Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Breakup - Part 6

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

As I prepared to go to our first open dressage show, I asked Paula what it was like. Did people hang stall curtains like they did at Arabian shows? Did she think we could survive without a grooming stall? I wanted to save money and since I was her only student going to the show I wasn't going to be able to split the grooming stall or feed/tack stall with anyone. She laughed a little, saying that most people don't get extra stalls, since the show is only Saturday and Sunday. They just stacked the hay in the aisle and brought the tack back and forth from their car or trailer every day. So this would be the first big show that I'd been to where I had a stall for my horse but no grooming or tack stall. She said I could just groom him in the aisle, or in the crossties that she knew this barn had. It was weird, but it all worked out.

We warmed up the evening before classes classes started, and Kaswyn was tense but excited. Paula was coaching me and kept telling me that I really needed a bit more discipline with him. Her idea was that he was getting away with too much as far as inattentiveness and ignoring my half-halts. The truth was that I doubt I was giving a proper half-halt anyway, so how could I punish him for ignoring it? But more importantly Kaswyn was, at the time, very sensitive emotionally. This horse hated to be in trouble (still does) and when I would tap him with the whip he would get himself so upset that I'd have to struggle for a good 10 minutes to get him focused on working again. It's like he was thinking "Oh! There's whipping!??! Why, oh WHY does there have to be so much WHIPPING??!" The tests weren't long enough for me to be able to tap with the whip, or boot him with my heel, or even take a big hold of him and be able to recover and finish the test. He'd be so upset about being in trouble that the test would be blown.

Our first two tests were Training Level Test 1 (56.3%) and 3 (54.6%). The comments were mostly about getting him more supple both through his back and laterally through bending. I was still very ineffective with my aids and was basically just steering him around, trying not to upset him so we could make it through the test. Paula was convinced that if I would just give him one big half-halt and a smack on the rump with the whip when he blew off my half-halt that he'd come around and be obedient. I agreed to try it on the next test.

We rode into Training Level Test 2. It started badly when he rushed down the centerline and I asked for the halt. When he was slow coming to the halt, I did a big half-halt and took a firm hold of the reins. Kaswyn slammed on the brakes and took two steps backwards as I was trying to salute. Then when I asked him to trot on, he took off.

I spent the whole test trying to get his mind back in the game, while also trying to slow him down so we could at least make a feeble attempt at the movements. He was seriously tense, running through the movements, clearly upset that he was in trouble. It was awful, and our score of 48.4% reflected it. The judge wrote the following "This horse is very unhappy and confused. It is important to be patient and learn to balance horse from your legs -> supple and accept connection with softer contact. It's very important. This can be a very elegant horse!"

I handed the test to Paula. She didn't have much to say about the comments, but thought I did the right thing. I totally disagreed with her, and said that I wouldn't be doing that again. She wasn't very happy to hear that, and told me that she didn't think my scores would go up until Kaswyn could be more obedient and accepting of my half-halts. I agreed that he had more learning to do - we both did - but that the show ring was not the place to do it. He needed to learn the difference between being punished and being corrected which I knew we could make progress on at home. However, he was still five years old - just a baby as far as I was concerned.

During our warm-up for the next test, I could tell Kaswyn was trying to figure out what I was going to do. Was he in trouble? Was I going to grab his face again? Or worse? Was there to be whipping? I did my best just to reassure him that I was going to ride him as I had been doing at home, with lots of pats and praise. Thankfully, he relaxed, and I rode into Training Level Test 4 with a bit more confidence.

I thought we had a wonderful test. He was a bit tense in some areas, but once he figured out that I wasn't going to punish him we were able to work through it in our own way. Paula was mainly happy with the test, but continued to say that she thought we'd never get the brilliance and the obedience we needed if I was unwilling to correct him. I agreed to work on it at home, but for the moment I was thrilled. As we waited for my score, I wondered what the judge thought of the test. My plan of getting one qualifying score of 57% hadn't worked out yet.

To be continued...

Part 7

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


This post was going to be about how our Christmas was marred by rampant sickness. I was going to bitch about fevers, sinuses clogged with goo, and frequent unpleasant trips to the bathroom. Then I got to thinking, and I changed my tune. Here are some things that I'm grateful for.

The main focus of this blog is, of course, Kaswyn. Even though I do a fair amount of whining about his lameness, the cost, and frustration of everything, I'm lucky to have a horse at all. I'm also luckier beyond compare that Kaswyn is the horse I own. Quoting my trainer, he's such a noble creature, so giving, willing, smart, and big hearted. Replacing him will be impossible.

I'm so lucky to have found my perfect partner in Craig. Not that he's perfect himself, but he's perfect for me. I don't have to go through life alone or with someone who's just not right for me. I love my husband, and he loves me. We trust each other and work as a team. We're on the same page with finances, how to raise our kids, and after eight years we have finally learned how to have a fair fight. And this is something we both really appreciate.

We both have very loving and supporting families. Everyone is so generous, caring, and basically downright normal. Not a crackpot in the bunch. My sister doesn't really count as a loony, she's just, uh, easily distracted. But like everyone else her heart is in the right place. Even if it does take her an hour and a half to get ready to go anywhere. And she's always late. But always stylish and smiling.

Even though our house has ugly wallpaper that needs to be ripped down, and our kitchen has about as much counter space as our bathroom, I'm thankful we have a house at all. So many people don't have houses, or even apartments to live in. Not only are we not homeless, but our girls get to grow up in a pretty nice house in a good neighborhood. No mold, rats, leaky ceilings, or drive by shootings. An occasional mouse, maybe, but nothing dangerous.

Financially we're not as well off as many people. We don't buy whatever we want, we don't go on vacation, and we're on a strict budget for everything, including food. However, our girls always have food to eat and never go hungry. And we're not defaulting on our mortgage, or in bankruptcy, like so many people right now who got caught in the current real estate market. We're going to keep our house, and keep feeding our kids, so we're lucky.

We're blessed to have two perfect, wonderful, funny, beautiful little girls. By and large, we're a pretty healthy family, except the past five days when sickness descended upon our household with alarming ferocity. It's been pretty miserable, and right when I was feeling really sorry for myself for having such an illness plagued holiday, I read an email over Craig's shoulder about a certain little girl and the results of her recent liver biopsy. Thankfully the biopsy showed that the cancer had not returned, and she could still consider herself 5 years cancer free. I said to Craig that I would have gladly spent three days, a week, an month in bed with something that I knew I'd recover from if it meant that she wouldn't get cancer again. Craig said "Sorry honey, but I don't think it works that way."

Wouldn't it be great if it did?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Paging Dr. Macey

Last night I got a call from the alarm system at work. All of the incubators that house the fresh embryos and the tanks that hold the frozen embryos are hooked up to an alarm system that calls the lab personnel if the temperatures or gas levels are above or below normal. With the incubators it's an emergency situation because fluctuations in temperature or gas levels can kill the embryos quite rapidly. So when the incubators are in alarm it doesn't matter if it's 3:00 in the morning - someone has got to go in and investigate.

As far as the frozen storage tanks, they have never had a problem, but the alarms go off all the time. This is because the alarm lids are very touchy and if the power supply cord is not plugged in just right, or gets jiggled a bit, the alarm goes off. But it never goes off when we're all here. It always waits until we are all at home before going into alarm mode. A certain pain in the ass.

When the alarm went off last night we had already planned on being out that way because Lily had a doctor's appointment. We decided that I'd take Macey with me to the lab to go check on the tanks and Craig would take Lily a bit later (she was sleeping on the couch with a fever).

So Macey and I headed off to the lab. The lab is a sterile area so we have to wear special clothes, a surgical hat, mask, and shoe covers. The tanks are in a separate room from the incubators, so I figured it was okay for me to bring her in with me. I got her all dressed up, and she looked absolutely adorable.

She didn't want to take it all off, so she wore it in the doctor's office too. Someone asked who she was and she said "A doctor!" And if she wants to really be a doctor that's fine with me!

Monday, December 17, 2007

In hock

With all the Deleted Post drama I neglected to write that Kaswyn was very short on his left front when I rode on Thursday. Dr. B already had an appointment to see another horse at our barn yesterday, so we added Kaswyn to the list.

In a rare turn of events, Dr. B came to the barn hours early because of many cancellations in his schedule due to the weather. My trainer called me to tell me he'd be there early, so I finished my work as soon as I could and headed out to the barn. He had already examined Kaswyn by the time I had gotten there, and was preparing to ultrasound the other horse. While that horse was getting clipped and prepped for the procedure I was able to chat with Dr. B and my trainer about Kaswyn.

My thought going into this vet visit was to find out if this left front splint injury was ever going to heal. I wanted a straightforward answer from Dr. B as to whether he thought Kaswyn would ever heal or be sound on that leg or not. Because if it's a lost cause I'll stop trying to make it better and just retire Kaswyn. It's not what I want to do, but I'll do it if it's the best thing to do.

Dr. B's thought before he examined Kaswyn was that he wanted to confirm that we were seeing lameness associated with the old injury and not something new. He planned to nerve block up the leg in steps until Kaswyn went sound. However, lunging and flex tests showed no lameness in the front legs at all. In fact, Dr. B said that it was the best he'd ever seen my horse move in front.

The back end was another story. Kaswyn was definitely flexing positive for hock problems, with the left hind being just a little worse. This wasn't surprising, considering his age and discipline. One of the main causes of lameness in dressage horses is hock problems due to the fact that dressage horses are asked to put so much weight and stress on the hocks. And since he's been doing dressage for 12 years he's had a lot of stress put on those hocks. Dr. B said it's not terrible, and that Kaswyn isn't what he'd call lame, but he wasn't perfect. He didn't think there was any damage to the joints since this just started. He said I could get x-rays if I wanted, but that it wouldn't change his diagnosis or his suggested course of action, because he was pretty sure that we'd see very little change in the joints if we saw anything at all.

The conclusion was that the hock issue has probably been building for years, but that this last injury to the left front has made Kaswyn put more weight than usual behind. The concern now is that if Kaswyn's hocks hurt that he might put too much weight in front and either continue to injure the left front, or at the very least hinder it's healing.

Dr. B was actually thrilled that it was his hocks. "Hocks I can fix! That's easy!" I knew what his suggestion would be before he even said it - inject the hocks with hyaluronic acid and cortisone. The hyaluronic acid is basically what the joint fluid is, and the cortisone is to help heal any inflammation of the joint. Some dressage horses have their hocks injected two or three times a year just to keep them comfortable. There is a common thought that once you start injecting the hocks that you have to inject more and more often.

I asked Dr. B about this, and here is what he said -

Take horses A and B, both are clones of each other. Horse A is worked until he has a problem, and is injected. He has a week or two of light work and then goes back to work. Every now and then he has to be reinjected, but his time off is less and the joint is saved because the injection keeps it from degenerating. Horse B is not injected, and when it has lameness issues it needs months off to heal. Eventually the joint gets big as the horse lays down bone in response to the stress. Horse B eventually goes back to work but has to keep having long periods of time off when the joint becomes painful. Both horses will probably reach the same end potential, but the joints on horse B are big, ugly, and have more damage. His thought - better to inject.

Armed with this information, I asked Dr. B the big question - is the left front going to heal or is injecting the hocks a useless exercise? He smiled, looked at me and said "Well, he was totally sound on that leg today. So I'd have to say that the prognosis is very good for him to heal completely."

That sounded good to me. So we injected the hocks. The hocks have four joints in them, with the upper two being very movable joints (like your knee) and the lower two not being flexing joints but more like spaces between joints that move a little but mostly provide cushioning. The last time that Kaswyn had his hocks injected (my calendar said April 24 of 2006, just in case you're interested) he had all four joints done in both hocks. Dr. B said he only wanted to do the lowest two. He said the top two weren't causing him a problem so it wasn't necessary.

Kaswyn was doped up, scrubbed up, and Dr. B injected the left hind first. In both joints he first aspirated the needle to see how much fluid was in the joint. Both joints were dry and had no fluid. This is not very good, so it's no wonder that his joints were bothering him. After the aspiration he injected the hyaluronic acid and cortisone. The lower joint on the right hind was the only joint that had fluid in it. As I recall, all four of those joints had at least a bit of fluid in them the last time they were injected. So I see this as a good thing to have done, as it will heal his joints and prevent damage by providing fluid in those joints.

So now it's hand walk (oh how we LOVE to hand walk!) for two days, no turnout (which makes the hand walking SO MUCH more fun!), turnout and light ride on Thursday, and back to work on Friday. I'm sure this will help.

And what about that left front? Dr. B says call him if he goes lame on it again. Then we can block it for an accurate diagnosis. But he said "He's gotta be lame next time or that won't work!"

Makes sense to me.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Breakup - Part 5

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

After writing Part 4 of this story, I went back in my old files and pulled out the tests from my first dressage schooling show. I was surprised to see that I had actually performed Training Level tests 3 and 4. Now it seems overly brave of me to have tried tests 3 and 4 instead of 1 and 2 at my first show. But that's exactly what I had done.

Sadly, I didn't write down my placing in the class, so I have no idea if I went home with a ribbon or not. What I will tell you is the judge was a very well respected judge in our area. She was, however, notoriously generous with her scoring, especially at schooling shows.

On Training Level test 3 we scored a 63.85%. We got all 6's and 7's, with the exception of the stretchy trot circle where we got a 4. Her comments were mostly more bend needed in most of the movements, with no change seen in the stretchy circle. Test 4 was a 63.20%, with one 4 (damn that stretchy trot circle!), one 5, the rest 6's and 7's. On this one she wanted more bend again, and at the bottom commented "Errors speak for themselves. Very obedient."

I was thrilled. I had been told that anything over 60% was great. Basically the scoring for dressage is as follows - each movement in the test gets an individual score from 0 to 10. The numbers are totaled and then divided by the total number possible to get the %. The scoring is listed below -

0 - not performed
1 - very bad
2 - bad
3 - fairly bad
4 - insufficient
5 - sufficient
6 - satisfactory
7 - fairly good
8 - good
9 - very good
10 - excellent

Although 0's are not common, you will occasionally see them one tests. 10's however, are extremely rare. Kaswyn has never gotten a 10, but I think he has gotten one 9. He's has many 8's, lots of 5's, 6's and 7's, some fours, and even some 3's, 2's, and 0's.

With the first show behind us, I decided to join the local dressage club and keep showing in the schooling shows. Our scores ranged from 52% to 60%, and it was always a learning experience. It seemed like Kaswyn was really enjoying it too. He loved getting in the trailer to go someplace, and always seemed excited when we got wherever we were going. He was always happy to work and never got sour or crabby. We were having a blast.

Then it was time for our first USDF recognized show. Again Paula thought it was too soon, and that we needed more training. I didn't agree, since we were only doing Training Level. That's what it was for, right? Training? Also, I had checked the Arabian Horse Association rules for Regional dressage qualifications and found out what I had to do to qualify for Regionals at an open show. I think at that time I needed two scores of 57% or better from two different judges at two different shows. Regionals were at the end of June, and luckily there were many open shows in our area in the spring and early summer, so I thought I could do it. Because what I really wanted to do was show my horse in dressage at Arabian Regionals. We had shown at Regionals for Hunter Pleasure, and we didn't make Top 5, although we did make one judge's card. Not bad for a home trained 5 year old horse ridden by an amateur nobody. However I really wanted that Top 5, and I thought dressage might be the discipline where we could pull that off.

So I entered our first Open show. I know Paula was more nervous than I was. On the contrary, I was excited. I felt that we had been making real progress. My plan was to go to two shows and get our qualifications over with. Big hopes, yes, but I had faith in Kaswyn that he had it in him to get those scores. Paula cautioned me that the judges at schooling shows tended to be much more generous with their scores so as to not discourage the riders, so I shouldn't expect as high of scores at the open show. With that in mind, we headed to our first open show.

To be continued...

Part 6

Friday, December 14, 2007

Clarifications and Conclusions

I think many people have the wrong idea when it comes to my deleted post. I did not delete the next installment of The Breakup. I had written a post about a completely different situation.

Besides being asked to remove someone from the Deleted Post, after thinking about this (quite a lot over the last few days) I've concluded that Deleted Post was not my story to tell. For example, if I had written about my crazy cousin who was addicted to crack and was sent to jail for stealing a car for drug money, that is not my story to tell. It's my crazy cousins. Now, if she had stolen my car, then it involves me, it's a life experience of mine, and therefore my story. My story with my point of view only, but still my story and okay for me to tell it.

Deleted Post had nothing to do with me. I was only involved in that I knew the people it was about. I told someone else's story, which amounts to nothing more than nasty gossip. My bad.

The Breakup, however, happened to me. I was certainly there. I know how I saw things as they happened. Because of that first-hand experience, I think it's okay for me to tell it to whoever I want. It's not gossip if you're talking about yourself.

Or is it? What you do all think?

By the way, thanks to everyone who emailed me for the next part of the story. Your kind words are certainly appreciated.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lessons learned

Last night I sat down and wrote a post about a situation involving people that I know. I got an email from one of those people asking not to be included in the post. I immediately deleted the post, giving my apologies.

I felt bad about this, so I called Craig and we talked about it. He said that I'm faced with the dilemma that many personal bloggers face - how much and what to reveal about your life. He said that he doesn't write posts that might get back to people and hurt them. He says he has plenty things like that to write about, but he wouldn't want to make someone feel bad.

He had a point. I started thinking about all the things that I've written about. My stories about Blair disappearing, how I pissed Blair off (in two different stories), and the latest story about my first dressage trainer, all involve people that I know. They also involve people who could be hurt by what I had to say. I mentioned this to Craig, and he said said "Well, you've already published them. You can't take the pee out of the pool, so to speak."

Another good point. It's too late now for those stories, but there is something I can do about not peeing in the pool in the future. I don't have any intention of hurting anyone. I just like to tell stories, as anyone who knows me can confirm.

Here is the thing. If I write about people I know and I post the stories here, then I risk the information getting back to them and having those people be hurt or pissed. However, I know that there are plenty of people out there who don't know me personally and also don't know anyone that I'm talking about. Does it matter that these people hear my stories? I don't think it does, but as we've seen I've been grossly incorrect before.

Here is my solution. No more public posts about people, since I'm not in the business of purposely hurting folks. However, if you send me an email to dressagemomstories at yahoo dot com I'll send you the end of The Breakup story. Include your blog address, cause I know who reads my blog and I want to make sure I know who you are before I send you the story. If you know me personally, or know any of the people involved in the story, don't even ask, cause I won't send it to you. Z, this means you!

So, to anyone that I've hurt, or upset, please accept my apologies. Sometimes I do dumb things. I try not to do them twice.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Breakup - Part 4

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I decided to enter my first dressage show four months after my first dressage lesson. My trainer Paula thought I was nuts. She said she would never even consider showing that soon after starting dressage, let alone recommend it to someone. But I assured her that I had spent many hours in the show ring, and I wasn't scared to give it a try. I thought that Kaswyn and I had made great progress and I was ready to see what a judge thought.

The barn holding the schooling show was 15 minutes away from my barn, making it really convenient. I loaded Kaswyn into my trailer and arrived at the show about an hour ahead of time. Being January in Cleveland it was very cold that day, and had been for weeks, so Kaswyn did not get a bath before this show. My Arabian show background told me that this was a cardinal sin, but I couldn't justify getting my horse wet in 25 degree weather. I was nervous about what people would think, even though his coat was light and I had done my best to clean him up and clip him before the show. I shouldn't have worried, however. Kaswyn was one of the cleanest horses there.

I tied Kaswyn to the trailer, tacked him up, and put his cooler on. I had gotten dressed at home, which simplified matters. Since it was a schooling show I didn't need to wear formal show attire, so I wore light tan breeches and a sweater with my tall boots. As I led Kaswyn into the barn I saw Paula in the aisle. She had already been to the show office and had picked up his bridle number. This was new for me. In Arabian shows the numbers are large and typically worn on the rider's back. In dressage the numbers are very small and hung on the browband of the horse just under the ear. She looked a the test, and then hung the number on the left side of his bridle. She then said "In this test you'll turn left at C after the salute. Just in case you completely blank out and can't remember which way you need to turn, you can look down for the number and turn that direction." Ah, very helpful! Then she held Kaswyn for me while I looked over my test to make sure I could remember it.

This was also something new for me. She told me that I should have my tests memorized, but it was okay if I wanted to have a reader for the test. She cautioned me that the reader could only read the test word for word as it is officially printed, and that I could receive no coaching or help from her during my test. Again, a difference in what I was used to. At Arabian shows the trainers can be seen giving instructions from the rail in every single class, sometimes rather loudly.

I warmed Kaswyn up, and he was pretty excited. Paula coached me, and I thought she seemed more nervous than I was. The gal at the gate called my number as the next rider, and I headed over to the show arena. The show barn was very large and had an indoor warmup attached to the competition arena. It was really convenient to be able to warm up inside and then just ride straight into the ring. Paula told me to wait until the previous rider had done her final salute before entering the ring. I was allowed to ride Kaswyn inside the arena as the other rider exited and the judge finished her comment for the previous test. When the judge rang the bell, I would have 60 seconds to come down the centerline and salute.

The rider in the ring saluted, and I asked Kaswyn to enter the arena. He was fine with going down the rail, but when we came to the far end of the arena he was really tense and afraid of the viewing area behind the glass wall. He could see people moving behind it and was really scared. Luckily he trusted me enough to get him somewhat close to the rail at that end. He was tense and it wasn't pretty, but at least he was attempting to be obedient.

The bell rang, and we went out of the show arena so that we could have a straight shot down the centerline. I saluted, and made my first mistake. I saluted with my whip hand. The judge commented on this, but fortunately it's not an offence that costs any points. We began our first centerline in a wiggly, unbalanced trot as I urged Kaswyn to approach the glassed-in viewing area head on. He was thankful to turn left away from the scary monsters behind the glass.

The rest of the test was a blur of Kaswyn rushing through the movements while I sat and steered him around. I was very ineffective with my aids and just let him run through the test. I have the whole thing on video, and when I watch it I laugh at myself for being such a passenger in the test. At the final salute I was glad it was over, but at the same time very pleased with myself. We had gone into the show ring, alone for the first time, and performed Training Level Test 1.

I opted not to show my two tests back to back, so I went into the warmup again for some more coaching. Training Level Test 2 went pretty much the same as Test 1, with the exception of Kaswyn being more relaxed about the viewing room. Oh, and at one point in Test 2 he decided that he'd try and exit the arena. Luckily I was able to stop him just in time to avoid being eliminated.

And then we were done. I took him back to the trailer, untacked him, and put on his cooler. Then it was back into the barn for both of us to await our scores.

To be continued...

Part 5

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Breakup - Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

I had my first riding lesson in six years; a dressage lesson. It didn't go as well as I'd hoped, and made me feel like a pretty inadequate rider. I needed to decide if I was going to take more lessons and change disciplines, or if I was going to stick with what I knew. After thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that I didn't enjoy feeling like a crappy rider. I also recognized that I should have instruction of some sort, and that Kaswyn really needed a change in direction or I'd risk some permanent training issues. Bottom line is I wanted to be a better rider, and learning of any kind would probably help me get there.

I called Paula and scheduled a regular lesson time. I could not afford to put my horse in training, so I planned on taking lessons to learn dressage and then between the lessons I'd train Kaswyn myself. I knew that this would take longer, but it was not only an issue of finances. It was also an issue of not wanting anyone to possibly screw up my horse. I had purchased a young, unbroken horse for a reason. I didn't want to inherit another trainer's bad habits or training problems. Kaswyn was still fresh, unspoiled, and loved to work. I wanted to keep it that way.

However I needn't have worried about Paula messing up my horse. She was a very strong believer in ultra classical dressage. She didn't think the horse should be pushed very hard at all, lest he begin to dislike the work. She didn't like to see very young horses at the upper levels, since the only way she thought they could arrive at that level so soon in life was through rigorous and overly aggressive training. Things like draw reins, martingales, and the bitting rig were heavily frowned upon by her.

After our lessons we usually ended up talking about training philosophies and methods, where I asked a lot of questions in an attempt to learn more than what was presented in the actual lesson. She suggested that I read some books, starting with The Complete Training of Horse and Rider by Alois Podhajsky. She said there although there were many dressage books out there she considered this book "the Bible" of classical dressage. I bought the book and had a hard time reading it at first, and wasn't able to read the more advanced chapters until our training had reached that level. The concepts it contained were difficult for me to follow, coming from such a different background. But it did help to clarify some of the terms that Paula was using that I found confusing.

My concept of Kaswyn having a "head set" was incorrect for dressage. The dressage horse is supposed to make contact with the bit, not back away from it as I had taught my horse. It should be a situation where the horse pushes adequately against the bit and the rider holds the reins, but neither is pulling, pushing, or holding up the other. The hand of the rider and the mouth of the horse should meet each other halfway, and the contact should be light but still exist with the reins having no slack in them. The head and neck of a dressage horse should not be set, but should be fluid and able to lengthen or shorten to extend or collect the stride. It should be very movable, bendable, and changeable; not only from front to back but also from side to side. Our head set was none of these things. This was perhaps the most difficult habit for Kaswyn and I to break.

Closely related to this was the concept of "going to the bit". Since the dressage horse should always seek the bit and therefore the contact with the rider's hand, the rider should be able to lengthen the reins and have the horse stretch it's neck out as it seeks contact with the bit. This is one of the reasons for the "stretchy circle" found in many dressage tests. The goal is for the rider to lengthen the reins to show that the horse properly goes to the bit and is not in a head set or static frame. Ideally the horse, on a rein that is slowly becoming more and more loose, would stretch it's neck fully out and down to the point of the nose being close to the ground. It also follows that if the rider were to shorten the reins that the horse, trained to have a light contact, would be able to raise the frame, neck, and front end into a more collected stride. This collection only is possible to execute correctly after years of proper training that have strengthened the horse's back and haunches to the point that the collection is done easily. You can fake it and just hold the horse up with draw reins, but that is very damaging to the horse and counter productive in the long run.

I began to see an improvement after a few lessons, and then suddenly I felt the light bulb go on in Kaswyn's head. He got it. He couldn't always do it, but he finally understood what I wanted. Go to the bit, make contact, but not too much contact. This started a wonderful upward climb in our ability to do this dressage thing. Our lessons were more and more helpful and we both started getting in the groove, and enjoying it.

Paula had talked about some schooling shows in the area, so I decided that I'd like to go to one. I told her that I wanted to go to one in January, four months after my first lesson with her. She was horrified, convinced that it was too soon and that it would end in disaster. Kaswyn and I had shown a lot before, so I wasn't afraid of going in the ring with him. Besides, how bad could it be?

To be continued...

Part 4

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The day I turned into a pansy

Last Friday when Craig mom came into town we asked her what she wanted for dinner. She always says pizza, because she lives alone and doesn't generally order a whole pizza for herself. The plan was for Craig to order it and pick it up on his way home. However, he left work late and called to tell me that I could order and pick up the pizza or I'd have to make the girls wait and we'd stick with the original plan.

Our girls are great eaters. They'll eat any kind of vegetable (except Lily won't eat squash or zucchini), potatoes, meats, you name it. And pizza of course they love. They usually are in the kitchen asking for dinner before it's finished. So I thought it might just be easier for me to get the pizza instead of waiting and trying to fend off the little savages until Craig got home.

Craig's mom was already there to stay with the girls, so I could go solo and make it a fast trip. I ordered the pizza, waited 15 minutes, and then went to the laundry room to get my shoes on and grab my purse. We've been keeping the door to the laundry room closed because it's off of the garage and it helps to keep the draft out of the rest of the house. So I opened the door and stepped into the room in my stocking feet and, before I could turn on the light, something ran over my foot.

I screamed and turned on the light in time to see a little pink tail disappearing amongst the shoes. A mouse. Ugh. We've had mice in the house before and I just hate it. I hate their little poops and the fact that we have to kill them to get rid of them. The cat is not doing his job, if you ask me. Isn't he supposed to be killing them, or at least scaring them away?

Anyhow, right after I screamed Craig called my cell phone. I picked it up, still amped up from the original fright of having something run over my foot in the dark, and he immediately asked "What's wrong?"

"There's a mouse in here!"


"The laundry roo..AGHHH!"

I screamed again as the tiny mouse ran towards me. Now, I am not afraid of mice. On the contrary, I think they are super cute and if this little guy were to agree to poop outside and not chew on my stuff I'd let him stick around awhile. In fact I used to have a mouse as a pet. I called him Byron and he had no toes. It was the weirdest mouse you ever saw, since he just had little nubs for feet. But he still could hold food in his nubs and eat, so it wasn't a problem. Also I've seen many mice running around in barns and it never bothered me. Yeah, sometimes they'd startle me but I wouldn't go running away screaming looking for a chair to get up on. Cause that's just stupid, they can't hurt me.

So I don't know why I screamed. It was a total wussy girlie scream, and was completely uncontrollable. This mouse was super small. It could have comfortably sat on a quarter and had room left on the sides. It was really cute too, all grey and fuzzy with big black eyes. It saw me and ran, scared to death now that I was shrieking at it. I started to laugh at myself, and I was still talking to Craig, so he got a running commentary of what the mouse was doing with screams interspersed. Also at some point Craig's mom came in to find out what was going on, and when I said "A mouse!" she shut the door so it couldn't get out into the rest of the house. Smart lady.

I told Craig that I was going to catch it, and he said "How are you going to catch a mouse?". I grabbed a paper grocery bag. I opened it up and put it on it's side where I thought the mouse might run next. He'd been running between our shoes and behind the washer, so I put it just past the shoes and them chased him out of the shoes. And the good little mousie ran into the bag.

Quickly I turned the bag upright and folded the top over. I told Craig "I caught him!"

He said "Okay, I'll take care of it when I get home."

"You mean you'll kill it?"

"Well, you can't let it go outside. It will just get back in the house."

"What if I let it go down the street in the woods next to the creek?"

"If that's what you want to do, that's fine."

"It's cold you think it will be okay?"

"It's a mouse. It will be fine. Just hurry up and do it before it chews a hole in the bag."

I ran out to my car and hurried down the street. I pulled over by the woods and opened the bag. The poor little guy was all huddled in the corner, clearly confused. I turned the bag on it's side in the grass and he hopped out and away from me. I got back in my car and headed to the pizza place, feeling conflicted about not killing the mouse but letting him go outside where he might freeze.

I thought about it all the way to the pizza place, and went to grab my purse. Which was in the laundry room. In my haste to set mousie fee I had left without my purse. I sat for a few minutes, thinking of how I could get money without my purse. No solutions came to me. I still had my cell phone, so I called Craig and asked him how far away he was. Turns out he was pretty close, so he met me there (to get two coupons from me) and paid for the pizza.

I don't know what happened to me. This little tiny mouse turned me into a wussy girl, screaming uncontrollably. And I was too wrapped up in it to remember what I needed to do in the first place - pick up a pizza. I'm embarrassed.

I had to call Cheryl and tell her all about it. She laughed, also surprised that I had screamed like that. She told me a similar story involving her dogs and a rat, which made me laugh. Then she said to me "I always say that I'm never as funny as when I'm doing something stupid." I said that was a perfect way to describe how I was feeling, and we both had a good laugh at my expense. Then I told her to please share the story, especially to those who know me, since this was such a break in character for me. She agreed and was still laughing when we hung up.

Aren't friends great?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Breakup - Part 2

Part 1

My first dressage lesson was thoroughly confusing. Paula, the trainer, used a lot of terms that I was unfamiliar with, which was really scary considering I had been riding for fourteen years. Also the concepts that she was trying to get across to me didn't make sense. I felt really incapable. I also felt like Kaswyn was thinking "Huh?" about everything I was asking him to do. Or, more accurately, what I was attempting to ask of him but was probably confusing him.

You see, the way I had been taught to train a horse was totally different than what Paula was telling me to do. Blair taught me what I now think of as "The Arabian Way" to train horses. It probably spills over into other breeds, and might not even be the way Arabian trainers do it anymore. But here is what I was taught...

The goal was to get the horse to have a head set. In other words, the horse should hold it's head steady in a certain position, especially in hunter or western. This would be accomplished by taking the reins, moving the bit back and forth until the horse put it's head down, then releasing the reins. With the release the horse should keep it's head in the desired position without rein contact, which would only need to be made again if the horse moved it's head out of position. This is especially true with western, where the reins are draped and loose hanging from the bit, only to become tight if the rider "bumps" the bit to remind the horse to get the proper head set again.

The head set was created by lunging the horse in a surcingle with side reins (or long lining), or what we used to call the "bitting rig". The goal was to adjust the side reins so that the horse's head was in the proper position. As you lunge the horse, he gets the idea that when he pulls on the bit he is just pulling against himself, and when he has the reins loose it's more comfortable. Thus when you get on the horse and ask for the headset he responds by backing off the bit to find that comfortable spot where the reins are loose. This can backfire with a hard mouthed or bullish horse, who will just lean on the reins for support and not really care about the pulling in his mouth. Fixing this problem takes tact in the saddle rather than more work in the bitting rig.

This concept of little or no contact between the horse's mouth and the bit only really applies to hunter and western. The english horses have a much higher headset and require much more contact. I remember that Blair's english show gloves would only last a few shows before she rubbed a hole in them somewhere. Also when I rode Bo (such a sweet horse, and greatly missed) I remember my arms aching from holding his head up in position.

Now, I have no idea if this was the proper way to train a horse. This was how I was taught by Blair, and she and her students had won many Regional Championships and Top 5 awards, so I could only assume that it was effective and correct for the classes and the breed. So this is how I broke and trained Kaswyn. The last Arabian show that we went to before my first dressage lesson got us a few blue ribbons and the Hunter Pleasure Championship, so it was clearly working. However, it was NOT what was needed for dressage.

What Paula wanted me to do was have bit to rein to hand contact with Kaswyn. He had been trained NOT to have contact, and when I made contact he would just curl the neck more and try to loosen the reins. As he had been taught. She kept saying that she wanted Kaswyn "on the bit" and "going to the bit". She also wanted me to "half halt". I had no idea what these things were. It was a humbling and frustrating 45 minutes.

At the end of the lesson Paula said that there were so many problems between my horse and I that she didn't even know where to start. She thought a good place, however, might be getting a dressage saddle. She said I could work in my hunt seat saddle, but it would be harder for me to get the proper positioning that way (I talk about my saddle issues starting in this post
here). I didn't plan another lesson right away, but decided to think about it. And I had a lot to think about - a completely new direction for my horse and I, a new saddle, and lots of lessons. Plus a new trainer. Was I ready for that yet?

To be continued...

Part 3

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Not as upset as she is, but still sad

The patient that I wrote about here tested negative for pregnancy.


She does have frozen embryos, so I guess we'll be thawing some of the little snowflakes soon. But it still bums me out that this last time didn't work.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Glamour Shots

I just got the photos back from our session with the photographer. I think Kaswyn looks awesome.

I don't think I have a favorite. I love them all.

The photographer is a friend of mine who leased Kaswyn for a time. She's super talented. She used to do weddings and portraits but now she's persuing horse photography full time. She's got some nice photos on her website.

Now I just have to buy frames and convince Craig to let me put them up in the house!

Friday, November 30, 2007

I'm bummed

I just found out that services for Dr. Novak were today. They started an hour ago. There's no way I can get off of work now to go to the service.

I'm sad that I missed it.

Beware the zombie pony

For Sweetest Day (which we usually don't bother to celebrate, but I think he needed an occasion) Craig got me a special picture. He wrote to the owner of Monster By Mail and requested a custom drawing. This guy will draw pictures of monsters for you based on a key word or two. You can visit the site and see pictures of his other monsters, and also watch time-lapse videos of him creating various beasties.

Craig's request was "Prix St. George zombie". Here is the result, which I find hilarious! Thanks honey.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Busy bees

My mother-in-law is coming for the weekend. Which I think is great. Seriously, she's a super lady, full of energy and always laughing. We're lucky we get a chance to see her, considering all of her activities. She's in the bowling league, golf league, garden club, drives for Meals on Wheels, and some other clubs I'm sure I'm forgetting. She always shows up with food and gifts too, which is always a bonus. Who doesn't love delicious free food that you didn't have to cook?

In preparation for visitors of any kind, and especially Craig's mom, the house must be cleaned. Now, my definition of clean and Craig's are very different. His is "If you can see the floor, it's clean." Mine is "If you see anything ON the floor, it's NOT clean." So this evening we will be cleaning the house. It's really not all that bad, since I cleaned before we went to my folks house for Thanksgiving. There is only a little straightening up to do, plus another run over with the vacuum, and bathroom cleanings.

Craig thinks it's a bit silly to get all frantic about it. "Like Mom hasn't seen dirt" he says. And with other people planning to come over he's said "I've been to their house and our is way cleaner so don't kill yourself cleaning." I don't really care what their houses look like. I want mine to be clean enough that I won't be embarrassed when they walk into my dining room and can tell what we had for dinner the last few days because food shrapnel can be found under the girls chairs.

When pressed into service, Craig will help clean. He does the mopping and sometimes the vacuuming, and I dust and have bathroom duty. But god forbid he cleans on his own. Once I kind of let our bathroom get a little gross (I clean the guest bathroom and the girls bathroom but sometimes skip ours if I run out of steam) and when I finally cleaned it he said "Whew! I'm glad you did that! It was pretty nasty." Like he doesn't know how to pick up a sponge or toilet brush.

But tonight it's all planned out. We're cleaning, and everyone is helping - girls included, since they know how to pick up toys and put away books. So get out your mop, copy boy. We've got work to do.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I heard a rumor

When I got to the barn yesterday everyone was talking about the untimely passing of Dr. Novak. There was a lot of people saying "I heard from so-and-so that blah blah blah.", so it was really unclear what had happened. The various stories were that he had been ill for a few years, he had some sort of seizure disorder, that he had a heart attack in his truck, his medications were off, he had an aneurysm, and he was supposed to show up for a barn call and when he couldn't be contacted they went looking for him in the woods behind the barn with flashlights. Someone also said that the funeral would be private and open to family only. I really hope that information is incorrect.

As soon as I heard the sad news I called my friend Marge. I've known her for 15 years, and met her when I moved my horse to her barn. She was the one who called Dr. Novak to come and see my horse, because the vet that I had been using was too far away from the new barn and he said he didn't come out that way. She has known Dr. Novak and his family for years. She had already heard the news, and I asked if I could stop by her place after I rode Kaswyn (who felt great yesterday).

I used to stop my Marge's house frequently after I'd ride my horse. At the time it was easy because her house is next door to the barn, so I'd just drive one driveway over and I was there. I spent many evenings at her kitchen table with her and sometimes her niece Susan. We'd talk about horses and horse people, and it was great. I went over at least once a week, if not more.

When I moved my horse to another barn I came by less, but I still tried to stop by if I drove past her house and saw her car. Then I had the girls, and it became important for me to get home for dinner with my family, so I rarely went by. I'd call every now and then, but we just fell out of touch.

Last night we had a nice visit, complete with dinner and drinks with her niece Susan. We toasted Dr. Novak and talked about him as much as we could bear. Marge's information about what happened to him came from a vet who used to work for Dr. Novak and is currently boarding her horses at Marge's barn. She's a good friend of the family, having been given an orphaned foal years ago by Dr. Novak when she lost her mare. She said that he had pulled into a driveway, but it was unclear if he was making a barn call or if he just pulled in because he felt something was wrong. The lady left her house and found him in the truck, and called 911.

I stayed at Marge's for about an hour and a half, but then I had to get home. I told Marge that it was too bad that it took the death of a friend to bring us together, and she agreed. We said we'd be better at keeping in touch from now on.

I still don't know if there will be a public service, but everyone I've talked to wants to be there if it happens. I understand if the family just wants it private and simple, but I really hope we can all go and pay our respects to Dr. Novak.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Shocking news

I just got a voicemail from my trainer telling me that Kaswyn's old vet has passed away. They found him in his vet truck on a side road. I'm assuming he was out on a call, but I don't know for sure. They're thinking it was an aneurysm or heart attack, or something sudden like that. He wasn't very old - he graduated from Ohio State Vet School in 1971, so that would put him in his late 50's, early 60's.

I'm sad about this. Dr. Novak was always very nice to me, and even went out of his way to care for Kaswyn. At the beginning of Kaswyn's hive problems, we talked almost daily about what the hives looked like, if they had changed, what Kaswyn's demeanor was, etc. A few times he was in the area and just stopped by the barn, no charge, to check up on Kaswyn. He said he wanted to keep a close eye on him.

Then that Thanksgiving we had a crisis. The dimwitted barn manager of the barn where Kaswyn was had pestered me to get a second opinion on Kaswyn's hives. He said the barn's vet would be out the day before Thanksgiving and I should really have him look at Kaswyn. I finally agreed to have the vet see Kaswyn, but I told the dimwit "Look, I will be out of town that day, so you have to be here with the vet. Kaswyn has already had many doses of steroids and Dr. Novak said he cannot have any more without risk of founder. So this vet may examine Kaswyn, but should not treat him in any way." Dimwit assured me that he would be there, and I could go out of town in peace.

Craig and I arrived at my parent's house (8 hours away) at around 9 pm the day before Thanksgiving, and I called my trainer to find out what the vet had said. She told me that he examined Kaswyn and gave him antihistamines and a steroid injection.

"What??!! Where was Dimwit?"

"He went to the bank. He wasn't here."

I freaked out.

First thing I did was call Dr. Novak. I left a message with his answering service to please call me immediately. I got a call within 20 minutes. I explained the situation, and boy, was Dr. Novak pissed. Not at me, or at the other vet, but at Dimwit, for not being there and putting Kaswyn in danger. He said he would call my trainer and tell her how to treat him that evening, and that he'd be out first thing in the morning to check on him. He was really great during that whole thing, and fortunately Kaswyn was fine.

Years later when Kaswyn began having his lameness problems I called Dr. Novak. He examined him and then told me I should take him to see Dr. G. You see, Dr. G is a very well known, highly respected lameness doc in our area. Probably the whole state. For Dr. Novak to swallow his pride and tell me to take my horse to a vet that could probably be of more help, well that's just cool.

Even though Dr. Novak was a little more flirty with the barn ladies than he should have been, I always liked him. I'm glad I knew him. And sad that he's gone.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Breakup - Part 1

This story is not about what you think it's about.

It's the story of what happened to my second horse trainer, who was my first dressage trainer. The story of what happened to my first horse trainer starts here. This story doesn't end the same way, but it was still full of strife. And drama. There's always drama at the barn.

Before I start, let me say that I'm going to use names in this story, but some of them have been changed to protect the innocent. Or those easily pissed off. So lets get on with it, shall we?

I bought Kaswyn as a completely unbroken 3 year old. I bought him sight unseen from my good friend Paul in California while I was living in Ohio. He sent me a video of this chestnut youngster running around in a paddock. When I still couldn't decide if I wanted him or not, Paul said "How about this. You buy him, and in a few months if you decide you don't like him then I'll buy him back and give him to Marcie (his wife). She's always liked him, and this way it's low risk for you." It sounded like a gamble that I'd be willing to take, so I bought him.

When he arrived off the trailer, I thought "Well buddy, lets see if we can get along, shall we?" It was clear after a few days that this was a very special horse, and I fell hard for him. About two weeks later I called Paul and told him that he wasn't getting him back.

I broke Kaswyn when he was three and a half. My plan was to show him on the Class A Arabian Show circuit. I didn't really care what discipline, since I had pretty much shown them all, so I just started him in a western saddle and got a feeling about where he might fit best. It soon became clear that he would be an awesome hunter pleasure horse, so we headed in that direction.

We had a pretty good show year when he was five, picking up many ribbons and a Hunter Pleasure Championship (but not a Regional Championship) at a few shows. In the fall of that year I started noticing that he was being naughty for no good reason. For example, we'd be cantering along just fine, and suddenly he'd turn sharply left. It wasn't a spook, he just dropped his shoulder and turned. So I'd holler at him, he'd dance around for a few steps, then obediently go back to work. Until the next time. Something else he would do is just slam on the brakes at random times. Again, no spooking, he'd just stop, I'd yell "KASWYN!" and he'd act upset, and go back to working.

It became obvious that my pony was bored by just going on circles, and was trying to liven it up a bit by being naughty. I tried patterns, trail riding, days off, but none of it helped. I decided that I'd try him western, but that didn't go so well because he's clearly and English horse. However, not English enough to go English, or even Country Pleasure. I didn't have the know-how or equipment for trail, cutting, reining, or driving, and he just wasn't cut out for Native Costume. I was kind of at a loss.

Then a gal from the barn suggested that I try dressage. She said Kaswyn was a great mover, and that she thought he'd do really well. I didn't know the first thing about dressage, so I'd have to get a new trainer. Blair was really the only trainer I'd had, and since she was gone I'd been just working by myself, so I was kind of nervous to launch into a new relationship with a trainer. There were two dressage trainers giving lessons at the barn, so I took some time and watched them give lessons. Then I chose one of the trainers, Paula, and asked if she's take me on as a student. She agreed, and we set up our first lesson.

To be continued...

Part 2

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Back to the barn

It was really nice to go out to the barn today and ride after not seeing Kaswyn for 5 days. I know he was in great hands with my trainer, but I like to go out every day and check his progress especially when he's in recovery mode.

I rode my horse for about 20 minutes. He felt great, and the leg was cold when I checked it before I put his polo wrap on. I tried hard to watch his movement in the mirrors as I rode past, but it's hard to see exactly what's going on due to where the mirrors are placed in the arena. It would be great to be able to see my horse going directly from the side, but as it is I can only see him as he is turning around a corner or on a circle. What I did see looked nice and even, with a decent amount of spring and a nice step. Right now things look good, but I know that the whole situation could go pear shaped at any time.

Oh, and I think I got a call from my vet on Thursday (or Friday, I can't remember which day it was). He called while I was away from my phone, but Craig picked it up. I think Dr. B must have thought he had the wrong number, because he hung up. Craig said the caller ID said "Private Call", which it usually says when Dr. B calls back. So it was either my vet, a wrong number, or a mystery person. Hmmmm... so intriguing!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Director of Bathroom Operations

I was playing with Macey upstairs when I needed to excuse myself to the bathroom. So I told Macey "I'll be right back." She screamed "NO!" And I said "Look, Mama has to go poop, okay? I'll be right back."

Macey perks up and says. "Okay! I go with you!" She follows me into the bathroom. Being a mother means rarely using the bathroom alone, by the way.

I start to use the potty, and Macey says "Are you poopin?"

Yes, I reply, smiling.

Macey says "I give you paper." She takes the roll of toilet paper off the counter (we had to take it off the roller on the wall because she found it too much fun to unroll the whole thing every day) and rips one square off. She hands it to me.

Then she says "Wipe it on yous butt."

I started to laugh. First of all, like one square is going to be enough. And second, as if I needed to be told what to do with it. I laughed so hard that my eyes got teary, so I wiped my eyes with the single square of toilet paper.

"No!", she says, clearly aggravated. "Wipe it on yous BUTT!", pointing at my rear.

Through my laughter, I say I'm going to need more paper. She says "Okay" and rips off one more square. Then again, she points towards my posterior and says, very seriously, "Wipe it on yous BUTT."

Thanks kid. I dunno what I'd do without ya.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Seven Things Meme

Maybaby tagged me for Seven Things Meme.

I'm supposed to link back to her site and give you the rules.

Rules: list seven random or weird things about yourself.

I have been tagged before, so now I have to come up with seven more things...

1) I hate filling up ice cube trays, so I leave them for Craig to do. Seems ridiculous, I know, but I'd rather clean a toilet.

2) My great-grandmother's names were Myrtle, Pearl, Florence, and Julia.

3) My eyes are the same color as my hair, which might seem weird since my hair is red. However, my hair is actually auburn (a reddish brown), so it's not like I have satanic eyes or anything. Most of the time.

4) I like bugs. I think they are super cool. In fact I have raised silkworms at home. For fun. Luckily my husband is cool with planting mulberry trees in the backyard, building a dedicated bug room in the basement and filling it with worms.

5) I have a tattoo. Those who know about it know where it is and what it is. Those who don't have to ask. Maybe I'll tell, maybe I won't.

6) I have a secret message on the inside of my wedding ring. It's only two words, but it means the world to me.

7) I have no cavities in my teeth. I had one once, in a baby tooth. They filled it and the next day the tooth cracked and fell out.

I'm tagging




Sideshow Mom

Farming Friends

Pony Rides and Monkey Pictures

Smoochie Frog

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Saddle Up - Part 10

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

My saddle woes were many. I had this beautiful custom saddle that I really loved, but my horse wasn't very keen on it. Also I really needed to sell my old saddle to be able to pay off this new custom saddle. Which I might also have to sell so that I could buy the saddle that my horse liked. Which is one that I hate. Everything was just ducky.

Fortunately the saddle gods smiled upon me and my Cobra sold as a consignment at the tack store. They shipped it out on a trial and the person bought it. Fantastic! That's one issue down. Unfortunately it was the simplest issue.

On the advice of the saddle company lady, I continued to ride Kaswyn in the SemiFlex. To my great relief, I found that she was right and that he got used to the saddle having less give. I'm sure the new saddle started breaking in and flexing more as well, which was helping. He started becoming less resistant and after about a month he was feeling as good in the SemiFlex as he did in that nasty UltraFlex. I know some people love those UltraFlex's, but I'm not one of them.

This saddle has had an impact on two very important things for me. The first is Kaswyn's back. When I first talked to the saddle company gal she told me that my horse's back would change in musculature after about 8 weeks in either the UltraFlex or the SemiFlex. I was thinking that she was full of it and was just trying to be a good saleswoman because I never thought it would happen. My horse was 16, and his back had looked pretty much the same since he was about 8 or so. I couldn't see how a new saddle would change that.

But IT DID. In a big way. After only 6 weeks in the UltraFlex I could see a difference in Kaswyn's back. It had more muscle in it, looked more filled out, and I could feel that he had more carrying power through his back. It was simply amazing. Over the last few months his entire outline has changed. Now I realize that we'd had a year and a half off of serious work and that we're building back up, but there is no doubt in my mind that he's getting broader in the shoulders and more up in the back. I'm certain that he's more comfortable working, because I can feel much more range of motion in his back and front end. He's more willing to work over his back and really carry himself. It's an awesome feeling.

This saddle has also changed my riding. I think I had been on a plateau for a long time, but now I'm on a steady upward climb. The amount of feel that I get with this saddle is eye-opening. I used to mostly concentrate on his frame first, then my seat, then my leg, and just kind of continually run through the checklist in my head. But now I can just feel what I need to do. And since this saddle puts my leg in a much better position and forces me to use my seat, it's so much easier to get the job done. I'm riding so much more with my seat, less with my legs and even less with my hands.

For example, when we used to go across the diagonal in a medium trot, I would ask for a downward transition back to the collected trot by taking a greater hold on the reins and holding my breath hoping that he'd take the half-halt that followed. One day about 2 months ago I had this epiphany that I'd just sit with my seat, ask for the half-halt, and not touch the reins. It was a perfect downward transition, with no tension and plenty of step and energy into the collected trot without Kaswyn shutting down or getting tight. It was like he was saying, "Yeah, honey. You don't need to grab my face for things like this anymore. I'm trained. I know what to do. Just use your seat, okay? We'll both be happier."

And it's been steady improvement since then as both my horse and I retrain our bodies to do this dressage thing the correct way. And it feels great.

If you haven't already gotten the point, I would highly recommend the Freedom Holistic SemiFlex dressage saddle (or UltraFlex if you happen to like it better). It's seriously the best thing I've done for my dressage career since I broke up with my first dressage trainer.

But that, gentle readers, is another story for another time.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving you the finger

You know how you sometimes pull something out of the freezer, like steak, and it's all freezer burned and looks really icky? Well, that's sort of what I've done to my fingers.

It was an accident, of course. I was at work and we had just received a shipment of embryos from a patient in Germany. Yes, people ship their embryos all over the world. I don't know what the situation is, so I don't know how the embryos ended up here. Anyway, when we got them we needed to unpack them, check all the paperwork and verify the vials with the paperwork, log them in to our system, and put them into cryostorage.

When we unpacked them, we saw that they were packed in a very unusual way. Firstly, there was supposed to be one straw of embryos, but we saw at least 6 vials and no straws. We freeze our embryos in vials, but many places freeze them in straws, which is just like it sounds - the embryos are in what looks like a four inch long tube a little smaller in diameter than a coffee stirrer straw. The embryos are inserted into the straws with liquid nutrient media, and then the ends of the straw are heat sealed to keep the embryos inside. Usually these straws are contained in a larger tube, which is snapped into a long metal holder (a cane) so they can be taken easily out of the shipping container. Secondly, upon searching around the shipper, we discovered that they had sent solution for thawing the embryos. This is really odd. Usually they just send a paper protocol for thawing and we make up the solutions if we don't have them already.

But we still couldn't find the straw of embryos. Forget the solutions, it's the embryos that are important. Between two of us, two forceps, and one flashlight, we finally located the straw of embryos. It was loose in the shipper, not protected by another tube and not attached onto anything. This is super scary, because the straw is very small and it could have been easily lost or overlooked.

When we had the straw, we now needed to get it into a tube, cap the tube, and then put the tube onto a cane. To make matters more difficult, we need to do all of this work with everything submerged in liquid nitrogen. Now, liquid nitrogen is cold. Remember those Timex commercials where they put a rose in liquid nitrogen, and once it was frozen they shattered it like glass? Well I'm here to tell you that liquid nitrogen will freeze damn near anything solid. And fast. But if that straw were to come out of the liquid nitrogen for more than a few seconds, the liquid inside the straw would thaw and so would the embryos. Not what we wanted to have happen.

With three of us working now with forceps and flashlight, and after dropping the straw once in the bottom of the liquid nitrogen bucket and having to find it and fish it out again, we had the straw safely inside a capped tube. Then we just had to get the tube on the cane. My boss and I put the tube on the cane, and she went to get a protective plastic sheath for the cane. I saw that the tube wasn't securely snapped into the cane, so I reached down with my bare fingers into the liquid nitrogen to snap it back on.

Now, liquid nitrogen is cold, but you can put your fingers in a for a second before it starts to hurt. Two seconds, tops. So I thought I'd just snap it back on and all would be well. However, once I touched the tube it fell off the cane. At this point, I'm committed and I have to put the tube back on the cane, securely this time. Which I do, but I can feel my fingers burning and I can hear them sizzle as they freeze. My boss sees this and says "Oh!". I pull my fingers out of the liquid nitrogen, and they are white.

Ack. This is not good. On a reflex I closed my hand into a fist and covered it with my other hand. My fingers felt numb and I was afraid to look at them again. My boss kept saying "Are you okay? Are your fingers frozen?" I said I was fine, and after a minute or so I opened my hand. Just the ends of my fingers were red, not frozen white, which was good. I had no feeling in them, but at least they didn't fall off or anything.

I really expected the tips to blister, but I got really very lucky and they did not. All I have on my middle finger is an angry red mark. All my fingers (except my pinkie and thumb) are really sore on the tips, so it makes doing my job, and typing, not very comfortable.

So, don't mess with liquid nitrogen, kids! You'll freeze your fingers off!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gimme a shout, would ya?

Since I had a bunch of questions regarding this splint bone injury in Kaswyn's left front leg, I decided to call Dr. B and ask if he would call me back to discuss other possible treatment options. He didn't call back. This makes me a little grumpy. I realize that he's busy, and I will admit that the last time I called him with a problem he called me back within 20 minutes. Also I know that this isn't any emergency, and we're currently treating Kaswyn in a way that I decided on. But I still think I should have gotten a call back. I know it's a holiday week but it's not Thanksgiving yet.

He needs to call me back. Tomorrow. Or I shall be very put out.

Not that a phone call from Dr. B can change how my horse is doing, which is just so-so. I rode about 15 minutes today and he felt a wee bit off in the front. It's probably nothing that anyone would be able to notice unless they were looking for it, and he was certainly ready to work, but I could feel it. I still get a nervous little ball in my stomach when I ride him and he feels this way, but I understand the logic behind low level work to continue to put pressure but not stress on the area to keep the healing process chugging along. After the shock wave therapy he didn't feel quite right but Dr. B assured me that if I just went slow with the work that he would get better, and he certainly did.

All I can do is hope I'm doing the right thing. If I am, once he gets back to real work I think that my new training plan will help prevent future injuries. Well, to that leg anyway.

Now I'm off to read more articles on the anatomy of the equine forelimb. Sound boring? If you ask me, it's better than reading about Britney Spears and her latest escapades. At least I'll be learning something.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Too close on this one

I talk with patients here at work every day. They are all trying to get pregnant, and it's hard not to sympathize with them. However we see so many patients that it's easy not to get too involved with any of them.

Today a patient came in who is an exception. I didn't know her before she started coming to our fertility clinic, but now we're on a first name basis. She is really very nice and everyone loves her. However, we have yet to successfully get her pregnant. She keeps an upbeat attitude, and they are trying one more time. Everyone hopes this will be "the " time and she'll have a little baby in nine months. In two weeks we'll know if we were able to make their dreams of a baby come true. I'm sure it will be a long two weeks for them.

In situations like this is hard not to get to know these people. They come in so often, we see them face to face and talk on the phone for days in a row, we know their history (physical and otherwise), and some people just become special to us. Sure, we want everyone to get pregnant, but for some we want it just a little bit more.

This should work for her eventually. There are other patients who have almost no hope of success, but keep trying anyway. These are the heartbreaking cases. I've been in tears here more than once over some patients stories. I'm the first to admit that I'm a huge bleeding heart and can easily sympathize with anyone who has a sob story. So I know that I've got to not get too close to these people. But it's difficult when they are so nice.

It's days like today that I look at the picture on my desk of two little curly red-headed girls and realize how incredibly lucky I am.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fairly Decent

After a day off yesterday Kaswyn felt pretty good today. We worked at the walk and trot for about 15 minutes, no circles, with rounded corners. Before I got on I felt his leg and the injured one was cooler and less puffy than the other one, which is evidence to me that the Surpass cream is working.

I did a little online research about the injury that Kaswyn has, and I read an article that said it's common in performance horses who experience an increase in work level. It's also caused by imperfect leg conformation and riding on hard surfaces. I read another article that said that many horses have some amount of fusion between the cannon bone and the splint bone, with increasing amounts of fusion as the horse either ages or works harder. This made me wonder if there was a way to chemically induce fusion of the two bones, since doing that would stop the motion of the bones and therefore end the pain. It seems to me that's what we want to have happen anyway, and if they can inject joints like hocks why can't they inject the space between those bones?

In the reading I did it seems that a few studies have concluded that pin firing is not effective. The consensus is that it's the long weeks of time off after the pin firing that actually heal the injury and not the procedure itself. All of this information just raises new questions that I'm going to want to talk with Dr. B about.

Tomorrow is another day off for Mr. K. We'll see what Tuesday holds.
Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr