals and when to alert the doctor when the temperature changes, and have an idea of what that temperature change implies. I need to know how to identify pain. Patients have numerous ways of telling you they are in pain, be it by being aggressive (especially true in cats), guarding the area that hurts, reluctance to move, a change in posture or behavior, or simply a change in their vital signs-a faster heart rate, panting, a spiked temperature, even a change in mucous membrane (gum) color. A special vet tech skill is being able to look at a blood smear under the microscope-it will give you endless information on what is going on inside the patient's body-a simple change in a red blood cell's shape can tell you if that patient is having liver issues; a change in a white cell can indicate sepsis; a drop in the number of platelets can indicate that this patient is in danger of bleeding out at any time; a little mark on a blood cell can alert you to the presence of life-threatening blood parasites. Not all doctors can do this (criticalists, however, must know how to read a blood smear), not all technicians know how to do this, but I was trained on how to do it and I am good at it.

This only begins to scratch the surface of what I do. One good vet tech alone can do the jobs of what would require at least 7 different medical specialties in the human field. And we can do it better! If I had the choice, I would go to the veterinarian instead of the human doctor. Veterinary school takes longer than human medicine, it involves studying all animal species that can be kept by humans, from mice to lions to cattle. The veterinarian must know everything about all of these species, and how to heal them, by the time they get out of school, whereas the human doctor only needs to know everything about 1 species. People complain about the cost of veterinary medicine for their pets, but the truth of the matter is that while veterinary medicine has advanced TREMENDOUSLY in the last 10 years (MRI for your dog or chemotherapy for your cat, anyone?), the pay rate has not. My husband, an RN, will eventually make more money than the average general practice veterinarian. A veterinary specialist, who went to school for another x-amount of years and is boarded in their specialty (on top of the extra schooling, including a residency, they often have to do a study, write a series of papers and take a written and practical exam for their specialty), who is not a practice owner, is lucky if she can get up to $100,000/year. You don't want to know how much a "mere" vet tech makes in comparison. The vet tech who must do the job of 7 different medical technicians. I often work over an average of 45 hours a week. My supervisor, also a tech, puts in 60 hour-weeks. The veterinarians at work often come back to work after only 3 hours of sleep between 2 19-hour shifts, and are commonly seen at the hospital on days when they were supposed to be off. Veterinarians and their techs are most definetely overworked and underpaid.

But you know what? That 18 year old dog that went to surgery, then refused to stand and was on nasal oxygen and a constant EKG for a week post-op, and 5 days later WALKED out of the hospital with his owner makes it worthwhile. That cat that was trying to attack anyone that attempted to touch it, that you are able to win her trust and get her to purr while hospitalized-that makes it worthwhile. The patient that comes in for a recheck and wags his tail at you because he remembers you, he remembers the times you fed him and loved him and not the times you had to poke him with a needle, that makes it worthwhile. The animal that YOU saved because YOU were able to catch a downhill turn on time and alert your doctor when something could still be done to fix it-that makes it worthwhile. The special bond that you create with the rest of the ICU team-your coworkers, your doctors, where everyone works together like both a family and a synchronized dance-that makes it worthwhile. Having to have a healthy sense of humor, sometimes a little morbid, to get through your day-that makes it worthwhile. The fact that my job is never, ever boring-that makes it worthwhile. Seeing a board-certified specialist, a resident and an intern on hands and knees to closely study a puddle of urine on the floor to try to identify the weird sediment in it-this is something you only see at my job! Also, the fact that I can stay fit just by performing my job (*lol!* You have no idea the amount of heavy lifting I can do in a day. Just this week we had 4 down patients that all weighed over 50 lbs and needed to be taken outside for walks, some as often as every 4 hours...my shoulders, biceps, triceps, pecs and abs are all still as defined as when I was hitting the gym with a personal trainer 5 days a week almost 2 years ago!) that too, makes it worthwhile.

But this is why Lily gets days off when I work. Because by the end of the day, just mucking her stall and setting up her feed has become an interesting task to complete!



Thursday, September 15, 2011

Earth, wind and fire

This morning I stepped outside to go to the barn, took a deep breath, and smiled: it was NOT muggy and humid. You could actually breathe! And it was kind of cool outside, too! (Note: "cool" in South FL = 89 degrees and under. Don't get too excited. *lol*)

The day was beautiful out, not even a cloud in the sky, with that blue light that seems to come with fall. Looking out the sliding glass doors to the patio, it looked like it should be cold outside. Not quite, but there's hope now! It was a perfect day for trail riding, but I had decided that I really, really want to take Lily to a dressage show at the end of October, so I wanted to work a little on our arena skills.

It was a fairly long ride, but it was what I call a "proper" ride, with a long warm-up and a long cool-down. I find that, in general, horses do need at least 10 minutes of walking, first free walking and then a collected forward walk with circles and bending, to BEGIN to warm up properly. I like to follow this with a forward trot on a loose rein in both directions around the arena, then doing large circles on a loose rein at the trot, and THEN we really get to work. We did a trot set of 10 minutes, with 20 meter circles, serpentines, and changes of direction across the diagonal. Lily was a bit stiff still but relaxed, willing and paying attention-her head was swinging gently at the trot the way it does when she is happy. I have to get video-I find this adorable! She is great with straight lines, but her diagonal lines suck-she doesn't quite understand, and will try to circle or cut across the arena and go straight. Lots of leg to keep her straight in a diagonal line. Today was better than she's ever been. I then had her walk on a loose rein for a few minutes, walked over to the hose (I had hung the nozzle over the fence) and hosed her down while still on her. She loves this little routine and will stand stock-still while I hose her down from above. I then walked her a little more and prepared to canter.

The first few times cantering Lily, when she first arrived, she would sometimes have little crowhopping fits when I asked her to canter. I figured out that this was my own fault because I was asking her to canter with really strong aids; I think it reminded her of the cowboy. It would scare me, though, because she will put her head forward, her withers come up, and she hops several steps, all 4 feet coming off the ground. It is super cute to watch from the ground (she does it when I haven't longed her in awhile or doesn't agree with what  I'm asking her to do) but not so much fun to ride when you realize how much air she's getting between her hooves and the ground!! It's one of those things where you laugh after the fact, not during. Have you heard the song "Bumpy Ride" by Mohombi and Pitbull?

I wanna boom bang bang with your body yo
Were gonna rough it up before we take it slow
Girl lemme rock you rock you like a rodeo
(Its gonna be a bumpy ride)

Yeah. Well that song first came out when Lily arrived at the barn. For awhile I thought her show name would have to be Bumpy Ride. We worked through the bucking and she was cantering beautifully, but then my horse at the time fell with me on him and broke one of my big toes (my foot got caught underneath him), and I couldn't ride for a month. The first time back to riding, I asked her to canter and she crowhopped. I saw stars-I must've clenched the toe or something, because it hurt like crazy afterwards. We didn't canter again for awhile after that.

Well, today I asked her to canter, "Lily, UP", and she immediately picked up the canter on the correct lead like a good girl. I canter her in 2-point to stay off of her back, and she seems to really enjoy that. This time, however, she kept breaking to a trot as we circled around. I was squeezing her forward and she was still coming down from the canter. I brought her to a walk and regrouped. Her ears were tense, and I realized that I was tense too-I was expecting her to be naughty, and she was saying, "You don't really want me to canter, so I'll just trot for you." I patted her on the neck for taking care of me, "let go" (this involves a change of mental state-you relax your mind and the body follows), and asked her to canter again. She picked up the correct lead right off the bat again, and did not break the canter this time. I had not changed anything I was doing, except I stopped expecting her to be bad. She snorted happily with each stride, and I smiled from ear to ear. I love my mare.

We walked, changed directions, and did it again to the other side. We were doing circles at the canter, 40-meter circles taking up half the arena, something which is new to her. She handled it beautifully. It was one of those times when riding is effortless-my hands followed the movement of her head, and she turned smoothly in response to the guidance of the reins. Smooth as glass. Her circles were still more egg-shaped than round, especially when going to the right (her weaker side), but she did excellent considering this was the first time we worked on circles at a canter. After this, I hosed her off again and we went back to working at a trot for another 10 minutes. NOW she was ready to really work-her entire back and neck relaxed, and she started to drop her head for a couple of strides at a time, reaching for the bit. I was working correctly, too-having been a jumper rider for so, so many years, I have a bad habit of riding with my upper body tilted forward. This looks pretty silly when you're in a dressage saddle. I worked on keeping my body straight, and using my abs to create impulsion for Lily. (Thank you, Judy, for teaching me this!) It worked. Lily was going around in 20 meter circles, soft and truly relaxed, almost on the bit. Her trot becomes swingy when she uses her body correctly; it's wonderful to ride. After that, I walked her for a bit in the arena, hosed her down again, and took her down to the field at a walk to finish cooling off. She was back to her normal self, not skittish. Coming back, she went into a power walk as we got close to the barn entrance, so I made her continue. She turned her head a couple of times as if saying, "But Mo-om! We were supposed to go back that way!" I laughed and made her continue walking. And then we reached the Deadly Orange Sand in the Middle of the Road. There was a large patch of bright orange sand right on the line dividing the lanes on the street. Lily came to an abrupt stop in front of it and tried to turn around. "No Lily, it won't eat you, and you're not going to fall in it." I had her stand and look at it. She dropped her head to study it closer, and gave a big snort. She brought her head back up and just stood looking into the distance. I had her try to walk over it. She danced around the sand giving it the one-ear-one-eye look (no cars coming-I was checking. This road is a dead-end country road-only horse people or the landscaping workers drive down here; everyone knows to drive slowly. If a car had been coming, we would've moved, of course) and I got her to step on it one time wiht a hind foot. I gave her a big pat on the neck and made her stand in front of it again. Then I tried to get her to cross in a straight line over it. She dropped her head and I saw her nuzzling the sand with her upper lip! This cracked me up, but after that, she did walk over it, stepping in the sand.

Then we proceeded to study the trash on the side of the road (somebody moved out of the employee apartment at another of the barns, and there was a bunch of old furniture in front of their property). I was tickled pink when Lily walked herself over to the trash to take a closer look. I like confident horses. :) She tried to convince me she that since she had passed the trash test, we should turn around and go back home. That's when I saw the rubber mat. Someone had tossed a stall mat next to the furniture. I made a note to let the barn manager know-we can always use another mat!  I made Lily continue on down the road a bit before returning to our barn.

Back at the barn, I gave her a liniment bath and set her loose to graze. I work tomorrow and Saturday, so she gets 2 days off in a row.

She's really starting to look good; her shoulders and hips are filling out

She's also just starting to get a topline, too

Time to just be a horse :)
Diane arrived at the barn around that time and we were talking about my ride. I mentioned the rubber mat, and her eyes lit up. "Really? I need another mat!" So we went to get it in my truck. It was interesting trying to roll it up and lift it onto the truck, as those mats weigh a good 80 lbs minimum and are cumbersome, but we did it. At the barn, we unloaded it into Diane and Mark's tack area; she'd get it in Pink's stall during the weekend. We were laughing about the things we crazy horse people are willing to do to save money. Those mats are $50 a pop at the feed store!

Leaving the barn, it was still a gorgeous day.

Except for this. Maybe smoke? Not normal rain clouds-they had a yellow/orange hue that you can't really see in this photo. They seemed to be coming from the Everglades. Another thing they don't tell you about South Florida-when it doesn't rain in the summer, there are often fires. It gets so freaking hot that any little piece of glass or aluminum in the grass can ignite.

2 hours later, when I left the house with Charles, that cloud was over us. It was strange. It turned the light yellow, and looked like smoke, but it did not smell like anything was burning, like it usually does when there is a fire in the area. 3 or 4 years ago we had a drought during the summer (hard to believe but true!) to the point where water restrictions were being enforced. There was  HUUUGE fire in the Everglades that lasted a good 2 weeks (the whole swamp was dry-firefighters couldn't control it; it kept spreading)-we could smell the burning grass at our apartment at the time, despite the fire being way out in the middle of nowhere. On some days you'd walk out of the house to discover your car covered in a very fine layer of ash.  

Charles and I went to Lowe's to buy wood and PVC pipes for making jumps. The barn manager gave me the money for it when I proposed the idea. We have several people interested in jumping at the barn, but no real jumps, just 4 cavaletti. This was kind of an adventure for us. Charles kept questioning me on the total amount it was adding up to, and wouldn't believe me when I kept telling him that we were still under $100 budget. I do suck at math, which is why I'm a vet tech and not a vet, but I actually did it so that we were under the budget-Charles only believed me when he saw the numbers at the register. We loaded up the truck with all the wood and PVC pipes, then realized we would need a red flag to mark the pipes, as they stuck out a good 2 feet out the back of the truck. We both briefly considered not bothering with the flag (neither one of us voiced the thought at the time, however), as we were close to the barn, but I made us go back inside to ask if they had these markers. The girl at the register told us to check the gardening center. There was no one at the register, but  there was an unmarked box full of scraps of red plastic bag on the floor by the exit. I was supposed to be back at the barn by 4:30 and was already running late; we were in a hurry. We took 3 scraps, and looked around, but no one was around to ask, so we kind of shrugged and walked out. Some employees were working outside the garden center; we walked past them and no one said anything about the plastic scraps, so I guess they really were free. Carlos was teasing me, calling me a klepto (I'm pretty straight-edge about stuff, to the point where I'll correct a cashier if I'm undercharged for something. I actually went up to professors in school and pointed out if a wrong question had been marked as correct. Yeah, my species is in danger of extinction, I know.)

The scraps of red plastic were tied to the pipes, and of course, 2 lights down, we noticed there was a police car behind us. We started laughing-this was when we realized we had both considered at the same time, not bothering with the stupid marker. We sooo would've gotten a ticket! Thank God.

We unloaded the wood and PVC at the barn, and Charles went grocery shopping while I stayed to longe Bella. (Isn't my husband awsome?? The BEST horse husband, I tell you :) ) A lady named Sally was coming out to try out horses to lease. She was a Grand Prix jumper rider in England when she was young. Sally used to own a Saddlebred named Rebel. She purchased Rebel on the internet, based on a video, without going out to see the horse in person. The horse she was sent was a different horse from the one she had seen online and bought. She paid for a 6 year old Standardbred, and she got a 3 year old Saddlebred that she couldn't ride-he was very high-strung and nervous, and she was injured badly in a fall that destroyed her confidence as a rider. She was able to sell him, and was just now, 9 months later, trying to get back into riding.

Bella was great on the longe-calm, a little lazy, not spooking at the dreaded wall. I worked her for 10 minutes and put her back in her stall when I saw that she was going to be good. As it turned out, she did GREAT with Sally! I gave her tips on how to get her going. Bella tossed her head when asked to canter. "Don't give up!" I yelled, "Keep trying and she'll get it!" Sally didn't let herself get intimidated by Bella's antics, and she gave her another kick. Bella tossed her head hard, and broke into her happy little canter. Sally was very impressed with her, and got off later to lead her grandchildren around the arena on the pony. They wanted lessons, but I told my barn manager again that though I would like to give lessons, I am terrified of being sued if something happens to a child while riding under my instruction. I can't afford my own liability insurance-I checked and it is VERY expensive. The barn manager's insurance can get suspended if they hear about an uninsured independent trainer teaching on her property. She understood, to my relief, and was just as happy at the thought that Bella might finally get leased. She needs a person to ride her and enjoy her. She's a fun pony and she's starved for attention. I'm crossing my fingers until the lease agreement gets signed!

At the barn, everyone was talking about the big orange cloud. As it turns out, it WAS a brush fire. Read about it here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Horses + Hubby = Joy :)

My husband, Charles had spoken with Mark over the weekend to see if he could borrow Beau to go on a trail ride with me today when he got out of work. Beau is the barn's senior trail horse. He is a Kentucky-raised Quarter Horse gelding, who is an unbelievable 21 years old. Even the vet couldn't believe he was that old-he looks like a 10-year-old. Mark takes really good care of him.

Beau in his stall. He has the cutest Quarter Horse face!

Charles and I met up at the barn (he had just gotten off of an overnight shift at the hospital-yes, he's nuts, but he insisted this was when he was most awake!), we got the horses out and started grooming & tacking up. I helped Charles with Beau's saddle, and reminded him that he needs to let me tighten the girth one more time before getting on, as Beau likes to hold his breath when you tighten the girth the first time. Charles got his bridle on without a problem - this was his first time putting on a bridle-he's new to riding, but fearless, and Beau is a good boy; he opened his mouth right up for the bit. We took the horses outside, and Charles mounted up without waiting for me. Beau tried to walk back into the barn with Charles on him! I yelled at him because I had not gotten to tighten the girth before he got on, plus I wanted to hold Beau for him, because he has a bad habit of trying to wander off as soon as your foot is in the stirrup (the barn manager inside and she gets nervous/annoyed when people let their horses do silly things, like walk right into a barn with a low roof with a rider on...). Oh well. I tightened the girth for him, and got on Lily.
Charles, ready to go, on Beau
We had a really good time.

Lily balked only once leaving the barn area, and then just marched all the way down the driveway with no further coaxing. The landscaping business next door had a giant truck and an excavator, uprooting and loading some of the trees on the front of their property. They took up most of the street. We stood with the horses in the middle of the street in front of the barn sign and considered, for a moment, going by. Lily and Beau both shook their heads at the same time, and both tried to turn back for home at the same time. "Let's just go down to the field for a bit" I told Charles. We turned the horses around and headed the opposite direction.

There is a giant field at the other end of the street. It is strictly for equine use, and has the best footing on the whole street; it's the only place that never floods, and my #1 choice for riding when the park feels too far or I'm bored with arena work. Parks & Recreation maintains it-the grass is always beautiful, and never gets too tall. At the far corner of the field, there is a small passageway that connects with the next street over, from which you can also reach the park. Charles wanted to try going through there (this was all an adventure for him-he had been to the field before to take pictures of me riding but had not ridden through himself), but there were a couple of palm fronds in front of the entrance to the passageway (Lily does NOT like palm fronds in areas she is unfamiliar with). I got her past them, but there was a ditch in the middle of the path, and it was flooded from yesterday's rain. I had gone through there one time on my previous Quarter horse, and we had not been able to find the way. We decided to ride around the field instead and see if the landscaping people were done. We did large circles on the way back so the horses wouldn't think that they could just go straight back out the field.

The landscaping people were still there. We brought the horses to a stop just past the entrance to our barn. It is too easy for me to see things the way horses see them-the excavator was waving a palm above the truck bed, trying to get it in the exact right position. I knew that to them, this looked like some giant dinosaur with tentacles on its head, and there wasn't enough room on the street to be able to get a safe distance away from the truck in case the horses did spook. I told Charles we should dismount and just lead them past. Both of them were all eyes and ears looking at the truck and excavator. The workmen were nice enough to stop what they were doing while we went through. A guy with a weed wacker was on the other side, and a horse in a paddock on the side of the street was going crazy bucking and running around. Yup, big commotion, but our guys just followed us quietly. We got the horses just past the Section of Terror, and had them stand so we could get back on. I could still see the whites of Lily's eyes but she was a good girl while I was mounting up.

We entered the park through powerlines, and trotted them all the way down. Beau really likes Lily, and will trot right along next to her. We then looped around and headed into the main trails. They were dark and the footing was muddy. Lily became a little jittery, and started shaking her head. When I looked at her face as she turned it to the side, it was covered in mosquitoes. Horrified, I reached forward to wipe them off and accidentally scared her-she jumped. "Oh, I'm sorry!" That took care of the mosquitoes temporarily, so it worked. I had her move on; there was a short straight part of the trail that I had always wanted to show Charles-I used to canter down that path on other horses because it was long, straight and smooth. It went straight through the trees, next to a small canal that fills with water during the rainy season. It is a beautiful path, like something out of Avatar, with the green light filtering through the trees and dappling the trail. Halfway down the trail, however, there was a part of a tree trunk half hidden by the ferns. It looked like a dark blob lying in wait to attack. Lily would not get near it; I had Charles go past it on Beau first. She did the one-eye-&-ear-cock at the trunk, which made me laugh, but continued behind Beau. That's when I realized how BAD the mosquitoes were! They were all over Lily's body, and I could see a cloud of them following behind Beau. It made my skin crawl; I hate mosquitoes (this is the result of living for 18 years on an island were mosquitoes can transmit hemorrhagic dengue). I still get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it now! We made it out of the forest and out onto the side of the road. I had Lily trot to get rid of any other mosquitoes that might still be on her; Charles followed on Beau. I took him to one of the side trails, a really pretty one in the open that loops around a grassy field with baby pine trees. Entering the field, I saw the first peacock. Lily doesn't care about them-we have 3 female peacocks that come all the way from the park down to our barn, and they like to hang out in Lily's walkout! Beau, however, is terrified of them. This one was a male, but it had already shed out his tail-the mating season is over. I still had Charles wait with Beau for a minute, and rode Lily over to the peacock. She cracks me up when it comes to birds. She will herd them like a reiner herding cattle! It's hysterical. This time was no exception. I pointed her at the peacock, and she went straight after him at a walk, staying right behind him as he ran around the trees, until he hid in the brush. That's when we saw that there was a whole flock of them!

"Peacocks? Whatever. Just keep me away from those horse-eating tree trunks!"
Lily didn't care.  I rode her straight through the flock; Charles had Beau follow behind, and he didn't even bat an eye at the peacocks, as long as Lily was okay with them. The birds flew up onto the fence as we rode by; neither one of the horses budged. This was the coolest part of the ride. I was going to take Charles through the baby pine trees, but the grass was knee-high and there were at least 6 inches of water on the ground. I'm always afraid of snakes in high grass during the summer-we would see a lot of them at my barn in Tampa when their burrows flooded after rain, and I know we have the same exact snakes down here in South FL; we turned around and followed the fence line back to the trails.

After that, we went past the Mutant Carnivorous Cows. I warned Charles that last time with Mark, Beau had tried to canter away, and had him shorten the reins. Lily's ears went up this time even before she saw their stalls. I had Charles lead the way on Beau. Beau walked right over to the cows, who were standing by the fence this time.

Lily, seeing that, actually walked up to where her feet were touching the grass, but did not go any further. I was fine with this; it was a huge progress, and she received a big pat on the neck.

We went on our way. Both horses did fantastic! We looped around one of the lakes, then, instead of heading out the main gate, we went around, over the railroad ties (there is a small toy train that goes around another of the lakes), then through 2 of the big gazebos. I had Lily canter down the grassy side of the park road. Lily is very particular about the canter. I can't cue her too hard, and I can't let her get too fast too soon or she'll have a little crowhopping fit. I think its because she gets reminded of the cowboy. So to cue her to canter, I have to think "canter" and tell her, "Lily, up!" and she'll pick up the canter. She is amazing-I don't know how she does it, but she always pick up the correct lead, too. It really is like she reads my mind.

This was her first time cantering in the park, and she did fantastic! Charles had Beau canter next to us, then we slowed as we came to the bend in the road, and turned onto the powerlines at a walk. We decided to canter the horses down the powerlines. They were both angels, despite facing the exit. And then I heard Charles yelp and I made Lily stop. We trotted back to Charles and Beau, who had come to a stop. My heart was in my throat; for a second I thought he had fallen off. But no. Apparently Beau had given a small trip, Charles had bounced on the cantle of the saddle, and he'd slammed his tailbone against the saddle. He wanted me to write on here that "Green (himself) + Old (Beau) = PIA (pain in the ass)" *lol* I've been reading Denali's mom's blog Green + Green = Black & Blue, and Charles is just fascinated with her blog title. He's made a couple of jokes referring to that title and himself (he really is a beginner-today was maybe his 7th time on a horse, but he's so fearless you forget. He actually learned to post in his first lesson with me! *Envy!*lol). It really is a pretty awesome title! I love that blog, and Denali. She has the best horse mom!

So we turned the horses around, trotted them back up the powerlines (Charles chose to walk-his butt hurt!), and then we walked them back down and out of the park, so they wouldn't get any ideas on hurrying home in the future.

The truck and excavator were gone now, so there were no issues riding back down the street home.

We hosed the horses off. I took longer with Lily because I wanted to make sure she was 100% cool before putting her away-she was a little stocked up this morning, which seems to happen if she's still warm going back in her stall. A lady called Miranda stopped by, looking for the barn manager, but she said she wanted to speak with me anyway. She had stopped by the barn 3 months ago because she was looking for a rescue horse and wanted to board him in our area. She was a very strange lady-fanatically religious, but she truly believed that if you want something enough, you can get it. I believe this 100%, but she achieves it with prayer. I achieve it with pure stubborness and the determination of a bulldozer! She drives around in a Mercedes Benz that she won at one of the Hard Rock raffles, because she wanted that car enough. It's cool that she is able to get what she wants this way, but she is also a very strange woman; she just has a weird vibe about her, but maybe it's just me-I have issues with religious fanatics. She had been to our barn twice to check it out, but had not been back since then. Today she had come to our barn specifically to request a drawing for a shirt from me. I draw-I have a bachelor's degree in art (this came before becoming a vet tech, while living in PR; I was a graphic designer for an art museum at the time), and I've already made a couple of horse portraits for people at the barn.
Watercolor I made of Beau
She took down my price list (I have a copy hanging in the barn) and said she would contact me regarding the drawing. I said this was fine. I asked her if she had found that horse she wanted to rescue. She said that there were too many; she had decided to instead just lease a horse-she could get a lot more bang for her buck that way, which is true to an extent. She was leasing and riding a dressage champion worth $100,000 in Wellington.
Eurotango & Tater Tot were turned out in the arena, both equally covered in mud and waiting to be brought in for lunch, and Charles was sweat scraping the water off Beau while he let him graze. She kind of turned her nose up at everything she was seeing and walked off. That kind of attitude drives me crazy. It is typical wealthy South Floridian attitude. I'm willing to bet the woman lives in Boca as well. I'm wondering if she'll contact me about the drawing after all. I guess we'll see.

Charles left after putting Beau away. Amazingly he was not sleepy yet, even though it was noon. I love hanging out with him at the barn; I'm always wishing he could come out more, but he is allergic to something at the barn-I think it's the dust, not the horses themselves, because when it's damp out like this he rarely starts sneezing. He always has everyone at the barn laughing with his witty sense of humor. Plus he is my best friend as well as the love of my life; being able to go riding together is one more thing we can share.
The rest of the day was brilliantly sunny & beautiful, though still hot as blue blazes. Is it November yet?