Thursday, April 21, 2016

Intuition

I wasn't sure if I was going to talk about this on the blog, but as with most topics I wasn't sure whether to address, I'm going to do it anyway. I can't explain the story without context.  I've spent the past week in various hospitals, visiting my uncle who had a massive heart attack, and three open heart surgeries in the span of 36 hours.  Been a stressful, exhausting, anxiety-ridden seven days. He's still critical, and we are not out of the woods, but he's steadily improving, and I'm very thankful for the people in the cardiac unit at RWJ who have done such a great job coming up with a plan to make all that improvement happen.  

One particular late night, the night nurse (a man I've grown to love over the past week) was telling me about "nurse's intuition," which comes from years of experience with patients, and knowing in your gut what medication to reduce or increase, or what to try next, or when to do any of the numerous tasks nurses are given on any particular day or night.  He explained that's why nurses can't attend to family, because they lose their objectivity and don't trust their intuition like they would with another patient.

So it occurred to me, one another very late night as I was driving home (actually, it could have been the same night, the days of the past week are completely blending together) that maybe I should spend a little less time beating myself up for being a terrible mother and a little more time coming up with a game plan and trying to figure out how to improve things.  

I thought about his behavior, which includes not wanting to go forward, spookiness and tension, reluctance to bend left and sensitivity to my left leg, and the report from my barn managers that he was restless and "looking for something to do" all week.  Although I had originally thought this was all due to the abscess he blew last week in his right hind, it's not a perfect fit.  He still felt NQR on Saturday, after the abscess was excavated, but I had more pressing issues and couldn't really give it my full attention.

After more time to think, it occurred to me that in addition to the abscess, his ulcers could be acting up, what with the change of seasons, change of barns, my schedule being a little sporadic, etc.  I decided to go with my gut and order 30 tubes of Abgard.  (Yup, I buy the Canadian stuff.  It's not approved by the FDA. However, what I read on the subject from the FDA reported that this company's product had slightly higher doses of omeprazole in their product than advertised.  I figure that compensates for whatever portion of the product ends up on my shirt or in my hair.  YMMV.)

Last night I took a break from hospital visiting hours and went to the barn, with the goal of a light, easy hack.  I put our hunter tack on, which was kind of fun in and of itself, because I haven't dressed him up in brown tack in a while.  It felt sort of good zipping up my old field boots.

I said hunter, not conformation hunter.
I went out to the outdoor ring and Tucker balked at the in-gate, which is not like him.  I let him stand for a while and stroked his neck and talked to him, but it took me a few tries to get him in the ring. Since my goal was to tread lightly I didn't make an issue out of it, and he eventually walked in on his own accord.

The ride was lovely.  I floated the reins at him and he poked his nose like a hunter, when I asked him to canter and stretched up into my half seat he gave me a big, loose, happy loping stride, and he walked back to the barn on the buckle.  I left my spurs off, and I was extra gentle with my left leg.  It was nice to be back on my hunter.  Felt like riding a horse I haven't been on in a while, actually.  Like seeing an old friend.

Dancin' in the moonlight
When we got back to the barn and I had him on the cross-ties, I was in the middle of sending an over-analyzing text to my barn friend about him, that he was sound and managed to relax during our ride, and had no sensitivity in his back or anywhere else.  As I typed, he started violently swishing his tail like he was being bothered by flies.  Only there were no flies.  And then he turned himself sideways in the cross-ties and pressed his butt into the wall (incidentally, it's also time to worm him, but now I'm going to wait because wormer can upset the stomach).

He ate all his dinner and gut sounds are loud and normal, so I don't feel like he's in immediate danger or anything.  But, it does sort of feel like there was a giant neon sign hanging over my horse's head saying his tummy hurts.  Glad I ordered all that Abgard (bye bye money!), which should be here soon.

I guess there's such a thing as horsewoman's intuition too?  If you can be objective, that is.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ramble On...

This is gonna be a little bit rambling.  Just hang on for the ride.  Without going into too much detail, life is throwing curve balls at me, and I'm writing this as much for me as I am for you guys.

So...  after my little fender bender (trailer hitch bender? towing incident?) I was feeling a bit sore in my shoulder.  Nothing a few hot baths and some sore-no-more didn't fix, but I didn't ride for a couple of days.

true story
I was feeling better by Saturday. But as my fellow East Coasters know it was cold, windy, and rainy all day. I had been outside for the morning at a memorial service, and I was frozen to the bone. One of my BFFs (barn friends forever) tried to motivate me:


This is what good barn friends are for.  Can you tell by the unspoken completely disheartened and unmotivated tone of my last text (you can tell cause I used punctuation) what happened next?  I went upstairs to change, faced with two options: breeches and pajamas. Yup, you guessed it.  The couch and the blanket won out over the horse and the cold rain.  I knew I was going to feel guilty, and I knew Tucker was going to be even more fresh with yet another day off (this would be his fourth in a row), but I just couldn't make it happen.  Please tell me you've been there?

Sunday came and I headed off to the barn in much sunnier, albeit still chilly, weather.  Tucker was happy to see me and I tacked him up and took him outside - on a lunge line of course, I'm not that stupid.  We lunged all over our outdoor dressage ring, doing 15m circles and 10m circles all up and down and back and forth to try to keep him focused.  He started off as a horse kite, flagged tail and all, but eventually started looking more earthbound.

Based on some things I've learned in Guy McLean's training videos (which I very loosely apply with Tucker, based on what I think will work with him and what I'm capable of doing properly) I tried to focus on his inside hind leg and pay attention to whether his focus was on me or elsewhere.  While focusing on his inside hind leg, I had a few glimpses where I thought, "is he off in his right hind?" But then it would go away, so I decided he was just wild and not paying attention to all his feet.  And then I'd wonder if maybe he needs his hocks done?  Is he?  Isn't he?  I started mentally doing financial gymnastics to figure out how soon I can afford injections.  I know you've all been there.


I got on and tried to remember what Guy says, which is to have your ground work carry over to your ridden work by focusing on controlling the inside hind leg the same way you did on the ground.  I don't know that this was particularly that successful but I did my best.  It was only our second ride in the outdoor, so my goal wasn't greatness, more like "just keep your shit together." Which he did. Even when other horses left the ring, and even when they brought the horses in turnout back to the barn (which can sometimes lead to an explosion) he kept right on working.  He was actually pretty great, not that I asked for anything too complicated from him.

I rode back to the barn thinking that I can't believe how good he was after four days off, and I really don't deserve this horse.  I thought that even if I opened an orphanage for underprivileged special needs children who lost their families through tragic acts of god, I probably still wouldn't deserve this horse.  Then he spooked and went pronking off into the sunset while I desperately tried to gather my reins and not drop the lunge line I was carrying and not fall off.  And I realized the orphanage thing was a bit much.  Maybe just try to ride more and leave it at that.

When I got back to the barn, our barn manager told me, "I'm glad you're here, he's so much happier.  When you're not here he's always looking for something to do.  He really wants to work."  Which is the nicest possible way of saying, "Your horse drove us absolutely NUTS this week." Cue feelings of deep regret, inadequacy as a horse parent, laziness and general worthlessness as a human being, and intense guilt.  Anyone been there?

Tuesday he was WILD in the indoor, so I decided to let him run around and get some of the crazies out.  He trotted away from us and Alyssa and I both said he looked like a pregnant mare - all wide and waddling behind.  And I thought maybe he needs his SI's done?  And now I was doing mental acrobatics to figure out how I would be able to afford those injections (which typically require an ultrasound, and x-rays, and selling a kidney).

But then it went away again, so I thought nothing of it because he was sound under tack, albeit really tense.  I figured four days off, he was entitled to some tension, plus Goose was in the outdoor ring and he could see him but he could also hear voices which was kind of scary... which meant couldn't decide whether he was afraid of outside or desperately wanted to be outside.

And a Tucker divided against itself cannot horse.
Yesterday morning our farrier came out for new shoes and immediately uncovered a frog abscess in his right hind. So that would explain the random funny steps I was seeing.  Really odd, because last time he had an abscess (years ago) he was really dramatic about it and non-weight-bearing. Still, I'm kind of concerned that I didn't see it when I picked his feet or follow up on my mini-hunches that something was NQR. I guess the moral of that story is don't ever use me as your vet. I'll inject your horses hocks and SI's when he's really got a small simple abscess. Once again, cue thoughts of, "I'm a terrible mother and probably shouldn't even own this horse. Maybe I should switch to raising goldfish."

Last night I jogged him for soundness, whilst mentally questioning whether I'd even be able to tell the difference given that I didn't notice an abscess, and then got on and rode.  He was, again, tense and tight.  Last week when I had a tight, tense ride, I started moving his haunches around and it loosened him up and got him to relax and flex.

This time lateral work did not do anything for the tension, in fact whenever I tried to move him around he got all "NO TOUCHIE I WILL REAR" so I scrapped that idea entirely.  Instead, I did a lot of transitions within the gait, tiny little trot and big extended trot, on a nice big circle.  He didn't want to extend his trot, he wanted to canter and leap, but I kept at it and eventually he moved out in the trot without flailing, and then magically took a big deep breath and softened within this big lengthened trot.  

So apparently pushing him forward, which is the last thing I usually want to do while riding a ball of tension, was what he needed.  Completely counter-intuitive, but it worked.  We moved on to a loose interpretation of First-2, which is an easy test for us, just as a barometer.  And he ended really nicely with some lovely canter work (after a moment of leaping and flailing which I chose to ignore).  At the very least, after a solid hour of work, I think I tired him out.

So tired pls put my pajamas back on I beg you
We have our first show coming up on Sunday.  I'm hoping I get a couple of more relaxed rides in so I start feeling a little better about it.  I'm giving him his ulcer meds for a few consecutive days in case his tummy is bothering him.  Lots going on this past week - multiple days off, abscess, fluctuating weather - so there's just too many variables for me to narrow down any kind of plan.  

So, just going to go with what has worked in the past and hope for the best?  Cause that's pretty much what we always do when it comes to horses anyway?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Seriously. Only Me.

In this week's installment of "How Is This My Life," last night, halfway through my long drive from work to the barn, I was sitting in stop-and-go traffic (because Jersey) and I heard a loud crash, and promptly ceased moving forward.  For a second I thought I was losing my mind and had hit an invisible car.  Open road in front of me.  Did I miss something in the road?  Then I looked in my rear view to confirm that someone had in fact hit me.  

When I stepped on the gas it was clear to me what had happened.  She was stuck on my hitch.  I hopped out, told her to put her car in neutral, and towed her to the shoulder.  She was kind of scared and very apologetic (spoiler alert: she was from Canada) and just nodded her head in agreement at the crazy little girl in the big truck.

Pictured: not the recommended way to tow a vehicle
File this in the subcategories of "Truck Problems," "Horse Girl Problems," and "Sh*t that Only Happens to Me."

Now, you need to understand a little bit about my truck, whose name is Beastie, before I continue. Beastie has been through a lot.  She's been hit a few times and lived to tell the tale and has numerous dents and dings from lord only knows what at this point.  She was hit going in a straight line on the highway up at HITS one year for no apparent reason at all.  She rear ended a Lexus who decided to slam on the brakes at a yellow light (she was just trying to get it out of my way).  She once killed a deer (RIP) although that one wasn't on purpose.  At various points in her life, she's sported duct tape for way longer than would be appropriate while I spent money on horses instead of fixing her saved up to get her fixed. Long story short, she's SEEN THINGS.

The Beast, in all her glory.
(She is casually dating Ethan's big red work truck.)
I love this truck.  I have anthropomorphized her to the point that I view her as my tough as nails best friend, that girl who has your back and kind of scares you a little because you're pretty sure she'd kill for you.  She's gotten me through so much.  She saved Tucker and his friends the night we escaped from Riverview.  She's the toughest broad I know.  It has literally become part of my personality that I am a little girl with a big truck.  I love when I walk out of court and other lawyers get into their BMWs and I hike up my skirt and climb up in my big-ass pick up.  Preferably it's splattered in mud. The paradox suits me.

Which is why, when the first cop showed up, I was in the middle of gently patting the tail gate and assuring her that everything was going to be alright.  (I'm quite sure he made a mental note that I was potentially unstable.)

Cop #1's first question was what we were doing on the shoulder.  I explained that she hit me in the left lane, and then I towed her to the shoulder.

"You . . . towed her?" He asks, unable to hide his smirk.  

"Yup!" I cheerfully replied.  (I was very proud of the Beast.)

That would be my trailer hitch, inside a Mazda 3.  Zoom zoom.
I told him I didn't want to cause a massive pile up.  He thanked me for saving him the paperwork. Sitting in the left lane after an accident in Jersey pretty much means you're going to die.  Or at least get hit by the next 3 cars that come around the curve going 85.  (Not exaggerating.)  

I explained that I had tried having her put her car in park and putting her e-brake on, but my truck pulled her right along anyway (there was a bar in front of her radiator, which was over the ball on my hitch).  The Beast is strong.  She just dragged the Mazda behind her kicking and screaming. I explained I had also tried unlocking the hitch pin so we could just remove the hitch, but that because of the tension on the hitch, was unable to get the pin out.  I also wasn't about to go on the side of my truck and stand inches from the left lane and try to hammer it out.

At this point, Cop #2 showed up, explaining in a very matter-of-fact way that we were going to have to call a tow truck, who would hook up to the back of the Mazda and forcibly remove it from my truck.  Realizing that this plan would (a) destroy the front end of the Mazda, and (b) possibly mess up my hitch and frame, I suggested we put the Mazda on a jack and see if I could drive off that way.  

We tried that, but the Beast is too beastly and she just pulled the Mazda off its jack.  So, I explained about hammering the hitch pin, given that Cop #2's vehicle was now safely blocking the left lane.  At which point Cop #1 improvised, using my lug wrench and his retractable nightstick (no, NOT kidding) as a hammer.  This worked, and I was able to wiggle the pin out from the other side and safely drive off, the hitch slipping out of the receiver, and then out of the grill of the Mazda.  Cop #2 remarked at how heavy my hitch was.  Well, yes of course, nothing but the best for Tucker.  DUH.

I then reassembled my hitch, all the while speaking soothingly to Beastie that she was almost done and then patting her tailgate and telling her what a good, strong, brave girl she was.  (Oh yeah, I totally did that.  In front of three strangers.  I'm surprised the cops didn't make me do a drug test, now that I think about it.)  I talked to the Beast the whole way home.  She did great.  No shame.

The cops were actually really nice about the whole thing, and super helpful (which surprised the hell out of me because I represent cops and let's just say I don't have the best opinion of them) and since there was literally zero damage to the Beast because she is the toughest truck in the world and this didn't phase her one bit, I just gave my number to the deeply apologetic Canadian in case she needed it for her insurance claim, and was on my merry way.  

And that is the story of how Tucker got an extra night off this week because I was busy towing a Mazda 3 down the highway.

Only.  Me. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Bonus Lesson with Amy (In Which I Almost Fell Off)

(I promise I'm going to do better than once-a-week.  At some point soon.  Please don't leave me because I'm so inconsistent.  Needy blogger over here.)

So, since I did a lot of responsible adulting and didn't spend any money last month because I had to get my truck fixed (again WHY are there not merit badges for adulting?), and since the truck ended up costing less than I thought, and since I had Good Friday off of work, I treated myself to a second lesson last month.  

It was a GORGEOUS day out (even though they had predicted rain), so I got to the barn early, body clipped the beast, and had a couple of leisurely hours of tack cleaning and trailer organizing before my lesson.  I just want to note that I am thoroughly and completely a crazy horse person, given that I find tack cleaning and trailer organizing to be leisure activities.  Anyway, Gorgeous Boy looked gorgeous all freshly clipped, and for once I had more than my racing-from-work, stuck-in-traffic, barely-made-my-lesson, let's-hope-no-one-notices-the-random-bits-of-mud kind of preparation for my lesson.

So handsome you must give him all the snacks
I showed Amy the new warm-up I've been doing since our last lesson, which involves the same lateral and bending work, with stretching and opening up the trot mixed in.  I also showed her our new "starter canter," which is intentionally a little flat.  I'm working on our warm-up canter being aimed toward getting him to just loosen up his back, so I'm staying lighter in my seat, not asking for roundness, just trying to keep it connected and forward.  Amy liked the warm-up a lot. 

We worked on the shoulder-in, getting Tucker to bend through his rib cage instead of through his neck (he fakes me out all the time).  She had me go from shoulder-in to renverse, to get him bending in both directions (this is deceptively hard). I threw in some quarter walk-pirouettes, which were good.  I've been adding those in here and there in my rides, whenever I am walking and get to a corner, to try to make them "no big deal."

I told Amy that I wanted to pick up where we left off, so to speak, on our canter-walk and collected canter work.  We started off to the left.  In this direction I have to work on not letting his right shoulder pop to the outside, which is his cheat.  I am also finding that in the collected work to the left I need lots of leg - he wants to get slower instead of more collected.

So much slower in fact that Amy handed me a whip (long time readers may know where this is headed).  He initially thought about just dolphin-flailing off into the sunset, but I ignored him.  So he did a lot of groaning and grunting and calling for his union rep, but eventually we did make some progress.


Then we went right, and he got super tense because you know, today could be the day.  This could be the moment where the next thing he's asked to do is way beyond his skill set and he just can't do it and we decide to beat him into submission.  So, we did some stretchy trot until he decided to just chill, bro.

Once his brain returned to its usual resting place in his skull, Amy actually said she liked our right lead collected canter better than the left.  Which is awesome.  I have been really working on strengthening his right hind and getting the right lead canter more adjustable, and it seems to be paying off.  He was collecting without changing his rhythm and without bracing.  With the exception of the fact that I really need to learn to do upward transitions without standing in my stirrups like it's a hunter under saddle, right lead was really good.

For the canter-walk transition, Amy had me go directly into a walk-pirouette.  So, I'd start cuing the walk-pirouette while we were still cantering in the last moments before the transition, and then immediately upon walking turn to the inside for a few steps of walk-pirouette.  Well, I mean that was the goal.  I can promise you it didn't go as smoothly as that every time.  We still don't exactly have a canter-walk transition, but we are making progress.

We also talked a lot about weighting the inside seat bone, and pulling the inside leg down toward the ground, to get him to turn in.  Amy suggested I watch videos of Lisa Wilcox because she really emphasizes this when she sets up for her canter pirouettes (which I did, and you should too).  So, this is the point where I realized that I have a really hard time using leg without weighting my seat bone on that side.  Applying left leg while weighting right seat is like patting my head and rubbing my stomach at the same time.  I have to think really hard about it and possibly stick my tongue out the corner of the mouth.  

Of course, since the right lead was so much better than the left, we had to go back to the left again. Tucker definitely called shenanigans.  In my effort to get him more collected, all I really ended up doing was over-bending him left.  Which meant his right shoulder was stuck out even more, and probably because I was putting him in this pretzel shape, he was not responding to my right leg. Sorry, nobody home.

So Amy told me to use my whip on his right shoulder.  I gently pressed the whip on his shoulder. Nope nobody here by that name, so sorry, maybe come back tomorrow.

Given the lack of response, I ever so slightly less gently tapped the whip on his shoulder.  And he reacted like a hysterical teenage girl.

OMIGOD SHE HIT ME I CANNOT EVEN HORSE RIGHT NOW I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS I WAS JUST ASSAULTED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT UNBELIEVABLE THE NERVE THIS IS COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE I JUST KNEW THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN I AM COMPLETELY DISTRAUGHT AND INSULTED.

DEEPLY OFFENDED
He went broncing and leaping across the diagonal like someone opened the rodeo shoot, which I was not necessarily expecting given how lightly I tapped him.  It was one of those *this close* to falling off moments.  There was enough daylight between me and my saddle that I ended up with a big ugly bruise on my right knee from where it smacked the pommel on my way down.  Somehow I managed to look for my saddle and get myself back in its general hemisphere, while simultaneously pulling the left rein, and somehow he was at a full stop by the time my butt was back in the tack.

Amy very nonchalantly responded with "... okay so just give me your whip and when you're ready let's go back to the renverse exercise."  You've seen this meme right?


In all seriousness though, we did go back to our renverse exercise at the trot, and eventually back to our left lead canter, and we were able to move it in and out of collection without any drama.  I'm pleased to say that after a minute or two of tension he actually let it go and went back to work without having a total nervous breakdown.  So, all in all a good teachable moment for both of us.

Of course, I completely tweaked my right knee and he got his Spring shots this week, so we haven't done much other than walk work.  But I think we are both fully recovered so it's back to full work this week... where I will work on consciously weighting my seat bones as an aid (apparently that's a thing you should do?) and be diligent about not over-bending.  Tucker the Wunderkind, not Tucker the Pretzel.  Got it.

Amy and I also discussed a plan for this show season.  I have been waffling between whether to move up to second level or stay at first for another year.  Amy gave me good advice, that you never really feel "ready" to move up.  So she suggested that I do my first few shows at first level, get qualified for whatever championships I'm aiming for (ESDCTA and ECRDA, and maybe USDF Regionals), and then do some shows at Second to see how it goes.  That way I'll feel more ready to be competitive at Second Level next year.  Which, of course, makes perfect sense.  As does most of what Amy tells me.