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We Are Flying Solo

November 25, 2012

Bring It

Maybe it's just because it's far too late at night.  Maybe it's because I've been trapped in this chair for too long.  Maybe it's because bad luck keeps on rolling in.

I thought I might collapse in defeat.  Non-blog related issues sent my brain packing weeks ago.  I hope it is enjoying wherever it is, perhaps on a nice beach in Ecuador, watching the sun rise over the Andes.

But there's a surprise inside.  As I sit here, even with my knee in constant, throbbing pain; even after leaning on my crutches, watching a friend ride Encore today and seeing that he is so unschooled, so lacking in mileage, that he desperately needs to get back in a program; even feeling like poor Sisyphus while Zeus laughs on...

I find myself narrowing my eyes in defiance.

Staring at the mountain of adversity in front of me, there is a wellspring of determination, probably fueled by sheer stubbornnes, but nonetheless picking up momentum as the flow breaks through tiny, nearly invisible cracks.

Even if you put your hand over a flashlight, beams find their way out through the spaces between your fingers and around the edges of your hand.  Even if you put an entire moon over the mass of the sun, a bright corona belies the shadow and the rolling fire at the core flings its rays to the heavens in spite.

Every torturous minute of PT, every rip of pain from a step, and every mind-numbing "walk horse up the hill, walk horse down the hill" will be fueled by this fire.  Because the flames are fanned by a wind I think you know.  It was the wind that whipped my face as Encore stretched out in a gallop in the bright afternoon of our last ride before surgery, ripping the laugh of glee out of my mouth as I felt the enormous power of this Thoroughbred, born and bred and begging to run, leap away and carry me into an unearthly place.

I think you've been there; you don't always enter at a gallop, but you still feel that air in your heart.  It's that which transforms my despair into resolve that we will not be beaten and we will not go quietly.

If you could see the entire path of your journey from the start, you might never take the first step, because the view would surely be terrifying and you might question the worth of your goal.  But if your goal IS the journey, there is really nothing that can stop you.

Except yourself.

November 21, 2012

The Wheat From The Chaff: Separate It Does

This story is a little overdue, but no less worth telling.  Because it is a perfect illustration of the line of horsemanship those of us one side of it know perfectly and those on the other side are convinced does not exist.

Last weekend, Amber came out to practice her bending and I wanted to get her in a basic two point and cantering before I was laid up (ah, back when The Plan was still alive).  As we warmed up, she was doing worlds better with her bending (as in, Solo was bending!) in serpentines and circles (ok, I still tied her hand together) and making serious progress relaxing her upper body and guiding Solo with her eye.  We worked on trying to get a more forward trot and I even saw a couple steps approaching a trot that was awake -- not bad for three rides! 

So, let's do a couple of canter circles and we'll be done,  k?

No problem.  And she'd been great cantering on the longe, very well balanced and smooth.

I stressed that it was important to sit up, keep your leg wrapped around him, and to keep your spurs off of him when he was cantering and just keep a light seat, he might get excited.

She picked up her canter at A with a fairly prompt transition and made a nice corner tracking left.  Going down that long side is a bit of a down slope, so I saw Solo fall on his forehand a bit and cheat his way through by just going a little faster.  Before I knew it, he made a motorcycle turn across the arena and I yelled, "Half halt!"

He was pointed almost straight at the arena rope now and I saw the conflict on his face.  Never jump out of the dressage arena!  But she's pointing me at a thing and digging in her spurs and saying go!  NEVER jump out of the dressage arena!  But she's telling me to go faster!  NEVER JUMP OUT OF THE DRESSAGE ARENA!  OMG!!!

Fortunately for the long run, Solo made the correct decision and politely said, no ma'am, you have requested the wrong thing, and slid to a stop with his ankles against the rope.  Amber, less fortunately, had lost her leg behind her and tipped forward and did the MOST superlative Superman impression out to the side that I think I have ever seen.  We're talking full-body, stretched out, completely level airtime here.

She hit the ground on her butt, rolling (yesss, someone who knows how to roll!) and Solo sidled two steps over to me with worried eyes, saying I'm sorry, mom, but she was wrong.  I yelled to Amber not to move, patted Solo and told him it was ok, he did the best he could.

I knew Amber had a pre-existing back sprain, so I didn't want her to get up (I never let people get up anyway), to just take a minute and breathe.  She popped up a little soon, but insisted she was ok and climbed back on the horse to walk it out.  I had her walk around, stretch everything out, breathe and chat, and just relax.

This, this is where the line starts.  After calmly assessing she was unhurt aside from some road rash and bruising, she climbed right back up and said, "Let's do this because I don't want it to be a thing."

Right on.

I re-emphasized the spurs; "Now we know why we don't dig them in, yes?  Do you feel like you know where they are right now and that you can control them?"  Because Solo is nearly impossible to ride without a spur and he knows it.  She thought she was good, so I said, ok, let's try this again.

I always cantered Solo perfectly.  Ha!
We did the right lead, his easier one.  It was perfectly uneventful and had some nice strides on the short end.  When he got unbalanced, I had her take a tug and then release to rebalance in a crude sort of half halt, but she was able to keep Solo from slithering down the hill. Yeah!  So we changed direction and hit the left lead again, although I had her stay on a 20 m circle at one end this time.

Solo picked up his canter and after the first few strides, I saw Amber get a bit wobbly from nerves.  Solo shifted a bit and tried to keep his balance under hers as they turned towards me.  I love my horse.  But as they turned in the arena corner, she tipped forwards and lost it again and rolled over his shoulder, albeit much less dramatically this time.

I will say now that I HATE when people fall off when I am teaching.  I know it is part of the process, but standing in the middle of the ring, I am responsible for everything that happens there.  It's why I've been keeping our work mostly in the small grass dressage arena from which I've removed all the rocks and know every inch of the footing.  Much nicer than the bigger arena down below where you land on rocks and a very hard base....  

But Amber hopped up immediately this time (I'm going to have to work on that!) and came back over and climbed up again.

That's the line, right there.  Many people walk away after the first fall.  Most of the rest are gone after the second.  Especially within 15 minutes of the first.  Given of course, that no injuries in need of medical care occur.  One must, of course, take of those first!  

Well, I'll be.  She's the real deal.  She's someone who knows that Rome wasn't built in a day and it is definitely not a painless process.  Colour me impressed.

The second fall really gets your adrenaline going though, so I made sure she spent lots of time wandering around, relaxed, doing breathing exercises, talking about other things.  Oh yeah, and I took the spurs off.  I felt confident that Solo was awake at this point. 

I said, "I'd really like you to canter a left lead circle one time before you leave, so that this is resolved.  However, if you are not feeling comfortable, that is absolutely fine and we can pick it up next time and I have no problem with that."

Her reply, "No way, I don't want this to be a thing and I want to DO it."


So she picked up her trot, settled her shoulders back, asked for the canter and I yelled "Relax your leg and sit up!"

And she did it.  Then we dropped back to trot, did a bit of stretching for Solo's back, stuck a fork in it, and called it done.

I hope that Amber went home feeling very accomplished (well, after she got the dirt out of her pants), because it was indeed a big thing.  It takes courage, dedication, and a heck of a lot of try if you really want to ride and she displayed every one in spades.  I would have been ok if she had just wanted to fall off once, but I guess she had something to prove... 

November 20, 2012

WTF Just Happened? AKA The Surgeon's Update

So...I made this giant plan, right?  I pretty much gave up a year of my life to fix this stupid knee thing.  I had everything in place, all the characters lined up, & this massive, intricate web of steps ready to push into motion.

Anticlimax alert.

Then I woke up from anesthesia to be informed that all the tendons in my knee were, in fact, fine.  Big, chopping surgery with drills & such was not performed.  Arthroscopic exploration (which surgeon did say nothing was 100% till that) revealed that all of the issues stemmed from an intra-articular cartilage tear, just under the meniscus.  Which.....

Wait for it.

There is currently no available solution for.

I sat in my bed in puzzlement, looking from lifeshighway (BFF) to nurses to leg & back to lifeshighway.


What happened instead was that the surgeon debrided (read:  power sanded & sucked out) all the loose cartilage edges & built up inflammatory tissue (a lot!), wrapped it up & sent me home, now neatly moved into the "oop, can't fix, no longer interesting surgical case" category.

It's not a bad thing that I now have a two-three month recovery instead of an eight month one.  But now I'm sitting here with this heap of plan in my lap going, Heh.  Now what?

After the nerve block wore off, I spent Saturday in a whole new world of pain I didn't even know existed (thank cod I requested the stronger drugs), was dragged to salvation by two amazing friends, had insane explosion of plan remnants yesterday in "you can't make this shit up" realm, & now on Tuesday am just resting till I go back to work & PT next Monday.

Long term prognosis:  I am now a horse.  We will try maintenance HA (hyaluronic acid; at least I'm a nice enough horse that I get the expensive stuff) injections & I will rebuild muscle around the joint.  I will then just manage flare-ups until someone invents a solution.

Lifeshighway & I remain scratching our heads from the abrupt departure from expected occurrences.  I've been putting this thing together since late summer, building up to it, building up to it, ready to get my solution, then WHAM-O!  Just kidding, you'll be fine by February, except not really.  Now you're just another person with a bum knee.

Have fun with that!

November 12, 2012

The Eagle Has Landed

"You could totes be a model...."

Maybe that's what Encore's friends tell him.  And by friends I mean, one friend who likes to bite him.  Who is not really a friend, more like a food-stealing, bossy, co-dependent dominator.

But there has indeed been a noteworthy landing...of a Dover store in Raleigh (about 25 minutes from my house).  So BFF and I had to jump in the car and check out the grand opening sales, naturally. 

Much to my bank account's dismay (although all it knows is dismay, so perhaps it didn't notice), I decided I needed a consolation prize for the fact that things were going to suck really badly for quite some time.  So aside from the two years' worth of wormer and vetwrap (I ALWAYS stock up when that stuff is on sale! $0.99 a roll, I mean, come on!), I walked around the corner and stopped dead in front of this (for those of you who missed it on TFS Facebook):

Holy crap! you exclaim, Is that a custom wool dress sheet in exact Team Flying Solo colours?  Why yes, yes it is.  At 1/3 of its regular price.  Horse and trailer not included.  Mine.  The picture really does not do it justice; the colours are rich and gorgeous and I am quite sure we will intimidate the competition simply by stepping off the trailer next year.

Easy on the orange blush there, tiger.

Work it, baby.
I also found the grail of my year long quest:  a dressage pad with blue binding.  Well, close enough.  Enough with the black and white thing, DQ's, live a little!

Click to enlarge.
That pretty much took care of my year's worth of horse purchases.  Of course, I always snag a pair of breeches when they are on sale, since I have a pile in various stages of decay from daily use.

His Highness approves of your offerings.
I also did an experiment and verified that you were NOT immediately encapsulated in a metal cage and shot if you uttered SmartPak's name.  You do, however, get a glare from the store manager. 

Sorry, Dover, love ya, but SmartPak already stole my soul when they delivered my cat food for free.  BUT nobody carries everything, so the beauty of this one is that you can order anything you want from the Dover catalog and then pick it up at the store.  Not that I often need much at this point, but I HATE PAYING SHIPPING.  There, I said it, I'm spoiled.

I'm not sure how much will be left of that sheet  though, after I spend months petting it in my lap until I can jump sweet jumps again...


November 6, 2012

An Emotional Blender

Our farrier met me in a bitterly cold wind this afternoon and pulled Encore's shoes; the final touch ending my desperate attempt at a fall season.  At least I won't have to get all crabby about riding in the dark all winter. 

It's not all bad -- Encore no longer shows any pain in his hip or hindquarter from his ligament injury, which is great.  Now we just need to work on loosening up the tight tendons and ligaments in the area and make sure to keep them moving throughout the winter.  The Majykal Hotwalker (my new best friend) will help keep his muscles toned and hopefully, the round pen and a lovely rider of a friend can keep a hint of topline on him.

In addition, there is Amber.  Delightful, thoughtful, enthusiastic Amber who showed up out of nowhere and brightened my life really at its darkest moment.  She will be helping me keep Solo in shape and showering him with the attention he has been craving.  I laughed out loud on Sunday as I glanced at him:  Amber was brushing him and his bright eyes and pricked ears were locked on me, saying, "FINALLY!  Thank you for this most excellent minion!"  He was in heaven.  At least until he found out there would be SOME work involved.  But he was quickly bribed back to joy with a giant peppermint stick.

My surgery comes next Friday and this week is a crazy one at work, so the clock is ticking.  I will be stockpiling feed and digging out my old crutches and relishing my last moments with my legs wrapped around a warm, wonderful horse.  I lean against their necks and breathe deeply, hoping I can save up their essence to get me through to the other side.

November 2, 2012

The Guestest With The Bestest

I am proud to introduce you to Amber, who humoured me and has written a guest blog for us today.  She contacted me through email about my woeful longings for Solo to have a job again and to get him back into shape.  We had our first meeting this past Sunday and she is fantastic.  Not only does she have a lovely seat and posture, she got the Solo seal of approval, a list which only has two people on it, AND she's just a fun person!  Perhaps my red love boy is finally relaxing and learning that its ok to trust the people I bring him.  He thoroughly enjoyed his job as caretaker and Amber very quickly re-found her balance and rhythm.  I couldn't be more excited and proud for my beloved shiny horse and so happy and grateful to have met such a great person.
Without further ado, take it away, Amber! 
Everything. Hurts. And it’s glorious.  I couldn’t be happier to be this stiff and sore!  It’s so completely worth it for the experience of riding Solo. And I guess a statement like that begs for some background information.
While I haven’t left comments on this blog, I’ve lurked in the background for a while.  I’d sit reading away every morning when I got to work; yes I was procrastinating.  It was just a nice window into a sport I enjoyed in my teens.  I stopped riding about 15 years ago and pretty firmly closed the door on that part of my life. It’s funny how horses manage to creep back into your heart and your life, sometimes when you aren’t expecting it at all. One morning I read Brena’s blog post about Solo needing some attention and exercise, and all of my casual thoughts of getting back into eventing became this uncontrollable urge to start fresh with this horse. It’s the Solo magic I think. Before I knew it, I was emailing like a complete creeper to see if this stranger would let me ride her horse.  Imagine my surprise when instead of a restraining order, I received an email response! Brena has been immensely generous with her time, expertise, and her shiny wonder boy.
I drove up and was privileged to ride Solo this past Sunday.  Of course when I first saw him, Solo was running around his pasture screaming and performing aerial maneuvers I haven’t seen outside of a Royal Lipizzaner Stallion performance [eventer79 notes:  Encore was on the hotwalker and Solo disapproved and there was a cold wind blowing up his tail].  I just looked at Brena as she laughed and said “that’s my broken horse”. I’ll admit, I definitely had a moment of questioning my sanity as I watched him gallop and buck. As soon as he realized we were coming to get him though he settled right down. It was awesome to see his happy face as he received some well-deserved attention from his minions. Solo is very expressive, and it was easy to see he enjoys having people fawn over him.

Wait till she gets to do this...  Damn, he looked good then!
As I scrambled aboard he was a saint, and definitely babysat me as I exhibited amazing feats of clumsiness and a complete lack of coordination.  It is simultaneously humbling and hilarious to ask your muscles to do things that they haven’t even considered for 15 years. My brain said one thing and my body did something completely different! I’m so grateful that Solo took such good care of me, and I know he most definitely took pity on me because I really doubt any of my cues were very effective.  I’m also grateful that Brena is willing to allow me to ride His Shine-ness, and I look forward to the both of us slowly getting back into shape. Who knows, maybe someday you guys will see us out doing a maiden course somewhere. But for now, Sweet Heavens to Betsy…I am a bowlegged mess, and this is several days later! I’ll take being this horribly sore any day if it means I’ve been out riding.