Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A horse and his girl

Though they are still working to get the blood thinner levels in the right place, Katie is doing so well I can barely believe it. I am beyond grateful, beyond relieved. Ecstatic may even be too mellow a word for what I feel, actually.

While I was taking pictures of Allie and Lena last night, Katie led Forrest down to the indoor to lunge him. I zoomed way in, knowing in the fading evening light it was an iffy shot.

On the road to healing with Forrest
It isn't perfect. It isn't crisp. It is my beautiful daughter walking with her horse and it makes me feel like things are on the right path back to wherever they need to be.

Leaping Lena

Love and scratches for the spotty horse!
Lena says it is time for some spotty horse love on Spotty Horse News and she's right. Luckily, I was still at the barn last night for her latest jumping lesson with Allie and took photos and videos that I hope do them both justice.

Allie is a friend of Katie's who has been riding since she was 8 or 9 and rides really well. Soft hands and legs, good balance, just the right amount of input. She thought she was just going to get to ride a horse a little just to keep from (as she put it) going insane. "But I've learned so much with her!" Allie exclaimed while trotting around me in the arena last night.

Cow horse over poles
Lena is a cow horse and she has a lot of natural propulsion on top of a high level of athleticism. When she is unsure of what you're asking or decides you are not directing well enough, she has been known to use her power for a little bit of evil.

"She would come up to a jump and try to go sideways, but if you just shut the gate, she says 'okay' and moves forward," Allie said, smiling. Lena is smart and a little crafty, but she--like most horses--prefers to be told what to do. Allie's biggest challenges have been directing the energy but not squelching it and teaching Lena to think instead of just react. Forward is what you want, forward is a good thing, but forward with a brain engaged is even better.

And Lena is learning to think as she leaps. Lena is learning to relax and stretch down. Allie is learning how to train (convince) a smart, sensitive mare to do something she wasn't bred or trained for and to relax and have fun in the process. Well, Allie is usually pretty relaxed which is good because Lena is not. Or she wasn't, but she is beginning to be.

Steve is thrilled. "I am so lucky," he chuckled as we watched the videos I took, "to have someone training my horse and doing such a great job with her!"

Lena is lucky, too. And more than pleased to finally have a post dedicated to her glorious spotty self.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hello reality

Every parents worst nightmare
I would just like to say that sometimes reality is, well, too real.

August has been a heck of a month--starting very first thing with the dog who attacked Steve and Kyle and ending up with my daughter in ICU thanks to a rude and unruly horse. (NOT one of ours!)

Thankfully, everyone is okay. Actually, the dog that attacked Kyle and Steve is a little too okay and was spotted off-leash again just last weekend. Really? Because I'm sure that dog will never again attack another dog because its owners are too damn lazy to hook a leash to its collar. People really annoy me.

And there may even be a horse or two that annoys me--one in particular comes to mind right now.

I wrote about some of the trials and tribulations of August for our horses and for Katie in this post on the Neigh Savers blog, but I did not write as a parent. I did not write about how terrifying it is to be able to do nothing but hope and pray for your child to heal, about wanting to trade places with her, please, just let her be okay.

Just over two weeks ago, Katie was at work leading a trail ride. The horse she was on took exception to her holding him back and reared, going over backwards. He started to step on her and she got out from under him but he nailed her in the left thigh as she stood up. She went to the ER that day and was discharged with some pain killers after a CT of her head showed no injury and x-rays of her pelvis and femur came back clean.

A few days later, though, all was not well. Her leg was swollen down to the ankle and so was her abdomen. We got her in to see a doctor and when they discovered a slight fever, we were sent for a CT of her abdomen and an ultrasound of her leg.

Lots of time spent in waiting rooms with a kid too big to hold and rock in my lap.

The ultrasound revealed a clot that went from knee to groin and we went directly to the ER. Apparently, Katie told the tech not to freak me out. It is a good thing I have learned to panic only when appropriate, though I really wanted sirens on the Miata. Lots of sirens. Get the heck out of my way sirens, as a matter of fact.

Through it all, Katie maintained a sense of humor and strength--even when faced with multiple IVs throughout the day followed by all her parents crammed in one tiny room in the ER. Tough chick.

Because the clot was so large, they were going to put a tube in that vein that would deliver blood thinners directly onto the clot and aspirate it at the same time. It was an awesome plan but it ran into a complication upon execution when they found a bleed in her abdomen. You can't very well introduce blood thinners when there is internal bleeding, nor can you stop a bleed with clotting medicines when you already have a clot.

They wheeled her up to ICU and started giving her blood, the first goal being to stabilize her and stop the bleeding so they could start the blood thinners. Her dad and I both offered to get hooked right up to her (I'm a perfect match) but apparently the blood bank is in good shape and they didn't need us. The doctor may have thought we were a little weird. He was probably right.

Katie spent six days in the hospital, half of it in ICU. She will be on blood thinners at least another three months, but has tentatively been cleared to ride (walk and trot only) in two weeks.

She is extremely lucky and she knows it. The bruise that extended down her entire thigh just last week is nearly invisible. She is young and healthy and doing a pretty good job of taking it easy and caring for herself.

The desire to pack her up in bubble wrap may fade in time, but only because I wouldn't want her to do it to me. And I know she's wanted to more than once.

Hello reality. Thank you for reminding me what's really important and what 's really fluff and nonsense.

Where Katie will be again--and hopefully soon

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dance partners

Trying to decide who is leading the dance.
Having a 1,100 pound dance partner can sometimes be challenging--especially when there is so much for both of us to learn. Our trot is a constant work in progress and while we are making headway, some days the discombobulation that ensues (literally) bounces between frustration and hilarity. What to do, what to do? Besides, of course, keep practicing. Well, the other night, he and I had a bit of an epiphany. Actually, I had the epiphany and he said, "It's about time!" On the heels of watching all these fabulous Olympic dressage horses dancing in time to music, I remembered how well Calabar responds to tempo changes when we do ground work. What if we tried it (gasp!) in the saddle?

Many, many people suggested humming to Calabar to help me work through my post-accident anxiety but I really hadn't done much with music. I talk to him incessantly while riding, but that doesn't help with keeping our timing on track. So the other night, I started singing to him as we trotted, encouraging him to keep a steady gait and playing with tempo as a way to get him to speed up and to slow down.

I got happy ears and we managed to do a much better job of moving forward at a steady pace than we normally do. Hm.

Steve contends that it is actually me keeping my own timing better which in turn directs Calabar more clearly. I suppose that is true, but my pony deserves some credit for pretending to enjoy my singing and for letting me lead. My equine dance partner is also a good singing coach--sideways ears and funny looks immediately occur when I wander off key. The look I get when it happens reminds me of when Katie was a little girl and didn't know what off-key meant, just told me I "sounded wrong."

Calabar has always responded  to music, likely because it was a part of his life on the track. He will speed up or slow down based on the tempo of what I'm singing and always perks his ears when he hears music from anywhere. His taste is particular, though. He doesn't like minor keys or heavy metal, for example. The neighbors were playing Led Zeppelin one afternoon and Calabar's head went straight up, eyes wide, as Robert Plant blasted out, "Been a long time since I rock and rolled." Then there was some dancing sideways until we got into the indoor arena where the guitar licks were muffled a bit. My horse appears to prefer the mellower sounds of Bonnie Raitt and The Dixie Chicks, but with this new-found entertainment, it looks like we'll have to expand our repertoire.

That being the case, and knowing my brain will only hold so many song lyrics, I have dusted off my ancient (but still functioning) iPod and there is a new playlist on it called "Calabar" based on what I think will work and some friendly suggestions. Also based on what I think I can actually sing.

And the dance continues.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The perfect horse

He looks so happy and relaxed--dinner time!
Working in the world of re-homing Off-Track Thoroughbreds the last several months has been both rewarding and only sometimes annoying. (See my mild rant here). It has also made me appreciate my horse and the depth of commitment I feel towards him. Some might hear my story and say I have a blind spot where Calabar is concerned, but I prefer to think of it as a stubborn streak. It's still only half the story. The other half is the fuzzy brown horse on this journey with me--my version of the perfect horse because he has been perfect for me in many, many ways.

Perfect, but not easy.

Calabar, is smart and affectionate but he is not a push-button horse. It used to be that he was not easy for me to stay on, and there were more than a few times we parted company in spectacular fashion. Now that I ride better, he is challenging me mentally as we work on increasing his skill-set from trail riding and meandering around the arena to a little dressage work. "How much do you want me to trot in that circle, change directions and keep going? Okay, I did that can we do something fun, now? Like eat dinner?" Luckily, our goal is not the show ring--or if it is, I'm not in any particular hurry to get there--and we can take lessons and try things to see what works for us.

Cross over in back!
Neigh Savers does get people checking out our ex-racehorses as potential show horses, though, and we have had several very successful graduates, like Warning Zone. And some ex-racehorses can even go to upper level competitions--just look at this list from this year's Rolex to see an impressive list of OTTB competitors.

But all of it takes commitment, patience and at least a little time--even if your goal is just to hack around on trails. In some ways, it might be better not to take too much time--barring injuries--to at least get your new OTTB settled into a new routine away from the track. Forrest, for example, had hardly any down time and he is an eager beaver as far as work goes and has managed to stay sound. (Except for a self-inflicted gate injury, that is.)

Calabar had a couple years off before I got him and he perhaps thought retirement suited him. It doesn't. He is a much better horse now that he gets regular exercise and attention, even if we have to argue a little sometimes about how much is too much. He was a sprinter, you see, so we affectionately refer to his attention span as six-furlongs long. I use that limit to our advantage, though, because honestly it matches my own. There really is only so long I can do one thing and it seems we are twinsies in this regards. It also helps me to push him past his limit, teaching me to stay focused just a little bit longer each time until we get the right thing. Or at least a little closer to the right thing. Then we do something else for a little while before returning to what we need to work on. It keeps both of us entertained that way and we still make progress. That's a trick I wouldn't have if it weren't for the big brown horse and I suspect it will come in handy with other horses I meet.

Luckily, except for one abscess and the mystery football knee, Calabar has (knock wood) always been sound--even on his bowed tendon. Sometimes he is sore and stiff, especially in winter, and sometimes after a tough trail ride he likes a little liniment and a day off. So do I, so he gets both. I view his aches and pains from the perspective of my own aches and pains. He's an ex-super athlete, and like a lot of us--even those of us who were only mortal athletes--there are places that hurt if we sit still too long. My knees are actually noisier than Calabar's and the worst thing I can do to them is sit at my desk all day. The more we learn how to get him in frame, the better his body will work, too, but mainly it's important to keep him moving. I use yoga to strengthen my own core and stretch stiff parts and walk nearly daily for cardio. In fact, Calabar is my inspiration to stay in shape and keep my weight down--he has to carry me after all, so I try to do my part to make it comfortable for him. If I'm strong and active, I'm more able to move with him--or at least stay out of his way--and that makes us a better team.

"K, you were right. THIS is fun!"
That teamwork, this journey we've had, has changed me in so many ways--mentally and physically--and I love where we are now and where I can see us starting to go. Calabar is who he is and he always brings it all to the table. His challenge to me is to be a better horse person each and every day. My challenge to him is to trust me when I say, "No, really! This will be fun!" 

Monday, August 06, 2012

Other people's dogs

This is a post I never thought I'd be writing, a post that I would rather not be writing but that through the inaction of a bad dog owner, I must write. If you're a dog owner, own your dog. That doesn't mean just feed it and love on it, it means own it and take the responsibility to train it and teach it how to mix with normal society. If you don't, bad things can happen.

Remy. Can't believe how much I still miss this little dog.
Steve and I don't have our own dogs. Not because we don't like dogs, mostly just because we have enough on our plates with the horses. We both love dogs as a whole and most dogs as individuals. Ever since Remy, I have been a vocal supporter and defender of the bully breeds because my experiences had always been positive. 

Right up until last week, and honestly, it's not the dog leaving a bad taste in my mouth--it's the owner.

So here is what happened and why I'm writing this post I don't want to write. 

Steve walks our neighbor Jennifer's shepherd/catahoula mix Kyle every day. Kyle is not an aggressive dog at all. He is curious, but he is easy to work with and has never once been confrontational with another dog. Steve is the dog whisperer. Dogs love him. Even dogs that can't be approached by most people love him. It's uncanny. Steve and Kyle make a good pair. 

Kyle is lucky Steve was there the other day.

They were going down our hill like they always do when a black and white Pit or Pit mix came charging up from one of the houses. Apparently, the owner had left the dog with friends and neglected to tell them not to let it loose. 

Steve says there was absolutely no stopping it as it tore up the hill and latched onto Kyle's nose. Steve fought  off the Pit and got it to let go of Kyle, who wisely took off at a dead run with the Pit following behind. Luckily, Kyle was faster and on the way back by, Steve and the owner's friends were able to capture the Pit. Steve was okay, albeit scraped and bruised from rolling around on the cement protecting Kyle, but he was not bitten. 

The owner was called and agreed to cover the vet costs and also agreed to call Steve later that day to let him know what she planned to do with the dog. The friends indicated there may have been problems with the dog prior to this and Steve says the dog was absolutely single-minded in it's pursuit of Kyle. This is a man who walks up to dogs that scare most people and has never had a problem--well, except having them follow him around and drool in his lap--and I absolutely trust his judgement in this assessment.

The owner finally called Jennifer and--after he made two calls to her--eventually called Steve back as well. Jennifer felt like there was no remorse and Steve is convinced this will happen again because there was no real commitment to do anything. Theoretically, the vet bill will be handled directly as the hospital would not take Jennifer's money once they found out it had been an attack. We'll see.

This is not the dog's fault. This is complete and utter failure on the owner's part to do what the dog needed before it got to this point. And I honestly don't see how the dog can be salvaged, which is the real tragedy. I hope I'm wrong, but with the owner the dog has it seems unlikely.

As cute as Remy was when Katie brought him home, his potential to be aggressive was obvious and had to be curbed, sometimes very firmly. He was going to be a big dog and we knew he needed to be socialized with cats and horses and other dogs from day one to become a dog we could trust. Sadly, he never got to be a big dog and we all still miss him, but that was the responsibility we took on when we welcomed a Pit mix into our home, and we took it very seriously. The reward was a funny, smart, self-confident puppy who was loyal and happy, could go to the barn and out on walks without eating evil Pomeranians even when they deserved it.

The dog that attacked Kyle and Steve has an owner who doesn't care or assumes she will always be there to control the dog. Guess what? She won't be, and that dog will hurt or kill someone else's dog.

It's absolutely NOT about the breed of the dog in question. I LIKE the bully breeds--A LOT! I met a lovely Red Pit on my walk today who was calm and respectful and--even though she was nervous--never once did anything that worried me. I wouldn't care if the dog that attacked Kyle and Steve was a Pomeranian or a Golden Retriever--the actions and behavior are the problem.

It is very much about an owner who chose a dog they can't or don't choose to handle correctly. What sucks is it is always the dog that pays. I just hope this one doesn't take any more with it.