Thursday, March 31, 2011

Budweiser Clydesdales: The Only Reason I'd Want to Be On Wall Street...

In honor of Major League Baseball's Opening Day, a Budweiser Clydesdale was walked out on to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) for the opening bell.  It's baseball, you might ask, so why the horse?  Simple, Budweiser is the Official Beer of Major League Baseball.

Not your average start to a day on the Street, I would think.  You have to wonder, did Bud hand out free samples afterwards?  Hmmm, could explain some of today's market behavior...

And People Think I'm Wierd About My Horse...

Some people just don't seem to get the connection some people have with their animals.  For example, when my horse was injured and I thought she'd never recover, I was incredibly upset.  There were many who said, "Why are you so upset?  It's just a horse."  Or if they did not say exactly that, they would say some variation on that theme.

OK, I get that in the grand scheme of things that her injury was not the level of devastation created by a natural disaster, a serious illness, death of a loved one, or loss of home or job.  Credit me with some perspective.  The people in my life come first, and my animals come (a very close) second.  My horse is my friend, my joy, my teacher, my conscience, and my therapy, as well as a heck of a lot more.  If someone doesn't understand that it's possible to have an emotional connection with an animal, that's fine.  Just don't demand that other people share your beliefs.

But seriously, this video blew my mind.  Guess my view of the human/animal bond was somewhat limited. Thanks, Maria and Dominic - lesson learned!

(If you watch the video, check out some of the others to see how Maria and Dominic's story resonates in this community. The one where they serenade Maria is adorable!)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

FEI World Cup Show Jumping...Cat Style

About two weeks ago I came across this video on a blog I like, Behind the Bit.  I sat at my desk (of course this was not during working hours! wink wink.) in absolute shock before I burst out laughing.  I don't think any horse loving little girl in possession of a long suffering pet has not tried to make them into a surrogate show pony.  I do know that no one I know was as successful as the owner of this cat!

I had to share this with my kids as soon as they came home from school.  We laughed like loons and then my son and I went off to make dinner.  My daughter disappeared for a bit, then reappeared at the bottom of the stairs with an armful of Breyer jumps and fencing.  She proceeded to create a jump field that prevented any motion from the kitchen into any other room in the house.  The cats, trusting and apparently completely unable to see where this was going, watched with interest.

Upon completing construction, she turned to grab Mo, who promptly put two and two together and vacated the premises.  Dreidel, slower of foot and brain, didn't move quickly enough and was immediately and unwillingly pressed into service.  Sophie's first attempts to induce Dreidel to jump were passive and mostly involved cajoling, encouraging hand gestures, and petting.            

These inducements did not result in the desired behavior, so Sophie moved to Plan B - bribes.  Soph grabbed a bag of cat treats from the pantry. Dre was unmoved and unimpressed.  My husband had gotten a bag of the wrong treats; our discriminating kitties prefer Pounce

On to Plan C...the hands-on method.  Dreidel found his zaftig frame hoisted and gently "encouraged" to jump over the fences.  Dre made it over obstacle #1 and promptly dropped to the floor and rolled over on his back, offering his big, fuzzy belly for a scratch.  Definitely reminded me of my horse's philosophy that jumps are clearly just obstacles that need to be negotiated before treats are handed out.  Soph picked the prostrate cat up and pointed him at fence number two, with similar results. 

At this point my son and I had abandoned dinner and were watching the proceedings with varied levels of hilarity. Soph was less than pleased with us, and she let go of the cat so she could better deliver a crushing set-down.  Dreidel took that opportunity to abandon all pretense of activity and pass out in the middle of the combination.

Would this be considered a refusal?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pony Update...

The sassy twins...together again!
For those of you that may have missed the announcement, my good friends (and I may rethink that over the coming months) brought their pony Cookie back to NJ for my daughter to ride and show this season.  Cookie came to visit us 2 summers ago, but missed last season due to an unfortunate pasture injury. 

Sophie is thrilled to have Cookie back, and Cookie is clearly thrilled to be the center of attention again, albeit less thrilled to be back in work. 

I can't blame her.  Most of us have at one time or another been in the unenviable positioning of getting ourselves back into shape, whether for health reasons or simple vanity.  If you've ever been an athlete and had to rehab from an injury, you know the dual frustration when faced with lack of fitness and pain from rebuilding atrophied muscles and ligaments. 

Sophie is gaining valuable horsemanship lessons as she rehabs the pony.  Under the watchful eye of her trainer, she is being very careful about warming Cookie up, making sure not to work her too long or too hard, and to avoid making small circles or turns.  It's a great lesson in patience and responsibility for her, and I'm thankful she has the opportunity to learn it. 

Shhhh...Massage in progress
Sophie is a soccer player, and knows how when she starts practice again at the beginning of the season her muscles get sore, and she made the connection that Cookie's muscles might be feeling the strain of her new job.  I have a hand-held roller-ball massager that she rolls all over Cookie after a work, much to the pony's visible delight.  Cookie yawns and chews happily, both signs of muscle release, and the child enjoys bonding with her pony. 

I'd say so far, so good.  We're only a week in, so we'll see how well the pony does as her workload increases, and how well the child maintains this level of responsibility. (Hint: This kind of fun ain't cheap, and she's been advised that any drop in commitment level means the pony goes back home.  It's never to early to learn there's no such thing as a free lunch, right?)

Stay tuned...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Another Great Name for a Racehorse...

Some people have a knack for naming things.  I don't.  My first cat was named Tigger after the Winnie-the-Pooh character, and my black & white rabbit was called Oreo. 

I have to hand it to the folks that come up with the names for Thoroughbred racehorses; some are completely bizarre, others are so funny they have you rolling in your seat.

Today's favorite is Louisiana Derby winner "Pants On Fire," one of the potential Derby combatants currently on the AP's list of Top 10 Derby Contenders. 

You gotta love the scrappy looking dark bay colt with the Day-Glow silks and noseband.  The only thing that would make this story more perfect is if he had a barn-mate named "Liar Liar" that was running in the Derby.  Either way, I know which horse my money's on!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reading Rut....

In the airport on my way to Chicago for business. Although I have plenty of work to do, I can't resist a trip to the Hudson News to check out the latest books on offer. I peruse all the books I should, the ones that will broaden my mind, cause me to rethink my existence and possibly foment change. There were quite a few to choose from; something about a happiness project, another on time management (snooze) and one on how to clear away the BS in front of you to enable yourself to make faster, better decisions. All were topics that could have benefitted me.

What did I wind up getting? A book with a horse on the cover. Saw that one coming, didn't you? The book is called "The Lord of Misrule." Apparently this novel will "capture the dusty, dark, and beautiful world of small-time horse racing.". Count me in, here's my credit card!

The work I should be doing on the plane? Ain't gonna happen. Will let you know how it turns out...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Big Day, Second Thoughts...

My daughter is so excited she's vibrating with it.  Today my dear friends Cheryl and Andy are driving 6 hours down from their home in the North Country to bring their daughter's first pony to our barn for my daughter to love.

They've done this before.  Two years ago Cookie came to "camp" for the summer, and it was the best summer my kids ever had.  Unfortunately last summer Cookie couldn't come as she was recuperating from an injury; however, now her vet has cleared her and we're hoping we'll be able to rehab her and that Sophie will be able to ride and show her this summer.  (Noah, my soon-to-be 12 year-old son, is regrettably to tall for Cookie, and is now riding (gulp) my sainted mare, but is thrilled to have Cookie back to love on and fuss over.)

The kids know that having a pony means work, and that they, not Mommy, are to do that work.  Yes, we're at a boarding facility, so they're not mucking and feeding, but they are grooming, tacking, untacking, exercising, wrapping, bathing, clipping and doing all the other routine pony care.  They know that ponies need regular exercise and their responsibility to the animal comes before any plans with friends. 

This being said, sometimes I have serious second thoughts about the wisdom of entrusting such a responsibility to my children.  Last night as we're leaving soccer practice Sophie came to me and said, "Mom, my chest hurts. When I hit my hand against it it gets worse." Of course I was immediately concerned, and a million thoughts start popping into my head, heart failure being number one on the list. (Lotta child athletes collapsing of heart failure in the news lately, however, none as young as nine. I know, I'm a dramatist.)

Luckily, before I go into full blown panic mode,  I look closely at the chest in question and notice that there is a small pin, an American and Irish combo flag in honor of St. Patrick's Day, pinned onto her shirt in the center of her chest. Big sigh. "Soph, it's a METAL PIN. Of course it's gonna hurt if you hit it."

Her reply?  "But it's got one of those plastic safety thingies on it." (Which, mind you, she'd whacked the stupid thing so hard and often that the pin part was poking through the plastic safety cap, leaving a nice red mark on her skin.)

Really? This kid should be getting a pony????  I'm seriously considering calling Cheryl and telling her to turn around.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Getting Back Into Gear...

Making Up After  Many Conciliatory Carrots
My trainer has been in Florida showing for the past month.  She's back now, and I just had my first lesson.  Ugh.  That about sums it up.  Ugh, and maybe an eek and an ow as well. 

Thankfully it was a group lesson, so there were others who could take up my trainer's attention and take some of the pressure off of me.  I'll be honest, I was expecting something a little on the easy side, something that was cognizant of the fact that we'd all given our horses and ourselves some time off.  I cannot begin to even describe how off base my expectations were.

Perhaps the most awkward (painful, humiliating, and humorous are also adjectives that come to mind) part of the lesson was when my trainer asked us to drop our stirrups and post the trot. WHAT?!?!?!?!?!  Needless to say, stirrups were dropped, and off I went, valiantly attempting to comply, only to hear, "We're posting now, Amy."  To which I replied, "(Gasp) I...AM...(gasp)...posting!  Can't you...(gasp)...see my....ass...leaving...the...(gasp)...saddle?"

"Oh," she says, "I thought that was just bouncing."  I collapsed in a helpless heap of laughter and my mare decided to take that opportunity to come back to the walk, no doubt thankful I was no longer thumping down on her back like a sack of potatoes. 

It was at this point that my lesson mate and I helpfully volunteered the suggestion that a defibrillator and an oxygen tank might be good additions to have in the ring.  My trainer does have quite a few of us "lady" riders and we do need to keep safety top of mind at all times...

As if the no-stirrup debacle wasn't ugly enough, we then did a bit of jumping.  Now, Sugar is a very forgiving mare, but the hellacious thumping she'd just endured during the posting incident left her a little less forgiving than normal.  Off we went to the first fence and let's just say I rode the brakes the entire way.  She objected, shaking her head as we approached the fence and upon landing.  "Relax your elbows and go with her -- let up on her mouth," said my trainer.

Easier said than done.  I could not for the life of me grasp the "let go" concept, and Sugar objected strenuously, with head shaking, crow hopping, and at one point coming to a complete stop to turn her head and look back at me with a, "What part of Let Go do you not get???" look on her face.  I finally manages to relax and let go of her face for one fence, and we wisely called it a day at that point.  I made it up to Sug as best as I could with lots of treats and a nice massage.

Our next lesson was a bit better, but let's just say it looks to be a looooooooong road back.  Sigh.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Old Gray Mare: Care and Maintenance for Women of A Certain Age (Both Human & Equine)

It has been one of those days where I am conscious of every single mile this body has traveled.  You know what I mean -- the kind of day when you roll gingerly out of bed, wince as your feet hit the floor and you stand, accompanied by the kinds of snaps, crackles, and pops that would make a box of Rice Krispies proud. 

I've had a sinus infection for the last month and a half, so the lack of exercise, resultant weight gain (darn Girl Scout cookies!) and work related travel has taken it's toll.  Today has been the kind of day where NSAIDS and muscle relaxants alone couldn't cut it; it was time to hit the chiropractor for some muscle stim, massage and an adjustment.

Sounds nice, right?  Felt pretty darn good, too, at least until my chiropractor started giving me the speech about how I probably would bad if I would only be a bit more proactive, do more yoga, more stretching, more massage, blah blah blah.  Then he dropped the big one on me, "If you took care of your self like you take care of your horse, you'd be in great shape."

Well, OUCH.  Really, I was there for an adjustment, not a Come-To-Jesus life makeover.  He had a point, though.  My Dutch Warmblood mare, Sugar, is 15 years old, has had a couple of kids (she has 4 to my 2) and has some of the issues you'd expect for a hunter/jumper of her size and mileage.  Since she came to me, Sug has received regular chiropractic care, massage therapy, and daily supplements that I've researched to the nth degree (it's good to have friends who are vets!)  Her massage therapist, my friend Carolyn, has shown me some massage and stretching techniques, so I massage and stretch her after every ride.  My trainer manages her vet care as if she were an Olympian and makes sure she gets shots or injections as needed. 

When I think about it, I take care of her like this because I know what it feels like to be an out of shape Mom getting back in to work and the associated aches and pains that go with that.  I know that when my muscles are in spasm I don't feel like working out, and if I manage to actually motivate myself to GO to the gym, my performance suffers.  When I'm in constant pain, I get crabby (actually, there's another word, but this is G-rated blog) and lack patience, my work suffers and I am generally no fun to be around.

Logical, yes??  Anyone who has felt chronic pain knows how it affects work, exercise, and mood, right?  If you've carried a shoulder bag, laptop case, or backpack for any extended period of time you know what that does to your back, neck, and shoulders.  Sitting at a desk or performing any repetitive task for any length of time will mess your body up.  So why wouldn't schlepping my big, out-of-balance butt all over creation, while jumping obstacles and doing heaven-knows-what-else negatively impact my horse's physiology?

So that's my reason.  I take care of her so well because I know how it feels when I don't take care of myself.  I want her happy and healthy  for as long as she possibly can be.  And because she doesn't have the power to take care of herself; in this reality, I am her advocate - that's what I signed up for and the promise I made to her when I got her.  Now if I could just learn to apply that same outlook to myself....

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Holy Moly, This Mare's Talented!

As if we did not already know Zenyatta was amazing, here's more evidence to support that.  Did you know the mare can write????  I kid you not -- no opposable thumbs or formal education (unless starting gate school counts) and not only does she write, she has a DIARY!!  Even better, she just announced to the world that she is expecting!

In Diary Post #201 the Big Z writes:

I guess my guys at the farm could not wait a moment longer…and they scanned me this morning. I just had to share the news with you!  I AM IN FOAL!
This is my 15 day scan! From what I am told, everything looks fabulous and solid. The embryo looks to be a good size. So, at this time, everything is WONDERFUL!

I love it -- she writes like I do, with way too many exclamation points!  She goes on to say how she needs to contact "Bernie" (her baby daddy, Bernardini) to tell him the good news and how she's been CRAVING bananas. 

Best of luck to Zenyatta as she approaches this new stage in her magnificent career, and does anyone else think there are going to be truckloads of bananas showing up at Lane's End Farm, gifts from her adoring fans?

This Is One Baby Shower I'd Love to Go To...

Have you heard??  Rachel Alexandra's going to be a Mommy!  On March 7th it was announced by her people that 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra was, in fact, knocked up, preggers, enceinte, in the family way, had a bun in the oven -- use any euphemism you wish, the indisputable fact is in 11 months she's going to going to give birth to a baby that will be the equivalent (in the thoroughbred world) of any child resulting from Kate Middleton and Prince William's upcoming nuptials.

The steed responsible for the deed is two-time Horse of the Year (2007 & 2008) Curlin.  Apparently Rachel put out on their first date, which took place at 9:00 AM on February 21st at Lane's End Farm in Versailles (that's pronounced Ver-Sales, for the uninitiated) Kentucky.  The racing world is on fire contemplating the possible athlete this particular gene pool could provide.  One can only imagine it would be the equine equivalent of a Michael Jordan and Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

Lest you think I'm crazy for mentioning the baby shower angle, let me assure you I'm not the first to do so.  The folks over at ESPN's Page 2 beat me to it when they interviewed Assistant Trainer Scott Blasi. Sigh....Might not make me any less crazy, but hey, it's nice to have other loonies in the bin!

Rachel Alexandra's not the only much-hyped horsie hussy that's in the breeding news these days.  Reigning Horse of the year Zenyatta also had a much publicized date with a horsie hunk.  On February 23rd she and Bernardini got together, and today the racing world recieved the news that she is, as they say, "with child."  The happy news was confirmed by Zenyatta herself in her diary.  The diary is actually written (remember, Zenyatta, although pretty darn incredible, does not possess opposable thumbs and cannot type) by Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, the wife of Zenyatta's former trainer John Shirreffs.  And people say I'm a little bit loopy...

I'm sure I'm not the only one looking forward to seeing the offspring of these great champions and having fantasies of a potential Triple Crown showdown between them...

Whaddaya send one of these Moms-To-Be as a shower gift?  Foal halters?  Foal blankets? Or just lots of peppermints, carrots, apples, and Stud Muffins?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Awwwwwwwwww" Moments....

I was down in Ocala over the weekend watching a friend of mine coach a couple of students who happened to have parents I knew and liked from my old barn.  Their Mom and I hung out while my friend warmed them up, and then we'd all hang around ringside as the eldest girl negotiated her hunter course.  There were some really nice moments, and some teaching moments, but what struck me is the kid came out of each round with nothing but appreciation for her horse. 

There was no blame, no "why didn't he jump?"  She knew the issues were hers and was nothing but thankful for the efforts her gallant old campaigner made to extricate them  both from some sticky situations. 

I hung around to watch the next round, mostly because the horse was named Sophie, which is my daughter's name.  Sophie was a lovely bay mare, went like a true hunter, and was a touch too big for the diminutive pixie on top of her.  Sophie clearly knew her primary job was to take care of the young'un, and she rolled around that course making sure the girl stayed in the middle of her back with nary a jostle. 

The mare's butter-smooth heroics were a thing to behold, but what really caught my attention was the ear-to-ear grin on the be-ribboned girl as she jumped the course.  That perma-grin stayed on through three rounds and a hack class, and through the lengthy waits in between classes, where she just perched on her mare, occasionally leaning down to hug her or feed her peppermints.  At the end of the hack they announced that they won the class, AND the Championship, and if possible, that grin got even bigger.  However, this time their were tears as well.  She came out of the ring smiling and crying and the first person she approached was her mom, whom she leaned down to hug and thank profusely. 

She and her trainer then went off to cool out Sophie the mare, feeding her peppermints the entire way back to the barn.  I had to approach the Mom and tell her how touched I was by the child's obvious joy in and love for the horse, as well as her obvious appreciation for her Mom.  Her Mom responded by saying this had been her dream, to have the chance to ride her Mom's mare in a big horse show.  She'd literally had no expectations of success -- to her, the success was just being there with that particular horse and the happiness that comes with reaching a long awaited goal. 

I'm not ashamed to admit I was so touched by that I teared up.  You see a lot of things in the horse world, some beautiful, some not so pretty.  I feel very privileged to have seen one of the beautiful moments, and am profoundly grateful for the creatures like Sophie that inspire those moments.

Monday, March 7, 2011

In the "What Not to Name Your Horse" Category..

Seriously, perhaps I shouldn't be making fun of this.  My horse's registered name is Obottie (?!!?!) and her barn name is Sugar.  Both names have been ridiculed by many.  Perhaps this is one of those "glass houses" moments, but take a gander at this video of a race at Saratoga.  I HAVE to know who named this horse and what the story behind it is -- I'm sure it's a doozy.

You gotta love how "into" the call of the race the announcer gets.  Bet that microphone was soaked!!

Enjoy -- and let me know of any other fun horse names you've heard of!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Jockeys Collecting Social Security? You Gotta Be Kidding Me!

OK, it's official.  I'm done being a wuss. I am NOT going to let fear rule me anymore.  I'm too embarrassed to be afraid anymore.

The other day I read an article about a 69 (yes, that's the number, 6-9) year old jockey who was still climbing back on racehorses after coming back from an injury.  Apparently last May a horse fell backwards on jockey Roy Brooks while loading into the starting gate, breaking the jockey's pelvis.  Two days later, while in a hospital bed, he was predicting he'd be back on a horse.  Bet most folks thought the only kind of horse old Roy was hopping back on would be the kind that comes attached to a pole and is found at amusement parks.

Brooks began racing in 1967, so you'd think he'd have been ready to retire more than 40 years later.  (Oddly enough, he's not even the oldest active quarter horse jockey. Apparently that honor belongs to 70 year old Richard Rettele of Northville, Michigan.)  According to the article I read, a couple of surgeries were barely a bump in the road for Roy, and he was back and racing (and winning!) by mid-November!  After those November races, he took a bit of a break, and is now back at it as the latest race meet opens at Remington Park.

Roy says he's now willing to make "some" concessions to his age. He's giving up riding 2 year olds, calling them "too flighty" and he's cut down on the number of rides he'll accept on any one card. 

Glad to see old Roy's finally showing some maturity! ;) In the meantime, I think I'm going to go search for my Big Girl Panties before my next jumping lesson.