Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I'd forgotten this

A few days after we brought Firefly home, I was typing a post about her on a horsey message board.  While I was typing, my eldest interrupted me with a heartbreaking exchange I recorded in the post.

"Eldest son just walked in the room with me, crying. While trying to take a nap, he started thinking about Ferrana, and how we were able to get Firefly back--but will never get Ferrana back. I listened to him, talked to him, then turned on one of his favorite TV shows as a quiet distraction (he is a very sensitive sort, and when upset like this can get a bit stuck and needs redirecting). It just ended, and he turned to me (as I'm typing this, no less) and said, 'I wish Ferrana were still alive.' Such a sweet soul. 

He did love that mare.  Me too. She took good care of him

It makes having Firefly back all the more beautiful."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Firefly, Part II: Serendipity Happens

Disclaimer:  This starts off as a print-heavy post, then turns into a pic-heavy post.  Sit tight and wade through my narrative to get to the AWWWWwwww! piccy goodness.

When I lost Ana in September 2011, I went through a bit of an equestrian identity crisis.  My life was very different from November 2002, when we brought Ana home. Now a full-time working mother with two small children, I struggled for months wondering if I should get another horse--it seemed the epitome of selfish.   The money and time would be better spent on my family, rather than on something that takes me away from them.  For a few months I was completely horseless, taking riding lessons on weekends, and then for one month I took home an OTTB on trial that didn't turn out (that was heartache of a different kind).  For months, I got to experience not concerning myself or my family with daily feeding and mucking, turning out, vet visits, lunging, riding...and I didn't really notice the freed time (or cash).  I did notice myself feeling wound up, trapped, and needing my outlet even more now that I am a full-time working mother.  I ultimately concluded that to be a better mother to my sons and wife to my husband, I needed to breathe the barn air.  I began horse shopping in earnest and brought Trilogy home in April 2012.

But in those first few months, there was this nagging feeling that I was depriving my sons of the experience.  I was coming to the barn and bringing them with me, but it was always "Play with your trucks over there away from the horses and be safe."  What was the point of exposing the boys to the barn and bringing them there if they didn't get to participate in it?  The feeling nagged.

In June, I found my thoughts drifting back to Firefly.  Man, she would be perfect for the boys, I thought. Right height, right temperament, right teaching tool.  Tril is sweet, but he's big and he's goofy, and really I don't think my then-2yro son would be safe around any large horse.  Then, the long-occupied stall next to Tril was vacated and I noted the pipe corral panels were positioned such that a mini could fit in there.  Hmm, I thought.

One June Sunday afternoon, I was chatting with a fellow equestrian mom with small kids and asking her about ponies.  She, like any good horsey friend-enabler, encouraged me to find a pony like she had gotten her eldest, and told me to have my eldest clean stalls for a week to see if he's up to the challenge of horse ownership.  I went home and casually looked at ponies for sale online to scratch that itch; I could not in good faith look for one in earnest out of a sense of respect and fairness to my husband, and really, out of common sense.  We were barely back in the swing of caring for a horse full-time--make it two??  Gah.

Then, just three days later, I got an email out of the blue from the program director at Canyon Acres, where I'd donated Firefly.  Years had gone by since I'd had any sort of contact with her, excepting one kind exchange where she sent a photo of Fly to comfort me in my grief over losing Ana.  When I opened the email, I had a sense of knowing--like I knew what was coming and was relieved it had finally arrived.  I knew, before I read the first sentence, what the email was about.  Not to be all woo-woo, but that is the raw truth.  So, woo-woo, so there.

Canyon Acres had been bought out by another company, and they needed to downsize (thankfully, not eliminate) their equine therapy program.  This meant a few horses needed to go--and Firefly was selected as one of them.   The program director said Firefly was getting a bit burned out from her job and needed a new one. She wasn't doing anything aggressive; it was more avoidance behavior with the most intense of their low functioning kids--who need to work with a mini the most. She was still terrific with the higher functioning ones, and would be fine with my boys.   As I wrote a right of first refusal into the contract, she contacted me, here we were. Interesting. 

I wasn't ready to just hitch up my trailer and take her back home, but I was curious. I also seriously needed to evaluate if we had the time and money. More the time than money. 

I couldn't take her back anytime in the first 3 years she was there--between Dad's death, pregnancy, newborn, illness--but then, maybe.  Just maybe.

Reunited after 3 years apart
Yes.  Yes, we would.

I spoke to the property owner, and she offered the recently vacated stall for half price.  I spoke to the man who feeds for me in the morning, and he offered to feed her for reduced price.  Bam-bam-bam, domino after domino fell.  I gave hubby time to consider it, and I took the boys over to see how they were with her, and she with them.  The day I brought them over happened to be the day the vet was coming to give her shots and her annual exam, so we got to stay and watch that as well.
My eldest was very concerned about Fly being seen by the vet, but he was able to explain everything he was doing and ease my son's concerns.
The reunion choked me up, though my sons had no idea the true reason behind the visit.  I was overjoyed seeing my little red-headed girl again.
Very happy reunion.  Fly was fascinated by my youngest, who was fascinated by...dirt.

For years, my eldest would talk about Firefly, bringing her up out of the blue, saying he wished she could still be ours.  Some wishes do get granted.
A very happy boy and his pony-to-be

Leading her for the first time--he was so excited and proud!  She, of course, tried to drag him to every Green Thing.  We're still working on that.
My youngest was fascinated, and I remarked how perfect in size she was--he could walk behind her without me holding my breath. She was the perfect teaching tool for a toddler his size and age.
Then, he realized the brush could be used on DIRT.  Well!  That was way more interesting.
I packed the boys up, came home, and told hubby how perfectly the visit had gone.  That decided it:  she was coming back home to us.  A week later, we hitched up the trailer and brought two very excited little boys back to Canyon Acres, and one very worried pony home to the same backyard property she'd been on nearly four years previous.
First introductions--put your ears a little more forward, Tril.

The boys were eager to brush her and help her feel at home in her new surroundings--which she immediately took ownership of, of course.
"Oh, hey, you left the feed room open.  Let me march right into this dark, scary, enclosed place and release you of this orange thing infestation problem you have." 
I wouldn't say it's been happily ever after ever since...

 ...but it's pretty damn close.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Firefly: Part I

You know, I have been unfair in my blog.  It's all Trilogy all the time, with virtually no mention of our red headed furball, Firefly. Being the parent of siblings and always concerned about fairness and equal time (or at least, less unequal time), I am here today to recognize Firefly.  It's your turn to shine, FireButt.
I'm so cute.  Sooooo cute.  You know you want to feed me something.
Ah, Fly.  Hers is a remarkable story that I have unfairly kept from the blog.  Let's travel back in time, shall we?

2003 was a good year.  I still had my pre-pregnant, pre-back surgery body; the economy was still a few years away from falling into the shitter; Ferrana was sound and happy and showing her newbie owner around the horse world and show ring.  Unencumbered by the time compressing demands of being a working parent, I decided to start an extracurricular, horse-themed club at my school, where 95% of students are on free or reduced lunch and more than half are either the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves.  Several of them literally never leave the city, or next to never leave the city, because of their parents' work or their parents' fears (several mothers don't drive, or don't drive freeways, I would learn).  I wanted to share the gift of horses and the horseworld with them, as it was unknown to many children with such backgrounds.  I love these kids, and I love these horses--why not blend the two?

But, Ferrana, sweet as she was, and small as she was for a riding horse, was still 900lb--intimidatingly to frighteningly large for those never around animals so large.  Enter Firefly, all 36" and 230lbs of her.

I started putting feelers out for a mini and found Firefly via a message board.  Fly needed a new home as she had foundered during her pregnancy, causing her to lose her foal and her coffin bones (the hoof-shaped bone in a horse's foot) to rotate to a severe degree.  I'd read that, in a larger riding horse, a rotation of 2-3 degrees is recoverable, that 5-6 degrees might produce a horse sound for light work, and that 7-8 degrees hopefully produces a horse sound for breeding or pasture retirement. Anything over 10 degrees is considered unrecoverable and terminal. Firefly's coffin bone had rotated 14 degrees.

Thankfully, physics is on Firefly's side.  Her diminished size means decreased pressure on her feet, and her prognosis differed from that of her full-sized cousins.  However, she could no longer live on lush Texas pastures, as the sugars in the spring grasses are triggers for her condition.  (So odd how equine metabolism works.  Sugars in grasses cause the laminae in a horse's foot to separate from the hoof wall? Whuh?)  A home in a Southern California dry lot was much more suitable, if less picturesque.
Firefly in her Texas glory. 
So, for little more than the price of shipping her from Texas to SoCal, she came to live at the little backyard barn our other horse called home.  After restricting her feed to timothy-only, taking some weight off, and frequent farrier visits, her feet healed and she became a part of my family.  

However, I learned quickly--she was very, very much her own, erm, person.   She was a rude awakening to this inexperienced horse owner, who'd only known a sweet, sensitive, eager to please, submissive Arabian mare.  Firefly, however, was dominant, opinionated, obstinate, and outright aggressive to any horse that dared get in her space. Those that did not obey equine etiquette were met with her quick-swinging hind end, and if they still didn't get a clue, double-barrel blasts from both hind legs combined with pissy squeals making it clear that they need to back the FUCK off.

While she was (and still is) not aggressive toward people--she does not kick or bite anything on two legs--she is a pushy broad with her own agenda.  An agenda that, due perhaps to her newly restrictive diet, is about food.  If it's green, she wants it, and she will shove past you to get it, and rub her mane out to reach a few blades of it it through the arena fences when it turnout.
Yeah, you TRY to come take these blades from me Tril.  Try.  I CAN TAKE YOU.
But, I worked with her.  I learned various techniques and introduced her to the round pen and lunging (originally, she would just stand and look at me, like, "And?  So?  What?  And so what!").  She became a favorite with my after-school club, and she did her job well.  Eleven-year-old girls braided her mane and tail and cooed and fawned all over her, completely fooled by her "I'm cute!" appearance.   She was also a good companion for Ana, whose anxiety in turnout over "Don't leeeeave me here alone!" was lessened by the company of someone willing to take command of things.

Over time, we bonded.  It wasn't the affectionate, heart-to-heart bond Ana and I shared, but it was more of a professional understanding and respect.  She submitted and obeyed (sometimes with a curled nose), but still tested boundaries on a frequent basis jusssst to see if they were still there.

Like--when I was 8mos pregnant with my first, she bolted past me when I went to retrieve her from the turnout, heading off in a hurry to any place green.  I waddled after her, angrily cursing under my breath (okay, over my breath as well) before finally corralling her, and giving her a thorough schooling while panting "I...don't pregnant...I am!  ...You...DO NOT...get to do that!"

Ah, but it was her--not Ana--who would tell me I was in labor. Too big and too uncomfortable to do much, I sat in a chair that day, taking turns holding the end of each horse's lead rope while they grazed near me.  Ana did indicate something was off as she wouldn't leave my side; rather than explore the length of the lead rope, as she normally would, she was always right next to me, even moving my feet to graze right under them.

Firefly, however, completely weirded me out as this food-obsessed mare refused to graze and instead stood in front of me, ears pricked, keenly focusing on me.  I'd push her away, she'd come back, sniffing and nuzzling my belly, legs arms.  "What the heck, Firefly?  Did Timmy fall down a well? Am I in labor?" I asked, jokingly. A few hours later, it was quite clear--I was.

I remember that when she's being a shit.  She may act like a punk, but she has a soft side.  She just prefers no one to see it.  I suppose I can understand that.

But, in 2008, my father's declining health combined with the demands of being a full-time working parent running an after-school club made keeping two horses at 100% self-care too much.  Heart broken, I decided I needed to move Ana to a full care facility--and rehome Firefly. I went to the message boards and found a truly, truly ideal home: Canyon Acres. One of the few certified equine psychotherapy programs in the country, they had recently lost their mini, and their level 14 children (the highest level in the foster care system; one step beyond that institutionalization) were in need of a small equine ambassador to help them communicate and empathize and connect to a world that had been unspeakably cruel to them.

After many emails and a site visit, I packed her up in my trailer and took her to her new home.
WTF?  You couldn't put a window at my level?

Bye, Fly.
And then I went home and sobbed over giving up my admittedly now-beloved little red headed brat.

It proved a wise decision, as three months later my father died suddenly and unexpectedly.  It was one of those horrible panicked midnight phone calls, where we had to grab our drowsy toddler in the middle of the night and rush to the hospital, only to find it was too late.  It was a relief in that dark chaos not having to worry about who was feeding the horses, and I remain grateful Ana and Firefly were exactly where they were at that time.

The next year--really, two years--were a blur.  Grief, helping Mom clean out Dad's things, helping Mom move, getting pregnant, getting very sick while pregnant, giving birth to my second son, dealing with a colicky infant, dealing with postpartum depression...

Firefly became a distant memory, shoved to the back while life forced so much more to the front.  Years went by, and she was all but forgotten.

All but forgotten.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hips, hocks, knees and toes, knees and toes...

Oh, God bless antibiotics, ibuprofen, and the gross-sounding-but-so-damn-helpful-don't-care neti pot.  Seriously.  I feel oddly human today.  Well, odd human is normal for me, so all good.

And check it out!  I rode Tril today!  But first, let's discuss his chiro appointment.  Actually, I guess it's a pretty one-sided discussion, so, um...let me lecture about Tril's chiro appointment.  Don't stress; you won't be tested on this.

LOVE Dr. Butch.  He took one look at Tril's crooked back end and "Wow"ed.  He asked if I knew of any history of back injury, but, I don't (and I have access to all of his records), so Butch just shrugged and said we'd deal with What Is without concern of What Was.  He remarked Tril's misalignment was pretty significant: "He's walking around with his right hind leg literally about an inch shorter than his left."  And, honestly, ANYone could see how severe it is.

(Of course I just poured through my photos from his prepurchase exam and don't have a single photo highlighting this.  But I swear!  It's really obvious!)

The good news, Butch said, was the stumbling, cross-firing, and hind leg dragging I described all were mechanical issues, not pain issues.  When I responded to that conclusion with a "Whuh?" Butch clarified--Tril isn't lame or in pain, he is just so crooked and out of whack and atrophied in places that he can't move correctly.

I'm not convinced it isn't pain, as he seemed back-sore during the prepurchase exam:
...but, I have also since learned that Tril is suuuuuuuper sensitive to touch, especially by those he doesn't know.  He may have been reacting like this partially because of his apprehension over being poked and prodded by this stranger.  "Dude, seriously, what ARE you doing?  Don't touch me THERE!  Or, there, or, geez..."

I was surprised, though, to hear from Butch that Tril's hocks were also out (how could he tell is beyond me), but that it also may be due to Tril being a "high mileage vehicle," as he put it.  "This is a horse that has had a lot of work put into him," Butch observed.  When he said the hocks seemed a bit arthritic, I voiced my surprise as Ana's hocks didn't really become a problem until she was 16 or so.  "Well, that's the thing.  He may have the body of a 10yro, but from all of that use he has the hocks of a 15yro."  Phoo.  Well, I am pretty well versed in treating stiff hocks, so, fine.  I can manage managing him.

Several times Butch commented on what a nice horse Tril was, and I beamed.  Part of me does still feel like, "OMG...this is a NICE horse...and he's actually mine!" What admittedly goes with that is an occasional feeling of, "LOOKY WHAT I GOT!"  But what made me feel all warm and fuzzy was hearing Butch repeatedly say "I'm really glad you have him."  D'awwwww, thanks.  More on that later, though.

Butch adjusted Tril (still an odd thing to watch) and had quite the list of dos and don'ts for Tril between now and the next adjustment, which should be in about 3mos ("If you were in my backyard, I'd be adjusting him every month").  We need to slowly strengthen and realign that weak hip, and so I was told:
  1. No cantering under saddle ("I don't want him on one leg.")
  2. No small circles (lunging is out).
  3. No backing him up.
  4. No riding him on hills.
His notes said "until I say."  Sorry, Tril,, Butch didn't say.  Instead, it's lots of trot work.  Fine with me and my convalescing ankle.  We had fun going over poles tonight.  (He actually jumped obstacles in turn out the other day--I think he wants to be a hunter over fences.  I, who haven't jumped a horse in 20 years, am not so sure he really wants to do that.)

Here's the cool thing Butch does--Tril got a report card:
What the chicken scratch there is telling you is the area of concerns are left pelvis, left low back, and right and left hocks.  The diagram outlines the airplane-banking-right angle of his pelvis, as well as the other adjustments put into place.                Note all problem areas are on his left side--and that there wasn't much spasm.  
He ended explaining nothing but stall rest for 24 hours, with handwalking okay the day after that and return to normal the following day.  The entire prescription (the "No" list) and suggested joint supplements are on the back.  It will be really interesting to compare this to what the chiro shows in 3mos at the next adjustment.
So there you have it.  My lopsided boy is, uh, lopsided.

What again made this perpetual newbie feel good about herself as a horsewoman was Butch highlighting how Tril was in better hands with me. Cal Poly takes care of their horses, don't get him or me wrong, but there Tril was one of dozens of rideable horses, and he was made to fit the training program (all that lunging they did we now know is very bad for him, for one) rather than the training program designed to suit him.  As CPP has a state budget, there is no chiro care and no supplements (that's how they explained it when I asked).  When he'd get sore, they'd rest him and ride someone else without much thought because there are so many others.  With me, my "other" is 36" tall and unrideable, so he is going to get a lot more attentive care.

And that care includes a little equine chiro woo-woo.  :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sinuses suck. And blow.

One thing I learned not long after moving to Southern California from central Indiana: Santa Ana winds, those dry, hot, nasty fall gusts, guarantee my sinuses will be pounding my skull like ball peen hammers the next day (and the next, and then next...).  Gah, I can barely think straight now.  Yesterday, the throbbing was so excruciating I could barely read.  I'm not alone in this, so I'm sure many of you have been there, done that.  I have my Neti Pot, my pseudoephedrine (the real, meth-making kind--not that PE placebo crap), my heating pad, my ibuprofen, my sofa, and a three-day weekend that was supposed to include riding my horse. Dammit.

Instead, yesterday was nearly entirely consumed with attempting (and failing) to wrestle a sinus headache to the ground, and this morning was about waving the white flag and going to urgent care for antibiotics.  (I am NOT waiting until Tuesday and enduring two more days of this AUGH to do see my doc.)

But I reassure myself--Trilogy is a sane, well-broke gelding who has spent most of his life following the intense schedule of being an A-circuit showhorse.  His life before my purchasing him was a good one--he was well-fed, exercised, ridden, attended to--but he had not experienced being my horse, with all the intense personal care I throw at  my animals.

He hadn't been turned out in years.  He was never ridden outside an arena.  His life was stall, lunging, ride patterns in the ring, put back in stall.  The very first time I turned him out, he trotted circles around me in confusion; I realized, he was lunging himself.  But then I stepped out of the ring, and he looked at me in confusion before breaking out in galloping, bucking ecstasy.

Tril's first turnout in ?-years.  :)  

Right now, he is loving being turned out to graze on the small property, and then enjoying three different large arenas to turn out and play in ("Hey, what's this?  Someone left a mounting block in here?"  :::chomp::: :::drag::: :::push:::  *CRASH* "Who knocked that over?  Wasn't me.  I'm just over here turning on the sprinkler.  LA LA LA I saw nothing LA LA LA...")  He is bonding with me on the ground, and in the saddle, and I take a breath and's okay.  I want to ride, I have goals, I have things I want to do, but he is so well trained and so young, it's okay if he has some weeks of downtime.  He gets to enjoy being a horse, and I get to take drugs and lie on a couch and hope my sinuses stop trying to burst through my cheeks and eyebrows.

I'll be back with that chiro update sometime, I will, I swear.  It was really interesting.  Really!

But now, drugs and sofa and heating pad, please.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

There is no placebo effect in horses

The chiropractor finally came and adjusted Trilogy on Thursday, and I am hugely relieved (and I assume he is, too).

When I first got Ana, I heard about various folks using a wide variety of what seemed questionable practices on horses.  "Woo-woo" is a good way to describe my impression of a lot of them, and equine chiropractice was right up there with some of the woo-woo-iest.  Seriously?  Chiro on a horse?  Y'all be trippin', yo.  But, Ana's significant one-sidedness--she cantered incredibly crooked on her left lead, with her head up high and cocked to the outside--had many people suggesting I try it.  Oh, FINE.  I shall try a bit of woo-woo.

Dr. Butch Quay came and did an initial eval on her, and it was like John Edwards doing a psychic reading.  Without me saying anything, he looked her over and said, "I see.  So she is very crooked when she canters?"  Me: "Yes."  Doc:  "And she can't maintain a circle going to the left--she falls in on that shoulder?"  "...YES!"  "And this right hind leg is hitchy sometimes?  Stiff, drags it out behind?"  "WTF? YES!"  Then he had me stand on a stool behind her so I could look down and see her two incredibly asymmetrical shoulders.  One was healthy and round and muscular, while the other was very flat and obviously weak.

After that, I watched as Butch went over her and found an area of very tight painful spasm behind her left elbow, among other things, and then he adjusted her--which was a bit odd to see.  For one, there is none of that noisy Rice Krispies snap-crackle-pop going on; because horses have horizontal, not vertical, vertebrae, their bodies react differently.  Ana looked confused, but was willing, and at the end she was markedly relaxed.  Butch then explained it appeared Ana had had some sort of significant shoulder injury years before I bought her, or perhaps had been ridden at length in a saddle with a broken tree.  I was stunned.  He had read her like a book.

I then followed his prescribed orders, and within 3 months, I had a completely different horse.  WTF?  How did this...woo-woo work?  But  Wuhl...  :::throws hands in the air:::  There is no placebo effect in horses.  She felt better and moved better because it works.  Woooooo.

So, when I saw Tril's very obviously crooked back end--the point of one hip is almost an inch higher than the other--and his crooked tail (he carries it off to the side), I knew he would need chiropractic care when I bought him.  Butch was incredibly difficult to find and schedule in May-June, so I finally opted for another chiro who works on horses at the track.  He did a good enough job, but he wasn't as thorough as Butch.

So when Tril started stumbling behind and cross-firing in the last few weeks, I knew something was off and it was time to try and get a hold of a chiro.  I still wanted Butch, even though he had been impossible to schedule before.  But Thursday, he came out, and so did the story of May-June.  His wife, who does all of his scheduling, had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had her double mastectomy in May.  Yeah, okay, I completely understand her not getting back to me after my many phone calls.  We're cool, we're cool.  Yikes.  (She is doing very well now and appears cancer-free.  Woot!)

So with that jaw-dropper out of the way, Butch began his assessment.  I'll post that part's a lengthy blog in and of itself.