When My Friend Is Sad, So Am I

You see your friend’s number pop up on your cell phone, and when you answer, you know what the call is about even before a complete sentence is spoken. The tears stream down your face as they surely are on your friend’s.  They said goodbye to their beloved horse that morning. There is nothing more to say at that moment. You share a moment of silence and say goodbye. 

What is it about these amazing creatures that make their loss so hard even when the horse is not yours?  It matters not the horse’s age or what that horse did or did not do during its life. Pedigrees become just words on a page; ribbons lose their shine.  All that matters is that your friend loved their horse and now the horse is gone. They loved their horse even when there was no ribbon from the show. They loved their horse even when another mystery wound appeared on the leg. They loved their horse as they sat in a cold barn into the wee hours of the night as the horse recovered from colic.  They saw past any flaws and just saw love in those big brown, trusting eyes.

As their friend, you wish you had some profound words to help ease the grief. You wish a hug could stop the tears.  Time appears to stand still for days on end. A card never seems to say enough.  I would give up every year end award for them to have one more day/week/month or year with their four-legged family member. 

 The loss makes you realize that each day you have together is a gift.  Hug your horses tight, tell them you love them each and every day, and never forget to be there for each other.

alison

Merry Christmas!

Ike and I would like to wish all our friends and family a very merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, and a joyful holiday season. We hope this time is filled with laughter, fun get-togethers, and yummy holiday treats.  

Ike is hoping that one day mom will give up the tradition of placing things on his head or that he grows a little taller so I can no longer reach the top of his head.

I am hoping for a mild winter and safe footing so we can continue riding through the colder months.  I am also secretly hoping for clean changes and fluid half pass steps.

Merry Christmas! 

Alison and Ike

My Love/Hate Relationship With Winter

Ike January 25 2016

Ike expressing his views on winter weather. (This is from last winter.)

 

Well, winter has arrived in the mid-Atlantic states.  The snowbirds have migrated south and the rest of us have opened up the bags of winter clothing and hand warmers to face the colder temperatures.  There are things that I do like about this time of year, but there are also things I truly despise about the season…

Love: Not having sweat pouring down my face and burning my eyes.                                                   Hate: The wind stinging my eyeballs making it look like I am crying. 

Love: Not having to have ninja like reflexes to kill horseflies.                                                                     Hate: Being so padded to stay warm that I move like the StaPuff Marshmallow Man.

Love: Not riding in the atomic dustbowl.                                                                                                  Hate: Frozen footing.

Love: No allergies and random sneezing while I ride.                                                                             Hate: That my nose runs like a faucet in cold weather. 

Love: The energy that my horse has.                                                                                                        Hate: The bat crap crazy energy my horse has on some days.

Love: Pockets in my winter coats.                                                                                                           Hate: My fingers being so frozen that they can grasp nothing in the pockets. 

Love: Not having to clean gooey sweat globs off the bridle.                                                                   Hate: How impossible it is to manipulate cold leather.

Love: Not fearing having a shoe sucked off in the mud.                                                                         Hate: Worrying that my horse with twist a fetlock in the frozen mud holes. 

Love: Not worrying about odd tan lines.                                                                                                  Hate: Wind burn and chapped lips.

Love: Not having to wear a gas mask in the car with the dirty, sweaty saddlepad.                                   Hate: Having to wait for the ice on the windshield to melt.

So what are your favorite and least favorite things about this time of year?

Alison

Time To Install The Winter Brakes

ike-dec-2016

Naughty List Candidate

So after very mild and workable temperatures in November, frigid temperatures and gusty winds have arrived in Virginia with a big, “Hellllloooo you poor souls who can’t migrate south for the winter!”

What that means is that it is time to drag out the fleece lined riding breeches, Thinsulate winter boots, and thicker gloves stuffed with Hot Hands. It also means that I look like I am crying while I ride since my eyes tear in the cold, and my nose and lips will be permanently chapped and cracked until April.  I know, it is a picture-perfect look.

Those of us who weather the winter conditions also know that our horses transform into different beasts once the thermometer dips and stays well below 50 degrees. Tiny demons take up residence in their ears encouraging naughtiness and crazy antics while in their paddocks and while under saddle. Yes, even Ike can be led down the naughty road…the threat of telling Santa appears to have no effect on his behavior.

Thus far this winter, Ike has destroyed two fence boards and one fence post. You read that correctly, he snapped a fence post with not a scratch on his body.  He also decided to rear, buck and cavort up and down the fence line just as the vet was administering Cigar’s antibiotic shot.  Cigar decided that he should join the fun, so I had to let go of the lead rope rather than get dragged through the mud.  Many thanks Ike for “helping.”  He has also resumed his wood-munching habit and more chicken wire has been installed on the boards around his coop stall. 

Tacking my demon-infected horse is much more challenging given that Ike seemingly generates a generous amount of static electricity.  I do my best not to shock him, but inevitably, we both get a jolt or two as I remove mud, shavings and other unidentified material from his coat.  Ike also is less than patient as I chip out the packed mud and manure from his hooves.  I now need to be very aware of where my feet are in relation to his hooves or I get stomped on as he jerks away his hoof.  Good times.  His hatred of the tightening of the girth is also magnified in the winter.  Nipping and cow kicking are standard practices in Ike’s world.  Smacking and yelling are mine.

Unfortunately for me, my winter boots are a bit bigger than my summer boots, so my usual spurs don’t easily fit around the heel.  I tried riding without spurs and using my Prince of Wales spurs, but Ike scoffed at my leg aids, “Mom, I cannot hear you!” Fine, Ike, mom knows how to stretch my pointier spurs.  Problem solved.

Over the span of 10 days, I’ve also determined that our collected canter has gone south with the snow birds.  We have fast canter, faster canter, fastest canter, super warp speed, and no absolutely no brakes in the snaffle bridle.  These canter speeds make schooling flying changes challenging if not impossible.  It is hard to be subtle, yet clear with your aids when you are hanging on for dear life and praying that you don’t snap another fence post or your neck.  What is a girl to do if she wishes to continue working during this fun? The girl installs “the winter brakes,”  AKA The Double Bridle.  Problem curtailed if not completely solved. Of course, I cannot manage both sets of reins in puffy gloves, so I cope with cold fingers for the opportunity to stop when I want.

If anyone has any winter horse survival tips they wish to share, please pass them along!  As long as the footing is safe and the roads to the barn are clear, we will brave the cold and work towards our Third Level debut.

Stay warm my friends! Alison

When To Cry, “Uncle!”

cigar-and-me

While most of my latest riding and horse adventures are with Ike, his older brother Cigar still likes to keep me on my toes. Ike is sugar and spice and everything nice.  Cigar is piss and vinegar and, even at the age of 20, has enough chutzpah to give the most hardened New Yorker a run for their money.  But it is some yet-to-be-identified microorganisms that are currently challenging his hardy constitution.

It all started last Thursday with an early morning call about Cigar’s leg looking like an overstuffed leg of lamb with a fever of 103 degrees.  Cigar Day One  Our vet is out on medical leave,  so we called Ms. C’s vet who kindly agreed to take on the case.  She arrived at the farm before I did and had already administered some banamine to give Cigar some relief from the pain.  Unfortunately the diagnosis was lymphangitis.  From what I have been able to tell, it is a difficult condition to treat, it can take weeks to resolve, and the prognosis in many cases is guarded.

The past week has been a blur of twice daily trips to the barn, cold hosing, sore cleaning, pill grinding, syringes and needles, and praying.  I have had to face my fear of needles and put on my ass-kicking boots to give daily shots of antibiotics  (33 mLs of liquid split into 3 doses in 3 spots).  I had to remove sutures and a catheter that Cigar objected to having in his neck.  I have had to control my gag reflex as I cleaned the nasty looking sores on his leg.  Worst of all, I have had to face my worst fear of saying the final goodbye.

It is anguishing to have to look down that rabbit hole.  You worry that you are too hasty.  You worry that you will wait too long and your friend will suffer. You wonder what last ditch drug or procedure can save your horse.  Your eyes leak until there are no more tears to fall.  Where will be his final resting place?

On Wednesday, we were worried about Cigar’s leg and hoof.  The entire coronet band was engaged in an epic battle with the microbes.

Cigar hoof.jpg

Not for the faint at heart…

 

There were real concerns that the hoof was separating from the leg.  Dr. E consulted with Dr. C and they recommended x-rays for the hoof and leg.  I agreed since it would confirm or assuage our fears.  While Dr. E went to retrieve the x-ray equipment, Cigar peacefully grazed.  It was gut wrenching to realize that these could be his last hours. At least he would never know the anguishing pain.

Cigar grazing.jpg

Dr. E returned with the equipment with Dr. C right behind her to help and give a second opinion.  Cigar tried his best to be cooperative for most of the images, but he did drag me out of the barn at one point, and I like to think that it was his way of telling me that he was not yet ready to cry, “Uncle!”  Thankfully the x-rays confirmed no separation or other mitigating issues.

Yesterday, Cigar tried to kick Ms. C with the infected leg and then gave a valiant attempt to trot away from us to avoid the bute paste in his mouth.  He then wouldn’t keep his head and neck still for his antibiotic injections.  (Can’t say that I blame him since his neck has been a pin cushion for 8 straight days…)  For those who don’t know Cigar that well, all of these are very normal behaviors for him.  Cooperation is not his strong suit.  “No” is his go to position.

The return of his headstrong personality gives me hope.  This is the time of year to give thanks and feel blessed for the people and animals in our life.  I am eternally grateful that my old man will be with us for the foreseeable future.

alison

 

 

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

So show season is over.  We have submitted our year end award packets.  The trailer has been cleaned.  My show coat has been mended.  Memberships for next year have been renewed.  Fall shots have been administered.  The saddle fitter will be stopping by soon for a saddle checkup.  So what does that leave us to do with our time?  Plenty.

 Next year we (okay, okay, mostly me – Ike doesn’t much care what we do) want to make the leap to Third Level.  That means there are some mad skills that we need to acquire over these winter months to be ready for the challenges presented at this next level of dressage.  We wasted little time after the championship show to get back to work since a quick read of the Third Level tests shows that there is some work to be done.

 Having just spent the past year working on and improving our Second Level work, I have a higher degree of confidence in our collection skills, but Third Level means no more half-assed collection.  Do or die, there is no try.  Fortunately Ike is working well in the snaffle, so we can save the double bridle for another day.

 Medium gaits…coming.  Extended gaits…umm, what are those??  As long as Ike doesn’t decide that a potty break is necessary during the test, we can approximate an extended walk.  An extended trot?  We will take our 5 and hope that Ike continues to develop his pushing power.

 Half pass.  Well, I have more to learn about riding a correct half pass than Ike does.  One must move the shoulders first, the shoulders.  And much like shoulder in, the rider needs to keep their weight in the correct place despite where my horse tries to put me.

 Turn on the haunches?  Sigh, I was saddened to see that they follow us to Third Level.  We will continue our efforts on this as well.

 And then there are the flying changes. Left to right is usually easier since Ike wants to shift his weight to the right hind.  Right to left needs to be ridden a bit straighter or we only change in the front.  Thankfully we have not lost any shoes during this scrambling moments.  The downfall to teaching the changes?  Someone starts to anticipate them and gets a bit strong in the hand.  The solution?  Canter-halt transitions, canter-walk transitions, or staying in countercanter.  All of these require that I use every skill I have in my arsenal to make Ike listen.  I can thank Cigar for my ability to stay astride during Ike’s panicked moments…and I still have the double bridle available if necessary. 

Stay tuned. We will let you know how how are winter homework is progressing.

alison

 

The Power of the Horse

Well, the final hurrah of the year is over.  The show duds have been packed away until year.  The self-imposed stress of horse shows is behind us and we can get back to just training…after Ike enjoys a few days of well earned down time.
Our Second Level championship ride had a major spook, but the rest of the test was solid and our score enough for an eighth place ribbon.  While it now resides next to the two we earned at Training and First Levels, it somehow has an extra special place in my heart.

This year was a big one for us.  It was the first year ever that our shows did not include any of the lower levels.  This was the year that I felt that Ike and I truly connected – collection is possible and I have seen glimpses of the still untapped power. The falling acorns helped me find my medium trot and Ike’s passage.  It is scary and thrilling all at the same time.

But most of all, I marvel at the awesome group of friends who I have met through my equine endeavors and who share this grand adventure.  We all arrived at this point by different paths, yet as we sat together in the barn this weekend, it didn’t matter how we got there. We were all there to enjoy our horses and cheer for each other. Strangers became life long friends. Fellow competitors morph into friendly faces and you cheer for their success. You volunteer your time to help the show run smoothly and sometimes you can turn someone’s day around by wishing them luck or congratulating their nice ride.

Horsepower is a good thing, but the power of the horse is something truly amazing. To all my friends, I cherish you all and look forward to our future adventures. 

Alison