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

Friday, February 28, 2014


For everyone who's freezing their butts off with polar vortex #...4? 5? I lost count already.


I've done #13 and #27. :)

Bonus beach photo!
(Not on the list, but I don't care.)
Arroyo, Puerto Rico
Photo by my uncle

Letter to Summer

Dear Summer,

I hope you are thoroughly enjoying your vacation from the North down in the Southern hemisphere of the world. How's Australia? Are you liking Argentina this year? 

Just a quick note to tell you that I really miss you this year and am looking forward to your return. I can't wait for you to come back with your heat, your ability to make us strip down to minimum clothing, the lush green that you bring out in Nature, your muggy humidity, even the bugs that accompany your return. I miss the birds singing in the trees, the burning heat of your light on my skin, the sweat dripping down the back of my neck, the long lazy afternoons with you and the horses, going for runs outside on the trails with you, and even getting so mad at you for being so hot that I start missing winter.

I actually can't wait for your return. I guess it's true what they say: absence makes the heart grow fonder. 

Please come back soon.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

WW: The Mare That Wouldn't Jump

Amazing. She's just amazing.
Special thanks to Kathy for taking this video!
Taken this past Sunday at the park across the street from the barn.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Equine Breed DNA Test Results!

Ok guys, I'd been keeping this one from you, but only because I was waiting for the results. If they had been "Inconclusive" I wouldn't have shared this fun finding!

I was on one of the FB endurance pages when I stumbled upon the story of a Mustang that had been DNA tested to find out what mix of breeds he was. I came to a screeching halt. I've been unsuccessfully looking for an equine breed genetic test for the last 2 years. Luckily, a bunch of people had asked this person where she had had the DNA test done, and she was nice enough to link back to the Happy Mustangs FB page, where they have all of the info in their Files section. It is a members-only page, so I actually joined just so I could have access to those files, though it doesn't hurt that I love Mustangs and now enjoy reading the stories of the Happy Mustangs members.

But I digress. The genetic test is done at Texas A&M University and your horse doesn't have to be a Mustang to get tested. You send in 30-50 hairs from your horse's mane or tail, and they analyze them to find specific breed or horse type markers. So say, if you have a draft-type Mustang (they exist), the results might come back that it's a mix of Spanish horse, Draft, and Morgan - you're not necessarily going to get a specific breed always. If your horse is heavily mixed, the results might come back as "Inconclusive".

For just $25 for this test (vs $150 for some of the canine breed DNA tests, which sometimes get some really crazy results, and I think part of it is because they try to always identify specific breeds), I was willing to experiment, even if the results came back as "Inconclusive".

I wrote to Dr. Cothran, the person in charge of the Genetics Lab at TAMU, and within 24 hours he had responded and sent me the form that I would need to fill out. They just ask for your mailing address and some very basic information on the horse whose hair you're sending. The turnaround time for the test itself is 2 weeks, but it took closer to 4 weeks total: 1 week for my form + hair + check to arrive at TAMU and another week for the results to arrive to me via mail.

Here are the results!

You can see all of the breeds/horse types that they can identify with this test.
Lily is a Thoroughbred and...Eastern European Warmblood cross? Huh?

So of course I went and looked that up. Eastern European Warmbloods include the Holsteiner, Hanoverian Oldenburg, and Trakehner, among others.

So she has something from one or more of those breeds, and possibly some Irish sporthorse thrown in there somewhere. No Spanish horse whatsoever.

I laughed. This just makes her even more of a mutt than I originally thought, but it is fascinating to me because TBs have been crossed with Warmbloods and Irish Drafts to produce some really awesome sport horses. Since she has "clear Thoroughbred roots" per the notes on the results form, she could also just be a pure TB that was just never tattooed...though I've had enough vets and farriers ask what she's mixed with other than TB, based solely on her solid feet and excellent teeth, that it makes me want to lean more towards the idea of her being a mix!

So basically, my mare is a sport horse.

Not the best conformation shot, but it's still my favorite!

Yeah, I can totally live with that. :)

If anyone wants more info on the genetics test, just read through the comments below. I've responded to the same question numerous times: the info on who to contact is right there! :)

Another Blogger Meetup: Manassas Battlefield Adventure

Some of you might know Gail, the author of The Journey to 100 Miles. In case you haven't read her blog (which you should totally check out), Gail owns a Friesian named Nimo whom she is conditioning for endurance. She's raised him from the time he was a yearling; he's now 11 years old. They've done quite a bit of dressage training, which they still do as cross-training.

 I honestly don't remember how I stumbled upon her blog, but it caught my attention because:
1. Gail lives in my area.
2. She is conditioning a Friesian for endurance. Draft type horses are not generally popular for endurance because of their larger body mass (they can have problems with cooling down in hot, humid weather if the rider is not aware) but they can definitely do it with special attention to conditioning. Gail is an experienced horsewoman who has done careful research on the sport she is training for, and, riding a non-Arab myself, her story promised to be an interesting one. I always learn something new reading her posts.
3. Her blog is fairly new; its first anniversary will be in April.

I love her thoughtful writing style, seeing the trails of Virginia through her eyes, and reading about her adventures with Nimo as he has gotten more and more used to being out on the trails. Gail moved to the DC suburb area several years ago after living in Iowa, so it was especially interesting to see her take on this winter!

After e-mailing back and forth a couple of times, we were finally able to meet up to go ride at the Manassas National Battlefield Park in Manassas, VA this past Saturday February 22nd.

Gail invited her friend Jola to come along, and I invited Kathy. Both Jola and Kathy prefer to enjoy the trails at a walk, so we figured this would allow Gail and me to do some faster-paced work on the trails while all of us had fun.

Photo of the Battlefield from www.parkadvocate.org

Kathy and I met at our barn at 9:00 am to get the girls ready.

I really wanted to see how Lily would handle riding on the trails in a new environment after all of our training rides these past few months. We hadn't done this since FL a little over 2 years ago, and that time Lily was kind of a nut.

Queenie was in her stall whinnying because all of the horses had been turned out for the day. I brought Lily in and put her in the stall next to Queenie with a small beet pulp meal with lots of water and a half flake of alfalfa. Lily dove into her food while we groomed the mares and finished packing and organizing our things. Kathy let me borrow one of her haynets and in a lightbulb moment I filled half of it with alfalfa and half with the barn orchard grass hay. Lily has always been iffy about eating away from home which is something that needs to resolve if we're really going to do this endurance thing. She will never, ever say no to alfalfa while at the barn, so this was an experiment to see what she'd do when it was offered at a new location.

I put Lily on the cross ties when she was done eating so I could pick her feet and put her boots on: she wore her SMB boots in front, the new Horze Tendon Boots I won from Adventures With Shyloh on her hinds (they would be moved to her fronts at Manassas; I wanted the backs of her hind legs protected while in the trailer) and I put her Rennies on her front feet to protect them in case she decided to paw while in the trailer. (She pawed herself bloody on the trailer ride from FL.) This was going to be Lily's first longer trailer ride since the move from FL to MD; the longest she'd been on a trailer since then was 10 minutes!

"Where did the trailer go?"
"What's going on?"
You can kind of see the Horze boots on her hinds.
(I was so excited about the ride itself that I failed epically at properly documenting how awesome these boots are.)
"Why are you taking pictures of my butt back there?"
Horses and their almost 360-degree eyesight. :)
And yes, I converted her Irish clip into trace clip for this occasion. We hit 65 degrees. Despite the work we'd do later, she barely broke a sweat thanks to the hair removal!
Lily got a little bit anxious when she saw the trailer being pulled out of its spot, moving from side to side on the cross ties. I walked back into the barn to get her, and she made me grin from ear to ear when she nickered at me. "What's going on? Where are we going?" I walked up to her and rubbed her forehead, where she is just beginning to shed, and she nuzzled me, her eyes soft. "We're going to have fun, Lily."

I love that she has started talking to me. I love how far her trust in me has come. I never thought I'd see the day.

Before, back in FL, when we went on trail rides off property I was often nervous. This time I was just really happy and excited. I think she picked up on that.

Queenie got on uneventfully. Kathy closed the partition (her trailer is a slant-load), and then Lily got on.

We had practiced getting on this trailer awhile back to go for a ride at the park across the street. That time, Lily said, "I don't fit in here" and it took a couple of attempts for her to realize that she was supposed to stand in the trailer at an angle.

Even though that was 4 months ago, she remembered. She walked right onto the trailer, got up against the partition, and waited for us to close the door.

Brown butt and red butt
The drive down to Manassas was uneventful and took us about an hour and 10 minutes. Not at all bad. We hit a small patch of traffic, but it only delayed us about 5 minutes. We still arrived around 11:50 am, a little before Gail and Jola.

Kathy and I unloaded the girls and let them look around. Lily used to get off of trailers with a lot of anxiety. She'd be pretty "up" and distracted for the first hour or so at a new place.

This is all I got:

"This is kinda cool!"

We then tied them to the trailer with their haynets. The experiment worked:

This is the moment where my pride for her started on this day!
I actually had a hard time getting her bridle on because she wouldn't stop eating!
(I had switched her Horze tendon boots to her fronts in this photo; you can see the tops of them)
Gail and Jola arrived about 10 minutes after us. We properly introduced ourselves and started to get the horses ready. I removed Lily's SMBs and Rennies from her fronts and moved the Horze Tendon Boots to her fronts. I've been riding her barefoot all winter and wanted to continue the trend; she's been doing great on all sorts of terrain bare.
These are the Horze Tendon Boots. So you can get a good look at them. And this is the color I chose from the options available in the giveaway: it's the Ombre Blue. They really are exactly this color: a dark blue-gray.
Ok, so why the open front tendon boots if we're not jumping? I actually love this kind of boot for trail work over SMBs because the soft neoprene lining doesn't rub or collect sand/mud, the boots are cooler precisely because they are open fronts, and the hard shell protects the more delicate fetlock and tendons at the back of the legs from scratches caused by gnarly brush, rocks or interference.

Yup, I failed at photo-taking to the point where I also completely forgot to photograph the EasyCare Stowaway water bottle and holder that I purchased and added to Lily's current saddle bags. This model has a clip that I used to attach it to my Stowaway saddle bags and an adjustable strap with a snap that I used to attach it to my billet strap.

That thing stayed in place and didn't bounce despite all the trotting and cantering we'd later do.

Gail getting Nimo ready. He's such a cool horse!
We decided that Gail and I would set off first since we were planning on doing a faster ride, and Kathy, Jola and Jola's friend Kate would leave later at a walk. We figured this would be less traumatic for the horses than riding away from the group of horses while out on the trail.

Gail and I mounted up and we started towards the trail that was accessible directly from the parking lot. As we were leaving, we heard two loud whinnies and Kathy's voice shouting.

Queenie was calling after Lily and she had broken the trailer tie connecting her to the trailer! She was cantering straight towards us, Kathy running behind her.

I turned Lily towards Queenie. Queenie suddenly realized that there was all this GRASS right behind Lily which looked a lot more appealing than her trail buddy...she kept right on going past us and into the open field full of knee-high dry grass next to the trail!

Laughing, I turned Lily and chased after her at a trot; after several attempts we were finally able to cut her off. Lily wasn't sure what we were doing nor why, and she wasn't too keen on the idea of blocking the path of one very determined Queenie, but she obliged (this was time #2 that my heart almost burst with pride for Lily!) and Queenie stood still long enough for Kathy to catch up to us and grab her little red mare's trailing trailer tie.

Kathy ended up tying Queenie on the other side of the trailer and offered her Lily's alfalfa hay net. Queenie was appeased long enough for us to get going, but afterwards she continued to call and call. She eventually calmed down when Kathy led her over to where Jola and her friend were finishing tacking up and gave Kathy a wonderful ride!

Gail and I headed out on the trail at a walk. The trail was flat and wide enough that we could ride side by side. We initially decided to walk for the first 10 minutes to warm up our horses, but the trail was somewhat muddy and it ended up being more like 30 minutes or so. Gail said she hoped Lily wouldn't mind Nimo's antics, as he can sometimes be looky on the trail and will randomly be iffy about water crossings. I told her this was NBD.

As if on cue, a small patch of snow in the tall grass by the trail caught Nimo's eye and he dropped his head a bit and took a couple of steps to the side. Lily never saw what made him look, but she responded by imitating him.

Funnily enough, this was the only time she would react to something he reacted to. He's not a spooky horse at all though. He'll give the hairy eyeball to certain things, like specific fallen branches or chopped tree trunks, the same exact kind of thing Lily will worry about when she's in heat or in a worrying state of mind. Gail mentioned that up to a year ago he was terrified of everything to the point where she had stopped riding outside of the arena. Until one day she said, "Enough!" He's come a very long way; it was hard to imagine him being frightened of the world.

We continued on down the trail, talking and getting to know one another in person. It was fun getting to fill in the gaps of the bits I know about Gail and Nimo from the blog, and it made for some great conversation.

We crossed a quiet park access road. At this point the footing was fairly dry, so we cantered several strides. We then continued at a trot, eventually arriving at a fairly large river crossing next to a very pretty wooden pedestrian bridge.

The pedestrian trail on the left. The horse crossing is about 20 feet past the bridge.
Photo by Kathy.

Almost straight ahead you can see where the trail dips down into the water. This is where we would all cross the stream. There were actually two options on the far side: on is hidden by the tree on the left of the near bank; you can clearly see the second option as a straight shot from the near bank. There are a couple of wooden posts laid horizontally on the ground to form steps up the bank.
Photo by Kathy.
The water was shallow enough that you could see the bottom, but  the river was a good 20 feet wide. A REAL water crossing. Nimo got to the water's edge, then turned and spun. Recognizing what used to be a familiar problem with my own mare, I offered to go first. Lily planted her feet. "Are you kidding me? There's something down there that he's afraid of. I am NOT going first!"

I borrowed Gail's dressage whip for a second. I tapped my leg firmly with it and Lily slowly ventured forward. The minute her front feet were in the water, Nimo went right up to the water, sniffed it, then walked right in, taking the lead again.

Many waters
I passed the whip back to Gail with a grin once we were on the other side. Silly horses.

The order in which things happened after that is already becoming blurry. We crossed a second, wider road that was also quiet, and there was a third main road that was much busier, but thankfully the car drivers were really good about stopping to letting equestrians cross.

There was a second river crossing that was about as deep as the first but not quite as wide. It was very similar to the Rock Creek crossings on the Bayou Trail at the old barn. Nimo and Lily both went right in without a problem.

We trotted through a lovely portion of trail that wound through a pine tree forest. It was absolutely gorgeous. Gail said it was her favorite part of the trail, as it reminded her of a movie. I had to agree!

The pine forest trail
Photo by Kathy

Kathy's view of the pine forest trail! Those are Queenie's red ears.
We both agreed later that this section was definitely one of the highlights of this ride.
The pine forest.
Photo by Kathy
Gail and I were able to go farther than she had gone before on horseback on this particular portion of trail. This is how we ended up on one particular trail where there was a sign that said "Bull Run." Gail had mentioned that you can access Bull Run Park from the Battlefield, and we excitedly continued on...

...and arrived at the banks of the Bull Run Creek.

This was no "creek" guys. It was a river.

Bull Run Creek on a quiet summer day.
Photo from here.
The water level was pretty high from all the snowmelt and there was somewhat of a current. However, there were recent hoofprints leading into the water. And we saw where the trail continued on the opposite bank, slightly upstream.

Lily has never crossed a river that wide or that deep. I've been quietly wanting to try her out on this sort of water crossing for awhile, just to see if she would do it, but did not have access to this kind of obstacle on the trails back home. I was totally game to try, and so was Gail.

Nimo knew the second we decided we were going to try to cross and he paused. Lily was ready though and stepped forward when I asked, right down to the water's edge. The near bank was a red sandy clay. She walked into the water, one step at a time, until it was up to her elbows. She stopped to look around. Nimo went into the water behind us and as him and Gail came even with us I asked, "Do you have any idea how deep this is?" She said, "I was wondering the same thing." Nimo answered the question for all of us, plunging bravely ahead and leading the way. The water came just up to his belly as they made it halfway across the river. Nimo is nearly 17 hands; Lily barely scrapes 15. Gail called back, "You sure you want to go on? Your boots are going to get wet!" With a grin, I told her it wasn't a problem. I took my feet out of the stirrups and bent my legs back so my boots wouldn't touch the water (an antic that she would never have tolerated as little as 7 months ago...), as Lily continued on, one step at a time. She was in no rush to get across and seemed to be enjoying her little impromptu bath!

We made it safely, both Gail and I laughing over what fun that was, and continued on down the trail...except it dead-ended not far after on someone's property. We turned around and crossed Bull Run again. And this time I got video!

At the very end you can hear when Gail says, "That was AWESOME!" :)
Remember guys, this is the mare that wouldn't cross water!! Yup, the pride was overflowing by this point!
Oh, and the Horze boots? They stayed on no problem!

We retraced our steps for the rest of the way, mostly at a trot now that we were familiar with the conditions of the trail. Nimo has a huge trot stride even when he's moving at a conservative pace. I continued riding Lily on a loopy rein and she simply extended her trot and stretched out. There were several times when Nimo lengthened and Lily asked to canter. She asked to canter, she didn't fling her head around and lose her mind like she used to do a year ago. I gave her permission and she proved to be extremely reasonable about it, keeping her distance behind Nimo even at the faster gait, slowing down to the trot on her own when the footing warranted it, and then picking up the canter again. It was a great exercise in riding behind a faster horse, which we haven't done since riding with Tina and Houdon at the old barn. Her canter was relaxed and easy, her "all-day" canter that she has secretly developed with all of the trail riding we've been doing. (We do canter on the trail but it's never a lot; this is basically a side effect of her conditioning.) It was a blast!!

Lily's shadow as she was trotting along behind Nimo on a loose rein
We walked the horses when we noticed pedestrians or other riders on the trail, through the road crossings and the water crossings. I videoed the last river crossing (the first on our way out) so you guys could see the little bridge. You can also see when Lily "points" at the couple sitting on the bridge:

All of the hikers we encountered were polite and cheerful, giving us the right of way. We came across several that had their dogs in tow, but I'm happy to report that all of them were on leashes. Our horses didn't care.

We walked the last mile or so home, completing 9 miles in slightly over 2 hours. Both horses still had plenty of energy but were relaxed, happy, and comfortable.

It was such an awesome ride!!! We untacked the horses and let them eat. Kathy, Jola and her friend had arrived about 15 minutes in front of us and were just starting to untack when we arrived. I had brought beet pulp for Lily and she alternately attacked that and her haynet. I was beaming watching her. Yup, the mare that wouldn't eat away from home. She didn't drink water when offered, but I had made the beet pulp extra mushy, so she did get some water there.

We hung around talking for about an hour or so, long enough to give the horses a good break, then loaded up and headed home.

Nimo listens in on our conversation with calm interest.
Like I said: he's such a cool horse!
I can't begin to express what a wonderful adventure this was. I'm so excited about having met Gail and Nimo. Gail is a careful rider with a similar sense of adventure to mine and we're at similar points in our conditioning. Our horses had similar temperaments and got along great; I really enjoyed watching the easy interactions between the two of them.

Like Gail said in her write-up, I too love enjoying the trails at a leisurely pace, but for endurance conditioning you really do have to occasionally train faster than a walk to prepare your horse to make it within the time limit on race day. It's awesome to have found a potential training buddy with similar goals and a horse who's at a similar level. I'm excitedly looking forward to riding again with Gail and Nimo!

And again: this was another terrific adventure that would never have happened without this blog. It is yet another adventure that I owe to my mare, who inspired this blog to begin with.

Thank you Lily!!

My sweet girl

P.S. The Horze tendon boots were covered in red clay from the Battlefield after our ride. I swapped them out to Lily's hinds for the trailer ride home, and the Velcro tabs still worked just fine despite all of the mud. Once home, they rinsed off easily with warm water and minimal brushing. By the next day, they were completely dried out and looked as good as new. I was so happy with them that I ordered the matching fetlock boots! Thanks again for the awesome giveaway Allison!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Last Snow Ride

Woke up before the alarm feeling well-rested on Tuesday, so I rushed to get dressed and run out to the barn for a ride before work!

Lake on the way to the barn. Frozen and covered in snow!
It was the first day in the 40's and the snow was just starting to melt when I got Lily from the field. I parked my car by the mare field so I could just get in the car and leave immediately after turning her out, didn't bother changing out of my snow boots (I'd been riding in the Rimfrosts for the last month), brushed out her mane and tail, picked her feet, tacked her up in the Wintec (no breastplate nor saddlebags to mess with), and grabbed the first bridle I found, not even bothering with the rope halter underneath.

I originally wanted to do a dressage school in the arena, but there were still 2' of snow in there! We walked around to warm up, then attempted to trot. We did one lap in each direction, and then I dismounted and led Lily out. It wasn't fair to try to do anything remotely dressagey when the snow was that deep.

We ended up riding up and down the driveway for 45 minutes, doing interval training by alternating longer walks with short trots on the road on a loose rein going away from home, and trotting in the snow towards home. There were already tracks in the snow and she's a smart girl: she knows it's easier to work in snow that has already been trodden on. She really stretched out in an effort to get each hoof to fall in a previous hoof print. It felt like I was riding a Standardbred. Really, really cool!

Riding back towards the barn. The driveway is 1/2 mile long; I've tracked it with a couple of different GPS apps.

Big ole loop in the reins
We threw in some canter through the pea gravel portion of the driveway, and also through the snow next to the road by the house (about 10-15 strides).

Our last 10 minutes were spent at a walk, and we worked on stopping  going away from home. If Lily tried to anticipate turning around, she'd get sent forward into a trot. Then we'd halt and try again. (She actually halted by verbal command from the trot more than once!) She finally got it and stood still, waiting for my command, but she gave me plenty of dirty looks over her shoulder in the meantime: "I don't understand why it's so important to just stand still here and I think it's really stupid, but I will do as you say because I know you'll let me turn around if I do." I had to laugh.

We called it a day after that.

The sound of her hooves on the wet pea gravel reminded me of walking at the ocean's edge.

We did 4.6 miles in an hour total (including the warmup in the arena) and finished with time to spare. I had tea with Kathy while Lily ate her beet pulp, then she got turned back out and I left to go to work.

Her feet have been looking amazing since starting this once-a-week road work! I must post pics. Thanks for the suggestion, Andrea!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tales From The Trenches: A Vet's Tech

I have a story of a recent work occurrence for you guys in the works. It's a really, really good one with a happy ending that happened last week, but we've had such a bad run of deaths ever since that one case, that at the moment I don't even want to think about my recent ER experiences, much less talk about them. It's nothing that anyone has done wrong, we've just happened to have some really, really sick patients. (I probably should talk about it, but I prefer to set things aside while they still hurt and then bring them out to look at and talk about later, when I feel better prepared to deal with them. Death is a big part of this particular branch of veterinary work. I gladly accept that the reality of death affects me. If the day ever comes when a patient's death doesn't affect me, that will be the day when I move on to something else.)

In the meantime, I have this story that I was saving for when something like this happened. It's a good one about one of my favorite doctors ever. :)

During my two years of tech school I gained a surprising amount of work experience: first, because every semester we were assigned to a different clinic or hospital for our externships, and second because I moved up the ladder work-wise. If I couldn't move up to the next step at the place I was currently working at, I moved on to a different hospital, which was expected and understood by my employers. I left each hospital on good terms and up until the moment I left Florida, I would still get calls from old work places wanting me back!

That first specialty hospital where I worked at as an assistant didn't cross-train assistants; I would have only been allowed to do technician stuff (like draw blood and place IV catheters, run bloodwork, do treatments, etc,) after my graduation from school. I did not want to be one of those techs that graduated only ever having placed a handful of IV catheters, so I applied at a general practice that was recommended by one of my professors.

This is where I met Dr. C, who would become my mentor as I grew up as a tech. He was the youngest doctor in a small practice. Unlike a lot of vets that stay in general practice, he had completed an internship at a specialty hospital so his knowledge was above and beyond your average general practitioner's.  He was Brazilian with the particular brand of silly craziness that accompanies some of us Latinos. He could go from 0 to 10 in a split second and some of the techs were afraid of him. Despite my inherent shyness and insecurities at being a brand new tech, Dr. C was my favorite to work with; I was the one of the few who found his high strung nature hilarious which in turn, I like to think, made him laugh at himself more often. I admired him for always doing the best he could for his patients. He was the first doctor I ever heard say, "Ma'am, I don't know what's wrong with your dog." It takes a huge amount of humility to be able to say that to a client. Working in critical care now, we get so many trainwreck cases from general practitioners who refused to admit they didn't know how to fix a patient and just made him worse in their efforts. Dr. C might not have always had the answer, but he knew which specialists to refer that patient to so the client could get the answer they needed in a timely manner.  I think part of the reason why I enjoyed working with him so much was because I could see myself being just like him if I had decided to become a veterinarian.

I often worked the closing shift on Fridays with him, which invariably meant that we would have emergencies come in. He always jokingly blamed me, because this would only happen when I was working the evening shift with him! A lot of general practice techs are trained on the job. Dr. C had trained most of the techs at this hospital and was used to having to jump in and do things himself when anything out of the ordinary walked in the door (the best doctors really are the ones that can do all of the technician skills well-if you work in a state that doesn't require tech credentialing, you will most likely be training your techs yourself at some point. Dr. C had teched for years before going into vet school). Which meant he'd also get so keyed up having to both call the shots as the doctor and do all of the tech stuff. The more agitated he became, the calmer I became, until one day in which I was feeling especially confident, I told him, "Dr. C, I got this. Shoo! Go do your doctor stuff." He actually stopped scrambling, listened, and walked out of the room to go talk to the client. I got one of the kennel girls to hold the patient for me while I placed an IV catheter. He stopped getting so agitated after that. Every once in a while he would still jump in, and there were still times where I really did need his help. But those Friday evening shifts just continued to cement my love for emergency medicine.

Since I was in school, Dr. C quizzed me no end. If I didn't know the answer, he wouldn't give it to me. He'd make me look it up and would expect to have the answer to his question next time we worked together. Sometimes he would forget the question, but I always came back with the answer, and we'd discuss that answer based on his own knowledge and experience as a vet. It made me excited about learning more. And it really helped solidify what I was learning in school as I applied it to cases we were seeing. This made a huge difference when I took the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) - most of what was on the test we had been taught in school, yes. But there was pretty much a question for every single case that I ever discussed with Dr. C. I got among the highest scores in our class. I thanked Dr. C afterwards.

Myself and Mio, my best friend from tech school (who funnily enough is also Puerto Rican!) immediately after the VTNE exam. Can you tell we had just finished? Can you tell we felt we'd done well? Lol
In the beginning, one of the hardest things for me to learn was to get jugular blood samples. In general practice, it is common to just draw blood from a leg vein, especially when you're just doing heartworm tests or basic bloodwork on a healthy animal. Dr. C insisted that I learn to pull blood from jugulars. In the beginning I resented him greatly for this, as he did not demand this of the other techs. Every time I went to pull blood from a dog's neck, I winced visibly because I kept imagining that needle going into my own neck. That empathy made me timid, which made it that much harder to dominate this skill. Dr. C would hold the patient himself and talk me through it. If he wasn't holding the patient himself, he'd stand behind me and watch what I was doing. This didn't necessarily make it easier, as of course I'd get even more nervous under the pressure to do this right! We went through this every single shift that we worked together, until I started being able to momentarily push that empathy aside for a second and started to successfully obtain samples from jugular veins.

Jugular blood draw on a greyhound
I think that he always knew that I would not be staying in general practice. Being able to pull blood from jugular veins is an essential skill for the specialty practice vet tech, especially those working in critical care. The jugular is one of the largest easily accessible veins on the patient, especially in dogs. In specialty practice, leg veins are saved for IV catheters; even on healthy animals coming in for a recheck, you don't pull blood from a leg unless the patient has or is at risk for a clotting disorder. Only in those cases do you obtain blood from a leg vein.

I've gone on to train techs myself in this skill. Every time I see a new tech being timid or having a hard time getting a blood sample from a jugular vein, I smile and remember what Dr. C taught me. And pass it on.

There are still days when I miss working with just one doctor whom I know inside-out, and there are days when I still miss working with Dr. C in particular. After years talking about doing it, he is finally opening up his own practice in Miami! I don't doubt he will be immensely successful at it. He's a good doctor and his clients love him.

I will always be grateful to him for everything he taught me, for believing in me, and for helping me to continue learning and growing as a tech. Two years later, he got me the job at the Fort Lauderdale specialty hospital that would be the big turning point in my career. It was a start-up practice where I only had 4 years of experience to the other techs' 10+ but they took a second look at my resume and called me in for an interview thanks to Dr. C's references. I had the wonderful opportunity of working with two of the gods of veterinary emergency and critical care, an opportunity that would change my life forever.

Cageside rounds with Dr. Z (that's his hand held out while explaining), Dr. C's own mentor!
But that's another story. ;)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Drawing Horses

So last night I figured out that some of you don't really come directly to my Blogger page; you read the blog from a reader program. So there's probably several of you that don't know I draw. Surprise! Why yes, I do. :) I come from a family of artists and art educators, and started drawing animals before I could talk. I actually have a Bachelor's degree in Fine Art, and I worked at the Museum of History, Anthropology and Art of PR as exhibit designer's assistant for 5 years, helping design exhibit catalogs, flyers, promos, and the museum exhibits themselves, before I moved to the continental US. It was my introduction to graphic design. Graphic design ended up being way too competitive when we moved to South FL and after almost a year of unsuccessfully searching for a job (the recession sure didn't help either), I switched careers to be a credentialed vet tech. You can read about how I started in one career and changed to the other here

Here's a look into my sketchbooks. Some of these are old, old drawings, but I figured you all would enjoy them. It's funny, some of these are over 15 years old and I can still remember the why, the what and the where of each one.

Colored pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 2004)
This drawing was completely from my imagination. Drawing people is not my strong suit; I won't do commissioned work of people.
Graphite pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 2003)
I think I used a photo of an ocelot as a loose reference for this one.

Pen on paper. (Notebook doodle 1998)
This is from a time before cell phones and the ability to photograph everything while it was happening. This was illustrating the first time I took my OTTB mare Maia into the river that ran through the valley behind the barn. She was a total water horse! A drawing from my imagination of an event that really happened.
Pencil on paper (Notebook doodle 1998)
From my imagination (duh lol)

Birds, you ask? Why yes, I can draw birds too.
Barn owls. Colored pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 1994)
This was an interesting composition: I used a series of barn owl photos for the three in the drawing. The background is from a before-dawn sky seen from home.
Pencil on paper (Tiny notebook doodle 1999)
From my imagination.

Colored pencil on paper (Sketchbook 1994)
The mountains are my favorite part of the PR central mountain range, La Cordillera. We were driving through the mountains on our way back home from an art workshop hosted by my mom and the aunts in Ponce, on the other side of the island. I was in the backseat, watching the colors change on the mountains with the setting sun. I made a quick sketch of the sky and mountains, assigning the correct colors for when I got home to my colored pencils and could actually color everything in. I threw in the pegasus for shits and giggles. :)
Similar concept as the previous drawing. Colored pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 1994)
The waterfalls are from a photo; they are in Iceland. Pegasi make everything more interesting. ;)
Pencil on paper (Sketchbook 1997)
Karen, I know you'll love this one. :) Also from my imagination.
Panther. Graphite pencil on paper (Sketchbook 1997)
Also from my imagination.
Sea lion. Colored pencil and marker on paper. (Sketchbook 1996)
Used a photo as a reference.

"The Water Jump."
Colored pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 2004)
Entirely from my imagination.
Graphite pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 1997)
Used a photo as a reference. Yes, I've always had a thing for everything Native American.

Graphite pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 1994)
Used a photo as a reference. That's me on Gypsy, an OTTB mare I used to ride in lessons, back when I was showing in Equitation over Fences. This was the big competition arena at El Centro Ecuestre.

Cougar. Colored pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 1997)
I used a photo as a reference for this one.
Graphite pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 1997)
2/3rds of this drawing are from a photo: the setting and the reflection in the water. The girl on the horse is an imaginary drawing of the 16-year-old me on Lucero, my Paso. (Yes, my hair was long at one point.) We are standing at the shore of the creek in San Antonio, TX, one of my favorite places as a kid, back before my parents' divorce. The little girl in the reflection is also myself, as a 7-year-old child.

Ink and white pencil on heavy beige paper. 2005
This was done as a quick sketch to promote my work back when we lived in Tampa. It is completely from my imagination, and one of my favorite sketches.  It's on my business cards.

Very quick, rough sketch of a kitty.
Graphite pencil on paper (Sketchbook 2004)
From my imagination.

Colored pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 1994)
The beach is from a photo, the horse is from my imagination.
"Lucero and me."
Graphite pencil on paper (Sketchbook 1997)
16-year-old me with Lucero, my Paso. (I cut all my hair that same year; I finished my junior year in high school with hair as short as a boy's. I was the first girl in my class to cut her hair that short! It started a trend.)
There are so many more drawings of Lucero than there are photos.
Of all the horses I've owned, he is the one that I have drawn the most.
This drawing was completely from my imagination.

I called this one "Reality."
Colored pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 1994)
I think this might have been from my imagination...what do you think? ;)
"Return to the Arena."
Graphite pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 1997)
Another moment that I drew because there were no photos. This was my second ride on Bailen, a huge OTTB who was one of the best school horses I ever rode. This was also my second lesson ever with Ron Howe, the trainer that would turn me into the rider I am today.
"My Dad."
Graphite pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 1994)
This is from an old, old photo. The photo was taken when I was somewhere between 2 and 3 years old, when we lived in the little cottage on my grandmother's property, the same cottage where my grandfather would live later when I was growing up. The dog in the photo is Hans. My dad loved Dobies and some of my first canine memories are of Hans and Gretel, the Dobie pair that would guard my crib at night, whom I crawled around on the floor on all fours with, and who were the stars of some of my earliest drawings. Hans would even let me ride around on his back.
Wolves. Colored pencil on paper. (Sketchbook 1994)
I love wolves.

Below is some of my very, very recent work. As in, last couple of weeks recent. My BO commissioned a huge project: she wants portraits of all of her horses, which are 13. These are some of the ones I've submitted so far.

Some of you might remember McTavish the Haflinger, whom Liz rode when she came to visit. :)
Angel, the Morab, whom I was exercising for awhile in late summer-early fall.
Roxy, a Paint Welsh Cob. She is boarded at a different barn.

Reminder: at 100 followers there will be a giveaway! A custom, hand-made portrait of your horse or any horse you love, done by me. :)