Saturday, May 31, 2008

Limerick goes to Arlington Park!







Seriously, this mare's name is South Beach Luv and she looks almost exactly like Limerick. The height, body type, and coat color are the same, and the head is almost the same. And that blaze!

I bet on her to show but she won. Hooray for little Thoroughbreds! She was in a claiming race; beforehand, I told my husband to put a claim on her. After the race, I said, "We could be owning her now!"

I bet on three other races and picked the winner in two of them.

I think racing-fit Thoroughbreds are the most beautiful animals in the world. Early in our visit, I was standing by the paddock fence, ice cream cone in hand, waiting for the Thoroughbreds coming off the track to emerge from the tunnel. I was about to bite into my ice cream when the first horse emerged. I felt my jaw drop open. Sweat lathered his brilliant black coat and he snorted and danced sideways in that elegant way that only racing Thoroughbreds do, muscles taunt and powerful. Boy, are those horses gorgeous!

Some more photographs:





Friday, May 30, 2008

Happy Friday

First of all, I'm 95% sure at this point that my toe is broken. Not a big deal; at least it's the pinkie toe, not the big one! I just need to be careful not to bump it on anything, or turn on my toes, or...you get the idea.

I had an interview with a temp agency today. I wasn't sure if I should go because next week I'm going back for a second interview with the place I mentioned a couple posts ago. I have a good feeling about that second interview.

But I felt it would be bad luck to not go to the temp agency. When I got my last job, I had gone to a temp agency a couple weeks beforehand. Maybe it's a sign.

I had to wear nice shoes. To preserve my toe, I put the shoes on immediately before leaving my apartment. Three minutes into my drive, I began to feel woozy and nauseous from the pain. Fortunately, it passed before I arrived at the temp agency.

When I got to the barn today, I immediately noticed Limerick looked a little heavier. I'm so in tune to her body that I notice if she gains five pounds. Sure enough, according to my weight tape, her weight was almost back to normal. Hooray! I'm not sure what is doing it, maybe it's the trillion pounds of soaked beet pulp I've been giving her daily this week. Who knows? She still had a ton of hay cubes left in her rubber feeder. I checked the amount of hay cubes the other horses had--it ranged from very few to none. Oh, well.

The barn owner sent me an email last night saying she is having a first cutting of hay delivered to the barn on June 3rd so it is a relief the horses won't need to go weeks without hay.

I know I really shouldn't with my toe, but I rode Limerick today...and in my old field boots, no less. I had to walk gingerly in those boots at first!

But as expected, when I arrived at the barn, my toe pain was (almost) magically erased. There's something about the barn that makes my aches and ills disappear. For example, if I arrive with a bad headache, I will simply forget about the headache during the hours I am there, particularly when I'm on Limerick's back. Then as I'm leaving the barn, I will remember that I had a headache. But it will be a shadow of its former self, and easily gone within a couple hours.

When I rode the Andalusian mare the other day (swoon!), her owner gave me a mini-lesson. Today, I applied what she and the mare had taught me. To my surprise, it worked. My feet felt fairly still in the stirrups (good thing, I don't think my toe would have liked banging into the stirrup!), I was able to "lift" Limerick's front end up higher, and I felt very comfortable and secure in the saddle.

Limerick was good for me; I told her, "Okay, I'm going to work on fixing myself today. Don't mind me." With that, she went around the arena on autopilot, allowing me to concentrate on what my body was doing in the saddle.

She did make me laugh a few times.

At the beginning of our rides, I like to ride her on the buckle or a long rein at the walk, then the trot. A few moments into the trot, her "gears" will kick in and she will be ready to work. Today, she jumped straight into fifth gear and stayed there. She trotted around the arena like a racing Standardbred while I laughed. My laughing seemed to just spur her on.

Then there was a wet spot on the arena track, probably horse pee. Limerick refused to touch it with her dainty little hooves and would dance around the spot every time it came up. She also refuses to step on horse poo. She will give it a sniff then lift her hooves high over it, or go around it. She is too much of a girly-girl to spoil her feet!

Last, but not least, there was stubborn, dumb pigeon on the other side of the arena, also on the arena track. It refused to stay away. Limerick would trot towards the pigeon and it would flap its' lazy wings and jump aside at the last second. After a couple rounds of this, Lim began pinning her ears at the pigeon. As we approached it, I would say "Look out for the pigeon!" and she would pin her ears at it and I would laugh. Finally, the barn cat made an appearance and the pigeon was gone for good.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Good horsey! Crushed toe! No hay!

A friend drove up today. I had invited her to meet and ride Lim. I've been down to her place a couple times to ride one of her horses, a spunky 30+ year old Arabian gelding. She had an off-track Thoroughbred at one time so I knew she could handle Limerick, just in case Lim decided to throw a surprise her way!

I would never just let anyone to get on my girl. Compared to her younger years, she is a mellow, pleasant ride these days in the arena. But she is still a Thoroughbred, and still Limerick.

There have been a couple occasions within the past few months where I had to decide that, for the day, Limerick was unsafe to ride. On those occasions, I dismount, take her saddle and bridle off, and turn her loose in the arena.

"Fly, you wild mare!"

And she'll dig into the arena floor and explode forward, sand, mane, and hooves flying.

She was a good girl today, though, as expected. I rode her first to assess her mood for the day--perfect. My friend got on next. I love watching people ride Limerick. Being on her day in and day out, it's nice to stand to the side and get another perspective of her movement.

She is such a cute horse to watch. The whites of her right eye are always visible (the left is a normal, solid brown), and that eye will look forward in concentration, sometimes jumping to objects of interest here and there. Her walk still looks amazing, and at the trot, she lifts her forelegs up and forward in a nice rhythm.

Afterwards, we hand-walked her on the trail. We took her saddle and bridle off and put her halter on. As we left the barn, I wondered if I should have put the stud chain over her nose. Turns out I did need it--but not for reasons I expected.

Apparently it is hard to talk and walk a horse that is adamant on grazing. As I chatted with my friend, I had to try to assess by feel what Limerick was doing. I kept my right elbow out just a tad so Lim wouldn't bump into me and smoosh my feet. Alas, it didn't always work.

I was (and well, still am) wearing Adidas sneakers. At one point, she stepped on the pinkie toe of my right foot. Instantly, I jerked it out from beneath her foot.

Don't do that.

I felt the ligaments of that little toe streeeeeetch and pop. The taste of metallic pain flooded my mouth.

"Ha ha, she stepped on my foot," I said, trying to stay upbeat. My knees grew weak with pain and endorphins. I tried walking. My toe's presence within my sneaker was like a miniature sun, a hot red spot on my anatomy that screamed PAIN HERE! I thought Limerick surely had broken it.

But a few moments later, the pain had died down to a dull, heavy throb so I figured it was just strained a little.

For the rest of the trail walk, however, Lim kept trying to drag me off the path so she could get a mouthful of grass. Every time she did this, my toe howled in pain and I found myself wishing for that stud chain. A stud chain wouldn't have let her drag me around like that!

I found out yesterday that the barn is out of hay. Apparently, the two truckloads of hay delivered a couple weeks ago were moldy. On one hand, I'm very glad the barn didn't try to feed the horses that hay. But on the other hand...now what? The next delivery can't be made for another 2-3 weeks because my barn owner's usual guy says he can't cut right now; the hay is too wet. That will just lead to more moldy hay.

In the meantime, the horses are getting hay cubes--little compressed squares of grass hay. As a substitution, it's okay, but the horses really should have something to forage on. Unfortunately, Limerick doesn't like the hay cubes very much.

When I arrived at the barn yesterday morning, I noticed she looked a little leaner. I checked her weight with my weight tape and sure enough, she was down 15-20lbs. That set alarm bells off in my head. Lim is a hard keeper and if she is lame, sore, or ill, she will drop weight in the blink of an eye. She will also drop weight if her feeding routine is disrupted but I had no reason to suspect that at the time. I ran my hands up and down her legs, felt every square inch of her feet, and checked the digital pulse on both front legs.

For the non-horsey folks--the digital pulse runs along the side of the horse's pastern (about 2.5" above the top of the hoof wall). It feels like a malleable pencil. Normally, you wouldn't be able to detect the pulse, or if you do, it will feel weak and slow. A hard, fast digital pulse, especially accompanied by a hot hoof, is a huge red flag for laminitis.

Nothing.

I looked over the rest of her body and paid close attention to her attitude while I did so. I checked the capillary refill time on her gums and pinched the skin on her shoulder to check for dehydration. She was just fine, 100% normal. Hmmm. I decided to ride her anyway and see how she went. Once again, just fine. She even whinnied for her boyfriend a few times, and eyed the open arena door suspiciously.

I considered taking her temperature but decided that I didn't need to; instead, I would just keep a close (or should I say, closer) eye on her.

I went back to the barn later that afternoon to drop off a new bag of beet pulp shreds. I saw a small group of my fellow boarders clustered around a stall.

"What's up?" I asked.

They parted, allowing me to see five or so bales of hay in the stall.

"That's pretty much the last of the hay," one of them said.

"Whaaaaat? What are they getting then?"

"Hay cubes," she shrugged.

Later, it hit me--if Limerick had hay cubes for her breakfast, or even no hay at all (which I suspect is more likely, since I checked her grain bucket like I always do and there was nothing in there), that would explain why she had dropped so much weight in a day. She is finicky like that.

With the helpful folks on Illinois Horse, I've been emailing my barn owner the contact information of various hay suppliers. Hopefully she will be able to have hay delivered very soon. In the meantime, I will buy a few bales from a fellow boarder (her horse is pasture-boarded but she keeps some bales of grass hay handy for her horse trailer). I'll keep a couple bales in my Jetta and keep the rest in my apartment.

I think if Lim gets hay cubes in the morning then 4-5 flakes in the afternoon and eats that throughout the night, she will be ok.

On the plus side, I received my order of rice bran oil today. I'll start with a couple ounces a day and gradually move up to 6-7 ounces for weight gain.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What a day!

As you may have guessed by now, the Thoroughbred is my favorite breed.

Andalusians have always been my second favorite. I've seen them in the Parade of Breeds at the Kentucky Horse Park. I saw them in Spain, with thick braided white manes down to their knees. I have hardcover Robert Vavra books with Andalusians galloping across the glossy pages. When I collected Breyers, my favorites were the Andalusians. My computer wallpaper is a picture of an Andalusian, head bowed, mane in a french braid.

I've always thought Andalusians were jaw-droppingly beautiful. With their floaty action, regal heads, and long manes and tails, they are the epitome of romantic equine beauty.

Until today, I'd never met one. Today I rode a beautiful gray Andalusian mare. She was quite a change from Limerick. Honestly, Limerick is the only horse I have ever ridden dressage on. I know exactly which buttons to push to bring her into a collected frame.

The Andalusian mare had a big walk and high-stepping trot and canter. I felt this immense power coming from her hindquarters, just waiting to be captured. Yet at the same time, she wasn't hot or flighty; instead, she was patient and responsive.

The owner of the mare helped me work on my positioning. Legs are okay, toes could be turned inwards a bit. She said I hold my feet at a 45-degree angle and it's true. In fact, earlier that morning while riding Limerick, I felt an unfamiliar twinge of pain around my right knee...perhaps it's from that.

The biggest issue was my upper body--try as I might, I just had an incredibly hard time keeping it perfectly upright, chest open. This has always been one of my biggest issues when riding. Why? I don't know. It could partly be phyiscal. When Limerick was five and I was sixteen, she spooked and I was thrown into the arena wall. I didn't know it at the time but my right shoulder blade was thrown out of alignment. To this day, I can't pull my right shoulder back as far as my left. Even my tattoo artist has noted that my back is not centered. So who knows?

But I have plans to try and overcome this, starting with some physical excercises that I can do. Then perhaps riding Limerick on the lunge line, reins knotted up and put away, will help me some.

After the ride, I was introduced to some other Andalusians. They were all sweet, kind horses; curious yet polite--no toe-stepping going on here, despite us standing in the pasture with them, treats in our midst! And yes, they were all stunning. It was the experience of a lifetime, for sure.

Years ago, a seed was planted in my head. Today, it was watered. Someday, when we have our Kentucky farm, I'll get an Andalusian of my own.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Brrrr

From a taste of July yesterday to memories of March today. It's cold out there!

No riding today; I am very tired. I feel run down; must be the weather. I managed to clean the apartment but once I was done, that was it.

I did go to the barn. Lim's new Smartpaks arrived today so I took the 1.5 mile drive to the stable so I could put the new Smartpaks in the bucket on her stall door and say hello to her.

She is so good for me. Before I walked into that barn, I was tired and cranky. But as soon as I saw her, I broke into a smile. She watched me walk to her stall, head and ears up, nostrils slightly flared in a nicker. Unfortunately, I can't hear her nicker from afar but I can tell when she talks to me by reading her expressions.

I gave her a miniature candy cane. I had a ziplock bag of Christmas horse treats in my tack trunk and that was the last of them. She munched it happily and her breath smelled pleasantly of horse and peppermint.

What is it about these animals that makes us feel so good? Well, I can answer that, but that would be a whole other blog. I'll write it someday, maybe.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Double yikes

I just had my "fortune" hastily typed out on a message board I go to and it sucked--according to it, I'll find a job I'm happy with in September/October. I hope it doesn't take THAT long!

And, I also found out that new insurance policies often refuse to cover a pre-existing condition. Is being a skin cancer risk considered a pre-existing condition? I need to get my entire hide scanned twice a year. I had basal cell removed from my forehead in 2007 and a mole that was pre-cancerous for melanoma removed from my ribs in January of this year. There are a few other spots that my dermatologist was keeping an eye on.

If I don't actually have diagnosed skin cancer at a given moment, and I adopt a new health insurance policy during that moment, will my skin issues be considered a pre-existing condition?

Hot Memorial Day

Whew, it was humid today. We got a lot of rain sometime over the night but that didn't clear out the humidity.

Even my rats are hot--I had to put a desktop fan on top of their cage and aim it downwards. Nola is stretched out beneath it right now.

The mosquitoes and gnats were out in full force at the barn. The gnats kept flying into Limerick's ears....what is up with these things? I didn't see them at our old stable. They like to hang out inside her ears and suck her blood; they don't move unless I scrape them away. I ordered a fly mask with covered ears for her today--the Schneider's Mosquito Mesh mask.

I feel a little bad asking the barn guys to put a fly mask AND a grazing muzzle on her (and I hope her boyfriend recognizes her beneath all her head-dressings) but what can you do?

One thing I won't do is ask them to top-dress her grain with rice bran oil, which I also ordered today from McCauley Bros. Feed & Supplies.

I feel Limerick is already getting enough grain. Due to her history with laminitis, I am understandably reluctant to give her more grain. Beet pulp alone doesn't seem to be adding weight to her frame (but she sure loves it so I'll keep giving it to her) so I'm moving on to the oil.

A few posts back, I gave a short but sweet grass biology lesson. Remember how I mentioned how bad sugar was for Limerick? Most grains also have a fair amount of sugar and starch in them. Certain kinds, like the one Limerick is on, have a very low (tolerable) amount of sugar and starch. But even then, too much isn't a good thing. There, now you understand my dilemma.

Limerick's current diet:

Daily--

5lbs Buckeye Safe N Easy pellets
7-8 flakes 80-70% grass, 20-30% alfalfa mix hay
Nibbles of pasture grass here and there

4x a week--

About 3.5 liters soaked beet pulp
Various treats (carrots, bananas, apples)

Once upon a time, I used to give her about two apples and four carrots in one visit, but I didn't see her as often back then. Carrots, apples, etc, do also have a lot of sugar in them, too, so I limit her overall treat intake to the equivalent of four pieces of apple, four pieces of carrot, etc, per week.

Not a big deal. She considers the beet pulp a treat, too, so that relieves some of the guilt I feel when she looks for treats after a good ride--and she will, she always knows when she's been very good--and I only have beet pulp to offer.

Anyway, I already have the barn guys feed Limerick grain out of her own tub (with a carefully marked scoop, no less), give her a Smartpak every morning, and strap her grazing muzzle on before the horses are turned out onto the grassy section of pasture. Soon they'll have the fly mask to deal with. They are patient, nice guys but I am sure they will think I'm an anal whacko (not that I'm not one, but you know) if I ask them to top-dress her Safe N Easy with rice brain oil, too.

So I'll just do that myself when I feed the beet pulp, or if I get to the barn at around feeding time.

Reason number 345 to move to Kentucky--I can do every damn thing myself and not worry about "barn guys" thinking I'm a paranoid freak.

Happy Memorial Day!!!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Trail Ride Number Five & Misc

The previous blog was supposed to be posted yesterday morning but before I could finish it, the internet connection spazzed out. Fortunately, blogspot automatically saves drafts so what I wrote wasn't lost.

Lim and I went on Trail Ride Number Five yesterday. We went through the tunnel that goes beneath Naperville Road for the first time. When she first saw the gaping black maw of the tunnel, her head went up and she paused. We were with an experienced trail horse and I put her a little to the side and behind him and we went through just fine. At one point, she looked right at the other horse's face. When the tunnel was safely behind us, the woman I was with said a loud vehicle had gone overhead at that point. Lim had been looking to her horse for guidance.

Each time we emerged from the tunnel, Limerick looked to each side of the opening for boogiemen, which made me laugh.

Since Limerick is such a fast walker, she usually pulls ahead (or tries to) of the other horse(s) we are with. Normally I will keep a firm hold on the reins so she can't do this, but yesterday I decided to let her go ahead. She was in the lead the majority of the time (the other horse to our side and a little behind) but she was just fine.

We went around a bare cornfield, through a beautiful grove of trees on the prairie, and back onto the main path. It was gray, chilly day. The wind whipped Limerick's mane into a mohawk and my thighs shivered beneath my thin breeches. What happened to the 75-degrees-and-sunny day we were supposed to have?

On the way back to the barn, there was a wedding off the path at the Danada Equestrian Center. As we walked by, the wedding-goers gaped at the horses. Limerick looked at them and I could only imagine what her big white face, pricked ears, and big eyes looked like to them.

I would love to try more trotting on the trails; we haven't done very much of that. Then the next step would be a canter. I imagine it would be fall by then. What a beautiful image...cantering down the limestone path through the crisp dry smell of autumn, cantering through falling, fluttering, dancing golden leaves, mottled sun hitting us through sparse patches in the forest.

A couple weeks ago, I received a surprise in the mail. My husband had ordered some things for me through A Taste of Kentucky. I got this year's Derby glass and a large poster of Secretariat. The poster is a print of a painting commemorating the 35th anniversary of Secretariat's Kentucky Derby win.

We took it to Michael's to have it matted and framed, and picked it up today. It looks amazing, I can't wait to hang it up on our living room wall. It will nicely compliment the Man o' War print already hanging on our wall.

I can't believe it's been thirty-five years since Secretariat won the Triple Crown. I know I wasn't even born then, but that doesn't matter. I have a VHS tape of his Belmont Stakes win and I like to watch it every now and then.

Secretariat's Triple Crown transcends horse racing. It goes far beyond the realm of sports, through art, and into...what? Something phenomenal, but even phenomenal is too weak a word. For thirty-five years, artists, writers, and poets have tried hard to capture what Secretariat accomplished that year...and while some have come close, all have failed to reach the same dimension of Secretariat's Triple Crown.

The best, the only, way to fully understand is to watch for yourself.

On my copy of the Belmont Stakes, only the actual race has audio. As the camera zooms in on Secretariat flying down the homestretch, his powerful red legs reaching out further and further, never faltering, the sound of the crowd roaring almost overtakes your senses. He crosses the finish line, and then suddenly, there is no audio.

The aftermath of a horse race is rarely exciting.

But right now, as the audio dies, your eyes work alone to take in one of the most beautiful sights in racing history. Maintaining rhythm, Secretariat softly downshifts to a canter. He is all alone on the track, his big red hindquarters moving as fluid as ever, his head down, chin tucked. He shows no sign of weariness from the dominating show of power he has just displayed. He canters on and on, eternally alone. The silence is overwhelming.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sleep

I got too much sleep last night. My husband went to bed at 10, and by 11pm, I was fast asleep on the couch, Travis by my head, "The Alaskan Experiment" on the television.

I woke up at midnight and dragged myself to bed.

I woke up at 9am this morning. Ten hours of sleep--that's way too much. Lately, my sleep patterns have been out of whack. I'll get six hours one night, ten or eleven the next night.

I woke up at 7:30 this morning. I looked at the clock and the cats sleeping on the bed with me. "I have nothing waiting for me at 7:30 in the morning," I thought. Back to sleep.

I woke up an hour later. Travis was digging into the blanket by my arm. Dig, pick, pick, dig. My cats take turns waking me up in the morning so I can feed them. Okay Travis, okay, I'll get up.

Zzzzz....

Again at 9am--dig, dig, pick, pick. If I sleep past 9, I have a mild sense of panic. Even on the weekends; I just can't sleep past 9 for some reason. If I do, I get this sensation that life is passing me by. That I'm missing something, and no one is waiting for me.

I grind my teeth at night. Half the time, I awake with a splitting headache. I think that's part of the problem. Normally sleep would help a headache. Not in my case; it just makes it worse. But stupidly, sleepily, I always forget this and dive back into the pillow for another hour.

I have vivid dreams all night long. Sometimes I remember them clearly, sometimes they are just general storylines, glimpses. Limerick's white face. An ocean. My husband. Driving somewhere, nowhere, the sun setting, the sky purple, hurrying me on. If I awake then go back to sleep again, my dream will resume. It can be maddening sometimes; like being lost in a loop.

If it's a nightmare that I'm going back into, it's terrifying. I fight to stay awake but at four in the morning, it's hopeless.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Interview Today

I had an interview today. I think it went well, but the only way to be certain is to get a call back. I first applied to this job in March! It has been floating out there for a long time, I guess they just haven't found the right person yet.

Yup, this is the same job I talked about a couple posts prior.

I put an ad on craigslist stating that I will write copy/articles/etc for free in order to build my portfolio. I did state that I wouldn't ghostwrite any one's novels or drive a hundred miles to research some obscure thing.

Speaking of articles, I need my husband to hurry up and finish transcribing the interview I had with my farrier about properly balanced hooves. I have a brilliant pink Post-It note on the computer desk, TRANSCRIBE carefully written across it with a Sharpie. But since the poor guy gets up at 4:45 every morning to go to work, gets home at 4pm, then goes to bed at 9:30pm, I don't want to push it. He's doing me a big favor here.

I did read some of what he transcribed. Since he doesn't know a lot of the terminology used in the interview, I told my husband to write certain words phonetically if he didn't understand them. Well...it's going to take me some detective work to figure out some of those words! That's okay, though.

One of the barn cats is pregnant; she's a fluffy black and white Manx. I call her Mama. She was nursing six four-week-old kittens when I moved to Gladstone Ridge in December. I normally don't see much of her but she was sitting in front of Limerick's stall today. Instead of walking off as she normally does, she meowed and rubbed against my legs. That's when I noticed her belly looking unusually round. I rubbed my hands over her belly and felt the taunt skin, the perfect roundness. Yup, pregnant.

I just hope some stray tom is the father, not one of her older male kittens.

I had a good ride on Limerick today. Who am I kidding? The vast majority of them are good! Yesterday, not so much. It wasn't her--she did everything I asked. Now that I have my heart set on a dressage show in August, I've become hypercritical of how I ride.

It's a funny feeling. I'm a perfectionist about everything but I haven't been so anal about my own riding since I was in training six years ago. When Limerick foundered, I realized there were more important things within the equestrian world than being a perfect rider. First, the focus was on her health. Then during college and the early years of my previous job, the focus shifted to just riding and having fun on the weekends (I couldn't get out during the week). Then the focus shifted back to her health.

The dressage lesson I had a couple weeks ago woke something up within me. The old rider I used to be emerged like a butterfly from a cocoon, wings wet and fragile. That old rider clung onto the cocoon, strengthening her wings, for the past two weeks. Now she's ready to fly again.

My feet bug me. Maybe it's because I rode in a synthetic dressage saddle for the past decade. That thing was like Velcro and I never had any problems staying in it (except once, but that's another story). I love my new County dressage saddle--it allows Limerick to lift herself and move in ways that she hasn't in a long, long time--but the fine leather is so slippery for me. My seat is good but I think some part of my legs are pinching the sides of the saddle, subconsciously hanging on for dear life, and as a result I keep losing my stirrups.

Since I can't afford a training package, I need to train myself. I'm going to start by having a teenage girl at the barn hold Limerick on the lunge line while I ride in the saddle with no reins. I don't rely on my hands for balance--I never have, it's something you just can't do with Limerick. But stretching them above and all around me while Limerick trots along will allow me to focus on my legs. The girl is an excellent rider herself so she would be able to give me feedback as I go.

Today, I asked Limerick to do some lead changes. She went from her left to right lead perfectly, but was rushing her right to left lead change. The second time we tried, she tried to get the lead change before we were even halfway across the diagonal, wayyyy before I asked for it.

I know what to do, mom! Here, I'll do it right noooow!

It was so funny that I just started laughing and lost my composure. Of course, that just made her rush into the lead change even faster. My former trainers were like little voices on my shoulder.

"Hold that mare! Sit up! Sit back! Collect her!"

But I couldn't, I just laughed and laughed. Limerick is so funny sometimes; if you ask her nicely to do things, and she is healthy, she will give 110%....sometimes with funny results. She's such a nice horse, and truly a pleasure to ride now.

One last note--my brother, Rob, came up on Tuesday to get some photographs of Limerick. He took 160-something in all. They are all beautiful and I'll have a hard time picking a few. I want him to print them big so I can frame them. I'll put a few of the photos up on here, too. Nick, Lim's "boyfriend", is in some of them as well.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Horsey Weekend

I had a horsey (and for some parts, catty) weekend--just the way I like it!

On Friday, I went to a dressage show with a new friend. The location was beautiful (Lamplight in Wayne, IL), the weather was beautiful, and the horses were stunning. There were warmbloods, Lippizaners, Friesians, and none of them were under 16 hands tall. The best horses seemed to barely touch the ground, the best riders seemed to barely move.

Don't let dressage fool you--it's one of the most difficult equestrian disciplines. It takes immense strength, balance, and coordination from both horse and rider in order to be done well.

Here's one of my favorite examples of dressage. The trot on this horse is out of this world!

Dressage on YouTube

I went straight to the barn and practiced my own dressage skills! It was a great day; eight solid hours of horses. I woke up that morning still bummed, my head aching from grinding my teeth all night. But I forgot my worries until I returned home from the barn that evening.

On Saturday, I set up some small fences in the outdoor arena. They were truly tiny but better than the ground poles I usually go over. I couldn't resist! It's probably the fourth time I've jumped Limerick since 2002. I was using my dressage saddle (of course, what else?) and I was wearing running tights (I had run to the barn). My husband stopped by and took some pictures with his cell phone.

My form isn't too shabby considering the circumstances, I think!




Today Lim and I went on Trail Ride Number Four. We went with Lim's boyfriend, Nick, and his owner. It was just the two of us and I was a bit apprehensive because Limerick is still new to the trails and Nick could be unpredictable on the trails. I had to take the lead. On the past trail rides, Limerick would follow behind the other horses. But today, Nick was too nervous to be up front so he followed us.

Limerick was great, she looked around a lot more than she normally does though.

Oooo I'm all alone up front, it's my turn to look out for trolls and boogiemen she must have been thinking.

At one point we were walking by some enormous houses (a part of the trail goes behind the backyards of some houses) and one of them had a real estate sign facing the trail. Nick didn't like that bright, white sign too much and spooked when we were almost done passing it (he had to eyeball that thing real good first), and Limerick in turn jumped forward a bit. But it was no big deal.

Now the catty part...

We have four cats: two Maine Coons named Travis and Ivy, an orange tabby named Brewsky, and a mostly-white calico named Lexi.

Every year we take them to the vet in sets of two for their yearly exam/vaccinations. For some reason, since we adopted Travis and Ivy, Brewsky has started to go ballistic whenever we haul out the cat carriers. Expecting more of the same, we took Travis and Ivy to the vet first, on Saturday morning.

Since it was a new vet, we explained the situation to them and asked if they could give us some tranquilizers for Brewsky. The vet gave us some tablets of acepromazine. Yay. We hadn't used tranquilizers on Brewsky before but I was hoping they would make the whole experience a little more bearable for us, Brewsky, and the vet.

When I say he goes ballistic, I mean it. If you set a carrier in front of him, he will turn into a 15-lb steel coil of raw feline muscle and power, lashing out with claws and teeth and spit. He'll maim you if he can. You know those houses with 600 cats that the people on Animal Cops go into sometimes? You know how some of those cats just flip out and go batshit crazy, all teeth and claws and flying fur, when they loop the cat grabber thing around them? That's Brewsky and carriers. And vets. Scary.

Travis and Ivy had an uneventful visit at the vet's. We arrived back home with ace in hand.

This morning, it was Brewsky and Lexi's turns to see the vet. I chopped a tablet of ace in half and tried to hide it in Petromalt--this hairball remedy malt stuff that my cats just loooovvee. Brewsky licked around the tablet. I tried hiding it in cheese. No dice. Wet cat food? Nope. Finally I told my husband to hold him and I shoved the half-tablet--which was a goopy, pink mess by then--down Brewsky's throat. He spit and raced off. I expected to find chunks of pink all over the front of my bathrobe but there were only two tiny flecks. He had consumed about 2/3 of the half-tablet. Good enough for me.

I showered, got dressed, and checked on Brewsky. He sat in the hallway, eyes muddled and wet, his third eyelid peeking up. When he saw me, he stood up and lifted his tail in a "hello", his hind end wobbling a bit. Aww, I hated seeing him that way. Orange terror aside, I was used to seeing him behave a certain way--sharp and ready to play or run, eyes gleaming with energy, not glazed over by acepromazine.

Getting him in the carrier was a breeze in comparison to past events. I threw a blanket over the carrier so only the opening was visible. I set it on the bed and as my husband held the carrier open, I pushed Brewsky into it. One hiss, a little balking, and he was in. W-o-w.

I put Lexi in her carrier and we were off.

At the vet's we opened the carriers once we were in a private examination room. Lexi scooted onto my lap and hid her face in the crook of my arm. She sheds--a lot--and sheds even more when she's nervous. Before long, I was covered in white fur.

My husband got Brewsky out of the carrier somehow (I'm not sure how, I was busy petting Lexi) and Brewsky hissed and growled. Oh joy. We let him go back into the carrier. Let the vet take care of him, we said.

The vet arrived and examined Lexi. I watched her face when my husband warned her about Brewsky. It pinched for a split second. It was a different vet from the one that saw Travis and Ivy the day before. My husband and I said we would rather let the vet assistant hold Brewsky; if we did it, Brew would hate us for a long, lonnnng time. The vet picked Brewsky up, grabbed the scruff of his neck to keep him steady, and whisked him into the back.

Screeching and howling ensued (or so my husband told me--I wasn't sure if I heard it or not; I heard something but I can't always trust my ears, ahem, ear).

The vet came back in a few moments later to tell us that Brewsky had an ear infection. A scratch and a blob of blood dotted her cheek. Yikes.

We got Brewsky back. Turns out his teeth are bad, too--he has some gingivitis along his back teeth. He's going back to the vet next Saturday for a teeth cleansing, which he will be knocked out for. The vet told us to give him a whole tablet of acepromazine this time.

On the way home, Brewsky pooped in the carrier. My husband let him out the carrier and saw some small, dark balls in the carrier. Thinking they were cat treats the vet left for Brewsky, he reached in and picked one up, only to realize they weren't the type of cat treats he was thinking of. Ha.

Don't get me wrong--Brewsky is normally a sweetheart. He's my favorite of the four and he adores me. When I'm on the computer, he will often sit on my lap and purr and drool on the keyboard. When I watch TV, I like to cross my legs and put a blanket over them. He will jump right up and settle down, especially on cold winter nights. And if he's in the right mood, I can pick him up and he will boost himself into a comfortable position and rub his cheek on mine.

Brewsky on non-vet-visit days:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bummed

It's another one of those days.

I'm depressed. It's getting harder and harder to stay optimistic. I'll feel okay with things then something new will pop into my head, something stressful, and I'll get worried again. I tossed and turned for hours last night and that's unusual for me. I normally sleep like a rock.

I applied for a certain job in early March. Three weeks later, someone with the HR department of this company called about my application. I called back using the relay system and got her voice mail. I left our number (our meaning my husband's cell phone number, which we use as our home phone) and my email address. She called again, hubby let me know, and I promptly tried to call back. Voice mail!

This ridiculous phone tag ring-around-the-rosie went on for a week before I gave up. In my messages, I stated I preferred email but I guess she never got the idea.

To my surprise, the same woman called a couple days ago. I called back (voice mail!) and this time, only left my email address. She wrote a few hours later and asked some questions. I responded and yesterday morning, she asked when I could come in for an interview. I told her I was free anytime next week, would Monday morning work for you? Blah blah. She hasn't responded since.

I have my doubts about this whole thing. I'm at the bottom of their list; they probably went through a dozen candidates before reaching my resume. Oh, we'll try her again. She uses the relay system and her resume is so-so but what choice do we have here?

Then if the interview is scheduled, I'll put on my suit, put my hair up, and follow every single interview rule to the 'T' as usual. But also as usual, it won't do any good. "Do we really want to hire her? I mean, what if she turns out to be a pain in the ass because she can't hear?" they'll ask themselves after I leave. They'll confer for a few moments before coming to a decision.

My thank-you email is unacknowledged. Days go by without a word. Weeks and it's just tumbleweeds. I finally call, get voice mail. Email, no response. Same old bullshit.

Limerick's boyfriend's owner is opening a punk clothing store in Naperville. Since my non-barn, casual style leans that way (well, I guess all the tattoos do it, too. She caught a glimpse of my half-sleeve on a warm day a few weeks ago), she asked if I know anyone who can model for photographs for her store (what, I'm too ugly? I thought but kept to myself). Sure, yup. I asked a few people. They agree. I ask Lim's boyfriend's owner when and where. Sometime Sunday? She isn't sure. Please let me know soon, I'm thinking. It's not fair for me to command people I don't know that well to come out to Naperville one hour before the photo shoot is scheduled.

I'm going to fail at this, just like I fail at everything else.

On the bright side, I did go on a trail ride today--not on Limerick, but a cute little Arab gelding at a friend's house. That was two hours out of the day that I wasn't stressing about life. Ahh, horses, what would I do without them?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Happy Birthday, Limerick!

Today is Limerick's 17th birthday. I'm not sure whether to call today her official birthday, or January 1st (as per the Jockey Club), but either way, she was born 17 years ago today.

She was born on Shawnee Hills Farm, near a tiny town named Golconda, situated on the Mississippi River in southern Illinois. I find it so romantic that she was born on the Mighty Mississippi, just across the river from Kentucky. But I'm a hopeless romantic sometimes. I'm one of those suckers that finds beauty in everything.

Happy birthday, Limerick, here's hoping you have many, many more! I have daydreams of riding you around our future Kentucky farm. Your back is a little dipped with age and your coat is a tad rougher, but otherwise you are still the same beautiful horse that I fell in love with 20-odd years ago. Just you and me, walking through the Kentucky bluegrass around the edge of our property on a blue morning, the sun not yet high through the old trees, the breeze lifting strands of your mane and my hair, my fingers gently scratching the sides of your high withers, as I always do. I love you, Lim Bean.

We went on a trail ride yesterday--Trail Ride Number Three. It was just us and one other horse/rider pair this time. The other horse is also a Thoroughbred mare, but she is a seasoned trail horse. Her name is Lady.

I decided to mount at the mounting block near the barn instead of walking Lim over the road by hand like I did the last two times. The road never seemed to bother her so I figured why not; it was that or walk all the way to the mounting block at the Danada Equestrian Center. Despite Limerick's small stature and my athleticism, I don't trust myself to mount from the ground.

Lim was just fine over the road. As we got on the trail head, I saw a Canadian goose attack a jogger running by the pond. The goose flapped its wings, lifted itself six feet into the air, and descended upon the jogger, who was flailing his arms. I watched this from a distance.

"Hey, look at those geese, they just attacked that jogger!" I said to the other woman, who hadn't seen it. She shook her head and said there were too many Canadian geese. Lady liked to chase geese so I figured I would just tuck Limerick in right behind Lady and stay there as we passed the geese.

As we got closer, I saw the geese were protecting six or so little dirty yellow balls of fluff. Babies! No wonder they were being so aggressive. The (male?) goose snaked his neck and hollered at Lady, who rolled her eyes towards him.

Yeah I'd like to see you try it! she seemed to say. Like a fool, I stopped Limerick. I was atop a 900lb animal and these geese were intimidating me. Limerick's head and neck went straight up like a periscope. I could feel her nostrils blowing in the tight, quick way they do when she sees something scary. I could imagine her eyes--huuuuge.

The goose ruffled his feathers, shook his wings, snaked his neck at Limerick and screeched. With that, Lim was outta there. She scrambled backwards a few steps then whirled on her hind legs. A few more dancing steps down the trail and she stopped. Lady and her rider stood twenty yards away, waiting for me.

"She doesn't like the goose!" I hollered. I didn't blame her, I envisioned the thing flying up at me, beating me with its wings, pecking me with that dull hard beak. I think Limerick was trying to save the both of us.

A biker was struggling up the hill, getting closer and closer to me. I waved for him to stop. Limerick was tense, scared. She didn't know the biker was there. It didn't matter that she was okay with bicycles on Trail Ride Number Two--she certainly wouldn't be okay with them if she was in fight-or-flight mode, and being surprised by a bicycle was the last thing we both needed.

Finally, the geese gathered their dirty yellow fluffballs together and herded them into the pond. The male let out one last screech. When they were gone, I encouraged Limerick to join Lady up the hill and she did. We had gone about thirty paces when I remembered the biker. He was trailing behind us, waiting for my okay. I waved him on.

The rest of the ride went smoothly. We went up an enormous hill. There were no paths leading up to it except a narrow, overgrown dirt path that wove between the tall prairie grasses. At the top of the hill, the horse farm stretched out before us, the white plank fencing neat and straight. Grazing horses looked like small, shiny multicolored dots. I could just barely see the Sears Tower in the distance.

When we got to the grassy strip behind the Danada Equestrian Center pastures, we trotted. The horses kicked up dandelions and insects. Limerick's mane bobbed and gleamed in the sun. Her head was down just slightly, her ears relaxed, listening for my occasional "Mmhmm, good girl."

I never wanted to stop.

Oh yeah, the photograph session with Rob and Limerick--it couldn't done. Rob unexpectedly had to work so we're re-scheduling it for next week. No big deal, I just hope it's as beautiful next week as it was yesterday!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Happy Birthday to my husband!

Today is my husband's birthday...I usually spend a little and treat him on his birthday but I couldn't afford that this year. I did do my annual birthday baking though--I made peanut butter brownies.

May 12th is the only time I will touch an oven (cleaning it doesn't count!).

I rode Limerick in her new Stubben Golden Wings bit today. She seemed to like it, normally she has a neutral expression when I slip the bit into her mouth. Today her ears pricked and she seemed to be thinking, "Hmm, this is different!"

Stubben Golden Wings Snaffle

It looks flashy!

I dropped my stirrups for a good chunk of the ride. There was some sort of activity/commotion just out of sight by the barn owner's house (which is visible from the outdoor arena) and Limerick would raise her head up high and stare at that area every time we went by. So I may have been asking for trouble by dropping my stirrups but I trusted Limerick to behave herself and she did.

I got a reminder of the reason I don't ride without stirrups very much anymore--my IUD doesn't like it! I got killer cramps for a good while after the ride. It was worth it though; I love riding without stirrups.

Before I forget, I took Limerick on the trail again on Saturday. We went with two steady-eddy seasoned trail horses. Lim looked at every single thing we went by--bikers, tree stumps, dog walkers, boulders, joggers, low tree branches, walkers, clusters of tall grass, and the cherry on top--two massive draft horses pulling a wagon full of straw at the Danada Equestrian Center. Limerick had never seen a draft horse nor a wagon, much less the two combined. But she just stood there and watched them, more curious than anything.

Wide-eyed and ears pricked (at one point, one of the women turned around on her horse, looked at Limerick, and laughed "Her eyes are huuuuge!"), Lim took in everything. But she wasn't tense or nervous at all, with one exception.

Near the end of the ride, she decided that a sapling anchored to the ground with some strips of white webbing was the scariest thing we had seen and was reluctant to go close to it. But she didn't spook.

I'm very proud of her!! Our second trail ride ever at the new barn and this one was the true test. The first trail ride was on a chilly day and no one else was on the trail....and Limerick's boyfriend, Nick, was with us so I'm sure that helped keep her calm.

I wanted to write more but it's getting late and I'm tired. I was kind of depressed earlier today about the difficulty I'm having finding a job. I haven't heard back from the woman I requested an appointment with at the Center of Independent Living, either. I usually keep my chin up but it's hard to do that 24/7. I'm also beginning to wonder if the references I had (all professional) suck. I know one would give glowing reviews of me for sure, but she hasn't been with my former employer for long. As for the other two--I just don't know about them anymore.

Anyway, Limerick has another photo shoot tomorrow. My brother, Rob, and his girlfriend are driving up from Bloomington-Normal (where they attend Illinois State U) to take Limerick's portrait. I'm going to have Rob print out some nice, large photographs so I can frame them. Nick's owner is stopping by too so Rob can get some shots of Nick and Lim together. It should be fun.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Limerick--The Beginning

I feel like it's about time I told you how Limerick came into my life. She is my co-star here, after all!

In fall of 1995, I had finished up a year-long lease of a red roan Appaloosa mare named Frost. Frost was absolutely bombproof; nothing fazed her. Her only quirk was getting excited and shooting forward when you asked her to canter at the start of a jumping session. I had taught her how to get her flying lead changes. I showed her in all the schooling shows. I jumped course after course of 2'9" fences. Since Frost was still a school horse, she couldn't jump any higher than that. For equine safety reasons, it was the barn rule for the school horses.

After Frost, I rode a floppy-eared bright chestnut sabino gelding named Timmi. Also a school horse and limited to 2'9" fences. Then a couple lessons on a 16-hand Thoroughbred gelding named Moo. Moo was gorgeous, a flashy bay with a large blaze and tall socks on all four legs.

And then came Mandy.

It was March of 1996 and I was fifteen years old. An awkward teenager, I wore glasses and kept my long blonde hair in a ponytail. I didn't know where I stood in life. Horses had consumed my entire life, but as a freshman in high school, I was realizing that they weren't "cool".

"You still like horses?" my school friends would ask me, eyebrows raised. "Forget that!"

Their disapproval never quelled my desire to be around horses, but I began to wonder if I was doomed to be cast even further into the "uncool" category. Not being able to hear normally had already made me and my deaf friends automatic outcasts, and now I was being frowned upon by them because of my obsession with horses. At that age, your friends are a powerful influence.

On a cold March afternoon, my mom asked me to go check out a horse with her. We walked down the long concrete barn aisle and stopped at one of the stalls near the end. My mom peered in and I followed suit.

A small bay horse with a punky mane and huge blaze stood in the stall, eating hay. A too-small green stable blanket hid her body. I smacked my lips at her and she looked up at us, bored, still chewing her hay. She put her head back down again.

"Connie says you can ride her for your next lesson," my mom said.

"What's her name? What kind of horse is she?" I asked.

"Her name is Mandy, and she's a Thoroughbred."

"Wow, she's small for a Thoroughbred!" I said.

Little did I know I was saying something that would be repeated to me many times over the next dozen years of my life.

I don't remember much of that first lesson on the little bay Thoroughbred mare, other than she was unlike any other horse I had ever sat on. She wasn't the first Thoroughbred I had ridden, but she was remarkably different from the ones I been on. Those Thoroughbreds were school horses; they had power but it was a controlled, gentle power.

Mandy had gear after gear after gear. I would gently squeeze her sides and she would explode forward. Another tiny squeeze and she would jump up three more gears. She was exciting, scary, and the most fun I had ever had on the back of a horse. We jumped crossrails and small verticals and she sailed over each fence in a natural bascule with plenty of room to spare.

I asked my mom how old Mandy was.

"She's four years old, she's just a baby," my mom said. I was amazed. After a lifetime of riding teenaged horses, four seemed so....advanced.

On my second ride, I got a better idea of just how much power Mandy stored in those mighty hindquarters of hers. We had just completed a line of verticals. I asked her to slow into a trot around the curve of the arena and she obliged. Suddenly it felt like she lifted herself into the air and shot forward at light speed. The motion was so quick, so mind-blowing that I didn't realize what was happening until I crashed into the dirt on the other end of the arena.

It wasn't the first time a horse had taken off on me, but previous bolting-and-falling incidents were nothing compared to this. As I sat there, dazed, all I could think was...

Holy shit!

But I still loved her. Within her was a power I had never tasted on any other horse before. It was thrilling and I loved it.

Connie held Mandy's reins as I brushed the dirt off my breeches. Mandy's nostrils blew, the whites of her eyes flashed, and her muscles rippled beneath her glossy bay coat. What a horse.

A couple days later, my mom asked me what a better name for Mandy would be. Mandy was short for her registered name, Amanda Bry, but it didn't fit her.

"I don't know, good question," I said as I lounged on our couch, paging through a book.

"How about Limerick?" my mom asked.

I thought about it.

"Sure, it's cute," I finally said. I didn't think much of the question.

A week later, on March 26th, my I was hanging out in the lounge area of the barn while my mom chatted with Connie in the office. My mom beckoned me over. Connie gave me a stall sign, the type with the horse's name, amount of grain and hay to feed, and the vet's info.

"We changed Mandy's feed, can you please put this on her stall?" Connie asked.

As I walked away, I looked at the sign.

NAME: Limerick

and

OWNER: Heidi

jumped out at me.

What the hey? I thought. I promptly turned on my boot heel and walked right back into the office. My mom and Connie beamed. I am sure my mouth was closing and opening like a fish's.

My mom told me later that after I fell, she had her doubts about getting Limerick. I just laughed and told her the truth--it didn't faze me, it just made me admire her.

The day she was mine.

Over the next few years, what I learned on past horses didn't hold a candle to what Limerick taught me. How to have soft hands and legs. How to ask, not demand. How to be confident, both on the flat and going over fences. How to have a seat like velcro. How to stop a young Thoroughbred in full, fearful flight. How to deal with a hot-blooded mare. How to handle a dancing, prancing, head-shaking racehorse in the paddock...or at least, a horse acting like one.

Limerick at five, me at (almost) sixteen. She was watching kids
jumping on a trampoline a half-mile away. She still has
eyes like a hawk.

There were many times when Limerick frustrated me. On some days, she was so hot that I could barely contain her when standing, much less reasonably ride her on the flat or over jumps. On other days, my confidence would falter and she would refuse fence after fence after fence.

She was an amazing jumper, the best I had ever ridden. She would round her body and tuck her knees up high and neat over every single fence, including crossrails. She always cleared them with plenty of room to spare. And yes, we progressed past the 2'9" mark; working our way up to 3'6" and even 3'9" on some days.

But...

You had to hit your spots just right when jumping her. She would get excited and speed up towards fences, and you had to hold your shoulders back and contain her enough to maintain a steady rhythm to the fence. A steady rhythm allowed you to see your spots well (and for the non-horsey folks, by spots I mean the area in front of the jump where one lets the horse take off. A long spot is far from the jump, a close or short spot is very close to the jump. Long and short spots disturb a horse's rhythm and can cause problems if other fences are coming up soon after the first. It takes time and good hand-eye coordination to learn to hit spots perfectly).

It took confidence and strong arms to keep Limerick's rhythm going perfectly. And then you had to find the perfect spot. If you didn't, she would most likely refuse, and if she didn't, she would refuse the next fence.

If you were perfect, then she was.

One of three schooling shows we entered--don't let the picture
decieve you; she was a handful!

A jumping lesson.

In the meantime, my confidence about my love for horses grew stronger. I no longer cared what my friends thought. I had this rocking little Thoroughbred mare and I invited them all to meet her. A couple did and they actually thought she was cute. From then on, I was proud to say that I rode horses, that I loved horses.

The confidence I had to have with Limerick spread to other parts of my life. I was still an outcast in high school because of my hearing loss but I didn't really care anymore. On the days that it did bother me, I had Limerick to look forward to. She never judged me. I could talk to her without worrying she was laughing at me inside, as I knew many of the kids at my school did. Whether I was grooming her, bathing her, or on her back, I was always in the moment. And best of all, she was mine.

I loved the school horses but in the end, they weren't mine.

When I went to college, my mom debated selling Limerick. I knew that it was ultimately her decision since Limerick was a financial responsbility for my mom. Yet the very idea tore my heart in half. Limerick was my rock, the one steady thing in life that I could count on. After several long discussions, my mom decided to shareboard Limerick. When Limerick foundered and had to be retired, we decided to move her from the training barn to a casual boarding stable five moments from my parent's house.

I feel truly blessed and fortunate that my mom saw how important Limerick was to me and held on to her while I attended college. I took the train home from Chicago every weekend to visit Limerick. As soon as I got a job after college, I pitched in with the finances for Limerick as much as I could, adding to the amount each year as I got raises. I had dreams of taking over Limerick's care completely.

Those dreams came true when my parents retired last summer and moved to a new home two hours away. I kept Limerick at the old barn while I searched for a new one closer to where I worked. Twice a week after work, I would take the hour-and-a-half drive to the barn, then drive another hour back to Chicago, where I still lived. Every Saturday and Sunday, I would make the drive up to the barn and back home. Finally, last December I found the perfect barn. In April of this year, I moved from Chicago to a new home approximately one mile from Limerick. I see her daily now and I am in heaven.

I have been with Limerick through twelve years, six years of regular lessons, and four barns. Since taking over her care, I have been with her through one emergency veterinarian call, four regular ones, and a trip to an equine hospital. I found a new, wonderful farrier. I researched the nutritional needs of laminitic horses for hours and decided on a new feed for her. I researched arthritis, laminitis, insulin-resistance, Cushing's, equine anatomy, and hoof-balancing with newfound purpose. I compared and decided on supplements. I decided to try riding Limerick on the trails, and I decided to take a dressage lesson after a six-year hiatus.

I may be "handicapped" but when it comes to my horse, I am fully independent and I absolutely love it.

Dressage lesson

Yesterday I had my first riding lesson in almost six years. I had so much fun and realize that I really miss taking lessons regularly.

I used to take them weekly, sometimes twice weekly. One dressage lesson, one jumping lesson. When Limerick unexpectedly had to retire from jumping, she was moved to a casual boarding barn that did not offer lessons.

When I realized my current barn, which I moved to in December of 2007, offered dressage lessons, that set the gears churning in my head. Unfortunately though, Limerick was not sound enough for lessons.

In March, the dressage trainer bought her own horse and re-directed her energy towards training that horse. She moved to another barn. I thought, "Oh well, so much for that." Fortunately, another dressage trainer took her place.

I wish I could afford a training package but I'll have to take the lessons when I can afford them.

We warmed up and waited while the trainer finished up with another horse and rider. Finally, she was done and beckoned me over. Limerick put her nose out and sniffed the trainer. She laughed.

She told me to walk, trot and canter each way so she could watch how we moved. When we were done, I walked Limerick back to the trainer.

"First of all, Limerick is very cute; she has a fantastic walk," she said. I recalled how, four months prior, Limerick was so stiff and sore that she walked slowly and delibrately, like a horse many years her senior. I smiled inside when the trainer praised Lim's walk.

She told me that while I had a great seat, I had to work on keeping my upper body from tilting forward. My right hand is supple but my left tends to let the rein loop. I told my trainer how it feels like I'm flopping all over the place and she reassured me that I wasn't.

I showed the trainer the hand signs my old instructors had used. One for each of the following: walk, trot, canter, sitting trot, posting trot. For detailed instructions and feedback, she would beckon me over.

"It's hard to read lips from 20 meters away," I explained. She laughed.

And so for the next half-hour, I danced with Limerick all around the arena. We were alone and we consumed the entire arena. Figure-eights, loops, small circles, large circles, diagnonal lines. I kept my seat deep and focused on my upper body and left hand. My eyes would flick towards the trainer now and then, looking for instructions. When we were perfect, I felt it. Limerick would suddenly be floating beneath me, her mouth soft, her forelegs lifting up high, her hind legs driving her body forward.

It's one of the best feelings in the world.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Another Tuesday

I woke up at 9am (dreams about grocery shopping fading), checked for hairballs as I walked to the kitchen, nuked a mug of cold coffee, fed and watered the cats, watched 10 minutes of Oprah (can't recall what was on Oprah--I was still waking up), looked for jobs online, posted on Illinois Horse, checked over my budget for the thousandth time, took a run to the barn, rode Limerick (worked on transitions; got her to canter from a halt for the first time in years), sponged her off, chatted to the owner of the Arabian mare in the stall across the aisle (I had to tell her I couldn't hear her after she looked away from me while talking and she said, Oh! Sorry!, turns out her mare has Cushing's and she is overwhelmed), told the owner of said Arabian mare I would pin a note with the link to the Equine Cushing's Yahoo Group to her mare's stall door, ran back home, did yoga and pilates, took a shower, took the dreaded trip to the grocery store (I loathe the grocery store. I wish my food would magically manifest as needed), came home and kissed my husband (who had just gotten home from work--it was 8pm), watched Hell's Kitchen, kissed hubby good night, checked my email and Illinois Horse, and here I am.

That, other than the grocery store, is a pretty typical day for me.

Advice of the Day: If you are wearing shorts and your cats are overdue for a trim, do not invite the one that loves to knead, knead, knead onto your lap.

I feel the need to talk about my hearing aid. It drives me INSANE. There, I said it.

In 2001, I got a newfangled digital hearing aid. It allowed me to hear things I have never heard before. A teakettle's piercing whistle. The tags and bells on cat collars jingling. The hum of the fridge. The shhhhh of a "shhhh". The beep of the I-Pass on my mom's Ford Explorer. Listening to the CDs in my car was difficult--I felt like I was hearing them all for the first time.

In 2006, I was at my audiologist's office when I mentioned that the health insurance with my employer allows one new hearing aid every three years, maximum $2,500. My audiologist's eyes lit up. "I have just the thing!"

A month later, "just the thing" was in my left ear. Noise was everywhere. Clothes rustled. Chairs creaked. The sound of traffic driving by was tremendous. I was able to distinguish the meows of my cats. I had to re-learn my CDs all over again.

Unfortunately, the hearing aid comes with a price--feedback. With past hearing aids, only people near me could hear the feedback. I never had a clue.

Now I can hear it as well as them. In fact, half the time, only I can hear it. It sounds somewhere between a mechanical baby crying and whistling or buzzing.

Apparently the hearing aid does not like moisture within a thousand yards of me, nor can it tolerate the ear mold shifting a micromillimeter.

Feedback occurs in the following situations: if my hair is wet, if I laugh or smile, if I eat, if I yawn, if I talk, if my hair is down, if my hair is up, if I'm wearing a hat or helmet, if I turn my head quickly, if I lay down, if I hear something unexpected (my left ear--the one I wear hearing aids in--has the strange ability to perk up like a dog's, which it does involuntarily).

When my old digital hearing aid's battery would die, it would gradually fade over the course of three to four days. One battery lasted three weeks.

With the current hearing aid, one battery lasts a week, and when it dies, the hearing aid stabs my ear drum with a shrill BEEP! The quicker the battery is dying, the quicker the beeps come. I usually have very little warning. Due to this, I need to try to remember to carry a battery around with me wherever I go. I don't always remember.

To top it off, somehow, water is constantly getting into the ear mold tube. When this happens, the tube is plugged and I can't hear squat. I need to remove my hearing aid, pop the tube off the hearing aid, and blow into it to dislodge the water. I absolutely refuse to do this in public (I'll excuse myself to the bathroom), and I will do it in my car but I am 100% positive it looks like I am taking a hit off a miniature crack pipe when I do so.

So...big headaches for the price of hearing "well".

This digital hearing aid is a fantastic, albeit sensitive, piece of technology, though. It sorts through the traffic of sound entering its tiny microphone, selects what is important, and manifests and sharpens these selections. It reads the disadvantages of my biological hearing system and empathizes sounds or tones that I have the most difficulty hearing. Isn't that remarkable?

That said, I'm dying for a trip to the audiologist. I need a new ear mold tube or my hearing aid tuned up, or both. Unfortunately, since my insurance expired almost a month ago, I'm afraid it would cost me an arm and a leg.

One last note--my hearing aid did not squawk feedback into my ear once during the writing of this blog, despite three yawns and my hair being down. If it wasn't for the sound of Windy the Rat running on her wheel four feet to my left, I would have thought something was wrong.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Pictures of Limerick

You can't see her dapples so well here but that's ok--it was a fun session!

Drying her after a bath so she won't be tempted to roll.










"Are we finished now?"

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Happy Derby Day!

It is chilly and rainy here in northeastern Illinois but from the Kentucky Derby Special on ESPN, I see it is sunny and comfortable in Louisville. Lucky them!

Reason number 7,598 to move to Kentucky--the weather isn't so unpredictable down there.

I was just at the barn. Limerick was a sweetheart the entire time. I had a hard time getting the halter over her head for a couple seconds there because her ears were pricked forward so hard. It was a sweet change. For the past few months, I have been having a problem with her giving me attitude while haltering or bridling.

Due to becoming laminitic on pasture grass, she had to start wearing a grazing muzzle last June. She absolutely hated the thing (not that I blamed her--it looked awkard and I was almost embarrassed for her when she had it on) and before long, would start pinning her ears when it was placed over her head. She stopped wearing the muzzle in November. Apparently, the barn guys that turned her out every morning decided she didn't need to wear it anymore.

We'll interrupt for a short biology lesson here. When grass is stressed, it preserves fragile cells by overproducing sugar. Growth (particularly early to late spring, or after heavy rain following droughts), summer droughts, and the onset of colder temperatures in the fall are all periods of high stress for grass.

So when Limerick was turned out on pasture without her grazing muzzle last November, she was consuming large amounts of sugary, stressed grass. Two days later she had laminitis, and after two weeks of stall rest, we were at a new barn that turns the horses out on a dry (grass-free) pasture so the muzzle was not needed.

But the bad attitude continued. It went from pinned ears and nasty faces to gnashing teeth to turning to me, teeth bared, hell in her eyes. I had let it go on for months. Long story short, Lim has been overcoming some lameness issues for the past several months but is slowly but surely improving. She is almost back to her old self now. Due to the health issues, I was hestitant to lash out at her for being wicked.

Finally, I decided it was time to consider this a behavioral issue and consulted with Illinois Horse, an equine message board I'm a member of.

They told me to raise hell on Limerick whenever she even started to let an evil thought run through her little horse brain. No hitting, just lots of goofy arm motions and noises, kind of like a silverback gorilla going off on a subordinate member of the gorilla tribe. I tried it for the first time on Thursday.

It worked like a charm. I prayed no one would walk by as I was waving the lead line around in the air like a maniac, half-hissing, half-growling like a rabid raccoon. No one did, and instead there was just Lim, backed into a corner of her stall, eyes wide. Poor little Limerick, she had no idea what had just happened there, all she knew was that I had come out on top. She was more or less well-behaved the rest of the day.

I saw Limerick yesterday but just stopped in to say hello to her and make sure she wasn't three-legged lame or off her feed. So today was another potential opportunity to make a fool out of myself in her stall.

Much to my surprise, it was completely unnecessary.

Anyway, maybe due to the miserable weather, I've been dragging myself around all day like a slug on acepromazine. The barn's siren song still called to my heart but I felt my arms didn't have the strength to lift my dressage saddle onto Lim's back. Instead, I groomed her then turned her loose in the indoor arena.

She has nicely developed her spring dapples and looks gorgeous. She walked over to the open door at the back of the arena and sniffed the cold spring rain, her bay coat gleaming with dapples and Omega Horseshine.

As always, I carefully watched her legs as she moved, looking for signs of the arthritis I (and my wallet) have fought so hard to overcome. Her legs moved fluidly, her hind feet overstepping her forefeet. Her hips and shoulders opened wide with each stride. Her butt looks nice and round now. For a few months, the muscles back there had been wasted away, giving her butt a strained, tight look. Her back looks nice and flat, with a deep slope leading from the top of her croup to the base of her huge withers.

She's still a bit ribby but with all the muscles filling in nicely on her body, and her coat gleaming with health, I'll take it. I hope she gains just enough weight to cover those ribs completely soon though, I'm getting tired of worrying about what my fellow boarders think of the ribs.

Hubby and I are going to turn Limerick out in the outdoor arena tomorrow and get some good pictures of her while she still has her dapples. I'll try to post some of those pics.

And yes, in case you're wondering, I will get to my beginnings with Limerick soon! If there is anything you would like to know about, then feel free to comment. I've changed the comment options so anyone can post.

Friday, May 2, 2008

"EF"

I've explained the "D" part of DEF...now it's time to explain the "EF"!

For as long as I can remember, I've loved horses. I think I first sat on one at age three or four...I was in preschool, anyway. I went to a school for the deaf and one of the teachers there had horses in her backyard.

Thinking about it now, I'm astonished that someone living in Libertyville could keep horses in their backyard. But back then, Libertyville was mostly farmland.

We went on a class trip to see the horses. I only remember a couple things about that trip. In my head, the memories are more like snapshots than videos.

In the first memory snapshot, we're looking through my eyes at the horses. They tower tall behind a white plank fence, a brilliant, cloudless blue sky behind them. A bay and a light gray. Their eyes are soft and kind as they watch the ten or so preschool kids mill about on the other side of the fence. Old pine trees tower to my right, casting us kids in shadow. The horses are bathed in sunlight. They glow like angels. Maybe they were angels.

In the second memory snapshot, I am sitting tall on one of the horses in a western saddle. Someone is holding me while someone else leads the horse. I don't know who these people are, maybe my mom is one of them? She's a horsewoman herself so it would make sense for her to volunteer for a job like this. The horse alternates between bay and gray. Maybe I rode both of them? I don't remember. One thing I know is this: I'm happier and more content than I have been in a long time.

Losing my hearing has left me in my own world. I am fascinated by the other deaf children I go to school with. I have a hard time realizing I'm one of them. At the same time, I am confused and a little lost. I may be young but somewhere within my brain, I recognize that my life has been changed forever.

Being on those horses, I found a sense of belonging. It was like I was born to be on the back of a horse. The overwhelmed gears in my brain finally stopped running. I just let myself be. I don't remember the details of the ride, but I can imagine them. The stiff leather of the saddle beneath me. The smooth, organic sensation of the horse's muscles moving. Sitting tall above the adults. Watching strands of the horse's mane flip up in the breeze.

The horse bug had bitten me hard.

I remember visiting the Libertyville Saddle Shop with my mom and aunt. I was probably four or five. It was after I rode the bay and gray horses. The Saddle Shop was across the street from our house. Maybe some of you know the area I am talking about. Across the street is the Gold Eagle liquor store. To the immediate right of that plaza is Cass St. My house was up that street, just past the yellow "Deaf Child" street sign.

My aunt and my mom have been riding since they were young. They are both mad about horses, particularly my aunt. I think my aunt is visiting our house and wants to check out the Saddle Shop. We come across a box of furry hobby horses with acrylic eyes and yarn manes. Someone tells me to pick one out. There are a variety of colors to choose from but I only remember two of them--bay and gray.

I chose a bay.

Is it a coincidence that my favorite horse colors are bay and gray? A coincidence that my own horse is bay? A coincidence that I have always, even as a tiny child, preferred horses over ponies? As I sit here writing about this, I'm realizing the answer is no.

Rockey the Hobby Horse and I had many years of adventures together. If I was outdoors, I was probably galloping him around the yard. If I was indoors, I was probably galloping him around our unfinished basement. Gallop, gallop, gallop.

I bet my parents were scratching their heads as I galloped around on Rockey, wondering what the next step was. Ah ha! Riding lessons. So it began, my life-long career of riding horses. I had just turned six years old.

The pony was Winston, the farm was Windemere Farm. My instructor, Connie, and my mom worked out some riding sign language for me. One sign for walk, one for trot, one for canter, one for stop. I began my lessons on a lunge line. I remember being so in awe of riding a horse! er, pony! that I just gazed around at the walls of the arena and took in the sensation of riding. I don't think I paid much attention to Connie during those first few lessons. It was just me and Winston!

It was like being back on those bay and gray horses again, but better. No one was holding me. I felt free.

The horse bug burrowed even deeper within my heart. All I asked for was horse stuff. Pictures of horses lined my bedroom walls. Horse books filled my bookshelves. For Christmas, I received Breyer and Barbie horses. Summers were spent galloping Rockey outside. Winters were spent galloping Rockey inside and playing with my Breyers. I would streeeetch out Barbie's legs as far as they would go and place her on the back of a Breyer horse. The rubbery grip of her legs allowed her to stay on as I galloped the Breyer horse around on the carpet. Before long, I ditched Barbie and just played with the horses.

The riding lessons continued throughout on a weekly basis. Fall turned to winter and I began wanting to ride an actual horse. As cute and willing as Winston was, I was in awe of the full-sized horses at the barn.

One day when my mom and I arrived for my riding lesson, I saw a young girl of around my age taking a lesson on an actual horse. He was a golden color with a black mane, tail, and legs. His massive bulk humbly trotted around on the lunge line as the little girl clung to the tiny saddle on his back. I remember saying something along the lines of...

"If she can ride a big horse, why can't I?!"

The horse's name was Bonus and I was on him the very next week. I rode him and Winston for the next year. Before long, I was off the lunge line and trotting and cantering around the arena on my own, under the watchful eyes of my mom and Connie.

I have a video of me riding Bonus in a schooling show. I am seven years old and my long blonde hair is in a single braid. I'm wearing a white tank top, jeans, cowboy boots, and a black velvet hunt cap. A number is tied to my back and I look scared to death.

I have always loved riding, but as a kid, shows would scare the living crap out of me. I wanted to either flee or vomit.

Anyway, in the video, Bonus trots and walks around the arena obediently, his dappled buckskin coat gleaming, completely responsive to the tiny, terrified blonde girl on his back. I am amazed at how big Bonus is when I watch this video. He must have been sixteen hands tall. He has a pair of the kindest eyes I've ever seen on a horse.

I began jumping the next year, and from then until 1995, I would ride a long string of school horses. Here's to you guys--thanks for teaching me everything I needed to know before a bay, green-as-grass, hot Thoroughbred filly came into my life.

Thanks for being patient with me when I was frustrated. Thanks for acting up just enough to teach me how to handle difficult situations. Thanks for making me smile and laugh, and thank you for granting me escape from my world of not hearing, a world that could be beyond frustrating, cruel, and ignorant. Thank you for giving me independence.

Winston
Bonus
Marshmallow
Super Sunday
Pebbles
Vinnie
Spencer
The Wiz
Trixie
Holes in my Socks
Snaffles
Dr. Suess
Bastonge
Bentley
Decker
Murphy
Holy Mackeral
Bucky
Mac-A-Bee
Topper
Sebastian
Caesar
Frolic
Doc
Camille
Frost
Timmi
Moo