Friday, December 18, 2009
Normally that would mean tension, explosiveness, a frightened horse, and a ride cut short. But with the sheepskin ear puffs, while she did look up at the ceiling a couple times, she remained calm and relaxed, and all it took was my hand on her neck for her to drop her head back down and sigh.
I was nothing short of stunned and amazed. I was so proud of her!
I've always wanted to ride her in the snow but until now I never gave it more than a passing thought. But her wonderful attitude as of late is giving me more and more confidence and I have begun to wait for the perfect moment.
A few inches of snow on the ground, a sunny clear day, the air crisp and cold but without a biting wind.
In those conditions I want to ride her in the outdoor arena a few times, and, from there if she remains good, maybe we will try the trails!
Unfortunately there isn't always snow on the ground, and when there is, about half the time the wind is so harsh that it numbs any exposed skin. And there's the matter of daylight hours--it is completely dark by the time I get out of work, so obviously this will need to be done on the weekends...or perhaps, under a full moon on a cloudless night. Wouldn't that be cool?
I just need to wait for the right moment, and in the meantime continue enjoying the great rides on my wonderful, fuzzy mare!
Friday, December 4, 2009
Content with trotting on a long rein, she again asked if we could transition down to a trot. Not yet, Limerick. I squeezed the reins in my hands and she gave me more power. Her canter was strong and effortless, easy to sit.
Just like Tuesday's ride, I was again reminded of my first few rides on her nearly 14 years ago.
I softened my grip on the reins and she slowed. Trot now? Not yet, Limerick. I squeezed the reins again and she gave me even more power. Another gear up, longer strides. The short side of the arena approached quickly.
She laid it out for me--I have more power, I can go faster, and here... She rocketed out of the short side of the arena, faster and faster. It was like being behind the wheel of a sports car. As she cantered, I sensed that despite the strength behind her stride, we had not yet touched the bottom of her reservoir.
I lightened my grip of the reins by a feather and immediately she dropped down to a long fast trot. I let the reins slide through my hands to the buckle and her neck lengthened, her nose reaching down eagerly.
I knew the wind howled about outside...yet she was not bothered. Is it the ear puffs? The quarter sheet? The pure bliss I had in being on her back?
The vet diagnosed Limerick with mild cataracts in her left eye. While Lim can still see out of that eye, her vision is a bit altered. Due to her sensitive nature, she is reacting to this more strongly than you'd expect your average horse to. I understand perfectly...and this is where the sheepskin ear puffs come in.
With them in, she can hear but sounds that normally make her paranoid and anxious during a ride are muffled or unheard. These ear puffs, these $4.95 pieces of equipment, have been more of a blessing to us than I ever expected...I wish I had found them sooner.
These, combined with the unusual fluidity of her stride as of late (you guessed it--she's consuming all her supplements now!) have made for some wonderful rides.
At the start of this year I had some long-term plans. One of them included showing Limerick. I haven't quite abandoned those plans, but it's fair to say that they are on the back-burner for now. We're just enjoying our rides...we aren't working. I know Limerick could churn out a blue-ribbon Green As Grass test if I asked but I don't feel like asking, and I know she doesn't feel like doing it.
That's just fine. Enjoy the moment.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
There's no turning back now. This is it.
They enter the final turn and I hold my breath. My pounding heart fades away into the background. This is it.
There is no clear path. Can she do it? My heart jumps into my throat. My eyes burn hotly.
Then there it is! Like the strike of a great black panther, her long, strong body stretches out into her tremendous trademark move. I am vaguely aware of other horses in front of her shuffling into position. She is larger than life and she blows by them like they are nothing—the best colts and horses in the world, the most stellar Classic field in years, if not ever. They are nothing to her!
She powers down the stretch along the inside, and my heart is bursting within my throat, and Mike Smith guides her around a wall of horseflesh, and she is now on the outside, undaunted, ears pricked joyfully, opening her long dark legs up into ground-eating strides, and tears flow down my face as she flies beneath the wire the very picture of a horse thrilling in her own epic strength.
Even I can hear the roar of the Santa Anita crowd through the setting
Beneath Zenyatta on the television screen, I see the time—2:00 and change. It barely registers. My husband hugs me and I hold him tight. The emotions of the past 18 months are at a peak and the tears flow harder.
We are at the OTB off
I admit that at the time, I am a bitter horse-racing fan. Years of disappointment after disappointment have veiled my hopes of ever seeing a true legend in dark clouds.
But on that day, the clouds part just a bit. In a single tremendous move from behind, the tall, dark filly defeats my favorite with neck high and ears forward, running free and easy. Zenyatta…who is this Zenyatta? In her, I see something that I have only seen in grainy old videos of the reigning Queen of the Turf, Ruffian—a dark breathtaking graceful filly so fleet of foot that in every race, at every pole, she was in front, flying like the wingless Pegasus she was.
And so, began my love affair with a second tall, dark filly—a modern-day Ruffian named Zenyatta.
I dreamt of her. Following my personal superstition, I refused to bet her races. My heart pounded hard at the start of her races, and at the end, I would breathe a deep sigh of relief. As the wins racked up, these sighs turned into shaky breaths, then tears of joy. With every win, the clouds parted even further.
By the time the 2008 Breeder’s Cup Ladies Classic was done and won, I was convinced she was the greatest filly of all time, after Ruffian.
It is said that in 1973, the great golfer Jack Nicklaus fell to his knees and wept as he watched Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths in record-shattering time. Upon inquiring Haywood Hale Brown as to why he had such a reaction, Brown responded, “Jack, your whole life is a quest for perfection, and you saw it in the
Thirty-six years later, I understand perfectly. For on the evening of Saturday, November 7, 2009, I saw perfection, and it moved me.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Two other boarders and I rode our horses across the street to the forest preserve. We were out there for hours and Limerick, normally a nervous nellie on the trails, was wonderful. Honestly, it is really one of the best memories of my life.
Among the trees, in the quiet woods, on my horse.
I wish I could do it again tomorrow. But while I won't be on a trail ride, I will be riding for the first time in a month! Yes, that's right, a month. I feel like a bad horse mom. I feed Lim every evening, as usual, groom her five days a week, and pick her feet every day.
But I just haven't been able to ride. Early in the month, the weather was very bad on the nights I wanted to ride. Then during the next two weeks, I was almost afraid to ride--not because Limerick was being misbehaving--but because I really didn't want to risk falling and injuring myself so soon before my ultra-marathon on October 17.
Then, thanks to running said ultra-marathon with a cold, I developed bronchitis and was just very run down and exhausted, and it took all my energy to just get out to the barn and groom Lim. Riding was out of the question, especially since I knew she wouldn't give me an easy time of it!
I've also been having problems with some sort of food sensitivity. I can't quite figure out what the culprit is, but when I eat it, it just wipes me out for the day. Then there's my stiff, knotty neck.
I had been planning to ride yesterday. I lunged Limerick on Tuesday with the ear puffs in, and she was soooo good, she relaxed her tail and stretched her neck out long and low. But during work yesterday my neck started to bother me. I happened to feel a tight tendon on the front of my neck and after looking at it the office bathroom mirror, I became queasy. I have a thing about abnormal-looking tendons in people...particularly if they happen to be on me, and painful!
I want conditions to be just right for my first ride in so long. So I tearfully decided not to ride. I groomed Limerick instead, and she was so sweet to me.
She has a routine vet exam tomorrow morning (eye exam, radiographs of her left fore, possibly discussing the arthritis in her left hock), then I plan on riding in the late afternoon. Hopefully everything falls into place this time!
Monday, October 12, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Last night I sat down and removed all the SmartCalm from the Smartpaks she already had in her bin. Following orders of the Smartpaks will be without the SmartCalm.
If she continues to not consume her supplements then I will have to start giving them to her via oral syringe. I got into a good daily groove when I was giving her dissolved SMZs via oral syringe for some time so it won't be a big deal....and if I go on a trip, Lim is usually good for other people when they give her oral medication.
I am also considering having my new vet, Dr. Heinze, come out and meet the both of us and give Lim an injection of Adequan or Legend. I still have three vials of (good) Adequan from last winter, so this trip should not cost me much. I hope!
I can't believe how quickly Lim's winter coat has begun to grow in! Last week she was still a sleek, sassy thing. But almost overnight, she became a fuzzy darker brown. Now, either due to this (Who says mares don't have "I'm fat!" days, too!?) or because she is in heat, she's been Missy Crankypants lately.
If she were in heat, it would be a good thing....I feel like she skipped a heat cycle in September since the reproductive specialist gave her a shot of Estrumate in mid-August, thereby kick-starting her estrus cycles.
Monday, September 28, 2009
You can see a little of that in the video. But what do you think--do you see anything here? Being ever-paranoid about her left fore foot, my brain always automatically blames that foot for every misstep she takes.
It's most likely something in her hind end, however. I suspect that thanks to the Lucky Charms-smelling SmartCalm Ultra, she hasn't been eating all of her supplements as she should. Besides the SmartCalm, she's also on Smartflex Senior for her arthritis and SmartHoof for hooves, skin, and joint health.
Hopefully taking her off that stuff, which I don't think works anyway, will help.
Limerick on YouTube
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
My typical trail ride pre-plan is to ride her for 30-60 minutes prior to leaving the property. Last time, there was an unusual July chill in the air, the sky was overcast with ominous clouds , and Lim kept shaking her head and acting goofy while I rode in the outdoor arena before hitting the trail. And the usually-calm horse we were with was spooking more than Lim. Not good signs.
I think next time I’ll ride her both days prior to the trail ride, then again for an hour before the trail ride. And I am going out with a couple horses that ride the trails multiples a week and are pretty much unfazed by anything…except maybe cougars.
Supposedly there’s a cougar loose in the Danada forest preserve area now. And why am I planning a trail ride? Well, I’m guessing the cat—if it is positively, actually there—will have moved on by then. Actually, this cougar is disrupting my running more than my riding!
Thursday, September 3, 2009
I never got serious about it!
It's a shame but not a big deal. Limerick is physically and mentally younger than her 18 years. Her fitness doesn't spring back instantly as it once did but at the same time, I am confident that she could win just about any Green As Grass class at any time, providing she behaves.
She's a push-button horse to ride. She collects automatically, many times on her own accord. She quickly remembers leg yields and circles and serpentines. In short, there's always next year or the year after that.
By the end of 2008, after first seeing her rebound from arthritis and pedal osteitis, then thinking I was going to lose her--first as a companion, then as a riding horse--I was in a hurry to show her. I thought there was no better way to celebrate our return to riding than by riding in a show. But in the end, it wasn't necessary.
On the swollen udder/pseudopregnancy front, I am still awaiting Lim's return to estrus. The first, or worst, of the signs will probably peak just as my in-laws are visiting her this weekend.
"Is Limerick always so talkative and excitable? And my, she has a weak bladder!"
"Oh, uh, heh heh..."
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I’ve arrived at one of the most unusual chapters of my history with
Sometime in March, in the middle of Lim’s intense case of the spring crazies, as I groomed her I noticed her udder was a bit puffy. Since the swelling was mild and uniform, and
Over the next several months the swelling held steady. It intensified in late May but I was not ready to call the vet…yet. Lim was showing no signs of illness or soreness and the swelling continued to be uniform. No alarm bells were going off in my head.
Then one day in early June I noticed the udder was more swollen than ever. Now I was starting to worry a bit.
I asked a fellow boarder about it and she said it was odd. I even peeked at the udders of a couple other mares to make sure I wasn’t just “seeing” things with Lim’s udder. The teats of these mares were so tiny I could hardly find them. The vet that gave vaccinations at the barn happened to be there and I asked him to take a look at
Several violent kicks and one very angry mare later, the vet showed me his hand—it was covered in clear liquid.
I made an appointment with my own vet. In the meantime, not being one to sit on my hands, I began Googling and looking up past articles on The Horse about mammary swelling in non-pregnant mares. According to my research, the most common cause of such swelling was an infection. However, an infection often included lopsided swelling, fever, pus or gray/chunky discharge, and lameness. Lim had none of these symptoms.
I asked a vet friend what it could be and she gave me some possibilities. I also asked a woman with more mare udder experience than I could ever have in a hundred lifetimes about what it could be. She said that sometimes infections have no clear symptoms other than swelling.
I ran through a list of possible causes.
Infection? See above.
Ovarian cysts or tumors? Ehh…these will make a mare extremely irritable or even aggressive, and Lim had been unusually sweet in the past months. In fact she was so sweet that she let me hug and cuddle her much more than she typically allowed—and she always liked it!
Allergy or trauma to the area? Due to the very slow growth of the swelling and lack of hives or lameness or other more obvious symptoms, this was seriously doubtful.
Mammary tumor? This one scared me. From what I read, while very rare, mammary tumors were almost always fatal. Symptoms were often confused with those of an infection early on, and included swelling and clear discharge.
The fact that Lim had not gone into heat since April also came to mind, as well as the knowledge that Lim’s “boyfriend” Nick mounted her in the early spring. He was busted doing this to other mares so of course he’d do it to his top girl!
During the vet visit, my vet was not in the least concerned which reassured me…a bit. Like me, she was doubtful that
Two weeks later there was no change, other than Lim displaying very brief and weak heat symptoms a couple days after the injections (I would later learn this was from the estrogen injection).
I asked that she get a culture of the discharge so we could see what exactly was in there. She also drew blood to make sure everything was okay with that. The blood came back fine and the culture wasn’t bad, although it had a small population of bacteria that could be causing a problem. My vet prescribed Lim SMZ’s for an undetermined time—10 tablets twice a day.
Two weeks later they had done absolutely nil—in fact, her udder seemed a tad more swollen. I felt it was time for another opinion. My farrier recommended an equine reproductive specialist and I made an appointment with him.
This is where it gets interesting….
Lim was sedated and I positioned her for a transrectal examination and ultrasound (non-horse people: a mare’s reproductive organs are best felt through her butt. Fortunately the same doesn’t apply for humans…). The vet had his arm in there for some time. Finally, he pulled his arm out and said, “Something isn’t right.”
Now, I would usually freak out if a vet says “something isn’t right” but you know what? I got the impression that nothing was bad, just unusual. So, my curiosity at levels greater than ever, I waited.
The vet passed the ultrasound wand over Lim’s ovaries. The left one was just sitting there, doing nothing special. The right one had a white mass over it. The vet did not comment (but I would later find out that this was a corpus luteum). He passed the ultrasound wand over Lim’s uterus. Or at least, where it should be.
After a couple silent minutes he withdrew the wand. “I can’t find her uterus,” he said. “Are there any stallions on the property? It is possible she is pregnant.” What?! He explained that her uterus may be forward and down, in the pregnancy position. He said that the uterus is usually positioned in a semi-circle behind the ovaries and feels like a tubular muscle much like your forearm. Yet he did not feel or see this.
He applied more lube to the long plastic glove covering his hand and arm, and put his arm back in Lim’s butt.
Finally, he found her uterus. It was where it was supposed to be, by the ovaries, but rather than feeling like a muscle, it was thin and papery. He retrieved the ultrasound wand and passed it over her uterus again. This time he found it. The ultrasound confirmed the texture of the uterus and also revealed two harmless (and common) cysts in it.
After some discussion with the vet it was decided that since
He also reviewed the results of the blood and culture tests my usual vet ran and noted that the small population of bacteria that could be causing issues was resistant to SMZs. But you know what? My vet did not clean Lim’s udder before collecting the discharge for culture, while the reproductive specialist took care to clean her udder very well before collecting discharge for his own viewing purposes. So the results of the culture could be meaningless, after all.
I was shocked, relieved, and fascinated beyond belief. I started this appointment expectant with the unknown (would he find a tumor? Confirm the infection? What?) and walked away with a tentative, rare diagnosis.
How Lim reacted to the Estrumate injection—and a follow-up visit—would confirm the diagnosis. Did I want the specialist to come back? You bet!
Two days after the Estrumate injection, as I groomed
Exactly one week after the Estrumate injection, the specialist was back to being shoulder-deep in a sedated Lim’s butt. The examination revealed her uterus had sprung back to normal, which the ultrasound confirmed. The ultrasound also showed that in place of the corpus luteum on her right ovary was a 40mm follicle—she was ovulating (but I didn’t need an ultrasound to tell me that, oh no…). The uterine cysts were still there but unchanged.
The diagnosis of false pregnancy was confirmed!
I asked the vet why this had occurred. I knew from my recent research that this typically only happens when a pregnant mare loses her embryo and the brain does not receive notification of the loss. He said maybe, just maybe, her body mis-interpreted the uterine cysts as an embryo. Personally I also think the extreme swing of her hormones in early spring, along with her boyfriend mounting her, contributed to the whole thing.
I’ve always thought Lim was special, in so many ways….now she’s practically a textbook miracle!
Now I just need to watch and see if she comes back into heat in a couple weeks. As for her udder…it is expected to remain swollen for some months, but will go down eventually.
Monday, July 27, 2009
When you receive The Honest Scrap award you must stick to some rules:
Recognize your award presenter and link back to their blog in your post.
List 10 honest things about yourself that others might not now.
Present this award to 10 admirable bloggers and link to their blogs.
Leave a comment on your recipients' blogs to let them know to visit your post to retrieve their award.
Thanks to Cathryn for the Honest Scrap award!
10 honest scraps about me that you may not know:
1. I spend a good chunk of any extra money I come across on more tattoos.
2. I *love* horror movies and watch them whenever I get a chance. From classics to laughably bad cheesefests, I love them all!
3. To save time, I sometimes go on runs from the barn and back (I head to the trails across the street).
4. I love the city and the country but hate the suburbs.
5. I seriously considered moving to New Orleans at one time.
6. I sometimes get the impression that people think I'm a snob. I'm not--not at all. I'm just shy. Or I didn't hear you.
7. I read whenever I can--magazines, books, newspapers, the backs of cereal boxes.
8. I often feel like I don't have enough time to do everything. As a result I need to pare down my life to what matters--my animals and husband, working out, my job, and sleep.
9. For the above reason, I often have oatmeal for dinner--it's quick and easy to make! (I have a big lunch to make up for it)
10. And once again, for the above reasons I rarely watch TV. However, I always try to make time for Ghosthunters, Intervention, and Obsessed (the latter makes me feel better about my own neurotics!). And I never miss True Blood.
And now time to pass my award on to 10 other bloggers....okay, 9.
Fugly Horse of the Day
The Great Fitness Experiment
Clinton Lake Ultra
A Trail Runner's Blog
Riding the Wind
The Jockey - Arlington Park Live
Running off Road
Friday, June 26, 2009
However, Lim continued to have occasional issues with chewing dry grain. She no longer dribbled it but would sometimes stop and make a yawning face, her eyes rolling about within their sockets, as if something had become stuck in her mouth. And of course, the mouthful of partially-chewed grain would drop out of her mouth. I found that wetting the grain seemed to halt this problem.
But of course, it doesn't cure the problem, does it? I always felt so helpless when she made those faces. There was nothing I could do at that moment to make it better for her, and it wrenched my heart.
After a friend abruptly lost her mare to severe colic, I was more motivated than ever to have Lim's teeth fixed for once and for all. Last week I sent out a mass email to my fellow boarders asking if anyone else was interested in an appointment with Chenoweth. A boarder responded that she was having Lance Rubin do her horse's teeth on the 24th, and was I interested? Yeah! As I found out shortly, he had a great reputation. More opinions never hurt in a case like this.
Long story short, he said that while her individual molars were in good shape from February's floating, the rows of molars did not line up. Horses chew from side to side and if the rows of molars are not aligned properly with each other, instead of going over each other as the horse chews, they will bump together and prevent proper chewing. Ah ha! A light bulb went off in my head.
Chenoweth and my vet had said nothing about this; they had only spoken of the individual teeth in her mouth, of hooks and waves and slopes and ramps.
Hopefully Lim will have no further problems with chewing dry grain. Due to the heat I have been continuing to wet her grain (more water is always better at times like this) but once it cools down I will give her dry grain and see what happens. Fingers crossed!
Friday, June 19, 2009
Sometimes those which we hold closest to our hearts slip away before we are ready, at times we least expect. As horse owners, we know this can be particularly true with the strong yet fragile animals we love and admire so much.
Last year, my life with Lim was strewn with land mines. This year it has been blissfully quiet but if 2008 has taught me anything, it's to prepare for the unexpected.
Have you hugged your horse yet?
This post is dedicated to Lily Filly.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Be cautious around strange horses, especially when approaching from behind.
Travel the same way in the arena, or pass left shoulder to left shoulder.
Horses and riders having lessons had the right of way.
Lunge only when you had the space and permission.
When hacking while other people were jumping, always pay close attention and stay out of their way.
And the list went on.
One of the most important rules was the helmet rule. All the kids and jumpers (and most definitely the jumping kids!) had to wear riding helmets, no matter what. (Never mind that my early riding helmets were velveteen show pieces rather than safety helmets--once we knew better, the switch was easy).
I never questioned why I had to wear a helmet. I just did it. I never broke the habit--I can perhaps count on one hand the number of times I have ridden without a helmet. And I assure you, each of those rides was during the cool-down phase of a very long, very hot ride, with a very tired horse beneath me. Even then, fearing it was possible to fall and split my skull open as my sweaty horse moseyed along at a slug's pace, I would dismount after only a couple minutes. If I was really so hot that I couldn't stand to wear a helmet, then I wanted to be on the ground, not a horse.
The older I become and the more I read (a moving firsthand account in a recent issue of Equus comes to mind), see, and personally experience regarding equestrian safety, the more firm I am with my stance on wearing helmets. No matter what excuse you have, it's just not worth it to risk becoming a drooling, pooping vegetable that your loved ones need to change diapers for and hand-feed daily for as long as you live...if you can call that living.
Of course, while it's important to do everything you can to ensure the safety of your horse and yourself during rides, you need to also play a part in keeping things safe for fellow equestrians.
On Wednesday I saw a gross display that neglected both basic rules. The girl was a teen and mounted her tall, athletic gray without a helmet. I was riding Lim in the outdoor arena and was happy to have the company of another horse. Limerick had been behaving pretty well but was having some of her Ohmygosh what's happening over there?! moments. There had been no spooking but I had to work hard to keep everything easygoing and calm for the both of us.
The teenage girl on the gray promptly began to trot. I rode Lim at a collected sitting trot, mulling over in my head whether I should ask for the canter or not. My heart told me yes but my gut told me to wait a few moments. I'm glad I listened to it.
The girl asked her gray to canter after three minutes of trotting. She egged him on faster and faster. There was a ditch in the path along the rail on the western edge of the arena. Lim had to be cautious when trotting over it and, had we cantered, I was planning to go around the ditch.
The girl had her horse hand gallop over this ditch again and again, lap by lap, and I expected her horse to stumble at any time (in fact, he did once but quickly recovered himself). I knew that if he went down at that speed, her bare head would suffer severe damage on the hard arena footing.
She went faster and faster, leaning onto her horse's neck to encourage him to speed up. By this time I was resigned to walking Lim in the center of the arena; if I went anywhere near the rail we would be plowed into by the speeding gray. Lim began to get riled up. She started to dance and tense up and I knew that within seconds she would be running alongside the gray--hell, she would be passing him--totally out of control.
I am a quiet person and tend to keep to myself, but if I need to speak up then I never hesitate to do so. Now was one of those moments.
"SLOW DOWN!!!!" I yelled at the girl as she galloped by again, Lim grabbing at the bit and jumping forward beneath me. I can't always tell if my voice is loud enough to be heard but in this case, I had no doubt. The girl immediately pulled her blowing horse down to a walk. I half expected her to throw some angry words my way but she ignored me.
A hand gallop on a controlled horse is always fun. I hand galloped Lim in the same arena several times last year and loved every second of it. But I never did it with an unsuspecting equestrian in the arena with me. If I wanted to hand gallop and was with someone else, I would first ask them if a faster gait was acceptable.
And of course, I never, ever did it without a helmet. My barn is not known for excellent arena footing and a stumble was a very real possibility. That said, even if the footing was the smoothest, most perfect stretch of grass to ever exist, I would have my helmet securely on my head.
Like seat belts, helmets are ultimately a personal choice. If you ride with me without a helmet, I will not say a single word. But if you ride with me and disrespect the safety boundaries of my horse and I, then I will make sure you know it.
No one should be afraid to speak up for their own safety. If a deaf girl can do it, then so can you!
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
I did not ride her at all in April; instead, I did some ground work, hand-grazed her, and just hung out with her. I desperately wanted to ride but it just wasn't right. I am an anxious person, with a mind that can fixate on issues--real or perceived--and blow them out of proportion. Unfortunately, Lim is also the same way. If I am already stressed or anxious about other issues in my life, I can't help but carry these issues with me when I ride.
And of course, Lim will pick up on my anxiety and adopt it as her own. Or she will become fascinated with or unnerved by outside influences that she would have ignored a year ago. Thus begins a vicious cycle that we cannot escape from--she will become anxious, I will become anxious about her anxiety, and so forth so on.
Three weeks ago I had a lesson of sorts with Mary, an life-long horsewoman and fellow boarder. The goal of the lesson was not to learn or polish riding techniques, but to work on relaxing within the saddle. Mary first asked me if I was familiar with yoga.
Why yes, I practice it a few times a week, I thought. I also do sun salutations almost every morning. Then before she explained, I understood what I had to do.
Mary had me sit straight and deep and breathe, drawing air deep within my lungs. She explained that when she is tense, she sometimes holds her breath. I do, too. Who knows why--perhaps it's a leftover defense tactic from ancient man--he who breathed as he hid got eaten by the saber-toothed tiger.
Mary also told me that I had to ignore whatever Lim was hearing or looking at. She said that when Lim paid particular attention to something, my own attention would also become riveted upon whatever she was looking at or hearing. Then in turn, I would become curious and worried about whatever was happening.
"It's like you guys want to skip riding and just go out together and see what's going on!" she said. Oh so true.
Long story short, Lim was not exactly well-behaved during the lesson but, unlike what I expected, she did not spook or shy. Every time she began to stare and mentally get worked up over some small issue or the other, I would breathe deep and do my best to divert her attention with small circles and serpentines. For the first time since January, we successfully walked, trotted, and cantered without incident. I was thrilled but still a bit concerned about Lim's behavior during the lesson.
At least I had some new tools--or should I say, re-discovered some discarded tools I had long forgotten--to use with her.
Sunday was gorgeous. It was in the mid-70's and perfectly clear with nary a single breeze in the air. How could I not try to ride outside? Limerick was perfect from the first step. While energetic and motivated, she paid no attention to activities happening outside the arena. At one point early in the ride, another boarder put her horse in the round pen next to the outdoor arena. She then grabbed a lunge whip and went into the pen with her horse.
Oh no, she's going to wave that around and make her horse run, then Lim will be startled, then I'll get nervous, then Lim will get nervous...
Like a runaway horse, my brain was off. The woman flicked the whip at her horse. I held my breath and gathered up the reins to prepare for the inevitable.
But you know what? I realized Limerick was strolling along calmly beneath me, not a care in the world. I let the reins out again. She reacted by putting her head down lower. I realized I was holding my breath and let it out slowly, then inhaled deeply.
It was going to be alright.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Today she is 18 years old!
Once upon a time, I thought 18 was old for a horse. But looking at Lim, I don't think that way anymore. Just like some 50-year-old people look much younger than they really are, the same can apply to horses.
And she really, truly looks good. Every time I see her, I can't get over what a transformation she has gone through between now and last year. She hasn't looked this good for over a decade--if ever.
However, as she becomes older, a part of me becomes more fearful for her health. Just like with older people, older horses are more prone to a wide variety of health issues. Her tough physical journey of last year still has me on edge, and I am ever watchful of how much she poops (and how it looks), how much she pees (and ditto), how much water she drinks, whether she finishes all her feed, how she is eating, how her body condition looks, and etcetera, etcetera.
The older she gets, the more motivated I am to pay off my debt so I can begin saving for a horse farm. Unfortunately my stint of unemployment last year has really knocked me back in my plans but I think that with dedication and determination, I can be debt-free again within a couple years and begin saving.
In the meantime, Limerick, stay healthy! Happy birthday!
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Instead, I need to mention something else.
I'm sure you remember your childhood pets. I certainly remember all of mine.
The anoles that, when knocked out of their cage by one of our cats, would skitter over to the dollhouse my grandfather had made for me. I would find them hanging on the miniature curtains or perching on the just-right furniture, one slender reptile foot smothering the wooden face of a doll.
The mice and hamsters. The gerbils and their endless burrowing at the corners of the glass tank they lived in.
And the fish! I remember the 10-gallon aquarium my parents bought in 1989. The color scheme was orange, yellow, and brown and it held a pair of red and black swordtails. Before long I began helping my dad clean the aquarium. Not long after, I wanted my own aquarium.
First we bought a one-gallon betta bowl. I choose a pearly white betta but he unfortunately died not long after we brought him home. Then I picked a beautiful red betta and named him Fanner. I loved that fish! I spent hours watching him. I thought bettas were one of the most beautiful things on earth.
(I still do.)
A few months after the betta bowl, we bought a plastic terrarium to use as a fish tank. It was probably about four gallons in size. I added a chinese algae eater, a pink kissing fish and another betta to this tank.
Yet a few more months later, I got a five-gallon glass aquarium. To this tank I added yet another betta and a 3" common plecostomus. I named the pleco Peppered Pizza. Pizza didn't do all that much yet I instantly thought that, second to the betta, the pleco was the coolest fish ever.
Pizza grew. Fish came and went. I got a 29-gallon aquarium and complied all my fish into this one tank, save the bettas. The bettas eventually passed away but the 29-gallon aquarium prospered. Pizza continued to grow. By now, I knew that plecos could grow to be a foot long or more and wanted to get a larger aquarium.
But what else could I put in a larger aquarium? A little tired of community tanks, I wanted to graduate to jumbo fish. And so, one day in early 2000 I came home with a 75-gallon aquarium, an aquarium stand, and all the fixings.
Pizza moved into her new home. Two baby oscars followed not long after--but that's a story for another day.
Pizza grew rapidly. My interest in plecos blossomed to fever pitch. I was able to sex many plecos and confirmed that yes, Pizza is a girl. I also found out that her latin name is Liposarcus pardalis.
L. pardalis! She was an estimated ten years old and I finally knew what she was.
My pleco family began to grow but I held fast to a soft spot in my heart for Pizza. She was the one that started it all. And she was old! Or so I thought.
In the fall of 2005, Pizza was moved to a 180-gallon aquarium. She continued to grow and grow, eventually topping out at around 16 inches. She was a dwarf compared to my fat, 20+ inch Glyptoperichthys gibbiceps. Yet I still had a special spot in my heart for her.
Her spine was crooked. Superficial skin tumors developed. But her appetite and attitude remained. She was an old girl; she had seen it all. While she stayed away from the bullish G. gibbiceps, she didn't take any crap from the other plecos in the tank. Still, I watched her carefully. In 2007, I had a beloved oscar euthanized by a vet that specialized in fish and I was prepared to do the same for Pizza if necessary.
"I can't believe Pizza is 19 years old," I told my husband earlier this year. "That's older than Limerick." In fact, I suspected she was most likely even older than that--possibly 21-23 years old.
I remember seeing her in that aquarium full of tiny plecos at Jungleland Pet Shop in 1991. I remember her shoving other plecos away with her giant pectoral fins by snaking her body back and forth. I remember her coming up to the surface of the 75 gallon aquarium when I fed the oscars. She knew there were protein-rich pellets up there and, partially on her back, glided around sucking down the pellets. I remember all the moves she has been through--first from aquariums, then to different apartments. Four aquariums, three homes. Always with me.
Today she passed away peacefully. I was still at work when my husband told me. My sorrow was instant, and while I knew that it had been inevitable, I was also surprised by her death. When a animal is a part of your life for nearly 20 years, sometimes you feel as if they will live forever.
Then my husband told me something amazing. One of our other catfish--a lima shovelnose--was darting about the tank, up and down, up and down. The lima is not a laid-back fish but she is also not one to go bersek without rhyme or reason.
"Now she is hovering over Pizza's body," my husband said. He took a cell phone photograph for me. I was amazed and touched. I was not alone in my sorrow.
Love, having no geography, knows no boundaries.
Rest in peace, Peppered Pizza, and thank you for the past 18+ years.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
I feel that riding her will help my calf recover more thoroughly. I don't know why; I just feel it. But most of all, I simply miss my presence atop her high-withered back. Every time I lift myself aboard, I am back within my soul.
The last time I had a truly good ride on her--one completely free of nerves on both our parts--was January 1st. That's almost four months. One-third of a year. Crazy, isn't it?
Sometimes I worry that I will forget how she feels beneath me. How any horse feels beneath me. I know it's impossible. When you've been riding for almost 23 years, you just don't forget. When you've been riding that long, every single time you climb into a saddle or onto an equine back, the muscles alive beneath the sleek hide, you feel deep within the bones of your legs and hips and lower back that that horses--with all their wild beauty--were truly made to be ridden by us fortunate, grateful humans. You feel like you are home.
Every time you climb aboard, an ancient part of your soul remembers...
Among our first conscious signs of ourselves, in the limestone caves of Spain and France, they are already there, prancing, stampeding, and evidence suggests that we had already begun to see them as something more than themselves...There is what looks like an altar to the horse in the south of France, in a cave at a place called Landes, dating back fifteen thousand years, a "kneeling sandstone figure" of a mare amid skulls and horsehead figurines. Our awe in their presence--who has not felt it, just standing across the fence from one?--is as old as anything we can call ours.
-John Jeremiah Sullivan
Monday, April 20, 2009
The rain stirred my spirit and I wanted to run long and hard. I relish runs in bad weather. The worse the weather, the better the run. But my still-healing calf requests patience and an easy 10 to 9-minute-mile pace.
Pulling the brim of my white Nike cap down low, I ran up the sidewalk along Leask Lane. I crossed the street twice to continue following the sidewalk, which started and ended without reason on either side of the road.
I hadn't gone a quarter mile when I saw the hawk. Instantly recognizable with its large wingspan and gliding flight, it swooped down through the drizzle and rain and out of sight just ahead of me. I ran quickly to where it had ended up and searched the sky above me.
It was perched atop a street light, head cocked towards me, one brilliant dark eye on me. It had seen me long before I saw it. Content that I was nothing of concern, it shook the rain from its feathers and groomed its white belly with that hooked beak. After a minute, sleeker and satisfied, it focused on the ground before it. I made a kissing noise at it. It ignored me.
I had to go. I had to meet my husband at the gym. Casting one last look at the hawk, I resumed my run. I ran across the intersecting side street by the street light. And there, right in the middle of the unmarked right lane of the road, was a small toad.
I applied the brakes and turned back to the toad. I reached for the toad. A middle-aged guy in a Lexus SUV pulled up to the intersection in the other lane, pretending to not notice the strange behavior of the runner on the road in the rain.
I picked the toad up and looked at it. It was small and wet and cold and did not protest. Since it was not fat, I guessed it to be a male. I half expected it to reward me with a sudden stream of alarmed-toad pee but it did not. I knew that if I left it on the road, it would either become hawk food or roadkill.
Should I put him in the grass by the curb? In the bushes a dozen feet up the sidewalk? I knew that none of these options were good. The road was too close. My run was going to take me to the Danada trail head and beyond. Perfect; I could drop the toad off at the big pond there. Perfect.
The toad fit snugly into my right hand. With my keys in my left, I ran carefully. I did not want to jar the toad around and force him to bail out of my hand as I ran. Yet I did not want to squeeze him so tight that he was uncomfortable. To further complicate things, I knew that running with an altered gait could do plenty of damage to my healing calf.
So for the next mile, I had the not-so-easy of task of running with unaltered biomechanics for the sake of my legs while, in one hand, carrying a toad ever so delicately and smoothly, as if it were a ripe peach that was not to be dropped at any cost.
The rain continued. I had been a bit cold before encountering the hawk but now I was warm with the energy of an important mission.
At last I passed the barn and ran up the limestone trail head. I ran down the gentle slope to the left and searched for a clearing to the pond. As soon as I found one, I slowed to a walk and headed for the edge of the pond. I placed the toad on the pebbled edge of the water. I gave him a little nudge. He did not move. I stroked the toad along the side of his head with my index finger and he leaned into the pressure. I stroked the other side and he shifted his weight and leaned into that side. I smiled.
I turned to leave but had a thought. It was cold and wet and the toad was exposed there on the pebbles. I picked him up again and he croaked. I did not hear it but I saw the vocal sac blow out red and round and my hand vibrated with the croak.
How amazing, I thought. I have handled countless toads, particularly as a child, but never had one croak and sing in my hands.
I set the toad in a nest of grass on the bank of the pond. He croaked again, and again. I hoped he would find a mate there. Finally remembering that I had to be at the gym soon, I turned and left.
Today is Day 1 of Week 1 of my 18-week marathon training. I am generally only superstitious when it comes to horse racing but I hope the toad brings me good luck during my marathon training.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
It’s amazing. I have, especially of late, always been acutely aware of the beating heart within my chest.
But until I saw it on an ultrasound screen on April 2nd, I never truly made a connection with it. I lay on the gurney next to the ultrasound machine, electrodes all over my chest and abdomen. I felt warm goo and slight discomfort as the ultrasound probe jabbed my ribs. The technician adjusted the monitor so I could see it. On the screen, in black and white and gray, was my beating heart.
“And this,” the technician said, “is your heart.”
The technician focused on my mitral valve. It billowed open and shut, open and shut. Although I was at rest, the heart’s pulsing was so rapid that I marveled at how it must look during exercise, during my runs.
After the initial ultrasound I had to walk, and then jog, on a treadmill. They were hoping to get my heart rate up to 192. After the maximum heart rate--or as close as they could get--had been reached, the treadmill would abruptly stop and I was to immediately lay back down on the gurney so the technician could ultrasound my heart again.
Honestly, that was probably the most difficult run I have ever done. I had running pants and shoes on but nothing on top except for the zillions of electrodes and a hospital gown. A huge tangle of wires connected me to various machines. The treadmill was narrow and short, with handlebars on one side and in the front. The room seemed so small and claustrophobic. Suddenly, falling off the treadmill was a real threat.
“I hope I don’t fall off this thing!” I said.
“You won’t—no one has fallen yet!” the younger technician said. I recalled what they had told me—that they were not used to young, healthy patients in the room.
“Well, it would be ironic if I was the first,” I said. They laughed. I gripped both handlebars tightly. I knew it would make running even more difficult but I was so sure I would fall off the treadmill without holding on.
(As a result of my hearing loss, my balance isn't the best. My center of balance can easily become disorientated. I am a klutz!)
The younger technician set the treadmill at an ever-increasing incline and pace. As I walked, then ran, she periodically took my blood pressure. A large screen with squiggly lines tracked my heartbeat and displayed my heart rate. After fifteen minutes of this torture (of which the only bright side was the fact that my calf was not hurting at all), my heart rate was at 179.
As planned, the treadmill stopped abruptly and I laid back on the gurney, doing my best to not trip up in the trillions of wires around my torso and legs.
More warm goo. The uncomfortable probe. Suddenly my heart was there, pounding clearly and furiously on the ultrasound screen. I waited for it to palpitate.
Laying there, waiting and watching the mitral valve billow open and shut at a dizzying pace, I realized that my heart would not abruptly stop on me as I had once worried. I realized that this incredible, truly involuntary organ was always working, always beating. As I slept, as I ate, as I watched television, as I ran, as I groomed Limerick, as I read, as I swam under water, lungs held tight with air, as I held my husband’s hand, my heart was beating. No matter what I was doing, it was beating.
And right there, I suddenly fell in love with my heart.
Sure, it will palpitate. Its beating will plunge if I run then stop. It will skip or add beats. It may even hurt. But it is doing none of these things on purpose. It is how it is—mitral valve prolapse and all. I regretted the years I spent smoking. I regretted the bad food I ate in college. I regretted the years I didn’t exercise as much as I should have. I regretted everything that could have hurt it.
My heart may not be perfect, but it is there for me. And it’s up to me to be there for it.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Suddenly feeling like a pompous dweeb in my running tights, I began walking.
I walked not just because I was trying to take it slow and easy, but because I was scared. If the pain returned then so would the frustration and the self-loathing. Not being able to run due to an injury has been far more depressing than I thought it would be. I have read first-hand accounts of the anger, depression, and frustration that injured runners struggle with on a daily basis as they heal. I would sympathize but in my heart I didn't truly understand.
Now I do.
I have tirelessly been doing all I can to help my calf heal. I bought a foam roller and The Stick, two pieces of physical therapy paraphernalia that no runner should be without. I religiously kept my calf wrapped in self-sticking athlete's tape, and when the tape no longer self-stuck, I borrowed from Limerick's bottomless stash of Vet Wrap and began using that.
I saw a physical therapist for a free injury consultation and he concurred with what I had known all along--mild strain. He recommended that I purchase orthotics for my over-pronation (when I run, my feet--particularly the right foot--roll inwards upon landing). He also gave me a routine of stretches I can do for my calf.
That very evening, my husband and I visited Naperville Running Company (which is fast becoming one of my favorite stores!) and there, one of the employees helped me choose orthotics for my running shoes. I also bought a pair of Zensah calf compression sleeves to replace the Vet Wrap. To my distaste, the only color available in my size was pink but I bought them anyway.
That alone tells you how dedicated I am!
And so, every night I have been doing the following, in order:
- Remove the calf sleeve
- Do the prescribed stretches
- Use the foam roller and The Stick
- Put the calf sleeve back on (and there it will stay until the next evening, showers being the exception)
- Ice the calf for 20 minutes
And back to Tuesday. I walked for a quarter mile. Tentatively, I broke into a slow jog. My calf felt okay. I jogged further. Still okay.
After a little over a half mile, I felt a slight twinge of pain in the calf. Right away, I slowed to a fast walk. It continued like that for another mile and a quarter, with much more time walking than running.
I was disheartened but not discouraged. The next day at work I decided to schedule an appointment for a sports massage on my calf. The physical therapist I had seen highly recommended the massage, anyway.
The past 24 hours have been excellent for my calf!
Yesterday evening I tried another walk/run. This time there were no twinges of pain and I spent far more time jogging (at a yawningly-slow pace but hey!) than walking. I walked at the start and ends of the run, and I walked up the steepest part of the hill at the end of my route.
I was elated! I was so happy to be out and running, pain-free, on the limestone trails that I had a huge smile on my face. I probably looked like a maniac but fortunately, no one else was around to see.
Then today at lunch I went back to the therapy office where I had my original injury assessment for the sports massage on my lower legs. It hurt at times, and the therapist noted that she could feel the strain (not to mention several other knots here and there). She said I was doing all the right things and to keep it up.
My marathon training is scheduled to begin next weekend. Originally, I thought I would be starting it with a 35-miles-per-week running mileage but now it will have to be lower. No biggie; I'll be happy to just stay on schedule for the training.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
They say Hawthorne Park is no Arlington Park. They are correct.
Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun. Besides the Illinois Derby, there were a lot of Derby (and Oaks) prep stakes races on the televisions. It was a rare day of losing money for me versus breaking even or winning, but I only lost five bucks so it wasn't a big deal.
Every year I pick a Derby horse a month or two prior to the race. This year my horse is Quality Road. He didn't run in the Illinois Derby but blew away his rivals in the Florida Derby a couple weeks prior.
Giant Oak; he was touted as being truly
giant but...he really isn't. Either way,
he's a handsome horse. Placed in the race.
On Sunday I woke up at 4:00am after five hours of sleep for the schooling dressage show at Fields and Fences in Wadsworth/Gurnee. I wasn't planning on riding (good thing, because I technically couldn't, anyway...different story!) but I wanted to tag along with Lim to take in the experience of being at a show, stress-free.
Long story short: the day was endless, I was exhausted, Lim was fairly well behaved (she did spook at a cooler on a table and went into the classic Thoroughbred "periscope pose" countless times) but thanks to the horrible weather blowing in and the other horses freaking out in the arena, I knew that had I ridden her, she would have been truly awful.
It was one of the longest days of my life but I did have fun and enjoyed watching my friends from the barn perform. I was very proud of all of them, even if their horses weren't behaving perfectly!