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We Are Flying Solo

July 31, 2011

Just A Quickie

Field work has kept me away from both horse and computer for the past week as we've been out snorkeling Carolina rivers, in our endless quest for freshwater mussel population data.

This morning, Solo and I did get to resume our interval training, looping in a stretchy trot around cut-over farm fields.  Not entirely fun as it clearly demonstrated how much fitness we've both lost.  But we bulled through three 15-minute trot sets and a sad, single 4-minute canter set.  Gotta start somewhere and 95% humidity never helps.

On the walk back to the farm though, I was reminded why Mr. Shiny exudes awesomeness:  deer bursting through the woods?  Transfer truck jake-braking around the turn as it passes us on the shoulder?  Turkey flying at our faces?  Empty bottles of Sprite and flattened Natty Light cans crunching underfoot?  Hay tarps whipping off a passing trailer?  None garner even the flick of an ear from my seasoned campaigner.  I smile when a passing car honks, trying to elicit a spook from my horse.  Not gonna work, suckers, he's busy looking at a tree.

Coming up, I'm trying a couple exciting products that may just make our lives better.  We also see Dr. Bob in about a week for a check on Solo's injury and his fall shots -- who knows what fascinating information he will impart this time!  I am hoping for good news, as Solo's butt is much less lumpy when I massage, which means I'm finding fewer knots and less pain.  Stay tuned!

July 24, 2011

Passing The Time

Might as well be useful, right?  I always love a project and we have jumps that always need to be maintained so every once in a while the bug strikes and BO and I attack unsuspecting wood with a vengeance.  Our latest project:  a ten gazillion pound lattice gate that had some rotten bits and a broken top board.  This is what it looked like after I spent about an hour and a half ravaging it with a paint scraper (through at least five or six layers of old paint) and ripping off rotten bits.  Amazing that after ten years, there is still good wood under there on most of the pieces!

Stripped and scraped.
 Then the fun part:  putting it back together and repainting.  BO's horse has just informed us that he is not a fan of black and white jumps.  So we made this gate into a present just for him.

Finished product!

He's going to learn to like them now!

In Solo news, there is little to report.  I am working my arm muscles to exhaustion massaging his giant orange butt, I guess it keeps my shoulders toned.  You haven't felt an ache until 1200 lbs of horse leans on your finger.  On the plus side, it has been very useful to really explore the feel of his muscles and I am getting very good at finding knots of tissue that need attention.  I would encourage all of you to get out there and start digging around in the muscles and getting to know what the baseline is for your horse -- equine massage is NOT rocket science and I always say, why pay someone to do something you can learn yourself!  Your horse will let you know what feels good and what doesn't (if you own a mare, may I suggest knee pads?).

We did do a teeny jump school today.  I convince myself that Solo is feeling a little better; he feels more willing to use his back stepping up into trot and canter and he held his rhythm well even when stretching down in the canter.  This has also given us an opportunity to firm up some holes in our basics; I am really focusing on keeping an equal weight in both reins, in making Solo keep an ACTIVE walk in the arena, in keeping his back up and hind end under himself during transitions down to walk, all the little things that we sometimes let slide when we are focusing on bigger goals.

It's hard to say where we really are on the injury curve.  On one hand, I feel like he is moving better.  On the other hand, I can feel allllll the places in his gluteal muscles that are tight, scarred, and sore.  On the other hand (there's an unlimited number of hands here), I don't know what those muscles felt like before the injury.  All horses in work have tight spots and knots, so how many are new?  On the other hand, he's quite willing to jump, even tucked up to the base of the jump, although these jumps max out around two feet.  I ran through the bottle of Robaxin so now he is on nothing but the occasional gram of bute.  So I guess I'll just keep both hands digging in to those muscles and see what tomorrow brings. 

July 23, 2011

Buckin' Good

A hot Saturday proved perfect for meeting a friend in Winston-Salem and checking out the new documentary about Buck Brannaman.  If you have no idea who that is, Buck is both the equine advisor and the man upon whom Robert Redford's character was based in the 1998 film, The Horse Whisperer.

A great theater always helps, so we tucked in at the Aperture in downtown Winston -- you can order up a beer and a baked-from-scratch treat and enjoy your film in fine style.

And enjoy we did.  I knew Buck by reputation, had read about him, seen video of him and his incredible bridle horses, and tried to attend one of his clinics when I first bought Solo.  Alas, they were always full.  He has remained one of the only touring "cowboy" clinicians that I truly respect, perhaps THE only one that I know of.  After you watch the film, it's clear why.

Despite a brutally abusive childhood, Buck became a sensitive and empathetic horse trainer who studied intently under Ray Hunt, who in turn learned from the legend, Bill Dorrance, the man who first showed America that you don't have to hurt and terrify a horse to train him.  Buck Brannaman took all of this on the road and nine months out of the year, tries to help horses by teaching people feel, compassion, respect, and understanding.

The film itself is getting a great reception, both from horse lovers and those outside equine circles.  I think even without being a horse-crazy nut, it's easy to connect with Buck's story and there is something simply beautiful in watching him interact with horses and humans.  His family and friends provide glimpses into a man of a quality that everyone wants to be closer to, either simply in association or in emulation.

Not all stories end in triumph and there are horses so damaged, ironically by people who thought they were being kind, that even Buck cannot undo the havoc that human betrayal has wrought.  But here, too, Buck is able, through what is I am sure extreme frustration and sorrow, to teach and to guide people in hopes of avoiding repeated experiences in the future.

You may have to do some hunting to find it; check your local independent theatres and call and request if they are not currently carrying this movie -- it is worth the effort and worth the watching and I hope it continues to build its momentum!!

July 21, 2011

Getting My Crew On

The athlete at rest.
I am fit to burst with excitement -- you have observed, if you check Solo's calendar with due diligence, that in mid-August, I am scheduled to crew for lifeshighway as she and Pete tackle a tough endurance race in the NC mountain rocks.  Ever since she started racing, I have been itching to go and crew one with her and watch what happens when you assemble a crowd of horses at varying levels of fitness and training and turn them loose to race through the woods for miles.

Last night, I pummeled lh with questions about what duties entail. My primary responsiblities are to make sure that she and Pete are properly pulsed in and recharged during the mandatory vet check around about the halfway point (the race is 25 miles). Horses are required to stop for 40 minutes here once their pulse has dropped to a pre-ordained level. They are untacked, cooled off, fed, watered, and monitored for soreness or injury, much like the 10-minute box in eventing, only with a longer time interval. Oh, and the riders get a drink and a snack too. I also get the dubious honour of trotting Pete out for the vet, so I can only hope my prancing skills are up to snuff for the ground jury. Thankfully, unlike eventing, I don't have to bathe the horse or wear a skirt.

My goal: to be the awesomest crew ever. Thanks to Solo's sweat-monster habits, I do have mad hosing and scraping skillz. Now to practice speed-tacking and snack-courier methods...

I hope to be able to get lots of pictures and video for lh for posterity.  Do I pack the cheering pom-poms?  Might be hard to wave them with a camera in one hand, bucket in the other, sweat scraper in my teeth.

The course will be steep, rocky, narrow, and muddy so it is going to be a challenge and hopefully I will not witness anyone falling off the mountain!  Pete and lh are a saavy, experienced team and I have no doubt that they will have a thing or two to teach their competitors.  I could ride Solo till I was blue in the face, but he will never be as fit as that little Arab is; it never ceases to amaze me how he just keeps. on. going.  

Three weeks to go and I'm counting down!!

July 18, 2011

The Nail In The Coffin

At least, in the tire.  Or I guess I could title this post "Why You Should Always Check The Air In Your Trailer Tires Before You Haul."

Why does my trailer look like this right now?  Well, the good part is that it's at home, parked in front of the barn.  I had been wondering why I had one tire that would drop from a healthy 60 psi to a downright anemic 40 psi and hover there.  I could fill it back up and it'd be good for a trip but by the next haul, it'd be back down to 40 again.  Since I am taking My Precious (ok, I admit it, I have a thing for my truck) in to have the rotors turned tomorrow, I figured, why not throw the tire in the back and have my guy check it out.

Well.  He won't have to investigate very hard.

You can't tell from photos, but this thing has a good 1/4" or more diameter to the spiky bit.  Wherever I picked it up, they were obviously nailing together....sequoias?  I just bought the tires like a year ago -- of course.   

Apparently, it's not just horses that are suicide machines, it is anything that has the word "horse" in its name.  It's a good thing we don't fly in horseplanes or get operations from horse surgeons.

July 16, 2011

A Day At The Farm

First, if you didn't already catch it on Eventing Nation, I MUST share the utter brilliance fellow blogger Anastasia posted over at Team Taco!

The Five Stages Of Lameness

I think I am working my way through "depression" and on to "acceptance."  Well, if it's been a good day, LOL -- that means I'm almost to the part where the horse is healed, right???

Because today was a good day.  Well, it didn't start out that way, but it improved!  It was a beautiful summer day, the kind you don't think can happen in the Carolinas, with a perfect breeze and a marked absence of marrow-roasting heat.  Between hoofbeats, I caught the strange, heady scent of ripe, sun-warmed tobacco leaves as we trotted between the carefully planted rows of deep green.  Even the squirrels moved slowly, as if they to were trying to savor this unlikely weather.

Moxie and Danny:  Did you see that?
Solo:  Grazing time's a-wastin'.

Things IN the barn were not quite so peaceful. The yearly crop of barn swallows has nearly molted out and were demanding their insect lunches. As they perched precariously on nest and rafter edges, I warned sternly of the feline danger that lurked below. Kids. They never listen.

Nest mothers take a break for gossip.


We no skeered.  No need parentz.
I dunno, man, it's a long way down.
Yeah.  Like, really far.

If catz, he comez, I PECKZ himz.

July 14, 2011

Lessons From Dr. Bob, Vol. 38

I don't know how many ways it is possible to say "I LOVE DR. BOB."  I mean, my plan is to lure him into a stall and then lock him up so he can never leave.  He can reside there and just impart his seemingly endless stream of knowledge through the bars.  He can have all the fresh carrots from the garden he wants.

That man can tell you more about your horse using his eyes and his hands and a lifetime of horse care than most vets I've seen can with bone scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, nerve blocks, and blah blah blah. AND he stays up to date. I'll be all smart and say, "Hey, I just read about this cool study online..." and he'll come right back with the history leading up to the study, the complications with it, whether or not the results are any good, and situations where it would be applicable. Priceless, he is priceless and if I ever have to move, I'm kidnapping him at hoofpick-point. Too bad other clients, Solo trumps you all!

The POINT of my unadulterated worship is yet another conversation we had today about Solo. I have been dutifully massaging the Orange Butt and a funny thing happened: I would start at the top of his hips near his spine and work down the gluteus muscles (the top pink butt muscles on the right) to where they join the head of the femur. I found knots to work on, but not overwhelming pain. But then I would work back UP the same muscle, bottom up to spine, and Solo's leg would twitch and buckle like crazy. I quickly surmised it caused agonizing pain.

Well, science girl chirped into my head and said, "Wait, you have no control variable!" So I tried it on Solo's pasturemate, Pete. Similar response. Hmmm.

Dr. Bob: "Yep, if you go down the muscle, you are massaging correctly. Going back up, against the 'grain,' you are pinching nerves and pinching muscle fibres against bone, so they don't like it that much and if you really go for it, you can damage nerves."

He then followed up with a scientific discussion of the intersection of acupuncture, physiology, and 3000 years of muscle work.

So, my horse is not in agonizing, leg-buckling pain after all. I was just doing it wrong.

Thank you, Horse Master, good to know!

July 13, 2011

Brain Drool

Broken horses leave far too much time for thinking.

I pace the barn aisle restlessly, wondering what my options are. My crazy addiction to the pursuit of this sport is unrelenting, but like many others at the moment, my wounded partner cannot oblige my goals.

I hold desperately to the hope that he can come back for fall, although I have no guarantees that that will actually happen. If he does come back, then what? Can he actually make it to my goal of a Training 3-Day? I don't know. We will certainly try but it will not be easy for him. I kick myself for not knowing 5 years ago what I know now -- had I started this journey then, oh, how I might have defeated the enemy of time while my horse was a little bit younger.

I have to accept that my horse is probably limiting me. I know that I have the desire and the ability to achieve my goal and then some, but because my horse always comes first, I have to move at his pace. Which right now is practically zero.

In some fantasy world, the solution would be simple -- pick up a CANTER horse (heck, I've already got three picked out that I'd throw in a trailer today) and start bringing it along as The Next Horse. Problem: I could probably buy it, but I sure as heck can't board it as I'm pretty sure BO does not offer "two-for-the-price-of-one" sales. I only have enough quarters to keep Solo in housing and rice bran.

For some, this would probably be a quick solve -- sell Solo, buy prospect. But I can't do it. In so many ways that I cannot elucidate, the Orange Beast is uniquely in-disposable. I still remember the change when Mr. I Don't Really Trust People placed his faith in me at last and that is an agreement I cannot betray. I feel that I owe him a safe future. Not that this couldn't happen with someone else, maybe it could, but until I could guarantee that, I am not releasing him to the winds of fate. I guess that makes me a Rider Committed To Horse instead of a Rider Committed To Sport. Each has its tradeoffs, I suppose.

Which leaves me back at stuck. Anyone want to be an owner, I'll take your horse to 3-Day stardom, LOL?

Solo has taught me an immeasurable volume of lessons which I actually am SO excited to apply to another horse but I do not begrudge him one second of massages or handgrazing and I enjoy spending the time with him as he rests his nose on my knee. I generally don't ride much in July and August anyway -- it's just too damn hot for woman or beast, so in all honesty, we're not missing out on much as long as I can hold SOME condition on him.

Yes, those echoes you hear are just a brain spinning itself dizzy in hypotheticals and dead-ends. Keep a rider out of the saddle too long and she starts to go crazy(er).

July 9, 2011

It's Worrrking, It's Worrrking....

Despite the 17 layers of sweat, Solo and I had a great ride today!  Funny how two months ago, a great ride meant powerful extended gaits and lofty oxers.  Because today it meant even stretching in the trot and 18" crossrails.

He's got some spring and swing back in his trot, once we get warmed up. The jumps are easy and balanced and rhythmic and relaxed. He's even stretching down at the canter, which is slow and metronomical (I just made that a word, ha!).

This means, in short, that I've finally struck a combination of things that are working. Magical tape + Robaxin + deep massage with Surpass + stretching till my eyes roll back in my head = IMPROVEMENT. The massage is slowly breaking down the scar tissue and I can feel the knots in the muscle getting incrementally smaller. The Surpass is taking away some of the pain in partnership with Robaxin, which relaxes clenched muscle fibers. The tape and stretching are helping to increase circulation and rebuild new muscle and heal injured spots.

Ok, that wasn't so short.

But I am thrilled to finally see some progress in this slow slow recovery. Yeah, we should be leaping 3'3" jumps right now -- but instead of being ticked off that that's not happening, I am instead pleased that we are meeting new objectives; we are doing better than we were a week ago!

I try hard to keep my eye fixed on what happens tomorrow and what happens next week. I am single-mindedly focused on those muscle groups: moving them, stretching them, working them through their protests and gradually, oh so gradually, bringing them back up to par. There is nothing more to be gained by wishing we were doing more (ok, I admit, I give in a little sometimes) but everything to be gained by the baby steps we are doing today.

July 4, 2011

It's Feeling HOT HOT HOT!

Brown grass crunches underfoot and I swat only half-effectively at deer flies.  Solo's neck stays permanently wet with a white crust of salt along his mane.  It's summer and in the Carolinas that means you do everything just a little bit slower.

Since we are both sidelined, it also means we take to the trails. I can't do much good in the dressage arena, but that doesn't mean I have to give up on fitness. And just because my knee aches and my back cramps in protest doesn't mean I have to stay on the ground!

So Solo and I redneck it in true style (oh yes, those ARE blue flames on the bareback pad) as we wait for rain (bring back the green!) and healing to find us both. A little time, a lot of stretching and a dose of muscle relaxers and magic tape seem to be moving things along in due course.

What are YOU up to with your ponies as the sun's rays go from "warming" to "bone marrow broiling" level?  Swimming?  Dashing through sprinklers?  Sweating contests?  Competitive fly swatting?  Do tell!