Saturday, December 27, 2008

Flooding!

Nearly 18" of melting snow and 4" of rain equals record flooding! The rain hasn't stopped but the barn has had enough.

After running the pumps for a half hour, the floorboards of
the upper barn are only floating 4" above the ground.

Two of the three barns at my stable are flooded. Fortunately for Limerick, she is in one of the three dry stalls at the barn! Days like this make me happy Lim doesn't have a run.

In the middle of the mess, she had her feet done in the relatively dry aisle outside her stall. They're looking good!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Looking behind, looking ahead

2009 is almost upon us. It seems like it was yesterday when we had the great Y2k crisis, huh? Just like that, almost a decade come and gone.

In 2009, Limerick will be 18 and I will be 29. Lim doesn't look or act 18, and I certainly don't feel 29 (although I have sprouted many grays since last fall, and the lines are beginning to show beneath my eyes). On many days, I feel 15. But there are days when I feel 70, and the weight of experience and understanding presses upon my very organs. I guess it's true that stress makes the hair go gray.

2008 is officially the worst year of my life. I thought 2007 was bad, but oh no, the god of bad luck had much more in store for me. So good riddance, 2008.

I have never been one to make resolutions. Why use the start of a new year as an excuse to do or change something? Just do it now--whether now is December 26th, January 1st, or July 1st. It doesn't make a difference. Making a promise (which is what a resolution is) just makes it that much more disappointing when you break it. And if you're disappointed, you won't try again.

That said, I do set goals. They are not concrete goals, but goals I would like to attain. If I fail to do so, then there's always 2010.

I have three goals:

1) To show Limerick. I'll start with "green as grass" dressage classes, and if she does well, move up a bit. No pressure.

2) To get paid for my writing. It doesn't matter whether it's $10 or $1,000. Any figure will do. I do write for a living--I write reports for a laboratory--but I will not count this. I have had pieces published but never for pay. For once, I'd like to see what it's like to find a check in my mailbox signed by Anynamehere publisher.

3) To train for a marathon. I'll aim low and train for a half-marathon (13.1 miles). At the most, I was running 20 miles a week and my single longest run was 8 miles. I finished in good spirits and was ready for more the next day so I don't think it'll be too hard. If my training progresses better than expected then I will shoot for a full marathon. I'm also hoping to run regular 7:45 or 7:30-minute miles by the end of the year. That's multiple miles, with each mile run in seven minutes, thirty seconds.

Thank you, mom and dad and husband, for the new running gear to start off the year with. My parents got me a reflective vest for night running and a runner's headlamp. My husband took me shopping for a new pair of running shoes (I choose a pair of Asics Gel Kayano-14s) and bought me a subscription to Runner's World.

I'll write about my running a bit more in the blog. I have said running is a muse of mine, and it's true. Maybe I'll start the year off by writing about how I started running.

To my dad: I'm glad you are feeling better and I hope you stay better! I love you!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

No shavings!, part two

My husband made it home fine last night. In an uncharacteristically domestic move, I had dinner waiting for him.

I can make two things well: salad and breakfast.

Wisely deciding my man probably wouldn’t be in the mood for lettuce after being stuck in his car for 6.5 hours, I scrambled three eggs with a dollop of butter, toasted two slices of wheat bread (and added another dollop of butter, as well as some strawberry jam), and cut up a banana and mixed it with some blueberries. He loved it!

The lack of shavings at the barn has lit a fire beneath my desire to move to Kentucky. For financial reasons, we can’t do it now. But we have set a semi-concrete date—June 2012. I hope to have my debt paid off in July 2010, so that will give me two years to save like a madwoman. Also, hopefully by then the IRA we were going to use as a down payment will have recovered. Last I checked, it had gone from $12k to $9k. Through savings, I want to pad the IRA when the economy is better. The rest of the savings will go towards the actual move, necessities for the new property (including a horse trailer!), and other odds and ends. We may get another horse a month or so before the move so Limerick has an equine friend to be with during the move and on the new property. Either way, it being Kentucky, I’m sure it won’t be hard to arrange for a new horse to meet Limerick when she arrives!

In the meantime, I have a Plan B in case the situation at my current barn goes way downhill. But Plan B is a half-hour away without traffic. It is a good barn, and the board is a bit cheaper, but it won’t be cheaper overall if Limerick is so far away (I estimate I save $100-200 a month on gas with her being only a mile down the road), and I know my anxious brain will always worry whether she is getting fed her third meal in the evening, whether she has equine buddies, whether I should remove her blanket or add another layer. Right now she is so close that not only can I visit her without a thought towards time, traffic, or road conditions, but also I do not need to worry about these things. You can’t put a price on peace of mind.

And so, I want to move onto horse property because the only perfect barn is the one in your backyard, after all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

No shavings!

Maybe you remember the drama that revolved around my barn running out of hay in June.

Well, now they're out of shavings. They actually ran out a little over a week ago but it was stated that they would temporarily use bagged shavings until the next truckload of the regular stuff arrived.

Okay, fine by me.

But to my horror I found Limerick standing in a totally bare stall yesterday. The stall mat was completely stripped of shavings, save a few strays along the edges of the stall. A couple piles of manure and a puddle of pee crowded one corner of the stall.

What the *%&#?

I cleaned the stall out and spread the old hay over the stall mat and gave Limerick fresh hay to eat. It was getting late and I didn't know what else to do.

This morning my husband said he would drive to Bob's Salt and Feed (my feed store) after work and pick up some bags of shavings. He gets off work two hours before me and under ideal circumstances, would arrive at Bob's before they closed at 6pm. Aww!

"Okay, but we're supposed to get a lot of snow later. Are you sure?" I said, picturing my husband becoming frustrated in snow-clogged traffic. He works in Mettawa, which is quite a long distance from Bob's.

"I'm sure, I'll do it!" he said.

Cut to 7pm and my husband has been in snow-clogged traffic for almost four hours. He is nowhere near Bob's.

"Just go home!" I text him. "We'll get the shavings tomorrow."

I love Limerick with all my heart but her having a proper bed for the night isn't worth hubby spinning his car out on the highway.

But Bob left the shavings out, hubby texted back. They r covered but dont want to leave em out.

"They won't care, give them a call in the morning. They'll understand. We'll get them tomorrow!"

Hubby insists that he can make it out to West Chicago.

At this point, I'm standing in Petsmart surrounded by jumbo bags of pine shavings. A Petsmart employee is eyeing my uber-muddy, snowy field boots with their (enormous, sharp!) 1/2" stubby spurs. Thanks to a friend's tip, I rushed over to Petsmart as soon as I was done riding to purchase some XXXL bags of small animal bedding.

"No don't worry about it! I got the shavings!" I text him.

Too late he texts back. I'm on my way.

"Just leave them in your car then, we'll take care of them tomorrow," I say.

I skid and slide my little Jetta back to the barn.

The hearty paw and long, satisfying pee Limerick took after I spread the shavings around was definitely worth $37.14.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The plow

The ice of Monday evening gave away to warmer rains yesterday morning, which turned to ice again as they day progressed and temperatures dropped. I can run on ice (actually, it is easier to run than walk on ice) but if the world is one giant skating rink, it is not the best idea to go for a run. I would rather miss one day of running than six weeks due to a broken leg!

When I stepped outside on my way home from work and saw the inch of fresh snow on the ground, I knew I had to run when I got home.

Black Under Armor winter running tights. Sports bra. Gray Nike sweat-wicking longsleeve shirt. Gray generic t-shirt. “Philadelphia Eagles”-green New Balance faux fleece 1/3-zip shirt. Dirty white New Balance 826’s. White Under Armor winter running hat. Black reflective Nike running gloves. My old sports watch (so amazed the cheap thing is still working!). My key ring.

My hearing aid screeches feedback into my ear as I pull my hat over my head. I press a finger against it, adjusting it through my hat.

I wear the largest key ring over my right middle finger, all 1,007 keys loosely held in my palm. I have been running like this for as long as I can remember. On the very rare occasion that I don’t need my keys, I feel naked. My right hand feels too light. When I still lived in Chicago, they offered a measure of comfort. I knew that if I couldn’t outrun an attacker, I could drive the keys into his eyes as hard as I could.

I decide to run around the apartment complex. It is exactly one half of a mile around so it is a brainless way to know how far you are going. It is incredibly boring but on a dark, lousy night like this I have no choice.

(I terribly miss running in the city. In the city, there are a million different routes to take, each one well to decently-lit by streetlights. Out in the suburbs, I have taken some after-dark runs blind, counting on the sensation of the sidewalk beneath my feet to tell me that I am going the right way. The only route guaranteed to be well-lit is around my apartment complex. Boring!)

The wind is driving the snow sideways. Cold needles on my face. Millions of driving white flakes of snow reflect in the beams of soft yellow light radiating from the parking lot lights. I notice the semi-fresh plow marks in the parking lot. I look for the snow plow and see it on the other side of a row of parked cars. It is a red Dodge Ram with a red plow. No yellow strobe light. In contrast to the slow, awkward cars sliding into the parking lot from Warrenville Road, the plow moves quickly and neatly as it pushes the snow before it.

I start my run away from the wind. On the first lap, wary of ice beneath the snow, I am cautious of where I place my feet. When I run into the wind, the stinging snow goes into my eyes and I pull my Under Armor hat down tight and lower my eyes. One lap passes and I check my watch. 4 minutes, 40 seconds. Not bad. Before winter began, I was working on steady 8-minute miles. I know from experience that I will emerge from the winter faster and stronger than ever. Nothing conditions you like months of running on snow and ice!

I notice the plow is gone. Since I can't hear it until it is right on top of me, I watch for the subtlest change in light and shadow before me, signs of headlights far behind. My senses are heightened. The slightest change in any type of light, the smallest scent of automotive exhaust or smoke alerts me to a car. Or the plow.

I am on lap two, following my footsteps from lap one, and I see the plow before me. It is perpendicular to me, pushing snow towards the corner I am headed for. It is tireless and graceful and almost beautiful in the falling snow. A workhorse. I cannot see the driver in the shadows of the cab. The plow is a being unto itself.

It quickly turns and moves along the next row of parked cars.

4 minutes, 40 seconds again.

Then 4 minutes, 20 seconds.

By my fourth lap, the driving snow is a comfort to my hot skin. I have not seen the plow for a while. I follow my footsteps of laps one, two and three. Strangely, they are all right next to each other. It looks like a long-strided, six-legged beast of a human passed through.

Light plays on the snow. I slow down. The plow is waiting for me to pass. I stop and wave it on. We acknowledge each other—the plow and the runner, sharing the same parking lot. We are out in the thick of it as other apartment dwellers hurry inside, clutching bags to bodies and hoods tight to faces.

4 minutes, 20 seconds. I stop and walk, cooling off. A part of me wants to run on. The run was short but so sweet. I leave the plow behind and go inside, dusting snow off my clothes and hat.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Skating and riding

It is raining but just cold enough for the rain to turn into ice when it hits the ground. That is one thing I don't like about riding in an indoor arena that is detached from the barn. Sometimes after rides, I open the arena door to freezing rain or a blizzard. I can't hear the wind howling about outside the arena so, other than a couple extra flicks of Limerick's ears, I am oblivious to weather changes as I ride.

Before walking back to the barn with Lim, I told her to tread carefully. I walked slowly and so did she. I think I was more afraid of slipping than her. Field boots and ice don't go well together.

Winter is making Limerick stiff, but after fifteen minutes of walking and trotting on the long rein, then five to ten minutes of light collection and a few strides of cantering, she is ready to go. With each passing week, she grows into the athletic horse that had been in hiding for the past couple years. At the end of rides, she is hardly drawing a deep breath.

Soon, she will be ready for some lessons. Unfortunately! My checking account is not.

At work today, I remembered I have 101 Arena Exercises on my bookshelves somewhere. I think that until I can afford a couple lessons, I will work through the book. Before heading to the barn today, I flipped through it quickly and saw a page dedicated to a leg yield at the canter.

Leg yield at the canter! Lim and I haven't done that in a million years.

And although I felt like I was moving all over the place (but probably wasn't), Lim gave me a couple nice, collected leg yields at the canter. Good girl! I think more than anything, I want lessons so I know I am not bouncing and jerking around like a fool. Reassurance is nice but not worth $50 an hour...right now.

I am finding that the more in-shape Lim becomes, the more my saddle is prone to sliding forward. I added one shim each to the forward pockets on my Mattes correction pad and it helps somewhat, but the saddle still moves forward a bit. Lessons can wait but a saddle fitting session may not.

As I left the barn today, slipping and sliding on the ice in the parking lot, I turned and saw a black horse, loose, confused, skidding around on the ice by the upper barn. In the blue glow of the snow and barn walls, everything glistening with rain and ice, the horse seemed like a dream. And then a woman appeared, spreading her arms, gently herding the horse back into the barn. My heart galloped for two more beats then slowed. Horses and ice don't mix, either.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oh no!

I just realized I forgot to post a video. My husband shot a bunch last Wednesday; I'll have to upload them to YouTube.

If I remember.

Many blogs are good with visual aids. This one--oh, the irony!--is not, and I apologize for it.

(Yes, I am aware that I never posted pictures from my trip to Kentucky in July. I feel like it is pointless now. But if you disagree, feel free to leave a comment after this post.)

It has started

Up until now, Lim has been pretty good with the weather changes.

Sure, there was Saturday, but that was a fluke.

(Despite the stinging wind and temperatures--without the wind chill, mind you--in the low 30's, I decided to try riding in the outdoor arena on Saturday. Lim was so full of herself that she kept shaking her head from side to side like a frisky Thoroughbred in the paddock before a race, and gone was her lovely forward propulsion! In its place was the odd sensation of riding a 4-pegged pogo stick. After 17 minutes of walking and "please PLEASE don't let the pasture horses come galloping up right now!" trotting, I decided to get off before she pitched me into the slop.)

On Sunday we rode in the indoor arena and Lim was back to her old self.

Last night I put Lim on the crossties and took her light sheet off. She gestured at her shoulder and I scratched her shoulders and withers. Her eyes bugged and she poked her upper lip out and stretched her neck and bobbed her head up and down.

Ohh that feels good!!!

When I was done she remained bug-eyed. She had spotted her sheet, which I had put in the corner on the aisle floor.

What's that?! she snorted.

I moved the sheet with my foot, hoping its muddy nylon rustled enough to sound familiar to Lim. One of the belly bands fell off the top of the sheet and lay splayed out towards Lim. It was a tentacle reaching for her!

"It's just your sheet, silly!"

No...no! It looks different! she snorted. She eyed the "tentacle" suspiciously. Snort!

"Here, see?" I picked the sheet up and held it to her. She sniffed. Her nostrils stopped blowing but she remained bug-eyed and on alert.

It's a monster!

My ride tonight might be fun.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Full seat breeches work!

Last week I ordered a couple pairs of new riding breeches.

My old ones (one green and one black) were nearly as old as Limerick, and stretched out seven ways to Sunday. The seat of the black ones was tissue-thin and I had to wear black underwear every time I wore them. Each time I mounted up, I wondered if today was the day the seam split, displaying my undies for the world (okay, one, possibly two, other boarders, and Limerick) to see.

I ordered three pairs of breeches. Two are Harry Hall full seats and one is a pair of basic black TuffRider pull-ons. Since I only buy clothing items when they are on incredible sale, the total price came to $119 for all three. Not bad considering one full-priced pair of Harry Hall breeches can be a little over $100.

Full seat breeches have some sort of clingy material, like suede or...whatever...covering the entire seat and inner legs. Basically any part of you that touches the saddle is covered with this material. This supposedly creates a nice, secure seat.

I had to put them to the test last Wednesday. At the end of the night I crossed my stirrups over Lim's withers and rode stirrup-free. The walk--as always, easy! The trot--smooth as butter! And the canter...

Before I go on, I need to tell you that Limerick has begun an interesting habit since August. If I ask for the canter and she starts on the wrong lead, she will not let me bring her down to a trot to try again. Oh no, she will insist that she can correct it herself, and will do a neat little flying lead change right there on the rail.

When Lim was young and green, I taught her to get her flying lead changes (for the non-horsey people, an explanation: When horses canter or gallop, one foreleg "leads" slightly ahead of the other. A flying lead change is when the horse switches from one leading foreleg to the other without missing a stride. It is an important skill for jumpers and dressage horses. Horses can do flying lead changes galloping out in the pasture, but they usually need to be taught to do these on cue with a rider on their back). After I taught Lim to get her lead changes, she would do them if I asked her to but it was a rare day when she did them on her own.

But Lim did have fun doing the lead changes, so despite the fact we were retired from jumping, I would ask for them now and then just for the heck of it. When arthritis began to creep into her joints, I stopped asking because they were too hard on her.

So now you can see why I am surprised that Lim insists on doing these flying lead changes on her own, on the rail, no less (it is typically difficult for a horse to get them going perfectly straight--a slight curve towards the desired lead helps).

Not only that, but she can be so pleased with herself afterwards that she throws out a little buck or two, or tries to take off with me. Hey, I don't mind--these days, any sign that she feels good brings a big smile to my face!

Back to the present. I am riding in my spanking new full seat breeches, stirrup-less, and about to ask Lim for the canter. She starts off on the wrong lead. I try to pull her back down to a trot but she shakes her head in protest and prepares her hind end for the lead change.

There is no time for words to go through my head. I can only acknowledge the fact that Lim is about to do a flying lead change and that a buck and/or attempt at bolting will follow closely behind. Helpless, I mentally resign myself to the arena dirt!

A lead change, downwards head shake, mini-buck and two big cantering strides forward later, I am still comfortably in the saddle. Whew!

Then I ask for the canter going the other way.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Less than a week of fall

From absurdly gorgeous on Halloween to bone-deep cold this prior Saturday? Welcome to Chicagoland.

Limerick had her feet done on Saturday and by the time the farrier was done, I was so cold that I couldn't feel my toes and my jaw could barely move when I asked him about her feet. I had to go home to warm up, and was not ready to head back to the barn again for two hours (and by then, everyone was gone, it was dark, and I had to ride alone in the indoor arena).

Lim's feet are excellent; my farrier is very happy with them. The left fore isn't perfect--the toe needs to grow out a bit more--but everything else just about is. He applied the Sole Guard on the fores again but said that we will probably leave it off next time due to her soles thickening.

I will probably have a new set of radiographs taken in March or April to see how the foot is progressing. I am hoping that we see nice, thick soles and zero degrees of rotation! I'll also probably have her blood checked for insulin resistance, then once everything is all clear, talk to my vet about letting Limerick graze without a grazing muzzle.

When the gates to the grassy section of the pasture are first opened in the spring, the barn guys let the horses stay out there for a half-hour for a week, then an hour for a week, and so on so forth. Then for the rest of the summer, the horses only go onto the grass after noon.

But! Why am I talking about spring? The chill of winter is upon us, after a total of 5.4 days of lovely fall weather.

As a rider (or perhaps it's the English blood in me--thanks, dad!), I have always been somewhat resistant to the chill of winter. I will complain nonstop about being cold indoors, and on the couch I pile myself with trillions of blankets and cats. But when it's time to go to the barn, I put on my layers and go. Once outside, after an initial shiver, the cold is mostly forgotten. The trick is to keep moving! I only truly freeze when I hold Lim for the farrier or vet.

Sunday was a gray day, gray and windy. The trees were mostly bare and a blanket of golden leaves covered the ground, too wet and low to run away with the wind. The indoor arena was crowded but I decided to ride Lim in the outdoor. No one was out there and the west half of the arena was covered with leaves, which was oddly tempting. I wanted to ride Limerick over those leaves, I had to! I would!

And so, once tacked up, I walked her to the outdoor arena. Head high, mane blowing in the wind, she was a horse enlivened by the chill. I got on her back and her head was so high that her neck seemed half as long as usual; I felt I could touch her poll without leaning forward. A year ago, I would have fretted and worried that she would spook.

But now I know that if I fret, then she will, then I will become nervous, then she will be nervous, then I will be worried, then she will whirl and spook at every blade of grass bending in the wind. Instead, I stroked her short neck.

"That's a good girl," I said. I encouraged her to walk at a quick but comfortable pace and left the reins just slack enough so that she felt no tension in the bit, which is another absolute way to light the fire beneath a Thoroughbred! Yet I did not hold the reins by the buckle, for her neck was so high and to do so would be foolish (there is always that chance she will take off with me, after all).

She looked around and I let her. At times she craned her head around so much that she almost walked into the railing surrounding the outdoor arena, and only then did I make her face forward again. There was plenty of time. Like me, Lim has a wild imagination and if I don't allow her to get a good look at things, she may worry and fret about those things because she cannot see them, cannot understand them and her mind tries to fill in the blanks.

(Yet at the same time, if she is staring at something very dark and impenetrable, like thick shrubbery, I ask her to look away before she begins to hallucinate boogeymen jumping out of said object. Honestly, if we are alone, and sometimes even when we aren't, I will hallucinate such things, too!)

I asked for a trot. Within fifteen minutes, her head was down low and she was giving me an energetic, smooth trot.

The wind lifted my helmet off my head. The wind made my eyes run and sting. The wind blew Limerick's mane straight up. We trotted and cantered over those golden leaves on the west end of the arena many times and each time, I got a childish thrill out of it.

Tomorrow my husband may record me riding. Once a week, I get back to my dressage basics and ask for some collection from Lim. I would like to do more but she does not need the practice; it is old hat to her, and there is no point in demanding more than she'd prefer to give.

If my poor, sick husband is up to keeping our recording date, and I don't look too silly, maybe I will post the video on here.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I had today off from work, and what a gorgeous day to do so! 70 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, the multi-colored leaves still on the trees.

With plans for trail riding ahead, I arrived at the barn early to blow some steam out of Lim in the outdoor arena. She was docile as I groomed her but shortly before I led her over to the outdoor arena, her boyfriend Nick began calling for her from the pasture.

Lim called back and became riled up. We were alone in the arena and she looked about for other horses. If she spotted one, she whinnied at it. It wasn't looking good for the trail ride! She wanted to trot fast and long so I let her. During the canter, she wanted to eat the ground up with her strides and I let her. She slowed and I made her continue cantering. By the time we walked again, she was quiet.

A half hour later a couple of other boarders and I headed for the trails. One horse led, Lim was in the middle, and another horse followed.

Oh, what a beautiful day!

We trotted along tree-lined paths, the brightly-colored leaves a canopy above our heads and yet more leaves a rustling carpet beneath our horses' hooves.

We stopped by the Danada Equestrian Center and visited the Percheron foals. Mirror images of each other, they peered over the top railing of the pasture fence at us. Lim and the other Thoroughbred (a 21-year-old bay gelding) watched with curious, apprehensive eyes and ears. I remembered a time when Lim saw the Thoroughbred/Warmblood cross foals at our eventing barn a decade ago, how bright and curious and almost longing her eyes were. The Percheron foals did not rouse the same feelings!

We went beneath the tunnel--no problems there--and by the grass racetrack. When the lead horse trotted slowly I sat the trot on Lim and collected her. Her strides were so long (as is normal for her) that there was no other way to keep pace, and I was amused to find myself doing dressage moves on the trail.

We cantered a short stretch and she did not grab the bit and run, as I partly expected. I slowed her to a nice, collected canter and she was content and happy with the pace.

We went through a patch of thick woods--woods so thick that bicycles could not enter, and those on foot would be fighting the shrubbery. But the horses glided through and around it as if they had been doing it for thousands of years. The crimson, golden, and orange leaves high above us filtered the sunlight and I could hardly tear my eyes away from it. I let Lim loose on a long rein and she followed the horse before her, head down. The only sounds I could hear was the crunch and rustle of hooves on the forest floor.

We entered a clearing and followed a narrow path through tall grasses. A couple was ahead of us and the woman watched, delighted (horse lover, no doubt!) as we smiled and waved at her and her husband before disappearing through thick bushes.

On our way back, the woman riding the paint horse commented on how pretty Limerick was and what a nice trot she had.

Lim stumbled a bit and jumped, spooked by herself. She eyed a large patch of thick white fuzzy seeds in the grasses along the trail, wary. I laughed each time and that was the end of it.

We were gone for almost two and a half hours. What a wonderful Halloween!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A dream

I had a dream last night that I was on a racehorse. We were mid-pack and flying down the homestretch. A gap between two Thoroughbreds was opening up before me. Power surged through my horse and into my arms as she readied herself for her big move. Adrenaline.

The sun, a low early morning sun, was slanted sideways into my eyes. Strong golden light and dark shapes were to my right and the brilliant colors of horseflesh and jockey silks were in sharp detail to my left. My ears thundered with falling hooves and the roar of the crowd.

I balanced upon my horse, my thighs strong and tight, my hands hard around the reins but ready to loosen them as soon as the gap opening up before us was clear. My horse's mane flew in my face, her flat ears bobbed up and down with her head.

The gap cleared. I let my horse go.

Then suddenly, all was quiet. Time slowed. The urge to look to my right overcame me and I did.

And there she was.

She passed me, passed us, moving slowly yet much faster than the rest of us. Her long, long legs stretched out on and on as her strides let her fly over the track, her head and ears high in pure sheer joy, the sun breaking around her like a halo. She was all dappled dark bay hide, all lean muscle and flying tail. Her jockey clung to her back like a turquoise gem, his arms moving with her neck, body and whip tucked away tight. She was so long that she seemed to pass us forever, her stride hanging just-so, her hooves perfectly poised long enough for us all to see her.

And then she was gone and the roar of the crowd and the thunder of the hooves and my horse's strength within my hands and arms returned. My horse was as strong as ever, my horse flew through the gap and ahead of the field, but a part of her faltered at the sight of Zenyatta flying before us, pulling further and further away.

Monday, October 20, 2008

In addition...

...how can I not post a photograph or two of Tiger?

Empathy

It has been so long since I've posted here. I won't get into why.

empathy.

1.the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
2.the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself: By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.

The other day, I wondered if I was too nice. The question is not unfamiliar to me; I will stumble across it from time to time.

Don't get me wrong. I am not afraid to fight for my loved ones, or for my life--this fact have been proven to me. I am stubborn and strong-willed, and like a tired old plow horse, I know that no matter what I encounter, I will trudge on. When I lived in Chicago, I was one of those fools that would go running through Humboldt Park after dark. The worse the weather, the more alone I was and the better the run. I have a sweet memory of my feet treading fresh lonely tracks through fallen snow and the steam of my hard breaths shooting out of my mouth as if I were a locomotive. And indeed, I felt as strong as one. I know I can be as strong as one.

But...

I am empathetic, maybe to a fault. I love to listen to the problems of others, and will rack my brain for any possible solutions to these problems. One part of me expects the same kindness from others while another, larger, part of me expects disappointment. I do not trust. I do not want to burden. I am always ready to help, but you won't see me asking for it in return. Despite my armor, I will decide to trust again at random moments, naively expecting to see the same sort of empathy and kindness that I believe in. It rarely ever happens.

Society is ever-cynical. I just can't follow along.

I realized the other day that those who work with the deaf are typically more empathetic than the general population. I had interpreters for high school and college classes. My college has a strong American Sign Language degree program and a small but fierce group of deaf culture supporters. The majority of these supporters are not deaf. Since I was close in age to my interpreters, I became friends with a few of them. I found them to be passionate about, and for, the rights and equality of deaf people.

I was a Fiction Writing major. My classes each had about a dozen or so students and, per the so-called story workshop method, we would sit in a semi-circle around the teacher. I was almost always on one end, near the interpreter (who sat next to the teacher). Each student was supposed to make a copy of his or her work, or give his or her work to the teacher so copies could be made.

Like English to Chinese, exact translation from English to American Sign Language is impossible. In order to properly follow the language and voice of a story, I needed my own copy to read from while the author was reading aloud. Other than unintentionally reading pages and pages ahead of the author and being stricken with panic when the teacher asked me about a certain part of the story, a section that had unfortunately faded from memory immediately after being read ten moments prior (“Heidi! What do you think was clear about Bobby meeting Sue?” When Bobby met Sue? Shit, that was…5 pages ago! Think Heidi, think…THINK!”Um, the uh, emotion of the moment was, um, clear?”), the method worked well.

But even artsy-fartsy liberal arts professors are resistant to changing old ways. A few teachers forgot, or even balked at, the idea of making photocopies for me to read. They could not wrap their strictly right brains around the fact that, as anyone who has visited Engrish.com knows, one language being translated to another can results in goofs or miscommunication, especially when done on the fly by hardworking, tired interpreters.

I was upset. The interpreters were even more upset. It was not their place to let the teacher know but at times, they did. I never faulted them for doing so.

These same people were often animal lovers. Despite living in big Chicago, they took pleasure in the simple, beautiful things in life. They were friendly and sympathetic—not just towards the deaf, but people in general. They all had many friends. They were empathetic.

Is it because, more so than other people, they knew that the deaf—considered by many to be a voiceless bunch—actually had a lot to say? Were they empathetic to start with? I think so. I have found that my closest friends are more empathetic and more open to new ideas and experiences than others. I do not have close friends that are cold and uncaring simply because I find them intolerable—it’s because these people don’t think I am worth getting to know.

At one time, the deaf were considered quite stupid—no smarter than a bag of rocks. No hearing devices and no sign language meant a totally silent, mute world. No effort was made to communicate with or educate the deaf. As a result we have the lovely phrase of “deaf and dumb”. As a child, I often had doors—both literal and figurative—slammed in my face because I was inferior to the other children, or so they believed. I was quickly taught that I was not fit for normal society.

And what did I do?

When I was born, my parents had three cats. One of them, an orange tabby named Tiger, was my best friend. Even before I lost my hearing, I was rarely apart from him. My first word was his name, and my one of my first memories is of following him around at a crawl. Before I ever knew what the words (or very many words, for that matter) meant, I recognized the old, wise soul within Tiger.

Shut away from human playmates, Tiger turned out to be the only friend I needed. He was patient and kind. He would follow me, and I followed him. I would talk to him and deep inside, I felt he knew what I was saying. When I cried, I would lay my head on his soft, dusky orange belly and sob into his fur. He would lay there, patient as ever, and quietly wait. Tiger was a vicious slayer of rabbits and would kill adults and babies alike. Tiger would chase any dog that entered our property. He would fight with neighboring cats (with the exception of a black and white tuxedo named Mittens). Yet he was so kind to me that he allowed me to put my pet mice on his back with nary a twitched whisker.

I didn’t just love him. I was in awe of him. He was my soul mate. He was a teacher—an educator of the ways of animals, of the workings of nature. He was voiceless yet he had so much to say. From him, I learned kindness and patience towards animals. I learned that a quiet movement spoke volumes to an attuned observer. When Tiger died a few days before his 17th birthday, a part of me died with him.

I still think about him. I still cry for him. He was such a large, special part of my juvenile life and frankly, I don’t know what I would have done without him.

It’s important to realize that just because animals do not speak the language of humans (nor should they have to), that they do not have anything to say. Take time to listen. Observe. Be empathetic.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Two ponds

It's always on the perimeter of my consciousness. I can look at it directly if I want but usually, I choose not to.

The sensation that in some ways, life is passing me by. Missed plans, unavailable opportunities, DVDs returned unwatched.

We went fishing yesterday. A couple dozen feet from the pond we fished was another, indentical pond. The same type of fish and water weeds populated both ponds. The long skinny branches of weeping willows hung low over the still waters of each pond.

"I wonder if the fish in this pond realize that there is a world exactly like their own only thirty feet away?" I asked my husband.

"There's a little channel connecting the two down the road," he answered. "But I am sure there are fish that don't know that channel exists."

"What if that's Earth?" I said. "What if there's been another world exactly like ours right underneath our noses all along?"

But thinking some more, I realize there's another analogy here. I feel like a fish that knows about the other pond but can't access the channel that leads to it. I can try and try but I never quite get there. Fish returning from the other pond can offer me their interpretations if they wish, but it's never the same.

I am sometimes told that I'm lucky that I can't hear this or that. Well...not quite. If it's daytime (the hearing aid comes out at night!), then I probably hear the same annoyances that you do. However, when it comes to human voices, they are muddled 99.99% of the time. So perhaps in some cases, ignorance is bliss. But really, I'd rather be on the inside looking out, rather than the outside looking in.

I'd rather be a fish that can swim through the channel to the other pond.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A day at the races (or OTB)

Yesterday hosted a superstar lineup of Thoroughbred champions all across America. Of course we weren't going to miss it!

(Yes, we...my husband is falling further in love with the Sport of Kings every week. But unlike me, he prefers to bet. I, for the most part, just like watching the parade of gorgeous horseflesh!)

There was Mauralakana, the French winner of the Beverly D. on Arlington Million Day, running in the Flower Bowl. Mauralakana's elated owner gave my farrier the jockey-helmet cuff links off his shirt after the dark bay filly flew under the finish line in front.

There was Ginger Punch, the fabulous chestnut mare, running in the Beldame Stakes.

Curlin sought to break the great Cigar's earnings record in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Then last, but not least, the undefeated Zenyatta was running in the Lady's Secret.

The results?

Mauralakana and Ginger Punch ran second in their respective races.

Curlin won the Gold Cup and became the first Thoroughbred to surpass $10 million in earnings. It was a bittersweet moment. On one hand, we saw what may be one of the truly great horses of the new century make history.

But on the other hand, Cigar, the prior record-holder, was the first great horse I watched in the 90's. Many of you, whether you are horse people or not, probably remember the big bay horse with the thick gray-tipped tail, Jerry Bailey clad in red, white, and blue silks atop his back. Few moments in racing can surpass Cigar's explosive surge of power around the turn for home in the 1995 Breeder's Cup Classic. I remember the flesh on my arms prickling, I remember my eyes stinging with tears of amazement and joy.

The great Cigar
(Kentucky Horse Park, '08)


But Curlin is an amazing horse, and if any horse were to surpass Cigar's record, he would be the right one.

And Zenyatta?

I have a soft spot in my heart for the fillies. My favorite racehorse of all time is Ruffian, and if you asked, I would admit that I think she is the greatest, period. Secretariat may have given us the 1973 Belmont Stakes but he was not without his flaws. In 1999, Man o' War was crowned the Horse of the Century by the Blood-Horse and he had many high points in his favor.

But show me another horse that has never allowed him or herself to be headed, and was in front at every pole, every call, of every race. Show me another horse that broke or equaled stakes or track records in every race but one. Show me another horse that was only shown the whip in two races--and one because the jockey just "wanted to see what she would do." (And what did she do? She won the race by 13 lengths). Show me another horse that ran times so fast, so blistering, that later, handicappers studying her times would realize that not only did she run some of the fastest times of the day, or the month, or the year, but of the past century, all with the floating ease of an earthly recinarnation of Pegasus.

Heywood Hale Brown said it best...

"With each of her tremendous gulps of ground, Ruffian seems determined to out-stride each stride just taken. And the idea of fatigue seems as alien to her as to those mythical beings who gathered strength each time they touched the Earth. So in every race, her margin suddenly and magically grows, as those behind her disappear into an awe-stricken wake, while alone and as yet unchallenged, she makes midair seem her proper home."

I have always considered Personal Ensign to be the second-greatest filly. Undefeated in 13 starts, she capped off her brilliant career with a narrow win by a nose in the 1988 Breeder's Cup Distaff. (Personal Ensign also shares a grandsire with Limerick--Damascus--which I guess makes them distant cousins of some sort! Not very relevant in the world of horses, I know, but still an interesting little fact.)

But...

Zenyatta is quickly becoming one of the all-time top fillies, and in my heart she just may surpass Personal Ensign. Her style is to lag behind then slingshot far around the turn for home, sweep past the field and cruise to the wire as if the race was nothing more than a morning gallop, ears up, tail loose, rival horses running their hearts out in her wake. I won't say any more, lest I jinx her undefeated run (8 for 8), but I'll let you decide for yourself.

And yes, she is big and dark and breathtaking, just like Ruffian was.



Zenyatta vs. Ginger Punch
2008 Apple Blossom
Click to Watch





Ruffian

Friday, September 26, 2008

A move?

It has been three weeks and a day since Limerick got kicked. She is still lame at the trot. I’ve decided to have a vet take a look at her. However, due to the issues I’ve been having with my vet’s new secretary (not to mention the enormous bills that always follow in her wake), I may use someone else.

Last night I hand-walked Lim in the indoor arena. She probably doesn’t need it but I felt like spending some time alone with her. As it gets darker earlier, there are less people at the barn in the evening.

At one point, she heard something outside. She stopped and stood still. Head high, ears forward, nostrils flared—it was a classic Limerick pose, one I had been swayed by countless times. But this time, as I admired her, my throat locked up and waves of water overtook my vision.

Sometimes life is too much. Sometimes you have the shit piled on and on and on until you can’t take any more—not just little things, but big things, too. And when your one true salvation from the harshness of life is hurting and you’re helpless to stop it, it’s enough to push you over the edge.

I worry about the day that Limerick needs to be declared pasture-sound only and retired from riding. I don’t feel like she is ready for this but the day may be closer than I believe. I have spent far more weeks out of the saddle than in it this year and I’m not sure if that trend will reverse itself next year.

Meanwhile, board is expensive. I am not happy with how the stable is managed. I am not happy with how my apartment is managed. It is all so expensive. Why are we staying here? My husband wants to find a new job. My job is quite close.

I have been told about a stable in Minooka. It sounds wonderful. I’m guessing that apartments in Minooka are much cheaper, and according to Google Maps, Minooka is a 38-minute drive away from where I work. Granted, it’s probably more like an hour with the traffic but I can do it—I’ve done it before.

Oh but what of my poor old car, my Sonja? At least I’d be able to afford a new car if the commute accelerates (no pun intended) her aging.

Another option is to rent horse property. But we’ll see, we have a few months yet before our current lease expires.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

$2,800 more and....

I could just get a new '97 VW Jetta GLS!

Just plunked down another $513 on the car today for a tune-up. Last week's rains ruined the spark plug wiring. Combine that with the $420 for a new starter a couple weeks ago and I could buy this:




Oh wait, I already own that....

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The birthday money

Three blog posts in a day! Must be a record. I forgot to note what I spent my birthday money on.

As you may recall, I was going to spend it on a McClellan saddle but unfortunately, it did not fit Lim Bean.

So the cash sat in my wallet for a while. As of Monday morning, it was totally spent. Here's the breakdown:

$100

  1. Panera Bread with a friend - $20

  2. Cab fare to work, day after Labor Day (AKA the Day We Abandoned Sonja at Merlins) - $18

  3. Best Buy, two CDs (Slayer and Ministry*) - $35 (and my husband bought me a Rob Zombie CD to replace my White Zombie Astro-Creep 2000 CD stolen out of his old Saturn may moons ago)

  4. Dave & Busters - $10

  5. Cab fare to work, Monday morning - $17 (plus $1 in quarters!)


*Music, a great topic for another time. But no, I don't listen to metal because it's loud! I love it, as well as punk, but not because it's loud. We went to a Slayer concert a year ago and when the show started, I thought my eardrum (singular, since my right ear is completely gone) was going to explode!


I do also like classical music.


And the Wu Tang Clan!




The aforementioned ear-splitting (but awesome!!) concert.




Rain, rain, go away...and stay away!

Have I ever told you why I keep a big fat DayRunner full of neat, color-coded notes and list after hand-written list? I am no psychologist but I am convinced that my sorry brain is stricken with two parts OCD and one part ADHD...or maybe the other way around.


I constantly feel as if I'm forgetting something extremely important (and to add to the issue, while I am blessed with a vivid long-term memory, my short-term memory leaves something to be desired) and that forgetting this thing has dire consequences. As a result, I go through periods of the day where I check and re-check my DayRunner, and organize or re-write lists as needed.


It is easy for me to be overcome with anxiety and stress. I don't like sitting for long, except at the every end of the day. Otherwise I begin to worry that I'm forgetting something, or I think this or that task could be done. Why waste time on my ass? I wonder, and then I am up again. Running and my trips to the barn give me welcome relief. I am moving and I am busy, yet my brain is quiet.


Perhaps that is one reason I like being tattooed. When you are tattooed, you become purely physical. I can and do read during tattoo sessions but the words flow into one eye and out the other without truly registering. I do not worry, I do not stress. My brain is stone quiet. I am sitting perfectly still yet my body is alive with sensation!


If anything within my life is out of order, my head becomes a whirlpool of turmoil. Unfortunately, this has been tested many times over the past year. I have learned that while I feel like my brain is going to break in half at times, I have yet to snap, despite how far I've been bent on a couple occasions. I guess the mind is much more flexible than it can seem.


Now that we've established that I am crazy, let me tell you about my weekend.


Saturday.

We had planned to go into Chicago but the nonstop torrential rains put an end to that idea. Water seeped into my den again but I choose to ignore it--there is no furniture over the area (everything is still stacked into one half of the office; I had to write a note to myself and put it in my DayRunner--"It is OUT OF YOUR HANDS!") so what can you do? It is not my responsibility anymore; it is up to the apartment management to take the reins on this issue. So, what to do? Stay inside with the wet den?


"But a little rain will not stop me from visiting Limerick!" I thought. If I was still back in Chicago, I probably wouldn't go to the barn. But Lim was only a mile away, what excuse did I have?


Outside, the rain came down so hard that I gave up on staying dry. My windshield wipers beat as fast as they could and my soaked hair and clothes steamed up the inside of the car. Sections of road near the barn were partially flooded and I drove carefully. My car powered down and threatened to stall several times, even before I drove through any larger puddles. Well, maybe it wasn't a good idea to drive after all. But too late, we were almost there!


There was no one else at the barn. No big surprise. I told you that I constantly feel the need to be up and doing something; well, this applies no matter the weather.


Cut through the sodden weekend…

…heavy with errands and overzealous cabin-fever cleaning, and light on fun (although Dave & Busters did show my husband and I that, unfortunately, our future daughter will look like him. While I think my husband is the most handsome guy on Earth, his features are far too masculine for a little girl!)


Sunday evening.

My car won’t start. It tries and tries but the engine just won't turn over. My husband gives me a ride to the barn so I can feed Limerick. I discover that her bags of grain are wet, despite being on a pallet and beneath a tarp. She does not have enough grain in her bin to last her the week. Oh and even if I had a means to get there, doesn't the feed store close at 4:30?


And last but not least, Lim's left fore shoe is loose. The medial side is swinging free but the lateral side is still fairly tight. I put the "No Turnout" sign on her stall and apologize to Lim but I admit a part of me is glad that her feet won't need to be in three feet of swampy muck the next day.


Cut to Monday.

My husband tries my car in the morning and it does not start. I cab it to work. I find out the feed store has a 12-bag minimum for delivery but can make an exception due to the water damage. Score! But wait, there are surcharges? As you know, I pinch pennies when I can and the word surcharges does not ring well with me. Initially the date my farrier can come out is questionable but later he says he can meet me the next day, in the afternoon. I plan on duct-taping Lim's shoe to her hoof when I see her in the evening. She is on stall rest but you never know with these Thoroughbreds.


Cut to Monday evening.

My car starts.

Lim's shoe is so badly skewed that the nails on the medial side are prodding her sole. I have never pulled a shoe in my life but I need to do it, and now. Armed with loaned tools, I put Lim's left foreleg beneath my knees. The "farrier position" is surprisingly comfortable once established but I can see anyone with inferior thighs screaming for mercy a few minutes into this pose (mine begin to whimper five minutes in).

Cut to a half hour later (still Monday evening).

Lim’s shoe is off and her foot is clean and nestled within a tidy styrofoam shoe for protection. I know her left fore isn’t made of fine china, but it’s worth a million times more.

I worry about the feed.

Cut to Tuesday morning.

My car doesn’t start. I cab it to work. My farrier is going to be at the barn in the afternoon and I plan to take a cab to the barn. I laugh for several moments at the idea of this. My brain is close to breaking! At work, I tell the secretary about my lack of car and much to my surprise, she offers to give me a ride to the barn in the afternoon. Really? That would be awesome! Thank you!

Cut to Tuesday afternoon.

Lim has a shiny new set of aluminums. The “barn manager” shows me a place I can put my feed, a new place that will stay dry in the wettest weather. I walk home and love it; it is a gorgeous day. Not a single cloud in the sky!

When my husband arrives home at 4, we try starting the car. It works! We had decided beforehand that if it starts, we will drive it for a long while to ensure the engine dries out. We drive to the feed store and pick up four bags of fresh feed for Limerick.

Cut to this morning.

My car works, Lim’s feet are trimmed and shod, and she has 200-some pounds of dry feed. The sun is out again and will be for the week, and the apartment management is finally fixing those damn gutters. And last, my brain is back to being (semi) content.

Sometimes the simplest things are all that matter.

1996

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Buzz, buzz

No, I didn’t have any more run-ins with wasps!

Last night I clipped the bridle path of Lim’s boyfriend. His owner is letting another woman ride him and last week the woman asked me if I could help her clip his long, bristly bridle path. Given Nick’s attitude and looks, I thought it gave him a cocky post-mohawk Travis Bickle look but agreed.

Since I had no idea how Nick would react to my ancient clippers (leftover relics from our days at hunter/jumper Windemere Farm), I decided slooooow and easy was the way to go. When Nick doesn’t like something, he can overreact badly.

After giving Nick a few moments to become accustomed to the sound and feel of the clippers, I told the woman to feed him carrots as I brought the clippers near his ears. No response. I told the woman to keep feeding him carrots and went ahead and clipped his bridle path. He is tall—16.2 or 16.3—and unlike Lim, did not bring his head down so I could see what the heck I was clipping.

But in the end it looked good. Hooray!

I left the clippers out and decided to do Lim’s bridle path, which was so long that it was past the mohawk stage and into the short-mane stage. I had been planning to let her turn into a 100% wild and rangy thing over the winter but hey, there’s always next year.

My husband arrived to say hello. Wonderful timing! Also a leftover from our hunter/jumper days, one of Lim's surprising traits is that she is a dream to clip. My husband used to give himself buzz cuts. I put the two together and handed him the clippers.

I am always trying to sneak little equine-handling lessons into my husband’s visits to the barn. Usually he sees through my ploy and declines but last night—success!

And mom, you will be so happy—I gave Lim a shave as well. No more 4” whiskers! But I’m still not touching that mane!


For a friend: You’re stronger than you think. Everything will be okay in the end, but for the moments when you think such a thing is not possible, never forget that you have friends to fall back on.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A ride in night

What a cold, ugly, rainy day it is today! Our office/den is almost as dank as a basement today. Why, you ask? Perhaps it has something to do with the clogged gutters on the apartment building's roof! Guess where that water went? Into the outer walls of my apartment and others.

My books, once neatly aligned in bookcases, are now stacked all over one side of the den, leaving the wet half exposed and bare of furniture. I hate disruptions in the orderliness of my life but I think I can deal with this for the time being. Yeah, I'm a neat freak--I can't help it!

I think kisses from Limerick, hot oatmeal with brown sugar, and being curled up on the couch with a blanket, football on TV, hubby to one side, and big fluffy Maine Coon on lap is the solution for the day!

I sure wish Limerick could join us on the couch. I don't think she will like it too much, though. And you know what? The couch would be a little cramped. She's a smallish horse but still, her butt is the equivalent of four of my butts, and that's a lot of butt for a couch to handle.

Maybe on my future horse property, I could set aside one large stall as a "barn living room" complete with couch, rug, bookcase, and television. That way the horses can hang out with us! Or I can make do like a certain Barrington stable and have the living room right up next to the stall of Limerick, complete with window for her to poke her head through and watch football with us. Oh, how I envy those people right now!

Anyway, Lim got kicked in the fanny on Thursday so she has a hematoma on her butt--again. It doesn't look too bad but she is obviously lame at the trot so I'm giving her some time off while it heals.

But on Wednesday we had a sweet ride--in the dark! It was an overcast day to start with so by the time I had Lim saddled up and ready to go, it was quite gloomy. But there were three other horses and riders in the outdoor arena so I decided to join them. So we rode among the dust and dusk. Past Limerick's bay head, everything was muted and gray. I haven't been riding much with other people lately so it was different and fun.

After a while, the other three riders dismounted and left. I knew it was getting darker but I didn't think it was that dark yet. Sure, the white rail around the arena and the gray horses in the pasture next to us were ghostly in the deepening gray and blue. And every time someone drove by, the headlights were bright and oh-so-piercing! But otherwise I could see fine and I knew Lim could see even better than me. So we trotted on!

We cantered and she seemed so thrilled and enlivened with spirit; so much more so than our daytime rides. I knew how she felt--I run best in the dark, too. There's something about night that fills you with primal energy and connects you to your roots, when night meant hurrying, fleeing, running home before the sharp-eyed nocturnal predators found you.

So here we were, two diurnal prey animals (OK, one omnivore), cantering faster and faster in the deepening darkness, the sandy arena glowing before us, the trees and shrubs pitch black along the edge, Lim's head and ears flicking to and fro, always attentive, my hands tight on short reins, my back flat, my body in a deep two-point, well aware that Lim could run at any instant but loving every second of it.

We walked and cooled off. Back at the barn, I turned around and looked at the arena. I could hardly see it--it was truly dark. We had ridden in the dark! I had been aware of it, yet somehow doubting it thanks to my night vision and here I was, looking at a pitch-black sky. There was no doubting it now.

Something horrible happened to me yesterday. Some of you know that one of my greatest fears on Earth is of wasps. There's even a technical term for it--spheksophobia. Yup, I have spheksophobia.

Yesterday I set out for a long run. I ran over to the Danada trails and decided to head over to the grass racetrack on the other side of Naperville Road. Once there, I ran around the track (I admit it, I broke into a "gallop" after checking to see no one was around. Wheee, was that fun! Why don't us humans "gallop" more often? It's much easier on the joints than running, after all, and a rather quick way to travel. Food for thought right there!). When I had made one circuit, I decided to check out the metal starting gate at the head of the track. For once I was not on a horse or bicycle and free to move around the gate.

So I opened the gate and walked through the stalls, just checking things out here and there. I walked to the front of the gate and closed one of the gate flaps. As I did, I happened to look at my right hand. Beneath my hand, beneath the gate latch my hand was on, was an enormous paper wasp nest. And not only that, but it's horrible inhabitants were beginning to emerge from the loathsome paper tunnels.

I swear they were looking at me!

I didn't even think. I took off running as fast as I could. I ran and ran and ran, 110% convinced that the wasps were hot on my heels. I remembered how angry wasps were at the end of the summer, how angry they were at dusk. D'oh, early September, dusk! They were out for death! My legs burned. I ran on. I began to look behind my shoulders. I didn't see them. Where were they?! I ran some more. Looked again. Slowed just a bit. My heart galloped wildly within my chest and my thighs screamed in pain.

Then I realized I was running in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go. I would have to run by them again! Nooooooo!

I slowed to a walk. I hoped and hoped that someone would bike or walk by. Crazily, I hoped I could talk such a poor sap into accompanying me past the gate, not unlike a pony guiding a frightened, wild-eyed racehorse. The sun had almost completely gone over the horizon. My vision was a sea of orange and gold. Tall stalks of goldenrod and ragweed and prairie grasses--taller than me--lined the sides of the limestone trail I was on. I was doomed!

Long story short, I finally worked up the courage to run by the starting gate again. Yes, I ran as fast as I could, for as long as I could. I have to admit it was an excellent workout.

My speksophobia convinced me that there were wasps in my clothes for hours afterwards, and my right hand--the hand that had been over the nest--tingled like something awful.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day yay

My car is a manual '97 Volkswagen Jetta GLS named Sonja. Really, Sonja II. It is my second car ever (the first was a '95 Jetta GL also named Sonja). I tell people I don't have a new car because Limerick swallows all my extra money. True, but not the entire reason I drive an old car. I am also sentimentally attached to Sonja in a bad way, but that's not something you share with strangers.

Oops, I guess I just did!

Well, Sonja died today. At least it happened at the barn, and not in the parking lot of Jewel or in the morning before work.

My husband and a friend's husband looked at the car and tinkered with it for a while. My friend told me about a '72 Volkswagen Beetle her family had when she was younger; it would only start if they rolled it down a hill first.

Her husband said yeah, but that car was old. This (referring to Sonja) is a newer one.

After an hour or so, with no other options left, we decided to try a rolling start. The guys pushed the car using high-tech gear to protect their hands from the hot metal of my car's trunk--a saddle pad for my husband and leather gardening gloves for my friend's husband. It worked!

Once a Volkswagen, always a Volkswagen, I guess?

We had to abandon the car at a Merlin's. We left the key and a note explaining the presence of the Volkswagen on their doorstep. No one is open today except Jiffy Lube and obviously, this goes beyond their expertise. I guess I'll take a cab to work tomorrow.

Automotive troubles aside, the McClellan saddle made a visit to the barn today. Alas, it does not fit--it clears Limerick's huge withers nicely but smushes her massive shoulders. You try fitting a mare who

-is butt-high and therefore built downhill
-has Himalayan withers
-has shoulders that would make the Incredible Hulk weep
-is so narrow that being mistaken for a broomstick is a possibility
-is uber-sensitive to any saddle imperfections

What will I spend that birthday money on then? I don't know! Maybe a cab to work tomorrow.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Runs and rides

There was a time when I could run eight miles at a stretch; each mile faster than the last. I still lived in Chicago then and would run around entire neighborhoods. I would cross the Chicago river three, four, five times. I would run at sunset, through twilight and into the night. I ran along busy sidewalks, through forests of concrete pillars, over bridges, next to industrial yards, and through parks big and small. I ran through pouring rain. I ran over freshly fallen snow, and sometimes ice. I ran in wet heat and lung-numbing cold, my breath shooting from my mouth in a great pillar of steam.

On Wednesday, I went for my first serious run in over a year. Sure, I've been running. But I do not consider multiple times around the apartment complex, or even a trip to the barn and back, a serious run. No, a serious run should take you so far from home that beforehand, a part of you wonders what will happen if you have a horrible cramp in the middle of the run and are miles from home.

Such a run cuts you free of the protective bubble around what is familiar to you.

And so on Wednesday as the sun began its descent into the earth, I ran far from home. I ran west on Warrenville Road, north on Naperville Road, into the Danada forest preserve and equestrian center, emerged onto Leask, and continued south on Leask towards home. Altogether it was about 4.5 miles.

For a long time I have known that Limerick, and horses in general, are my muses. But sometime during that run, I remembered that running is also a muse. Not just any run, of course, but a serious run. When you're a couple miles from home and the sun is setting, you have no choice but to count on your legs and feet to carry you home, and quick. A cramp or a splint can leave you walking with a limp through the forest preserve, the sun gone, fear questioning your head. You begin to value yourself even more, and the further you run the more in awe you are of your own power. Drunk on endorphins and human speed, the creative mind begins to speculate.

I cannot use an iPod or whatever it is that people exercise with these days. Sometimes I listen to my footsteps, if I can hear them at the moment (I hear nothing over grass, but hear a lot on limestone or gravel). Sometimes my breathing becomes labored as I'm going up a hill or have been sprinting for some time. I'll listen to that. Sometimes I'm out when it's dark and the insects are so loud. I will listen to that. I will listen for cars as best as I can if I'm running near a road. I will strain to hear bicyclists if I'm on the trails. I never hear them though, and am always surprised when they go by me.

I love the runs to the barn. Leask Lane is such a hilly pain in the ass to run up and down, but the challenge is good. Unfortunately it's been getting dark earlier and earlier. There is a section of Leask close to the barn that has no sidewalks. I need to run on the lumpy grass and through ditches in that area. No problem when I can see, but in the dark of twilight I need to strain my eyes.

Limerick has been doing well; like myself, I am slowly bringing her back to shape. She's a little further than me from the ideal shape but she will no doubt be there by next spring.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nostalgia for subway grime

Cut to 2001--I am newly 21. Once confined to my apartment late at night, I see the sidewalk dirt, the old gum, the glimpses of night above, with new eyes and spirit. I float above the ground. Face after face passes by--no daytime wardrobes here. I am one of many; anonymous.

Always a lover of night and always a lover of the city, now I delight as both come together into one thrilling aura.

Free of shopping bags, free of wool suits and pencil skirts, the subway moves with quickening purpose. It dives into the tunnels like a mechanical worm; like everything else, it has come to life, it breathes, it sees. As it rolls out of the tunnel, thumping on the tracks, its eyes flick back and forth. Hop aboard, it says. Get ready for the ride of your life.

As the city laughs, we are among those wide-eyed and ready as we step aboard the great mechanical worm.

The sidewalks breathe, the buildings sigh. The very pores of the concrete whisper. The air is thick with excitement and potential. We are creatures of the night. To look up is to see only inky blackness among the building tops. No stars are visible; they have come down to Earth, we are them.

Like wild animals, we roam the night, roam the gritty sidewalks, ride the great mechanical worm.

I never got to say goodbye; I left when you were asleep--bathed in the glow of sunlight, coffee, tired faces. Some day, I'll say goodbye.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I know, I know...

I've been neglecting the blog lately. Sorry! I've been very busy lately.

Limerick is as good as ever. I ride her 3-4 times a week. We're still taking it pretty easy.

I have vet bills totaling $1,900 to pay! Unfortunately, I'm having some issues. We were originally told by the vet's secretary that they take Care Credit. Guess what? Turns out the secretary made an oops and they don't. By the time I found out, I had already laid out financial plans to pay off the vet bills through Care Credit.

Now I need to use my regular credit card, which already has debt-o-plenty from my months of unemployment. Since the 0% APR expires in October, I want to apply for a new credit card with a 0% APR and roll over the balance, then use the new card to pay for the vet bills.

Well, I applied for a new card and the credit limit I was given is way too low, despite a good credit score and blah blah. Maybe they know I didn't work for oh, more than half a year? When the new card comes, I'll ask my husband to ask for a higher limit when he calls to activate the card.

When you're deaf, calling to activate a credit card is a real treat. I need to say "Yes" approximately two times, then my social security number, and sometimes my mother's maiden name (or some other pre-determined "special word"). I never get over how odd it feels speaking into the phone, never knowing whether the person on the other end understands me or not. And of course, I can't understand them!

My birthday was on the 22nd. Since I'm now at the elderly age of 28, my birthday treat to myself was to run out and purchase anti-wrinkle cream the weekend before. It now replaces the anti-acne cream I was previously using. You'd expect a transition period with some mild Dove cream or something there, wouldn't you? Oh well!

I just may buy a McClellan saddle with birthday money, too...but we'll see if it fits Limerick first!

"Use that money to pay off your vet bills!" some of you may scold. Yeah, a hundred will put a significant dent into that! No, no, I'm not using gift money to pay off debt. I never buy anything fun anymore, I'm so broke it's not funny. Even if I do manage to squeeze extra money out of my monthly budget, it usually goes into the animals or something the apartment desperately needs (good example--next weekend a rickety try-to-assemble-it-yourself-and-end-up-with-a-crapola-piece-of-furniture-and-a-pounding-migraine bookcase shall be purchased from Ikea because I am tired of seeing books double and even triple stacked atop each other on my old bookcases).

Speaking of which, for a birthday treat my husband took me to Sephora, the greatest makeup store on Earth. Makeup is a secret love of mine, and I have a traincase full of makeup that would make your average woman swoon. But I have not purchased any, other than a replacement tube of mascara, since February. Oh Sephora! Once visited twice yearly, I have all but abandoned you and your $25 bronzers and $17 sticks of eyeliner. So many thanks to my lovely husband for all but insisting I get something for myself just this once.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The latest rides

It’s been a great past few days for Limerick and thoughts of showing her next summer have definitely been renewed!

I have ridden Lim four more times since I wrote “The saddle is no longer dusty”.

On the second ride, she gave me another nice rolling trot.

For the third ride, we were in the outdoor arena with three other horses—Lim’s boyfriend, a Saddlebred, and a 16.3 Thoroughbred gelding. The Saddlebred was as high as a kite, as usual, and full of spooks. Lim’s boyfriend had a couple moments of his own. Lim herself was full of energy but didn’t spook once, which surprised me a little. Normally, if she has this much “go” and another horse in the arena spooks, she will spook as well (herd instinct and all). But no! She didn’t even glance their way.

However, she didn’t like the Saddlebred. Lim is peculiar about other horses. Over the years, I’ve found that she does not like the following:

Paints
Appaloosas
Palominos
Small ponies
Medium ponies
Average-size ponies with enormous, out-of-control Thelwell-like manes and tails
Appaloosas
Dapple grays
Fleabitten grays
White-grays
(But apparently young solid grays are OK)
Appaloosas
Ehh, some chestnuts are OK, some are not
But god forbid if a liver chestnut goes near her!
Miniature horses
Saddlebreds
Tennessee Walkers
Probably any other gaited horse that Lim has yet to meet
Gigantic chestnut sabino warmbloods
Blue eyes
Just a hint of Appaloosa
The slightest indication a horse is *gasp* a Paint!
Any and all mares, no exceptions! Whatsoever!
(With the exception of a certain young solid gray, circa 1999)

In other words, anything besides a bay, very plain chestnut (Thoroughbred preferred, Quarter Horse accepted) dark bay, or black gelding is greeted with suspicion. Lim would probably like stallions of similar appearance but I haven’t had the opportunity to get her close to a stallion, nor do I desire such an opportunity.

Back to the Saddlebred. At one point, I was trotting Lim (nice rolling trot again) and the Saddlebred was cantering around the arena in the high-kneed, fetlock-snapping norm for the breed. The Saddlebred passed us around the curve at one end of the arena (about fifteen or so feet away from Lim). Lim pinned her ears for a brief second. Still cantering, the Saddlebred moved over until he was in front of us, along the rail, and pulled away.

Suddenly Lim went into an extended trot! I drew up on the reins.

“Whoa girl,” I said, but I was very pleased with her trot. It was very unlike her to move into such an extended trot on her own. She’s done what I call her “Standardbred trot” but not an extended trot. She was feeling great! She was going as fast as the still-cantering Saddlebred, then closing the gap between us. When she was about fifteen feet away from the Saddlebred’s haunches, I began to pull her away from the rail, lest she run the poor horse over (or spook him, which is probably the more likely scenario).

Lim pinned her ears, put her head down, gave it a shake, and with a goofy sideways mini-buck, moved into a quick canter.

This is how a real horse moves!

“Stop! You goofy thing!” I said, pulling her down to a walk. What she had done was horrible! What a bad girl! So rude! But I laughed. And later, laughed about it some more.

For the fourth and fifth rides, since Lim was moving so well at the trot, I decided to ask for a canter.

I’m not supposed to, per my vet, but I know my vet is an extremely cautious woman. By now I have figured out that the Limerick on the lunge line is very different from the Limerick under saddle. On the lunge line, Lim is very lazy. Once in a blue moon, she will throw in a little spook or act silly. But of course, never when the vet is watching. Lim is so trusting of me that past my voice commands, she will not do much more on the lunge line, no matter how intimidating I try to look with the lunge whip. She knows that I’ll never touch her cruelly with it (that said, when I substitute it for the so-called “carrot stick”—an absurdly-priced orange stick that looks like a short version of a lunge whip and is marketed as a “tool” for natural horsemanship sessions—Lim will lick her lips, back up accordingly, and pay it all the respect that another horse would pay a “carrot stick”).

Anyway, back to the canter. It was as if she had been waiting for it all along. All I had to do was start thinking about a canter and she became excited. I let the reins loose just a bit and she jumped forward into a lovely canter. Because it was our first time cantering since May and I wanted to ease any possible stress on her, I sat (stood?) in the two-point position (butt just out of the saddle, back straight but tilted a bit forward, eyes ahead, leg secure, yada yada—oh, for you non-horsey types, just turn on the Olympics and watch a re-play of the cross-country jumping segment of the equestrian events. The riders gallop along in a two-point position).

But whoa, did she want to go! I had to shorten my reins so much that I did indeed look like an Olympic cross-country jumper. She kept asking me to let her gallop. But I didn’t let her. Another time, but not now.

The true test was a clockwise canter. For the past couple years, she has been off at the clockwise canter. She will try to hold it but cannot, and will often break into a fast trot instead of the canter when I ask for it.

But this time, once again, all I had to do was let the reins go and she flowed right into it. Not only that, but I had to hold her tighter than I had going counter-clockwise.

Something was different, something was effortless and we both felt it. I could hear Limerick in my head—Wheeeee!

I think she is happy to be ridden again, even if the rides consist of mostly walking, a little trotting, and barely one lap at the canter. I truly think she feels better than she has in a long, long time. She is energetic yet not spooky, happy to be working, and a great pleasure to ride. Over the weekend, my farrier finally proclaimed her hind and right fore feet perfect, and her left fore as almost there. It’s amazing what a difference balanced hooves can do for your horse.

Now you know why I want to show her next summer! With some training, she will be ready!