Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Two hobbies, one set of shoulders

Now if I could only teach Calabar to dive...
It occurs to me that my two hobbies--one older, one newer, both represented in the photo above--are not going to reduce the size of my shoulders. Not that I want them to, no. I have worked hard to have this set of shoulders and they serve me well in all things.

Swimming and diving in various surface and not-so-surface conditions--check. Lifting and moving jumps and jump pieces--check. Carrying 40 pounds of scuba gear on my back through a fancy resort in Hawaii--check. Lifting saddles up over my head on a regular basis and rubbing down big, brown horses who don't always like to be groomed--check.

Some people think muscles on women don't look feminine. I think I am who I am--including the set of shoulders in the picture--and I like who I am. Shoulders and all.

Forrest the student

Forrest and his unicorn braid
I love Katie's horse Forrest. He's like an unspoiled vision of a horse--kind of like Lena, only even more trusting and eager. Lena is trusting, she just thinks she knows better than you do most of the time. Calabar is trusting.. primarily of me, and then only most of the time. Neither of them can match Forrest's eager-beaver nature, though--not by a long shot.

Maybe it's because he's young? Maybe our two horses are too jaded by the arena to attack it with as much energy as the young unicorn pictured above?

Thinking about it, as much as Forrest is like Katie in most things, he is like me in one thing. He is the kid in the front of the class trying to get the teacher's attention by coming up with an answer--any answer--as long as the teacher picks him. This was me as an older student, not me as a younger student. I had to realize there was something interesting out there to learn. Looks like Forrest has already figured that out.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Calabar says welcome home!

"Oh, you're home! More treats!"
I feel a little spoiled coming back from swimming in warm salt water and having this lovely brown horse greet me with a whinny of enthusiasm. Okay, so maybe he was just hoping for more treats, but there was a touch more snuggle than normal, too. Steve says it was obvious he missed me. Steve is a wise and loving man. Calabar has me wrapped firmly around his hoof but was also a very good  boy for our first post-vacation ride.

The trip was indeed awesome. Not only for the diving, which was incredible, but also because I. Did. Not. Work. Not once. I actually deleted my work email account off of my phone so I couldn't even see when I got an email. (If I see it, then I look at it.. you know the drill.) I will re-install it. Soon. Maybe.

What was also awesome was the fact that Calabar did not forget what we'd been working on when I left! His trot is evening out, he's responding to the cadence of my posting, he is using his hind end and making nice circles with me--it's fantastic!

Of course, he is still a little on the lazy side, but once I wake him up, he gets into it. He (as always) prefers to not drill on the same thing for hours, but to mix things up a little. So Saturday we went out to the outdoor and did some trot poles--ooooo! He thought those were okay and then we circled around the vaguely scary pile of sand. It got the eyeball, but I just kept him moving forward around it and he forgot it was new and terrifying after a minute. Or maybe he saw Lena and got distracted. Either scenario meant he didn't spook, which was the goal.

We went down the driveway to the road, bouncy walk and ears up the whole way. My horse is the only horse I know who slows down on his way back to the barn. Yes, he does. Just have to figure out how to get that big forward-ness IN the arena. (Bribery, Calabar says.)  It would be so nice to have a gallop or trail around the property where we board so I could skip the arena sometimes. Okay, a lot of the time. The road is okay, but it's cement and there are other distractions (like idiots who drive too fast). But for now, we will just expand our arena obstacle adventures and keep on keepin' on.

Meanwhile, Lena has been getting ridden pretty regularly by the wonderful Allie--there are now two very colorful English saddle pads, one purple and one orange. The purple looks fabulous on Lena Rey and I'm thinking I'll have to try the orange on Calabar. Sometimes Lena gets ridden twice in one day, but that does not appear to be doing her any harm and in fact she is very calm these days and moving beautifully.

Love my ponies. Glad to be home. Still miss swimming in warm salt water, though.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Another risky expensive hobby? Oh yes.

Jess and Steve underwater at Molokini, off Maui
As if horses are not risky and expensive enough, Steve and I have decided to take up scuba diving as well. No, we don't actually expect to get life insurance any time soon. 

Steve was a diver many moons ago and introduced me to snorkeling on our first trip to Maui twelve years ago. We stopped traveling to the islands shortly after acquiring horses (no regrets), but managed to put away a few pennies over the last ten years for another trip. And this one had a goal--to get both of us our PADI Open Water Dive Certifications.

We did all our book-work online and then arranged to do the dives here where the water is not freezing cold. I love Northern California, but diving in clear, blue, warm water is quite delicious.

Do I miss my horses right now? Yes. Yes I do. Am I trying to figure out a way to get my horses and my diving in the same vicinity? Oh, heck yes. Did you know you can ship horses from Oakland to Hawaii on a boat in 4-6 days? There is even a company right near us that does it. Do I think my horses would approve of this? No. No I do not. At least not that part.

But back to the diving.

Much like backpacking, only minus the food and with the addition of the dangers of running out of air, diving is so wonderfully self-contained. It's AMAZING!

Steve at Molokini
We had an interesting juxtaposition of experiences. Our first 6 dives--including the four certification dives--were all boat dives with Lahaina Divers. They are a well-oiled machine of a shop. The operations crew gets you checked in, waivers signed, gear rented and on the boat seamlessly. We had great instruction and support from the entire crew and some fantastic dives. Steve had some issues with seasickness and even that was handled with professionalism and pragmatism--never a hint of discouragement. 

Molokini (actually a crater left over from a vent off of Maui's volcano Haleakala) was incredible. We had 200 feet of visibility and it would have been so, so easy to just keep diving down the water was so clear and there was just so much to see.

I've decided that warm salt water is really the only thing I want to swim in. This means I'm out of luck for awhile, but oh well.

On Thursday, our last day on the island before we head home Friday, we tried a different shop. We wanted to do a shore dive and Lahaina a) doesn't do shore dives and b) didn't have enough equipment to rent because they were booked so they sent us to Maui Diving. This was a totally different experience. 

The owner is there in the shop and on Wednesday afternoon, booked us a shore dive to Black Rock the next morning. We showed up at 9 a.m. Thursday, geared up, climbed in Kevin's van, and headed out. This crew is a little more laid back than Lahaina Divers but no less passionate about diving.

Here's the difference between a shore drive and a boat dive. You have to hike in to a shore dive WITH YOUR GEAR on. It's kinda heavy, in case you're curious. But on the plus side, it is less likely to cause nausea and if you want to cause a stir at a fancy resort? Well. Strolling through in a wetsuit with a tank strapped to your back will do it. Hawaii has no private beaches, so any resort must provide unfettered access to the shoreline. Some of them don't like it, but in the long run, they have to provide it. I admit to a small amount of evil delight hiking back through in our gear.

It was awesome.

Hawksbill turtle at Black Rock, Maui
So was the dive. We swam around the point, encountering turtles, eels, fish and narrowly avoiding tourists jumping off rocks above us. Forty minutes of bottom time, warm water and I hear there is video coming soon. 

I would definitely dive with both shops again. Lahaina can take us out to some great places by boat and Maui Diving can get us in the water fast and easy.

The next question is how to wrap all this up in one perfect lifestyle package. First step is convincing two 1.200 pound horses that a 4-6 day boat ride is a reasonable thing to do.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Magnetic personality

Not a band-aid, no. A teeny, tiny (but powerful) magnet
When Karen came out a couple weeks ago to work on Lena, she also took a look at the big, brown "do-not-massage-me" horse. I don't know why massage is such an issue with him, but it is. "You're touching me! Ow! That's too HARD!"

Karen made it easy on him. She went to him. We didn't trap him in the cross ties this time, no. We went to his paddock and she didn't even try to massage him--she used the laser.

We got maybe 20 minutes.

Stubborn, twitchy brown horse.

Just in case we thought he was relaxing about the body-work thing, she did try to massage him after the laser. How fast can a Thoroughbred side step? Pretty fast as it turns out.

"Does he always twitch like that? Because.. there aren't a lot of flies."

"Um. Maybe?"

Later, upon recounting the story to Steve, the excessive non-fly induced twitching was confirmed.  Drat.

The twitch was first noticed during last year's trip to Slide. I thought it was the saddle pad--and it's definitely more prevalent when there is pressure of any kind on his withers, especially when it's hot outside--but since it seems to come and go, that's unlikely.

Calabar--as I've previously mentioned--has what we gently refer to as "junk" in his withers. Even an amateur such as myself--or at least a person familiar with her own knots and nodules--can feel the globs of mess in there. That's not the only place, mind you, but it is a very touchy and sensitive area as far as he's concerned. And he is very concerned.

When Karen applied the laser/magnet device (apologies, I don't actually know what it does, only that it works), there was a very immediate response. Thankfully not a swing-my-large-brown-self-into-you response, either.

The next day, the twitching was noticeably absent.

Karen recommended trying some magnetic therapy and even directed me to a rather inexpensive source of therapeutic magnets.

We have learned duct tape is required and even then, you're lucky to get 24 hours.  This makes it very difficult to monitor effectiveness, I might add. I haven't clipped Calabar yet to make him more adhesive, but it may happen. Though I don't (gasp!) have any electric clippers. 

Steve says he wants to document that process but I'm afraid he'll be laughing too hard to capture it.

So the general upshot is that I can't tell yet if this is helping, but I'm certainly willing to see how it goes. On the plus side, there is bit by bit less resistance to actual massage--as long as it's me doing it and only in very limited doses.

Lena says that's fine--more for her that way.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Helmets and short attention spans

Calabar modeling my helmet
Okay, I admit it. I barely noticed the helmet after a few minutes. (I wore it, Bar did not.) It also did not in any way make me over-confident, oh helmet nay-sayers of the world. I did have helmet-hair after all was said and done, but I was also--as usual--covered in horse snot, so vanity is really not an issue.

While I was helmeted and not feeling like I could slay dragons, we did more work at the trot and the walk, concentrating on direction changes and staying forward. We also discussed working past the six-furlong-long, spit-the-bit OTTB attention span someone seems to have. 

We discuss this often, as you may guess. 

"But it's dinner time." 

"You had grain already."

"But I didn't get any of my hay. What if Peter forgot me?"

"He didn't forget you and if he did, I'll feed you." 


"Suck it up and go."

"Fine. But I'm starving. Just so you know. Hard....to......concentrate... think.. blood.. sugar.. is.. dropping..."

"Give me a good trot this direction and we'll call it a night."

"How about this?"

"I said a good trot and you can't stop until I say so."

"FINE. Here? Are you happy now?? Crap! What was that?"

"Nice spin. That was Forrest and Katie and you knew they were there. Again with the trot."


"Right. Again. Now, the other direction."

(I can't share this part because I'm pretty sure it contains curse words not fit for "print.")

"And there we go, thank you for the nice trot!"

"Can I eat NOW?"


"Awesome! I love you!" Smearing of snot on shirt occurs here.

"I love you too, Calabar."

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Helmet feedback so far

I love my readers and my friends, I really do, so just wanted to do a quick follow-up to last night's post. I actually have a pretty good helmet. It's green and hanging in the tack room right now, gathering dust. It's even fairly comfortable, though I'll let you all know how comfortable after I put it on today.

Thank you to both Kate and Suzanne for not pestering me before now. I am doing my research and you're right--while not the most common injury, head injuries are the most likely cause of death. 

And--while I agree with Kathy's comment about not caring since I'd be dead--I also agree with her and Kate's sentiment about not wanting those I care about to have to wipe drool off my chin. (AND sooo glad to hear from Kathy, by the way. Glad Bert is okay and you are both still riding!)

Imel, I may never convince Steve to wear a helmet, but I found a reference that likens riding risk to motorcycle riding--and he always wore a motorcycle helmet even before it was the law.

I do accept the risk of riding, and have the battle scars to prove it. I have two mounted injuries (arm and butt) and one unmounted injury (ribs). It's likely not an if but a when that I bounce my noggin on something. My noggin has to keep functioning for a lot of years--I can't retire for another 27 years--so risking mush-brain is risking a lot.

My friend Sasha--who has very personal experience with someone with a TBI--reminded me that even a full recovery may not lead to it being the same person they were before the injury. 

Your arguments are all very compelling and I truly, truly appreciate the feedback. It won't stop me from being irritated at the helmet-police on Facebook, but for my own personal thought-processes, this has been invaluable.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The helmet question

My last post drew the question (from Suzanne): 
"One thing... why no helmet? I've been curious about that given your safety concerns..and working with a young horse. Curious..."
I don't honestly have any reason--let alone a compelling argument--as to why I don't wear a helmet. I used to when I rode my bicycle to commute. I don't have any vanity issues--trust me, vanity is hard to come by when there is always horse snot on your shirt.

My flip response is, "I never land on my head," which is true but not the real answer. (I really need to be wrapped in bubble wrap, if we get right down to it.) The other not-so-flip part of my answer is that Christopher Reeves was wearing a helmet and it didn't prevent the injury that changed his life forever. 

Steve, who has had a concussion, still doesn't wear a helmet. He hates things on his head, always has. I don't have that excuse and you'll see me with a hat on more often than not. 

So why don't I wear a helmet? 

I don't really know. 

Since I don't know, I'm going to try a helmet-wearing experiment this week and see what I find out. 

Will it change the way I ride? Will it annoy me? Will it do absolutely nothing except keep my noggin a little safer should my horse do anything odd? (Which, by the way, he has not done since our accident in April of last year when I broke my butt.)

There are certain things that, were I doing them, a helmet would be worn--jumping (I'd like to) and eventing (not likely) among them. But it is my right to choose--my head, my decision--helmet police be damned. 

Yep, here I am, without a helmet.
And there are a lot of helmet police out there. Every single time someone posts a picture on the internet of someone riding without a helmet, the helmet police start yammering in the comments.

I am not including Suzanne in their numbers AT ALL. Her comment--based on the history she has followed for quite some time--is exceedingly valid and she's given me a lot to think about and consider for which I thank her. I'm talking about the folks who are compelled to comment on every. single. picture. of riders without helmets. Stoppit already.

Could a helmet prevent a concussion or other traumatic brain injury? Yes. Can it prevent other catastrophic injuries like paralysis? No.

The best prevention is staying on the horse--something I continue to improve on--and learning to fall. All things considered, I fall pretty well. Broken arm and butt, but no head so far--knock wood. 

I don't know (yet) if I'm making the right decision, so I'm willing to experiment with noggin-coverage to see how I feel about it. But in the end, it is my risk, my choice. Steve and Katie--those who would be most affected--respect my decision and we've had the appropriate discussions about all the "what ifs" that could be.

Gabrielle Giffords surely did not expect to rebuild her entire life--from motor skills to speech--but she is doing it with an amazing determination. I at least know and understand the risk I take, each and every time I get on that horse, and I accept what it could mean. She had no warning, none, and yet she survived and continues to improve. 

Life is short. Life is unpredictable. I drive a tiny convertible because I love the sun on my shoulders and the wind in my hair but I also wear a seat belt. 

I don't know where the horse-helmet-safety balance is, yet, but I do know I have accepted all the risks. Or at very least accepted that despite my best efforts, I can't always control every nuance of the universe.

The journey is the journey, no matter what path it takes.