Sunday, June 29, 2008

Slot Machine Pays Out... Hay????

I guess I am a lucky lady. On Friday, after I finished up a short ride in the arena aboard Wally, Ron whisked me off to a nearby Indian casino. Neither of us had ever been before, but we thought we'd give it a try just to have something to do on a hot afternoon.

Trust me, there's no need to contact Gamblers' Anonymous on my behalf. Neither Ron nor I are big time gamblers. We aren't high rollers. In fact, we have a tendency to just wander through casinos (like the ones in Las Vegas) in a sort of hypnotic trance. All those lights and sounds-- not to mention the over-the-top characters you encounter-- just make us dizzy.

But I did arrive clutching a $20 bill in one hand. I strolled through the Pechanga casino staring at the video slot machines, waiting to feel some kind of warm vibe from one of them. After I tried a few, limiting my losses to just a few quarters at a time, I decided to put 75 cents into a machine where Ron had been idly sitting.

I immediately won $300!

I couldn't cash my winning credit slip fast enough. I slipped the trio of hundred dollar bills into my pocket and exclaimed, "Now I can buy Wally some more hay!"

Isn't that the way it goes with horse people? We get a nice little windfall of unexpected cash and where do we spend it? On our horses. Whether it's at the feed store or tack store, or it's used to pay a vet or farrier bill, any extra money is happily spent on our horses. And such it was with me.

Well, okay. I did buy a couple of sleeveless western shirts for trail riding this summer, but other than that, my little slot machine dividend went all to Wally. With orchard grass/alfalfa hay (more commonly called "50/50 mix") selling for $24.25 per 110 pound bale, my money didn't go very far.

But don't worry. I'm not heading back to the Indian casino next time the feed barn looks a little empty. I'm not that lucky! However, with the price of horse feed skyrocketing right along with gas prices, I am beginning to wonder how some people are able to afford their horses. While Wally is certainly pampered, and I am financially able to take care of him, I couldn't possibly afford a second horse right now. Even if the second horse were given to me free, I'd still have to come up with the monthly upkeep. And juggling my finances and my horse budget to accomodate two horses would be too much of a gamble.

If you'd like to comment on hay prices and horse care costs in your area, just click on "comments" below.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Celebrities That Ride

Chatting about horse movies got me to thinking about how many Hollywood celebrities are involved with horses, and how many I've rubbed elbows with at horse shows and in other horse-related activities. Believe me, it's not like I'm standing in line next to a Hollywood celebrity at my local feed store. But chances are if you're like me, and you grew up close to Los Angeles and competed at upper level horse shows (especially in the hunter-jumper divisions), then you were exposed to some famous folks. At the Los Angeles Equestrian Center or the Indio horse show you might well have stood in line at the concession stand with a movie or TV star. Because of this early exposure to the "kind of rich" and "somewhat famous", I'm immune to being starstruck. Really, it's just No Big Thing to see an actor out of make-up at a dusty horse show.

When I was a teen and young adult it was not uncommon to have the likes of Paul Newman, Charles Bronson and Mel Gibson on the sidelines of the show arena. My sister competed in the same classes as Clea, Paul Newman's daughter, and she still laughs about how Clea's famous father was not above hanging over the arena fence line and coaching his kid just like any other Horse Show Dad.

When I earned extra horse show money by braiding hunters late at night, more than once I stood in the barn aisle chatting with Maura and Thea Nielsen, whose dad was Leslie Neilsen ("Naked Gun" and "Airplane!").

In more recent years I've interviewed, chatted with, spotted at horse shows or sat in grandstands next to William Shatner, Kurt Russell, Tom Selleck and Sam Elliot. I found William Shatner to be a very gracious, funny person who really is a very good horseman; I watched him ride several horses and I must say, I was impressed! Kurt Russell was nicer and more down to earth than the people at his agency. Sam Elliot is a cowboy at heart and a horse lover from way back and Tom Selleck (who rides western) fully supports his daughter, who's a world class jumper rider. My girlfriend, who is still gobsmacked by Tom Selleck, about fell over the poor man while climbing to her seat at the World Cup Show Jumping Finals in Las Vegas.

"By the way," I whispered to her, "that man you just kneed in the face? That's Tom Selleck."

She about died.

There are plenty of celebrities who ride that I've yet to meet in person or converse with, but hey, my life isn't over yet! Robert Duvall is probably the one A-list actor who is My Hero when it comes to riding. He's done it all: ranch work and western riding (that's why he looks so natural on horseback in all those westerns he films) and riding hunters both in the show ring and in the hunt field.

I realize that the actors I've mentioned are from my generation of stars. Maybe that's because these actors matured in an era where it was necessary to know how to ride in order to get work: it was the heyday of the western film and TV series. Perhaps they learned how to ride for a job, fell in love, and continued with their newfound interest. But today there simply aren't very many horsey flicks being made. The ability to look natural wielding a gun or driving a sportscar during a chase scene is more valuable than being able to sit to a horse's trot without looking like an idiot. However, that's what got two particular actors to learn how to ride a horse. Both Oded Fehr (in "The Mummy Returns") and Billy Crystal (for "City Slickers") wanted to preserve their dignity so they took riding lessons before filming began. And guess what? They realized horseback riding was an enjoyable, stress-reducing pastime, and they continue to spend time in the saddle whenever possible.

Who knew that we had so much in common with the world of Hollywood? So next time you're in line at the feed store-- or out on the trail or buying a chili dog at the horse show-- look around. Maybe you're rubbing elbows with a star. Or at least know that you share a passionate love of horses with some celebrities. When it comes to horses, we have something in common!

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Monday, June 23, 2008

"Dear Hollywood..."

Why do film makers keep missing the boat-- or the feed truck-- when it comes to creating movies with horses at or near the center of the action?

It seems that either they're tainted with calamity (horses being mortally maimed during filming on the sets of "3:10 to Yuma" and "Flicka") or filled with silliness that goes beyond the realm of What We Really Know Would Really Happen. Like, come on. In real life could Dakota Fanning really gallop bareback across an open field on a runaway race horse? Not that I couldn't forgive some of the faults found in Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story because of the 3 minutes or so of screen time inhabited by the hunky Oded Fehr, but then, that's the topic for another sort of blog.

But it seems that films featuring horses rarely try to stick with the truth about horses and horse people. It's as if the script writers and producers don't think we'll notice when something's done wrong. Such is the case with Moondance Alexander, a film I recently watched and reviewed for Horse Channel. Here's a link to my commentary:

How Many Horse Handling and Horse Show Mistakes Can You Find in this Movie?

In Moondance Alexander I began taking mental notes the minute the pinto, Checkers, made his appearance. And then we have Don Johnson, as the horse trainer, tying Checkers up to the barn's fencing by the reins. Wasn't there someone on the set who could say, "Uhm, no, Mr. Johnson. Don't do that. Instead, while you're uttering your lines, just grab that halter that's hanging over there and casually buckle it over Checkers' head. Then use the lead rope to tie up the horse."

And Don Johnson should know better, because the man owned ranch property and has ridden recreationally for years. But then, who knows. Maybe he doesn't tack up his own horse.

Then we get to the horse show scene. Now, being a longtime huntseat competitor and also a lower-level hunter judge, I began to cringe at the entire horse show scenario set up in the film. While huntseat medal finals and hunter classics often have a pair of judges officiating, great pains are taken to ensure that they aren't collaborating in their score keeping. Horse shows aren't judged by committee. And when was there ever a tie for first place in a hunter classic? It doesn't happen as it does in this movie, especially with more than one judge. In real life the senior judge is deemed "the call judge" because he or she gets to make the final determination in the RARE event of a numerical tie in the scoring.

Then there was the "hunter" shown competing on course tacked up in a flash noseband. And yet not one of the judges in the movie managed to utter, "Tsk-tsk. Too bad that rider didn't read the rules. Flash nosebands are illegal equipment in hunter classes."

And look closely at the braids in Checkers' mane: first they're in, then they're unraveling like they were put in place by a groom wearing mittens, then they're miraculously tidied up. Perhaps others might not notice the lack of continuity, but any savvy horse person would.

The only reason I rant about movies like Moondance Alexander is because I truly believe that there is a market for movies for people who enjoy seeing beautiful horses up there on the big screen. I won't feel guilty for being upset when I'm horribly disappointed by what could've been a wonderful movie. What can be done to make me-- and other horse lovers-- happy? The film makers simply have to respect the audience; they cannot take too many liberties with horse handling or horse care or horse sports and think we won't notice. Look at The Horse Whisperer and Seabiscuit. Both were major theatrical films and were (mostly) true to the realities of the horse world. It can be done.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's 103 and I'm not in Hawaii

As I've written here before, I give lessons part-time at the nice training facility near my house that is owned by my long-time friend, Sue. She also coached me when I was showing our homebred warmbloods and she still coaches my sister at horse shows. Lately, since she has so many young greenies in training, Sue has been paying me to come over once a week and ride a few horses for her. That's all fine and dandy, except that this week it's been ungodly hot. I mean, like 103 degrees. And might I remind you, it's only the middle of June. To make matters more undignified, Sue is gone. Where is she? On vacation. In HAWAII. So while she's sipping some tropical drink concocted with pineapple juice, and sashaying around a beachfront hotel in a sarong, I'm trying to figure out how to un-stick my half-chaps from my jeans. With that visual image in your head, here is my little photo essay of today's activities:

Here I am aboard Zac, a young warmblood gelding. I am conveying how hot it is. Can you tell I took Theatre Arts 101 in college?

The second horse I rode, Rainey, gets to enjoy a post-ride shower. However, it appears that BJ, Sue's assistant, is enjoying the shower just as much if not more.

Once I DID succeed in prying the half-chaps from my jeans, I got to sit in the shade to give a lesson to Veronica, one of my students. She hauled in her project horse for me to give her my opinion on the mare. My opinion? Someone needs to turn on the air conditioner.

If you're also melting... or even if you're not... feel free to leave your comments below by clicking on "comments."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Best Part of Horse Shows

That's me in the jeans and gray t-shirt, standing next to Sue, my friend and former horse show coach. She's the trainer of my long-time buddy Debbie, who is aboard her gelding Tangerine Dream. Debbie had just won a hunter under saddle class.

Judging last weekend forced me to reconnect with my past as a competitive rider. For a while after my riding accident, I mourned the end of my showing career. But then I got to the point where I wanted to stay away from anything remotely related to horse shows. It was as if I was angry at the whole horse show environment, as if it were some entity that was responsible for causing me so much grief. Sounds ridiculous, right? But now that I'm really quite happy to be a recreational rider-- in a western saddle most of the time-- I can re-evaluate horse shows and appreciate all that was fun about competing.

Besides the adrenaline rush that came from winning a ribbon, and the deliciously invigorating anxiety that accompanied the process of memorizing a course, I think what I enjoyed most about competing was the time spent with my sister and my friends. Perhaps it was because the stress of competing revs up everyone's emotions, but it always seemed like we laughed harder and commiserated more deeply when we were gathered together at a horse show. Even if my sister and my friends and I were all competing in the same events, for the same assortment of ribbons, we still cheered each other on, ribbed each other about any errors ("Did you really expect your horse to leave the ground 8 feet away from that oxer?"), and leaned on each other for support when our horsemanship skills seemed to abandon us.

That's why I guess this photo has such special meaning for me. Debbie won a big class at a big horse show and she motioned for me to come into the arena to be part of the traditional "win picture." Me. Why? Because I was her friend, and we had spent probably two decades competing together up and down the California coastline. Even though I was no longer a competitive rider, it was her way of saying that I was still a member of her victory party.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

My Report from the Judge's Booth

Remember how I was deliberating on what to wear to judge that big horse show at the country club this past weekend? Well, as it turned out, I wore a simple little khaki twill skirt and a peach-colored peasant blouse with some beading on it. It was a pretty summer outfit.

Unfortunately, I misjudged the climate in San Diego County. Where it was dry and in the low 90's at my house, at the horse show it was overcast and never got warmer than about 75. Since I was seated in a raised judge's booth, I was buffeted by a cool marine breeze much of the time, which literally left me shivering. The horse show secretary took pity on me and brought me a big parka out of her car. A big, plaid, flannel, quilted parka. Then the judge in the other arena (who happened to be wearing a pant suit, complete with a vest and blazer) tossed me a red wool lap throw she'd been using as a seat cushion. I draped that over my bare legs. So by noontime I was really stylin'. So much for my summery wardrobe. Instead I was cloaked in garments that made me look like I was hanging out at a college football stadium.

While ultimately I had a great time, it was a very loooooong day. I started judging at a few minutes past 9:00 a.m. The contract that the show managers had with the club stated that we had to finish all of the classes by 6:00 p.m. Guess what? I pinned the ribbons in my last class-- the Green Rider Medal-- at 5:50. So I made it by 10 minutes! In order to accomplish that, the backgate guy was shuttling in the next rider on course as soon as the previous rider had landed after the final jump. Needless to say, that didn't give me much time to deliberate on the scoring of each round. It was more like, "Okay, that was worthy of something in the mid-70's. Hmmm... Did I like her more than the girl on the gray pony, who got a 72? Oh darn... Here comes the next horse!"

But perhaps the most stressful part was having to hold 6 open cards for the short stirrup and long stirrup classes. For those of you who aren't familiar with this concept, I'll quickly explain.

"Short stirrup" classes are for the little kids who are just starting to jump courses. "Long stirrup" classes are just a play-on-words: they're the older riders who are at the same level as the younger short stirrup riders. They all jump the same courses. Typically there are two hunter rounds and an equitation over fences round within both the short stirrup division and the long stirrup division.

To keep things rolling along at a big show, management wants the judge to hold open cards. That means that the judge-- in this case ME-- has a clipboard with all of the short stirrup and long stirrup class scorecards in front of her. Next to that are the courses, because each class has its own course. Then, the riders can come in whenever they're ready and compete in pretty much any order. So I might conceivably see a short stirrup rider's first hunter round, then another short stirrup rider's first hunter round, then a long stirrup rider's equitation round, then a short stirrup rider's equitation round, then a long stirrup rider's second hunter round... I'm sure you're getting dizzy imagining the possibilities.

It kind of makes my head spin, too.

Ideally the announcer is supposed to make it very, very, VERY clear to the judge which round the rider is doing as they come through the in-gate. 99 out of 100 times that happens. Once in a while, it doesn't, and then the score can end up on the wrong score card. Then, when the mistake is discovered, that score has to be transferred onto the correct scorecard and the ribbon placings re-shuffled to accomodate the change. So both the judge and the announcer have to really work as a team to make sure that paperwork nightmare doesn't occur. But even when the procedure works properly, the judge (that would be me) has to rifle through 6 pages of scorecards to find the correct one with each rider and then glance back over the corresponding jumping course, all in a matter of seconds.

You can understand now how stressful it can be!

But then there are some funny moments that break up the tenseness of the whole situation. For example, in the 11 & Under Maiden Equitation class, I watched intently as a couple of kids on big horses barely squeezed between the jumps and the rail while they were cantering. (Jumps are left in the arena during the flat classes). I thought to myself, "Wow, that one big gray almost went over that jump!"

Next time around, guess what? The big gray's ears locked onto the jump and the kid did next to nothing to avert the horse's attention. The horse leapt over the jump, taking it in stride, then landed and continued cantering around the arena as if that was what it was supposed to do.

Naturally, I couldn't give her a ribbon, because let's face it: One of the basic tenets of horsemanship is the ability to guide and control one's horse. Yet as she rode into the center of the arena for the line-up, I did say to her nicely, "Well, that was quite spectacular!"

She laughed, although with a blush of embarrassment to her cheeks.

All in all, it was a long day. But it was memorable!

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Deep in the Heart of Dad

My dad always had a soft spot for animals, especially dogs and horses. Over the last couple of decades he's had a succession of crazy, loopy Labrador retrievers that think nothing of sleeping half the day away on my parents' couch. Right now my dad has a daffy Labradoodle. That's a cross between a Lab and a Standard Poodle. Just think about that visual image for a second. And yes, that's my parents' barn dog.

When it comes to horses, my father likes pretty much any breed of horse, as long as it has a decent mind and doesn't wantonly destroy property. I mean, a dad will fix a broken stall door only so many times before he says, "Enough already. Put a danged cribbing strap on the son-of-a-gun!"

However, my father has expressed an abiding affection for a good old fashioned Quarter horse. He's had a couple of his own that he rode on the trails. One was a bay gelding named Rich Boy ("Ricky"). Since Ricky was off the track, he had perfected the ability to sprint reallyreallyreally fast for short periods of time at a moment's notice. More than once Ricky surprised my father by treating him to a simulated three-furlong horse race. The other Quarter horse my father had was Pokey, a small sorrel mare that came straight off a cattle ranch. As her name implied, Pokey was in no hurry to get anywhere... unless food was at the end of the trail. My father rode Pokey until advanced arthritis caused him to give up riding altogether, which was a sad day indeed.

Nonetheless, my father continued to support my sister and me in our riding. Though he didn't attend a lot of horse shows, he was our "go-to guy" whenever we needed something built, fixed or hefted around the barn. If it involved power tools or electrical wiring, our dad was at the ready. If the horse trailer was making a hinky noise or the tires seemed soft, guess who we called? Our dad.

Since Sunday is Father's Day, it seems only fair that all of us think of how our dads supported our horse habit. Maybe they weren't as emotionally involved as our moms (let's face it, the term "Horse Show Mom" was invented for a reason), but most of us had dads who understood how much we loved our horses. Click on this link to read about Horse Dads:
Give Your Dad His Due

Then leave your comments there. Like previous installments of "HI SPY" some of the responses may appear in an upcoming issue of Horse Illustrated magazine.

Oh. And to any dads who might be reading this: Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Thigh Master

Lately I've been earning a few extra dollars by going over to my ex-coach's place once a week and riding a couple of horses for her. Sue has so many young horses in training (including several recently off-the-track Thoroughbreds) that she and her assistant could use a little extra help. Of course, I was happy to take Sue up on her offer, though from the outset it was agreed that with my arm and neck being prone to pain and injury I wouldn't be riding any super-green greenies.

I've gotten to know the string of horses on "my list of rides" quite well. Most of them are veteran show horses that just need a weekly schooling so they're tuned up for their owners' lessons. Ryan, Oliver and Rainey are the most solid packers. They are tall, lanky, big-moving geldings with lofty trots and lumbering gallops. Each one is a teenager, and they're very much the point-and-pray type of horse. All I have to do is pick up my 12-foot canter stride, aim for the jump, push my hands into the crest, assume my two-point position and sit still. When we approach the corner, I do a little half-halt, think, "Hmmm... I believe we need a lead change here," and voila! It happens. And just think: I'm getting paid to ride these horses!

The last few weeks Sue has added Charming's name to the list of horses she'd like me to ride. Disposition-wise, Charming is a doll. Even though he's only been off the track for less than a year, he's settled right into a leisurely lifestyle. That's probably because he doesn't have the heart of a race horse. Seriously, I could outrun him. Charming would much rather doop-tee-doop-tee-doo around the arena on a soft rein. Even though he still has a tendency to canter on an ever-increasing length of stride (we're starting to work on collection and adjustability), he never gets going very fast. Breaking a sweat is not on Charming's list of Things To Do.

Besides an amicable disposition, Charming is also rather pleasant to look at. He's a solid bay, sort of a nut brown color, and he has a genuinely sweet face with a kind eye. Perhaps I shouldn't mention that he has a set of ears that would make Eeyore jealous, but then, some of my best show hunters had lop ears, so I find that physical trait endearing. But the one aspect of Charming's conformation that troubles me most is his narrow frame. Truly, I'll bet he stands about 16.3, but he's still got the typical off-the-track appearance of a giant Greyhound. Over time he'll gain weight through his mid-section. Plus, he's only 4 so he'll also beef up as he matures. In the meantime, however, I refer to him as The Thigh Master. Why? Because in order to get "in the tack" when I'm riding him I have to really close my legs around his willowy frame. When I dismount, I can feel the burn. Literally. But I guess that's another benefit of riding horses that aren't over-stuffed baked potatoes like Wally: my thighs get a work-out. And all the better for wearing shorts during the summertime!

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

No Sure Things in Horse Racing

I really wasn't expecting Big Brown to win the Belmont, and thus become a Triple Crown champion. But I wasn't expecting him to finish dead last, either.

Call me a skeptic, but it just seemed like Big Brown's gallop into horse racing history was setting up too easily. The rival horses in the Belmont weren't a magnificent bunch. And then his trainer was gratingly over-confident. He had been quoted (way too many times) for saying that a Belmont victory, which would give the huge bay colt the Triple Crown, was "a foregone conclusion." Yet ultimately Big Brown was so out of gas at the head of the homestretch that his jockey pulled him up and cantered to the finish line.

At least he didn't start whacking the horse with his whip in a futile effort to make up an impossible amount of ground.

Speaking as a writer who's always looking for the fairy tale, somehow the magic just wasn't there. Big Brown wasn't surrounded by a funky posse of quirky characters. There weren't any poignant backstories about elderly owners looking for one last chance at horse racing fame. He wasn't the favorite colt of some blue-blooded Kentucky horsewoman. I didn't feel for him the way I did about Smarty Jones, Real Quiet or Funny Cide. I never had the thought, "Oh, wouldn't it be grand if Big Brown won the Triple Crown!"

When it came to wearing the horse shoes of a Made in Hollywood hero, Big Brown wasn't even in the same class as Secretariat, Affirmed or Seattle Slew.

Horses being horses, I'm not certain that we'll ever know why Big Brown went kaput in the Belmont. I've often believed that sometimes race horses just wake up and think, "Ya' know, today I'm just not in the racing mode." Maybe they have a headache. Maybe the grooms one aisle over kept the radio on too loud the night before. Maybe on the way to the post the lead pony gave off bad vibes. Whatever the reason, race horses are a fragile bunch, and that's not just in reference to their spindly legs. Some little thing can throw off their mojo, giving another horse-- a longshot who just happened to wake up feeling particularly zesty-- the opportunity to be King for a Day.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Where Have all the Trails Gone?

I'm sure that many riders live in parts of the country that boast wide open trails all the way to the horizon. At least I figure it must be that way someplace, in a sort of Shangri La for horse lovers. But out here on the West Coast, trails are being gobbled up by freeway expansions and housing developments.

What trails remain are often very crowded on any given weekend. That makes sense, doesn't? More people who are desperate to ride, hike or bike along trails are forced to comingle on a shrinking selection of maintained pathways. At least there's a movement afoot (ahoof?) to make people more aware of the importance of maintaining our trails... and establishing new ones when possible. National Trails Day is this weekend, and it celebrates all that's good about keeping our connection to the outdoors. If you belong to a riding club or trails association, you might already have planned an activity for this weekend. If not, how about next year? You can read about National Trails Day on Horse Channel by clicking this link:
Know Your Trails... Before They're Gone

Granted, my love of trail riding doesn't go to the extreme of horse camping. When Marriott offers overnight stabling for my horse, then we can talk. Nor do I relish the thought of doing something really rugged, like scaling the Grand Tetons on horseback. But I am quite fond of recreational riding. I always have been, even when I was competing on the show circuit. In fact, I can think back to when we first moved to this area in 1980. My mother, sister and I could saddle up our horses, ride out the front gate and be lost in the hills-- sometimes literally-- for hours. Then slowly things changed. A hamlet of houses on a knoll behind our family's place was torn down and replaced by a major thoroughfare. Dynamite blasting signaled the development of the hillsides; country estate ranch homes were built. A golf course plopped itself down in the middle of a meadow where a seasonal stream once ran. The final blow came when a massive interstate freeway was carved through the center of town. The days of riding to the little vegetable stand that sold homegrown strawberries and corn on the cob were unceremoniously over.

I'm almost apologetic about admitting that we've adjusted to riding on manicured trails that wind through the neighborhoods. And I've accepted that if I want to ride along trails that are unencumbered by street signs and cement curbs I have to hitch up my trailer and haul Wally out of town. I guess that's the result of "progress."

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"Lie very, very still... DON'T MOVE!"

That's what my doctor said to me yesterday afternoon while I was lying flat on my stomach. I was garbed in a green gown, positioned on the table in the procedure room of his office. My doctor is a pain management specialist, and yesterday he performed a nerve block-- a "supra scapular something-or-other-blah-blah-blah"-- to see if I'm a candidate for another surgery. If temporarily numbing the branch of the spinal nerve that courses through the area of my scapula gives me some relief, my doctor will then implant another lead to that area. Then I'll have some electrical stimulation/impulse there constantly, which-- if all goes as planned-- will reduce my pain.

Those of you who've been following my blog and who were readers of my Horse Illustrated column, "Life with Horses," know that I had a really bad riding accident about 3 years ago. Let's not go there again and revisit it. At least not for a while.

My doctor is a really neat guy, especially for someone who spends his working hours dealing with people in various stages of desperation due to uncontrolled pain. He's a big guy, a giant teddy bear, with a personality like everyone's favorite uncle. Because he's Middle Eastern, he speaks with an accent that at times makes it difficult for me to understand him, especially when I'm already not in the best frame of mind. (See reference, above, to uncontrolled pain).

So yesterday, there I am, lying prone on this sterile table in this hospital-like setting, trying very hard not to look at the tray next to me that held the long spinal needles and syringes. My doctor tried to reassure me by telling me how tough I am, how good I am about lying still and not moving. Apparently that's an occupational hazard for pain management specialists wielding long needles: their patients have a tendency to go, "OH MY GOD!" and jerk away before the local anesthetic kicks in.

But I was very still. Yes, it hurt, especially when he worked the needle underneath my shoulder blade so he could inject the cortisone and numbing agent in the correct space.

"You're being so good," he said. "You're not moving."

I told him the truth. "I'm thinking about riding my horse."

And I was. My eyes might've been fixated on the glass canister of cotton swabs on the table in front of me, but my mind was elsewhere. I wasn't on that exam table, but on Wally. We were riding across the river, and with each hoof fall Wally splashed water around me. The sun captured the curve of each droplet, so that I felt myself showered with diamonds.

"I know you like to ride your horse," my doctor said in his soothing voice. "That's good that you think of that. Everyone should have something in their life they love like that."

Yes, then perhaps they'd lie still for him. Works for me.

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Monday, June 2, 2008

"What we have here is a palomino Trakehner"

My sincere apologies to all the talented equine photographers out there, but this is the best shot I could get of Cowboy, now that he's a month old and living with him mom in a very large paddock. Plus, he's very friendly, which means that whenever I tried to take a snapshot of him I ended up with a close-up of his muzzle stuck in the viewfinder. But as you can see by even this photo, he's not exactly taking after his sire, who is-- conformationally speaking-- your typical working American Quarter horse. At just 4 weeks old, Cowboy's back is at my chest, and I'm nearly 5'9". So I'm thinking he's going to be a bit taller than his dad, who was barely 15.2. Plus, Cowboy is definitely built uphill, which is again taking after his dam's warmblood side. And he struts around his pen like a sport horse. So much for our desire to produce just an all-around riding horse. Though things can certainly change over time as he develops, it appears that what we have here, as my sister says, "is a palomino Trakehner."

Now, Cowboy really isn't technically a Trakehner. His granddam was. His dam is half-Trakehner, sired by a Dutch Warmblood (and branded as an Oldenburg). How's that for being confusing? Believe me, raising warmblood sport horses and managing their registration possibilities can be a dizzying process! But Cowboy does look the part of his warmblood ancestors. And that's okay. He'll still be a lovely, useful horse. However, he's a living example of what can happen when you breed two horses of dissimilar conformation together: you get a foal that's representative of either one or the other parent, and often you get neither. You get a throwback to some great-grandsire lurking in the genetic gene pool. Rarely do you get a foal that is an optimal blending of the two disparate parents. Which is why it's best to keep in mind that old horseman's saying: "Always breed type to type." I'm guessing that means that next time around we should either breed April to an actual warmblood. Yet no one in our family presently wants another warmblood. Or my mom (who loves doing the "foal thing") could get herself an AQHA broodmare. As for me? I'll just stay on the sidelines. With my gelding.

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