Friday, June 26, 2009

Another day, another floating!

Limerick officially had her fourth floating in 12 months the other day. When her teeth were last done in February, Ron Chenoweth declared her mouth a mess and stated he would need to return over the summer. Fine.

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

Have you hugged your horse today?

If you haven't, then do it now. If you can't do it now, then do it as soon as you can.

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

A lesson in equestrian safety.

Growing up riding at a hunter/jumper schooling barn, safety was firmly entrenched in my early lessons with horses. Some safety rules were directly taught. Some were listed on large signs. And others were unspoken yet always followed.

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

A Sunday ride

For the first time since January, and just when I needed it most, Limerick presented me with a wonderful, calm ride on Sunday.

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.