Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Great News!!

Dually gets to come home on Friday!! While his numbers aren't completely normal, they've dropped significantly. Even better, the vets at Tufts found an antibiotic that Dually responded to well, which means that we can just cut him down to that one drug and administer it at home. Yay!!

The downside? The antibiotic that works is UNBELIEVABLY expensive, quite dangerous to humans (it causes irreversible anemia if it comes in contact with the skin! Yikes!), and has to be administered round the clock every six hours. Thank goodness we love that guy so much :) I'm trying to get as much sleep as possible now to get ready for a few weeks of progressive sleep deprivation.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from my weekend in California - I had so much fun helping out at the Stanford IDA home show (which they won!!) and getting to ride tons of ponies, including my favorite, Freddy. The only bummer is that I'm currently trying to grow my hair out, and I think it's finally gotten to the point where I've got to pull the hairnet out again. Sigh... it's been a good run without it, but having flyaway hair drives me nuts. Back to the lunch lady look we go.

(Freddy looks fantastic! I look... like a dumpy crazy lady. Boo. Vanessa Bartsch photo)

(Me and my best dressage bud Patrick hacking out Freddy and Armani on a beautiful California afternoon)

(Warming up Ronnie, another one of Stanford's fabulous chestnuts, for the UDA show. Maria Filsinger photo)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Briefly

I wanted to write briefly, first to thank everyone for their unbelievable outpouring of support and kindness in the past week. I'm completely overwhelmed and touched by your wonderful words, thoughts, and prayers.

I've been quiet since my last update for several reasons:

1) Dually is still in serious condition at Tufts, though he is currently stable and as happy as he could be, given the situation. That being said, there hasn't been much 'exciting' to report - there is still no diagnosis and no firm picture of the future. I wanted to wait to give an update until we had a better sense of what was going on, and that hasn't really happened.

2) Since everything is still so nebulous, I've been more of an emotional basket case than usual, and so haven't felt in the most balanced place to be writing. I know that falls into the category of trying keep an 'honest' blog, like I talked about last time, but I've just been too emotionally drained to do it.

3) I'm currently not even in Massachusetts, as I had booked tickets over a month ago to come out to California this weekend to visit my friends and help with the Stanford dressage show and decided that I should go ahead an make the trip in the spirit of not letting this stress and worry paralyse me (though if I'm honest I really, really wanted to stay at home). The trip has ended up being refreshing and wonderful, which I needed, but I'm really anxious to get home as soon as possible as well.

So I promise I will have a clearer update as soon as I can. Until then, all I can say again is: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Very Tough Week

When I started this blog, I promised to myself that I would be try to be as open and honest as I could, and not fall into the all-to-tempting blogger habit of writing like crazy when things were going well, and clamming up when they weren't. Well, this has been a week to test that promise. 

On Sunday I was already stressed about the week ahead, anxious at being able to handle the work load I'd set out for myself (extra barn chores plus house sitting for a friend plus my courier job plus coaching plus riding plus agreeing to ride a friend's horses plus trying to plan for a whirlwind trip to California that I'm supposed to be leaving for on Friday), especially in the miserably cold weather we were supposed to get this week.

In retrospect, all those worries seem so petty, because on Sunday night my dad came up to my room with the worst news: Dually was very sick.

Since then, we've been on a pretty intense diagnostic roller coaster, with Dually swinging from bright and perky and the vets and us hoping that everything was cleared up and on the way out to him being very listless, feverish, and painful, and us not knowing what to do. For around 48 hours Dually cycled between pain and relative normalcy, and none of the diagnostic tests the vets performed turned up anything major (rectal, tubing, scoping, first round of bloodwork). The theories of what was going on were as wide ranging as colic to a virus to possible ingestion of a toxic plant. The one symptom that the vets coming back to was his fever, which, while inconsistent, had spiked to as high as 102 on Monday night.

It wasn't until yesterday that we were able to actually get some purchase in the diagnostic department, but unfortunately not in the direction we were hoping for. Our vet decided to do a belly tap, a procedure where they make a small incision into the abdomen to collect some of the interstitial fluid that surrounds the intestines. Normally, there is not a lot of this fluid, and it is usually light yellow in color and low in protein and white blood cells.

When our vet performed the belly tap on Dually, a large quantity of bloody, dark-red fluid came out. Not good. They sent the sample away for testing and the results confirmed the visual suspicions: Dually's sample had nearly 10 times the normal limits of white blood cells (464,000 verse a normal max of 5,000) and over three times the normal limit of protein (6.4 verse 2). Additionally, they had taken another blood sample at the same time and it had come back with significantly worse numbers than the sample that had been taken only 12 hours previously.

As a result, we rushed Dually to Tufts last night, where he's currently being treated with a series of broad spectrum antibiotics for what is believed to be an acute infection inside his intestine somewhere. He will be examined by specialists today to try to determine exactly what's going on. My impression at the hospital last night seemed that they were guardedly positive, but at this point it is clearly very serious.

I am, to put it succinctly, a wreck. The fact that last night was the first night since Saturday that I slept for more than 2 hours continuously, after 48 hours of round the clock check ups for the Dude, is not helping, but I'm feeling super frayed and scared. I literally cannot quantify how much this horse means to me, or how much I owe him. He is my favorite face in the whole world, my beloved companion and friend. I know my dad feels the same way, as Dually's other main rider over the past 10 years. We've both been pretty subdued this week.

(One of my favorite pictures of all time: me, Pa, and Dually after coming off steeplechase at the Galway long format CCI* - the best feeling in the world)

I've had a lot of time over the past few days on our many hand walks to reflect on the many wonderful places Dually has taken me over the years. There are the obvious things like down the jog strip at my first FEI competition; through the finish flags of my first, Training, Prelim, AND Intermediate; and to the front of a few victory gallops. But there are also the small moments, that I cherish so much more deeply: galloping up McKinlaigh's hill in a pea soup fog, just the two of us alone in the entire world; sitting out together in his sunny field in South Carolina and getting to listen to the wonderful sound of him eating; watching innumerable sunrises and sunsets together; and just enjoying the thrill of a good ride and the happiness of a good gallop.

(Galloping to the last fence at our first Intermediate - this was also the very first header of this blog, nearly five years ago!)

So keep Dually in your thoughts. I'll keep updates coming as we learn them.

(The very best horse a girl could ever ask for)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Winter Gymnastics, Round 7

Well Mother Nature has done it again: after luring us into a false sense of complacency a few days ago with temperatures in the 50s, the temperatures have turned positively arctic, so that it was 15ºF when Robin and I went to jump this morning!! Ack!! My previous four years in California didn't remotely prepare me for this!! Needless to say, as I warmed up I thought back on 'frigid' 30º winter mornings at the Red Barn with more than a little nostalgia. 

As a follow up from our lesson with Jane Hamlin last weekend, Robin and I chose to skip the actual gymnastics this week in favor of a set up of lines and singles that we could play around with.

(Our playground for the day)

We made two lines across the diagonals, one four strides and the other three, and set them up so that we could also make bending lines or jump them by themselves. We also set up a single oxer on the long side to practice jumping a spread fence off the eye.

My main goal was to be more relaxed and forward, and consciously let go. I even wore a neck strap, and though I never ended up using it (it's a habit I need to get into), I think it set the right mental tone right from the get go.

And I was successful! Right from the first line, the change was evident: I rode down the four stride line very quietly and got to the out on a verrrrrry long distance. My natural mentality would be to freeze up at that moment, choke up on the reins, lean forward, and take my leg off. Because you know, that's the CLASSIC recipe for success (eye roll). But instead I sat up, kept my leg on, and let Ky decide what he wanted to do. He opted to lob over the out super long, and I stayed upright and slipped the reins. It wasn't pretty, but it was a massive change for the better in terms of my mental approach. I gave Ky a big pat for taking care of me and being so clever, gathered my reins up, and continued on. No big deal, no need to worry. It felt great!

After feeling how that mistake worked out, I felt much more confident going forward in sticking to my "leg on, hands forward"approach. And the change was huge! After that first awkward distance, we didn't have a single awkward jump for the entire rest of the ride.

There were a couple times when I really dared myself to ride forward to the fence at a pace that my inner control-freak thought was "WAY TOO FAST AND OUT OF CONTROL" and trust Ky to work out the distance himself. To the single oxer, especially, I really tried to dare myself to ride boldly, and not do any major adjustments except for sitting up and making sure my hands were steady and in front of my face (the classic refrain from my Dually days that I used to remind myself to keep my hands as the forward-most part of my body, and not get into the classic 'fetal ball' position that I love so much). Ky proved himself the total genius that he is, and handled the higher pace beautifully, backing himself off and finding a great distance every time. Good man!

We kept the jumps small (2'6"-3' in the lines and 3'+ at the oxer) but I finished feeling really positive. I just need to bottle up the way I rode today and keep it handy for the rest of the season!

(Beautiful, but arctic. New England, you are a cruel mistress)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Growing Pains

Today Ringo and I headed over for our first lesson with Kim in a few weeks. As I mentioned last time, I've been babying him a little bit because I was worried that he had hurt his back out on the snow a few weeks ago, but was feeling that he was finally getting back on track.

To my delight, Kim quickly determined that Ringo's back was fine (yay!!). The tightness I was feeling was, instead, some 'growing pains' that Ringo is experiencing in the process of building the strength required to take him from being a 3rd level horse to a 4th level horse and beyond. It did mean that we had to take a step back and really work on reestablishing obedience and looseness over Ringo's topline today instead of working on 'fancy things,' but with the knowledge that he's really, really close to getting really confirmed at a new level of pushing power and throughness.

After warming up, we started with some turn on the haunches in walk. Gahh not my favorite movement! But Kim had some good tips (think of shoulder fore, not haunches in, going into the movement, and keep my hands low and following) than helped me to get Ringo thinking about sitting behind but still staying long(ish) in his neck. Here was our last turn on the haunches, then a normal turn, then our first strike off into canter:


After picking up the canter, we did a lot of overflexing and counter-flexing to try to get him looser at the base of his neck (a prime source of tension for the Prowler). Even though he's a little stiff and mechanical, it's cool to see how nice even his working canter looks now compared to a few months ago: 


Kim agreed that he's getting a lot better at taking longer, more carrying steps behind. Good boy, Ray! When we got the basics under control, Kim had us go to the counter canter and work on getting some counter bend in the counter canter. Sometimes this is easy peasy for us... and sometimes, it isn't. Today was a most definitely NOT easy day, as evidenced by this early fail:


Whoops. But Kim urged me to sit chilly and just keep asking and riding it out, and eventually it got easier:


After that, we moved on again to another suppling exercise--this time, haunches in at the canter. Just a few weeks ago, we did this same exercise and found it quite easy. Today, not so much!! It was a good reminder that I need to keep checking in and making sure that I have the basic building blocks of suppleness and relaxation ALL THE TIME, and especially when I'm trying to build up the next levels of collection and engagement. This was our first fail-filled attempt at haunches in:


Kim had me go back to the walk, really make it clear to Ringo what I wanted from him in a low-pressure situation, then try it again at canter. Much improved! The difference in the feeling Ringo's canter was huge when I could actually get him more relaxed over his topline--it was awesome!


After a break, we did the same series of exercises on the left lead. The left is his stronger direction and I had a better idea of the feeling I wanted after doing everything to the right, so it went a little smoother in general, but I definitely still had to stay on my toes! Here's the end of the counter flex/counter canter exercise going back into a super round true canter... and then a somewhat lame medium canter:


The medium canter is usually one of our better movements, but I think his current flailing in that is symptomatic of the strength cusp that we're currently running up against. Hopefully when we get the collected canter sorted, the medium canter will be better than ever!

We finally finished up with some good haunches in at canter to the left:


I was really happy with the lesson in general. And pretty impressed with Ringo's fitness--we cantered for pretty much the entire hour! (Minus some walk breaks, of course). We've got some good homework for the next few weeks until we see Kim again, but I'm super pleased with how he feels in general. And I'm very happy that his back is ok!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Remember, It's OK to Make Mistakes

First of all, if you hadn't noticed, I recently added a new page to the top of my blog called 'Nostalgia' with lots of old pictures of my bigger, more badass competition days. Check it out if you haven't gotten a chance to!

Yesterday Robin and I went on a little adventure up to beautiful north shore horse country for a jumping lesson with Jane Hamlin. I hadn't had a jumping lesson since the last time Jane came down to Massachusetts back in November, so I was definitely very eager to see her again, especially since the start of the season seems to be getting closer and closer! 

(This was the indoor - I almost died when we walked inside. So gorgeous! Seriously, as much as everyone touts Middleburg as horsey mecca, I don't think it holds a candle to the north shore... though I may be a *bit* biased)

After warming up, Jane had us work on getting different striding between two angled fences, first by riding the angle straight through them, then by riding the bending track. Ky felt AMAZING and we did the first couple of circuits with no problem at all, though Jane did have to remind me to keep riding forward out of the corners of the (somewhat small) arena. 

We then moved on to a short two stride, and after popping through that a few times, Jane set us a little course. By this point in the lesson, I was somewhat surprised by how tired Ky felt: he was blowing pretty hard after each exercise, and sweating much more than usual (it was much warmer than it has been recently and the arena footing, while quite nice, was significantly deeper than the stuff at our indoor, which I think made a big difference). But I set off and at first everything went quite well. We jumped the first part of the course (a bending five stride line) the smoothest we done so far, and came around to the two stride, which Jane had put up to around 3'-3'3"ish. Coming out of the corner, we didn't feel very balanced, and Ky's canter felt flat and a little rushed. I couldn't see a distance, couldn't see a distance, locked up...

And we crashed. Well, not totally, since I didn't fall off, but we did reduce the oxer completely to kindling. D'oh! Sorry Ky! :( I was really disappointed with myself. I feel like I've gotten to the point in my jump riding again where I can ride positively and do everything right when things are going well, but freeze up hardcore whenever I get in a jam... and that's precisely the time when I need to be not freezing up!! 

Jane did a great job, though, getting the lesson back on track, and I was really pleased to find that we ended on a quite positive note. We put the combination down a little and never put it back up the original crash height, but did put together a couple very positive courses before we called it for the day. Jane reminded me throughout to keep trying to give up a little control, sit up, and let my awesome pony just go. 

This is definitely tough for me: I'm a nervous rider and I show my nerves by trying to micromanage every step of my ride. In dressage I can get away with that behavior, since it's actually encouraged! But in jumping, not so much. I have to be able to just sit back and trust my horse a little bit. I also find making mistakes to be more difficult to handle in jumping than I do in dressage. Because let's face it: I mess up a lot, regardless of the discipline I'm riding. But in dressage I'm rarely ever even remotely nervous, so it's easier for me to brush off mistakes and keep learning. In jumping, when I make a mistake like I did yesterday that results in a big miss, it's really hard for me to keep progressing because my nerves take over. When my nerves take over, I want to try to micromanage things more, and when I do that, I end up making more mistakes, and then... well, you can see where things go from there!

So I ended the lesson really pleased that I'd managed to break that negative cycle for the day (thanks to Jane's excellent coaching!), but definitely a little more realistic in what my goals should be with the Little Dude in the coming year than I had been going in. Ky is so fantastic and it's easy to dream BIG BIG BIG with him, but I have to remind myself that at this point in my life it's much more worthwhile to compete at a level where I'm feeling comfortable and having fun, instead of always pushing myself to the very limits of my nerves and sanity (which is my usual approach). I'm so happy to have this horse in my life and want to have as much fun with him as possible!!

Meanwhile, you may have noticed a conspicuous absence of Ringo from the blog recently. Never fear! Prowler is fine and well. He slipped on the snow while I was out hacking him two weeks or so ago and wrenched his back slightly (I know the feeling well and could definitely empathize), so he's had a pretty light schedule while I've been waiting for him to feel tip top again. He's finally feeling his old self again, and so I've signed him up for a Kim lesson this coming week. I took him to the indoor last night to tune up a bit and decided to wear my still-stiff new dress boots - mistake!!! The sores on the back of my knees, which had scabbed over, opened up again and were unbearably painful. In a moment of desperation, I kicked both boots off and rode barefoot (and without stirrups, in an attempt to at least gesture towards safe riding habits!). 

(Also, I promise I'm not actually that chubby - silly 4 winter coats!)

It was surprisingly fun! I got a giggle out of every time I went to kick him and could feel my heel digging into his soft fatty belly. On the actual riding side I think we've had a small breakthrough in our trotwork, so I'm very excited to see if Kim agrees. We'll see!

(Also, I've recently acquired a new stall mucking buddy - usually Krazy Kat circulates the barn while I do chores (often yowling for no apparent reason, which appears to be one of his favorite activities), but recently he has taken to sitting in every stall with me while I muck out. Good kitteh.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Patience

Do you remember reading The Children's Book of Virtues when you were a kid? I had a great illustrated copy when I was younger, and I still remember many of the stories and pictures fondly. And, being the earnest and generally well-meaning child I was, I went straight to work in trying to apply as many of the virtues as I could to my own life.

Somewhere in those many readings, however, I'm pretty sure I must have skipped clean over the chapter on "Patience"... because I have none. Or, very little anyway. I think I could fairly describe myself as dogged, tenacious, focused, persistent--but I'm also a prototypical red-blooded American, and I want things to happen NOW. I always thought that my tenacity would make up for my nascent impatience, and for the most part it has, since my stubbornness has kept me going even when my cool even-headedness was WAY out the window.

But then I met Ky. This little pony, more than probably any i've ever ridden before (except maybe Kiki), truly tests my patience on the flat. He's not naughty or bad, but he is suffering from some rather massive craters in his formative dressage education (especially in regard to contact) and is not finding the process of filling those craters in particularly smooth or easy. These weaknesses of his also happen to overlap with some of my biggest insecurities as a rider, as I've really only begun to develop a feeling for what real, good contact is in the past year or so after a decade plus of muddling along.

With the help of Kim's instruction and eyes on the ground I definitely possess the basic tools to solve both his problems and my own... but it is not a quick fix. At all. At all at all. We are sort of a blind leading the blind combo in this situation, as I mess up probably just as often as he does. Sigh. But even if the process is slow, you've got to at least get started, right?

So that's what we did today in our lesson. I had assiduously worked on my homework from last time with fairly good success, and Kim agreed that he was quite improved from a month ago:


But then, to my minor dismay, she made it clear that my month of work had really only been the tip of the iceberg, and that there were many more miles of foundational work left to go. D'oh! I admit I was a little deflated right at that moment. The impatient MustGetThisPerfectNOW side of myself threw quite the little pity party, in fact, right in the middle of the lesson, and though I kept riding, I was definitely more flustered than I wanted to admit for the first half of my ride.

I finally reached a sort of breaking point, and had a small breakdown. I was very frustrated with my inability to process Kim's instructions into anything productive, and I was even more frustrated that I had allowed myself to get wound up two lessons in a row. Gahh!! This is the part of myself that I hate the most: the side of me that flusters easily and makes me look and act like a total wuss/idiot/ass in the presence of people that I respect and generally would like to keep my shit together in front of (ie Kim).

Kim responded, in a word, incredibly. I wouldn't have really blamed her if she had written me off at that point as an unteachable headcase (it's happened before, unfortunately). But instead she buckled down, changed her teaching approach, and found a way for the lesson to end on a good note. I was deeply, deeply impressed with her professionalism and ability.

And best of all, the change of approach was hugely helpful! We realized that my low and stiff hands (which in turn exacerbate Ky's inconsistent acceptance of the contact) are often caused by imbalance and lack of stability in my core, so Kim had me drop my stirrups to build strength and hold a whip in each hand for stability. When I felt my hands starting to fall in, I could use the whip against my thigh as a lever to push myself back into the correct position. It was hard, and I made a lot of mistakes, but when I got it right I could actually FEEL the positive change it made on the way Ky went. It's a start.

Obviously there's still a long way to go, but it felt really great to end on a positive note. Kim was so supportive and positive; I'm very, very lucky to have her as my instructor. She reminded me that solving this problem with Ky now might be frustrating, but that I will look back on my experience with him someday and be thankful for all the things he taught me. Wise words, and definitely ones to keep in mind next time he has me wanting to tear my hair out on the flat (which, knowing the little squirtlet, might be sooner rather than later!)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Winter Gymnastics, Round 6

Today I took a break from the misery that has been breaking in my new boots (but man, they ARE purdy) and slipped on my old, wonderful schooling boots for another round of winter gymnastics with Ky.

(Once again we failed at documentation, but this was at the end of the ride - the dude is looking pretty adorable, if I do say so myself. And check out his ever growing topline!)

Robin and I got split up in our schedules this week, so Ky and I went it alone (well, not quite alone, as I was very lucky to have Pa help me out on the ground). It was a BALMY 37º (up from 7º a few days ago) and I even got to take my gloves off--yippee!! Between that and actually having boots that didn't have me on the verge of tears, we were off to a great start before we even cantered the first pole, haha.

I made a pretty simple exercise today, just a cross rail four short strides (55') to an oxer, set up right in the middle of the arena so that I could approach it evenly off either rein. My general approach was that I  would hand gallop down the long side in two point, approximating the speed required for Novice cross country, then sit up, collect around the turn, and jump the cross rail and turn immediately right or left, and then come around to the cross rail again. I would do this circling/figure 8 pattern until he felt forward but relaxed, then jump the cross rail and go straight down the line before resting.

We left the cross rail pretty small but kept building the oxer until it was 3'6" and fairly wide. I wanted to start incorporating a little fitness work into our jumping, as it's now 2013 and our winter off season is officially half over! So when the line was at that height I did a little fitness-building, jumping the line and galloping down the long side back to the line again several times without a break. It was sort of the mini version of the old fitness work I used to do with Dually when he was going prelim/intermediate, which involved quick sprints broken up by shortening up for technical combinations (the favorite for Dually was a BIG one stride of square oxers--something I'm pretty sure I'd pee my pants if I tried to canter down to today!!) and then sprinting off again.

Ky was definitely puffing by the end, but jumped better and better the more we went along. He's so clever: he got every single lead change the entire ride except one (which was totally my fault, as I decided it would be a great idea to suddenly throw my entire body weight off to one side over a 3'6" oxer... I'm surprised the little dude didn't wipe out, given my idiotic behavior) and stayed calm but aggressive throughout. Good man, Ky!

Robin and I are having a lesson with Jane Hamlin together next week. I'm excited!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Entering a World of Pain

First of all, Happy New Year!! I hope you had a wonderful, restful, and joyful holiday season.

(Ringo and I rang in the new year with a fun bareback ride in the newly fallen snow we got over the weekend!)

So, I got new boots.

(Spiffy)

They are my very first pair of real dressage boots, complete with the super thick stovepipe legs and reinforced (synthetic) whalebone backs to prove it. Since my previous boots for showing were Ariat Monacos, pretty much the softest and most buttery tall boots around, these new ones are... an adjustment, to say the least.

And I'm in pain!! I haven't had boots that I've had to actually 'break in' for like 10 years (I know, I know... I'm very spoiled), and though I haven't given up and taken them off yet, I'm definitely hobbling. That being said, however, I definitely noticed a difference in the way I was able to use my leg when I was riding tonight (maybe I'm just making that up to justify this newest purchase... ssssshh). The things we do for this crazy sport!!

(Very fuzzy, but you can sort of see the boots in action)

(Also, it looked like this today while I was riding - real winter, I'm realizing how much I missed you!)
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