Monday, July 27, 2009

Yes, folks, riding horses can be risky

We all know this, or we think we know it, and then sometimes it smacks us right in the face. Or in Steve's case, the shoulder.

Saturday, after I bought the cutest white Miata in the world and went to show it to my dad, I got home, Steve and I went to a late lunch at Sushi Hana, then to the barn to ride. I have not let Steve ride Bar in a really long time and decided I was going to let go of my control-freakiness and allow it and just see what happened.

Poo happened, but not because Bar was acting up at all. In fact, he was being really good, really responsive and cooperative, and things were going along really well--plus I was having a great ride on Lena.

I was by the gate of the big outdoor arena and turned around just in time to see Bar and Steve turn, trip, and go down in a big puff of dust. Bar got up and immediately came over to Lena and me. I got her settled down, heard Bill settling his horse down, got off Lena, and turned around to see Steve lying prone on the ground on his back, not moving. Bill got off his horse and called out for help and headed out of the arena. I got our two horses calmed down and called to Steve, who was laying way too still.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, he started to sit up and the three of us headed over there. The horses started to bicker and I backed them both up and told them in uncertain terms that it was not the time for that and they settled immediately. When we got over to Steve, they both wanted to get in closer to see why he was on the ground, but I wouldn't let them. There was someone there, a friend of one of the boarders, who was a nurse and she came out and checked him out. He fell on his right shoulder and was really sore there, but it didn't seem like anything was broken because he could move his arm and squeeze his hand.

Carlyne and Bill came to help with my horses at that point, so I let Carlyne take Lena and I took Bar up to put them away. Bill and the nurse and several other people stayed with Steve, who managed to be on his feet when the ambulance and firetrucks got there. (Thank you, Forestville Fire Department!)

Steve was coherent, though a little out of it and obviously in pain, and didn't want to go the hospital, so he and I went home. His first question to me? "How is Bar?" Bar seemed to be fine, though Steve was really disappointed that this had to happen while things were going so well in the arena.

Once we got home, he alternated between resting prone and upright until about 9:30, and then he tried to get up and threw up. Hm. I checked his pupils, and they were fine. He was tracking well with both eyes and said his head didn't hurt, he was just really dizzy. Did he want to go to the hospital, yet? No.

So we slept on the sofa, both of us, me waking up to check on him periodically and help him with blankets and pillow angles, until the next morning when he could not get up at all--even to go to the bathroom--because his vertigo was so bad.

He had me call the ambulance and the first crew to show up was our guys from Forestville again. They didn't lecture him, and in fact say it is very common--particularly with men (no offense, guys)--to get a second call in a case like this.

So Steve and I spent all day yesterday in Kaiser's ER, then they finally admitted him because he still couldn't sit up, let alone get into a car. He's still there and they did find a vertigo medicine that seems to be working, though he's still pretty shaky and hasn't tried to stand up, yet.

The vertigo is what's keeping him there, and it's probably caused by a mild concussion. He had a CT scan and his brain is fine, no bleeding or issues there, which is obviously very good news. He did manage to fracture his scapula, four ribs, and his collar bone. One of the nurses told him "nice job" today. He won't take any pain meds, though, because he says it doesn't hurt that badly unless he coughs or sneezes, and because most of the normal meds make him too sick and he doesn't figure that's a good idea at the moment.

The lesson is two-fold. Anything can happen, even on a good day, and going to the hospital initially might have been a good plan. But.. hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.

Since Steve is my editor, he isn't here to point out typos or where things could be worded smoother, so I apologize if this post isn't as clear as usual. I'm also eating grilled cheese for dinner because, well, it's about all I know how to cook.

And I miss him, but am glad he seems to be on the mend and really glad it wasn't more serious.

AND--thank you to Randee for the iPhone photo documentation on top of calling 911!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Training and trail riding do go together

As I said last night, we had a great ride yesterday. It made up for a little frustration I had with Bar earlier in the week (which I will post about separately), and proved to us that the patience training we did the other day was a really good plan.

Ike sent me a training tip through Katie - "Go for 1% improvement every day and in 100 days, Bar will be perfect." I'm not sure about perfect, ever, but it's a good, realistic way to look at horses and their timelines--which may not always coincide with our timelines. Horses are an investment, and the financial part is really the minor piece of the pie. What I tell people when they ask about having horses is that it is a time and energy commitment you have to be willing to make if you want a good experience. Just showing up now and then to ride may work with some horses, but ours need a little more than that.

Yesterday gave us all some tangible results from the work we've been doing, though Lena made us wonder right after we loaded her yesterday. We got her in, then loaded Bar, and suddenly she was scrambling in her compartment. She had her right rear leg at a weird angle, presumably because she had begun to push her hip into the divider and lost her balance. It was loud and scary, and I started to back Bar out--who was being absolutely calm and wonderful, I might add--but Steve held the door closed behind us and told me to wait a second and be patient (!) and sure enough, she got herself steadied. Luckily, we had used the fly boots Cheri suggested and they kept Lena from banging up her fetlocks like she's done before. Those will become a permanent item in the trailer.

Then we were off! She pawed once or twice, but settled down as we got rolling. But we only rolled as far as the hardware store as you approach Guerneville before traffic stopped. Uh oh. Summer traffic through Guerneville is always bad and had we left earlier, we would probably have been okay. But at noon, it was stop and go for at least a half an hour. I started to get antsy, couldn't think that all this stillness was good with our two horses back there, but.. there was hardly a shuffle.

We got to the park, pulled in and parked in the picnic area and unloaded the horses, tacked them up, and headed up the trail. Bar was more nervous about Lena getting out of site than he has been recently, but it was a new place for him and there was a lot going on with picnickers, Frisbee games, and lots and lots of cars and humans. He actually mellowed quite a bit once we got on the trail. He took the lead going uphill, but preferred her in front going downhill.

We had hesitation from Lena going over the bridges, but she did eventually go, lifting up her big feet ever so daintily at the hollow sound underneath her. Then there was the scary turkey making rustling noises in the bushes. I assured them that if it really was a mountain lion, we wouldn't hear it. Both horses were really paying attention and being careful with their footing, through some very tricky terrain.

Then the big test. Stopping for lunch, which meant tying them up and not hovering. Bar was himself for a little while--my apologies to the tree:

Amazingly,he did eventually settle down:

Lena settled down almost immediately and just watched the hikers come down the hill. Even I settled down long enough to eat, which is a minor miracle.

So all in all, an awesome day. I even left Bar tied up alone to the truck and trailer while I took the saddles and tack back up to our barn after we got home. Not sure if that's a bigger milestone for him or for me, but I'll take it either way.

Might have even gotten 3% yesterday, if I were to call it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

He really is a trail horse

I have so much to write and I'm too tired and too much in need of the hot tub to write it all.

We had a great trail ride today in one of our wonderful California State Parks -- Armstrong Redwoods.

Both horses handled traffic, picnickers, and Frisbees, all before we got to the tricky and difficult terrain.

Super proud of both of them and I promise there are more details forthcoming. Just too tired to put good sentences together right now.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Working with Bar

When Steve and I were up at Slide, Ike and Cheri were interested in hearing about Bar and how things were going with him. Cheri admitted to being worried about me because racehorses can have such interesting issues when it comes to retraining.

Don't I know it.

We talked a lot about some of our challenges, and also about how great he is on the trail. Ike got that trainer gleam in his eye and commented that it sounded like Bar had pressure issues in the arena.


So I've spent the two weeks since we got back watching Bar and his reactions as I ask him for different things, both from the ground and from his back. I'm also paying attention to my own body and my own reactions to see how it all fits together.

In the round pen, with me on the ground, he's easy. Direction changes, gait changes, yielding, everything I ask for he gives pretty willingly. Bareback, with just the halter, at a walk, same thing.

I took him out in the outdoor arena on an extra-long lead rope (two tied together, actually) and could not get him to go around me at anything but a walk. Now, he goes around me fine in the round pen with no lead line, but he pulled back and backed away from me when we tried it on the line in the big arena. I could, however, point him at any obstacle and he'd go over or around it with me driving him softly with no problem whatsoever.

Hm, again.

Peter says Bar just knows what he can get away with, but I'm not sure that's it. My boy acts scared, or at least un-confident--eyes wide and ears up as he backs away from me trying to figure out what on earth it is I'm asking.

Going back to what Ike said about arena pressure, I have been trying to come up with ways to set the arena (just indoor for now) up as a non-threatening place. We walk around, we go over obstacles, we stop and sometimes listen to the things going on outside the arena and I keep a running, hopefully soothing, dialog and rub his neck as we go about our work.

I am also trying hard to relax and go with him when he starts to dance instead of picking up his head hard and grabbing with my knees. I figure that the past behavior of spinning him and matching his freak out with my own probably did not lend itself to making the arena seem like a safe place.

Friday, he tripped and went down to his knees while I was riding and then pushed up and danced around in a circle. I dropped my butt down in the saddle and talked him through it, then went back to walking the arena. The first loop back around, he avoided that spot in the arena like it was the corner's fault he tripped. I just kept edging him closer and closer each lap until he dropped his head and relaxed his ears through the "danger zone." The very last thing I did was ask him for a lap at the trot and he gave it to me without bolting and I called it good for the night.

I have no idea what I'm doing, whether it's right, wrong, enough pressure, or not enough. I just know that this horse is different than Lena. He will go through things, over things, under things, for me just because I ask him to. He'll even do things Lena won't, simply because he trusts me to take care of him.

It has taken me a long time to earn that trust on the ground, and now I have to re-earn it from the saddle. I don't know if I had his trust or more of confidence in myself, once, but whichever, the saddle is our pivot point.

It's not rocket science, but it is a study in patience and psychology. I know I can get there with him, and that's not a statement I was always confident enough to make.

So maybe he's retraining me as much as I'm retraining him.

Text messages from Slide

Katie has been sporadically texting me from Slide, where she is having a great time and learning a lot. I wanted to share some of her messages to me.

Day one, 7:19 p.m.:
I'm having so much fun! I'm riding Mia and I'm getting on Starbucks later on. Cell service is weird... Love you!

9:58 p.m.
I went on a night time trail ride with Ike it was so cool! But kinda scary since I couldn't see very well.

1:28 p.m. 7/8:
I forgot to tell you that I'm teaching starbucks to do flying lead changes :) love you!!

7:57 p.m, 7/8:
I just rode Pepper. I'm pretty sure he's a tank and not a horse.

12:22 p.m., 7/9:
I'm having cutting lessons with starbucks and pepper! They're pretty fun :) love you!!!!

Then, from on top of a horse on top of the mountain, she posted this photo and comment. Love it.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Katie update from Slide Mountain

Being a parent is sometimes really hard, and watching your kid go off on their first big solo adventure is both awesome and mildly terrifying. Now, I've had a lot of practice being separated from Katie, but something is really different this time.

Steve asked me why I was so uptight about all this and I think it's just not being there to watch this stage of her life, so feeling a little left out of it for really the first time. Before, I could always be a little more involved, though I often chose not to. (I'm really no good at Prom preparations, etc., just ask Katie.)

This time, I really have to step back and let her find her own way through it, even though I want to hear every little thing about what she's doing, learning, finding along the way.

I did get several updates, though, and know she's having a blast up there. She had already worked two of their cutting horses yesterday by noon, then rode Starbucks--a mare Cheri wants her to work with--later that afternoon. The last update I got, she had gone out on a night trail ride with Ike.

This will be an experience she will remember her whole life and I'm beyond glad she gets to be out there doing it--as well as so amazingly proud of the young woman she has become.

Just maybe feeling a little of that wistful "my baby's grown up" thing. Just a smidge. Guess I better get over it, huh?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Lessons in Patience

Bar, Lena Rey, and I all had lessons in patience today. Truth be known, it may actually have been hardest on me.

The idea for today's training solution came out of a conversation with Ike and Cheri last week about Lena's trailer antics. We'd like to start taking longer trips with them, but with her current tendency to bang back and forth and paw after about 45 minutes in the trailer, we couldn't figure out how we were going to get there.

When we described what was going on, they thought it sounded like an issue with patience. Cheri asked us how Lena tied, and we (me) admitted a little sheepishly that she didn't--or didn't tie well, at any rate. Cheri and Ike suggested we work the horses, give them a bath, then tie them up to the trailer--hooked to the truck--then sit back and leave them there.

So, Steve and I went to the barn armed with lunch, our books, and camp chairs. We followed the prescribed plan, fully expecting Lena to be the worst based on her trailer behavior and our experience post-trail ride where Bar tends to relax and hang by the trailer and Lena tends to paw, dance, and swing side to side.

However, besides me, Bar was definitely the most challenged in this exercise, though Lena had her moments, too.

He swung back and forth and pawed, pulled back some, but not too badly. That's all Steve let me watch. Lena swung back and forth, too, but mostly settled out besides pestering Bar and running her teeth down the metal plating on the front of trailer.

But eventually, despite my anxiousness and fidgeting as well as that of the horses, they did settle down after about 45 minutes and just stand there, swatting flies with their tails and snorting.

Huh, I thought to myself. Maybe we can actually take them camping!

We didn't end up hooking the truck up to the trailer, but it was there in reserve if we had needed to and we were close by. The thought behind that was that they aren't quite that bad about being tied, and we didn't want to hook the truck up and have them think we were going somewhere and than not have that happen.

Though it might be good to be sure we are parked somewhere soft that will allow trenches to be built.

And, yes, I survived seeing his big brown butt swinging around, worrying about him being tied too tightly, thinking he wasn't ready for this, that I was betraying his trust, blah, blah, blah.

He did give me a little trouble when I untied him, started to get pushy, and danced around, but I just redirected his feet, made him trot around me and back up, until he decided perhaps he was going to be okay after all.

And Jess learned she can leave her horses to dance a little and they will in fact be just fine.

Patience may indeed be a virtue, but it is not easy. For the horses, or for me, apparently. But we are all learning.

Next steps--Point Reyes for duration, and pitching a tent at Peter's while they're tied to the trailer for more practice.