Friday, April 27, 2007

Just when you think you know what you're doing...

Kaswyn felt awesome today. He got new shoes yesterday, and it would appear that trimming his feet evenly made a huge difference in his movement. He was balanced and even, willing to work. Now I'm sure some of you are thinking "Well of course he was! Now he doesn't have two different feet!!". I guess I'm just a little dumb sometimes.

Kaswyn used to get his feet trimmed and shoes put back on every eight weeks, nine if I could push it. This was mostly for financial reasons, since a trim and a shoeing is not exactly free. This week was the seventh week for his old shoes. In light of how much of a difference the shoeing made, and looking back on just when things started to go awry, I'm going to say that six weeks is going to be the maxium that I can let him go before getting him reshod. Sure, it will be more expensive, but it will be worth Kaswyn being even and balanced.

During our workouts, I'm still going more laps to the right than the left. Tonight we went three laps to the left first, and the first two laps felt a little shaky. But the third lap felt really very nice. When we went to the right I decided to try and do some very minimal work...something more than just trotting around. When we came out of the second corner of the short side of the arena and began trotting down the long side, I asked him to push a little more uphill. I didn't ask for an extension or medium trot or anything. I just wanted him to push a little, work over his back a little bit, and come underneath himself from behind a bit more. I only let him trot three or four strides in this way because he hasn't done any work of this kind in over a year and I don't want to push him. About halfway down the long side of the arena I'd give just the slightest aide with my seat and he'd come back to the working trot. After the first two times he was ready for me to ask and started preparing himself in the corner.

I'm not sure I can really describe the feeling of being able to work with my horse again. I know this sounds really lame, but it just brings tears to my eyes. He was just so willing, so ready to work for me, that even this very simple, limited exercise felt like heaven. It was great for both of us because it was much more mentally stimulating than just trotting around for exercise. I was riding better, and he was working better. I called Craig on the way home to tell him my good news. He echoed my trainers words exactly - this is a rollercoaster, and today I just happen to have hit and uphill climb.

I know this. I know that this is just a good day, and I'm likely to have more bad ones to come. But I'm not the kind of person that can stay even keeled, good or bad. I'm going to be happy and excited when it's good, and sad when it's bad. So today I'm going to be happy and not worry about the bad days until they come. They're coming for sure.

This is a work in progress, and I'm going to enjoy the work whenever possible.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Guilt free

When I left the barn yesterday, I felt tired. Tired and a little bit lost in hopelessness.

Kaswyn did not feel good when I rode him. He had moments where he was balanced and even, but for the most part he felt unbalanced and no amount of adjusting, softening, or half-halts could fix it. He is getting his feet trimmed and shoes reset on Thursday, and I'm hoping that will solve some of the problem. Unfortunately Kaswyn's front feet are very different. His right foot grows up and spreads out a little, while the left foot grows straight up in the air. When he's just had his shoes reset his feet look more similar, even if the right one is a bit wider than the left. But looking at his feet yesterday they looked like they belonged to two different horses. The left one is much longer than the right, which could explain the unevenness. I guess I'll find out on Friday.

I left the barn much later than usual because my trainer and I were talking about Kaswyn and his issues. Amazingly, I wasn't guilty about spending some extra time at the barn. I've had an epiphany of sorts about the whole guilt/horse thing.

Right now, my job is very stressful. Not the kind of stress that most people think of - deadlines, high pressure meetings, impossible projects, difficult co-workers, etc. Being an embryologist in an InVitro Fertilization lab, my job involves the stress of handling embryos every day. Human embryos. Potential people. There are many different opinions about when life starts - is it the moment the sperm enters the egg? Is it a heartbeat? Or is it at birth? We have to assume that our patients feel that every embryo is a potential life, if not a living being already. So it's very important not to make any mistakes.

We work on a microscopic level, because the embryos are very very tiny, so most of the day I'm looking through a microscope just to see what I'm doing. Because we move the embryos from one dish to another several times before they are transferred back to the patient's uterus, it's possible to make mistakes. Embryos can be lost in bubbles, or flicked out of pipets if the hand is bumped. They can die if handled roughly, exposed to changes in temperature or pH. This is in addition to all of the paperwork and verification processes we go through with every patient to ensure that the correct sperm and egg go together, and that the correct embryos get back into the correct woman. So there is lots of stress involved, to say the least. Stress and the pressure to not make any mistakes, because mistakes could cost lives (depending on how you look at it).

Not only that, but we also get bad news. Patients who are coming to us who have cancer and want to preserve their fertility by freezing eggs before they go through surgery and chemo. Patients who are desperate to conceive who make terrible looking embryos and cycle after cycle have no success. Patients whose eggs just don't fertilize. Patients who have no sperm. Patients who carry a genetic disease or are searching for an embryo with certain genetic markers who can't seem to make a normal embryo.

Sometimes it really gets to me. Like last week. I came home and was in tears after work. I just felt like I couldn't deal with the pressure, the bad news, all of it. I was in a funk and just wanted to get away. So I went to the barn.

Then I realized that time with my horse is my little mental escape from all the work stress. Granted, my horse is giving me stress lately too, but it's different. I will love my horse no matter what happens, and just walking into the barn and hearing him whinny at me when he sees me coming will always warm my heart and bring a smile to my face.

So I'm done feeling guilty about having my horse. Yes, it's a lot of time. Yes, it's even more money. But it's time for me, and it's my passion. It's going to keep me sane and help me cope with the stresses of my job. It makes me feel good inside in ways that nothing else can. Sure, I love my kids and my husband, but this is a little special part of me that nobody can share. Nobody but my horse.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Things have been a little hectic for me lately, so there's been little time to get a post together. However, Kaswyn has been doing well, I think. It's still work to keep him balanced, but when I get him there he is nice and even. I'll have a better idea this evening when I ride. I know you just can't wait to hear! Exciting news about trotting in straight lines! Wheee!

I must say that it's better than hand walking, so I'll stop complaining.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sport Horse Nationals 2009, anyone?

After being sick for a few days I was able to get out to the barn and ride Kaswyn today. Dr. B was there giving shots and shackwave treatment to another horse. He watched me ride Kaswyn and thinks that he's improved 95%. I agree, but unfortunately we need that last 5% to be able to get us back to the show ring. He says that on the improvement scale we're close to 100%, but in the healing timeline we're pretty much at the beginning.

All three of us (me, my trainer, and Dr. B) agree that Kaswyn is very careful about where he puts that left front foot. He's not lame and doesn't act like he's in pain, but he's just more hesitant about putting that foot down. Dr. B described it this way - "You know when you're running through a pasture with high grass? You're always looking down, watching where you put your feet." He's much more free when going to the right than the left. This is no surprise to my trainer and I, because this is how he has always been.

The left side of my horse has been a problem for both of us since day one. He wants to bulge out through the left side of his body and throw the weight there. He also likes to hang on the left rein and avoid contact with the right rein. You'd think that if his left front was the problem that he'd want to get the weight off of it and push more to the right, but that's not the case. Getting Kaswyn straight, then balanced is not an easy task. He must be ridden very carefully because he's a very sensitive horse and big adjustments in his frame get big reactions, and not necessarily good ones. Riding Kaswyn is like walking a tightrope - it's best accomplished by making constant, tiny adjustments. So far only myself and my trainer have been able to ride Kaswyn with any real success because we understand this.

More discussion after my ride brought us to the conclusion that maybe my horse has reverted to where he was when I first started working with my trainer. At that point we were at first level, and working on second level. Kaswyn was very uneven strided and had major balance issues. It took years to get him balanced and even. Taking this into consideration, we're thinking that he's physically slid back into first level mode, and we must build that solid base again.

Before Dr. B left the barn, he had some advice that his father (a very successful thoroughbred racing trainer) had given him. He said "For every month off, you need a month of training." That means we have 16 months of training to do before I can expect to show. Or maybe even more.

I just can't bring myself to cancel those hotel reservations. Yet.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Letting go for now...almost

My feet were cold again today when I rode Kaswyn. We had a much better ride than we did on Friday, however.

After walking for five minutes to warm up, I asked Kaswyn to get onto the bit in a lower training level-type frame. Then I asked him to trot, letting him choose the initial pace. He started off at a moderate trot - nothing like the nice working tort he used to have, but a nice pace. Then I just asked him to maintain that frame and pace for three laps in each direction. After about a lap he got lazy and fell onto his forehand, but all I had to do was give him a little leg support and he got back under himself again.

It felt very relaxed and, more importantly, very even. He easily completed the three laps in each direction and felt great the whole time. I spoke with my trainer afterwards to let her know that my riding him upright and pushed forward was making him uneven. She said she didn't think it was important for me to get him into a high frame and a big trot, but thought it was more important that I ride him in a balanced way that made him comfortable. She's going to ride him tomorrow and see how he feels to her.

I did a lot of thinking about Kaswyn and what the future holds for us. I have decided that I can't expect that I'm going to show him this year, or even next year. I can't have any expectations about showing him again period. What I'm going to do is take as much time as we both need and build his body back up. It's going to take as long as it takes, and I can't even guess as to how long that will be. I'm sure some weeks we'll make great progress, and some weeks we'll go backwards. But when he's ready to show again, I'll know. And hopefully at that point I will have a completely fit and healthy horse.

So I'm letting go of Sport Horse Nationals for this year. Well, mostly. I won't cancel those hotel rooms until the deadline for entries passes. I can still hope, right?

Saturday, April 07, 2007


My feet were cold when I rode Kaswyn Thursday. This is because I was wearing my leather boots instead of my thick, warm, insulated boots. Why? Because just last week (when it was 70+ degrees here) I put all my winter boots away. And I refuse to get them out again.

These pictures of our beautiful green pastures were taken at the barn three days ago -

Then this happened -

This is the current view out of our back door. And yes, that is snow falling. In APRIL.

Anyway, it was around 35 degrees in the arena when I rode Kaswyn, so my leather boots afforded little protection against the cold. However, those boots give me a much better feel when I ride, and right now that's very important.

Thursday when we starting working I was trying to keep him in more of an upright frame and pushed up in front of my leg. My trainer suggested this on Tuesday, and it seemed to help. However, on Thursday he felt really uneven when I did this, so I decided to get my whip and spurs. Since I have started back to work with Kaswyn I haven't been riding with my whip or spurs. I wanted to be sure that I wasn't relying on my spurs or that I was jabbing him instead of using my leg properly. When we were in full training mode I used them every day as I would any aide - only when needed. But Thursday I really started to feel that Kaswyn was blowing off my leg and that I was working way too hard to keep him going. He was better with the whip and spurs, but he still felt uneven to me. Discouraged, I quit early. His leg looked great after the ride and wasn't hot.

Friday's ride started the same. I was about to quit when I decided to try something different. I let him get into a lower frame and let him go more slowly. I made sure that he wasn't on his forehand, but I wasn't pushing him into a really large working trot that he used to be able to do. I just let him do a hacking-type of trot at his own pace, but I made him carry himself and didn't hold him up.

Lo and behold, he was even. No head bobbing - no short striding. I've been doing a lot of thinking about this, and here are my thoughts. He hasn't been in work for 16 months, so it's probably hard for him to hold that upright frame like he used to. When we started doing dressage, we started with a lower training level frame. Dr. B cautioned me that his whole body is now 16 years old and to not expect him to bounce back and do anything difficult. He said every ligament, tendon, and muscle is going to take time to get back up to speed so GO SLOW. Expecting him to return to the upright upper level frame and big trot (that took years to develop) after only a few rides was unfair. I think this, more than pain in his leg, made him uneven. Kaswyn has always had a tendency to get uneven since I bought him. Asking too much too soon bought the worst of that out.

So from now on, I think it's going to be low and slow. I'm not going to let him hang on my hands or drag his nose in the dirt, but I think it's back to the basics for us. If we have to start back with the training level stuff and work our way back up just for the physical benefits, then so be it. Kaswyn knows all the upper level stuff in his brain. We just have to re-teach his body how to do it and not get hurt.

But I'm still not riding in my insulated boots until next winter, cold feet or not.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Get the popcorn

Today my trainer recorded a short video of me riding Kaswyn. Check it out -

When I was riding him he felt really good. A little bit lazy, but sound and even. However, when I looked at the video at home he looked a little uneven on that left front. It puts a little ball of uneasyness in my stomach.

I guess I just need to keep this up and see what happens. He'll let me know if it's too much.

Oh, and a quick update on my grandfather. My dad made some noise about his rights as a patient not being fulfilled, and after that he got at least one call a day from the doctors. Following almost a week with no diagnosis and lots and lots of tests, they have concluded that the aspirin that my grandfather has been taking for his blood has given him an ulcerated esophagus or stomach. He was given a prescription for Nexium and he was discharged today. We'll see if they are correct. He doesn't feel better yet, but I'm sure that it takes awhile to heal those ulcers. Thanks to all of you who asked about him.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Graze me

Last week I was able to ride Kaswyn at the trot. He still feels really good and is sound. He's a little unbalanced in the corners, but that doesn't really surprise me given how much time he's had off. He's had some filling in both of his front legs, but no heat in either one. The weather has been changing around here - a lot of the temperature going up and down - which I suppose could cause some fluid retention. I'm a little concerned about it, but it seems to go away after riding him, which is a good sign that it's just random adema.

Because it's spring, I've been taking Kaswyn outside to hand graze him after our rides so his system can get used to eating grass again after not getting any all winter. Now, this is something I hadn't heard of before I came to Ohio. In California I never rode at a barn that had grass pastures. There might have been large turnout paddocks, but in the summer these were usually baked hard and dry by the sun and had no grass in them. Maybe in the winter (the rainy months) some grass would spring up around the outsides of the paddocks, but there were no lush pastures of green beautiful grass like there are here. The last place we had our horses had individual paddocks for each stall. Sure, they were small, but every horse could walk in and out of the stall whenever they wanted. It's really nice for them to have that freedom.

Anyhow, the first spring that I had a horse in Ohio I was surprised to hear the barn owner say that the horses would only get 20 minutes out in the pastures. I just figured that when the pastures dried out that the horses would go out all day. Apparently they can get loose manure, colic, or even founder on the rich grass if they get too much without slowly getting used to it. So every spring starts with the ritual of taking Kaswyn out on a halter and letting him eat grass in small increments until he's built up to 30 or 45 minutes. Then all the horses will get short turnout time on the pastures until they are built up to a few hours. It all seems like such a pain in the ass, but when your snow-covered pastures freeze solid in the winter, what choice do you have?

There was no hand grazing yesterday, since Craig has been taking care of his mom and hasn't been home. And although I'll get out to ride today, there will be no hand grazing because it's raining. I shouldn't complain, because rain is better than snow. And without the rain we'd be stuck with dry hard pastures instead of beautiful green grassy ones.

I guess there are some good things about Ohio. It's hard to remember that when there's 3 feet of snow on the ground and it's been below 20 degrees for a week!
Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr