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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.