Tuesday, December 21, 2010

And....the riding screeches to a halt.

Yeah, what it says. Over the past couple weeks, the temperatures dipped down to abnormally cold levels, the wind howled, and I just didn't want to do much more than bundle up in 1000 layers and do the basic feed/muck stall/adjust blanket/scratch withers/kiss routine with Limerick.

And then...

Last Thursday night, I went out for a run. The snow was falling, it wasn't too cold for once, and it was simply beautiful! I wanted to run a normal winter route--along the sidewalks along Warrenville, up Yackley and onto Ogden. Well, I got to the corner of Warrenville and Yackley and abruptly found myself on my back, stars of pain shooting within my head. It hurt so, so badly--it reminded me of the amazing pain I would feel when I hit my head on the ground after falling off horses. But worse.

What had happened?! I was stunned--there's no better word for it. Just stunned.

Suddenly I realized I was by an intersection and people in the nearby cars could probably see me on the ground. I jumped up and moved off the black ice that had taken me down and onto the snow-covered grass. I found my headlamp a few feet away and picked it up and put it back over my head. OH WOW, the pain! My head did not like that headlamp strap...at all!

I tried to shake everything off and proceeded to walk in the direction of my intended route. I got a dozen feet before I realized it was really stupid to be heading that way. I had just fallen on concrete, on the back of my head, what was I thinking? I should go home! The throbbing headache in my forehead was enough to convince me.

When I arrived home and talked to my husband, it was like trying to talk through mush. To compromise, I didn't say much and did my best to speak clearly. I didn't think about why that was happening, and it resolved itself within a few minutes.

But the next day--headache still present--I looked up concussions and read that difficulty speaking after hitting your head is a common symptom of a mild concussion. Ugh. To be safe, I decided I wouldn't ride for about a week--maybe more.

I have a ride scheduled for tomorrow (err, yes, less than a week) but I may change my mind. I plan on lunging Limerick first to get the silliness out of her, and I'll tell her to take it easy on her poor mama!

Hopefully there are no more setbacks. (knock on wood)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Winter's definitely here

We're sinking deeper into the icy clutches of winter. Normally at around this time, I would be riding less and less. But thanks to my new-found determination to get Limerick into shape for jumping, that's not the case this year.

Fortunately we have a nice warm polyfleece quarter sheet (hunter and blue plaid, not Newmarket stripe) to help keep us warm. It's the type that falls over my lap while I ride and is very cozy (although I do sometimes wonder what will happen if I fall off her while that thing is wrapped around us--will she drag me to a painful albeit fashionably cozy death?)

Then of course, I wear my usual Toastie Toes when it's cold enough...and I also have long johns that I wear under my jeans while riding....and can't forget the two pairs of socks....and turtleneck...and thick hoodie...and...ah, yeah, I look like the Michelin Man upon Limerick's back.

But it pays off.

I've had a lot of fun rides on her, lately. I even acted upon my longtime wish to ride her in the snow and, after a warm-up in the indoor arena, led her to the outdoor arena this past Sunday night. It was well after dark and bitterly cold (I would guess about 10 degrees).

On our way to the outdoor arena, in the dark I could see the dim shape of her head perk up and gaze before her. She then whipped her head one way, then another, observing, watching, listening. Uh oh.

I almost turned around when I saw the dark shape of another horse in the arena. It was my buddy Mary on her mare, Abby. I knew Abby could play babysitter for Lim so that decided it. I proceeded.

In the arena, I mounted up. It was very dark but the white glow of the snow revealed the way. I sent Limerick forward and could feel the snow crunching beneath her hooves. I kept her at a walk off the rail in case it was icy. The stars were out. The biting air made my eyes water. My lap was warm beneath the polyfleece sheet. Lim looked around but was calm. At one point she saw the dark blobs of the pasture horses in the distance to the right of us and stopped to stare at them, her head craned towards their way. I stroked her long fuzzy neck and Mary stopped Abby alongside to talk to Limerick. Lim eventually relaxed and continued on.

After a while, Mary and I became too cold to continue so we dismounted. But I can't wait to do it again! It was a beautiful ride--very short but very sweet.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Long live the Queen

This is it--Zenyatta is officially retired. I'm a mix of emotions--happy that she has been retired safe and sound, elated that I have been able to bear witness to this great mare (and in person for her last race, too!), a tad disappointed that she won't be raced in the Dubai World Cup next March, which I think she could win...and of course, I am sad.

I have been thinking about a particular poem for the past few weeks. It was written in 1937 by Joseph Alvie Estes:

'Big Red'

The days are long at Belmont.

Speed they never learn.

And it's many a day since Man o' War

Has looped the upper turn.

The guineas stopped their rubbing,

The rider dropped his tack

When the word went round that Man o' War

Was coming on the track.

The crowd was hoarse with cheering

At ancient Pimlico

The day he won the Preakness-

But that was long ago.

The dust is deep at Windsor,

The good old days are gone.

And many a horse is forgotten,

But they still remember one.

For he was a fiery phantom

To that multitudinous throng-

Would you wait for another one like him?

Be patient: years are long.

For here was a horse among horses,

Cast in a Titan's mold,

And the slant October sunlight

Gilded the living gold.

He was marked with the god's own giving

And winged in every part;

The look of eagles was in his eye

And Hastings' wrath in his heart.

Young Equipoise had power

To rouse the crowded stand,

And there was magic in the name

Of Greentree's Twenty Grand.

And Sarazen has sprinted,

And Gallant Fox has stayed,

And Discovery has glittered

In the wake of Cavalcade.

We watch the heroes parading,

We wait, and our eyes are dim,

But we never discover another

Like him.

A foal is born at midnight

And in the frosty morn

The horseman eyes him fondly

And a secret hope is born.

But breathe it not, nor whisper,

For fear of a neighbor's scorn:

He's a chestnut colt, and he's got a star-

He may be another Man o' War.

Nay, say it aloud--be shameless.

Dream and hope and yearn,

For there's never a man among you

But waits for his return.

When Zenyatta's retirement was announced today, initially I wasn't that sad. I guess "relieved" would be a better word for how I felt. But when I went back and looked through my email archives for this poem, I couldn't help but become overwhelmed with sadness as I read the poem. When I got to "We watch the heroes parading, We wait, and our eyes are dim, But we never discover another like him" the tears welled up.

When any good horse retires, fans of the sport can't help but search for the next good one. And they will come along--it's inevitable. There will be another Curlin, another Azeri, another Invasor, another Tiznow, another Skip Away; although there will always be those to debate that. There's already another Miesque (and beyond) in the great Goldikova, and I honestly never thought there would be another filly like Ruffian until I saw Zenyatta. Even then, their differences are so vast that I can't tell you with certainty that Big Z could beat Ruffian on any given day.

But will there be another Zenyatta? No. I can't imagine it. I've been reading about the great champions of racing since I was around six or seven, and never--from the legendary Eclipse to the immortal Lexington, up until the days of Colin and Man o' War, and to the present, have I ever read about a horse with even half the charisma of Zenyatta.

Many of the greats knew they were great. Most were business-like about it, while some posed each time someone raised a camera (Secretariat, I'm talking about you!). Yet others were infamous for their ornery personalities (John Henry), which only further endeared them to the public. All had charisma to one degree or another.

But has there ever been another horse that literally danced in the paddock? A horse that, in the middle of the post parade, would would stop to survey his or her "public" like a member of royalty? A horse that was the equine equivalent of Muhammed Ali declaring "I am the greatest!"? A horse with a thrilling deep-closing style that never failed to both frighten and elate her fans? A horse that, save her first couple races, always returned to cheers and applause--even after her lone defeat? A horse that could do all this yet be so gentle and kind in the backstretch that she allowed her public to kiss her on the nose, and would return in kind? A horse that calmly allowed the wheelchair-bound to approach her and put a hand on her mighty shoulder? A horse that, with kind eyes, lowered her head down low to gently nuzzle the heads of small children?

I can't even imagine it.

Zenyatta grazes on a strip of grass beneath a tree on the Hollywood Park backstretch. Her dark bay, almost black, winter coat has softened her shine just a bit. The late fall afternoon sun casts a golden glow. Fallen leaves and long shadows. Blue skies. She raises her head to gaze at the devoted gathering standing behind the chain link fence next to her, her eyes soft, her ears pricked. She knows she is loved, but does she know by how many? Does she know just how many unseen people are thinking about her at the moment?

Thanks for the memories, Zenyatta--the past 32 months have been a wonderful, wild ride. I'll always cherish the memories of you. Enjoy the green hills of Kentucky!

Nay, say it aloud--be shameless.

Dream and hope and yearn,

For there's never a man among you

But waits for her return.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A training plan for Limerick

I'm finally back to riding Limerick regularly (I took some time off after running an epic distance). She is doing very, very well, and it's clear that she is eager to please me while under saddle.

Since I am a self-coached runner, I always write up a training plan for myself. Seeing a plan on paper ensures that I stick to it, which of course will produce better results at the race.

In Limerick's case, while I don't have any goals to show her (maybe someday, but not now, nor in the immediate future), I do have a goal of being able to ride a jumping course of decent height--a couple feet or so--on her at least a couple times a month.

Naturally, getting her there will take some conditioning. So I decided to write out a plan for her, just like I would myself! This plan is much more flexible than the complex tables and charts I make for my running, but it's a good start and will hopefully put me on the path to jumping courses again.



1-2 Rides Easy/light collection/trail


1 Ride Dressage

(Individual moves, tests or exercises)

1 Ride Jumping

(poles, individual jumps, courses, or grids)

MONTHLY (from scratch)

1st Month – Build endurance/rhythm/focus,

no jumping fences, pole grids

2nd Month – Small jumps/grids, heightened collection and

dressage exercises

3rd Month – Courses/grids with small jumps,

increasingly complex dressage moves

4th Month – Medium (2.5ft) jumps,

1st level dressage tests and up



Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Still Pinching Myself: A recap of the Breeder's Cup

My husband and I awoke shortly after 2am on Saturday to drive down to Kentucky for the Breeder's Cup. We arrived at Churchill Downs at around 11am and settled in our seats in section 124.

They were nice for bench seats--we had an open aisle in front of us and had brought blankets to layer on the seats. It was my husband, a friend of his, and myself. We watched the first few races from the seats and then for the 7th race, the Juvenile, I headed down to the paddock to "camp out" by the rail until the Breeder's Cup Classic--race 11. I was determined to see Zenyatta up close.

Another racing fan I had met on Facebook, his fiance, and I stayed by the tunnel for the Juvenile, then when the horses left for the track and the crowd began to thin, I steered us to the central part of the paddock rail. There were already a lot of Zenyatta fans camping out by the rail, but we managed to find empty rail space--score!--and settled in for the long wait.

There was a large television screen above the paddock that would allow us to watch the races unfold throughout the day, and on it we watched Uncle Mo deliver an impressive win in the Juvenile.

I had another reason to camp out at the paddock: Goldikova. The great mare was to race in the 8th, the (turf) Mile. If she won, she would be the first horse in history to win three Breeder's Cup races (she won the Mile in 2008 and 2009). An European runner, she was a star in her own right and, if she won the Mile, would be one of the greatest mares of all time.

She arrived at the paddock fashionably late, her trainer, Freddy Head, by her neck. His dedication to her was evident; he rarely took his eyes off her. Interestingly enough, as a former jockey, he had won the Mile on the famous Miesque in 1987 and 1988.

Goldikova was such a lady, such a professional. The crowd in the paddock was heavy with her fans and all eyes were on her. She did not disappoint. As my heart hammered away and the folks at the paddock cheered loudly for her, she delivered a thrilling stretch run and won the Mile handily. What a mare! I felt so fortunate to see history in the making with her.

And she wasn't even the finale of the day!

The Dirt Mile and Turf horses came and went. The sun slowly glided across the sky and down into the horizon. It became colder and colder and my toes slowly went numb despite two pairs of socks and Toastie Toes foot warmers in my shoes. I had not drank any water for most of the day, just some coffee, to ensure that I wouldn't need to use the restroom and lose my place at the rail. Nevertheless, my bladder was beginning to fill. I ignored all this and waited, waited. I had slowly worked my way forward to the rail at the far front and had a completely clear view of the paddock walking ring.

After the 10th race, the crowds trickled in steadily. Jerry and Ann Moss, the owners of Zenyatta, walked in to loud cheers and applause. They waved at the crowd before heading over to stand by stall number 8, Zenyatta's stall. Before long the middle of the paddock was teeming with well-dressed racing folks and police reinforcements were placed around the edge of the walking ring. All around me, Zenyatta fans wore teal and pink and waved TVG-provided and homemade signs showing support for the great mare.

I watched the clock ticking down--35 minutes to post...30 minutes to post...she should be here soon!...27 minutes to post....and then without further ado the paddock television was on her, the Queen, as she walked along the track to the paddock. She pranced and pawed and stretched out that long right leg of hers into her trademark dance. Her constant companion and groom, Mario Espinoza, seemed to barely have a hold on the massive power next to him.

The Queen was arriving!

My eyes grew misty and a huge grin spread over my face. I felt a sudden urge to either laugh or cry, or both. After following her career closely since the 2008 Apple Blossom, I was finally here, I was finally about to see her in the flesh. It almost felt like a dream. It was a dream!

When she entered the tunnel to the paddock, she stopped to gaze at the crowd before her, her fine neck and head held high. She reminded me of photographs of Man o' War when she did that--that trademark high neck, ears pricked, the look of eagles in his eyes. She abruptly pawed the ground and tried to circle Mario. He put his free hand on her neck and shoulder and convinced her to move forward.

Even I could hear the cheers and applause that followed her as she walked out onto the walking ring. I craned my neck to the right and watched for her intently. First a cameraman came into view, semi-crouched down for a dramatic view, walking backwards, his camera pointed ahead of him. I held my breath and did not blink.

And then there she was--all 17.1 hands of dappled dark bay, Zenyatta!!--and then she was gone, headed to her stall. It was just a quick flash--blink and you miss it. I could just barely see the top of her head over the thick crowd (which was saying something, considering that I couldn't see any of the other horses in the walking ring over that crowd).

The other horses in the Classic circled the walking ring but Zenyatta stayed put. Those horses seemed to be but secondary players in the main act of the Zenyatta show. But make no mistake--they were the best male horses in the country. I snapped photo after photo of them.

Quality Road in particular took my breath away--he was a masculine bull of a horse, more Quarter Horse than Thoroughbred in looks. I had liked him immensely since his Derby trail days of early '09, and in fact he had been my Derby pick before he was taken out of the race.

And then it was riders up! One by one, the mounted horses walked by, one or two people--grooms, assistant trainers, or trainers--leading them out to the track and the waiting ponies. As I snapped photographs, out of the corner of my eye I never stopped watching Mike Smith and his bright, familiar teal and pink silks.

The camera was beginning to frustrate me--it was getting dark so I had to use the flash in order to take decent photos, but the camera was slow and uncooperative. I knew I would have one chance at a photo of Zenyatta; any other attempts would not allow me to gaze upon her with my own two eyes.

Neck bowed, she was suddenly before me. Now! I took the photograph then forgot about it. I, as well as everyone on the rail by me, leaned forward to watch her pass. I did not take any other photographs after that--I was so intent on watching the Queen leave the walking ring.

As soon as she was out of sight, I rushed through the crowd, moving as quickly as I could without crashing into anyone, and headed for my seat. I wasn't alone--all around me people were walking and even running (okay, yeah, me included!) back to their seats. I did not want to miss any second of Zenyatta's time on the track.

Back at my seat, I stood upon the bench just like everyone else and my husband gave me the binoculars. I watched Zenyatta and Mike Smith through them as they milled around the the turn for home, awaiting the starting gate.

The horses were loaded and I squeezed my husband's hand. This was it. The gates opened and everyone broke well.

Zenyatta was dropping behind, that's okay--normal for her...dropping behind, behind...wait, why is she so far behind? Dread began to taint the hopeful anxiety I had started with. The horses went around the far turn, Zenyatta trailing the leaders by at least 20 lengths.

The horses disappeared from view and I watched them on the television screen. Come on Zenyatta, move up! I noticed that the horses ahead of her had divided into two clusters. Tricky, but I had confidence in her. Sure enough, she began to eat up ground. Soon she was right behind the trailing cluster, and now she was passing them.

The turn for home was coming up and my heart began to pound. This is it, this is it, can she do it? Make no mistake, I had zero doubts in the talent of this great mare but it was a horse race--anything can happen.

She seemed to swerve off the rail then ended up behind a wall of horses at the head of the stretch. No room! She was several lengths off the leaders, and a horse--I didn't know who--was breaking free and running for home. Mike Smith sent Zenyatta wide and she dug in hard, her massive strides eating up ground. She blew by horse after horse, and the grandstand--me included, the one that never yells at races!--screamed for her to move up and catch the free-running leader, Blame.

It seemed like she was running one stride for Blame's every two strides; she was a giant unstoppable machine, moving faster and faster with every jump, and then she was virtually even with Blame, and then his head bobbed down and the wire went overhead.

In the first instant everyone cheered for her but in the next, the place was silent. Had she gotten it? The PHOTO sign went up and everyone waited. The race replayed on the big screen over and over again, the final stretch run re-played in slow motion. It was clear, Blame's head came down right at the finish line, while Zenyatta's stayed up. He had gotten it...he had defeated the great mare.

I stood on the bench, stunned. All around me, silent people trickled out of the grandstand. I watched her on the television. As she was unsaddled, she pawed the ground fiercely, her dirt-caked face, chest and legs an unusual sight. Perhaps she thought she had won and wondered why she wasn't in the winner's circle. The camera followed her as she was led up the track towards the barns, and no doubt a good bath.

I thought back to an article I read many years ago about Nijinsky II, who was undefeated until his final two races. As he was led back to the barns after his last race, a woman called out, "We still love you, dear!" I also thought about Seattle Slew's defeat in the 1978 Jockey Cup Gold Cup, a defeat so valiant that it boosted his rank amongst the legends of racing from simply great to immortal. And finally, I thought about Man o' War overcoming impossible circumstances in the 1919 Sanford, only to be narrowly defeated by a horse appropriately named Upset. It was the legendary horse's only defeat, and it, too, was so valiant that now a brass plaque re-telling the tell of his lone loss is mounted by his grave site.

Zenyatta--we still love you, we always will--and in your own valiant loss, you have proven yourself to be worthy of mention in the same breath as the all-time greats in the history of racing. Not all will agree with this statement, but over time the specifics and particulars about your wins will be overlooked and your legend will preserve.

Sidney's Candy

The great Goldikova


Sidney's Candy (9) and Goldikova (10)

Goldikova after saddling

Goldikova and her ever-attentive trainer

Gio Ponti (3) and Delegator (5)

Court Vision (5) and Sidney's Candy (9)

Sidney's Candy

Goldikova en-route to a historic third win in the Mile

Dirt Mile winner Dangerous Midge

My view of the Spires from the paddock rail

The crowd begins to gather for Zenyatta

Awaiting Zenyatta

Jerry and Ann Moss arrive

A cameraman films Zenyatta posters

Police enforce the paddock

At last, the Queen makes her way over to the paddock

All eyes are on the television--here comes the Queen!

Quality Road


Musket Man

Lookin at Lucky

Paddy O' Prado


Zenyatta leaving her stall, Mike Smith up


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Breeder's Cup 2010

I thought I had November 5th and 6th all planned out for this year.

March: I was invited (begged may be a better word) by some running buds to run the Ozark Trail 100 on November 6th. I considered it...until I saw that the Breeder's Cup Classic would be run that day. The Classic--how could I miss it? It was likely to be the last race of what is probably the greatest mare to ever set foot on a racetrack.

And even if for some crazy reason I decided to go ahead and run the race, and DVR the Classic for later, I would spend much of the race wondering what happened and before you know it, DNF just so I can get home sooner.

No, no...I would make sure my schedule was clear for that day. We would watch the race on our new big-screen, high-def television (thanks to my husband's mom for the X-mas gift!). I would cheer and cry for Zenyatta, then spend the night reminiscing her racing career with my husband.

July: We were still planning on watching the Cup at home, but this time with a guest--a buddy of my husband's that is often at the racetrack with him. Cool and fine by me, as long as he doesn't mind seeing his friend's wife sob over big Z.

October: I was sitting on the couch at home, doing what--who knows. No, wait, I was sitting on the floor, which means I was either in the middle of yoga or playing with the cats (or both). My husband stood in the door frame to the office and said "Maybe we'll go the Breeders Cup this year?" Should we?! We were, are, broke and really can't afford to travel anywhere but...too late! The ball was rolling, the gears were turning.

Zenyatta in the flesh--she was the horse I had dreamed about for 20 years, and I was going to see her in the flesh?

Turns out my husband's buddy (yup, same one) was headed there and, why shouldn't we go, also? Why sit with our thumbs up our butts when Churchill Downs is within a day's drive away? Last year I had wanted so badly to fly to Santa Anita in California to see the Breeder's Cup, only to be defeated by high airline and hotel prices. That wasn't the case this year. Carpe diem!

Fast-forward to today. We have all the details ironed out and the tickets are in the mail. And no, no--they weren't outrageously expensive and they're actually good seats. They're not right at the finish line but, in my opinion, somewhere even better--halfway between the turn for home and the finish line: Zenyatta's real estate.

And, from what my husband has told me, I know I won't be the only wet-cheeked one in company on that day. To bring: box of Kleenex.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Some great photos of Limerick

Zoe, a high school girl and daughter of a fellow boarder shot these over the early summer, and I didn't see them until a couple days ago--aren't they gorgeous?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Finally getting back on track with the riding! And a heart attack, courtesy of Limerick.

Wow, August was a horrid month for riding. I think I rode only twice during the entire month, and one ride was cut short because the bugs were causing Limerick to go berserk.

Hot, humid, buggy, wet, sweltering...not good riding conditions.

September, on the other hand, has been perfect so far. The bugs are present but at a tolerable level, and the weather is crisp and cool compared to August (I guess, if you can call 75 and low humidity "crisp and cool").

So far I've had two rides after dark (and it was truly dark for the first ride--I could barely see past Limerick's ever-pointed ears, but I trusted her and she was so good! There's nothing like cantering your horse through the dark), one ride in the made-over indoor arena (complete with power-washed and painted rafters/walls and brand new footing) and a fourth ride outside during the day.

We remain at one trail ride for the year but hopefully I'll find time to get out again; it's not too late, yet.

Back to the ride in the indoor arena. During that ride, I jumped Limerick over a very, very small fence as a test. I do want to get back into jumping with her but I am going to move forward very gradually. I first wanted to see how she would react to a small fence; I was pretty sure she would treat it no differently than she would a ground pole but, first things first.

As expected she did really well and I could just hear her thinking, "This is n-o-t-h-i-n-g, come on, you know I can do more!"

When we were done, as is customary when there is no one else in the arena with us, I took all of Lim's tack off to let her roll in the arena dirt. I carried it into the tack room. My saddle rack is by the large windows that oversee the arena and from there, I could see Limerick standing before the garage door that leads into the arena, cheerfully watching it open. As soon as it was open just enough, she trotted through the door, halter-less.

Wait, what?

I dropped the saddle and bridle and ran out of the tack room. It was late and dark and no one else was at the barn; what if she ran down the barn driveway and out onto the road? How would I deal with that alone? Worst case scenarios flashed through my head as I hurried outside.

She stood between the building that housed the arena and the barn.

"Limerick, stop right there!" I said. She looked at me, wide-eyed, then trotted into the barn. I ran after her, hoping she would go into her stall. Sure enough, she went around the corner and right through her open stall door. I ran over to the door and latched it shut, heart pounding.

Whoa....knees weak, I went back to the arena and looked at the garage door. How on earth did she open that thing? She's been loose in the indoor arena countless times before without any problem.

First, I pressed the "close" button from the outside. It didn't close. Hmm. Then I went into the arena and tried to close it from there. It didn't close. Great, not only did Limerick scare me half to death but she also somehow broke the door. Just great!

Then I noticed another, much newer-looking, garage door button by the gate to the indoor arena. It was large and flat. I pressed it and ta-da, the door began to descend.

So that's how she did it.

The new door opener was far too easy for a horse to open. I had to admit, I was relieved that Limerick did this and not one of the pasture-boarded horses. As much as she had scared me, I knew Lim was smart enough to go right into her stall. But if one of the pasture horses had done it, how would they have dealt with it? They have no stall to run to!

I told the barn owner about the incident the next morning, and by that evening there was a wooden box over the garage door opener, placed in such a way that no equine nose could ever nuzzle it open.

Right now I can laugh about it, but at the time, wow! What a scare.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The things we do for our horses...

I mentioned that we are in the middle of one of the nastiest mosquito seasons ever, remember?

Well, Limerick isn't taking this so well...she's always been super-sensitive to bugs (crossing her eyes in an attempt to watch a fly land on her nose and getting her right hind leg stuck in her stall window while kicking out at a fly comes to mind) and I would guess that if you asked her, she would state that this is the worst summer, ever.

The mosquitoes are so relentless that clouds of them hover inside the barns...
...so relentless that they will swarm and bite me even after I apply half a bottle of Deep Woods OFF! insect repellent...
...so relentless that Limerick stops, eyes huge, and goes into Total Freakout Mode when she sees a puddle of standing water....
...so relentless that this summer alone I've seen Limerick go into more acrobatic scratching poses (the type you tend to only see small ponies and dogs do) than I have in the rest of my 14+ years with her.

But despite all this, I thought she was doing ""okay"" with them. I did wish I could bring her home with me at night and bed her down in my living room so she would be mosquito-free for a few blessed hours, but she was ""okay"", right? That belief was knocked down when I visited her one evening a few nights ago.

There I was, standing at the door to her stall, snapping a carrot in half, and did she look at me? Nope! She's only ignored a carrot breaking in half three times in her life, and needless to say, at each of those three times she was in a lot of pain. I went over to her and put my hands on her neck and shoulders. Her pounding heartbeat resonated through her chest and to my hands. I was concerned but after a quick check, found her okay otherwise.

She was simply done with those damn mosquitoes. She had it up to here. She was downright angry with them! That was it, I was declaring war on those bugs.

The very next day, I ordered an Amigo Mio tight-mesh fly sheet with a neck cover for Lim and checked off "overnight" in the shipping options. Then, on my way home from work, I stopped at the grocery store and picked up a dozen mosquito repellent bracelets made for humans, as well as one of those little battery-powered repellent fans.

That evening, I tucked the fan into the waistband of my jeans, switched it on, and spent an hour braiding the bracelets into her mane and tail. I also saturated her so heavily with my usual Pyranha aerosol spray that I momentarily wondered if I would develop lung cancer in a few years. I also told her that she had something very special coming...

The next day, it arrived. Boy, was it ugly:

(Not Limerick)

But it would get the job done!!

Lim doesn't really like blankets or sheets (okay, downright hates them) but she didn't protest in the least when I put this one on her. It fit well (I ordered a size up to ensure good coverage) and actually didn't look half-bad. I think.

For added measure, I pulled the belly straps through a couple extra insect repellent bracelets. So far everything seems to be working OK and holding up in turnout, and Lim doesn't bat an eye when I put this sheet on her (if anything, she nods off).

If only I could permanently attach that little battery-powered repellent fan to her somehow...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I need to update this more often....

I feel like I say that each time I post on here! Here's the run-down:

  • The study of Lim's false pregnancy is now officially over; results are pending. Hormone wise, she seems to be in a twilight zone of normal/pseudopregnant, with rare moments of crankiness/flightiness/touch-me-nots here and there. But that could just be the heat.
  • We went out on the trail in July, with Corrie and her horse Abby. We headed over to the Danada grass track and trotted and cantered around it a handful of times. Other than the typical nervous-nellie behavior, Limerick was actually very good, despite the bugs.
  • Oh, the bugs. We're in the middle of the worst mosquito infestation in 20+ years. As you can imagine, Lim is totally freaking out and my barn time is more devoted to warding off the little bloodsuckers (or trying to figure out ways to ward off the little bloodsuckers--what's up with these things, did they crossbreed with killer bees or something? They are aggressive!!!) than riding.
More later....

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

An open letter to my betta...

Dear Sir Tom,

In a way, you were just one of dozens of bettas I've had in my 20+ years of keeping fish. But the similarities end there.

You came into my life when I needed you most. You see, the day before we took you home, I lost my beloved oscar, a fish with a personality larger than the 180-gallon aquarium he resided in, a fish that was so special to me in so many ways. My husband took me to the fish store you were at and insisted that I pick out a new betta. Your little 4-gallon tank had been standing empty for months since the last betta I had (and at the time, my favorite betta of all time) passed away.

I watched the rows of small bowls, a betta in each. You stood out right away with your big red combtail fins and even bigger attitude. You know how you male bettas like to threaten each other through the glass. You took it a step further--I was convinced you were about to jump right out of your bowl and into your neighbors' bowl!

Of course, I picked you. After all, you reminded me of my oscar--an ornery little S.O.B. But my heart was still grieving for the loss of my oscar and I put you in your new home rather unceremoniously.

A couple days later, I noticed you were gasping for air at the surface of the tank. What was wrong? Was it the water? I had cleaned the tank before putting you in it, but maybe something had happened to the chemistry as it stood empty for months. Or, despite your attitude, had I picked out a sick fish? I looked closely at you and noticed a tiny bit of cat hair sticking out of your mouth. Having four cats, it was inevitable that a hair or two would end up in the aquariums.

I netted you in a white brine shrimp net and, with tweezers, carefully pulled the hair out of your mouth. You stayed still, as if you knew I was trying to help. The hair turned out to be from one of our Maine Coons and was over 4 inches long. How you managed to get almost all of that into your mouth, I have no idea.

But thanks to this bizarre and funny incident, I began to really like you. I named you Tom (ie, tomcat) then added "Sir" because you're too fancy for a simple name like Tom.

The betta before you had lived for just over two years and I didn't think I would ever have another betta live that long. But you surpassed that, and then some. You lived life with a vitality that I had never seen in any other betta in my life. As you moved through your little tank, you would open your fins wide with each pause, as if reminding everyone around you of your beauty. You killed almost all the algae eaters I put in your tank with you, except one. And that one was chased mercilessly on a daily basis until a couple weeks before your passing. You made me laugh every time you bit my husband and I when we fed you. It's a good thing you were so small! Your tank is next to our piranha's tank and when you would swim over to his side, he would come over and watch you. You are both members of our family and although Flipper probably just wanted to eat you, I found it very endearing.

You were there during some of the hardest times of my life. I remember feeding you during this time and being stricken with how normal it was. It was a sense of security in a surreal world. And last but not least, you really helped me get through a time of heavy grief due to the loss of my oscar, and for that I am eternally thankful. So thank you, Sir Tom. Enjoy the Big Pond, and try not to kill too many algae eaters in there.

Love, me

Friday, June 4, 2010

Limerick: Research Subject

Well, it looks like there's a part two to Limerick's pseudopregnancy story.

The year began uneventful--she started her heat cycles in March and they continued somewhat regularly until late April. But that's pretty much where they ended. After that point she did not display any obvious heat symptoms. I didn't think much of it until I noticed her udder in early May.

The reproductive vet told me last year that her teats would never go back to normal again; that I was to expect them to remain larger than normal. Okey dokey. And true to his word, her udder dwindled down to nothing while the teats themselves remained kind of puffy looking.

But in early May, the udder began to bag up again and her teats slowly grew back to the sizes of last summer. Familiar with the routine, I decided to wait and see what happened. And nothing did for a while. She did not have any heat cycles. She was pleasant to ride (most of the time! She did have some silly moments, but nothing related to going into heat). Then this past Saturday, May 30th, I took her down to graze on some grass. Within a moment of arriving I noticed something falling from her udder area. I looked and saw milky white droplets dripping rapidly from each teat. Witch's milk!

The dripping slowed after a few seconds until a single drop hung from each teat. When I got home, I emailed the reproductive vet because I knew he would be very interested in this. And indeed he was--he wanted to see her as soon as possible. We set up an appointment for noon on Tuesday.

(I love seeing Limerick in the middle of the work day!)

When she saw him, her eyes went wide. That's the guy that always puts his arm up my butt!

He performed the usual ultrasound and rectal exam (everything pointed towards another pseudopregnancy) and this time drew blood for a hormone test and after 20 minutes of dodging flying hooves, he managed to get a sample from her udder.

All of this is for the vet's personal research. He is now drawing blood from her twice a week to see if there is a pattern in the hormones. We'll see what happens....Limerick may be a medical oddity, and a research subject, but she's still my baby.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Photos & videos from Sunday

My husband took some pictures and videos of me riding Limerick this past Sunday. She was being a goofball and the goal of the ride was to just keep her steady and calm. I succeeded...somewhat. Typically, I make her work hard if she acts silly but on this day, the footing didn't allow for it--outside or in.

We started in the outdoor arena, which was a slop from the heavy rains over the past couple days.

Telling my husband that I'm going to head indoors because the footing is just horrid.

"Come on, Limerick, you can eat grass later!"

Lim waiting for me to open the gate to the indoor arena.

In the indoor arena, Cashel fly mask off.


A nice walk...


A nice trot...


A not-so-nice trot. She kept trying to either walk or canter here, so I had to work to get her moving at a steady pace. She sprinkled in a couple clownish head shakes, too--one directed at some pigeons nearby.


Here, I'm encouraging her to give me a nice, quiet canter. As mentioned before, if she's being silly then I normally make her work hard but today, the footing was just too awful for that. Instead, I went for the "let's attempt a slow, quiet canter" approach. It worked...for a short time! Then she decided to throw out another goofball move.

(Right before she acts silly, you can see a huge wet spot on the arena footing. For whatever reason, this spot was making her act up. She even jumped the entire thing the first time I tried to canter over it)

Finally, I decided to give up on the cantering and brought her back down to a trot. She eventually gave me a nice, forward trot with no silliness and I called it a day!

Monday, April 19, 2010


Limerick's spring dapples are back, and better than ever. She had her first bath of the year last weekend.

I don't know why she has more and more dapples every year (she hardly had any 14 years ago) but no complaints here, of course! Perhaps it's some sort of genetic coat thing.

She's been doing really well lately. A couple weeks ago, I raced her along the fence line of the outdoor arena (her in it, me out of it) and she was moving with a huge, flashy trot, her tail straight up. She truly looked great.

With my ultra-running training lately, I haven't been able to ride as much. But I'm taking most of the summer off from training so I'll be able to get a lot more riding in.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Clinton Lake 30 Race Report

The day—the running of the Clinton Lake 30—was a cumulation of months of training, but was also a training run in itself for the McNaughton Park 50-mile. Some people told me to take it easy at Clinton Lake and save something for McNaughton. Yet others told me to go out hard and fast, to make Clinton Lake a bigger effort than it needed to be, in order to make up for the 20-mile gap in between the two race distances.

I opted for the latter, not because it made sense, but because I wanted to! I wanted to push myself and see what I could do. I was secretly hoping for a sub-6 hour finish.

My husband had to work until 6pm the day before Clinton Lake so not long after he arrived home at 7pm, we made the 2-plus hour drive to a Super 8 motel in Le Roy, about 20 minutes from the Clinton Lake start area.

The stress of the late drive combined with anxiety about race day made for a bad night’s sleep. The too-soft bed and flat pillows helped none. When I did sleep, I would dream of running on trails and tripping over roots, jerking myself awake.

I awoke at 5am and, after struggling to get the room microwave to work, nuked a large cup of McDonald’s coffee that we had purchased the night before. No matter what, I can’t start my day without coffee! I showered and got ready, and then my husband drove me to the race start area.

The morning was much colder than expected. I had hoped to mingle with other runners before the race but instead choose to sit in the car with my husband, the heater blasting. I wasn’t concerned about the race weather—it was to be sunny all day and I knew that the temperatures would be climbing into the low 50’s later. Perfect running weather! Before long it was 7:20—almost time to start.

I lined up a bit behind the leaders and off to the side. Even though I hadn’t run the course before, and had been warned about the difficulty of it, I wasn’t nervous. I was pretty sure I could nab a sub-6 finish, providing nothing went wrong. But of course, in an ultra, anything can go wrong!

The race started and the leaders dashed ahead. I held my pace as we ran out of the parking lot and up a hilly asphalt road. After a quarter mile we turned into the woods and onto singletrack. I quickly picked up a pattern. I would run behind a slower runner for some time then, when the coast was clear, pass them on the side of the trail. After a few miles I became hot and knew I would have to swap my winter cap for a baseball cap and take off my polyfleece shirt when I got back to the start/finish area on the loop.

I quickly discovered that I was pretty good at running down hills. During my first ultra a few months prior, I would lean back and “brake” into the downhills, which led to horribly sore quads by race’s end. But I had been working on this over the winter. This time, I leaned into the downhills and let my feet take small, quick steps beneath me. I pictured myself running like a cartoon character—an upright figure with a circular blur of legs below. It worked! As long as I watched carefully for roots, rocks, and sudden drops, I was able to hammer it down and overtake people. It was also a helluva lot of fun.

The hills were never-ending. Up and down, up and down. I had trained myself to recover on slight uphills, however, so I never felt exhausted. The only issue I had was with the muddiest section of the course—a stretch of ankle-deep mud on a downhill. Rather than heading over to the leaf-covered, firmer muck on the right side of the trail, I found myself following the runner in front of me right into the worst section of mud on the left side of the trail. My feet slipped out from beneath me and I landed in the mud. My water bottle—tip included—absorbed the worst of the impact.

Argh! I tried to wipe the bottle tip clean as I ran but needed water to clean it well enough to use it again. After the bottle was re-filled at the next aid station, I cautiously drank from it then spit water onto the dirty bottle tip until it was clean, all while running. Success.

I got to the start/finish area—and the end of the first of three loops—under the two hour mark. I quickly swapped caps, took off my polyfleece shirt, and yanked off my right shoe and sock so I could glob Vaseline onto a hot spot. At the same time a volunteer came over to take my water bottle and fill it. Shoe and sock back on, and water bottle returned, I hit up the porta-john. Then I was ready! No, wait! I had to get some food. It was a mental juggle to remember everything.

My second loop was more of the same, except I was alone for almost the whole way around. I hammered it down the hills, power-walked the steep uphills, and recovered on the flatter sections. My Garmin told me I was going at an average of 9:30 minute/miles during the flatter sections and it felt like I was hitting the downhills closer to 7:30 minute/miles. I knew I was going a bit fast but I felt awesome so I kept it up.

Well, awesome other than a bit of nausea.

I hit the start/finish area again at just under 4 hours. I was still feeling pretty decent, but not as good as before. I grabbed a couple ginger chews along with the usual Shot Bloks. A sub-6 was still possible but not looking as likely. But I was going to try! And with luck, I would get my second wind.

A mile into the final loop, my batteries began to die. Fast. One moment I was thinking you can do it! And the next moment I was walking…on a flatter section...with no intention of running again anytime soon. The nausea was worse than ever and I was thirsty despite drinking more than enough. Or was it too much? My fingers were a bit puffy and my wedding band, which is normally easy to remove, was tight on my finger. I realized I was over-hydrated and had taken too many S-caps. That explained the nausea and the wall that I had run into.

After walking for nearly half a mile, I resumed running. But it was a slow, shuffling run—a big change from an hour before. A few moments later my tired foot stubbed a tree root while going down a hill. I flew forward like Supergirl and, after landing on my right knee and hip, slid down the hill on my side. Sometime during the slide I had rolled onto my back as I laid there helplessly, I began to laugh. Another runner—a woman I had passed on the first loop—was approaching. She had seen the whole thing and when she saw me laughing, she laughed too.

I got up and, after a quick mental check to make sure no body parts were mangled, resumed my shuffling run. I tripped over another root a few miles later but since it was going uphill, the fall was far less dramatic.

This time around the hills seemed endless. I would walk then remind myself that I was almost done, just a couple more miles, just a few more hills, think of the ice cream and brownies and I could eat afterwards, think of the comfortable couch awaiting at home. And with these thoughts I would begin running again but it wouldn’t last.

On the last hill of the course was a neon green sign with “Are you loving the hills yet?” handwritten in black marker. I had thought the sign was amusing on the first loop but now it was a beacon for the finish. Last hill, last quarter mile, almost there! And who was standing next to it but my dad, camera in hand? What a welcome sight!

He walked with me to the bottom of the hill then, when we got to the asphalt, I ran the rest of the way to the finish. The clock said 6:35—about a half hour later than I would have preferred but, given how difficult my last loop had been, I was happy with the time. Clinton Lake is a much tougher course than Farmdale and the fact I was able to do so much better, and not be overwhelmed by the hills (just my own fueling issues), was a testament to my increased fitness.

Let's see what happens at McNaughton Park.

Are you loving the hills yet?

After loop 2.

Half a mile to go.