Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Funny...

One of my wonderful Facebook friends sent me this from those great people at SmartPak.

She said it reminded her of me.

I think she's right on.  This is definitely something the Sainted Mare has said to me. 

What the good folks at SmartPak forgot to include is the last part of the Sainted Mare's peptalk, which goes like this:

"Now just sit still up there and don't do anything stupid to get in my way, okay?"

Gotta love those sassy mares, right?

Happy Friday all, and try to stay cool this weekend!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Protect Your Melon!

This morning I was reading the "Letters to the Editor" page in the June 25th issue of The Chronicle of the Horse and two letters from readers dicussing Irish show jumper Denis Lynch's recent fall really resonated with me. (If you weren't aware, Lynch fell off while riding helmetless during his victory lap after a recent win and was knocked unconscious. While being knocked unconscious is not a visible injury like a broken arm or leg, the fact is it still means you've done some damage to your brain.)

I experienced my own really nast fall late last summer. Thnkfully, I was wearing a helmet, which no doubt saved my life, or at least my quality of life. Thing is, I gave myself quite the conusion even though I was wearing a helmet and was never unconscious, and I'm still feeling the effects of that concussion today, almost a year later.

I'm on a business trip, and I can tell you the effects of my concussion are still obvious in my client interactions. While speaking I often find it difficult to access the right words, or finish a sentence. My memory is not what it used to be. My ability to do math, never great to begin with, is now downright abysmal. In short, it takes me much longer to process things that I used to process in the blink of an eye, which, as you can imagine, is a bit frustrating and a challenge professionally.

The doctor says all of this is normal. Things have improved tremendously since the fall, but today's normal isn't the normal of 10 months ago. I can't even imagine what my life would be had I not been wearing a helmet.

Enough preaching. I recognize we all have a right to make decisions regarding our own personal health. However, reading those letters just prompted me to share some of the things I'm dealing with, just in case it resonates with someone and ultimately helps.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sug Goes to Rehab...

Don't let the headline of this post fool you. The Sainted Mare has not been snorting bute or sugar cubes or anything like that. We're rehabbing her suspensory injury and we're now at the second stage - the trot stage. Mind you, we've done a lot of very exciting work at the walk; straightness, getting her to come off my leg better, keeping her rhythm steady. Let's face it though, after aw hole the walk gets ether, well, pedestrian.

This weekend we were finally allowed to trot, long sides only. We did our 30 minute power walk warm up, and then I asked her to trot down the long side going down to the barn. Sug almost jumped into the trot, she was so excited. She wanted to power down the line, and tried to show me her extended trot. I had to bring her back and explain to her that although I was very impressed, I didn't want her to reinjure herself. She was so happy to be moving again, she was snaking her neck and tossing her head. It was really cute to see her so happy, and really hard not to go over the 5 minute moratorium as it felt so good!

I'm out of town on a business trip now and my trainer will be amking sure she gets her procribed. She'll be doing her 30 minute power walk, on the bit, and 5 minute trot, also onthe bit, long sides only. I'm bummed to be away, but consoling myself with the fact that when I get back we'll be up to 10 minutes of long-side trotting. :) Bliss!

Thanks for reading, and if you've ever had to rehab your horse, why not share? I'd love to learn from your experience.

Friday, June 22, 2012

My Horse = My Family's Therapist

Dr. Sug - Therapist Extraordinaire
I guess there's no stage in life that one would call particularly easy, but seventh grade really seems to be a bear.  I remember it being pretty rough for me, and this past year has been one of change (good and bad) and challenge for my son as well.  The good thing, the constant thing, is that we have the horses.  They give us so much, both when times are good and when they are not so good.

When I think back to my own middle school experience I cringe.  Middle school was the height of my awkward years.  Think two rows of teeth (my baby teeth hadn't fallen out but my adult teeth had come in) combined with really thick coke bottle glasses, topped off with a really bad perm.  Oh, and I was 5'6" and had really big boobs (36DDD).  Basically, Mr. Magoo crossed with Jaws crossed with Jane Russell's body Weird Al Yankovic's hair.  Yeah, I know, NIGHTMARE!!!

I spent hours at the barn where I took lessons, crying into my favorite horse's manes.  It's a miracle poor Lazy and Andy didn't develop rain rot from all the dampness I subjected them to.  Bless their hearts, their company and silent approval is what got me through those gawdawful years.

My son did not inherit my crappy eyesight or teeth (many thanks to the PB's gene pool!) but is certainly having his own rough times finding his place in the middle school world.  The other day I picked him up and my heart broke as I saw him walk out of the school, alone, while others in his class spilled out in groups. I asked him what was going on with his friends (he's got a few really good ones, but I like to touch base now and then about the larger picture) and he burst out with, "I have none!  Nobody likes me!"  Thus started a very long conversation, fraught with emotion on both sides.

Thankfully it was a barn night.  By the time we'd managed to fight through rush hour traffic we were both almost vibrating with tension.  My daughter bustled off to her pony's stall, and Noah and I walked over to get my mare.  Sugar was pressed up against the stall door, and as soon as we opened it she began frantically licking us.  She's a licker, kind of an equine version of a Golden Retriever, but this time she was almost frenetic in her efforts.  Her big head swiveled from me to my son, then back again, as she determinedly slobbered us from stem to stern.  She used her head to pull my son in to her chest, cradling him in the curve of her neck as she focused her efforts on me.  After a few minutes she decided she'd done all she could with me, pushed Noah out so she could reach him, and pulled me in to the curve of her neck.  She then set about licking my son.

Sugar groomed us for about 15 minutes, refusing to let us move away or stop her, until we were both helpless with laughter.  Our hair was sticking straight up, we had green slobber all over our faces and arms, and our shirts had been pulled out of our jeans.  We looked a mess, but we were both smiling and relaxed for the first time in hours.  Finally she stopped, looked us over and sighed heavily, clearly exhausted but satisfied with her efforts.  She knew she'd done her job and her people were now back to normal.

Noah and I pulled Sug out of her stall and set about returning the favor, scratching her in all her favorite places, grooming her, and then massaging her.  Noah took her out for a bit of a graze while I coached Soph for a bit, and when I went to check on them I heard him chatting quietly to her.  I don't know what he said, or how she answered him.  All I know is that when I drove home that night my son was smiling, relaxed and happy.  No doubt there will be other rough moments in the coming years.  I'm just so thankful we have Sug to help us through them.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Holy Cow, My Best Friend is a Horse!

Have you ever taken a quick look at your horse and realized, "Oh My God! You're a horse!  I forgot for a moment and thought you were human!"

OK, maybe I've gone off the deep end here, but bear with me for a second.  I spend a lot of time with Sug; sometimes I swear I know what she's thinking. Her eyes and facial expressions communicate to me as clearly as if she were speaking English.  I have whole conversations with her, and rarely do I consider them one sided. 

When it's just me and Sug at the barn, I don't feel like I am alone.  I have my buddy, and I'm perfectly happy and content.  I don't really need anyone else to chat to, unless it's one of the other horses. 

So a couple of times now when I've gone to say good night and her big ol' mule-eared long-nosed face pokes up from out of her hay and her brown eyes look inquisitively out at me, I've honestly had a bit of a shock.

"Holy Crap!  You're a horse!"

Yeeeeeeesssss, and you are a human.  Are you just noticing this now?  Funny, I thought you were much brighter than that.

Hmmm, I'm starting to think it's time for a vacation.  Or medication.  One of the -ations.  I'm not picky.

But seriously, you know what I mean, right??

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wonderful Weekend, Olympic Dreams, Colbert Rebuttal Video and Whatnot...

Happy Father's Day, Dad! Love, Sug
I hope all of you had a lovely weekend, and that all the Fathers in your lives enjoyed their special day.  As you can see, Sug made sure to show her Dad a little love - the wet, slobbery green kind.

I have to say it was a pretty fine weekend in my world.  Everyone was healthy and happy, we got to spend time with good friends, both human and equine, and I got to spend some more time covering the USEF 2012 Festival of Champions and Dressage Selection Trials courtesy of Horse Junkies United.  On Saturday my barn buddy Libby came with me to offer her photography skills - you can check out her efforts on the HJU Facebook page as well as in my Day Four coverage.

Man, is it fun to see amazing riding, of any discipline.  The level of skill seen at this level, as you'd expect, left me slack-jawed most of the time.  Which, of course, was a lovely look when combined with my still-glowing-holy-crap-what-did-you-do-to-yourself hair color.

The fun and inspiration carried over into my own riding.   After I left the Trials I'd head over to my barn, which is just down the road from the USET Foundation headquarters in Gladstone.  Sug is still into the Walk Only portion of her rehab, but as I've noted before, I've discovered there's a heck of a lot to be done in the walk.  Each day I hopped on the Sainted Mare and channeled my inner DQ, trying to maintain a constant rhythm, straightness and connection to the bit.  I'd concentrate on lengthening my legs along her sides and wrapping my legs around her, as well as trying to keep my aids as independent from each other as possible.  Easier said than done.  Have you ever concentrated on your legs, only to find that your elbows stop "following" the movement of the horse's mouth or your back tenses up?  Seriously, there was so much to think about I darn near fried my brain, but it was all good learning.

And the Sainted Mare's reaction to all of Mom's shenanigans?

Oh for heaven's sake, you've been watching that Peters guy again, haven't you?  When does this show end, again?  Can't be soon enough.  You're gonna give yourself a stroke a stroke with all that gyrating and concentrating up there.

The other neat thing about the experience is that I got to show off for my daughter a bit.  I forgot my notebook when I left on Saturday, so on Sunday Sophie and I stopped by the show and tooled on over to the media tent to retrieve it.  I wore my credentials, and as we walked through the crowd I pointed out the newly chosen members of our Olympic dressage team.  Steffen Peters was hopping on Sundance 8 to warm him up for the Intermediare freestyle, but he smiled and acknowledged us, and Jan Ebeling did the same when we passed him even though he was in a crowd of people.  This impressed my daughter to no end, so I gained a bit of serious credibilty in her eyes!  Thanks guys -- I owe you both, BIG TIME! 

We cuddled up on the grass and watched some of the show -  after all, how can you pass up a chance to watch Steffen Peters ride? - and then did some shopping and had a bite to eat.  On our way out we saw Tina Konyot longeing Calecto V, so we stopped to gawk at His Gorgeousness as he cavorted in circles around Tina. He looked like a big (make that VERY big) old puppy dog playing on the end of a long leash.  I waved and wished Tina luck in London; she waved back and we exchanged a few pleasantries, impressing my daughter yet again.  (Thank you, Tina - I owe you, too!)  Soph was in absolute awe of Calecto -- his size, his big poofy mane, how docile he seems to be despite the fact that he is a VERY BIG BOY and a stallion to boot.  I think Calecto is now tied with Sapphire as Soph's favorite famous horse.

I don't think Soph is quite ready to take up dressage full time yet.  She did, however, spend the rest of the day doing tempi changes, extended trot and passage any time she needed to get from point A to point B.  May I say the kiddo has some very nice extensions and great ability to get her hocks underneath herself. ;)

If you would like to hear all about Days Three and Four of my adventures at the Selection Trials at Gladstone, as well as HJU coverage from our final Show Jumping observation event at Spruce Meadows, you can find them over at Horse Junkies United.

By the way, if you saw the Stephen Colbert video making fun of dressage, maybe you knew the USEF filmed a tongue in cheek rebuttal to that, featuring Ann Romney, Jan Ebeling, and the slightly perturbed Rafalca.  The mare was NOT impressed by the foam fingers.  Here's a video showing you the making of that original video.  You can see your's truly at about the 1:30 mark.  I'm the one with the blue and white striped t-shirt, white camera, and Budweiser in hand. (Note to self, NO MORE HORIZONTAL STRIPES!! Aack!)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bad Hair Days Suck...

Heat Miser, aka my twin
On Friday I'm going back to the USET Foundation Headquarters in Gladstone for weekend two of the USEF Dressage Festival of Champions and Selection Trials. Today is Thursday.  My daughter has been nagging at me for some time now that "You need to get your hair done, Mom, your roots are showing."   Well, for some reason this actually took hold in my feeble, stressed out brain and I thought, "By God, yes, I look awful and must rectify the situation  immediately, as clearly the selection of the US dressage team can't happen if my roots are showing!"  (Let's just say work's been crazed, the Boy has had PT three out of every five days, the Daughter had a doctor's appointment, Sug had a re-evaluation with the vet, and yes, by crikey, I do need a glass of wine).
So I did what any insane woman would do.  I bought an at-home hair dye kit, one I've bought before, same brand, color and everything, and dyed my hair.   Bad idea.  Let me just offer a PSA: Never attempt to dye your hair at home, or, if you do, do NOT do it the day before and event or when you have something else to do that day. All the forces in the universe will conspire against you and you will wind up with glow in the dark fuchsia-ish orange hair.  Think Heat Miser, from the holiday movie.

I had to put a hat on, pick up the Boy, figure out if I had time to go out and get another dye to repair the damage, or if I'd have to just deal and go with one of the following quips when the inevitable comments come:

A: My hair color is in support of National Flag Day (today) and our Olympic team.

B. I wanted my hair to match my I ♥ Rafalca red foam finger. (I'm channeling Stephen Colbert's Joe Six-Pack.)

I got the dye, brown this time, did the deed, and NO CHANGE!  WTH???  Emergency measures were needed, so the doctor's appointment got rescheduled (wasn't an emergency, but still, there goes the Mother of the Year award) and I went to the salon for a much needed fix 'er upper.  Luckily, the salon was able to somewhat repair my idiocy.  Instead of resembling Heat Miser, I now resemble Sharon Osborne.

I'm still going to wear a hat at the selection trials.  I don't want the horses or riders to be distracted by the freakish red nimbus surrounding my head. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Updates on the Goings On at AWIP....

Greetings, friends of AWIP!  I hope all has been well in your worlds, and that your families and four-leggeds are all healthy and happy.

Lots of news going on here in the Jerz.  As you may know, I also blog for Horse Junkies United, and thanks to them, I was granted a media pass to cover the  2012 USEF Dressage Festival of Champions at the USET Foundation Headquarters in Gladstone. (This could be one of the ONLY times it's good to live in New Jersey!)

As the press pass was given to HJU, and there are rules and regulations with that sort of thing, all my coverage and photos are over there.  If you are interested in reading about what went on, click here for Day One Grand Prix coverage and here for Day Two Olympic Grand Prix Special coverage. (Note: Day One features a picture of yours truly with the uber-nice winner, Steffen Peters. WhooHoo! Umm, that was a demonstration of amazingly professional journalism right there. NOT!) 

Another highlight of the weekend was the injured Boy hopped back on Sug for the first time in months. (You may recall he dislocated his knee a while back and has been on crutches, canes, and other instruments of torture for some time now).  Anywho, the knee has been on the mend and he's been cleared for some light activity.  Since the Sainted One is on the IR as well and is only cleared to walk, Noah climbed aboard after I'd finished the mare's daily 30 minute power walk. With most stall-bound horses this might not be a good idea, but it's the Sainted Mare we're talking about, and she took superior care of her Boy, as always.  Good girl, Sug! 

Finally, I was just sent a copy of Peter Leone's new book, Peter Leone's Show Jumping Clinic, to review for Horse Junkies United.  I am very excited about this opportunity!  I love his DVD Ride The Body, and was privileged to catch a clinic he did at Equine Affaire in Massachusetts a few years ago.  I still use some tips I learned from that clinic, which is pretty darn amazing considering I was sick as a dog that day.   I got the book yesterday, started it last night, and can tell from the first chapter that I'm really going to enjoy it. The layout is thoughtful, and presents the information in an easy to digest manner.  Looking forward to spending time with this book, and sharing my thoughts about it.  Will update you when that happens, or, if you don't want to wait for my review, follow the link above to purchase your own copy.

Take care of yourselves, and thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Lessons Learned From Life in the Slow Lane...

Joe and Noah graze the Injured One while
Noah studies for finals.
If you see me on the highway, you'll know pretty quickly that I am not a slow lane kind of girl.  I travel in the fast lane, mostly because I like to get where I'm going in as little time as possible, and because usually there's an option for me to pull off to safety if things go sideways, as they are wont to do on the busy highways of New Jersey.  See, it's always about strategic thinking, my friends!

So when Sug's recent suspensory injury relegated us to tack walking only, I decided to apply some strategic thinking to this part of our journey together.  I won't lie, my first thought was that I'd be bored to tears, perambulating gently around and around the ring.  Well, let me share this little tidbit with you -- there's a lot to be learned at the walk.

First of all, I was instructed to make her march around the ring on contact.  No perambulation allowed.  OK, easy enough, right?  Nope.  Most of the times when we walk our horses we just let them flop around on the buckle and relax after a period of intense exertion.  So they're not used to really marching, much less doing so on the bit.  Then, typically, when we're ready to get back to work we gather up the reins and often there's some jigging, or a haunch coming to the inside in anticipation of the trot or canter. 

So first off we worked on getting Sug off my leg and making her march around the arena.  First lesson learned: The mare ain't exactly electric off my leg, and she certainly isn't great at holding herself in the same pace.  Ian Millar has often said that he tells the horse what pace to go at, and then the horse is responsible for maintaining that.  We should not have to "nag" them along.  I employ a trick I learned from Bernie Traurig's called the "hook-up."  She slows down, or doesn't respond immediately to my leg, and I swiftly bring my heels up and inter her sides, giving her a gentle but insistent reminder with the spur.

HEY!  Um, excuse me!  Leg?  What leg?  You don't have a leg!  As far as the pace thing, here's the deal -- if you stop working, why should I keep working?

"Nope, that's not how it works, Sug."  (She's right.  Since the back injury I've lost what little leg stregth I had.  It's lowering, really. Hopefully physical therapy will help with that.) We continue around the ring, making large circles and changing diagonals, with me concentrating on keeping her at a consistent marching pace, and giving her a slight hook-up when she falls behind my leg.  1...2...3...4...1..2...3...4.  We keep a steady marching rhythm, on the contact, past the gate, around the circle, across the diagonal. Trust me, it's easier said than done. The Sainted Mare grunted her displeasure with every step.'t 

Sophie and Cookie are clearly NOT
working hard at this moment.
Another issue we are working on is straightness.  You may think you're traveling about your arena on a straight line, UNTIL you slow down enough to really pay attention.  Then you realize you are actually weaving about like a drunk at a sobriety checkpoint.  So, I start concentrating on straightness, keeping her equally between my leg and hand.  Turns out we are still a couple of stumbling drunks.  OK, time to check everything else.  Am I using one leg or hand more than the other?  Am I weighting one seat bone more than the other?  Good grief, this walking thing is not only more of a physical workout than I expected, it's quite taxing mentally as well.  Reminds me of something Robert Dover once said in a Practical horseman article.  He talked about one of his most difficult lessons ever being about riding a correct circle.

That gave me a thought.  Next time we rode the arena had just been dragged, so I started doing large circles.  Turns out I haven't improved at all in geometry since high school.  My circles, rather than looking like the Olympic rings, looked more like gum squashed on pavement.  Thus began the assessment: Am I using too much inside rein?  Too little outside leg? All this thinking and assessing was very hard work, and Sug helpfully decided it was a good time to slow down and help Mom get her thoughts together. 

"Nope!  Off you go!  Mom can think and ride at the same time."

No, you can't. We always get into trouble when you start to think.

No, that's when I over-think. Big difference. Anyway, no one likes a smart-aleck, Sug.

So we worked on straightness.  We tried not to weave as we walked down the long side or up the diagonal.  We tried to remain straight in our transitions, both up and down.  Honestly, until I spent so much time in the walk paying attention to every little detail (or a good portion of them) I had NO IDEA how badly her haunches drift inside on the downward transitions, especially on the left rein.  We tried to fix this with a bit of shoulder fore, keeping it very mild as not to stress her injury.  Lo and behold, the shoulder for worked, and we had a straight halt.

Trust me, all this power-walking and straightness and working on transitions has been WORK!  Who knew?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fun With Sapphire at Devon and Setback Update...

This past weekend I had the HUGE privilege of covering the Olympic Observation Event at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair for Horse Junkies United.  It was AMAZING -- I got to sit in the official press box with all the "real" journalists.  However, part of getting a press pass to cover it for HJU means the content belongs over there, so if you're interested in knowing what I saw and who I met (think big name rider!) you can read about it by clicking HERE.  Sorry to make you do the extra work, but rules are rules!

To update you on the Home Front:

The Boy, aka Noah, has been given the okay to wean himself off his cane and is now going for PT in the hopes of joining his summer rugby league only 2 weeks into the season. (Conveniently, we get to go to PT together.  How's that for mother and son bonding time?)

Me: I've recovered from my stomach bug and have moved on to a head cold. As Charlie Brown would say, AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!  Oh well, better a small cold than anything serious.  The PT is helping my back, although it's embarrassing to realize how weak I've gotten, and of course it's fun to share giggles with the Boy as we do our exercises together.

Sugar: The Sainted Mare has not progressed as far as we would have hoped by this point.  We've been tack walking her, which she finds boring beyond belief, icing her, and hand grazing since she can't be turned out. (She likes the hand grazing part, especially as she doesn't need to wear her grazing muzzle.)  She had her second ESWT session and a re-eval on Monday, which showed she's still lame when being flexed.  So, 10 more days of tack walking, etc., and then another ESWT and an ultrasound to see where we are at.  I've also asked my good buddy Carolyn to come down and cold laser Sug a couple times a week.  I'm bringing out the big guns now! Fingers crossed that we see some improvement.

So that's where we stand.  I hope you do go on over to HJU to check out the Devon piece

Thanks for reading, and take care!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Long Live the Queen...

No, not the one with all the corgis (Elizabeth II of England).  The one of the show jumping ring, Sapphire.

I was supposed to be at Devon last night, covering Sapphire's retirement and the Well Fargo Grand Prix of Devon, but a nasty stomach bug laid me low.  I can't complain about losing 5 of the pounds I've gained since I fell off last September, but I'm not thrilled with the timing.

Thanks to the wonder that is the Internet, at least I got to watch the events on my laptop.  Sophie and I curled up on the couch together, my little girl smelling of green apples and clean little girl after her shower.  We both started sniffling as McLain walked Sapphire around the warm up ring, and had segued to fall on BAWL mode by the time she entered the ring.

She looked fabulous, and was on her toes the entire time.  Soph and I loved when McLain rode her to the side of the ring and let some children say hello to their idol.  What a gentlemanly thing for McLain to do.  Sapphire, for all her excitement, was very good for the kids, standing still and letting them get a good look and a few pats of the famous nose.  My daughter ached to be there, and was a bit sad that I wasn't, as she'd harbored hopes that I'd be able to get her Sapphire Breyer horse autographed. 

Sapphire looked as though she couldn't quite figure out why she was being untacked, why she and McLain weren't jumping the fences in the ring with them.  That was so good to see -- the fact that she was still in form, that she would have loved to have been out there, that her fire was still lit.

It was a perfect ending to the evening that McLain and his new mount Antares F, a high energy horse as different from the placid Sapphire as it is possible to be, won the Grand Prix.  I think we could call that coming full circle, don't you?

Be well, Sapphire.  Enjoy your donuts, and have fun being a momma.

My favorite photo from last night, taken by Rianne Berker.