Thursday, January 31, 2008

Make it or Break it

Dr. B came out yesterday to ultrasound Kaswyn's leg. He started by watching him walk, then trot on the lunge line. He agreed that he could see some anomalies in his walking strides, but he thought he looked great at the trot. I agreed, but kept telling him how concerned I was about the walk. He came up to me, put his arm around my shoulders, and said,

"Listen, I don't deny that we can see something in the walk, and we're going to ultrasound the leg to rule out the suspensory, but the horse looks great and I'd be surprised if we find anything. Bottom line is you've got to get him working again. I know you don't want another heartache, and that we've been struggling with this for two years, and I know we've had a little setback, but I think you've got to ride him, and get him back into training. And that training is either going to make him or break him."

I don't know if he heard my stomach go thunk down into my feet, but I sure felt it. With a big sigh I took Kaswyn to the washrack and he got his ultrasound.

Dr. B saw nothing of any significance. What happens now is that the scans will go to Dr. G, who will put them into a computer program which will measure the differences between the right leg and left leg suspensories. Any difference of more than 10% is considered significant, and Dr. B admitted that it's possible that his eye could not discern that small of a difference. What he did think he saw was the opposite of what you'd expect - that the right front was actually a little bigger than the left. He feels that this is probably from Kaswyn compensating for pain in the left front, but doesn't think it's anything to worry about.

Without seeing the computer's numbers he's 99% sure that the suspensory is not injured in any way. Then he said "So, you have got to ride this horse. He can be turned out and just continue on with the riding program you were on to bring him back. We maybe lost a little battle here recently but we're going to win the war, you know what I mean? Regardless of this little setback I think the prognosis is excellent for this horse to return to full work, training, and competition. So stop worrying and ride him!"

I believe what he's telling me, so we're going to go back to work. However, I'm moving Kaswyn back to his old barn today, so I won't ride today. Then we'll be having guests at our house Friday and Saturday, so no riding then. Sunday will be the first time I've ridden in over two weeks. I hope he's sound and feels good.

I'll get a call on Monday with the results of the computer analysis of the ultrasound scans. Not that I expect it to show anything, which I'm not sure if I'm happy about or not. It would be nice to have an answer, but it's not like I'd be happy if he had a suspensory injury. Again I'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hello, Dr. G?

I had been trying to remember when Kaswyn had his last ultrasound of that left front suspensory, and I figured I could just call the clinic and see when they had done it last. I called this morning and Dr. G actually answered the phone himself. He's the best lameness doctor for hundreds of miles and he's been seeing Kaswyn from the beginning. My trainer had taken Kaswyn for the ultrasound the day it was done, but I could not be there because of work.

Dr. G told me that the last ultrasound was December 2006, and then asked what was going on. I told him what Dr. B had done recently and he said that Dr. B had talked to him about Kaswyn's recent situation. So then I told him about his lameness at the walk and asked what he thought about doing another ultrasound of the leg to rule out the suspensory. He said he thought it was an excellent idea and that he'd make copies of the last ultrasound for Dr. B, because Dr. B will be coming out to the barn do the scan instead of me having to take Kaswyn to Dr. G's clinic. He also said he'd have another consultation with Dr. B where they would discuss Kaswyn's case. Dr. B will be out next Wednesday to do the scan.

I decided to lunge Kaswyn today instead of riding him so I could see how his leg looked while it was working. His walk was still off, but when I asked him to trot he took off happily and looked pretty good. I have a suspicion that his enthusiasm was covering any pain he might have been feeling because he only looked slightly off in the left front. We only lunged ten minuted total, and then I walked him for ten minutes. Again the walk was off, with the stiff fetlock and short stride.

So I'll be anxious to see how the ultrasound looks next Wednesday. If it's okay then we need to figure out what's going on in there. If he's got a lesion or tear on the suspensory, then it's lots of time off and hand-walking for us.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Suspensory Suspect

Tomorrow I'm supposed to be able to ride Kaswyn. However, just walking on the lunge line today he looked off. When his right front foot hit the ground, the fetlock flexed the correct amount and looked like it absorbed the shock and weight of his body during the stride. When the left front foot hit the ground there were two problems. The one that was immediately apparent was that the fetlock hardly flexed at all to absorb his weight. He kept it rather straight most of the time, even sometimes not flexing it at all when he walked on it. Also he was putting his left front foot on the ground with his knee slightly bent during about half of the strides.

Both of these things are making me think he has a suspensory ligament injury. The suspensory runs from the back of the knee down the leg and under the fetlock, and it's job is to absorb the shock from the horse's weight. By not bending the fetlock Kaswyn would be putting less stress on the ligament. Keeping his leg a little bent when it hits the ground would also make the ligament less taut as he's putting weight on it. Also I read this website and the first two types of injuries sound an awful lot like Kaswyn's issues.

I mentioned a suspensory injury to Dr. B when he was out last week, and he said that Dr. G ultrasounded the ligament and it was fine. However, he did that ultrasound a long time ago. I can't even remember when it was, and it might have been before I started this blog which would be almost two years. So it's possible that Kaswyn has injured the suspensory since the ultrasound. Dr. B admitted that the nerve block that made Kaswyn sound would also make him sound if he had a suspensory ligament injury, and that sometimes a swollen suspensory can sometimes look like a problem with the splint bone because the ligament presses on the bone. But he didn't think that was the problem because if Kaswyn had a suspensory lesion or tear that he'd be much more lame. He also said based on the x-rays he didn't think my horse should be as off as he is because it's just not that bad of an injury.

So now that I've thought about this I think maybe it's his suspensory. Not flexing his fetlock and bending the knee slightly as he puts his foot down are two pieces to the puzzle, but then when I consider what a trooper my horse is I think that maybe he does have a suspensory injury and he's not that lame because he's working through the pain.

My solution? Dr. B might be coming to the barn Tuesday or Wednesday to ultrasound another horse with a suspensory injury. I'm going to get Kaswyn on the list to be ultrasounded just to rule out the suspensory injury because if I keep riding him on a suspensory ligament lesion or tear then I risk laming him permanently. Or at least making it less likely that he'll be able to return to training.

I'll either lunge or ride him Thursday. My suspicion is that if I call Dr. B and tell him that Kaswyn is off Dr. B will tell me to give it more time. Regardless, I really want that suspensory ruled out, and I think I can talk him into doing the ultrasound.

Monday, January 21, 2008

This is for you

Thank you.

I just wanted to say that to everyone who has either commented or sent me an email of support. I do appreciate your kind words and affirmation that I'm not crazy, that special once-in-a-lifetime relationships with horses do exist, and that I'm doing the right thing.

I know you're reading, but I'm also listening...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hello, Dr. B? - Part 2

Part 1

Dr. B and his assistant arrived about 35 minutes later. I knew what doc was going to do when he got there, because he told me what his plan had been the last time he came out and found my horse to be sound. He first had me lunge him, and confirmed that he was off. He didn't want to say lame, just a little off. Then we took him out and get him scrubbed up for a nerve block.

He wanted to block the leg to be sure he was correct about what area was the problem. First he blocked out just above the fetlock. We waited ten minutes, then again lunged him. I didn't think he looked better, but doc said he thought he was 50% better. Then Kaswyn was scrubbed again and blocked at the origin of the suspensory - not because he thinks he has a suspensory tear but because that block will block out the splint area. Next time on the lunge line he was almost completely sound, and starting carrying on a little bit on the lunge line with his head high. All the other times he had his head really low and looked dejected and withdrawn.

So, fine. We know that we are in fact dealing with the same problem area. Doc said what he wanted to do is inject it with cortisone. That would take away the inflammatory response and cool the area down and hopefully get it to heal.

I had some questions first. Why hadn't this healed already? Will it ever heal? Or is this something that he's not going to come back from?

Dr. B said he's surprised that Kaswyn still has this problem. In his opinion this injury should have healed up and been a non-issue by now, considering that radiographically the injury is just not that bad. He's got two theories of what might be happening with Kaswyn, and neither are common but both are possible. When a horse "pops a splint" you can usually see a large lump right under the knee. This is not the bone itself, but connective tissue on the bone that tears away and becomes inflamed. Usually these look ugly but once they get hard and heal they don't cause any more pain. Theory #1 is that instead of the splint popping out that it popped in, and that connective tissue is causing issues.

Theory # 2...there is a nerve that runs under the splint bone. It's possible that, either due to the connective tissue popping in or some bone calcification on the inside of the bone, the nerve is getting pinched between the splint bone and cannon bone. He said the pinched nerve could explain why he's okay sometimes and off sometimes. It could also explain why it's causing him so much pain from an injury that is not severe.

The problem with both theories is he doesn't know how to diagnose them, let alone treat them. If it's either problem they aren't showing up on x-ray or ultrasound. He is going to talk to Dr. G about it and do some more networking to get some ideas about how to get to the bottom of this. Until then, his suggestion is to inject cortisone into the area, because that will help with all the scenarios.

I had told myself that I wasn't going to stick another needle in my horse. That the next time he was off I was just going to lay him off for awhile. But then listening to doc made me realize that if it's not the original injury that we thought (splint bone torn away from cannon bone) but if it's either calcified connective tissue inside the splint bone or a pinched nerve that time off will not solve that. Mother nature can heal the original theory of the injury, but she can't break down calcifications or stop a pinched nerve.

I told him to inject Kaswyn. Then I wanted to know this - what next? At what point will we know what we've got? The answer - if he stays sound for months, then it's the original injury and it will eventually heal with cortisone and time. But if I start him up again and he's lame in a few weeks, then we've got something else. Something that maybe can't be diagnosed, and therefore can't be treated. Or cured.

Craig and I had a discussion last night about Kaswyn. The question is how much longer am I going to try to fix Kaswyn? Are the treatments and diagnostics just going to get more and more expensive, experimental, and questionable? Am I ever going to give up?

I don't really have an answer. So far I have not been told that Kaswyn is not treatable. If Dr. B were to say "He was this. We can't fix this. It's over. Stop riding him.", then I would. But he hasn't said that. I feel like were so close to fixing this. Kaswyn gives me such good rides sometimes, I just feel like we're almost there. Maybe I'm fooling myself.

Craig says he doesn't see how I can get any enjoyment out of my horse anymore - that all he gives me is worry and sorrow. That's really not true. If we never set foot in the show ring again, I'd be happy if I could at least have the same relationship with him as far as riding goes. If you've never had a true connection with a horse then you can't really understand what I'm talking about. It's nonverbal communication where you and your horse are working together, and both really enjoying it. My horse loves it when I ride him, and I love to do it. We have fun together.

Even if I could just trail ride him I'd be happy. The other day we walked down the drive way and down the road. We were out for almost 25 minutes and it was cold, grey, and we got snowed on a little. But I talked to him and he listened, and I felt very connected to him. I rode bareback, in a halter (with my helmet of course) so I could feel his back working under me. At one point I heard what I thought was a car behind me, but glancing quickly over my shoulder I didn't see anything. But I could still hear something. That's when I saw a man on a mountain bike in a bright neon green raincoat come up on us to our left. Kaswyn saw it at the same time, and since he hadn't seen a bike in years and the fact that the raincoat was bright and flapping I thought he'd spook. He jerked his head up, and I laid my hand on his shoulder and said "It's okay, boy. Just a bike. You're fine." Immediately he relaxed, licked his lips, and walked on without a care (although still watching the bike with curiosity). He trusts me. And I know he loves me. That little ride down the road was so much fun for me because of our connection, not because of what we were doing.

I know everyone thinks their horse is great, but I have to say that this animal is one in a million. He's simply not replaceable. I have to do everything I can to fix him. I can make more money. I can't make another Kaswyn.

If I could never sit on his back again, my heart would break into a million pieces.

So Kaswyn has five days off, then I'll ride him again. If he's sound, I'll take it day by day and hope those days stretch into months. And years.

Hello, Dr.B? - Part 1

Kaswyn was not sound last night.

As soon as I started trotting him I could feel it. I gave it about five minutes because I just wasn't sure, and with nobody there to confirm and the mirrors all frosted from the cold I couldn't get confirmation. But then he started to blow through his nose with every stride like he does when he's hurt, and then I knew for certain.

I jumped off of him and called the vet's office right away. It was only 4:15 and there was a slim chance that I could get Dr. B out that evening if he was close by and just finishing up. Time was of the essence because the last time Kaswyn was off, by the time Dr. B got out there a few days later he was sound. So Dr. B needed to come out ASAP. However, the office gal said he was on the other side of town and there was no way of getting him there that night. Then she said his Friday was booked and Saturday didn't look good either. All she could do is take my name and have him call me tomorrow.

I told her that I had his cell phone number and I'd just call him directly. She said that would be a good idea, so I called him. He picked up and I told him who I was and that Kaswyn was off. He said "No! He can't be off! Don't tell me that!" I said yes, indeed, he was off, and was there any way he could get out tonight while he was still off? He said no way, that he was on the other side of the world at the moment, and tomorrow didn't look good. He said he had a morning surgery, then an MRI, then a pre-purchase exam, and two farm calls. He said if he'd be able to make it, it would be after 4:00. I told him I could do that. In the meantime he told me to work Kaswyn so that he stays lame until tomorrow.

I had already untacked my horse, so I put him on the lunge line and lunged him. I haven't lunged him in years at anything other than a walk unless it's for the vet, but watching him lunge would help me see what was going on. I started him to the left, which is the bad side, and he was certainly short on the left front. He wanted to stop, but I made him keep going. My guts twisted up in knots and I started crying as I pushed my horse to move despite his pain. It was terrible. I just kept saying how sorry I was, but that he needed to be lame tomorrow for the doc. I asked for the left lead canter, and after hesitating, he picked up the wrong lead. On the lunge line. He NEVER does that. He was saying, loud and clear, "My left front hurts. Please don't make me work on it."

I stopped him, and reversed directions. He was still off to the right, just not as bad. I only could keep him going for ten minutes before I stopped. I wasn't going to torture my horse. I gave him lots of praise and told him that I knew he hurt the whole time I was putting him away. I cleaned up my stuff and, for the first time, I didn't give my horse bute or put any Surpass cream on him even though I knew he hurt. I didn't want to knock the inflammation out of there and have him be sound tomorrow. I felt so guilty, because I knew that leg hurt him, but he just needed to stay lame. Again I told him I was sorry, and I left the barn with my eyes full of tears again.

As I was pulling down the driveway I got a voicemail from Dr. B. He wanted me to call him. When I did, he said "Hey, sit tight. We're coming your way. Tomorrow just won't work so we're on our way right now. See you in a few."

I went back in the freezing barn to clean my tack and wait for Dr. B.

To be continued...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hope is the thing with feathers

The patient I talked about here and here is coming in tomorrow for another embryo transfer. This will be her seventh time. She'll be having a frozen embryo transfer, which means that she'll be getting embryos that were frozen during her fresh cycle.

Here is how it works. On fresh cycles the patient gets their ovaries stimulated with drugs so that they produce more than one egg. Then they have an egg retrieval where we aspirate the eggs out of the ovaries, then fertilize them. Three days later they come in and have these fresh embryos transferred to their uterus. Any other embryos that are good quality but aren't getting transferred will get frozen. If the fresh transfer is not successful then the patient has a frozen transfer where we thaw the frozen embryos. The frozen transfer is easier because we don't have to stimulate the ovaries with drugs, we just need to prepare the uterus for the embryos.

Yesterday I thawed her embryos. No pressure there. Thankfully every one that I thawed survived. I called her today to set up her embryo transfer tomorrow. I told her I wouldn't be there (cause I'm working this weekend and have the day off) and she said she was really bummed. She also told me that she was going to the restaurant that I had recommended (it's where Craig and I had our first date) as a good luck dinner.

Now, I really wanted to come in just to do her transfer, but my boss thought it would be ridiculous for me to do that, and told me not to come in. I think she thinks that it's some kind of egotistical move on my part, as if I'm saying that nobody else is capable of doing the procedure. But it's nothing like that. I just want to be here for her.

I think I'm going to come in anyway just to see her. Even if I can't do the transfer at least I'll be able to give my support and personally wish her good luck. And find out how their dinner went.

I'll report back in two weeks with her pregnancy results. Send good vibes her way. This time it just has to work.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A post about my boobs - you have been warned.

I love my OB/GYN.

Last month I felt a lump in my left breast. It was right before my period, and since I have fibrous breasts I thought that maybe I just had hormonal changes in the tissue. It sort of went away for two week, but now it's back.

I became very familiar with how my boobs felt when I was breastfeeding Lily. I was plagued with plugged milk ducts, which is very painful to the mother and frustrating to the baby because they don't get the milk they should when feeding. It took six weeks, lots of Internet research, and multiple visits to the hospital's lactation consultants, but I developed methods to clear the plugs. I started to be able to tell if my duct was plugged deep in the breast or if it was plugged at the nipple, and I had different ways of dealing with each problem. Eventually I was able to tell when a duct was developing a plug and was able to locate and stop it, all just by knowing how my breasts should feel.

Since I know what my boobs should normally feel like, it was easy to feel the lump. I knew I had to get in to see my doc. We work in the same department, so I went into work early today and stopped by his office. He happened to be talking with his brother (also an OB/GYN) when I asked if he had a second. His brother promptly left, and I told him I felt a lump. I didn't have any kind of appointment, and no nurse was there, but he immediately got up, saying "Lets have a look right now."

We went into a room and I showed him where it was. He confirmed that he felt something, but he thought it was a benign cyst. I asked how he knew it was just a cyst, and he said over the last 20 plus years he's done a lot of breast exams, and it feels like a cyst to him. However, he still wanted me to have a mammogram today. since the Breast Center is usually packed with patients, he told me which nurse in our department to contact because she'd be able to get me in. I got an appointment at 10:15.

What I was getting was a diagnostic mammogram, which means the radiologist would be there to read the films and give diagnosis immediately. With a routine mammogram the radiologist reads the films later and you get a letter in the mail. I had only had one mammogram before, and they did the standard four views, plus something called a compression view because my tissue is dense in one area. This compression thing sucks. I'm not saying that having a mammogram is fun, cause we've all seen the jokes about how slamming your boob in a car door might be comparable to a mammogram, but the compression view is worse.

Instead of just smooshing your boob between two plastic plates, the compression is like a little disc that smashes just a little part of your boob against the bottom plate. Since it's just a little part you'd think it wouldn't be that bad, but it's worse because it's just a little area, like as big around as a soda can, and I think they crank it down harder to get a better image. And, lucky me, my fibrous breasts make imagine even more difficult. When I got my first compression view on my first mammogram, I almost passed out. Seriously, I got dizzy and everything got grey and a little sparkly.

I just knew they'd be doing the compression thing, and I told the nurse before she started that I had almost fainted after the last one. She was very nice, and told me that sometimes people feel like they need to hold their breath, like for a regular x-ray, but you don't, so she said please concentrate on breathing the entire time. Before she started she asked me where I felt the lump, and then she put a sticker with a small bead of aluminum in it on the area I was pointing to.

Now I'm a big wuss and a bad patient, but I did my best to keep breathing like she suggested. And amazingly, it worked. I was a little anxious, but otherwise fine with the compression. Not that I liked it, but I was able to make it through without falling on the floor.

After the radiographs were taken they took me to ultrasound. It's standard procedure for them to take all patients who feel lumps to get an ultrasound just as another way of viewing the area. The doc came in and said he didn't see anything on the radiographs. I asked him to explain the ultrasound, since I'm familiar with seeing them (all of our embryo transfers are ultrasound guided so I see uterine ultrasounds every day). He was very nice and explained everything he was seeing. Basically he couldn't see anything. No lump, no cyst, just a mound of fibrous tissue that felt like a lump. He said my tissue is likely to change a lot, especially as my hormones change in my cycle, and that just to keep up with the changes. And to come back in a year for another mammogram.

The whole thing was a little scary, but I was back at my desk in an hour with a clean bill of health for my boobs. I decided to go over and see if I could catch my doc in the hallway and tell him the results. I saw him walking out of his office, and before I could say anything he said "I already saw the results. Fibrous tissue, so it's no big deal. It's great news."

How many doctors can you name that would see a patient before the office opened, help squeeze them in for a same day mammogram (since the first available regular mammograms are usually six weeks out), and then check the results and know the outcome within ten minutes of the patient leaving the other office? That's why I love my OB/GYN.

Oh, and all you ladies out there, get your annual pelvic exams and mammograms if you're over 40. It's important! Don't put it off!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Preparing to move

I really hate moving to a new barn.

There is so much crap to move. Every time I move I try and think of what I can do without, but really I need to have all of the stuff I cart around with my horse. Brushes, blankets, bandages, all the first aid stuff, supplements, shampoo, buckets... the list just goes on and on. With every move I take more junk home to be stored in the basement. This time I'm sure I'll have lots to take home, considering the tack room situation at the new barn.

See, the last few places that I have boarded, including my current barn, gave each horse a large tack locker that was built into the wall. There are shelves, a saddle rack, bridle racks, hooks, and plenty of room for blankets and plastic storage bins to organize everything. The new barn has no such lockers. It does have a community tack room, but it's a quite a mess at the moment. I stopped by last week to scope out the situation, because I wanted to see if there might be room for my portable tack locker. It's big and it's on wheels and I figured I'd have to clear a space for it. But the first thing I think I'm going to have to do is move some stuff out of the tack room.

I'm just going to be a boarder there, but I'm also friends with the owner, Marge, and her niece, Susan. Susan does a lot of work around the barn, and Marge has been tapering off her business. She really doesn't want a lot of boarders and is happy that her barn is half-full. Unfortunately the place could use a little TLC. The arena is badly uneven, will probably be dusty, and the tack room has trunks in it from one boarder who hasn't had her horse there in two years and another boarder who owns a 33 year old retired Morgan gelding who hasn't been ridden in probably five years (but still going strong, despite being short of teeth and living on soaked alfalfa cubes).

So I need to go in and do some tack room cleaning, because I'm certain nobody else will do it. Marge and Susan won't mind (I don't think) since it's just one less thing they will have to do, but it's going to suck. Marge said she'd call the old boarder who left her stuff here and either get her to pick it up or allow it to be donated to the local therapeutic riding program. In the meantime I'll get it moved out of the way and give the tack room a good sweeping.

Then I can get my tack locker in there, which Craig will be thrilled to have out of the basement. Personally I don't know why it's such an issue, as my horse stuff takes about half of the room that his comic books do. Anyhow, once the tack locker is in place then I can start moving my stuff over a little at a time.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Breakup - Part 10

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9

I got of of my car a the Upper Barn with my heart racing and a ball of bricks in the pit of my stomach. I really wasn't looking forward to telling Paula that I wanted to work with Justine, especially since Paula already knew about it and had the opportunity to stew about it overnight. But like anything unpleasant that you have to do it's best to just get it over with and stop stressing about it, so I forced my feet to walk into the barn.

I found Paula cleaning her horse's stall. I said "Hi Paula." She didn't look up, say anything or stop what she was doing. I said "I need to talk to you." Again, I was completely ignored, like I wasn't even there. So I just went on with it and said "I'm really sorry to have to tell you this, but I think I'm going to work with Justine from now on."

Again, no response whatsoever. Instead of just leaving, I felt really bad and I continued to try and fill the silence with my reasons for changing trainers, apologizing between thoughts, and hoping that she'd at least look at me. Or say something. Anything.

Finally, after a long pause that I hoped she'd fill, I said "Don't you have anything to say to me?"

She stopped, looked at me, and said "I don't know how you could do this to me. I thought we were friends." I said I thought we were too, and that when I asked for her help at the show and she refused that had hurt my feelings, besides being a little unprofessional. She said "You're my best student! You didn't need her help! And I'm not surprised that Justine stole you from me, since her trainer has been stealing students from other trainers for years!"

I replied that I certainly did need some help from a trainer, and what did she expect me to do if she refused to be there? She didn't reply, and went back to her stall cleaning. I thanked her for all the work that she did with Kaswyn and I, and said that I thought she gave us a great foundation of classical dressage to work from. Without looking at me, she said "Well I hope you enjoyed it because I know who Justine's trainer was, and Justine trains just like her. You're going to ruin your horse. I feel really sorry for Kaswyn."

I didn't know how to respond to that. I had only worked with Justine for a weekend, and time would tell if her training methods would jive with my ideas of dressage. But from what I had experienced so far was very good, and wasn't damaging to me or Kaswyn.

Neither of us were talking and it was clear that it was time for me to make my exit. I thanked her again, and apologized for hurting her, and wished her the best with her horse and her business. I was ignored again, so I walked out of the barn.

That was almost eight years ago, and it was the last time that Paula ever spoke to me. I kept Kaswyn at that barn for awhile longer, so I would see Paula all the time. I would still say hi to her, but she not only refused to speak to me but also refused to even look at me. She would see me coming and purposefully turn her head to the side and walk by me, like a child would do if playing a game of "If I can't see you then you don't exist."

I never heard of her saying anything derogatory about me or Kaswyn. And the only thing I have to say negatively about her is how she handled that last show and of course how she handled me switching trainers. I'm pretty sure that she thinks I had planned on leaving her all along, and that Justine had been trying to coax me into training with her. Neither one is true, but I think there is now way for me to ever convince her of that.

The bottom line is if she had just come to the show with me then I never would have worked with Justine, who has become a fantastic, very close friend to me. And I probably would have listened to Paula and sold my beloved horse. Then I never would have been able to show him at Intermediare I, and have three National Championships, three Reserve Championships, many Regional Championships and more blue ribbons than I can keep track of. Besides giving me a really good classical dressage foundation, she also gave me the gift of being able to move on with my training, make a lifelong friend, and discover how much talent my horse really has.

So Paula, if you're reading this - I'm sorry our relationship had to end the way it did. I know I learned something from the whole ordeal, and I hope you did too. And regardless of what you think of me, I still wish the best for you because I did think of you as a friend and not just my dressage trainer.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Breakup - Part 9

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8

Besides deciding that I needed to end my trainer-student relationship with Paula, I also decided that I would not do it over the phone. I wanted to meet her at the barn and try to break it to her as softly as I could. I called her and she didn't pick up her phone, so I left a message saying that I wanted to talk to her at the barn. That afternoon I went to the barn and talked to the barn manager.

The situation at the barn was that there was no single trainer there. With permission of the barn manager a boarder could bring in any trainer for lessons. The trainer and the barn then entered into a contract where the trainer would pay the barn a fee for each lesson they taught. Also, there were three barns - two that were close to the arenas and one that was up the hill and was a partial self-care barn. Paula was boarding her horse at this "upper" barn, so besides seeing her for lessons I would frequently see her either down at the arena barns or I'd see her car up at the Upper Barn.

I didn't see Paula's car that day, but decided I needed to talk to the barn manager anyway. We went into her office and shut the door. I explained the situation, and how I thought it was going to be something that needed to be handled delicately. I stressed that I wanted to tell Paula myself, so I asked that the barn manager not say anything to her. I knew that Paula would be very upset, that she might create a scene and try to have me thrown out of the barn, or try to prevent Justine from teaching me there. I told her that I wasn't trying to make any trouble, that I just wanted to make a change. Since she new Paula, the barn manager completely understood my concerns and told me that she'd be discreet. She told me to have Justine contact her so they could sign the contracts.

I rode my horse, and still didn't see Paula. This was before I had a cell phone so I didn't have any way of hearing from her, so I left the barn. It turns out that shortly after I left, Paula arrived. Someone at the barn (you know the type) couldn't wait to tell Paula that I had been in the barn manager's office with the door shut. Being paranoid anyway, Paula went into the office to ask why I had been in there. The barn manager said it was between me and her. Paula became agitated, saying that if one of her students was having a problem that she had a right to know. The barn manager told Paula that she needed to talk to me about it.

Paula might have been paranoid, but she was not stupid. Between my vague details of the show and her conversation with the barn manager, she knew what was going on. She asked the barn manager "She is going to use Justine as her new trainer, isn't she?" The barn manager repeated that Paula needed to talk to me about that. Paula then said "Well, you certainly aren't going to let Justine teach here are you?" and the barn manager said "If she wants to teach here, she will be more than welcome." When Paula said "You can't do that!" the barn manager, who was starting to become a bit angry, said "I can, and I will, if that's what she wants!"

Although Paula knew what I wanted to talk to her about she did not call me back.

The next day I saw her car at the Upper Barn as I pulled into the barn parking lot. When I got out of my car the barn manager came quickly out to tell me that Paula knew that I was going to use Justine as a trainer. Apologizing, she said that she did not tell her, told me that Paula had heard that we had talked from one of the boarders, and then gave me the details of their uncomfortable conversation. I told her that it wasn't her fault, and thanked her for giving me the heads up. Then I drove to the Upper Barn to talk to Paula.

To be continued...

Part 10

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Breakup - Part 8

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

The gal that Paula had suggested I sell Kaswyn to had ridden him unsupervised 3 or 4 times. Before I let her ride him on her own I had gone over how I do everything for him, like grooming, tacking, warming him up, cooling him down, and putting him and the tack away. She seemed competent, so I put my worries aside and let her have a shot. One day after she had ridden him I began grooming him and saw a sore on his withers. I checked the saddle pad and it had a dirty spot with hair on it where it rubbed his withers when she had ridden.

I was immediately sorry that I had let her ride him without me or Paula there. What had happened was she had failed to pull the saddle pad up and away from his withers as I had instructed her to. This caused the saddle to push the pad down onto his withers while she rode him and made an open sore there. It also looked as if the saddle had been too far forward. This was actually two problems in one. First, she didn't have the saddle or pad in the proper position as I had instructed her. Second, she didn't notice the sore when she cleaned him up and put him away, or if she did notice she failed to call me. Both equally bad in my book.

I called Paula and told her the situation wouldn't work. She understood, saying that this gal did still have a lot to learn. She wasn't giving up on getting me to agree to sell Kaswyn to her however. I told her that since I had a show coming up that I didn't want this gal riding him or taking any lessons on him until after the show. Paula thought that was a good idea.

Incidentally, Kaswyn now has a white patch of hair right where the sore was. It's a constant reminder to me of my mistake of trusting someone with Kaswyn.

The show I was planning on going to was an open show, but it was also a team competition. Anyone can enter the show, but if riders want to they can enter as a team for an additional fee. There are certain tests that everyone on the team has to ride over two days, and the lowest score of the four team members is dropped from each day. In the end the team with the highest average is the Champion team. Usually riders with the same trainer form a team together, so everyone has the same coach. Since Paula didn't have any other students who wanted to be on a team, I had ridden in the show the previous year on Zoey's team. It was understood that I'd I'd be on the team but coached by my own trainer. This hadn't been a problem the previous year. I think we came in 5th.

This year, as the show approached, I was talking to Paula about her coming to coach me. She told me that she didn't want to go to the show. She had many reasons - I was her only student going to the show and she didn't want to drive 35 minutes to the show every day just for my rides, she was afraid the weather might get bad and she hated to drive in bad weather, and she didn't think I needed a coach. I was surprised, and hurt. I had always paid her whatever she asked to get her to coach me at the shows. It wasn't my fault that I was her only student going to the show, and I really felt that I needed someone to coach me.

We had conversations back and forth about this for a week, and finally she said "Well if you really insist on having a coach, just let Zoey's coach work with you at the show. I really don't think you need it, but if you're scared to show without a coach then see if she'll coach you."

I called Zoey, who was ecstatic. She gave me her trainers number, and I called and asked if she'd be willing to coach me at the show since my trainer could not come. She said she would, and then we set up a lesson the week before the show so that we both would know what to expect at the show from each other. She had seen Kaswyn and I at the shows, of course, but she wanted to find out what we were working on and what we could use help with.

Zoey came with her for our lesson. When we got into the arena, the trainer Justine asked if she could get on Kaswyn to see what he was like. I was leery of letting someone I really didn't know on my horse, but she was a trainer so I handed him over. Kaswyn was very tense and nervous, since this trainer was only the third person ever to be on his back. As she did a little warmup with him, Zoey and I stood at one end. She started saying how this was perfect for Kaswyn and I, and that if my trainer wouldn't come to the show that I should just ditch her. She said she'd never heard of anything so ridiculous, and that her trainer would be the best thing that ever happened to our training.

I told her to just calm down, that I wasn't ditching Paula. Overall I liked Paula as a trainer. We had great lessons, she was always kind and considerate to Kaswyn, and I had even gone to her apartment to watch dressage videos and have long discussions about dressage theory and training with her. As a person I liked her too, and considered her a friend. I wasn't as close with her as I was to Blair, but I felt committed to our student-teacher relationship. So this situation with Justine was going to just be for the weekend, and I made sure that both of them knew that. Justine was fine with it, Zoey a little less so.

Justine finished her warmup and rode Kaswyn over to us. I asked her what she thought, and she said "Um, he's kind of stiff. More so to the left. But I think we can work through that." I agreed with her, but I didn't think there was much that we could do about it. I hopped on and we started our lesson. It was pretty eye-opening. She had me doing some different things, concentrating more on loosening the stiffness and tension than I usually did. At the end of the lesson Kaswyn seemed a bit more supple, but more importantly Justine and I both had an understanding of how we both worked so that we could be productive at the show.

One lesson with Justine under my belt and then we headed to the show. Friday evening she schooled us, and then she coached us before each test on both Saturday and Sunday. At one point Justine was coaching another student in the warm-up and I was talking to her about her opinions of Kaswyn. I told her what Paula had said about his ability to only go to Second Level, and that Paula suggested I sell him. When I said those words, emotion washed over me and I started to cry, saying "But I don't want to sell him. Do you think I have to?" She put her hand on my shoulder and told me that she thought my horse was very talanted and that I shouldn't be so quick to give up on him and sell him. That made me feel better, but I also felt like a bit of an ass because I really didn't know Justine and here I am, bursting into tears in front of her. She didn't know it then, but I'm not a weepy person and generally people don't see me cry unless I'm really overwhelmed by the situation.

I was amazed how different my horse felt after four short days of working with Justine. He was working better over his back, I was riding more effectively, and I felt that I had actually made a lot of progress in a short amount of time. Not only that, but our scores reflected it, and our team came in first place. As our team was up on the podium taking our Championship picture, I knew I had a problem. I hadn't planned on getting a new trainer, but I could not ignore the great progress we made in such a short time. Zoey was elated, saying that Justine had made all the difference, and that I really needed to think about switching trainers. She was right, I did need to think about it. I just didn't know if I could do it. I knew that Paula would be very hurt, and that she already had a healthy case of paranoia about other trainers stealing her students. If I was going to do this, I needed to be tactful about it.

I thought about it for a few days, trying to put Paula off, who had been calling me wanting to hear all about the show and set up our next lesson. Then I made my decision. I was going to break up with Paula.

To be continued...

Part 9

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wanting to stay, but needing to go

Today, with regret, I gave my 30 days notice at the barn.

After finding out that the girls tuition was going up, plus the cost of my health insurance was increasing, I just knew that financially I could not stay at the training barn any more. We had been on the edge (and over it sometimes) of being able to pay all of our bills for months now, but this new increase in our expenses is going to be too much for us to overcome. I don't see our situation changing in the near future, so it's not something I think we can just ride out.

First thing I did when I realized my predicament I called my trainer. I had told her when we moved to this new facility that I wasn't sure how long I could afford it, but I'd do everything I could to hold on as long as I could. Therefore, she wasn't really surprised, but of course she was disappointed. I felt terrible about telling her this bad news today, because tomorrow she is leaving for Florida for three months to train with her trainer. I didn't really want to give her bad news right before she left, but I wanted her to know what was going on. She said she supported me and understood my situation, and knew that we'd find a way to work together once she got back.

After I called my trainer I called Craig. His reaction really surprised me. He sounded surprised, and a little sad for me. He said "I'm sorry honey that we can't afford for you to keep your horse where he is. I know that you really want to keep him at a place where you can train." I assured him that Kaswyn would be fine where he was going, and he said "Will you still be able to train with your trainer?" Yes, I told him, I'm sure the new place wouldn't have a problem letting her teach me when she gets back.

I will be moving Kaswyn to Marge's barn, which is where I boarded him when I first bought him. He loves it there, probably because it feels like home to him. And since I trust Marge completely, I'm not nervous about his care. I know he'll get fed when he needs to be fed, he'll get out as much as possible, and that Marge will keep an eye on him.

Unfortunately, Marge's barn is not perfect, or I'd have never left. It's just not set up for serious dressage training, mainly because the indoor arena is small, and the footing is a bit deep and uneven. Also, there is no outdoor arena, and although I've ridden in the pasture in the summer it's not the consistent footing that is desirable for training. Marge knows this, and wasn't upset at all when I left. Well, she was sorry to see me go because it would mean less time to see each other, but she understood when it was time for me to go.

When I called Marge to ask for a stall, she also seemed sad for me. She said "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that you have to move. You've tried so hard, and come so far with him, only to have your legs cut off at the knees now." I reassured her that I was okay with this decision.

Really I am, for the most part. Yes, I will miss the great big tack locker, wide aisle way, big green pastures, large sized indoor arena with nice footing, heated/air conditioned observation room, nice bathroom, and stall for Kaswyn that has a dutch door so he can hang his head outside when it's nice out. But it's not like I'm putting him down, or selling him. It's not even that he's lame, because right now he's NOT LAME. He's been wonderful for the past week and I've been really excited about bringing him back yet again.

However, I know that Kaswyn will be going to a place that knows him and loves him. He'll get to see his old pasture buddies, be in a familiar barn, and be able to be outside almost all day if possible. Also this horse is trained. Everything he knows is etched into his brain, and there is nothing I really need to teach him. All I need to do is get him in shape and keep him there, because I know that I can ask for a half-pass or pirouette months from now without schooling them at all and he'll know just what to do.

Most importantly I'll save money on board, which I have to say is already lifting a huge weight off of my shoulders. I'm going to enjoy my last month in the training facility, and then we'll kind of go into conditioning and maintaining mode. And hopefully we'll be able to pay off that vet bill (which is a little out of control at the moment) and possibly get the credit cards paid down.

Another plus is I'll be able to spend more time with old friends, and maybe even get to ride Albert, my frind Susan's horse. He's a brat, but he's a blast to ride. We'll be fine, really.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Breakup - Part 7

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

I was at my first open dressage show, hanging around the board where they posted the scores, waiting for them to put up the scores from my Training Level test 4 class. The runner came up with a clipboard and wrote in the scores. My jaw dropped. Not only had I gotten a qualifying score of 62.8%, but I won the class! He was the only Arabian horse in the class, and beat some very nice horses. I was stunned, but elated with my blue ribbon.

I picked up my test, which was all 6's and 7's, and one 5. He got a 7 on gaits in the collective marks, which I was thrilled with. The comments were "Continue to work this horse consistently through his back - balancing more from the legs and being very patient and elastic with your contact." Apparently she approved of my ride. I tried not to let Paula see that I knew that I had been right, but I think she knew.

I continued going to shows that summer, and got another qualifying score. I was really excited to go to Regionals that year, even though my trainer would not be coming with me. I wanted her to come, but Regionals was five and a half hours away in Lexington, Kentucky. She didn't want to go that far from home, having both elderly parents and horses at home to look after. I understood, and did my best without her.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get into the Top 5 that year. I had some nice rides and some shaky rides, but overall I was pleased that I went. Over the next year I continued to train, go to schooling and open shows, and take lessons. Both Kaswyn and I worked really hard, and we moved up to First Level. I went to Regionals the next year to show both Training and First Level, and I dragged Paula with me. We got two Top 5's and a Reserve Championship, proof to me that we had made progress over the past year.

I'd also made a friend that year who also rode dressage. Zoey had an older horse whom she evented, but she also had a young dressage horse that she had in training with a young up-and-coming trainer. She began to sing the praises of this trainer to me, and suggested that I call her for a lesson. Zoey didn't care for Paula, and thought she was holding Kaswyn and I back. I told Zoey I was happy with my trainer, and I wasn't going to switch trainers.

This was mostly true, but it didn't mean that things were perfect in my training relationship with Paula. While she was very slow, methodical, patient, and non-confrontational with her training, she continued to chide me about correcting Kaswyn in the show ring. She didn't seem to believe me when I said that he would over-react and the test would be blown, despite seeing it for herself first-hand. I finally told her one day that she should show him at a schooling show, and then she would see that the horse she had at home and in the warm-up was not the same horse she'd be riding in the show ring.

Paula had ridden Kaswyn at home a few times, but besides that I was the only one riding him. At the schooling show he was nervous that I was there but was not riding him. Paula was able to warm him up, and, although he looked tense, she looked prepared to go into the ring. The test wasn't horrible, but it certainly wasn't anything great. She exited the ring, looked at me and said "Now I see what you mean. Honestly, I don't know how you EVER get through a test with this horse!" Smiling, I resisted the urge to tell her "I told you so!".

After that show Paula had a better understanding of what I was dealing with in the ring. Although Kaswyn was getting better, I still had to be extremely tactful in the show ring. However we started to have other issues. We began schooling Second Level, and Kaswyn became uneven in front. We called the vet out, who performed a lameness exam. Not being able to pinpoint any real lameness, he referred us to Dr. G., who was unable to find anything significant. He suggested a regimen of bute every other day, suspecting perhaps some arthritis or some discomfort that was not apparent on either flex test or x-ray.

The bute seemed to help, but the uneven strides showed in our scores. I tried different farriers, different shoes, and at one point was buying hand-made shoes from West Virginia and having another blacksmith put them on. Nothing seemed to help and the judges kept making comments and giving lowered scores for uneven strides. Zoey started making noise about how it was the training, and maybe I should consider a change. I told her no, I'm not getting a new trainer, and to drop it already.

Then Paula had a heart to heart with me. She said she thought that Kaswyn had gone as far as he could go, and that he'd never make it past Second Level. She said she thought I was a talented enough rider that I deserved a horse that could take me to the upper levels, and that I should consider selling him and buying a new horse. Conveniently, she had another student who was a lower level rider that was looking for a horse. She would be perfect for Kaswyn, so maybe I should at least let her ride him and consider it.

My heart sank. Just thinking of selling my horse made me want to cry. I didn't want to sell him. I did want to continue my training and ride at the upper levels, but I didn't want to get a new horse in order to do it. I loved Kaswyn. Paula loved him too, but she started to push a little harder as the weeks went by. She asked if this other gal could have a lesson on Kaswyn, and I agreed. She called me after the lesson and told me that they got along really really well, and this might just be the perfect match. Paula then convinced me to let this other gal ride Kaswyn two days a week as a trial.

I was full of misgivings. I was letting someone else ride Kaswyn but I wasn't even sure that I wanted to sell him. But this gal was supposedly in love with Kaswyn, and got along with him really well. I trusted Paula, and she was telling me that selling him was the right thing to do. But was it? On the other hand, was it right to keep trying to train a horse beyond his abilities? Lastly, how could I possibly part with this fantastic animal?

Something happened the next week that made me realize that, for one thing, this other gal was not right for Kaswyn.

To be continued...

Part 8

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr