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We Are Flying Solo

June 30, 2011

The Sticky Is Sticking!!

In the midst of doing 20 other things, I do have to share...PT came out for our combined FOURTH attempt at making the kinesiotape stick to horseyness last night.  I have clipped Solo's sore spots again with a pair of face clippers and washed and buffed his butt till there was not a stray hair or speck of dirt to be found.  PT also sprayed on some Magical Sporty Sticky Spray For Sweaty Athletes before applying the tape. I put Solo out last night with his fly sheet on and when I came out this evening...


I failed to contain my excitement as I sent a text in all caps to PT (who replies, "sweet.") and professed my undying love for his skillz. Now we shall see just how long it stays on.

After a long chat with Dr. Bob on Monday, I've also added methocarbamol (Robaxin) to Solo's treatment repertoire, and when the tape comes off, I'll do some deep massage with Surpass creme as well. The Surpass is diclofenac creme, interestingly the same drug that I have used in medicated painkiller patches on my back which were VERY effective!

I am frustrated with Solo's nearly invisible healing progress, but Dr. Bob assures me it is normal -- the back muscles are huge, 5-6 inches thick and it is a long, slow process. When queried about alternative therapies, such as shockwave, accupuncture, or injections, he maintained that those were most effective for localized areas and would likely have little effect over such a huge zone. Saves me money, but bummer for my mad desire to speed up this process.

I did ask if he thought Solo could be back in the game by September, when I would like to do a Novice HT at the Carolina Horse Park. Dr. Bob thought that was probably realistic, although he might not be back to Training Level jump heights by then, as full recovery varied widely by horse. That at least gave me something to hope for, especially when I told myself, hey, that's only like eleven weeks or so! (That sounds better than three months.)

June 23, 2011

I'm Not The Only One Held Together With Tape And Velcro

Well, the MRI verdict is in for my knee as of an hour ago!  The good news:  soft tissue looks good.  The bad news:  both the tibia and fibula have fractured ends.  But they are healing and in another month of wearing the brace, should be set.  I am supposed to do only necessary activities but frankly, I can't see the point of that after I've been walking around on it for the last month while they took their sweet time imaging it.  But I will do my best to avoid super high impact, I suppose.  No falling allowed.  No problem, it's not like I am clumsy or anything. 

On the other hand, as anyone who's ever had one will attest, soft tissue injuries are a bitch.  I've been dutifully massaging Solo's back and stretchy-trotting till he sighs with boredom, but he's still definitely sore in his lumbar area.  So while PT was working on MY back, I hit him up for massage tips.

"You know what," he says, "I'll just come out and tape him!"

OMG, really???!!! Ok, since I know you are thinking, what, are you going to scotch tape your horse back together?, let me clear things up. We are talking about kinesiotape, magical stuff that has been stuck to my back more than once. If you want to read the gory details of how it works, you can do that too. But basically, it lifts the skin and fascia, allowing increased flow of blood and lymph fluid, ostensibly speeding healing and reducing pain in muscles. It has been used on racehorses, but I have not heard much about it's application to sporthorses.

So yeah, I was psyched to hear PT volunteer for this. We gave it a first shot last night, but I discovered in about two minutes that sweaty horse hair is not very sticky. I set out tonight to remove said hair for optimal stickability.

The initial haircut.  SOMEone had his hip cocked when I was cutting around the spine...

Now perhaps I have not mentioned this before, but PT has magical hands. And it's not always good magic. He manages to always poke right onto some spot where you didn't even know you hurt. Well, he had printed out a diagram of equine musculature (that's how awesome he is, because he doesn't usually work on animals) and examined it and then he walks up to Solo and says, "Hey, I bet he's sore right here too," and pokes his finger into the muscle posterior to his flank. Solo's hip dropped like a rock. How does the man do that???

Time to expand the clip job.

Then you just sit back and watch the magic happen.

First, you measure the tape out.
Then you peel it...
Stick it...
And voila!  You are magically taped with magic tape!

I eyed the edges of the tape suspiciously. They were pulling up on the stubby hairs -- my clipper blades would not allow me to cut as close as I had hoped. I could at least nail down the front pieces.

Solo's marvelous vetwrap girdle.

As of the time of my departure tonight, it was still on there, but I suspect it will be gone by the time I get there tomorrow, sigh. Next plan: shave the hair down shorter somehow and give Solo a bath to get rid of ALL the fuzz and dirt! The tape WILL stick, dammit!!

June 22, 2011

This Is How We (Don't) Roll: Majykal Cooling Products

I've often eyed those fancy CoolMedics vests online -- they claim to keep your core temperature down through evaporative cooling.  But at almost $200 a pop, I wasn't going to "just try it out."  However, our BO just bought one and I soaked it up and put it on yesterday evening.  I mounted Solo and awaiting my cooling miracle.

We only rode briefly and if you know anything about Carolina summers, you know they are filled with the air you can chew. Did the clouds part and angels sing as I was miraculously cooled? Ummmmm, no. I basically felt like I was riding wearing a heavy, wet towel. Ick. I suppose you might have better luck if your summer includes low humidity and constant breezes, but since that doesn't happen here, I'm going to keep my $200, thank you very much.

I am going to try their (much cheaper) neck scarf to see if it works any better -- cool water on the neck always feels good and doesn't block air from getting to your body.  But as far as the torso goes, I'm sticking to my wicking shirts; they WORK and even better, they are often less than $10.  That's what I'm talking about!

June 20, 2011

Not Exactly Horse Related

He limped up to my front porch as I arrived home a few hot Carolina evenings ago.  He had two puncture wounds on either side of his spine from which blood oozed and a big patch of hair had been ripped out.  His entire head was covered in scabbed over wounds and a sizeable piece of one ear was missing.  He looked like he hadn't seen a meal in weeks as he flopped onto the concrete.

Oh crap, I thought. I don't want another cat.

They find me, you see. Cats in need, I mean. It's like some kind of scent trail that leads to my exact location. And I am REALLY tired of cleaning up other people's messes.

Last fall, it was the black and white kitten that someone had literally thrown out of their car window at our office gate. We are the only building on a dead-end interstate service road next to a reservoir and the gate apparently says, "Hey scumbags, please dump your unwanted felines here." His claws and pads lost in asphalt burns, this cuddly young thing had hobbled up to our parking area and was hiding inside a truck engine. He was asleep in my lap in five minutes.

He eventually went to live a pampered life with my technician's mother. Then there was the trio of friendly orange kittens (also pitched by our gate) that I took to my vet's rescue clinic. The same clinic kindly accepted the darling calico I found in a tree outside Pizza Hut (we called her Pepperoni). Another black and white snuggler, dirty and wormy and maybe five weeks old, leaped on my hands from a bush when I stopped to move a box turtle out of the road; he now lives with a co-worker. I am still convinced that one left the turtle out as bait for a soft-hearted sucker like me.

So by the time this torn-up orange tomcat presented himself at my door, yeah, I was sick of having to do the responsible thing because someone else couldn't be bothered.  My bank account certainly had no wiggle room!

I thought (hoped) he might run off and save me the trouble. He looked up at me and started to purr.


"Ok, mister," I told him with a sigh. "I can't very well leave you here in 95 degree heat with deep, bleeding punctures and a busted up leg. Here's the deal: if you let me pick you up and take you inside, I will try to help you."

Please run away, please run away, I thought. I have no money and two cats of my own already that I have to protect from god-knows-what diseases you have.

He hung limp in my arms as I scooped him up and unlocked the door. He was a big cat, twice the size of mine, but he weighed next to nothing. As I cautiously opened the door, he caught sight of my cats and I braced myself for the inevitable filleting of my arms which I knew was about to occur.

Nothing. He just hung there and sighed a little.

I put him in my guest bathroom with some water, kibble, and litter. I know he must be starved and dehydrated. He half-heartedly lapped a few sips of water and then climbed into the bathtub and, in two minutes, fell asleep in front of me.

He was so exhausted, he spent the next two days hardly budging from the tub except for the occasional snack and drink. When I came in, he limped over and leaned against me to be petted, his rumbling purr vibrating his whiskers. He was filthy and left brown pawprints all over the tub but I couldn't hold it against him as I raged against the human species who left him to this fate.

He looked like a dog had picked him up and shaken him and it was obvious he had been fighting for his life. He had a mess of worms and nasty ears. But his eyes were clear and he wanted nothing more than to crawl into my lap.

After a day at the vet getting neutered and shot and cleaned and tested, it was clear kitty had magical powers: he could rack up amazing bills without moving a muscle.  When they informed me that he was free of heartworms/feline leukemia/FIV, I was shocked that he'd managed to stay clean.

He's been in my house for two weeks now. Completely submissive, when one of my cats whacked him on the nose, he flopped over on his side and stared at her, simply waiting to be accepted. Last night, he crawled across the bed and laid down at my side. He pressed his back into my ribcage and stretched out, nestling his head into the space between my shoulder and neck. His purrs came faster than he could breathe and I wondered at his ability to love and trust the same animal that dumped him, as he had obviously been a housecat before.

No, this has nothing to do with Solo and little to do with horses, but this cat's story compelled me to share it. So many animals have an amazing capacity to forgive, to give us second and third and fourth chances that we clearly don't deserve. They heal and move on seemingly without a backward thought.

Some stories have a happy ending. This particular orange cat is completely available (you know you want him!) but if no one takes him, he is safe with me. Many more stories don't end so well. The thoughtlessness of the masses is quite content to leave animals of all sorts to the four winds of the fates, no matter how they suffer. After all, who cares what happens, it doesn't affect us, right? I guess not, if you have no soul or compassion at all.

So take a minute, give your lucky animals a hug. And I hope you can find it in you to take your time and money, however scarce or invisible, and offer a bit of help to all those critters out there who need it so badly. Even if it's just clicking our friends at The Animal Rescue Site, the animals need us to step up. Volunteer at your local dog/cat/horse rescue, donate money (even $5 helps), donate stuff you don't use anymore, etc. Because if we don't help them, no one else will.

June 12, 2011

Killing Time While Broken

I don't take being grounded well.  I mope.  I pout.  I whine.  I generally make myself a nuisance to those poor souls who for some unknown reason consent to befriend me.  I am sure they breathe a sigh of relief when I drag myself home to flop about the house and complain to the cats, who stare vacantly at me, wondering when I am going to shut up and scoop more food.  Even the lizard can't seem to summon up a modicum of sympathy, cold-hearted wretch that he is.

But it's not all melodramatics and depressed sighs; there are still tasks to attend to. Every day, Solo gets a deep muscle massage accompanied by SoreNoMore. I can see the rippling spasms travel along the muscle fibers as I compress them with the heel of my hand against his vertebrae. He cocks a hind foot and twitches his lip -- apparently digging into those painful knots feels just as good on his back as it does on mine.

Yesterday, I put him on the longe line and set the vienna reins on the lowest rings of the surcingle to encourage a low, round, stretchy outline. He went really well and it lifted my spirits to watch his muscles work under the rice-bran-shine of chestnut coat. Keeping him fit is my biggest challenge right now; lifeshighway has ponied him out again this morning -- I have not seen any ambulances fly by the house, so I must assume it was uneventful.

There are even spots of fun! Friday evening, I taught lifeshighway and the irrepressible Pete how to do gymnastic ground poles. Now, Pete's attitude towards poles and anything resembling jumping is that it is a complete waste of energy and surely there is a perfectly good path to go around every obstacle. However, he needs to build his haunches and topline and stretch out his legs for racing, so I gleefully planned a few grids for him.

Pete has impeccable balance and is a quick learner so once he was informed that he DID have to continue moving forward, even if there was more than one pole, he picked up his feet and agreed to comply. We finished with him bouncing cleanly through four canter poles set on 10' centers -- not bad for a short little guy! I couldn't keep the grin off my face watching lifeshighway find the rhythm and discover the fun of gymnastics!

Carolina summer is in full swing and the heat blazes down, although we are supposed to see a break this week. If my body and Solo's will cooperate, maybe I will get lucky and be able to sit on him. Meanwhile, I fantasy shop for prospects that I cannot afford to board and wait impatiently for the cash fairy to make an appearance already!

June 9, 2011

Watch And Learn

I am a big believer in volunteering.  In all things, but today I'm talking about volunteering at horse trials.  So big a believer that I think it should be required of every competitor that they volunteer for eight hours every year.

EVERY competitor.  I don't care if you are Phillip Dutton or TeenyFishMe.  You have to give at least eight hours back to the eventing community every year. That's basically one work day a year. That's one day jump judging or stewarding or checking bits. It doesn't even have to be the day of competition; organizers always need help stuffing envelopes, organizing entries, setting up jumps beforehand -- you don't even have to sacrifice your weekend.

We are all busy. God knows these days, between vets and doctors and work, I don't even have time to buy groceries. But if you are going to play in this sport, you need to be giving back to this sport. When you are competing, people are out there giving of their time to make it happen and you need to do the same.

It pays off for you too. I have never volunteered and not learned something. The first event I ever worked was the ***World Cup at The Fork, here in NC. I watched some beautiful rides and some terrible rides. You see that everyone makes mistakes -- I saw Karen O'Connor go off course with Teddy after riding six other horses that day. You can compare how different approaches to your jump produce results, good or bad. You get free lunch!

This past weekend, I spent half a day scribing one of the dressage rings at a local unrecognized horse trial. I have to give a shout out to FenRidge Farm. Patricia Roberts runs a fantastic local show series every year -- dressage, CT's, hunter derbies and horse trials -- and she lets us come school her course year round. I have seen her out there digging ditches on the XC course in the rain. She spends countless hours making sure the footing is safe, the jumps are all in good repair, and everyone has a great time. Seeming to be in eight places at once all day during one of her shows, she takes care not only of the competitors, but the volunteers, judges, and spectators. I have been thrilled to see her events grow over the past couple of years and I hope it's a continuing trend.

I spent four hours sitting next to a dressage judge for Training, Novice, and Beginner Novice tests. This judge in particular used to work for Derek DiGrazia (now-designer of the Rolex CCI**** XC course as well as the currently running Bromont *** course) and used to event herself. She now rides Grand Prix dressage and is an instructor as well, so she knows what she's looking at. It was my first time scribing and I was intrigued to finally get an inside look at what a dressage judge wants. While I barely had time to see any horses as I scribbled madly to keep up, I noticed some very interesting patterns throughout the day.

-The judge does not care if your horse is a perfect frame on the vertical. What they DO want is an honest connection in the bridle. I can't even count how many times I wrote "cnxn." Go forward into that rein.

-Related: the judge knows a fake frame when they see one. His nose might be on the vertical, but if he is tense through his neck and his back or not following through behind, you'll still lose points.

-Geometry counts. You will get dinged if your circles are huge and lopsided. Don't give away easy points -- hit the marks for your shapes!

-Judges are not blinded by fancy. I wrote 8's and 4's on the same test more than once. A pretty horse who does a gorgeous centerline can still score a 5 two movements later if they are tense and crooked. Likewise, even if one movement is terrible, they really are judged separately, so one bad movement or two WON'T blow your test, redeem yourself on the next part.

-Everyone has bad tests. My heart melted for the poor girl who dissolved into tears after her final halt on her very naughty horse. The judge sympathizes -- we've all had days when Dobbin throws his nose in the air and takes advantage of you. No one thinks worse of you, WE'VE BEEN THERE. Shrug it off and go enjoy your jump courses.

-If you have extensions in your test, go for it but don't run the horse off his feet. Downhill and rushy scores worse than packaged but too conservative. But make the change in gait obvious and the transition marked.

-The judge WANTS to score you well.  We were both clucking under our breath for extensions and scolding naughty ponies for bit snatching.  They really REALLY do want to encourage you and see you succeed.

What scored well? Accurate lines, prompt transitions, solid rider positions, consistent bend, and steady rein connections.


June 7, 2011

Dr. Bob's Magic Fingers

They always find something.

Going in, I knew Solo was struggling with some jumps and in a test ride last night, refusing to lift his back up and engage. In the past, back soreness has pointed to hind leg joint issues. I was expecting stifles, hocks, and needles to be involved in our visit.

To my vast and utter surprise, Solo flexed 100% clean and sound on both hind legs. I have always maintained that this horse would probably never pass a flex test, although I have never done one on him. Given that I know he has some mild hock arthritis and I know he's lopsided, I figured there'd always be a little something there. So my jaw pretty much dropped when he jogged off perfectly every time behind lifeshighway, who was working Amazing Friend duty, jogging my horse in 90 degree heat since I was lame.

Dr. Bob poked and prodded and then sent Solo and I into the round pen to demonstrate our free lunging skills. Which was fine till he wanted to see the canter. I eventually had to give up and redneck it bareback and barefoot with the halter to get the shiny beast to canter those tiny circles.

Good news: joints are fine. Clean, even, and moving well in all gaits. Dr. Bob was wowed by Solo's muscle condition and suspension when he moved. I basked a little.

Less than good, but not as bad as expected news: the problem appears to be deep muscle pulls in the large muscles of his back and hips. Likely cause, the too-short stadium warmup in VA. Muscle cells damaged in a pull turn into scar tissue, which must gradually be broken down and worked out.  If I want, we can go down to the vet school and play with MRI's, thermography, and all their goodies.  I snorted -- as if I have any money left at this point! -- and said, would it change our course of action?  Response:  probably not.  Ok then.

Rx: Start slow, with lots of stretching, bute, and light, stretchy works under saddle. After every ride, deep massage sore muscles with liniment or witch hazel/vinegar/water combo. Slowly incorporate long, stretchy trot, ground poles, then tiny cross rails and build back up from there.

I can't jump right now anyway till the knee is fixed, so we can take our time. Which is why I took him in when I did anyway -- all competition pressure is removed and all I HAVE to do at this point is keep him in condition.

So with some time and a lot of help from dear friends who I couldn't live without, the prognosis is good for a healed Solo!

June 6, 2011

I'm Going To Buy One Of Those Cool Magneto Helmets

Only if it comes with a cape. I guess if you are not as big a dork as me, you won't get that reference though. But I DO get another trip to the MRI though. Wheee, giant magnet fun. Yup, the knee has earned me another pass on that ridiculously expensive thrill ride. *sigh*

In the mean time, Solo and I will go visit Dr. Bob tomorrow and see if we can winnow out a reason for his reluctance to jump sweet jumps.  The shiny beast is still out on the trail, we have to stay in shape, after all.

I fantasize about what it would be like if life went back to normal. 

June 3, 2011

Yay, I Love Spending Money!

Did you notice the sarcasm font?

Oh, Solo.

See, I get a little crazy when I can't ride. Ok, I get a lot crazy. I get all balled up inside like a coiled up spring in a too-small container, all bursting at the edges with frustration and other pent-up emotions.

I longed Solo last night and got some beautiful work at the trot and canter. He fought me a bit on the left lead canter, but this isn't unusual.

I had to get on him tonight. I HAD to. I'd tried to ride in the dressage saddle on Wednesday, but it hurt too much. So I hopped on bareback this evening. Not too bad. Definitely able to do more than with feet in stirrups, thank goodness. Don't tell my orthopedist. Hey, it's gotta be lower impact than walking!

A few transitions, ok, everything feels pretty good. Let's do a couple little jumps.

The bugger stopped. S.T.O.P.P.E.D. Twice. We rode through it (Damn, you stick good when you're jumping bareback. It's funny how having no options will improve your position in a heartbeat!) but I'm not happy.

This horse is not a stopper. Yeah, he stopped at VA, he was tired, those were looky jumps, ok. But a crossrail? Uh-uh. Something's not right. I can play mental games and say, well, last time he jumped, I fell off and we had to walk out of the ring so maybe it messed with his head a little.

Maybe. But that's an awfully complex argument. And it's a CROSSRAIL. And his left lead canter did feel a little funny and resistant.

So next on the agenda, after checking tomorrow to see if there is ulcer pain (psssh, not like he's had any stress in the past week of doing...nothing) call Dr. Bob on Monday and have him check everything out. Whee. Hey, why the hell not, I'm already paying my own medical bills, why not throw a vet bill in for good measure!!

I love horses. I swear. I do. Really.

Hey, at least Pete and Solo are enjoying themselves.

June 2, 2011

The Solo-Cam Returns: Cross Country In Virginia

Here it is, then, the trip around Virginia's spring Training Level cross country course. In all its glory bumpiness. I sat too much, obviously. And you are free to laugh when my legs get too pooped to function at the end as Solo says, "Ya know, I'm kinda tired and this place is hilly, do I HAVE to jump those dodgy-looking things?" But we made it through the finish flags and hopefully we did not make anyone's eyes bleed. I get all hot and tired again just watching it, it was about 90 degrees...

June 1, 2011

A Sport With Soul

One of the things that struck me the most after all the mishaps we suffered at Virginia last weekend was not the impact of injury nor was it the frustration of messing up.  What shone above everything was the way my fellow eventers rallied around me with words of support, advice, kindness and laughter.  None of them know me that well, perhaps a few casual encounters at events and an email on a listserv or two, but they knew exactly when to step in and offer a hand or a hug or a word when my hands were shaking or my shoulders dropped.

This community is a big part of what makes eventing the incredible world that it is. The capacity for empathy, compassion, and the spirit of helping out put the heart in our sport and turn it from just another horse show to a true endeavor of passion and fellowship.

This force is in full motion this week following the heartrending barn fire at True Prospect Farm that struck Tuesday morning in Boyd Martin's stabling. John and the gang are keeping us all updated over on Eventing Nation. We always know that horses can break our hearts, but there is nothing more chokingly terrifying than the thought of losing a horse in its prime to an accident. Not only did several people lose their beloved partners, but they also lost everything they had to the flames, even as they suffered injuries of their own rescuing the animals they could reach.

It's a nightmare beyond imagining for any of us and I have no words that can express my sorrow to all parties involved. What I can say though, is that, in less time than it took to post the news, the eventing community rose up to help out.

Of course, this is a high profile incident; Boyd is at the top of our sport and is recognized virtually everywhere he goes. But what I have seen evidenced and talked about above is this: it doesn't matter if you are Boyd Martin or if you are Nobody Zero Me. The support of our fellows is offered with ever-surprising generosity to both and it never ceases to touch even this tired, cynical heart.

If you would like to help out the gang at True Prospect, EN John has posted information here. From experience, I can tell you that even just a note of compassion can go a long way. Because I like to think that, if the tables were turned, help would be there for each of us too. Ok, maybe no one would donate book sales to me or you (although I guess you never know), but you can bet eventers you never even met would lend a hand if asked and offer support when it is needed most.  That is what gives this sport its soul and what keeps me coming back even when the going gets tough.

Till next time, stay safe, and take care of each other.