The rumbly truck is home! With a new tie rod end and freshly packed wheel bearings, it is ready to resume Solo-hauling duty with renewed vigor.
I'll take that!
Solo is done with his Panacur PowerPac and we both say "Hurrah!" to no more smelly, gooey, white slime.
I'll take that!
In the bright afternoon sun, we had a pretty decent dressage school. Solo is getting a more powerful push back into his transitions into trot. I once again used the transitions within the trot I tried a few days ago to prep for canter, and it worked again! Softer, rounder canter transitions that resulted in a slow, strong, rhythmic stride.
I'll take that!
Ok, so I have to shove an icepack down my pants every few hours to try to bring down the inflammation in my SI joint that is torturing me these days. But even that's not all bad -- with the help of chiro and PT, we are FINALLY narrowing in on the problems and making some headway. PT taped up the right side of my back and leg down to my knee yesterday with the magic of kinesiotape and it's working and hell,
I ditched AAA the first time my old rig got stranded roadside.
How To Lose Business 101
I had a blown radiator & AAA was quite happy to tow away the truck...leaving the trailer & Solo behind in the dark on a bitter November night in Greensboro. Obviously, they had no concept of what was important to me. They could have set that POS truck on fire for all I cared, as what mattered to me was standing in the trailer behind it. I hung up the phone in fury & tore up my membership card.
We Have A Winner!
Then I found US Rider, a roadside assistance plan designed for traveling horse owners. This morning is a clear demonstration of why I love them.
Call #1 (8:20 am): They answer the phone: "US Rider, are you and your horses safe?"
"Yes, ma'am." I love that these are the first words every time I call. I then explain that I need a wrecker for my truck, which was sitting at the end of my driveway in the pouring...ice pellets. Yeah.
The rep took my member number, pulled up my address & asked where I wanted it towed. I didn't even have to give her the business address, as soon as I said the name of the shop, she had it at her fingertips. She promised to call me back in five minutes with wrecker information.
Call #2 (8:30 am): Rep informs me that tow truck should be there in 30-45 minutes. No worries by me, I am at home. She will call back later to check on progress.
Call #3 (9:40 am): An hour has passed. Rep: "Has the wrecker has arrived?" Me: "Nope." Rep: "Oh no! I'll go check on it."
Call #4 (9:50 am): Rep: "The wrecker will arrive in ten minutes," and she will check on me then.
Call #5 (10:10 am): Me: "It's here!!" and we loaded up my truck & headed to the shop.
Boiling It Down
That's FIVE PHONE CALLS, making sure I was safe & informed over the course of two hours. Eat that, AAA. The wreckers are contractors, so timing is beyond US Rider's control, but they made sure I was taken care of as soon as possible. Had I needed a vet or a spot for a horse to sleep or an alternate truck/trailer, they would have provided it. That is why I don't mind writing the check, because when I need it, that kind of service is priceless.
Why? Oh, because the universe is unkind! Like I don't already have enough to juggle.
This is why -->
What the hell is that? That, my dear friends, in the right forelimb of my beloved pony hauler. And it has suffered a fracture.
On the way home from work on Friday, it all of a sudden had an epileptic seizure and tried to buck me off. Long story short, I was down the street about 0.2 miles from the house so I just limped it home slowly and friend and I had a look at it this afternoon. After cranking the steering wheel around and hearing a loud POP, this is what we found.
In case you are still staring at the picture in puzzlement, trying to figure out what is so wrong -- see the bit on the left side that looks like a black toilet plunger? That bit is supposed to be attached to the end of the horizontal rod across the middle of the picture. Not be separated from said rod by a two inch gap.
This is a rather consequential bit as this rod is what connects your steering wheel to your front tire. Yeah, so you can turn and stuff. When it's not connected, you get the sorry sight I was faced with this afternoon, which is your truck sitting there with its front tires pointed in opposite directions, like some poor crosseyed kid. And you definitely do not want to drive it in this condition -- at best, you end up with a bent axle, at worst, your wheel gets ripped off your vehicle.
What most likely happened is that as I turned onto my street, the connector on the tie rod cracked, resulting in the violent "death wobble" (oh yes, that's a real term, google it) I felt. As we cranked the steering to its maximum extent this afternoon, it snapped completely off.
On the plus side, it's a pretty easy fix and it's under warranty. The truck is ten years old, so it's a normal wear and tear type of thing. This, of course, does not stop me from staring at it mournfully where it sits in front of my house, waiting for Monday morning and a wrecker to arrive.
Moral of the story: if you are driving along and all of a sudden it feels like a wheel fell off, don't keep driving. Even if the wheels are still attached for the moment, A WHEEL MAY BE ABOUT TO BE TORN OFF, so don't push it.
It was hiding. I found it tucked neatly in an active, collected sitting trot.
This is how I coaxed it out:
Solo was warmed up with figure eights and serpentines, then a few leg yields and shoulder in combined with walk/trot transitions. My insistence was that he do the transitions correctly: no gripping the bit, no flipping the nose in the air, just staying soft in the bridle and lifting the back.
Then we began some transitions within the trot; something resembling a working trot (he doesn't have full impulsion back yet) down the long side, then sit and half halt into a collected sitting trot on the short side. Again, the emphasis was on smooth, correct transitions, maintaining a steady contact and keeping the back up.
I really zeroed in on the quality of the collected trot; it's easy to drag them back to a shuffling jog that is easy to sit, but that is not a real gait. The collected trot should have the same rhythm as the working posting trot, but with shorter steps. The forward energy should get translated into up-and-down energy. Which basically means you need to keep a pulsing active leg, pushing the energy up into the bridle and into your core, which is engaged and lifting the horse's back up like a suction cup. Because, as P has reminded us often, the quality of this trot will dictate the quality of your canter strike-off, every time.
I felt and heard Solo's feet keeping their rhythm as we came around the short side and I could feel his back rounded beneath my seat. My contact was steady and even without him just hanging on my shoulders. So I sat up, thought "lift the shoulders into the gait," and shifted my lower leg back with a kiss.
And Solo stepped up into the most lovely canter transition I have ever sat upon. I could FEEL his back and shoulders lift as his outside hind stepped under him for the strike-off. I immediately hollered, "GOOD BOY, WELL DONE, GOOD MAN!!!" (my barn buddies never get any peace and quiet when I'm in the arena) It was totally awesome.
Of course, I wanted to do it again, but as Solo's muscles and mine got tired, we didn't get quite the same elegance, but we got close a few times. But it showed me a good way to prime Solo's body and balance by suppling him then using the transitions within the trot to shift his weight to his hindquarters and keep his hind legs active.
So we're going to be repeating this exercise a few times. David has encouraged me to do lots of trot/canter transitions, using the transition as a gymnastic to strengthen Solo. He says even if the transition isn't perfect, the strengthening aspect still works so they can improve over time.
Our sights are fixed on Longleaf Pines HT. There are four and a half weeks between now and then. OMG, THERE ARE FOUR AND A HALF WEEKS BETWEEN NOW AND THEN.
Project Solo Fitness better keep on cracking the whip.
Saturday saw our first jumping lesson post-Wormageddon. I wondered if Solo would be exhausted by the end, but my worry was misplaced; he did better than I did! And David said it was the best he'd even seen the Red Boy move, words which warmed my heart. I did sit on some fairly wonderful canter steps...
I've picked up a nasty habit of digging my heels in for forward, but since my legs are so stinking long, that requires some heel lifting. Which tips my upper body forward and tips my horse forward. Norty norty. So David had me focus on really sinking my heels on approach and after landing from a fence to help keep my upper body back. As always, his little fix was eminently helpful and Solo cantered through a triple line in the prettiest little soft rhythm you could ask for.
So I shall be doing my homework on that one. Some of that will require extra strengthening of my core muscles too -- since I know my back is my weak point, I need to make sure that my other muscles can compensate and keep me sitting up when I really need it!
Now that it's actually daylight after work (WOOHOO!) we can get on the trails during the week and continue building muscle and wind with lots of walk and trot work through the woods. This has an added bonus of spring wildlife sightings; Sunday we met a brilliant orange banded water snake as he leaped with surprise into a stream. It thrills my entire day to see those guys.
Yesterday, our saddle fitter made some necessary tweaks to both saddles to revive packed down wool, so a certain chestnut with a princess back had better not get too fussy now! Please let spring karma be kind to our ragtag endeavors!
Wondering if you are ready to take the big step of having a horse of your own? I have come up with an iron-clad test of preparedness for horse ownership.
Step 1: Go to your bank and withdraw $500 or the balance of your account, whichever is greater. Small bills are better.
Step 2: Take your cash home and carry it to your backyard.
Step 3: Carefully arrange your bills in a pile on the ground. This is why you want small bills -- it makes a bigger pile.
Step 4: Sprinkle the pile liberally with diesel fuel.
Step 5: Drop a match into the center of the pile.
Step 6: As you watch your money burn, carefully evaluate your feelings.
If: you are bothered by the sight of your hard-earned cash being incinerated before your eyes for no apparent reason, you are not ready to be a horse owner.
If: you find yourself undisturbed by the sudden and unexpected disappearance of your money and maybe, in fact, you even giggle a little and dance around the flames, congratulations: you will make an excellent horse owner! You have no emotional attachment to your liquid assets and will remain calm when asked to part with most or all of it on a regular basis. Head on over to DreamHorse now!
That's a pretty big smile -- obviously a seasoned owner!
Saturday brought us a two hour hack in the sunny woods. It was marvelous -- both because of the spring warmth and green grass and because a month ago, Solo couldn't walk for 20 minutes without exhaustion. Now, though, his bright trot and eager canter are making their way back and it warms my heart.
Ahhh, the peacefulness in the jingle-swish-clop of our trail ride sounds. The seranade of the Carolina wren: teakettle-teakettle-teakettle. The serenity....
Oh yeah, and they're putting in a new gas line back there too.
Sunday...Solo made his return to the cross country field! The stamina is not back yet, but with lots of breaks, he was jumping well and taking it all like an old hat. He offered a steady lead to the greenies and stayed soft in the bridle the whole time with cool confidence. And the best part of all? HELMET CAM! My apologies for some unsteadiness that resembles riding in an earthquake -- my schooling helmet needs some extra padding, it's feeling a bit loose these days. Maybe my head shrank when worry caused mass die-off of brain cells?
This one is a particular triumph of mine. I have been eyeing this overturned boat for three years. It's a Training level fence that is high and wide and just looks intimidating from every angle and I have wanted to jump it with burning jump-lust. Today, well, it was time. As you can tell from my big dorky whoop, yeah, it was good.
Next we have a particular gem -- the video starts with BO and her green TB, Evan, doing their first down bank into water. Evan's labrador belly-flop illustrates his signature jumping style and I think he found the splashing quite satisfactory. Then Solo and I go up and down the larger bank with some splashing of our own. No, I have no idea what is blowing across the lens in the beginning. It was about 70 degrees, so I am pretty sure it's not snow.
This week has been spent rebuilding Solo's muscle and fitness. Which means transitions, lateral work, hill work, and longeing. Which means he is b.o.r.e.d. As he comes out of the barn, he says "Please god, don't take me to the sandbox again. PLEASE GOD!" Today, a long wander through the woods on a warm sunny day is in order!
We are back to the vet next Thursday to check blood levels, etc and hopefully progress will continue.
This morning though, I wanted to talk about safety vests. A must-have item for any aspiring eventer and generally falling into the "big ticket item" category at prices from $100 to $500. Fortunately, unlike helmets, you can fall on them repeatedly without having to replace. Whew.
But the air vests are $800, you insist. Yes, yes they are. And they also require a conventional vest underneath. And they also have failed to provide me with sufficient data that they are anything more than yet another product riding on a tide of very successful marketing. I know there are people out there who claim, "It saved me!" but I claim, no, your conventional vest underneath and your helmet saved you. It's simple physics: an air vest CANNOT PROTECT YOU FROM A 1200 POUND HORSE CRUSHING YOU. Not going to happen; for that you need a rigid structure, like the Woof Exo's magnesium cage, which I have recently heard will soon no longer be available? An airbag will also not protect your neck from any of the torsional injuries which are usually associated with a fall from a horse; once again, you would need a rigid, fixed structure for that. In fact, it will not doing anything more than offer a bit of cushion from bumps and blows. Which is exactly what the conventional vest you are already wearing does. So, to this particular scientist, I cry redundancy. However, if data (anecdotes do not equal data) does become available, I am open to hearing about it!
That said, if folks have the money and simply want to wear it (or you are a BNR and you get a free one, but then I doubt you are reading this smurf blog, ROFL!), knock yourself out. I do believe that it does offer an extra layer of bump protection, but that is not something I personally have that much money to throw at. But please don't make any wild and crazy claims unless you have good data to back it up.
Ok, moving on....
My criteria for my own vest: BETA 3 approved -- yes, I know this is not required. However, it tells me that some level of testing has been done on the product I am trusting my internal organs to! And it may be required in the future, at which point I do not want to have to re-shop. The vest must also be comfortable, not restrict range of motion, and be easy to put on/take off.
The first vest I owned was a secondhand eBay find. It was comfortable and did the job for schooling, but I needed a little better fit as we moved on to competition. Mum once again generously stepped up and offered to donate one for my birthday (parents like safe kids, LOL!). So I ended up contacting the good folks at VTO saddlery and submitting a set of measurements for a Rodney Powell Elite vest.
I LOVE THIS VEST. And I have, uh, "field-tested" this vest. In all ways. Yeah, even that way. Hey, no, not that way! Get your mind out of the gutter! You can laugh at my stupid picture face instead.
It fits like a glove. When you put it on, within two minutes, the foam conforms to your body and you no longer even notice you are wearing bloody body armour. My range of motion is completely unimpaired. After two Carolina summers, I can tell you it is no hotter than any other vests I have tried on, which is pretty impressive considering this is heavy-duty armour! I also did get the shoulder pads -- I'm not sure I buy their claim that it will prevent collar bone breakage, but they certainly will absorb some impact to the shoulder in a fall on an otherwise unprotected area. I can't say I wear them every time, but for big courses, I strap them on!
I highly, highly recommend this vest and the VTO folks to anyone in the market. Each vest is custom built to fit you based on a series of measurements you send in. They also have a model specifically designed for those of you with large female metronomes in the chest region. ;-) Can't tell you much more about that, sorry, I am happily not a member of that group! But Rodney Powell has made a great, great product that will serve you well in your eventing adventures, so I would encourage checking it out post haste!
Once Solo finishes his 14 day regimen of daily omeprazole later this week, he graduates to ranitidine. Dr. Bob merrily handed me this big jug of pills and says, "Here, give him 5 of these with each meal."
I look at pills. I look at Dr. Bob. Because horses are so easy to give pills to. Especially shiny, picky, food-snob horses who don't even like peppermints. I open the jug and sniff suspiciously. Dr. Bob watches me with great puzzlement.
"Do I have to crush them up then?" I ask warily. "Because Solo is not going to eat these voluntarily."
"Sure!" he says as if this is all no big deal. As if now I don't have to come up with some ingenious plan which involves my BO not having to crush horse pills every time she feeds and Solo not snuffling out the medication into a neat little pile left in the corner of his feed bin.
My last experience with crushing horse pills (aside from SMZ's which dissolve so nicely in water) was watching lifeshighway with a bowl and a hammer and a strategically placed paper towel, banging away on a daily basis. I am committed to go to any lengths necessary not to engage in this particular activity.
I go home and check with SmartPak, who, much to my delight, will not only grind it up for me, but add yummy flavours! Yay for no work for me!
But for the next month, it's me. And the jug. And five fat yellow pills per meal.
Ho ho, nasty pills, I am tricksier than you thought! Enter my compatriot, Mr. Pill Crusher and his strong, inescapable jaws! Combine that with a little tape, some empty SmartPaks, and my favourite sharpie...
And VOILA!! I emerge victorious!! One neat little package for each meal.
Just one more day I escape my BO's hatred at feeding time...
Sounds like a great amusement park ride, doesn't it? Having spent a rainy day in a fit of cleaning the house (it gets done every six months, whether it needs it or not), I dumped out my huge box of wormer from Valley Vet (having laid in stock as per Dr. Bob's instructions for an aggressive six week schedule) and attacked it with a sharpie.
I keep pretty careful records anyway, thanks to the great database at Rendaivu (accessible from any computer!), but now all I have to do is open the cupboard door and know instantly what and when is due next. I have the deepest pity for Solo's tastebuds this year.
It is so important to do the little things to keep your horse sound and mentally and physically fit no matter what his job is. Far too easy is it to get lost in the rushing and scheduling and riding that consumes us on a daily basis. But it's those tiny tasks, many that take only seconds, that collectively add up to a well-managed horse. This is what makes a horse(wo)man, not just a rider.
Take the time to palpate your horse's neck, back and haunches before and after a ride to look for tender spots. Just running your fingers down the big muscles with medium pressure can tell you a lot.
Take the time to run your hands down each leg so you know if that knot is new or old.
Take the time to lay a palm on each hoof as you pick them to check the temperature.
Take the time to wiggle each shoe to check for tightness when you lift his feet.
Take the time to really notice the colour, shape and texture of his frog and sole so you know if they change.
Take the time to run your fingers up the back of his pasterns to check for fungus like scratches.
Take the time to take him out on a hack to condition him on hills and uneven ground at the walk and trot, getting him fit the RIGHT way. Don't get trapped in the sandbox.
Take the time to watch him walk away from you as you turn him back out to watch for any stiffness or unevenness.
Take the time to give him a day or two off for a grooming spa or some quiet handgrazing so his body and mind can rest each week.
Take the time to dip his bit in a bucket of water after your ride so there are no sharp-edged crusties next time you tack up (and you don't have to scrub later!).
Take the time to lay out your girth and saddle pad after riding so it can dry and stay mildew and fungus free.
Take the time to glance into his feed bucket -- is he cleaning it up? Sorting out the supplements he doesn't like?
Take the time to watch him eat hay or grass. Is he chewing easily and evenly or does he just mash it and let it fall out of his mouth?
Take the time after you pull his saddle off to curry the matted, sweaty hair, letting air reach the skin and re-fluffing his coat.
Take the time to inspect his manure and watch him pee. Is everything normal coloured? Is the flow and consistency of all his waste the same every day?
I am sure there are others; the take-home message is that these seemingly miniscule things can catch a problem early, saving you potential headaches, vet bills, and missed competitions. They also help make your horse's job more pleasant so he doesn't resent what you ask him to do. Keeping his body and mind fit is 100% vital to keeping him going year after year, not to mention it goes a long way to keeping your maintenance costs down. Fight the urge to rush, be a horse(wo)man, and train yourself to a routine that incorporates getting to know your horse's body and habits so that when something does change (oh yes, we know it will), you will be the first to know. The faster you notice, the faster you can fix it and get Dobbin back on track, which only gives you both more time to enjoy the good stuff!
I've been keeping a secret from you. I wanted to wait until the fruit ripened into its full fruity awesomeness before I shared it with you.
A little while ago, I was contacted by the folks at Build-A-Sign, offering Solo & I some custom printed goodies of our own to try out. Unable to resist every horse owner's weakness of wanting your horse's name on EVERYTHING, I tried not to sound like a giddy schoolgirl when I said yes.
Our stuff arrived in my mailbox today. Yeah, that was that screeching whoop you heard about 5:00 pm.
BECAUSE OMFG LOOK HOW AWESOME IT IS!!!!
Yes, my very own license plate displaying Flying Solo pride. I can't say enough how totally great & professional it looks & how wonderful their rep was to work with; she sounded just as enthusiastic about the whole thing as I was! AND, as if this wasn't cool enough, they also printed me some bumper stickers.
Now, I currently have...a few...of these. I am pondering making some available in giveaways. Would anyone out there be interested in displaying some Team Flying Solo pride of their own?
If you can hardly contain yourself, here's how it's going to work: if your name is specifically listed on the "Pit Crew" menu link at the top of this page, you are entitled to a free sticker -- you have given an immeasureable gift to Solo & I with your help and support, so it's the least I can do to repay you! Should you, as a core Team Flying Solo member, want to cash in on this (undeniably once-in-a-lifetime) offer, just click our email link & I will hook you up!
Now, don't lose hope if your name isn't on the list, it is still totally possible to attain this incredible badge of honour & glory!! If you, dearest of readers, express interest, there will be a contest whose nature I have not yet decided to disperse said priceless items. So let me know in the comments if there are any of you who can't wait to emblazon your vehicle/tack truck/horse trailer/desk/refrigerator/cat with these totally fantastic stickers!
I'll stop now, but not without a huge THANK YOU to Megan & the folks at Build-A-Sign for your generosity towards my humble endeavors here at We Are Flying Solo. You have a great product & you've absolutely thrilled us to bits.