Saturday, October 6, 2012

Home improvement

I spent all of today putting in a raised garden bed in an untamed area on the south side of my house. Oregon summers are very cool, and I've had little success with heat-loving veggies in my small garden plot in my north yard. I can get grape tomatoes to do well, but not full-sized tomatoes or bell peppers. I think the soil stays too chilly for the roots of the heat-lovers. I'm hoping that on the south side of the house, the soil will get a lot of reflected heat and stay warmer.

This is the unappealing corner of the yard that I had to work with.

I hacked and hacked and trimmed and trimmed. I broke up some very, very hard top soil. I carted ten bags of soil, one bag of peat, and one bag of compost. And six hours later, I had my raised bed.

I also have a bunch of stuff to take to the dump. Lola supervised the entire project. She also helped out by eating the last of the ripe Marionberries that kept falling to the ground.

I saved two garter snakes during the course of the project. Both times I lifted up an old board and there was a little snake curled up, all sleepy. The first one was about eight inches long and the second only about four inches (at first I thought it was a worm, it was so small). They were both so drowsy I worried that they wouldn't wake up enough to get away from my dogs, so both times I grabbed them behind the head and re-homed them next to my pond, outside the fence. I know it's a snake-friendly area because this summer I kept surprising a garter snake swimming in the pond on warmer days.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Where I've been

I had a really rough summer, and apparently for me stress and sadness and blogging don't go together. There was Wolfgang's death, which was terribly hard, and at the same time my year-long relationship with my boyfriend was spiraling into the toilet. Add to that things at the barn not going so well, and the whole summer was really just one big pile of poo.

I decided about a month ago to stop riding Huey. I miss the big guy! I'm keeping my eyes and ears open for a similar situation, but I'm not actively pursuing anything. I am taking a break. Although I did overhear a lady at the gym talking about her rescue horse, and I asked a couple questions, and one thing led to another, and last week she invited me out to hop on him and see if he actually had the rumored dressage background he was advertised with. And he did! Lovely walk, trot, canter with nice balance into the outside rein, plus a little leg yield, and even a walk-canter transition and some shoulder in. The lady who owns him has no dressage training but is interested, and I told her she's in a great situation to learn, since this gelding has a good foundation. She is excited to get started. So that was fun.

Lola the bassador spent much of the summer escaping from my yard and visiting the neighbors. Her favorites are the lady who gives her cheese, and the two ladies down the street with the chihuahuas. At both places, she simply plants herself on the front porch until the occupant(s) let her in. Both places are nice enough to just let her hang out until I get home from work. I am both thankful and hugely embarrassed. I finally bought a whole bunch of landscape timbers and lined all the fences in the backyard. That seems to have done the trick. Lola is quite a character.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sunday, July 1, 2012

From nothing comes nothing

One of Wolfgang's favorite sayings, especially when things got frustrating, was "From nothing comes nothing." Wolfgang was the only trainer I've ever met who never lost sight of the true goal of most dressage riders: to move up the levels. In every horse, he would quickly spot the more advanced movements that came easily to that horse, and he'd go ahead and have the rider school those movements, even if that rider was at only training level. For example, when I was an utter newbie, my horse was a lovely Swedish warmblood mare who had a perfect canter, naturally balanced and adjustable. When Wolfgang came for a clinic, he'd have me school collected canter, counter canter, and flying changes, even though I was barely training level. Of course, we also schooled lots of training level. But he saw no reason not to let me get the feel of more advanced movements on things my mare could do easily. And no, I didn't do them perfectly. You have to crawl before you can walk.

Put another way: Wolfgang believed in using the advanced movements to improve both horse and rider. He wasn't one to keep you on a twenty-meter trot circle until you could do it perfectly. He viewed that as boring the horse into submission, and he always wanted a little fire, a little expression. His exercises often tended to be aimed at moving the horse's shoulder and/or haunches around--basically a second- to third-level skill. He didn't care where the horse's head was on the first attempt, as long as those haunches moved over. From nothing comes nothing. It's not going to look great at first, but that's ok. Remember your equitation, give it a try, and praise praise praise any attempt the horse makes.

From nothing comes nothing. It's a call to ride out of your comfort zone--not all the time, but often. Don't stay stuck at training level for years. Try out some more advanced stuff, and then return to what your horse knows well to instill confidence. Don't expect perfection -- don't be afraid to fail -- and improvement will come!

Monday, June 18, 2012

You think there will always be time enough

Last night, with absolutely no warning, my long-time friend and dressage trainer Wolfgang May collapsed and died from undiagnosed pancreatic cancer. His wife, Suzanne, is in complete shock, as are all of us who knew and admired him. He was a force of nature. How can he be gone?

I first met Wolf and Sue in 1995, when they became regular clinicians at my barn in Nebraska. They visited every eight weeks for a weekend of lessons, including a Saturday-night theory session. I was a total newbie to dressage at the time--how lucky was I to stumble into a situation where I got to work with a classically-trained German bereiter right from the start? And to be able to keep working with him every eight weeks for ten years?

Wolfgang was equally pro-horse and pro-rider. He wanted everyone to succeed and gave his full attention and effort to every student who was willing to try. He was kind with small children, with newbie riders afraid to canter, with crazy horses. He always had sugar cubes in his pockets. He'd hop on any horse and accomplish amazing things in a matter of minutes. And boy, did you know it when Wolf gave your horse a tune-up. Suddenly there was a "turbo" button where none existed before. The feeling was bliss.

He taught all his students to be highly competent at lungeing--a skill that is sadly neglected by many trainers. He worked many horses in hand, almost always accomplishing half steps in the very first session. Horses just trusted him--and respected him.

When you first started working with him, his lessons seemed kind of crazy. It was all transitions, transitions, transitions. "Walk, shoulder in, walk, haunches in, walk, now trot, across the diagonal, x leg yield, when you reach the wall canter, now trot at A, now halt! Reinback! Trot!" It was very difficult, but so exhilarating when the horse started to sit down, to listen. He's always say, upper level tests are nothing but transitions, and it's in the transitions you find out if your horse is through.

Other sayings: "From nothing comes nothing!" "You've got to get to the point where you can drive!" "If you don't like what you're getting, change what you're doing!" So much wisdom. I still hear it in my head when I ride, to this day.

He was my one true riding master. I know I will never again be lucky enough to work with anyone as talented. He was too young to go. I thought I still had time to visit, to hang out, maybe even to ride with him again. I kept in touch, but I could have done better. I am very sad.

Good bye, Wolfgang. Thank you so much.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hyper-mobile SI joint

For about six months now, I've had pain in my right hip and lower back. Nothing major most of the time--just a dull ache and occasional sharper jab of pain. It hasn't kept me from doing anything; in fact, it feels best when I'm riding or working out. Sitting for long periods makes it flare, and the worst pain comes in the early morning if I go to roll over. Then I get some fairly severe pain that makes me groan and not want to move. Sometimes it keeps me awake at night, too, just aching and aching. But because it hasn't really kept me from enjoying life, I've mostly ignored it. I finally decided to see a doctor about it when it occurred to me that it hasn't gotten any better in six months. I didn't want it to get worse! And, I wondered if after all these years of riding, maybe I was developing some arthritis in my hip joint.

My doctor was unsure about the exact cause, so she sent me to see a physical therapist. After an hour of poking, prodding, twisting, turning, lifting, pulling, etc., she said I have a hyper-mobile sacroiliac joint on the right side. The ligaments that should limit the range of motion in that joint have gotten stretched out, so the joint can now wobble too much. She said it's likely a combination of years of riding, years of office work, and multiple falls from horses over two decades.

She gave me an SI belt to start wearing immediately to help stabilize the joint. It's just a non-stretchy wide belt I wear tight, a few inches below the points of my hips. She said to wear it as much as I can, even sleeping if I could stand it. I wore it all day yesterday, and wow! what a difference! With it on and the joint stabilized, I have almost no pain or ache. I wore it working out last night (elliptical and machines) and didn't have a single twinge, and no pain following the workout like I usually get. I also wore it to bed and had no pain at all. I'll try riding in it tomorrow. The PT also gave me an exercise to do to start strengthening the supporting muscles and ligaments in the area.

The PT said everything around the joint is in complete lockdown in an attempt to stabilize it. The SI joint on the left is also partially locked to compensate. A chiropractor and a massage therapist both discovered all those locked muscles and worked on them in the past six months, but the PT said while that wasn't wrong per se, it wasn't addressing the cause of the problem. It's so nice to get it figured out!

I thought I'd post this information because I know so many equestrians with varying degrees of back pain, and I have known others who, like me, say that their back feels best when they're on a horse. That can be a symptom of this condition. One other note--if the problem is indeed a hyper-mobile SI joint, a chiropractic adjustment of the joint may feel good, but it will loosen the joint more. (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and I don't even play one on TV.)

I had a fun lesson on Huey Wednesday. Camilla is competing him at an event next weekend, and she's been out of town, so I've been doing what I can to keep him jumping fit without actually jumping. Trainer Leslie had me working lots of collected canter as well as counter canter. He did really well!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sam, content

My German shorthair, Sam, is very vocal when he's in discomfort. If he has an itch he can't quite reach, he moans and groans and whines like he's having his toenails pulled out. He also gets very vocal sometimes when you rub or scritch him just the right way. Make sure you have the volume turned up when watching the following.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Trail riding in Mauritius

My mother and I went trail riding at Le Morne in southwest Mauritius one early morning. In spite of it being mid-fall in that country, it was still very hot and humid. Even at 8 in the morning, we melted a little bit. The stable wasn't fancy, but it was quite nice, and the horses, all OTTB's, were obviously well care for. The facility even had helmets and half-chaps for us tourists. My mom looks quite dapper in her outfit.

We rode along the beach at the base of Le Morne. The water in the bay was perfectly still. My gelding, Augie, was workmanlike and obedient. He was happy to get up and go when I asked for a trot. My mom's horse was a perfect trail horse, just marching along and ignoring everything else. It's so nice to see a horse rental facility with such well-trained, happy, healthy animals.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Huey's one-day event

First up: dressage. A little resistance in canter (let's go jump some fences, mom!) and walk but overall very nice.

Next: stadium. A clear round at about 75 mph. Camilla is a very brave woman.

Finally: cross country. Some trouble at the ditch (not shown) but Huey sailed over everything else. Again, he does not dilly-dally.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

First stop: Dubai

Well, haven't I just been the world's worst blogger lately? Not sure what's wrong with me. I even have lots of stuff to post! My mother took me on a trip to Mauritius in late March to visit my brother and his family (including my two adorable nieces and a brand-new baby nephew!). We were there for about ten days (it takes about two days to get there). On the way over we stopped over to sleep in Dubai, and we had a few hours in the evening to venture out and about.

The tallest building and dancing fountains turned out to be just a few blocks away. The plaza where the fountains were was teeming with people from all over the world. Dubai is practically paved with money. It's also the cleanest city I've ever been to. We felt very safe as we walked around. The dancing fountains put the Bellagio's to shame. The video doesn't do them justice. The jets of water shoot incredibly high into the air. We watched the fountains during several songs, all in Arabic, and then . . .

MJ is big everywhere.

Tomorrow I'm off to Corvallis to watch Camilla and Baby Huey compete in eventing. It's sort of a mini-event, with all three disciplines in one day. They start off in dressage at 8:30 a.m., so no sleeping in for me. I should have video to post very soon!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Omg! (thud)

I've already had Lola the bassador for more than a year! She's been such a good, easy dog to have that it feels like she has been in the family forever. Her former owner contacted me the other day with the paperwork to get Lola's microchip information transferred to me. I asked him if, by any chance, he had puppy pictures of Lola that he could share with me. He followed up the next day, and it was total cute overload. Lola was an incredibly adorable puppy! Just look!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Huey in collected canter

Here are Huey and me working on collected canter in a lesson a couple weeks ago. He's never going to have spectacular gaits, but I like how he looks here. I have to walk a fine line between playing with his mouth enough to keep him loose but not so much that he drops his poll and wither.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Thursday night was lesson night! The boys are coming along so well! Huey and I worked some travers in canter. I haven't really schooled this on him so he was somewhat perturbed. "Why would you want me to do THAT? I think a flying change is called for," was his response at first. A little bucking was the next response. Then he settled and we got a few nice lines in each direction. Poor man is such an overachiever -- if he would just wait and really listen, none of these movements are even hard for him. It's just that TB brain of his. But I do love me a TB brain, so we'll get there eventually. We also worked trot shoulder-in to diagonal to shoulder-in and he was a rock star. By far the biggest improvement over the last year is Huey's increased ability to quickly re-focus after a meltdown, without absolutely requiring a free walk to gather his thoughts.

A couple weeks ago, Camilla was schooling some jumps on Flash, and as they came across the diagonal into a corner, Flash just up and switched leads, neat as a pin. So Camilla and her two trainers (Carrie Ann in jumping and Leslie in dressage) have decided to go ahead and begin working on changes with Flash. At the lesson Thursday night, Leslie had Camilla start with, on the long side, true canter, trot, counter canter, trot, true canter. Flash was very obedient in this exercise. After a couple lines, Camilla asked for a flying change, but every time Flash sneaked a trot step into it. He's too smart for his own good.

Next they put Flash on a 20-meter circle in counter-canter, which blew his mind. He got all discombobulated, legs flying every which way. Good thing Camilla has an eventer's seat! Flash did switch in front a couple times on the circle, but he seemed claustrophobic about the exercise.

Finally, they tried good old-fashioned changes across the diagonal, and in this exercise at first Flash kept the counter-canter around the short side; then he started switching behind in the corner and switching in front after three or four strides. Then there was a diagonal where he absolutely launched himself at the ceiling, and Leslie and I were so sure he was going to switch, but he faked himself out! Finally, on the next diagonal he offered a lovely, clean, exuberant change, and then it was walk, long rein, lots of praise! What a good boy.

I love watching a horse be introduced to flying changes. You can often really see the wheels turning as they try to figure out what's being asked for. And it's so interesting to see which exercise finally results in that little light bulb between their ears!

Monday, February 6, 2012

A treat to minimize choking

This is Willow, anxiously awaiting her applesauce treat. It's only gushy foods for her until they're sure she done with her choking spells. She looks pretty psyched about the applesauce.

This month, I am getting a new bedroom added on to my house! It's currently a one-bedroom house, so this is a 100% increase in number of bedrooms. It's being added on using my existing carport, so the roof already exists. I am excited out of all proportion. I love home improvement projects, and this is going to make such a difference, storage-wise. My house was built in 1912, when the world did not believe in closets. My new room is going to have many, many closets.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Long, scary story; happy ending

I have been the world's worst blogger lately. Mostly, there have been several scares with Willow and a visit from my mom keeping me occupied. I'm now feeling much more focused and inspired!

Two weeks ago, I had a call from the owner of the barn in Liberty Hill, Texas, where Willow moved to in November. Willow was having a terrible choking spell, and rinsing her mouth with water and administering Banamine were having no effect. It was late at night, and we finally decided to call the vet out. She determined that it was bad enough that Willow should be moved to the vet hospital. There, she was able to clear the obstruction after a couple tries. A scope showed no abnormalities, so that was good news. But then Willow started to choke again the next morning, and they had to clear another obstruction, this one made of her bedding. Silly mare, eating her bedding. So for the next five days, they kept Willow at the hospital in a dry lot, to keep her from ingesting more wood shavings. Then, she was able to go home for a week of stall rest.

Then, last Friday night, Willow started to choke again. The barn owner called me immediately for permission to take Willow back to the hospital, and I agreed. This time, because we didn't wait as long, the obstruction was cleared much more easily, and Willow was able to go home Monday. For the first few days after her return she was coughing during meals, but still able to eat, and now she seems to be doing well again. They are thoroughly wetting her meals, and I suggested they might try adding large river rocks to the bucket to try to slow Willow down. That mare does love her food.

The scope showed no abnormalities, so I had blood drawn for an EPM test. It showed an exposure but no active infection. I'm wondering if maybe the nerves in Willow's throat might have been affected? She's never had this problem before.

Through all this, I was feeling really down. I had begun planning to bring Willow back to Oregon, since it had been almost two years with no buyer. But now, with the choking, I was terrified to try to ship her so far. What if she choked to death en route? Brrrrrrr. No way. So I had several folks in Texas casting about for someone who might want her as a broodmare. All along, all I have ever wanted is a good home for her.

Suddenly, out of the blue, a student at the barn where Willow is housed popped up and said she wanted her. This lady has had some hard times in her life recently, and she had been volunteering to hand-walk Willow while she was on stall rest. At some point, she became very attached, and when she heard Willow was probably going, she decided to jump in and take her. I don't think she has ever owned her own horse before, but she has been riding all her life, and the barn owner (also the trainer) has known her since she was a child. She thinks it's a good match.

We are at almost two years to the day since Willow got on the truck, bound for Texas, then Louisiana, then Texas. It's hard having a horse for sale that long. In this economy, you wonder if you'll ever find a good home. And then, click, it all works out. I'm so happy for Willow, and happy for her new person. The barn she's at is amazing. If you're ever looking for a barn for jumping or dressage, near Liberty Hill, Texas, let me know and I will hook you up.

Huey is doing awesome as well! Now that I won't have to pay board on Willow, I should have a little extra $$ to take Huey to some rated shows. I would love to try to earn my bronze on him.