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We Are Flying Solo

April 2, 2012

Oh, Solo, Now I Have To Call Batman Too?!

Solo has been out on a pasture which has a giant mudpit by the gate from this winter.  It's a boggy area that never really dries all the way except in drought.  Unfortunately, horses also like to hang out by the gate.  Also unfortunately, due to some genetic flaw, Solo has wussy feet.

I'm sure it doesn't take you long to make the leap:  thrush.  I was not a happy camper.  My horse has NEVER EVER EVER had thrush and I work so hard at foot care.  But there was little I could do except treat the snot out of it, which I did.

At the end of last week, it was ok.  Not great, still mushy, but I kept pouring stuff on it and Robin had helped by carving out some flaps of frog that were trapping bacteria.

Sad foot is sad.
Tonight, I had decided to give Encore the night off after a tough weekend of MAJOR trail/hill/roadwork on Saturday and a dressage lesson on Sunday.  My plan was to ride Solo.  That is, until I picked up his right front foot.

He's barefoot right now, since he's not doing much, so his feet don't trap much dirt.  But as I went to scrape out the mud trapped on his frog, my hoof pick sunk in.  Deeper.  As I picked, it went even deeper and dug out white mushy stuff.  My heart sank.

I shoved the ThrushBuster neck in as far as it would go and filled it with purpleness.  I made sad eyes at BO and said, can Solo PLEASE stay up in the dry pasture tonight so I can take him to vet tomorrow?  Happily she said yes, so he will be accompanying his little brother to see the Dynamic Duo (Encore's getting some follow-up accupuncture on his poor stuck poll).

Did I mention I just had to take my blue-tongued shink to the vet on Friday?

It never ends....

March 29, 2012

In Which Robin Is Just As Awesome As Batman

Right before the final jump on the Southern Pines XC course, I felt Encore crossfire as he did a 90 degree turn while I tried to convince him to balance.  I felt something tweak beneath me.  It wasn't quite a pop, it wasn't a stumble, but something changed.  He cantered on unchanged and showed no signs of distress, so I let him jump the jump and we stopped.

I hopped off, felt tendons, joints, checked shoes, feet, all were intact and perfectly normal.  I continued to watch them over the next few days, but to my great relief everything remained at baseline levels.

Then I saw it:  a wayward vertebrae sticking up in Encore's SI area, jutting up like a mini K2 along his spine.  There seemed to be no pain around it, but I felt certain that was what I felt on that turn.  I made an appointment with my vet and kept riding.

Encore slowly began to develop pain in his loin on the right side and his hip on the left side.  I, of course, freaked out, having not had the best history with back sore horses.  But I held my breath and tried to contain my panic.

Dr. Bob is always very busy and only does farm calls on certain days, so his sidekick, Dr. Brian, came out to fix my broken unicorn.  I showed him the hip and loin pain, and showed him the vertebrae I had found (as if he couldn't find it himself) and told him about the weird step on course.  I then said Encore had to be perfect by April 21st and he was in charge of making him fixed or else he owed me $350 of a missed event, ha!

He nodded and assured me that all made sense -- when the front end is doing one thing and the back end is doing the opposite, it basically jams the spine in the middle together and then you get things popping out.  Ow.

Then he promptly went to Encore's head and started feeling around his neck.  I watched, puzzled.  His neck didn't hurt, his back hurt.

But I have already witnessed that Dr. Brian knows A LOT about feet and is very thorough with his bodywork, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

"Do you have a hard time flexing him right?" he asked.


"Is it hard for him to bend right and he falls in?"

Yep.  I just figured his muscles were a bit tight or I just wasn't training him well enough.

"Nope," the Boy Wonder said, "the right side of his poll is all jammed up and he cannot flex it to the right at all."

Well, I'll be gee-whilikers.  I never even thought about that.  I bow before my new guru of bodywork.

Dr. Brian spent a fair amount of time loosening up his poll, then put his spine back where it belonged and told me to assess over the next 4-5 days.  I was to ride him lightly and stretchily the next day and then resume work.  If, after 5 days, he was still tight in the poll, he can work on it some more and do some acupuncture.


So I rode him last night as instructed.  His back felt great -- he was steady in the bridle and stretched and rounded his little heart out, it was lovely.  He did have improved motion in his poll to the right but was still a bit tight.  Some may be muscle habit, so I'll continue coaxing it over the next few days and then see where we stand.

Encore's body has changed a LOT in the seven (??!!) months I have had him -- the way he moves, his musculature, it's all different, so there is bound to be some adjustment needed.  I am so grateful that I have Batman and Robin on my team to make sure my little buddy stays healthy when I miss a detail!

March 24, 2012

Tantrums And Tree Sex

I bet a get a lot of google hits off that title.  If I add the word "cat" I might be able to garner the entire internet to this blog!

It was hot yesterday evening as we rode Solo and Pete, the dynamic duo, into woods stained yellow in a tree-orgy of pollen.  Oh yes, it's that time of year. 

I had turned Encore out in his paddock, content to let him rest and eat another day while I took my Shiny Man out for what had always been his favourite, a romp in the woods with our best friends.

Turns out, a particular redhead had been enjoying doing not much at all much more than I thought.  He slowed and stalled and nipped at my toes and paused at every puddle we crossed, ostensibly to "drink" but I knew that old trick too well -- it was really an excuse to get me to let go of the reins and let him stand still. 

I had to be a little sympathetic, we'd taken the hilly trail and it was no doubt akin to forcing an obese man to run bleacher stairs for the first time in months.  Poor hippo pony.  I told him it was pretty pathetic that the six year old gave me a better trail ride than his opinionated butt that day.

It was quite the miracle though, once we turned for home, suddenly, he was all red fire again, charged with energy, bare feet no longer tender and delicate, but rather charging full blast down the trail.  It still made me laugh.

Sorry, buddy, I haven't forgotten a single one of your tricks or tantrums.

A trademark Solo-tantrum moment.
As we came to a big puddle that crossed most of the trail, we approached at the walk, but it was deep and wide enough, I KNEW he would jump it.  And when that red horse makes up his mind, you just get ready.  What I didn't know is that he would jump it, kick out, leap sideways, half rear, fling his head in the air, and make his bid for galloping freeeeeeeedommmmmm.  Right at a giant tree.  Umm.

The Solo trantrums never do give you any warning.

I yanked the right rein back towards the middle of the trail and kicked him forward out of the "up," my primary thought being, damn, if I run into a tree, I can no longer make fun of lifeshighway (Pete's mom) for running into a tree!  But we missed it and instead did a long, swinging trot up the hill, even after fatty got tired and begged to stop.

All walked home uneventfully after that, got a good hosedown, and were returned to their appropriate pastures.  Solo made me work a lot harder than I wanted to, but I felt like we at least burned some calories.  Someone also DEFINITELY needs to get a bit of a work ethic back!   

March 20, 2012

Horses Make Life Suck Less

SprinklerBandit wrote this in the last posts' comments and I had to steal it because it was hilarious, yet so apt.  I cannot think of a better way to lead in to the Tales of Day Two.

After leaving Carolina Horse Park, we followed a long and complicated set of directions which ended up at a place I had been before -- only now I actually knew what it was!  It was our fellow Adult Rider Alison's farm, where Encore, mum, and I were graciously allowed to spend the night.

I was a bit concerned about Encore because he was going to have to stay in this horrible pasture overnight, but he seemed to decide he could make do with the conditions.

Just awful, isn't it?
There, I also discovered the cutest pony of all time.  Don't argue with me, because there can be no comparison.
Meet Ponytail.  100% purebred Pony.
Yes, yes, she seems all innocence and preciousness, but I got the eerie sense that Ponytail KNOWS things, that she merely allowed the humans to think they were running the show.  I caught her, for just a moment, during breakfast, watching us with superior expression.

Heh.  Those humans.  They think they're soooo smart...
Ponytail and her mini horse companion (minion?), whose name I missed.
The minions wonder why I am not preparing pony breakfast immediately.
After a lovely night, it was time to load up and head back to CHP!
Whoa.  Mom.  Check it -- shrunken hairy horses.  What's up with that?  And why do we look like blueberries?
It was hard to leave such an idyllic retreat, but we had a hot date with a XC course that I couldn't wait to run.

Fun while you wait:  put Russell the russell in my bicycle basket.  How can you not??!
He always rides around on his mom's scooter, I think he secretly liked my awesome milk crate...
Our time came though and we took the long hike back to the start box and warm up area.  As I let Encore trot out the kinks, I realized he was actually TIRED from the day before.  This horse never gets tired -- maybe I wouldn't have to do a wrestling match to avoid speed penalties after all!  He immediately locked on to the warm up jumps, took them all beautifully, and we were ready to go.  I already posted the helmet cam here, so I'll leave you with a few snapshots of a course that was fun, inviting, and as I always feel at the finish flags, far too short -- I want that feeling to last forever! 

Check out his new muscle-butt!
Sigh.  Really, mum, this is the hardest you can come up with? 
Yay, galloping, NOW you're talking!
Wait, what?  Gallop slow?  Why do you ruin everything!?
And then it was over.  But I was thrilled with my horse; he'd run double clear XC and the only problem we had was that the jumps were so small, he barrelled right up to them!  Had I not missed my turn in SJ, he would have jumped clean (he is quite careful and hates knocking rails) and we would have finished on our dressage score -- putting us in 5th place in OPEN Beginner Novice in a division of 18 at his very first recognized horse trial.  Just knowing that was enough for me!  Even with the real results (rider error included), he finished 11th, middle of the pack, and had a healthy row of zeros across the most important phase (XC) and came in just 18 seconds under optimum time, so we were pretty close to smack on the pace.  Not bad for an ex-racehorse who just got back under saddle late last summer. 

I can't wait to see what happens a month from now...

March 19, 2012

A House Divided

It is hard when great joy and soul-wrenching grief co-exist in your heart.  On one hand, a person I love deeply is gravely ill and it will be some time before a resolution is reached or even in view.  I am a fixer; I like to repair people, problems, jump standards...but here, there is nothing I can do.  I am helpless to fix what is so much bigger than either of us.  I can wish that I was a doctor, or perhaps even better, a wizard, so I could wave a wand, cast a spell, and dismiss the dark cloud overhead.  As it is, the only things I can do are love deeply every single day, treasure each shared word and rare moment, and give all the emotional and moral support I have in me plus a little bit more.  But that love and support never falters nor wavers, even though I cannot be as close as I would, given my choice.  One day at a time has become my mantra. 

At the same time, in the same emotional space, there is great joy for the unexpected gift that a young horse brings to the same battered heart.  He cannot take the pain away, but what he does offer me is a bright spot in each day, a kind face that always makes me smile, that I can lose myself in for a period of time in the evenings, a balm for the open wounds and a therapy for a mind in turmoil.

Each one abates the other, in small pieces.

Yes, in a roundabout way, you are getting your event report.

It was a gift of a weekend when I towed that bright-eyed young thing into the organized chaos of the Carolina Horse Park on a Trial weekend.  Warm, blue, with perfect sandhills footing, the stage was set and we were even lucky enough to have the Amazing Mum with us to capture pictures and help with the endless tasks of shifting things about that events inevitably involve.  Some say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll let them tell the story instead.

Please feel free to admire and comment on my cuteness at any time, thank you.
Quiiiit, I'm not a stinking barbie!

I is workin' on my mohawk.  Check it.
Correct leads!  Both ways!  No starting gate leap!
All 10's, right??!  Look how cute I was!!
He was actually quite obedient.  If he didn't have a rider handicap of an oaf hanging on the right rein who would instead just let him flow through the bridle, he would have done very well indeed.  There were some lovely trot moments across the diagonal and his rider is slowwwwly learning to sit up straight.  All in all, a quite respectable 38.6, not bad for his first recognized show where I ran out of time in warm up and didn't even get to canter.

Encore, of course, thought he was done after what he felt was a brilliant performance.  To say he was surprised when the jumping saddle went on is an understatement.   So his ears were swiveling twelve ways at once when we got to warm up, leaving me concerned that he would be a bit wild over the jumps.

Arrrrrrggh!  I am ready to jump sweet jumps!!!
Er...your jumps do not impress me.

Ok, fine, I suppose I'll put some effort into it.
Then it was time to breach the ingate and start the show.  The first 2/3 of the course were like a dream.  I kept the rhythm, I re-balanced him, I softened my hand and closed my leg in front of the jump, letting him find each jump and arc over it perfectly.

It didn't last.  You see, they had opened the course for walking while I was doing my dressage test.  I hopped straight off when I finished and went into walk my stadium course.  I knew the course in my head and I had walked up to jump 7 when they kicked me out of the ring to put it back in play.  It became our epic fail.

I watched the riders before me, but apparently not closely enough.  Jumps 6 and 7 were a line down the far wall, then you made a sweeping rollback to 8.  I missed the turn.  My eyes frantically searched for the numbers and found it, but we had already passed our line.  I sat back and did a desperate, frantic detour and Encore gamely dug in and we found our way back to the jump.  Flustered, I lost my focus, and we pulled rails at both 9 and 10 and our detour cost us 8 time penalites as well.  But the fault was entirely mine and I still patted Encore for a job well and bravely done.

But can you ask for better engagement than that?  As I apparently attempt to climb to his ears?
It was time to pack up and go.  We had a sleepover date for the night at a friend's farm.  Who also owns the cutest pony you have ever seen.  But you'll have to wait for the next post to see the evidence.