Monday, December 2, 2013

I should really just plan to scrap my plans.

Deli and I really were ready to hit the trails. I promise you: I had it all planned out. I’d charted how many miles we would have to average, on what kind of terrain and what kind of speed, to reach the level of fitness needed for some limited distance rides in spring 2014.

Right after I got her feet trimmed and a chiropractic adjustment for the Red Mare, had hind boots cued for purchase and an appointment scheduled for a saddle re-fit… Deli had another traumatic accident.

Long story short, Deli fell hard in the barn (ironically she’s incredibly agile navigating odd ground out in the pasture or trails) and got back up with a suspected pelvic and/or rib fractures. After the fall she went into serious shock necessitating emergency vet calls and concern that we would have to attempt to get her to the hospital. Luckily some hard core pain killers administered by my vet – who was also quite close to us at the time and was able to get to us quickly – stabilized her. 

After a couple days of stall rest I got the okay to move her out to a tiny paddock constructed in the pasture where the rest of her herd lived. Given the rate of her recovery my vet does not believe that any bones are broken – but just in case she needs to stay in a confined area so she can't make any "violent movements".

It looks like she may be ride-able again someday if I can keep her calm and healthy in her confinement. That's a big IF for a horse that does not do confinement well. I'm just not going to be back in the saddle anytime soon. With best possible results, I probably won’t be starting under-saddle rehabilitation for at least another three months. I’m certain she has several seriously pulled muscles and perhaps other soft tissue injuries as well that will be hard to diagnose while the area around her ribs is so badly bruised. Time in confinement will only serve to make sore muscles stiffer and tighter. We are doing hand walking now, about two weeks after the accident, and she’s doing well. But I can tell she’s frustrated. When I’ve been taking her on hand walks she wants to tug me up the driveway, away from the barn. I’m frustrated too. And disappointed.

It's going to be a long winter.

Her impressive edema makes it look like she's got an alien child brewing in her belly.
I’m also extremely thankful that she wasn’t more badly hurt. This is the third time with Deli that I’ve been faced with the possibility that she might never be ride-able again. Ironically I came to terms with this possibility during her second potentially career-ending injury: her groin pull that led to me starting this blog. It’s too soon to tell whether that is the case in this situation, but I know that this horse has come back from incredibly bad injuries with full soundness. Granted, she takes a lot of maintenance to keep her comfortable, but I’m on board with regular massages and making sure her saddle fit great (to me, these things come with owning and riding an athlete anyway).

Hand walking includes a bit of hand-grazing as well. It's good for the mind and the body.

However I have to ask myself: when is it too much? When has a body been traumatically injured too many times such that it can never come back? I face this same question with my own body every day as I struggle with my own fitness and daily pain. For me, the injuries I sustained when I was hit by a car nearly four years ago feel like insurmountable obstacles. More often than not, moving hurts. Of course, sitting around hurts just as much, so when it comes time to choose I will always choose movement. I hope the odds are more in Deli’s favor because she’s a natural athlete.

This question haunts me because it’s one thing to never know your horse will be ride-able again. It’s another to know that she will be sound for light riding when I’ve been having these dreams of competing in endurance.  I’ve come to terms with her being a pasture-puff. She’s certainly worth it to me even as a pasture-puff “pet”. She has taught me so much about horse ownership (i.e. being a slave to their whim) and riding, and the bond that we have after so many miles and trials with her, demand no less of a retirement for my heart horse. In reality, I never included plans that she would be more than a non-competitive limited distance horse anyway (25-30 mile races). But Deli’s getting older (she will be 15 next year) and losing what fitness she had during this rehabilitation process will be a HUGE setback for her physical comfort. Endurance riders I’ve spoken with about the issue have been encouraging – never underestimate a horse’s ability to heal, they tell me. Be patient, they say.

I’m patient. Just sad and disappointed in this year overall. And filled with that unsettled feeling of well-laid plans set aside. I admit it: I’m a planner. And there is nothing Deli and I like more than an open trail stretching in front of us. There is nothing that makes me feel more myself than moving through the trees with her. 

Now that she is injured I’m finding the same problem I had last time she needed constant care (because this horse won’t let anyone else handle her like she will me when she’s hyped up and in pain): I’m driving a LOT back and forth from the barn, and not riding or walking with her in-hand nearly as much. The time wasted driving, as well as the physical pain driving causes me (due to old injuries), means that I am getting out and running much less. My own fitness and health suffers when this happens. It’s already suffering. Of course, these issues would be solved if Deli lived in my backyard, so one of my solutions has been to really put my head down and try and find employment and connections somewhere where my dream of getting out of traditional boarding barns can be realized.

One thing that really made the difference for Deli when she injured her groin muscle was our move to a barn with serious trails. Instead of riding her through her rehabilitation I hand walked her through MILES of hills on good footing. We probably did about 10 miles of walking together in-hand through the woods every week, ramping up to 15 and then 20; all while I was also doing easy arena work and rehabilitation exercises with her. I have no doubt that the walking in-hand is what saved both of us – it was great to boost my fitness too for when I really started to ride her again. That next summer I conditioned her for an endurance ride I never got to attend because our trailer ride was canceled, and she was absolutely ready for an LD. Of course, at our current barn we don’t have trail access and I’m still trailer-less. The cards just don’t seem to be adding up for us this year.

I’m going to try not to make plans. Clearly making plans is something you do while life sneaks up to stab you in your plan-happy back. 

Someday I would like to make plans and have them happen. I love this mare and I never want to stop having adventures with her. I'd just really prefer our adventures to be out on the trail, forward moving.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

When I sit astride her, I soar, I am a hawk.

“He leaps from the ground as if his insides were light as hairs. He’s a flying horse, a Pegasus, breathing fire out of his nostrils. When I sit astride him, I soar, I am a hawk. He trots on air. The earth sings when he touches it. The lowest part of his hoof is more musical than Pan’s pipe.” – William Shakespeare, Henry V: Act 3, Scene 7.

Horses inspire poetry because they are poetry. Today I sunk my fingers into Deli’s thick chestnut coat and thought: this is what home feels like. This is where I belong when the fear of the unknown threatens to unseat me.

Granted, I’ve been calling lots of things poetry lately. Legal contracts are poetry to me. Every word, and its placement, has meaning in a legal contract.  Horses are a different kind of poetry – an emotional rather than intellectual delight for the mind and body. Maybe we, as humans, need both types. I certainly do.

The things I do for my horse are somewhat less poetic. Today I paid to have Deli adjusted by a chiropractor, and then to have her hooves trimmed. Later this week she will get dental work and my saddle will be re-fitted to her changed shape. 

On top of those expenses, I’ve started running again with feigned gusto. It’s hard work and I’m not a naturally athletic person! I may not have the trail access I want (and arguably need) to condition Deli up for endurance competitions right now, but that’s no excuse for me to not condition myself up.

And hey, look! I’m barefoot and booted too. Like pony, like willing human servant. I’ve found these funny-looking Vibram shoes are my life-line to fitness: I can walk and even run without every step being painful in these shoes. For a while after being hit by that car I feared that I would never be able to hike or enjoy exercise again, given that every step felt like a knife being stabbed into my hip and knee. With these shoes, the only pain I experience is the good kind: muscles burning with fatigue.

Right now? I’m ready for more adventures. I’m ready to keep living the poetry that is belonging to a chestnut Arabian mare.

In other words: I'm ready to hit the trails and pound out some miles. I think Deli is ready, too.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ears At the Top

Yesterday a new endurance riding mentor and friend picked Deli and I up in her trailer and took us to a riding park. It was sunny but not unbearably warm, and when we got there the park was all but empty. It was an absolutely lovely day to ride: much of the park involved riding through groomed trails where we were surrounded by fall colors and falling leaves. The sky was brilliantly blue, and the river we rode along at one point reflected the color of the sky, and the trees. Our companions were superb company, and I probably chatted someone's ears off asking questions about endurance riding and talking about horses in general.

It was Deli’s third time trailering out to trail ride – and the first time she trailered out to ride with an unknown horse. We were lucky that the gelding was as sweet and polite as can be, and Deli was not at all concerned by him close to her or far ahead of her (he never got behind us because he was a much faster walker!). It probably helped that she seems to be in her last heat before winter. That could also explain why she felt a bit lazy despite having quite a bit of gas in the tank – being in heat makes her lazy.

We worked on simple things – and these trails were easy so we even got to do some trotting and a short bit of cantering. Deli was not that forward at the walk, which is how she shows her uncertainty, but she certainly became more relaxed as we rode on. She even led for some trot work when we were riding around a large farm field though she was less willing to trot out in the front in the closer confines of the woods with all its blind turns (though she was happy to keep pace with our gelding buddy).

Overall I’m QUITE pleased with her. She was less spooky and nervous than I expected. She definitely looked at a couple of things in that suspicious way horses do, and refused to do more than put her front feet in the river, but she did go into some muddy spots and puddles and was clearly curious about where she was and happy to be out and about. Even if she was slow at points she never refused to keep moving forward, which is great. She also pretty much hopped into the trailer both times despite being nervous. She didn't even scream that much as we pulled out of the driveway! I am amazed with how much she trusts me sometimes, given that trailers for the past two years have meant I was moving her to a new barn. As we do more trips OUT to trails, she will realize her home-life isn’t being uprooted every time I ask her to get on a moving box and drive down the highway.
I gave her a bath when we got home using some lovely herbal-smelling medicated shampoo. Soon the Pacific Northwest will welcome in the long rainy season. Since Deli's in pasture board again I really want to keep on top of her skin health – a bad case of scratches would squash our plans of endurance rides in the coming spring. 
At home again. Her winter woolies are pretty evident already.
Right now I’m tentatively planning on the time and location of our first sanctioned endurance ride: Home On The Range. The big downside of this particular ride is that it’s quite far from us – in Eastern Washington. The eight-hour trip may be worth the stress what what I hear hear is a fairly easy ride with forgiving footing (somewhat sandy) in the rolling grassland  on the arid side of the state. I also hope to do the limited-distance ride at Mt. Adams. I volunteered at the last Mt. Adams ride (in May, 2013), and was awestruck by the scenery and brisk mountain air. However, the more challenging terrain of the Mt. Adam's area (along with rocky footing) makes me think that a less physically daunting ride would be preferable for Deli's first time competing!

Monday, October 21, 2013

New goals, new directions.

This blog has been dead. I’m bringing it back to life.

Deli and I have had just about two years of boarding-barn misery, compounded and complicated with injuries. This month we moved again, and I hope this change is going to open up new doors and allow Deli and I to move beyond “survival mode” and pursue the sport I have wanted to get into for a very very long time: ENDURANCE!

It’s a sport I believe Deli will enjoy as well. She’s in her element on the trails. She's all happy ears and interested in exploring. When she’s feeling confident, she’s naturally forward. I need to push her comfort zone a little at a time to increase her confidence, and I'm aware she is very out of shape and coming back from various injuries right now. We have a green light from my vet, but I plan to be cautious as I condition her up for a limited distance rides next year. Limited distance (LD) rides are typically 25 mile rides that need to be completed in a 6-hour time span. I think we can do that easily enough. If she does well in the spring and early summer next year, I'm also open to trying a slow 50 mile ride with Deli.
There is still a lot of uncertainly in my life – I’m seriously underemployed and trying to start my legal career. I graduated law school in January 2013, passed the Oregon bar exam my first go-around, and have been looking for permanent employment since. I leaving myself open to relocating because that may be what needs to happen to really pursue my dream career. But why worry about that eventuality before it presents itself?

It’s fall in the Pacific Northwest. It has been a beautiful season – dryer than typical. Even though I love the rain, I’m not a fan of the mud and how it dampens winter trail riding opportunities.

As it stands we have a couple goals to get us both to our first endurance ride in the spring:
  1. Get us both in shape. This means I need to start up regular running and/or hiking for me, as well as strength training (specifically for my core) again. I had a lull over the summer. It means as much trail training and riding as I can get this winter with Deli, including dressage lessons as I can afford them.
  2. Figure out hind boots that work for Deli. My barefoot lady is doing well with the Easyboot Gloves I have for her front feet. Her hind feet are a little more irregular so I need to work on them and figure out a booting strategy – particularly since the trails that will be ride-able this winter are those that are rocky!
  3. Get Deli comfortable with having her mouth handled. For endurance vetting-in requires a capillary refill test and Deli HATES to have her upper lip flipped up and really thinks you are strange if you try and push a finger into her gums. She’s even worse for getting tubed, though I have an “easy wormer” getup for that so it’s less of a priority then having her cooperate for the capillary refill test. At one point I tried to get her used to having a syringe in her mouth by dosing her with apple and molasses every time I went out for nearly two years. And that didn’t work at all. Of course, when I casually play with her mouth she’s fine. She’s fine for biting and takes the bit willingly. Luckily, everything else about the vet check should be fine. She trots in-hand great since I often lead and job with her in-hand. She’s fine having her heart-rate taken. She will flinch if the vet really jabs her back hard, but that’s to be expected since she’s a sensitive-skinned girly.
  4. Have at least one horse camping experience in a low-stress environment. It would be best for Deli to get used to the idea of staying overnight away from home BEFORE we deal with a crazy ride camp!
  5. More experience with trailering and not making a big deal about it. I'm constantly impressed by how endurance horses I've seen hop on the trailer relaxed and even eager to be going somewhere new. Deli will get on, but it's not fun for her (yet). It's important to me that she enjoys her work to some extent. The trailering issue is important to me because, given how much Deli and I have bounced between barns the past two years, I wouldn’t be surprised if she associates trailering with having her world uprooted. It’s amazing she has hopped on the trailer so easily to move barns all these times. Given that our new barn does not have good trails for conditioning (that we have been able to access yet), I believe I will get ample opportunities to do this!
These are our goals. With horses, of course, you have to be flexible. It's not one of my stronger personality traits, but for Deli, I've learned I can do it.
Our new home; Deli is on pasture board again at last. She does best on pasture or 24/7 turnout. We experimented with different kinds of boarding over the past two years, and they just don't work well for either of us.
With good luck, I’m hoping we can be ready for a LD ride in the spring. I’m shooting for the Mt. Adams ride in May, though I hope I can at least take Deli to a ride before then to get her accustomed to a ride camp because Mt. Adams is a BIG ride if this year was any indicator (I volunteered there this year). BIG means a busy ride camp, and I'm sure the ride camp will be the most stressful part for Deli.

Otherwise, I am really looking forward to working with some experienced endurance riders! I have tentative plans to ride with at least two riders here in the PNW over the winter. The endurance community seems to be a great one, and I hope riders I meet aren't overwhelmed by the number of questions I ask!