Saturday, December 21, 2013

"This is your new life now"

Freedom.
(Even Firefly can get all four feet off the ground at once, if motivated)
When I started this blog a little over a year ago, the intent was for it to chronicle my growth with my new equine partner.  Because of various Things life has thrown at me, I am, well, a perpetual newbie (or at least feel like one) as most of the time I'm thinking and feeling variations of "What the heck is that?  What the heck am I supposed to do?"

Well.  That's fitting, I suppose.  But it was a lot more entertaining when it was about random inexplicable swellings and vexing riding technique.

My life, lived always at 90mph, hit a brick wall in October.  As I previously posted, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disease back in August.  I figured start treating that, life will be better than before.  Sadly, no.

Autoimmune diseases are like potato chips--you usually don't have just one.  Now, my second diagnosis is not considered autoimmune--at least not yet (there is some research suggesting it might be)--but it is often seen partying with my first.  This condition is, to quote my rheumatologist, "a bitch."  It's fibromyalgia.

Now, I hated hearing those words come through my rheumatologist's lips when she suggested that was my diagnosis.  Oh, hell no.  Fibro is seen by some as "not a real disease" and means just that "the docs haven't figured out what's really wrong."   However, that's been long since discounted in the medical field--it is a real condition, a real bitch of a condition, that as best can thus be confirmed is described as a neurological disorder relating specifically to the central nervous system.

I have already heard a certain amount of, "Oh, my blankity-blank has that, went gluten-free/dairy free/sugar free, and was cured! You should try it!" (I've kept a symptom and food diary--there is no correlation. Actually, my symptom diary doesn't seem to have ANY correlations to ANY thing, except stress/activity level.) Or, "Have you tried this?" Or, "Have they checked for that?" Or, again, "That just means they haven't found out what's really wrong with you. You should see/try/look into x-y-z." I hate that it's fibromyalgia, because as soon as I say that word, that's what people start saying in all their good intentions. I avoid the word except around those I trust won't be warmly offensive.

Like many neurological conditions, it's a beast to treat.  (Or, perhaps again, a bitch.)  I have the three hallmark symptoms: whole body aches, severe fatigue, and sleep disorder.  The body aches are always present and in varying degrees of severity; when they're bad, they wake me up at night and keep me from moving because it sucks.  The fatigue can be even more disabling, because, no matter what I want to do, my body is positively screaming at me to lie down, NOW.   It's not "I was up late last night" tired, or "I sure had a busy day" tired.  It's a bizarre, drugged feeling, akin to when jussssst waking up from general anesthesia.  When it hits, I must lie down, and I must sleep.  NOW. When I wake up, it may be 20 minutes later, or it may be 3 hours later--the bizarre thing is it feels the same no matter how long I sleep.  I've been shocked the times it was 2-3 hours, because it felt like maybe an hour, tops.  It's like a time warp.  I'm vaguely aware of what's going on at points during that drunken nap, but I can't rouse, and can't be roused.  More peculiarly, I'm often not able to wake completely up after such a nap.  I'm able to get things done--feed horses, make dinner, read to the boys at bedtime--but eventually, my body succumbs once again and I pass out for the night around 8pm.  Many, many nights hubby and I go to watch TV after putting the boys to bed, and I wind up sound asleep soon after.

But while these are the hallmarks of the condition, it comes with oh so many other symptoms.  I've repeatedly told people it's like my body has a grab bag of 20-30 different symptoms, seemingly unrelated, and every morning my body reaches in and grabs a handful or two.  They come in many flavors.  Cardiovascular palpitations and chest pain; digestive nausea, inappetance, and elimination issues; emotional mood affectations ranging from depression to anxiety to irritability.  The bulk of my symptoms, however, appear to be neurological, which is why I'm seeing a neurologist next: tremors (particularly hands--drives me NUTS), numbness and tingling of the mouth, feeling of a thousand ants crawling up the side of my head (sometimes left, sometimes right, but never both sides at once), skull-piercing headaches, intolerance of noise (it's like scores of nails on dozens of chalkboards), foggy vision, inability to concentrate (my eyes start to blur and zone out when trying to read, for example), slurred speech, mixing up words (which has made writing difficult--even in this post, I'm mistyped using similar sounding words, and even a few phrases that just mixed up the order of the words I'm intending to use), faulty memory...it goes on.

Despite my initial revulsion at the diagnosis, four of my doctors--my general practitioner, rheumatologist, endocrinologist, and OB/GYN--all suspected this blasted fibromyalgia diagnosis.  Unfortunately, as I have learned about and lived with this condition, I've slowly come to agree and accept.  There may be some other diagnoses awaiting me--there are a few more minor ones suspected--but for now, the energy is going into controlling this unruly bitch.

Because of this medical mayhem, I have been off work since October 7.  This has been exceedingly difficult for this driven, independent, multi-tasking woman.  My body does not work the way it used to, and that is extremely difficult to adjust to.  Every morning, I must listen to what my body is saying and submit to it.  I cannot change or force myself through it--that guarantees I will be paying for my obstinance for days in the form of the volume of many symptoms being turned up excruciatingly high.  Every day, I must rest after a few hours of activity, or I will pay for it dearly later when my body slams on the emergency brakes.

I have just started physical therapy.  I had a most elucidating, and in a way frightening, appointment this past Thursday.  After my initial assessment (during which the head therapist said I was "very typical fibro"), I was assigned to my specific therapist, and met with her this second visit.  We spent a lot of time talking first, and it was difficult to hear some of the things she said.  Again, I was very typical fibro.  Again, I must be sure to listen very, very carefully to my body.

I told her the madness of trying to get into an exercise program with my horse.  Since being diagnosed, I have done very carefully timed mostly-walking rides on Tril, with some itty bitty bits of trotting and occasional two pointing squeezed in.  I set my phone's timer for 22 minutes and dismount within three minutes of it going off.  The insanity is, on Friday, I may have a great ride on him.  I may two point two full laps around the big ring; I may be able to ride a nice framed-up trot for 3-5 minutes and repeat it after a break, I may be able to bend, pivot, and do lateral work at the walk for a solid 30 minute ride.  But on Monday, after a restful weekend, I may feel heavy and drag, and struggle with simply tightening the girth.  It's beyond frustrating.  But--another component of fibromyalgia is exercise intolerance.  You simply cannot base what you do tomorrow with what you were able to do today.

"This is your new life now," she told me.  I fought back tears as I nodded in agreement.

Because that particular day I was feeling tired and my body heavy, she was gentle in the exercises she chose for me.  She had me first come to a mirrored wall and practice stepping sideways.  That's it--stepping sideways.  I was to focus on keeping my legs straight and move from the hip and move five steps right, then five steps left.  I was stunned, exasperated, and just plain pissed with my body when three steps into it, my lower legs began to tire.  They felt hard and heavy and labored.  THREE sideways steps, and that's what happened.  I was able to finish the task and do two reps with those heavy, tired calves, but that's just ridiculous.  What the fuck, body?

Another exercise that had me both fascinated and internally infuriated involved me sitting in a chair and holding a ball in both outstretched hands.  I was to lift the ball up to the point of tolerance, and then bring it back down.  I was shocked when I was unable to left it past shoulder level without sharp pain in both shoulder joints.  WHAT the...???  The therapist said, "Ah, we're getting into range of motion now."  Again--I was angry that my body would find such a basic task not only laborious, but painful.  It was fascinating...and heart breaking.  I don't understand.

A few days later, doing my exercises at home, I was able to do many more sideways reps, and lift the ball quite a bit higher.  The next day, not as much.  Today, we'll see.  Tomorrow, who knows.

It's so difficult because what I want to do remains the long list of tasks I've enjoyed my whole life through, but each day, my body gives me only so many energy tokens.  Some days it may be 30, some days it may be 10.  Showering is always at least one, so I must choose my tasks carefully.  Today I've baked pumpkin bread, showered, washed my younger son's bed sheets, made lunch, and started another load of laundry.  That's at least five tokens.  I'm not sure how many remain, but I'm saving up for dinner, putting the boys to bed, and taking care of the horses.

That last one remains vital to me.  I must go out and see them, even if I can't ride.  I need their motivation to get up and move, feeding, cleaning, grooming, walking.  On some of my worst days, it is the time at the barn that I feel my best.  Energized, smiling, able to ignore the pain, at least for that short little bit.  Tril and Firefly amuse and recharge me.  Sometimes, I just sit in a patio chair in a corner of Tril's stall after feeding, finding comfort in the soothing sounds of the eating.  Tril will often stop in the middle of his meal to come over to me for some affection.
Such a mush
"Pet meeeeee!"  Mush mush mush
My rheumatologist and physical therapist both encourage me to keep riding as it builds core strength and improves my awareness of my body, but with the caveat that I must be exceedingly attentive to what my body is saying to me that day.  You need this, they told me, but be careful and be wise.  I have been, such that my rheumatologist said she's proud of me.

I wish it were more.  I want it to be more.  I'm early in treatment, so there is great potential for improvement, but as my rheumatologist said, "while the goal is to get you to 100%, the truth is, we may never get you there."

This is my new life now.

I could weep and moan, I could lament and rage, I could fight and lose.  But...why?  Energy comes at a premium these days.  Why waste it to such negativity?  I must accept and adjust.  Not that I do all the time, but, I must.

This is my new life now.  I'd best get busy living it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Not just a boy with a horse, but now, a *horseman*

This day, my son was not a boy with a horse.  He was a horseman.

Firefly revealed why "pony" is seen by many as a four-letter word, and why her nickname with us has always been Firebutt. While he fawned over her, grooming, softly talking, caressing, she ignored him and pushed him about as best she could while tied to the hitching post.  There was plant material on the ground and she wanted it and was doing her damnedest to access it, and if that meant knocking her seven year old caretaker about, so be it.

I watched this unfold from Trilogy's back, my 1000lb sofa during my minimal, walking-only exercise as recommended by the rheumatologist.  From there, I was able to give my son the independence he craved while still secretly supervising.  I could see Firefly was being a Firebutt, and saw my son's face change from warm affection to frustration and anger.

After I finished my 15 minutes of walking, I returned to see he had turned Firefly loose on the property to wander and roll and was cleaning her stall.  I asked what he was doing; he answered he was trying to think of a punishment and had settled putting her to bed without her dinner.  "Um...no, honey.  You can't punish her like a person; skipping a meal could kill her."  (Okay, it's a touch hyperbolic, but it could trigger a colic which could kill her.)  Hearing my gentle correction, my son's brow furrowed and his eyes darkened.  He was angry and frustrated, and was inching toward pouty.  "Let me get the saddle switched on Tril," as we had planned for him to ride after I did, "and then let me help you learn how to punish her the way she'll understand."

As I switched the saddle, I could see my son was hurt his beloved mare had treated him so poorly.  "Can't we just have someone else take care of her until I'm like 15?" he said in his frustration.  "Not get rid of her, just make it so I don't have to take care of her?"

"No, honey.  You need to learn how to handle her in every circumstance.  I saw how she was treating you--she was being naughty.  She needs to be reminded that you are in charge, not her.  Just trust me, hon."  I was surprised my fiercely independent son actually acquiesced and agreed to trust me and try.

With Tril's reins in my hands and Firefly's leadrope in my son's, we led our horses to the round pen.  As we walked, I asked my son if he knew who the real leader of a horse herd was.

"No...?"

"The lead mare.  The stallion protects the herd and signals when it's time to move on to new food and water, but it's the lead mare who handles business in the herd."  An analogy popped up that I hoped would help him understand: "Think of the stallion being like the principal of your school.  He's ultimately in charge for the big decisions, but think of the lead mare being like the teacher in your classroom.  She's the one who takes care of everyone day-to-day; the learning, the behavior, managing the each kid in her class.  Some horses like to be lead mare, and some horses are happy letting others be the leader.  Firefly is convinced she is lead mare--we need to remind her, the way the lead mare in a herd would, that she is mistaken."

I let my son ponder that the rest of the walk up the the pen.

There, I stood with Tril patiently waiting at the gate while my son removed Firefly's halter and schooled her through each step of my basic instruction on natural horsemanship.

"In the wild, a horse is punished by being kicked out of the herd.  They're sent away and not allowed to rejoin," I said.  "In the wild, that's a death sentence.  A horse without the protection of the herd is easy pickings for predators, like what you've seen with buffalo and wildebeast."  My son loves all things with hooves and horns, and watches multiple documentaries on them.  As a result, he has a firm understanding of the importance of staying with the herd (as well as a tremendous hatred of lions).

"The banished horses will gallop back and forth trying to get reconnected with the herd, but the lead mare will block their attempts--until the naughty horse submits and apologizes.  Remember how a horse shows you they're submitting?"

"Yes, moving the mouth and licking and chewing," he confidently responded.

"Yes, and sometimes even then, the mare will say, 'No, you were too naughty, I'm not ready to accept your apology yet.'  Eventually, though, she lets them rejoin and the punished horse is much more quiet and willing to do whatever is asked."  Son was silent and processing.  "Now it's your turn.  Send her around this arena.  Make her work when she doesn't want to.  Make it clear this is not turn out--there will be no rolling or attempts to nibble on the grass on the other side of the fence.  Make her move, make her turn, make her listen to you."

My son had done something like this before, so he got to work cracking the lunge whip and making her go without ever touching her.  She tried to ignore him at first, and a few times tried to sneak past him (with some success), but he stayed on her and made her go until she submitted.  When she did, she was allowed to rejoin his "herd" and walk alongside--but, as history had told me she would, she lost interest in submitting and soon chose to hang with Tril and I at the gate.

"Don't let her do that--make her listen to you the entire time."  Away son went, making Firebutt move and change direction until once again she would listen.
The mare is leader no more
This time, she stayed with him, intent, cautious, submissive.  They walked as a herd of two along the circumference of the pen, Firefly always accepting her position as follower while my son led.  He'd stop, she would stop respectfully behind him.  He'd turn, she'd follow.

A herd now complete
I glowed in pride.  After a little time, I asked my son if he was ready to ride Tril now.

"Mom, go ahead and let my younger brother ride.  I just want to stay here with Firefly.  Would you mind bringing me some carrots to scatter in the pen for her?"

My heart melted.  These two friends had had their first fight, and now had made up, and were closer than ever before.

That's my fine young horseman.
Bonded even more closely than before

Thursday, August 22, 2013

My body is SEEERiously pissing me off now

I haven't posted anything in a while, I know.  This is because my body has decided to have a tantrum, and I feel cuh-rappy most of the time.

It's a long story that normally I'd share (what's a blog for, if not to indulge in the long story?), but I feel crappy.  Shitty, actually.

In short, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis.  This is a disease in which my autoimmune systems has decided my thyroid needs to DIE DIE DIE! and goes on the attack until it is completely destroyed.  There is no cure.  Some fortunate people are diagnosed early in the disease and are medicated with gradually increasing doses of thyroid hormone to compensate for the doomed gland and it becomes no big deal.  However, I've likely had this disease for over 20 years, and it was only diagnosed when things got so bad it interfered with function.

I have literally every symptom of Hashi's listed on the WebMD and MayoClinic pages, and seem to be enjoying the more unusual swings of going hypo- and hyperthyroid.  This means at times I am drunk-overtired and severely fatigued (I've heard it described as three steps ahead of a coma), throbbing with severe body aches, constantly freezing, and gaining weight despite eating light and healthy, as always.  Then, in the span of a day (or even less), it'll swing the other way: I'll be jittery, with a resting pulse around 110, and annoyed by ridiculously shakey hands and constant heart palpitations.  During that phase, I'll drop up to four pounds in 36 hours.  From what I understand, the hypo phase is when the thyroid is under attack during a "flare up," and a hyper attack is when the still-valiantly-if-hopelessly-trying-to-function thyroid swings into overdrive trying to compensate.  Severe headaches, paper-dry skin, chest pain, foggy vision, inability to concentrate (that one really grates me), thinning hair (AWEsome), seriously funky muscle weakness, a chronically hoarse voice, and joint aches join in the fun on a regular basis.

What I struggle to understand is why I've felt progressively worse in the last three months.  It's gone from infrequent sprinklings of bleh to impossible-to-function periods that are becoming closer and closer together.  The last month has been really, really rough.

I'm in the midst of testing and specialists.  A thyroid ultrasound revealed a solid nodule on the left lobe, in addition to the thyroid having a general appearance "consistent with diagnosis."  Now, a nodule is not unusual in this condition, but a singular solid one is.  Multiple, fluid-filled cystic ones are more common, and more typically, benign.  Singular, solid ones are more likely to be cancer.  Suuuuuper.  Not that I'm in a panic of "OMG! CANCER!"  More like, "Ah, FUCK ME.  Another physical set back?!  Can I just go on about my life now?"

Still, while statistically it is more probable to be cancer in a patient like me with the symptoms I have (and their increasing magnitude and frequency), it's still also statistically unlikely to be cancer.  Numbers are my friends (teaching math and all), so I understand the logic.  Even emotionally, I understand.

I've started medication, but it's a low dose and will take about another month or so for me to see results.  But hey, at least I'm on that road as opposed to trying to find it.  Next up is an appointment with an endocrinologist to determine if the nodule will be biopsied (I'm going to push for it), while also going over some quizzical blood test results that point toward yet another possible autoimmune disease.  (I was told ADs are like potato chips--you usually don't have just one.)

Thing is, I'm seriously pissed I'm not out riding my horse.  I miss it.  I need it.  Yet at the same time, no, no I'm not.  I'm too tired and worn down to get upset, which is, intellectually, more upsetting.  This is particularly the case considering nearly all of my physical energy has gone into going back to the classroom this fall for the start of a new teaching year, my muscle weakness and general physical fatigue has reached the point where, shockingly, I don't want to ride.  I can't imagine having the energy to.  Hell, I told my hubby you know I'm feeling shitty when I say I'd rather lie on the couch than go just sit in the shade at the barn.

Part of me is feeling a certain amount of despair and wants to just quit.  Sell Trilogy, maybe keep Firefly for the boys, maybe not.  Give up.

That's my body.  My heart can't bear it.  Although right now, I'm too tired to feel that heartache.

I understand my health needs to take priority, and Tril and Fly will be okay as long as their needs are met, but I'm exasperated that I have finally started getting back in riding shape, finally making that connection, finally learning Tril's language, and boom.  Right now, I don't even want to go to equine message boards or read horsey magazines...I don't want to be reminded of what I'm missing.

Believe it or not, this is the short version of the story. The long one goes into the ER visit, and the cardiologist, and the heart rhythm specialist, and then goes back even deeper into the doctor-visits-that-went-nowhere-but-showed-SOMEthing-they-couldn't-determine 20 and 15 years ago as symptoms first started appearing.

I'd type more, but I'm tired.

Dammit.

I need to go watch some kitten videos.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Just because your NAME is "Trilogy" doesn't mean it ALL has to come in threes!

Update after Monday's vet visit: Good GRIEF my boy is talented. He had three different things going on...mercifully, none of them serious and requiring more than rest.

1) His left front had a reaction to the Rap Last. The skin is red and irritated, but not swollen. Washing it off and hosing it, as I've already done, is likely all that was necessary there.

2) His right front--the big ugly swollen mess--was likely caused by some sort of blunt trauma. He kicked himself, he got cast, he...uh...yeah, we likely will never know. His tendons and feet are fine, and most lameness is gone now. The swelling and heat was still present at the time of examination, but significantly better. Treatment: more of what I've been doing. Cold hose, Bute, rest.  A week later, it's essentially gone.

3) Now, what had me scratching my head--his slightly depressed demeanor. Apparently, he has a respiratory infection. No fever, no runny nose, but a bit of a cough. I noticed the cough in particular when lunging him yesterday to check for soundness--I showed the vet the video of it I made on my phone. He said it wasn't the normal throat-clearing cough some horses do at the beginning of exercise--"Yeah, that's not normal." Just for emphasis, Tril did some coughing when I trotted him during his lameness exam. The doc listened to his lungs and said they were essentially clear, but there were some sounds at the beginning that he compared to an asthmatic reacting to a smoggy day. There's been a mild respiratory thing going down the line of the properties, though the other two horses had snotty noses. Maybe it just went straight to Tril's airways--like these dang bugs tend to do with mine??

This means Tril just needs about two weeks of rest. Not stall rest, mercifully, but he shouldn't do anything that will increase his respiratory rate. Getting on and walking around with buddies will be fine.

So WAY TO GO TRIL! Three different things going on. A "trilogy" if you would.  

How typical of him. Nothing serious, nothing too difficult to treat, nothing major...just a whole lot of somethings.


And now, just five days later, he's a fire-breathing dragon.  The swelling on the right front is gone, the cough subsided, and he is done with this walking crap.  I lunged him a bit yesterday, and while he was more or less good (if a bit more deaf to commands than usual), I could tell he was on the verge of being a 1000lb kite.
I love the mildly annoyed handler's unruffled and unimpressed expression.  
He also didn't cough once on the lungeline, so back on the property I took his halter off and let him snort and gallop about just to run off the stupids.  It's a catch-22--he needs rest, but he also needs to not lose his mind.

He was sound, snorty, and happy, but I didn't let him do too much.  While he grazed-twitched-spooked-galloped-rolled-repeat, I turned my attention to cleaning his stall...and, yeah.  Boy is BORED.  His poop was scattered all throughout the stall, a sign of a bored horse pacing and kicking his crap all over the place.  Oof.  I'm glad I let him out, if however limited.

Two weeks of this?  Really?  And we're not even done with week one?  

I don't know which one of the two of us is going to need that calming supplement more.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Well, CRAPPITY CRAP CRAP

It has been established here that Tril is skilled destroyer, but not due to malicious intent.  No, Tril is a sweet, but endlessly curious, goofball.  And while curiosity is reputed to kill the cat, cats are also reputed to have nine lives to balance out that equation.  Horses seem to have a most tenuous grasp on the one life they've got.

After I returned from brief vacation, I gave Tril a sort of play and spa day.  Rather than get straight to riding after four days off, I took him out, secured the polo wraps, and turned him out to play.  Cracking the lunge whip a few times to encourage him, he galloped and played with enthusiasm, but not over excitement.  A few times in his exuberance, I heard his hooves clapping together as he tangled and untangled those limbs, and while I noted a minor cut on a rear pastern, no damage seemed to be done.  I did think about bell boots--which are designed to protect against this exact type of injury--and wondered if they are designed to work on hind feet as much as front.  Bah, I thought, that's for another time.

I hosed him off, groomed him thoroughly, and brought out his wardrobe.  Fly sheet, check.  New hock boots (the type to protect against bed sores), check.  Fly mask, check.  Hmmm...the flies were really biting his front legs, too--time to take out his fly boots.

Now, again, it also has been established Tril is very skilled with that mouth of his.  Leg wraps and boots, left unattended, are for shredding and entertainment.  (Ditto reins, lead ropes, hoses, sprinklers, water fountains, jump poles, mounting blocks...)  Oh, but I've got you all figured out, Tril-man.  I have discovered RAP LAST!
Now with more capsaisin for your mouth-burning pleasure
Yeah, wanna chomp on those fly boots?  Huh?  Sound like fun?  Hmmmmmmm?  Well, get a solid bite of habanero-flavored OH NO YOU DON'T!

So after two hours of playtime, grooming, and attentiveness (incidentally, my eldest was showering our mini with similar attention, exercise, and affection, so she wasn't left out), I left feeling like Good Horsey Mommy.

Then I arrive today with eldest, all set for me to ride and then eldest to ride in his new Wintec saddle, and I am happy to see both front fly boots are on.  The hock boots fell off, but whatever, 50% success rate is good for me.

Then I take the damn fly boots off.

What the fuck is THIS?  No, seriously...the fuck?  
Puffy McPuffy Ankle is puffy

Um...there shouldn't be a bump in front of the fetlock joint!  Learn from your white-footed friend there.  See?  No bumpy in front.  Everyone's doing it. 

CRAP
I take that left fly boot off, and gasp.  His ankle is a puffy, boggy, hot, pulsing mess.  CRAP.

Seeing the right front is also a teensy bit puffy and appears to have sweat marks or somesuch on it, I assumed--hoped--his skin was reacting to the capsaisin-saturated Rap Last.   I first lunged him for soundness, and as has to be obvious, he's lame on that leg.  But he's not horribly lame on it; when my mare tore a tendon sheath, she was head-bobbing lame even at the walk.  This was definitely a bob of the head, but not a dramatic UPdownUPdownUPdown of extreme ouchiness.

CRAP.

I cold-hosed the leg (rinsing the other leg as well), hand walked him, and gave him a solid dosing of Bute.  At this point, I was 75% believing it was a reaction to the Rap Last.

 Uh, Tril, trying to help you out here.  

Okay, go ahead, have a drink.  Over and over again.  Okay...uh...okay, shall we get to that hot puffy ankle now?

CHOMP.  Well, I suppose this was an inevitability.  Not only did he bite it, he like to play with his bite to make the water pressure change.  Playful little big goofball.
Then I went back to feed him his dinner about 6 hours later, and saw it was WORSE.  Forget crap, this has now escalated to aw, FUCK.

With his old healed splint and now whatever this is on the inside of his cannon bone, his leg looks ALL kind of ugly wrong right now.  

The white foot is a little puffy too, but not even half as bad as its neighbor--which has lost all definition.  Shouldn't I see tendons and things between the knee and fetlock?  CRAAAAAPPPP

Oof.  I'm gonna need a drink.

Holy shit, that is ugly looking.

This time I took him out for a more careful assessment, and found a squishy dome of not-supposed-to-be-here starting about and inch and a half below the knee.  His ankle definitely was warm to the touch, but I no longer detected a pulse--which made sense, really.  It doesn't appear to be an issue in the foot, but something above the fetlock.  I think all that swelling is just being thrown down.  Maybe.  I dunno. 

FUCK.  

Time to call my vet.  He found it hopeful that Tril isn't severely lame, and thinks it may be one of two things--a reaction to the Rap Last, or he kicked something. We're waiting until Monday for the appointment as long as he holds steady in this condition.  I was advised not just to cold hose, but use soap and scrub the legs to ensure removal of all the peppery oils (well, DUH, of course--why didn't I think of that??), keep up Bute, and NOT to wrap his legs.  Since Tril is a notorious standing wrap-rip-aparter, the vet warned that behavior can actually worsen an injury as he's pulling on tendons and everything else while getting his bandage chew on.  Brilliant, Tril.  Seriously, I've said it before--how the heck does Darwin keep missing you?!

So what did he do?

Did he react to the Rap Last?  (I will be puh-ISSED if that $15 bottle costs me $400 in vet bills.)  Did he get into "No, this is MY bucket!" bickering with his butt-biting neighbor?  Did he get cast in his stall somehow and bang himself up extricating himself?  Did he nail something more than a hoof in his overreaching, exuberant strides in turnout?

New marks above his eye and in front of his jaw.  Clues?  Or red herrings? 

Crap if I know.  Crappity crap crap.

But, the thing is, if this had happened six months ago, I would have felt a different way.  I've become bonded to him now, and really have come to appreciate and adore him.  He's just the sweetest thing, if too curious and too playful for his own good on occasion.  He hasn't a drop of nasty or malicious blood in him.  Wary, yes; untrusting of people he doesn't know, true; but not the least bit unkind.  But today, he felt secure enough to show me he was hurting. It was in his face, his eye, his movement. He, a prey animal, showed me the ultimate weakness for his kind.  

It's okay, baby.  No matter what has happened, we'll make it right.  
I'm sorry, it's just what I do.
Just please...try not to do anything else to yourself in the meantime.


Friday, July 12, 2013

House shopping photo and description WTF?s

While I'm on the topic of buying horse property, I have to vent my WTF??s at some of the photo choices--and wording choices--realtors put on their online ads for a property. Because, seeeeriously.

I find that some realtors are inexperienced with selling, and thus marketing, horse property.  It's not uncommon for the only horse-related photos of the property to be a zoomed in shot of the horse on site.  Not the barn stalls, paddocks, pipe corral, tack room, hay storage, water and electric hook-ups--just the horse.  Um...yes, he's cute, but he's not coming with the property--show us something, I dunno, USEful to us, eh?

Then there are some that swing the pendulum this way.
Look!  Bedding and we even provided...uh...moss? Mold? Styrofoam mountain? Easter grass?
Seriously, WTF?  All the things they could show us, and they went for the floor of the stall?  Which MIGHT make sense if it was showing stall mats throughout or something, but...uh??

(At least this place showed the barn and the rafters, as well as the arena.  Not the fencing, water supply, tack room, or feed room, but at least evidence there is a place to keep a horse here.)


Thursday, July 11, 2013

To horse property, or not to horse property

I have an itch.  And while I am fully stocked with antihistamines and Calamine lotion, none of those will satisfy this nagging sensation:  I want my horses at home.  I want to look out my window and see their eager, perpetually-hungry faces and hopeful pricked ears.

But I also have a problem: my husband and I live and work in Los Angeles County, one of the most densely populated areas in the country.  I grew up in a state with a total population of 6 million; I now live in a county with a total population over 9 million.  All those bodies need to go somewhere, and lately, it's being squeezed into every free space available.

The latest trend is to take properties on large (that is, large for SoCal) lots--an acre or so--and divide them up into smaller lots, build homes (yes, plural) on them, and sell them for profit.  Profit, profit, profit!...at the price of space.  I have seen local horse properties and their facilities converted into townhomes, guest quarters, tennis courts, and multiple-vehicle storage.  I have seen horse communities slowly disappear as owners move on, and non-horsey folk move in. Eventually some folks become essentially an island of equestriandome, and often with nonhorsey neighbors offended by the presence of the horses that were there long before they were.

Horse properties and communities are more common if I go about 15 miles east, but then the problem becomes the wicked commute it would create (an hour a day each way) as well as the dust and high heat that comes with moving into the desert areas.  It just isn't feasible.

There are horse properties out here, but they are limited.  Beggars can't be choosers, and all that.  Problem is, dangit, I'm picky. Double-problem is, so is hubby.  Compromise is an inevitability.

But, what do we need to be willing to compromise on, and what are definitive lines in the sand?

Heckifiknow.  At least, for now.

Monday, June 17, 2013

"These kind of things happen to everyone sooner or later."

Well, FUCK.
We have been introducing Firefly to a saddle, with the hope she could pack our 3yro around in a leadline class at the next show.  The idea is to make the show a family affair--have my older son show Firefly in halter, then the younger can be led about on her while the older son is led on Tril, then I can do a couple of classes on Tril.  Sounds great; still does.  Especially when Firefly has been doing so well.
Typical, "Don't really give a crap" attitude.

"I give a crap only in that you're making me work.  Boo work."

"No work = no crap given."

And not a crap was given that day.  Little dude sure loved it, though.
The problem is our trailer--it's a slant-load, with a divider that doesn't go all the way to the floor.  How do I transport a full sized horse and a 36" mini safely?  Well, step one is...bring the trailer over and see what we can figure out.  
Oof.
Well--while it wasn't as bad as it could have been, I could see it from there, which is enough to scare the shit out of me while also make me angry at myself. Everyone's okay, at least physically.
I loaded Tril first, and like how he's been when we've loaded him on a friend's trailer for our joint riding lessons, he wouldn't go in unless hubby got behind and pushed him on the butt. But then, we got him in and he snacked on the alfalfa while I shut the divider.
After a few moments to let him adjust, I brought up Firefly. She marched right in, and I was hopeful as she seemed just taller enough not to fit under the divider. I thought about tying her to a post in the back corner where there is more space, but there was no good place to tie (hubby pointed to an ideal location and said if he knew how, he'd weld a hook there for her). So I stood next to her while she was alongside Tril, and was just checking for position and safety, her lead rope in my hand. 
Then, somehow, she got her butt just a hair under that divider, found her butt a bit wedged which made her worry, felt Tril which made her spook, and kicked in surprise. Tril freaked and kicked back a few times, throwing his confined body against the divider that mercifully held. The whole thing was maybe 2 seconds at most, but it was two seconds of loud and kicking hooves. Hubby yelled, "Get out of there!" and I jumped out, Firefly still in hand. Hubby took her, and I hopped back in to soothe Tril, who was shaking all over and definitely feeling stuck. He didn't completely freak out, though he was certainly frightened. I wasn't about to undo the divider with him that scared, though, and risk him bolting over or past me. So, I just stayed with him and gently touched his rump, talking softly until his eyes softened a bit and he stopped quivering. After a few minutes, when I felt the adrenalin had passed, I undid the divider to lead him out. While he was eager to exit, he had enough sense to listen and walk carefully and respectfully, if quickly, out.
I looked him over and lunged him and saw nothing obvious, though he'll probably be somehow sore from the whole ordeal so I gave him some Bute regardless.
I figured...fuck. Now, whereas before he was reluctant to get on a trailer, now his attitude is "Fuck no." Not, "FUCK YOU AND FUCK NO AND FUCK OFF!" Just...planting his feet, refusing to go forward, and "Fuck no." I wanted immediately to replace this negative event with a positive experience and tried to get him back on the trailer for maybe 30-45min or so...it wasn't happening, at least not in that time frame. The boys (who had accompanied us--hitching up the trailer is very exciting for them, and we thought this would be brief) were restless and hubby was understandably losing patience with restless boys, so there wasn't time to completely correct my mistake.
I found if I pulled on him at all to try and get him in, he'd throw his head straight back. I wasn't about to have him flip over on me, so part of what I worked on with him was just not throwing back his head and not freezing in fear as we approached. I tried bribing him with Mrs. Pastures cookies, and that was successful in getting him near--but not in--the trailer. Hubby pushing behind now has Tril going sideways. Eventually, I just sat at the edge of the trailer, and found it interesting that when I did that, Tril was relaxed to just stand there with me. The closest I could get him to the inside of the trailer was when I'd be sitting there. But if I'd stand up, he'd get a little worried.
I needed a positive experience to end with, and time wasn't allowing for it to be getting him on the trailer. I had to settle with it being me standing up in the trailer, lead rope pulling his head gently in, and him accepting a cookie as far into the trailer as his neck would reach (those feet were NOT moving). *sigh*
Firefly, meanwhile, was also a bit shaken up but over it quickly. She also had zero problem marching right in. Though a bit concerned at first, she was thrilled to see Tril's alfalfa still there, and relaxed as I let her dive into it for a few bites. Well, so at least that's good.
So everyone is physically fine, as far as I can tell, and half the involved equines doesn't seem any worse for wear mentally. The other...um...CRAP.
I'm unnerved by this, angry I did this, and embarrassed if not ashamed.  An experienced horseperson acknowledged what I knew--Tril had just trained me and now his trailer problems will likely be worse--but she also comforted me with the words that titled this blog post:  "These kind of things happen to everyone sooner or later."  I would prefer not to ever, though, thankyouverymuch.  Dammit.
I battle anxiety, self-doubt, and emotional discomfort with knowledge.  In the days since, I dove into various books and instructional videos, and am focusing on the common theme:  this is not a trailer problem, this is a leading problem.  I found many trainers, some unknown, some nationally-known, had the same idea: control the horse's feet.  Don't bribe, don't use a second person, don't go in first, don't force--work on the ground to build up relationships, and then work on controlling the horse's feet, then work on telling the horse where to take those feet.  Take my time.  Use a dressage whip (or similar) to reinforce requests.
I'm not mentioning trainers by name because, honestly, I don't think there's any one right way--the right way is the one that works for that horse.  I find some trainers a bit dubious, particularly when they start pushing their brand of a product, but that doesn't mean I toss out their approaches completely.  I don't want to get into a battle of this person vs. that person, or a pro-her or anti-him.  I just look for something that seems to make sense in my situation.  "Try it.  If it doesn't work, I try something else."  Best advice anyone in the horse world ever gave me.
Today, instead of just lunging Tril, I did some round pen and groundwork with him.  While at first confused, he quickly learned and was eager to perform and please.  I found myself wishing I'd brought my trailer because within 10min, I felt he was ready to try.  But that will be tomorrow.
My goal is he will be better at loading into a trailer than he was before the heart attack moment once this is all said and done--we'll see how it goes.

The nice thing is, all that groundwork seemed to help set up a very nice ride.  So, yaaaaaay.

Meanwhile, it looks like trailering both at the same time is out.  Oof.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Our first show together: We did it! Now, please dip me in ibuprofen

It's been a few days since Trilogy and I had our first show together, and it's taken a few days for me to recover, because holy crap that was exhausting.  Monday I just became one with the couch for half the day while my body hummed in fatigue.  

I actually enjoy doing all the prep myself--the bathing, the Show Sheening, the tack cleaning--there is comfort in the routine and ritual.  But, as I get older (and more specifically, as my life has become busier), I spread it out over the days before the show.

I never get manicures and rarely buy new shoes.  Tril, on the other hand... 
All clean and ShowSheened, showing off his manly maroon now-don't-go-lie-in-your-piss-puddle sheet.

Now, this show honestly was not really well suited for Tril and me.  While it was a hunter show and Tril is a huntseat pleasure horse, it was a hunter show--which means the rings were full of warmbloods, thoroughbreds, and thoroughbred-type other breeds brought by trainers bringing their clients along.  When I filled out the online pre-registration for the show, I was vexed by all the names I had to enter that were all, essentially, me:  Owner, Rider, Recipient of Award Money (??), Trainer.  Um...yeah, no. I have a riding lesson instructor, sure, but at this point I had had precisely three lessons on him, the most recent a month before.  But looking at the other pre-entries, everyone else there had a trainer, and a whoooooole lot of people were riding a horse owned by someone else.  Doh.  Welllll...let's just go do this thing anyway.

I gotta say first of all--I have amazing friends.  A-MAZE-ing friends.  One friend had already volunteered to be my groom for me that morning, but two others who happened to be at the barn that morning to care for their horses also stepped in to help wherever and whenever they could, as well as to be my cheerleaders.  They also calmed my nerves during a brain-fart-induced panic of, "OMG Where is the other rein??  I look home my schooling and show bridle to clean and oil them; how do I now only have ONE rein for each bridle?!"  GAH.  Worry, stress, beginnings of frazzle...then my friend, looking at the reins, said, "Are they split reins?"  Me:  "Oh.  Uh...no.  I forgot, I didn't unbuckle the reins when I cleaned them so it looks like one long rein."


HowEVER, there was an "Aw, CRAP!" moment when I went to put on my freshly cleaned and oiled show girth.  It fell so short with my saddle, it didn't even reach the billets--like, was 2-3" away from the billets.  That's when I remembered--while I rode Tril in my old 46" schooling girth, I had stopped using it on Ana because it had become so stretched out it didn't fit her anymore.  The 46" show girth had not stretched out, and Tril is a big beefy boy compared to dainty Ana.  Her blanket size: 68.  His: 76-78.  That truly 46" girth was not happening.  But, oh crud (literally)--my schooling girth was misshapen from years of use and stained with sweat salt--I mean, ew.  And of course, all my leather cleaning products were at home.  But my friend came to the rescue when she ran--literally ran!--back to her barn to get some leather cleaner and a rag.  And I gotta say--that stuff was miraculous.  That girth actually looked, well, not like crap on the leather parts.  (The elastic--feh, but the saddle flaps covered that.)

I treated this show like a fresh start: new horse, right?  And in a way, a new body.  So let's have some new show clothes.  My hunt coats and nearly all of my show shirts had both been purchased over 10 years ago and tailored to fit my pre-baby body--and while I can still get them on, they don't look or feel all that great.  Certain things have changed since those babies were born, and I accept certain things just ain't ever going back to the way they were before.  (My neck is thicker--WTF?--and that makes those hideous collars regular choke chains.) So, I exchanged some really nice but really unnecessary for me $120 breeches I'd won in a raffle at a local tack shop for store credit, and used the bulk of that credit for a new hunt coat and a few other goodies.

I put on my new show clothes, put Tril in his German martingale for some schooling, and was off to DO THIS THING.  (eeek)

First, the warm up ring.
Oh yeah, smiling now.  No other pics of me smiling, sadly.  That's notsomuch because I was that bummed, but that tired.
My friend who volunteered to be my groom also served as trainer and videographer, while the leather-cleaner-to-the-rescue friend was photographer.

My friend-trainer rides hunter/jumper on the A circuit, so she is well versed in all the doings and needs to be dones.  She schooled me and I got my feel, and Tril was dang professional.  My friend commented how much she liked Tril, especially for me--he was just doing his job.

Sadly, warm up had to end and The Real Thing had to start.

I think I started holding my breath here.

Our first class was walk-trot equitation, which is the most torturous of all as it's all about ME and not the horse.  Deep breath, and...

Breathe.
...in we went.

Now, lemme tell yah.  In my many years of showing on the local open circuit, walk-trot classes were nearly always small.  Sometimes as many as ten, but nearly always under five.  Not this time.  Oh, crap.

No really, breathe.
The ring was busy with various bodies as well as various jumps scattered about, and this was as much a lesson in steering as anything.

Honestly, these classes are a blur because they went for FREAKING EVER.  I cannot remember ever doing that much trotting in a class.  EVER.  First of all, walk-trot tended to use just half the arena, but because of the number of entries, we used to full circumference of that massive ring.  Second of all, we rarely would trot more than once, maaaaybe twice, that full circumference.  Not with this judge.  I realized I was passing my friends at least three times in each direction.  I was a panting, shaking mess after just the first class.

These photos were taken in the first two, I believe--Walk/Trot Equitation and Walk/trot Obedience.

Not too bad, if I-the-ever-self-critical do say so myself.

Ooh, even nicer.

"And riders, return to the walk."  OH THANK GOD

Pretty boy knows his job

Sometimes I think it looks like I'm riding a Breyer model.

Trotting.  

More trotting.  OH SWEET CRAP THE MORE TROTTING.
Tril was such a dutiful boy--except on the straightaways, he wanted to go straight away a WHOLE lot faster.  It didn't get out of hand, but it sure as hell couldn't have looked good.

Finally, the time came to line up.  That's when I looked to my left and right and counted.

I can't believe I haven't asphyxiated yet from lack of oxygen. 
 Oh, CRAP.  There are 13 of us in here.  That means my likilihood of getting a single token ribbon (given only 1st-6th) is approximately NOT.  Seven of us were going to be unplaced and have no clue if we were 7th or 13th.
Nope, not me.  Cute hunter paint pony though.
I originally cropped this image thinking it might be a nice Facebook profile photo--until the crop revealed the complete "Aw, CRAP!"-iness of my expression and mood.

Aw, it's okay.  You might feel better if you breathe.

I exited the arena dejected, but my friends were now in cheerleader mode and were having none of it.  "You did great!  Nobody even came close to dying!"

The next class was Hunter Under Saddle, and I withdrew figuring the writing was on the wall--my high neckset Arab was not going to be competitive against these long and low hunters.  I debated scratching out of the Walk/Trot Over Rails class--basically trotting over poles--but my friends encouraged, cheered, comforted, and encouraged some more. 

Know what was even more super-awesome?  The show organizers encouraged me to go in.  I was noticeably dejected and felt a bit out of place, but they gently sprinkled me with their positive words and energy and I took a breath and accepted it.  You gotta love a show run by people like that, especially when the day of the show has to be so darn stressful to them.

I sat back, letting the others go before me so I could both watch them do the pattern as well as catch my breath.  I realized--wait, this won't be so bad!  The whole class would only last about a minute for me.  I can do that!  Then I can sit and rest some more! YES.

So, we went in, and my super excited friends forgot to take photos and video--but that's okay.

And it was just...wonderful.  FUN, even.

We trotted in, trotted our courtesy circle, and approached the first pole.  Tril pricked his ears like a happy little jumper and then happily jumped it at dead center.  I laughed, then approached the next three poles--and he trotted right over them, dead center, ears pricked, me lifted up in a two-point like my body remembered from when I was a fearless jumper in my teenage years.  I still remembered my training from all that time ago--eyes up, look at center, hands forward, eyes on the next "jump."  And Tril, unlike the lesson horses I'd ridden as a kid, LOVED it.  When we finished and did our final courtesy circle, we at one time were in front of the first pole, and he pricked his ears and readied his body--hee, he wanted to go over that one too.  Sorry, boy, fun is over.  

We left the arena and I was exuberant--it had simply been fun.  Then I choked up remembering--this had been the last class I ever rode Ana in.  She had jumped the first pole, causing me to burst out laughing--and Tril had done the same.  Tril, whose back was sprinkled in white hairs from the show pad that refuses to shed them all despite washing.   Tril, who wore Ana's retired tail bag when I couldn't find his during all the show prep.  

Then, we placed--I yelped with pleasure when I heard we were fourth.  Fourth!  Of eleven!  Even when Ana had won the class, we were just first of three.  Tril and I actually defeated more competition.  

I grinned like an idiot and wore than ribbon on my hunt coat like most horse show moms do with their kids' ribbons.  I was so proud of him and me both, and so relieved, it made the rest of the day's stress melt away.

I confess, I'm totally bribing him with a carrot here.  Yes, I gave it (and a ton more) to him.
We rode in one more class, hunter pleasure, and were blanked in it as I anticipated.  That was okay.  Honestly, it was.  At that point I was more focused on just getting him to maintain his rhythm at the trot without racing away.  I shortened my reins considerably, which is really the opposite of what you want in a pleasure class, but again my goal was to maintain his focus.  (And not die.  My friend said it was the longest flat class she ever saw.  GAH.)

When I came home and reflected on the day, I realized what a wonderfully good boy Tril had been.  Despite all the chaos of the show--EZ Up Tents all along the arena fence, folding chairs everywhere (both on the ground and being moved about), buckets and towels everywhere, a grill under the judge's booth spewing steam and smoke during the class, a dog that trotted into the arena (on leash, at least, and he only went a few steps) right in front of us, trailers everywhere, stuff and activity everywhere--he just didn't care.  Not a flicked ear, not even the beginning of a spook, nothing.  Even though we normally ride alone, he didn't give a hoot about sharing the arena with a dozen other horses.  Not when they were to his inside, not to his outside, not when they came up a bit close on his butt, nothing.  He was completely professional.  

This excited, excites, me for the next show.  I can't wait.

What a good boy.




Thursday, June 6, 2013

This weekend: First show in 2 years and UTTERLY TERRIFIED

I confess.  I love showing.

I confess.  I'm utterly terrified at getting back in the ring.

To clarify, I don't show the upper-echelon "A" circuit--I do the local open and schooling shows.  And I do find great pleasure in them--as much the prep as the show itself.  I loved grooming Ana to gleaming white, getting dressed in that torturous outfit, and going in and strutting our stuff however well or poorly.  We did very well in our little local circuit, bringing home multiple championships in the walk-trot division.

Ten years together, lots of pretty colors

Why walk-trot?  Well, at first we were newbies.

Then I had a baby.  Then I had back surgery.  (Her canter was brutal on my spine...ugh, I can still feel it just recalling the pain.)  Then I had another back surgery.

My absolute favorite-favorite show pic of us.  This was our first show after my second back surgery.  That time around, the pain and damage was so bad, I faced a very real fear that I may never walk, work, or ride again.  But...I did.  Eventually, I did. This show was just my sixth time back in the saddle and I was sloppy and weak, but Ana took care of me.  This photo captures the moment our names were called as division champions.

Then I had another baby.  Then she went semi-permanently lame behind due to arthritis.

Then...she was gone.

Taken at our last show together, two years ago this month.  We would lose her just three months later.

 It was fun making such a graceful, delicate girl look awkward and goofy.  Still miss her.

This Sunday, June 9, I will once again be in the show ring, putzing about in the walk-trot division.

Why walk trot?  Well, because Tril and I are newbies as partners.

His hind end is still recovering and he isn't to canter under saddle yet.  I actually have never cantered him except during the trial ride--over a year ago.

My busted ankle has finally recovered--after 14mos--to where it is only vaguely, occasionally stiff.

But mostly, because we are newbies as partners, I've done two shows in five years (and nothing in the last two), and I am terrified of going back in.  This is a local schooling show, but it has seriously professional attendance.

Tril's the seasoned show pro--so at least we both aren't Perpetual Newbies--but, GAH.

Our first class is equitation, so I have to focus on keeping my left shoulder from trying to migrate to the right side as it collapses in twisted resignation, a lingering effect of the severe back injuries (the pain radiated down the left side) that I cannot seem to retrain my body out of.  But at least after that class, I don't have to think about me--I just have to think about Tril.

Schooling the other week and sitting the trot.  Um...Laura...get your hands out of your crotch.  NOT attractive.

Since this ride, I've been focusing on lifting my collapsed left side and using my legs to push him more into the frame.  He's lazy, so out of shape me means rubbernecking him, German martingale or not.

Double butt shot

Better...

Work in progress
I'd like to do all five classes in the division, but don't know if I have the stamina.  I also don't know if Tril will maintain his focus--he gets bored easily and that's when he does things like put his tongue over the bit (and thus all but cover his ears and say "LA LA LA LA!" to cues from my hands).  Lately, we seem to have "gotten" each other, but I fear it being just a big mess otherwise.  I think I'll just go in and see how long I last.

The show is at our home facility, so we don't have to trailer anywhere, and I have a friend who is going to come help be my groom.  Since hubby has to wrangle the 7yro and 3yro, I knew he couldn't help me out, but I was prepared to go alone.  I've done it before--it's exhausting, but doable.  But I do much prefer company.  (Hmm...maybe I can get a babysitter to stay home with the boys so hubby can go?)

I love showing, I've missed showing, I want to show, but GAH.  However, putting it in the blog makes it official--no chickening out now.  Forward!

eeeeeeeeeek