Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Officially in another division

In Arabian breed shows, the larger adult amateur divisions are often divided by age. Usually 18 to 39 and 40 and Over. When I was a kid and showing I used to think the people in the 40 and Over classes were so old. I think that's funny. Now that I'm in the 40 and Over division, anyway.

Here's the thing about me and birthdays - I don't have birthday parties. Not since my 11th birthday, when I invited around 30 girls to my house for a party and only one person showed up. I can attribute this to the one person who did show up. She lived next door and I considered her my best friend. She, however, considered me the girl she would do stuff with when she had no better offers. She was popular, stylish, and outspoken. I was none of those things, which made me the one who was excluded from the group. That and the fact that my Fake Best Friend would encourage others to tease me, and would also cut me down brutally to my face. I only put up with it because I didn't think I could make any new friends, so there were many times that I was in tears because of how I was treated. In fact, this one girl was having a birthday party and when another girl could not show up the party giver crossed the other girls name off the invitation and wrote mine in, explaining that she needed to have the same number of boys and girls. Of course, I went to the party, only to be sneered at and made fun of.

I spent a lot of time with Fake Best Friend because she lived next door, so this gave me the illusion of being part of the group. Having this party affirmed that I was, in fact, not included. This crushed me, and my parents were devastated that their daughter only had one person come to her party. My dad saved the day though, and decided to take me and my only guest to an amusement park for the day. It was a great day once we got there, but I have not had another birthday party since then that included anyone but family. Luckily my family didn't diss me and I have had decent birthdays. Also, within a year of my doomed 11th birthday party I called the Fake Best Friend a bitch and told her that I didn't want to be her friend any more. I found new, real friends and was happy.

Despite this, I still like other people's parties, and I enjoy giving them too. Over the past two years I have thrown two surprise parties. One for my Genuine Best Buddy for her 40th, and one for Craig for his 39th. I knew my 40th was coming and I told them, in no uncertain terms, that I did NOT want a surprise party. And I did not get one.

I did, however, get an awesome party. You can read all about it here, and see some pictures.

So this is how I looked at my 40th birthday party. My first birthday party in 29 years. I don't think I have a picture from my 11th.

I gotta give some props to Craig for all the awesomeness of the party. Thanks baby. You rock. Maybe I don't need to wait another 29 years for a party. But NO SURPRISES, please.

And the next time I show at an Arabian show I'll be able to be in the 40 and Over division. I wonder how I'll feel when I hit 55 and Over?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Oh, my legs! And abs, and everything else!

I've been so busy that this is the first time I've had to post about my ride in the new arena on Sunday. Yeah, I know it's Wednesday. The only reason why I'm getting this done is that I'm being a bad mom and letting the kids entertain themselves with Go Diego Go on TV while I type this. And when I'm done there are dishes to do and laundry to fold. And then I have to get everything ready for the kids for school in the morning, and my riding clothes packed in my bag so I can get to the barn and ride again tomorrow!

But enough about that. My ride on Sunday was great. The footing appears to be fixed. It's not as perfect as my trainer's footing because it was dragged with a car and a crappy drag, but it's level and the deepness is much more consistent. There is just one or two spots that are a hair deeper, but it's nothing to get all riled up about.

What I am riled up about is that Mr. F quoted us a price for about 4 or 5 hours of work. Then he spent about 2.5 hours there, but I think he plans on charging us the whole amount. He never really said that the price would be based on the job itself or the hours he would be there, but I kind of think that Marge should not pay the whole price. Not only because he spent just over half of the time that he said he would, but also because I feel that he didn't really finish the job. I'll talk to be tomorrow about it if I get the chance.

Anyway, I got to ride both Albert and Kaswyn on Tuesday and I had two good rides. Kaswyn felt as sore as I felt, but I pushed us both through it and the end was really quite nice. It's so hard getting back into shape! I hope this is the last time we have to do it for awhile. All this time off of riding and training really stinks!

What's really great is that since I get to ride Albert I get to work two different skill sets as well as muscle groups. For Kaswyn I do more pushing with my legs right now because he's a bit lazy and bored with the easy basic body building work. I agree, and would love to just do the fun stuff, but we have to slog though this and build our bodies back up to avoid any injury. So my legs and back are getting a workout on Kaswyn. In contrast, Albert requires very little leg and tends to get a little excited and rushed when I use my seat. This means lots of half halts which lets me work my abs and the under part of my thigh. The leg thing is hard to explain, but when I'm doing half-halts on Albert they are more of a holding and collecting half-halt and I use my hamstrings to gather him and keep the impulsion while I sit with my seat and get tall and tight with my abs.

So I'm really getting a workout. I'm hoping that riding two horses a few times a week will help me get in better shape sooner. I gotta get back in the show ring! My shadbelly and top hat miss me...I hear them calling...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Arena Project - Phase Four

Phase One
Phase Two
Phase Three

Phase Four - Gradation
(was Restoration)

Amazingly, Mr. F came out today to level the arena. I had to work so Susan met him out there. I hurried out to the barn as soon as I was done at work, but when I got there he was already gone. I was amazed that he was done already, considering Susan sent me a text just before 9:00 saying that he had gotten there, and when I got there it was11:30. I thought he had about four hours of work to do. Apparently, he finished faster than he thought.

I took a walk around the arena, and what I saw did not make me happy. It looked level, but the arena wasn't dragged nicely and still had tractor tracks all over it. I was still concerned that the footing still looked too deep in some areas. And the corners - well you can see for yourself.

I expected that it would have a finished look, and be ready for watering and riding. However there was footing still shoved up against the kick boards along the sides, and there was one rather noticeable gouged out low spot near one corner.

I spent some time pulling the footing off of the kickboards, and trying to fill in the gouge. Then, since the footing hasn't been watered in weeks, I decided to water and drag the arena and see how it looked after that. After the sprinkler ran I went to start up the ATV. It would not start. This was not a surprise because Susan and I had tried to start it the day before and couldn't get it to turn over. It had been sitting out in the rain (not a smart thing to leave it in the rain, but the Sunday barn help guy left it out two weeks ago and we haven't been able to start it since) and it's very old and tempermental. So I thought I'd try and drag the arena with the riding mower. It quickly got stuck in the dry sand. So I was back to dragging with my car, which is not a good thing.

However, once the footing was watered and dragged it didn't look half bad, especially along the one wall where it was particularly bad.

I didn't wear my breeches, but I wanted to get some idea of the footing, so I groomed Kaswyn and stuck him on the lunge line for ten minutes. And I have to admit that the footing looked great under his feet. He didn't seem to be having any issues with differing depths of footing, or uphill and downhill areas. The real test will be riding him tomorrow and feeling the footing from up on his back.

I wish I could say that this was the end of the arena work, but it is not. We still have a groundhog problem which has been creating holes in the kickboards. Also, the kickboards are so old that they have warped and, in some cases, been pushed back so that nails are sticking out where they should not be. Therefore many of the kickbaords need to be replaced, which will take some time and effort.

So, while the Arena Project is not done, it's much farther than it has been, and now at least it's rideable. I'll still have to spend time watering and dragging every week, but at least now I can ride in decent footing after all that work.

Let me be clear - I'm still not happy with Mr. F. I think that he did a good job at leveling the footing, but that he rushed through the job and should have finished the corners and dragged the arena before he left. Needless to say I think he overcharged us for the amount of time that he actually spent. But what's done is done. We just won't use him again, and with proper upkeep hopefully we won't need someone to come and level it again anytime soon.

The last part (hopefully) will be Phase Five - Restoration. Probably won't happen for awhile, unfortunately. I'm not thinking about that right now though. I'm thinking about tomorrow - I get to ride my pony! Yay!!

Friday, August 15, 2008

We have confirmation

Susan called Mr. F tonight to confirm what time he'd be showing up. She said he sounded a little annoyed that she insisted he give her a time, but said that he would be there between 8 and 9. I have to work in the morning, which sucks, but I'm going to get over there as soon as I can. He said he'd have a few hours of work so he might still be there and working by the time I show up.

Thanks for all the comments on this continuing saga. To be fair to Mr. F, I've only been dealing with him for three weeks. It was Mr. K that blew me off for months and months. Mr. K is not in the riding arena business, even though he has a barn. Besides his boarding facility he also has another business, so although I wanted him to do the work I couldn't really expect him to drop what he has going on just to help me out. He did tell me that he'd be able to do it, but since it was mostly a favor how could I get mad at the guy?

The situation with Mr. F is a little different. This guy's business is riding arenas. While I didn't expect our relatively small job to get pushed to the top of the list, what I did expect is for him to be good to his word. If he had said "Listen, I'm really busy right now and won't be able to get to you until the end of August.", that would have been perfectly fine with me. All I want is some honesty and integrity. And to be treated with a little respect. Three weeks of "Yeah I'll call you." and "I might be able to get there this weekend." really started to piss me off. That's no way to run a business.

But it looks like Susan was able to accomplish what I've been unable to. He said he's coming tomorrow. He gave a time. If he doesn't show up tomorrow we'll go with someone else.

Another promise

By the time I got to the barn yesterday, I was completely frustrated with the arena crap. I asked Susan to call Mr. F for me. She called him and the conversation went a something like this...


Mr. F: Hello?

Susan: Hi, this is Susan. You've been talking to one of our boarders about doing work on our arena. I need to know if you're still going to be able to do the work. I have a few people who want to come in and board here but I need to tell them if the arena is going to be fixed or not.

Mr. F: Oh, yeah. Well, I've been in Pennsylvania doing some work so I haven't been able to get over there.

Susan: Well I need to know now if you're doing this or not because these people don't want to come if the arena is not fixed.

Mr. F: Okay, I'll see if I can get there Saturday but I don't want to run into any traffic with people trying to ride.

Susan: Nobody has been riding because you said you were coming to fix it!

Mr. F: Oh. You can ride in there if you want to. Have you been watering it?

Susan: No, we've been waiting on you!!

Mr. F: Okay I'll try and get there Saturday.


So. There you have it. He's getting another chance. Lets just see if he shows up. Susan is getting pissed and so am I. I just want to get this over with so I can R I D E!!!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What's it going to take?

I haven't been posting a lot recently about riding. Mostly because I have nothing to post about, since I haven't ridden my horse in an arena since I finished Boot Camp at my trainer's barn. This is because the arena footing STILL has not been fixed.

I've tried very hard not to whine about this, but holy cow, what's a gal gotta do? I've been trying to get this arena footing fixed since February. It's now halfway through August, and it's still not done. The most frustrating thing is that I've accomplished a lot. I've talked with Marge, who agreed not only that the footing needed to be fixed, but eventually agreed to pay for it. I've gotten an estimate from a man whose business is installing and maintaining riding arenas. I know from past experience, as well as several referrals, that he knows exactly what he's doing and will be able to do a great job.

All I can get from him now is "I'm really busy. I don't know when I can do it. I'll call you." And then he does not call. I've been calling religiously twice a week for three weeks. He has never called me.

I'm conflicted about how to proceed. I'm starting to get pissed and impatient. I think he's handling me very poorly as a client, and you'd think that since most of his business is work of mouth that he would not want to ruin his reputation, which from all accounts is superb. I really want to call him and let him know that I'm unhappy, and that I need to know for sure if he can do this or not. Because he's not the only one in the arena business, and we could get someone else. I don't want to piss him off, but boy is he making me mad now.

On the other hand I don't want to let anyone else fix the footing. I know this guy knows what he's doing. Yeah, he's being a jerk but he knows his job. I could get someone else to do it, but I don't know if they have the skills to fix it right. And I certainly don't want to go through this again. Imagine Marge paying for the footing to be fixed, only to have me say a few weeks later that it wasn't done right and we have to have it fixed AGAIN.

So what do I do? Call this guy up and let him know that I'm unhappy? Do I forget about him and get someone else to fix it? I just don't know.

I do know one thing. None of this is helping me get back in the show ring. The entire summer has been pissed away, and since I've been at this barn I've gotten one good week of work done. And that was while I was at another barn.

One week out of seven months. Not a good track record.

Anyhow, what would you guys do?

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Hi, this is the lab calling..."

"...and unfortunately I have some bad news for you."

This is how the conversation started. It ended with me making a patient cry.

In the IVF business we sometimes have to give bad news. The nurses and doctors have to give it all the time, in the form of "Your pregnancy test was negative" or "I'm sorry but the baby has no heartbeat." or something shattering like that. Usually the lab just has to give the facts, like "You had 8 out of 10 eggs fertilize." or "Your embryo quality is not perfect, and based on that and your age you might want to consider getting 3 embryos transferred instead of 2."

Occasionally, however, we have to give bad news. Like today. I had to thaw an embryo for a patient. It was her only embryo that was frozen from her IVF cycle late last year, where she became pregnant but lost the pregnancy in the early weeks. When I thawed the embryo it looked dicey. Most of the time I can tell right after thawing if an embryo is going to make it or not. This one didn't look great, but still looked like it had some hope. So I waited until the afternoon to look at it again. In those few hours it had taken a turn for the worst and had degenerated. So her embryo was dead.

This happens sometimes, but usually the patient has more embryos to thaw. If this patient had more embryos than just one I would have called her, told her that the one we thawed didn't look good so we should thaw another. But, with none left to thaw, there wasn't much I could do.

I showed by boss the pictures of the embryo, and she agreed that it did not survive the thaw. She said I should call the patient and tell her that she would not be having an embryo transfer today. It is rare that we cancel a transfer. Like maybe 3 or 4 a year.

I hate making those phone calls. I told her, as gently as I could, that unfortunately her embryo didn't survive the thaw, and since it was her only embryo that we weren't able to thaw more. I told her that I was very, very sorry, and that sometimes this just happens. She didn't say anything, and then started to cry. I told her, again, how sorry I was, and then she said "Okay, bye.", and hung up.

So now I feel terrible, and have been moping around all afternoon. We had originally had two transfers scheduled for today, and the doc who did the first one gave me some advice. She said that I have to not let this get to me, and that I have to put it in a little compartment and, without getting callous, try and have it not effect me so much. She said that it's terrible for the patient, but it's one event to her and she will deal with it and get over it. But I'll continue to have bad events in this business, and I've got to not let them pile up or I will be incapacitated by the grief.

It's good advice. I'll try to follow it. But right now I'm sad and I think I need chocolate.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

I resemble that remark

A few weeks ago as I was headed out to the barn I was listening to NPR on the radio, as usual. They were having a segment about the Olympics and had Olympians past and present as guests. It was really neat to hear the different points of view between the guests, such as a current men's gymnast versus a women's synchronized swimmer from the 70's. They talked about the hard work, sacrifices, politics, and economics of getting to the Olympics. I was enjoying the show, until they got a caller named Susan (I think).

She said something like this -

"I just wanted to say that I think that these athletes are so immersed in their sports that they sacrifice their relationships with everyone they love, their families, their careers. I really think it's an addiction and an obsession that I think is unhealthy."

The host asked the athletes for commentary, and they agreed that it took an obsessive personality to push the limits and do whatever it takes to be the best. They were very kind to her and moved on to another topic, but I was pissed. That caller had completely dissed these great athletes and they just let her get away with it.

I tried to call in but didn't get through. Here is what I would have said -

"I'm a horse owner and I ride dressage. I also work full time and raise a family with my husband. Although I won't ever get to the Olympics, I work very hard at my sport and have been fortunate to have a horse with multiple National Championship titles. I find it a bit insulting to refer to Olympians as obsessive sports addicts. These athletes dedicate their lives and work very hard at their craft. I'd call that passion and dedication."

I wonder what they would have said to that? Sure, I've made sacrifices, and I've also joked that I have a horse addiction. But at least I have passion about something other than watching TV, slowly killing my body by eating nothing but fast food, or shopping for shoes. My "addiction" keeps me in great shape, gets me outside to enjoy sunshine (or rain and mud, or snow...) and gives me a fun social circle to associate with.

What do you "Susan"? Any hobbies? Ever been really good at something? Or even wanted to be good at something? Have you worked hard and reveled in the little victories, while still keeping the bigger picture in your sights because you have this invisible force driving you on? Because unless you have, you shouldn't judge those who do.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Make it Work - Part 3 - Work

Part 1
Part 2

For most of us, having a horse (or two or ten horses) means that we have to have full time jobs. No matter if you board them or if you have them at home, horses are expensive. I have had a job - at least a part-time job - since I was fourteen years old, and I didn't get my first horse until I was twenty-one. That doesn't mean I didn't spend money, it just means that the majority of it didn't go towards board.

Most of the horse owners that I know only have jobs so they can afford their horses. This is true for me too. During college I had a variety of part time jobs to support my horse. My first real full time job was doing scientific research on the disease Cystic Fibrosis. The work was interesting, but I didn't really enjoy it. In fact I spent a lot of time looking for jobs that involved horses. I even went on an interview for an instructor position at a university where I'd be teaching basic horsemanship and equine nutrition. I didn't get the job, but that didn't stop me from looking constantly.

I knew that a job with horses would not pay nearly as much as I was making doing research, and that the work would be much harder physically and the hours longer. However I still wanted to get out of research. I ended up doing it for ten years before I left that job to start working in the In Vitro Fertilization lab as an embryologist. This is the best job I've ever had and I really enjoy it. However, the job has it's drawbacks.

As I've written before, this job is hugely stressful in a way that nobody can really fully appreciate unless they've done it. Every day I have tiny, growing lives in my hands, and they are so fragile, so easy to lose track of, easy to damage. The stress of that is enormous, even when you get used to the job that must be done.

Fortunately for me, going to the barn and just being with my horse takes some of the stress away and makes me feel much better. The routine of grooming, tacking up, riding and cleaning up just puts me on autopilot and I don't have to think. If I miss a spot of mud on Kaswyn's leg, no big deal. If I don't clean my tack, while it bothers me it doesn't make a difference in the big picture. If I damage, lose, or kill and embryo, THAT'S a big deal.

Besides the stress, there is also the emotional baggage that comes along with doing this job. It would be much easier if I didn't know anything about the patients, or never met them, because then I'd just be doing a job. But I talk with patients every day, and I know their stories, and I feel the heartbreak when they don't conceive. I also hear the joy when they get out of that first ultrasound and confirm that they are going to have a baby. That makes it worth it.

When I was doing research it was easy for me to fit my horse into my work schedule. The hours are usually flexible because sometimes experiments can require that you come to work on the weekend, or come into the lab in the middle of the night to read a timepoint. The primary investigators (ie the bosses) know this and realize that lab work is not a 9 to 5 thing. So I could come in early and leave early and still be able to ride my horse after work without a problem. Also if I wanted to go to a show I could just plan to have a major experiment completed before I left and put in extra time on the weekends before the show so I could take a Friday off before the show. It's all about the bottom line and how much good data you produce, so if you're productive your boss won't usually complain too much.

As far as scheduling goes for my current job, I have to be to work very early, which means getting the girls up and to school early. However it also means that I get to leave work early which gives me time to ride my horse and get done before I need to pick the girls up from school. I have to work scheduled weekends, which really sucks. With research I could plan work weekends around whatever I have scheduled, but with this job I'm assigned weekends and holidays to work. We must have someone in the lab every day. On the current rotation I'm scheduled to work every third weekend. I'm not sure how this is going to work out with a show schedule, since I haven't shown Kaswyn since I started this job. Hopefully I can make it work and I'll be able to get to some local shows, plus Regionals and Nationals.

So while a full time job is a necessary evil for most people who have horses, I'm lucky becasue I don't hate my job like some horse people. The scheduling works out for the most part too, so I can't complain too much. However I'd complain a whole lot less if I'd win that superlotto and be independently, filthy rich!

Next up - My horse

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr