Friday, May 22, 2009

Just a Horse

If your like me, you might be the only one in your family that is "horsey". I don’t mean you have long ears and a big head , I am talking about the lifestyle that we lead, those of us that have horses.
Over the years, my family has grown to accept the fact that sometimes,(ok most times) my horses come first. It's no secret that I have been known to arrive terribly late and unshowered to important family funtions because I was busy riding or attending some horse related event. Yes, I have left birthday parties early because I had chores to do and I have even declined a few important get togethers because I had a ride, a show, or a lesson to attend with my horse. If you give me the choice to meet up with a friend to ride in the hills in 90 degree whether, flies, knats, dirt, and all, over a quaint get together for brunch with friends, you can pretty much be sure what my choice will be.
Yes, it’s a lifestyle for sure. I have learned to deal with the scoffs, the loss of patience with me when I choose my horse over my not so horsey friends but they also learn to deal with it, and more importantly, not to take it personal.
I am certain I am not alone in this dilemma! While it seems completely normal to me and my husband, it doesn't always make things easy for those loved ones or friends that aren't horsey.
Summer has arrived in Montana and the old saying is 9 months of winter and 3 months of company is ringing true. I’ll have my fair share of company this summer with not so horsey friends and relatives. I stopped thinking of creative ways to explain my habits away to those folks a long time ago and they have learned to deal with it.
It works out beautifully but it does remind me of a poem, of sorts, I keep posted in my tack room that I thought I would share because so often I hear these nonhorsey people say, in their attempt to understand my habits.. “It’s just a horse…” but is it???

From time to time, people tell me, "lighten up, it's just a horse” or, "that's a lot of money for just a horse".

They don't understand the distance traveled, the time spent, or thecosts involved for "just a horse." Some of my proudest moments have come about with "just a horse."Many hours have passed and my only company was "just a horse," but I didnot once feel slighted.

Some of my saddest moments have been brought aboutby "just a horse," and in those days of darkness, the gentle touch of "just a horse" gave me comfort and reason to overcome the day.

If you, too, think it's "just a horse," then you will probably understandphrases like "just a friend," "just a sunrise," or "just a promise.""Just a horse" brings into my life the very essence of friendship, trust,and pure unbridled joy. "Just a horse" brings out the compassion and patience that make me a better person.

Because of "just a horse" I will rise early, take long walks and look longingly to the future.

So for me and folks like me, it's not "just a horse" but an embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future, the fond memories of the past, and the pure joy of the moment.

"Just a horse" brings out what's good in me and diverts my thoughts away from myself and the worries of the day.

I hope that someday they can understand that it's not "just a horse" but the thing that gives me humanity and keeps me from being "just a woman/man." So the next time you hear the phrase "just a horse" just smile, because they "just" don't understand.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Have a Nice Trip?

I spent the latter half of the week trying to fight back what started as a little cold, and quickly turned into some kind of nasty virus ( no, it’s wasn’t piggy flu but I did have to wonder!) . I could barely get out of bed Thursday and Friday. I spent both days downing decongestant, ibuprofen and sleeping. I had to get better by Saturday. It was supposed to be a beautiful weekend and I had riding to do. When a virus is coursing through your system, there isn’t much one can do but wait it out. When I tried to go halter up Rebel on Saturday and was winded simply by brushing him I decided to rethink my plan. The last thing I wanted was to extend my misery.. back to the house I went. By Saturday night I was feeling as though I was improving and decided to go ahead with my plans to meet a friend at Herron Park on Sunday for a ride, much to Tom's concern given my state! I loaded up Rebel , tissues, cough drops and water and headed out for the afternoon for a ride in the hills. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a lick of wind. FINALLY.
I wasn’t sure how crowded things would be at the park since there was a mini event that was going on but I lucked out. As I rolled in with my trailer, the last mini-eventer was rolling out. We had the whole place to ourselves practically. Herron Park is located just 5 miles west of town and easily accessible. It used to be the main location for the 3 day Event competitions for the area until another location was created a few years back. It’s a beautiful setting that continues to be used for practice and training by the local combined training group. It has 2 dressage arenas, a x-country course and then access to miles and miles of trails just behind it. It’s open to public use, including mountain bikers, hikers and dog walkers.
Brenda was already there and had Zera unloaded, her feisty Arabian mare. Rebel was more interested in the lush green grass so I let him graze while I saddled up. One nice thing about older geldings, they are completely driven by their stomach. I never have to worry about him wandering off too far as long as there is green grass to be had.
About a half hour later, we headed for the hills. We stayed at a slow pace since this was the first time I had Rebel out on hills at all. We headed off on one trail and it took us to a lookout… up we went, slowly climbing. We had to stop several times to let hikers and dogs or mountain bikers go by. Several times we had to stop for a break as Rebel was huffing and puffing. Once we made it to the top of the trail we were on, we stopped and I hopped off. Rebel was dripping wet with sweat. This was really the first warm day above 50 degrees we have had. Rebel is still shedding the last of his winter coat. Before I locked up the truck, the thermometer reading was 79 degrees. That was an hour ago and I was certain the temp had climbed since then. At the top , the breeze picked up and Rebel grazed a bit. Suddenly, swarms of mosquitoes were buzzing and drawing blood. Stupid me, obviously NOT in summer thinking yet, I didn’t even think to spray him or myself down with anything. Standing there , getting eaten alive was not an option so we decided to move on.
I was a little concerned with how sweaty Rebel was so I opted to stay on my own feet and walk him a ways. I could tell he probably had had enough so we turned to head back. After a little bit, he dried off so I hopped back on. We made our way onto one of the many two track dirt logging road that winds it’s way through the area to head back to the parking lot. The rest of the ride was flat or downhill. It would be an easy walk back to the trailer, but was a little longer following the road that winds around the mountain.
We got back to the trailer about an hour and a half later. Rebel was tired pup. He had tripped a few times. We had ridden for about 2.5 hours with over half of it being a steady uphill climb. Gheeezz. Guess I forgot that Rebel does have a few years on him. I guess it wouldn’t be fair to expect the old man to act like an 8 year old! It was a great ride just the same but I realized my expectations of Rebel getting fit for a 25 mile ride by the 2nd week in June may have been too high. We did about 9 miles we figured since most of the loop we rode is the loop commonly done on the poker rides, which are usually 9-10 miles.

The parking lot has access to running water so I filled a bucket and offered Rebel water but he wasn’t interested. I sponged him off really well and let him graze for a while longer while Brenda and I chit chatted about the Hooves and Company rides for the year. Atleast he could get some moisture from the grass. After about 15 minutes of grazing, Rebel stopped and just stood there, looking a bit listless. I got a little concerned and decided to load up and get him home. He had passed manure once on the trail but had’t peed. We loaded up and headed home. I turned him out in his paddock, where he promptly rolled and went to cleaning up his hay. I freshened up the water tank and he came over to take several good drinks. I think he was probably very tired and very thirsty, but otherwise okay.

When I finally got in the house, Tom asked how my ride went. My response?? Great and not so great. Great because I was out riding and it was a beautiful day , not so great because Rebel’s tripping issue plagued us. I mentioned earlier that Rebel had been tripping on the way back. No, the footing wasn’t bad, it was a fairly smooth dirt track.
Tripping has been an issue that has plagued us in the last few years with Rebel and has caused me a fair amount of trouble , not to mention anxiety. He has literally fallen down completely and landed on me in the past. For a while, we thought the tripping was caused when he got too long in the toe. While this does certainly exacerbate the tripping, this isn’t the issue most of the time. We keep him trimmed regularly. Then we thought it was something I was doing with my seat, getting in his way or something, but I have explored this with my dressage instructor…. He still trips even when my seat is correct. In fact he trips at liberty, on the lunge, etc. He trips with a saddle and without a saddle. It’s odd and it is .. well.. scary.
When we were riding, Brenda noticed that one time, Rebel stumbled when he actually was stepping so his right foot crossed in front of his left foot and tangling his front feet. Tangling his front feet? That seemed odd. One other time during the ride, he tripped because he stubbed his toe
Well, I have one theory; Rebel gets tense, it’s his nature. Always has been. I have heard of rope walking with horses which is a result of tension. Many horses do it, most go unnoticed to their rider. When Rebel gets tense, he hollows his back and his shoulders drop and instead of landing heel first , he starts landing toe first. I know this causes the tripping to get worse. Everytime we head out and turn to come home, he trips a lot more. It seems to be worse with his front right. But the part that has me totally confused is that sometimes, he trips when he doesn’t appear tense at all. He could be walking, relaxed, with his head low and he will still trip. So, my theory isn’t complete, obviously.
So what is it?? It is physical, mental, is it something anatomical? How do I fix it?? Honestly, I am not sure. I have tried various things, various suppling exercises. I have had the chiropractor out as well. Nothing seems to fix it permanently. The quest continues.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ride season Reflections:

The other day I picked up the entry form I had printed out for Owyee Fandango ride that is coming up next weekend in Idaho. It was all filled out and ready to be mailed off. A few months back, I had planned to attend this ride with two fit horses, Rebel and JB, doing a limited distance on each day. Seeing that filled out entry form was a reminder of how things really took a different turn for my endurance plans this year. Just a few days from now, I would have begun the tedious process of packing up the truck and traile and overall driving poor Tom nuts with my pre trip anxiety. He would have been trying to slip me Valium while I raced around making lists. I guess the silver lining is that I won’t have to deal with all that anxiety, nervous stomach, etc but I know I am missing a great opportunity to not only have a lot of fun, learn a lot of stuff but to meet a lot of endurance people. *deep sigh* Guess there’s always next year.

For now, I am focusing on being ready for the Blacktail Mountain Classic right here in Kalispell that is being held the weekend of June 20. My plan is to ride Rebel for the limited Distance. JB is still on endurance hatius for the season. For Rebel to be ready for June 20th, that might be a challenge . We'll have to see how our conditioning goes. Due to a huge project I have been involved with at work, I haven’t been getting near enough time in the saddle. Working from 7:00 am to 7:00 p.m makes endurance conditioning difficult at best. In the last couple of weeks, that has lessened thankfully but I have run into other obstacles. Our less than cooperative weather seems to keep me from getting much done. It’s been very cold and worse than anything, we have been getting winds that are just hellacious. Not just strong wind, no , I am talking about gale force winds, along with driving rain , hail and thunder storms. I tried last week to go out a couple of times, only to be chased back home by fast approaching black clouds , angry with lightning, headed right for us. Rebel and I turned tail and raced for hom, barely making it back in time before the ground shook with thunder and we were pelted with hail stones. Rebel couldn’t get into his shed fast enough. Don’t get me wrong, I am not adverse to riding in some foul weather or wind but it seems like our weather has been extra severe this spring. I draw the line when wind gusts reach 50 mph…with steady winds 35-40 mph and riding in a thunderstorm is just never a good idea if you can avoid it. Ofcourse, like clockwork, as soon as we got home, unsaddled, and got in the house to dry off, within a half hour, the clouds would part, the sun would shine and the wind would lessen. By then , it was after 8:00 p.m. Too late to head back out to do anything. So, it's been frustrating.
This weekend we are supposed to receive some 70-80 degree weather. You can bet I will be hitting the trail. Rebel has seemed to really enjoy getting back to having a job. He does 6 miles like nothing, which isn't saying a lot but for a 17 year old horse that has been semi retired for a few years , I would say that is pretty good.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Saddle For Sale

If anyone is interested, we have decided to sell the McClellan. I plan to list it on but thought I would post it here as well. Unfortunately, it doesn't fit any of our horses well enough. Tom built this saddle in 2007 with the help from Jeff at Shooting Star Saddlery in Niarada, Montana. He had hoped to use it as his main horseback Archery saddle but it did not fit Cassidy well. I tried to use it on JB as it would make an excellent endurance saddle but it has too much rocker for his back. It would best fit a horse that has more of a dip behind the withers as opposed to a flat backed horse.
We purchased the tree , rawhide covered wood, from a McClellan tree /saddle shop in Texas and then Tom and Jeff built it up from there with a few customized touches.
It's a nice looking saddle that is very comfortable to ride in. It has a very traditional look and is about 12 lbs (maybe even less) The stirrups still need to be wrapped in leather to finish the traditional look or could be replaced with endurance stirrups. All the tooling on the saddle is hand tooled. It has traditional center fire rigging that has alot of adjustments. Sheepskin on back is in excellent condition. It also has 6 tie strings attached, perfect for an endurance rider. The size is approx 151/2 seat. This saddle has been used very little and is in excellent shape.

I have several more pictures if anyone is interested. Asking price $850.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Samarka's Mystic Sage

The perfection of life with a gun dog, like the perfection of an Autumn, is disturbing because you know, even as it begins, that it must end. Time bestows the gift and steals it in the process"
George Bird Evans
"An Affair With Grouse"

The quote above was sent to me by a friend and while Samoyeds aren’t a bird dog, the quote was truly fitting.

If anyone has ever had the opportunity to be around a Samoyed, you know they are the dog with the smile in their eyes.

At first glance, this story has little to do with my endurance endeavor but in many ways has everything to do with it. It's kind of taken the wind out of my sails of late with just about everything, including wanting to condition for endurance with Rebel. Sage was co captain during our rides. She was always right there with me, trotting along. I'll bounce back I am sure, but it may take me some time.

For the last several weeks, we have been dealing with ever increasingly difficult health issues with our 121/2 year old Samoyed, Sage; aka Ice Bear , aka Poochey Girl. It was complicated ... she had various things all going on simultaneously, that of which included Lupus and Thyroid issues. About a month ago her Lupus was ramping up and causing a lot of problems for her. After several discussions with the vet, and trying several things, all failing, we finally broke down and started her on prednisone. The vet was confident that it would help. We were hesitant because it can be pretty nasty stuff, but the symptoms of the Lupus were proving much worse.
About two weeks ago, Sage stopped eating her regular food but was willing to eat canned dog food. One week ago, Sage began refusing can food as well but if I insisted and hand fed her she would oblige about 50 % of the time because that is just how she was. A good girl. (unless there were leather goods to be found) The hand feeding with the canned food lasted only couple of days and pretty soon, we were down to feeding her raw meat from the beef in the freezer, or chicken. She ate those things, but only half heartedly. I knew then, we were fighting a losing battle but didn’t really know why. Prednisone should help increase her appetite. It didn’t make sense. Typically, Sage never missed a meal and now she had no interest in eating.
Last Thursday I came home to find her belly all bloody. When I laid her down to take a look, I couldn’t believe my what my eyes were seeing. Towards her back legs, lied a huge ugly looking growth on one of her mammaries, atleast 2x2 in size and bulging 1 inch. She had been licking it which was causing it to bleed. How could I not have noticed this? I knew that it had been atleast a week since I last checked her for lumps as I often do so this growth wasn’t there at that time. I check Sage for lumps routinely because a few years ago , she developed several small mammary tumors, all of which were benign and not growing. We opted to not do surgery on those tumors as they didn’t bother her.
Friday morning, I took Sage into the vet so he could take a look at this growth, which seemed to come on quickly. Was it one of her tumors that had become malignant? I didn’t know. Upon examination, the vet thought it was something that would be easy enough to remove and he thought she should get immediate relief. He would biopsy at that time. So, that was good enough for me and we scheduled the surgery for Monday, 5/4, and went home for the weekend.
I tried to keep Sage as quiet as I could throughout the weekend but she was always a fighter and wanted to be in the middle of all the activity, especially if there was any horse activity to be had. Whenever I rode, Sage would always be right alongside of us. It was her way of keeping tabs on things. Saturday I had to keep her in the house as I didn’t want her to over do it and cause more issues. Boy, was she mad and barking to let the whole neighborhood know. By Sunday night, Sage had taken a turn for the worse. She was panting heavily with a rapid heart rate and was having difficulty moving. We called the vet again late Sunday night, now fearing for her life. The vet met us at the clinic 10:30 that night. He looked at the tumor again and was astonished at how much it had increased in size. It has also become very inflamed and the inflammation was traveling down her leg. The vet quickly left the exam room and was gone for a while. Tom and I weren’t sure where he was headed or what he was doing. When he came back , he brought with him a large veterinary book which I thought was a bit odd . He said he wanted to show us something. He explained that he had researched things a bit more after seeing Sage on Friday and had suspected that she might have what was called Inflammatory Mammary Carcinoma but he wasn’t sure at the time. He had planned to talk to me Monday morning and reevaluate surgery. Now, seeing how this tumor was so aggressively growing, it was obvious this was exactly what he was showing me in the book. All the symptoms over the last several weeks fit and here we thought it was her Lupus. What he especially wanted to show us in the book was that it indicated surgery was not an option with this and especially not recommended for tumors beyond a certain size. The tumor Sage had was well beyond that. It went on to explain that if surgery is attempted, the outcome is very grave and usually ends up that the dog has to be euthanized shortly afterward. To add, the location of her tumor made matters worse. It was in the absolute worst area for healing. If we operated, we would face huge issues getting the incision to heal properly due to the amount of movement. To add, the book went on to explain that w hen these tumors are operated on, it causes the malignancy to become more aggressive.

I had read enough. Our hearts sank. Maybe in disbelief, shock , denial or all of the above , I asked the vet why he had said he could operate on Friday and now we were facing no options? The logical part of my brain that normally drives my ability to make good decisions was suddenly turned off. While I knew the answer, I suddenly couldn’t or maybe I didn’t want to grasp what the vet was telling us. When your world turns upside down in an instant, reality sometimes takes a minute to sink in. It took me some time to come to grips with the fact that this was not just a mammary tumor that got ugly that could easily be removed. This was something worse, something that we could not beat. Inflammatory Mammary Carcinoma was a completely different monster that was going to take my baby from me and there was nothing I could do about it. Surgery would only extend her pain and suffering.
As much as I didn’t want to, I could see the answer in Sages eyes, the distress she was in told all me enough. The vet gently explained that euthanasia was really our only option. Tom looked at me and asked if we should go ahead with it right then. The floor felt like it dropped out from underneath my feet. I wasn’t ready. I know during times like this it, it shouldn’t be about the human but I just wasn’t prepared for this. It hit like a bullet to the heart. I needed to come to terms with what I had just heard. I needed a chance to say goodbye.

I asked the vet if he felt we could manage her pain well enough with medication for the night so that I could take her home to say goodbye first. He felt that we could. We didn’t want Sage's last memory to be scared and on an exam table. I couldn’t live with that. The vet gave us some Tramadol which is used in cancer patients to manage pain and we made arrangements for the vet to come to the house the next day, Monday, to euthanize in the comforts of her own home.
I stayed with her all day on Monday and tried to keep her as comfortable as possible. She wanted to be outside and would go over to her kennel area and just sit. The other two dogs were terribly worried. Since she didn’t get her Sunday knuckle bone( a weekly thing we give each dog every Sunday)I gave it to her. She chewed on it for a while but then it got to be too much for her. She seemed to want to be alone a lot . That was a hard one to take. Anyone who knows me knows I am a fixer. In all the years, the various hurts and cuts and things I had nursed her through, I couldn’t fix this one. I couldn’t even do much to comfort her. I just sat with her, and pet her. I brushed her when she would allow it and wash her face with a warm cloth which was one of her favorite things. When her pain level seemed to increase, I gave her pain meds to get her through the next couple of hours while we waited for the vet to arrive. Unfortunately, he would not be arriving until after clinic hours. About half way through the day I regretted making her wait for what seemed to be a lifetime. I just had no idea how painful this was going to get.

It was the longest day of both of our lives. Tom arrived home in the afternoon and shortly after that, the vet finally arrived. It was such a relief to see him to know that she would not have to endure the pain any more. We had our time to say goodbye and I knew she was ready for me to help her one last time, to end her pain. It was all over so quickly and painlessly, peace for her at last.

We buried her near the kennel area under a tree, where she loved to sit and be on look out, always guarding, always watching, as a good Samoyed always will. Sage was so very special to everyone who met her and she brought sunshine and happiness with her whever she went. I have lost a large part of my heart with Sage’s passing. Farewell, sweet Sage, my Ice Bear. We love you and will be greatly missed until we will all be united again someday to play forever in the fields beyond the Rainbow Bridge.

Love Mom, Dad, Morgan, Loki and most of all Munci.

P.S.( I will post a photo of her soon)