Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Good Life

The last couple of days on the farm have been the most beautiful since I first got back in mid-June: warm and sunny without being too humid with crisp, cool nights. Ahhhh. When the weather's like that, it's not hard to remember that this truly is the good life.

(Figgy the 10hh pony investigates my camera lens)

Yesterday was a big day for Kiki because she got her first pair of hind shoes! I'm definitely not against shoes (every horse I've had since ponies has worn four all around), but I have to admit I was pretty proud of Kiki's beautiful bare feet. In California, where we rode on a more consistently prepared surface, we had no trouble at all; since coming home to Massachusetts, however, she's been flaring and chipping a bit too much to be happy with. The vet thinks that a foot problem might have contributed to her (otherwise totally mysterious) Stuart debacle, so suggested adding hind shoes, and so I accepted.

(Phil finishes the shoe)

(Kiki was a star for her first hind nailing in)

(Oh geez, life is sooo hard)

Phil did a beautiful job and I hope that they'll make Kiki more comfortable. At the very least, it might help point to a more root issue (or cross an issue off the list).

Meanwhile, the farm is looking significantly less parched after a few good days of rain at the end of last week:

... And our new puppy, Ducky, is getting used to life on the farm!

(Too. Cute.)

I tried to take some conformation shots of Ringo and Kiki yesterday, with mixed success. Kiki, especially, was not very helpful, but she put up with me.

(This one's hilarious because it shows what a little shrimp she is!! She's so small!)

(Ringo looking handsome... just missing a top line. Sigh...)

(Ahh, much better Kiki!)

The most exciting thing that's happened in a while: last night I went to reset Ringo's wraps and apply his Surpass, and the lump of his bow was GONE. I know that it's just the inflammation around the injury that's receding, and not really the injury itself, but it still feels like progress. This means that we're one step closer to being ready to do the stem cell, which means we're one step closer to getting Ringo better. The road is still so depressingly long from here, but it's nice to feel like we've at least begun the journey to recovery.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Back on the Farm

Phew! It feels good to be back on the farm. After getting back from Stuart, I turned right around and flew out to California for a few days to visit some friends and see James Taylor and Carole King in concert (!!!!!!!!!!). The latter has been a dream for sooooo long, and it lived up to all expectations and then some. I could listen to James Taylor all day, every day, and he was even better live than in recordings. Plus, they played two of my three "wishlist" songs! "Mexico" and "Sweet Baby James." So awesome.

While there, I also got to get a lesson with Rachel... on her I-2 horse Kristal! I've never ridden a horse as well-trained and sensitive to the aids. It took me a little while to realize that all I had to do was pretty much assume the position of the move I wanted to perform and think about it, and away we'd go! Once I got the hang of it, I got to do some pretty cool stuff, like half pass zig zags, 4-tempis, and then a whole diagonal of 3-tempis!! I felt so lucky to get to ride such a wonderful horse with such a wonderful instructor. I'd never felt such rideability and lightness to the aids, and it definitely gave me something to point towards in the training of my own horse. Thank you so much, Rachel and Kristal!!

Now I'm back on the farm alone, as my parents have left to visit my dad's family and childhood friends in his home state of Oregon for the weekend. It's been a good time for some inward reflection, as I've been pretty light on rides and pretty heavy on hand grazing. I've realized that I'm not very happy with the way I interact with people, and especially people in the horse world. I'd like to think that I'm a kind and genuine sort of person, but I'm realizing that all too often that gets lost in pride and defensiveness when I express myself around others. Just as I'm trying to overhaul the way I manage my equine partners, I also hope to overhaul the way I manage myself. If I can make some progress in those two departments, then it will have been a summer well spent, regardless of ribbons earned (or in my case... not!).

In better news, Kiki's leg is looking 1000% better. The vet came out a few days ago and she was glowingly sound, showing just a minor positive reaction to a whole limb hind leg flexion evenly on both legs. I still want to get some ultrasounds done, just because I've become so paranoid from Ringo and because the swelling was so drastic and frightening when it occured (and, at the time of the vet, she'd been on stall rest in wraps with twice daily icing, so it was hard to tell how recovered she actually was). At the very least, we'll have a baseline for the future. And, now we're walking! Exciting stuff.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Safely Home From Stuart!

Yay! Even though we got stuck in almost an hour of traffic, we made it home safely and without incident. Both the ponies seemed happy to see their stalls, and Pa and I were definitely happy to see the end of the road!

Pa and D had a great show jumping round, marred by one brief loss of stirrups! The dude isn't the easiest horse to show jump, and I was really proud of how Papa rose to the occasion over a big and atmospheric course. They only had one rail, and the jumps they jumped well they jumped perfectly. Good job, Boys!

Here are some classy camera phone photos of the weekend (unfortunately my mom took the camera for the weekend so I have way less than usual!):

(Don't Tread on Me flag outside the patron tent... Man I love being home!!)

(Bait vending machine in town... super awesome)

(Aww what a good little whitefoot)

(Enjoying dinner in town)

(Kiki and I agree: Stuart is beautiful!)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Congrats Pa and Dually!

They were total rockstars today at Stuart and went double clear at their first Training together! The course was TOUGH, with the 4th fence a max table to corner (!!) combination, followed by a drop to a brush, a combination that involved another max table turning to a set of offset rails, a big house to a sizable drop into water, and a full coffin. Plus, the optimum time was over 6 minutes on the hilliest course in Area I! Both dudes came off course a little hot and tired, but cooled off quickly. Since I sent them off and received them at the finish, I only got to see 4 jumps, but they were all awesome, and it sounds like everything else went super smoothly too. Good boys!

I have to say, I was feeling a bit like a nervous horse show mom watching them in the warmup; I care so much about both of them, and even though I knew they would be great, I had more than my fair share of butterflies!

Happily, Kiki is also looking much better. She's also on some serious anti-inflammatories and a very aggressive icing and wrapping routine, though, so it's a bit hard to tell what the actual progress is. The more I think about it, the more I think her cellulitis flare-up of a week and a half ago was in fact a red herring, and that there was something lurking from that pasture accident that the shipping and dressage exacerbated. I don't know whether this train of thought makes me feel better or worse: on one hand, it provides an answer and something specific to point to at our next vet check when we get back from Stuart; while on the other hand, it's just another moment where I let an injury go too far. I'm not sure how I could have caught this sooner, as I treated it aggressively then and was cleared by a vet to return to full work, but probably I could have and so should have. I'm just going to have to think harder about what my system is for identifying and treating irregularities from the start, as what I'm currently doing doesn't seem to be working.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Letter to Stuart HT

Dear Stuart,

You are such a beautiful event. Your fields are green, your courses are immaculately built, and no expenses are spared in making the riders and spectators feel like a big deal. This year, Mother Nature has even shined on you and given you soft gallop tracks and only a minimal amount of torrential thunder and lightning storms to mess that footing up again (only one big delay by the end of day 1!! Keep up the good work). You should be one of my favorite events of the season.

But you and I don't get along. I get that. We've had our differences in the past, when Dually and I not only incurred our only career cross country penalty on your course but then he proceeded to colic as soon as we got back to the barn, which would in turn set up the complicated net of health problems that would result in the pulmonary bleed that ended our trip to Young Riders later that year (thanks!!)... but I was ready to forgive. I learned a lot about horse care from that debacle and everyone lived to play again, so I could forgive you. You are one of Pa's favorite events, and so I was ready to come back this year with a big smile on my face. But seriously, this year again with the hijinks? Now Kiki has mystery swelling and lameness that the competition vets can't even begin to diagnose with any certainty, and I'm sitting in the barn keeping my horse's leg in an ice bucket and thanking my lucky stars we caught it super early instead of enjoying the wonderful sound young horse I had checked out (and passed with gushing compliments!) by a vet less than a week ago (with no abnormal moments in between then and now).

(Kiki in the middle of her mysteriously cataclysmic dressage test, to which she walked down sound, in which she went absolutely rogue and gave the horsey hoof to every ounce of training she's had in almost two years, and from which she walked back lame... with nary a memorable stumble, tweak, misstep, or step of unsoundness along the way.)

You make a girl want to cry.




But in all seriousness, I'm very sad. I don't really believe in luck, so I feel like I'm missing something. I just wish I knew what, so I could try to start fixing it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A HUGE Thank You


I can't believe the amount of wonderful, positive support I got in response to my post yesterday. It's really cheesy sounding but your words of kindness have really meant the world to me and helped me a lot in getting through these last 24 hours. The shock has worn off, and I'm feeling ready to tackle the next months of healing. Ringo is in good spirits so far and is a superstar on his hand walks. I'm sure he'll become a little more recalcitrant as he realizes that he's in his stall for the long haul, but I'm certainly enjoying our loose-lead ambles around the property at the moment. We got poured on today, and I think Ringo enjoyed having some summer rain on his back =). My mom is also amazing and was waiting for us up by the house when we came walking up the driveway on our midday walk today with a big handful of carrots; I'm sure Ringo isn't going to complain about the pampering, at the very least!

(Thug life)

The plan is a week of twice daily surpass (a topical anti-inflammatory) and wrapping coupled with three short hand walks a day, followed by a week of once daily surpass and wrapping with three hand walks a day, and then two weeks of just wrapping and hand walking before we begin the process for stem cell and PRP injections. This delay is to give the inflammation in the tendon time to go down before we inject some foreign (and possibly further inflaming) material into it. The process for gathering the stem cells sounds epic (the vet will be taking the base cells from the bone marrow in his sternum!!) and is going to be done on farm, so I will try my best to not pass out and take pictures when that happens.

(Ringo is a model patient for Surpass application)

In excellent unrelated news, Kiki (who has been dealing with an unfortunate but blessedly very minor case of cellulitis) is back in action and getting ready for Stuart, where I got her in at the last minute in Ringo's place. It's another big atmospheric show like Groton House but I'm sure Kiki will be up for the challenge; hopefully this time I'll remember to actually bring my brain along when I get in the saddle!

(Kiki is loving both her recently de-barred window and being back in action for Stuart)

Also, my parents got a puppy today!!! We lost our wonderful Jack Russell / Lhasa Apso mix this spring, and the pack had been feeling pretty small without him (well, according to my mom; three dogs was plenty for me!). So, we've been waiting all summer to pick up the newly born half-brother of our wonderful little dog Daisy. Today, "Duck" was finally ready to get picked up!!!

(The newest member of the Family, Ducky!!)

(Me and Ducky - he's so tiny!)

Thank you all again for your wonderful words of encouragement.

(PS - Happy National Helmet Day!!)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Crushing News


I don't really have words.

After Galway last fall, I noticed that Ringo had a slight irregularity mid-way down his right front tendon. He wasn't lame, but there was definitely a lump; I had the vet check it out then and we couldn't find anything wrong and I so continued on, but it was definitely at the back of my mind. Then, I both hurt my back and wanted to go home for the holidays and decided to send Ringo down to Gina's for the entire month of December; while he was there, I asked for him to get ultrasounded at UC Davis just to make sure that our findings at Stanford were correct. I had kind of hoped to get to go to Davis myself, but I trusted Gina fully to take good care of him and bring back a full report. It did turn out that there was a small lesion on the superficial tendon, but Gina stressed to me that he should be fine, needed no rehab at all, and could continue with full work. I thought this was a little strange, but I trusted her opinion fully and was really eager for the season to begin.

And, as the record of this blog shows, something was up pretty much from the beginning. I just didn't have the horse that I'd been having so much fun on the fall before. Since Ringo was sound and OK'ed to be working, I was certain (and Gina confirmed) that it was my riding that was causing the problems. As he got worse, I kept wondering whether something was physically wrong, but he never presented lameness and the lump on his tendon never seemed to change or get bigger, so I had to assume that the problem was elsewhere. After Three Day Ranch, which was such a disaster, I felt almost certain that something was physically up, and so got him checked out by Gina's vet. We did a full work up and found some very minor hock soreness and maybe the hint of foot soreness and treated with pads and hock injections, but the tendons were all deemed to be fine and so we didn't take any ultrasounds.

Of course, pads and hock injections did very little to solve Ringo's stopping, for which Gina's solution was to tell me that he was no good, that he had a natural propensity for stopping that showed in his record that I, through my bad riding, had amplified, and that I had effectively ruined him. She told me that, if I left him with them, they could start campaigning him at Intermediate again sell him off before I "ruined my investment" by getting eliminated a bunch of times trying to compete him myself because I was way too poor a rider to fix him. They topped this off by informing me that they already had buyers lined up to look at him and all I had to do was leave him in their care. Instead, Ringo and I got the hell out of there.

Because I was feeling a bit suspicious about the whole situation down in Atascadero, I decided to have Ringo rechecked when I got up to Stanford. Once again, however, the vets at Stanford could find no problem with him and saw no need to ultrasound, so we decided not to. My vet told me directly that the problem with his jumping was going on "in between his ears."

So, that was the way I had been dealing with the problem: working consistently to build strength, trying to go at whatever pace he felt comfortable at progressing at, and doing repetitive low jumping exercises as often as possible to get his mind back into wanting to jump. All spring he never took a single lame step and honestly felt better on the flat than he'd ever felt before. But all along, something was nagging at the back of my mind.

By the time we got to Groton House, I was pretty certain that I had given him the best and most consistent ride I could possibly give him to prepare, and he still stopped cold in the stadium. I decided after that to get him checked out by a vet yet again, this time at home, and this time do a full ultrasound and not just a lameness workup, because it was clear that he wasn't lame but that something must be bothering him.

And you know what we found? A big. GIANT. HOLE. in his superficial, compromising around 45% of the tendon diameter. Not good. Not good at all. I also showed the vet the ultrasound images from last time (which she actually showed me how to read!) and she told me that if we had continued without the stopping and tried to do a two star as the vets at Davis (or Gina's interpretation of the vets at Davis... I'll never know) said that we could, there would have been a good chance that he would have had a traumatic breakdown along the way. He never should have been working, let alone jumping SO MUCH all spring long. Because I'd been told over and over again that the problem wasn't physical but one that had to be trained out of him, I'd essentially undergone a systematic method of making his injury worse for months.

I feel sick. I've let Ringo down. I knew all along in my gut that something was wrong, and I didn't do anything about it. I listened to the advice of others instead of my own intuition, and my horse paid the price. There were so many times during the spring when I could have gotten him ultrasounded again and caught this earlier, before the damage was so bad. Instead, I just made it worse and worse. And all this time, I was getting frustrated with Ringo's stopping when he was actually giving me all he had and hurting himself further with every jump I made him take.

On the upside, he has a great chance at making a full recovery. The road is going to be long from here, and it will be at least six months until I get to ride him again, but it's very possible that, a year from now, I'll have back that wonderful horse that I first tried a year ago.

Ringo is going to get a month of stall rest and hand walking, and then we're going to start the process for stem cell and PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) treatment. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Year With Ringo

It's hard to believe that just a few days over a year ago, I sat on Ringo for the first time. I'm still in shock that such a wonderful and talented horse has come into my life; we've had our ups and downs, but that doesn't mean that I don't still feel lucky every single day that I get to be around him. He's such a gifted and well-educated athlete, and he has many lessons to teach me that I've only begun to tap into. I really hope that I can figure out how to make him confident and happy in the jumping, but even if we never trot an X again I'm confident that we'll still be able to have a lot of fun together and that he'll be able to teach me an enormous amount. That's a pretty good feeling, all things told, and something I often remind myself of when other aspects of our relationship get frustrating.

So what have I learned from Ringo? What have I learned about him?

I've learned...

...that you really can get on a horse for the first time and feel like you've known them for much longer.

... that Ringo is beautiful (duh).

... that Ringo is a good sport.

... that Ringo is a cool customer.

... that Ringo has the best jump I've ever sat!!

... that Ringo is a good partner.

... that Ringo is a good friend!

... that Ringo is generous!

... that Ringo is picture-perfect.

... that Ringo is, umm... idiosyncratic.

... that Ringo can be a delicate flower.

... that Ringo is fancy!

... that Ringo is a trier.

... that I love Ringo.

I've also learned...

... how to sit (better than I am in the photo above!).

... how to polish.

... how to get a 9!

... how to be a more tactful and patient rider.

And finally, with Ringo I've gotten to see some pretty amazing things:

Hopefully there'll be many more beautiful places and wonderful moments to come! Here's to another great year, and many more after that.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Melting in Mass, and a Dually Update!

(Pa and I go for a hack on Kiki and D)

Holy Bejeezus, I just read my last post about how lovely the weather is here and laughed out loud. New England summer has finally hit, and with a vengeance. When I got up at 7 to feed the horses this morning, it was already in the low 80s , still as death, and so humid that I woke up sticky and sweating. We don't have a/c in our house, so these hot humid nights really get unpleasant fast. Ugh. Apparently the heat index is supposed to get into the low 100s today with actual temperatures in the mid 90s, so I think it's going to be a lay-low kind of day, to be sure.

I was reminded a couple days ago that I haven't done a update on Dually yet this summer. One of the best parts of coming home is getting to be reunited with Big D. For folks that don't know, Dually (The Dude) was my first real horse and the one that got me into eventing. He took me from my first Novice to my first Intermediate with a trip to NAYRC along the way, and did it all with his characteristic heart and enthusiasm for his job.

(Dually is a cross country MACHINE)

Last summer, after 7 years of partnership, I made the incredibly tough decision to step Dually down from the intensity of training required for CCI*/Intermediate competition; we began the hunt for a lessor, and at first it seemed like I was going to have to say goodbye to him. Then, my dad (who has ridden through Training Level but had taken a several year hiatus) came forward and said that he wanted to ride him! I couldn't be more thrilled because that meant that Dually didn't even have to leave the farm (even if he wouldn't be in California anymore) and would be with one of the people that I trust and care deeply about.

And man, they are doing AMAZINGLY together! Dually is shiny, in good weight and good fitness. He's happy and he and my dad get along great. They've done two Novice events together, at Hitching Post in VT and Groton House last weekend, and have finished on their dressage score (and ribboned!) each time. As he did with me, Dually's dressage is keeping my dad humble, but they're making great progress there too (the dressage saddle has even been pulled out a few times of late!). The plan is for them to move up to Training together at Stuart in 2 weeks, and then do another Training at Millbrook before the Novice 3 Day at GMHA in mid-August. Since I botched my qualifications for Kiki at Groton House, I'll be there as a groom for the two of them. After years of having Papa groom for me and Dually at 3 days, I can't wait to repay the favor!

(Dually is an easy horse to jump but an incredibly hard horse to jump well; Pa is doing a great job getting the best out of him)

(Getting ready to move up to Training!)

(Pa, D, and the dogs)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

June Wrap Up and July Goals

(Ahh, Summertine... and the living is so easy)

WAHOOOO how awesome has this weather been recently? 70s, dry, sunny, and breezy. We only get a few days like this a year, so I've been trying hard to take advantage of it. The ponies have definitely been enjoying not being harried by bugs and melted in the heat (enjoy it while you can, guys... the heat comes back starting tomorrow!), and they've been feeling great. Ringo went on his first hack in the park today (with Dually's help) and was super. I'm trying hard to let him be a horse again, and I think he's enjoying it.

Now, to the June goals:

(Wiley is excited about June Goal Wrap Up!)

--Get home safe and sound with both ponies and all my crap.
Yes! Despite Billie-Jean wanting to break down, we made it home safely with two happy ponies. The weather was great, the sights were beautiful, and once again I was reminded how lucky I am to get to share these moments with my dad.

--Have a good re-debut for Ringo at Groton House, meaning:
----calm and pleasant in his stall and on the grounds

Yes! He was amazing in his stall and on his handwalks - none of his usual moping and stressing.

----positive jumping experiences
Medium - cross country warmup, cross country itself, and show jumping warmup were all fabulous, and show jumping itself ended on a much more positive note than it could have. We still, however, have lots and lots to do.

----the same great dressage we've been doing of late in an eventing setting!
Medium. I thought our test at Groton House was, frankly, awful, and it was because he was being tense, stiff, and flat. If it had been a true dressage test at the level we'd been doing in May, I'm pretty sure we would have gotten a flat 50%. He had moments of being his normal self in warmup, but also many more where he was barging, leaning, and generally being a bit of an idiot. We've got more to work on.

--Have a good second Novice for Kiki at Groton House, meaning:
----calm and quiet in all three phases
Yes! She was a superstar and really stepped up in terms of maturity.

----a clean show jumping round would be nice!
Yes with the minor caveat that I missed a fence! But I'm pretty sure she would have jumped that one cleanly as well; she was so fabulous.

----a clean, educational ride xc
No, but yes on educational for me at least. I let her down at the water; it was a reminder to me that I have to be there and give her more of a ride to help her actually see what's being asked of her. She was fabulous and ready to be clear on a tough course, but I didn't do what I had to do to get her there.

--"7" on Rider (it's going to happen eventually this year!!)
Yes! 4 times, three times on Kiki and once on Ringo! YAY!

--Get summer schedule ironed out
Haha wishful thinking.

--Turn 21!! (Three days =D)
Yes! And man does it feel good =), though it was bittersweet to hear the presentation of awards for the JYOP division at Groton House as I was walking back with Ringo, and know that now, officially, that is a division that I will NEVER enter at this event (or possibly, based on my season, anywhere else) again. I so hate black and whites; they always make me sad.

--Do at least one non-horsey, non-loafing-around-the-house thing a week.
I don't know if this is true, but I've sure been busy!


Well, so I think the goals reflect the ups and downs of the month. I really have been pleased with how much Ringo has improved in the jumping, but Groton House showed that we still have a long way to go. Kiki, on the other hand, I think has been improving without me even noticing, and Groton House was a wake up call for me that I have to give her a ride commensurate with the effort she's giving me. She's ready to be treated like a big girl, but that means proper lines, turns, and focus on my part. July will, therefore, be a chance for some rider redemption for me in that regard.

So, July goals:

--Continue building strength in hind end on hillwork
--Get a complete veterinary work up to dismiss any possible medical issues (lymes, recheck of old tendon lesion, etc)
--Continue to jump positively at home and in lessons with Suzi on a regular basis
--Be able to jump comfortably at Training/Prelim height by the end of the month
--By flowers and fill for the arena at home to practice over
--Get out to at least one Apple Knoll jumper night
--Have a positive Stuart experience, meaning:
----Dressage closer to what we can do at home
----Another positive and fun cross country experience
----Good consistency from my ride in the show jumping

(Ringo is pumped for the month ahead)

--Incorporate hills into daily routine to build stride and strength
--Keep desensitizing on the flat
--Begin working on Training level movements and jumping questions
--Really feel, by months' end, that she can easily read and understand all the questions that I'm putting in front of her, and then actually do them
--Practice a drop into water
--Huntington redemption, meaning:
----Obedient in the dressage
-----A good, consistent, focused ride from me on Cross Country
-----Same in show jumping
--Hopefully, feel ready to do Training at Millbrook by month's end!

(Kiki says, "No Problem!")
--Lots of two point and hillwork for ME to get my balance and strength back
--At least one no-stirrups ride a week
--Stay positive with both horses; keep looking for new solutions and don't get bogged down in steps backward (because let's face it; they're going to happen)
--Actually go out and see non-horsey, non-farm people at least once a week
--Help Pa with the summer projects around the farm

Man, I love summer! So much to do, but I think I've got a good shot of making July the best month yet of 2010 =)

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