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:

Small ponies
Medium ponies
Average-size ponies with enormous, out-of-control Thelwell-like manes and tails
Dapple grays
Fleabitten grays
(But apparently young solid grays are OK)
Ehh, some chestnuts are OK, some are not
But god forbid if a liver chestnut goes near her!
Miniature horses
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!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Rats in the Barn!

I haven't had very much personal time with my rats lately. Between work, the barn, and running, there is very little time for me to do anything else on the weekdays. My cats can come to me anytime I'm home, and my fish don't need much more than food and weekly water changes.

But in order to bring the rats out, I need to lock the cats away somehow, which is easier said than done when you have four young cats!

A co-worker who used to have rats suggested bringing them to the barn with me. She said the smells and sounds would stimulate them, and they'd get some time outside their cage.


So last weekend, I bought a new wire carrying cage for them. I wanted to bring them to the barn as soon as possible but thanks to the wet-blanket weather earlier in the week, I decided to wait a bit. My rats are accustomed to the air-conditioned coolness of my apartment and it would be kind of cruel to subject them to such heat.

So last night was the first time.

You'd think a horse that has a mouse family living in her stall, as well as in the stalls of barns past, wouldn't mind rodents. Wrong! Maybe it was more the squeaking and chittering of the rats (which I cannot hear but have been told, by my husband, that they do all the time) than the sight of them, but when I lifted that little carrying cage up to Limerick her nostrils began to flare and her eyes doubled in size.

Oh dear.

As the rats sniffed the air and moved around and (squeaked?), Lim's eyes grew and grew. Okay, okay! I put the carrying cage down along the edge of the aisle, next to my tack box, and proceeded to take Lim's fly boots off. But her eyes never left the rats. She craned her head around to the right and watched them, nostrils ever-flaring. Finally I had enough. Afraid she was going to get the idea of a spook into her Thoroughbred brain and knock me flat as I unwrapped her fly boots, I put the rats in her stall and slid the stall door shut so the barn cats couldn't sneak in behind my back.

Lim immediately calmed down.

The mare in the stall next to Lim's, however, did not. Dixie's nostrils blew and she peered over the edge of the stall, trying to find the rats. By then I was convinced they were chittering and squeaking away; how else would Dixie know they were there?

I went back into the stall and put some alfalfa hay into the carrying cage, hoping the rats would get to work and be quiet. But instead, Dixie became more adamant about finding the source of the noise. Okay, so that didn't work. I guess alfalfa hay makes rats even more talkative.

My hearing aid is pretty good at picking up most pitches but I have never heard my rats utter a single squeak. It was an interesting experience for me. I am usually so good at knowing what animals want, but for the first time that I could remember, I didn't know exactly what an animal--my rats--wanted. I know they were excited about being at the barn, but what exact aspect of the situation was setting them off, I don't know.

Perhaps it's because they don't have very many facial expressions outside of "awake" and "sleepy". Their body language can speak volumes but watching them in that stall, they seemed curious and very interested, hence my guess that they were talking because they were excited.

Overall, the rats' visit to the barn went well. Dixie settled down and ignored them after a while, outside of a curious glance thrown their way now and then. Four of my fellow boarders saw the rats. Two thought they were adorable, one was initially horrified then curious, and one said, "Well, I guess they're kind of cute."

At the end of the day, as Lim was eating her dinner, I decided to pick up the carrying case and show it to her again.

She looked at the rats but this time her expression was one of boredom.

Yeah okay, I saw them before. So what?

From utter horror to boredom...ha!

Thursday, August 7, 2008


The tremendous storm on Monday night that swept away some of the wet-blanket heat had me trapped in one of the barns at the stable.

Driving to the stable, I saw the blackness of the storm cloaking the horizon in front of me. Non-stop lightning flashed like a purple strobe light from within.

"It'll probably hit a few minutes after I get there," I thought.

But I was wrong! When I pulled into the long driveway of the stable, the blackness was upon me. By the time I parked, lightning was crashing overhead. I ran from my car to the upper barn. Two other boarders were there and the three of us watched the storm. The lightning was nonstop. The wind blew in, so hard and fierce that we had to seek refuge in the tack room. When the wind stopped, I went out into the barn aisle again and watched the storm.

Lightning struck close by, hitting the pasture, trees in the neighborhood bordering the property, and even the lower barn. Ozone filled the air and the hair on my body stood up. I was blinded--I saw purple streaks of lightning everywhere, even when I shut my eyes.

The sky turned green-black.

When I was finally able to leave the upper barn and see Limerick over an hour later, I noticed she hadn't pooped. Normally she would poop twice in the time between coming in from turnout and my evening visit.

The next day she had hives along her right barrel and hip/butt. Her attitude was great though; maybe even overbearing. My husband held Lim as I hosed her hives with cold water. She whinnied at the two horses in the pasture nearby. She screamed at the silhouette of a large person walking down the aisle before us.

She's definitely in heat, and it's a bad one! I'm guessing that could have something to do with the hives. Perhaps her sensitive, hormone-infused skin just couldn't take the irritation of the flies and heat.

I'm not worried about it though. Yesterday the heat was better and so were the hives. I rode her (saddle and all) in the outdoor arena. Plenty of long-strided walking, some trotting, and a few whinnies at the pasture-boarded horses hanging around near the outdoor arena. Overall, not a bad ride!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The saddle is no longer dusty

Ohh boy, I had a whole blog planned out but now I'm ticked. Long story short, someone is implying that I'm a pesty horse owner because I need my poor un-horsey husband to call my vet's secretary for me. And why? Because I can't use the damn phones!

Believe me, if I could have it any other way (as in, say, being able to email the secretary--which is not an option for some ridiculous reason--, or say, being able to hear well enough to use phones), I would seize it in a heartbeat. But that's not the way it is.

There have been hundreds of times when I wish I could hear normally, and there will be thousands more as my life continues. This is one of those times. The fact I had to use an awkward closed-captioning contraption at The Dark Knight last night--this reflector thing on a bendy arm that kept drooping down throughout the movie--is another time. The fact that my husband and I had been trying to smooth out a rough patch before our trip to Kentucky, then I couldn't hear him as he chatted with a tan, platinum-blonde guide behind me on our trail ride at the Horse Park, is certainly another time.

On most days, I completely forget that I'm "handicapped". But sometimes, just sometimes, I get a harsh reminder of how much harder things can be for me. So--you know who you are--thank you so much; I've already had a couple sweet reminders over the past week but a third hit was enough to drive the nail through!

Anyway, just a recap of Thursday morning's vet visit and a couple radiographs for you (speaking of pictures--no, I didn't forget the pictures of Kentucky. However, I spent 4 hours downloading them to Walgreens for printing yesterday so frankly, as much as I love them, I don't want to look at them right now!)

I lunged Lim for the vet as always and she noted how much better Limerick looks. By now, I have realized that Limerick is intentionally lazy on the lunge line. She trusts me and knows that despite the show I put on with the lunge whip, I will never touch her with it. I found this out over the past few weeks when a) she spooked at something by the door in the indoor arena once and b) when I lunged her in the outdoor arena (a rarity) and she was full of pep and bounce.

I'm thinking that for the next vet visit, I may need to ride Lim for the vet. I'll tell you why later...

Next, we took radiographs of her front feet. To my delight, her soles look almost twice as thick as they did on June 25th, the date of the last radiographs taken. The rotation is holding steady and the inflammation along the tip of her left fore coffin bone looks better.

The vet said it's basically up to my farrier now. He is doing a good job with her feet--the vet had a couple suggestions, like rounding out the toe on the left fore just enough to remove the crumbled area on the tip--and she wants to let him take the reins for a bit. He mentioned some time ago that he has some pads he can try in place of the Sole Guard stuff.

Speaking of that stuff, it has been four weeks now and it's still on! It's supposed to last 2-3 weeks. Well, just watch, now that I've said this, Lim will be missing a Sole Guard pad when I go out to the barn later.

It's been a long race but hopefully we're in the homestretch now, with just the pedal osteitis to deal with.

During the vet visit, I kept wanting to ask her if Lim will ever be 100% rideable again. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. My vet is very cautious, almost pessimistic. I was expecting the worst out of her.

"Well, Heidi, given Limerick's history and current problems, I wouldn't count on ever riding her normally again. Maybe some light walking like you're doing now, but nothing else."

Ack...the very possibility of these words coming out her mouth made my stomach twist into knots every time I worked up the courage to ask. But finally, without even planning it, the question jumped out of my mouth.

"Is there any chance I can ride her normally by the end of the year?"

"Oh sure, if she keeps getting well then yes, I would say so."

Yesssss!!!! I was debating scrapping my plan to look for an endurance or McClellan saddle for trail rides but it jumped into my head again, refreshed.

Here are the radiographs of Limerick's left fore. The top one is from February of this year. The middle one is from June 25th, and the last one is from Thursday.

Last night, for the first time since May, I pulled the cover off my saddle and carried it over to the barn. It was 8pm by the time I led Lim over to the outdoor arena. A beautiful pink sunset lit up the horizon to the west, silhouetting the trees and pasture fences. In the arena, Lim stopped and looked into the sunset, head high, eyes and nostrils wide. Only a Thoroughbred, I thought to myself. But I admired her, just the same.

I got on her as if I had never stopped gathering the reins, placing a foot in the stirrup, and swinging one leg over. That is one thing that never leaves you--the ease and grace of getting into the saddle. No matter how long I've been unable to ride--weeks, a year--it's always as easy as ever to swing aboard. After nearly 22 years, the body doesn't forget.

But once on, I felt weird. The saddle was so slippery, so high off Lim's back. I couldn't intimately feel her moving beneath me. Was it possible I had grown to feel more secure on that bareback pad? I had a momentary sense of panic. Today is the day I fall. But it soon passed. Lim strode along in a tremendous walk, her shoulders and hips swinging wide. She walked so fast and so big that we were going at the same pace of the lone other horse in the arena--a trotting Quarter Horse.

Dust met pink in the sky as I asked her to trot. First time since May.

Lots of firsts.

Uncertain with my request, she took a step then went back into a walk. I know she was reflecting me--was it really okay to trot her? The vet had said we could move on to longer walks and brief trotting on soft surfaces. But it had been so long. With just a thought, we used to kick into a canter, then a hand-gallop, the wind stinging my eyes. A trot was taken for granted, even considered boring at times.

Boring? I should know better.

Then suddenly, Lim was rolling along. Yes, rolling. Maybe it was her own exhilaration, but she was taking powerful, rolling strides at the trot. The trot I remembered felt flat in comparison. Her legs lifted up high and forward, bounding. Her neck arched but not because I was collecting her--because I was holding her steady to keep her from jumping forward into her Standardbred-like trot.

Easy now, we don't want to hurt your feet, I thought to her. "Easy girl, that's a good girl."

Now alone in twilight, we trotted around the arena. Once, twice. An exhilarated mare, all Thoroughbred, all spirit, and her quietly blown-away passenger.

No, she was not spooky. She looked around now and then as always, but neither caution nor fear entered her body.

Then back to the walk. The sun was completely gone. It was dark and cool as I slid off Lim's back and put the stirrups up.

"What a ride," I said to her.