Thursday, December 1, 2016

Sizing Up The Great Red Menace

"The Great Red Menace" is my nickname for Jack, because a horse with a four letter name absolutely needs a four word nickname. He's not really too much of a menace, either.... unless you count all the stuff of mine he's broken and his desire to stand nearly on top of me at all times.

At All Times.

As a two year old on the track he was measured at around 16.2, then I acquired him and had him gelded. Throughout his 3rd, 4th and 5th year he grew, and grew, and then grew some more and I never bothered to measure him again, mostly because I don't have one of those horse-measuring stick-things. (Also because I kind of didn't want to know.) But, for some reason, USEF always wants to know how tall the horse is on all their stupid forms, so I figured I should probably figure that out.

Pictured: Precision Measuring Tool.

Since I know I'm 5'3 (or 63 inches, or 160 centimeters), I figured I could just stand next to Jack with the stick on my head and then figure out how much taller he is than me. This ended up not really working.

They used to let me run laboratories at Rutgers.

Then, I remembered that I own a tape measurer, so I decided to use that instead.

This worked much better.

Verdict: Jack is almost 69 inches tall. (This wasn't exactly a precision operation, more of a rough estimate.) Thats about 175 centimeters, which is 17.1 hands according to the Centimeters to Hands Conversion chart I found online.  Also, I found out that I am 15.3 hands. Good to know, I think that's how I'm going to start listing my height on medical forms.

Emma over at 'Fraidy Cat Eventing recently started a sort of unofficial blog hop when she posted her OTTB's pedigree, so I thought I'd jump on that bandwagon while we're discussing The Great Red Menace.

It's blurry because I'm a dumbass, clicking on it makes it clear.

He's not the worst bred, not the best bred. His sire is pretty successful as far as racing goes, but the only thing Jack got from him was the color. I've never heard anything about Strong Contender as a Sporthorse sire, or Maria's Mon. His dam is pretty well bred, but she only had two starts and never placed.  (With a name like "Eighteen Shots", what do you expect?) Terlingua (Eighteen Shots' sire's dam), was also the dam of the notorious Storm Cat and supposedly the source of his attitude. It does not seem to have passed down to Jack. 

Jack himself was purchased for $3K as a two year old, had three starts, and came in dead last every time. His breeder seems to have a few other horses running, but I've never been able to find any contact info, so that's a dead end. (My theory: He's in hiding after hearing about the dismal career of Good Man Jack.) His only trainer is my good friend and neighbor, and she didn't even have him that long. So, that's all I really know about Jack.

Come to think of it, I've owned Jack for longer than anyone. He's less "OTTB" and more "BDTB" at this point.

 (That's "Backyard Dressage Thoroughbred"). 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Finally, Something That Can Be Fixed.... Probably (Maybe)

I think we have a winner in Steroid Injection Roulette!

My Sacroiliac Joint!


I had it injected 3 weeks ago, and my pain and function are markedly improved. I can stand up straight and walk without a limp, and I'm no longer in crippling pain. I still have aches here and there, since I also have pretty bad arthritis throughout my spine and hips, but it's manageable.

After noting that the SI injection helped, my Physiatrist sent me to Physical Therapy. The PT did a more thorough review, and noted that my IT band (a band of connective tissue that surrounds the muscles that run down the outside of the femur) and my piriformis (a muscle in the butt) are extremely tight and reactive on the left side. And by "reactive", I mean that I seriously want to hit anyone who starts poking at those areas. It's very ouchy.

I tried finding a picture with SI, IT and piriformis in it, but I came up empty.

I had always known those areas hurt, but it had paled in comparison to the pain in my lower back so I ignored it. The PT thinks either the SI pain was caused by those two areas being out of whack and pulling on my SI joint, or my SI being out of whack caused those two areas to be painful. Chicken or egg doesn't matter here, we start by fixing the IT band and the piriformis.

How does one do that? With tedious stretches and exercises to strengthen my left leg and my core. It's ouchy and annoying, but I guess it's working. I won't really know until the injections wear off. On the bright side, since SI isn't a typical joint it doesn't break down after repeated steroid injections like other joints. The Physiatrist says I can have as many injections as I want! Hopefully the PT will keep me from needing them, but it's nice to know that's an option.

On the horse front, I'm still not doing much. I go through the motions, but my heart isn't in it yet. I still cry a few times a week. I get frustrated easily. It's all still very raw.

Jack is having a tough time with the transition, too. His role has changed from "Third Wheel" to "Serious Work" and he's not really sure what to do yet. He's still the same lovable goofball, just a very confused and frustrated lovable goofball.

We'll get there.

Friday, October 7, 2016

And Then Everyone Was Lame.

I make a plan to get my ass in gear, and then it all goes to hell.

After Jack's saddle fitting, it rained for three days straight. Somewhere in that time frame, Jack decided to brew up an abscess. So, I can't really do any "work" work with him, but I can take him out and just fuss with him. He enjoys any sort of attention, so it's still a win.

Over the many years I have spent with horses, I have found that the single most important thing you can do with them is just simply to hang out with them. We often focus so much on training programs and lessons that we forget to just spend time with our horses. Horses and humans are both social animals, and we both thrive in situations where we are allowed to interact freely with others. You don't really get that social interaction if you're just schooling your horse, just like you don't get to be super chums with your co-workers during a high stress project at work. If you want to develop a relationship with someone, you've got to go outside the work environment.

Honestly, my kids are the best trainers I've ever met.

I'm also lame, but that's not big news because I'm always lame. My back is acting up again, but this time I'm even more annoyed because I haven't been riding!

See, for years every Doc I saw told me that my back problems were being made worse because of of my riding and they couldn't "fix" me until I stopped riding. Well, guess what? I haven't ridden seriously since Aug 7 and my back still friggen' hurts! So, I went to my physiatrist and said: "Fix this."

My new tentative diagnosis is Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction. That's mostly based on the fact that they've treated my spine, hip and knee with no improvement.  The SI joint is nearly impossible to assess with x-ray and MRI, and the pain it causes mimics lumbar spine, hip and knee joint pain. It's basically a diagnosis of exclusion: My back, hip and knee hurts, they've all been treated, let's inject the SI and see if that helps.

So, I'll be getting that done.

On the bright side, I have been in complete remission from my Crohn's since starting immune suppressant drugs. This is the longest I have been in remission since my diagnosis in 2005. I have had three colds in the 6 weeks my kids have been back in school, but I'll take colds over Crohn's any damn day!

I guess we're moving forward now, huh?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Sometimes You Need A Kick In The Ass

This past week I had Spider's saddle fitted to Jack. I expected this to be a tear-filled event. I cried when I sent the email to the Saddler. I cried when he set a date to come out. I cried for two days before the date. But, when the day came, I ended up cussing a blue streak at Jack instead.

Apparently, being fitted for a saddle is way too much excitement for Jack. First, he didn't want to stand still while his measurements were being taken. He noodled around, tried to take the Saddler's clipboard and tools, wouldn't stand up straight, and was just generally obnoxious. Somehow, the Saddler managed to get his measurements (bless that poor man, he's a true pro) and retreated to his trailer to refit the saddle. I put Jack in a stall to wait, and that's when the fun really began.

Jack proceeded to lose what little brain he's got as soon as the stall door shut. He thrashed and crashed into the door and walls, jumped up and down in place like a psychotic rabbit, and then started biting off chunks of my damn barn wall. I was not amused. Very bad words were tossed around, as well as threats of serious bodily harm.

Under normal circumstances, I would probably have left his ass in there to tantrum it out. But, the Saddler needed a somewhat sane horse to finish his fitting, so I pulled Jack out of the stall and took him for a walk. More cussing and threats of bodily harm ensued, as I attempted to guide a 17hh jackrabbit (pun intended) with the mental acuity of a particularly stupid labrador retriever on a calming walk around the farm. As the Saddler peered somewhat nervously out of his trailer, I found myself uttering the words that every equestrian professional dreads: "He doesn't usually act like this."

To be fair, he really doesn't.

Oh, FFS. I've become that owner.

It's my own fault. I've let him sit too long. I've barely touched him since Spider died, so it's unfair for me to expect perfect behavior from him. To me, it was just a saddle fitting. To Jack, it was the first time in months that his favorite person had taken him out, but instead of grooming and riding and having fun like we usually do, he had to stand still and get poked and prodded by a stranger, then locked in a stall, then taken out to stand still again. Jack isn't the smartest horse by miles, and that was a lot more than his little 6 year old brain could handle. He needs routine, he needs experience, he needs a program.

So, now I know that I've just got to suck it up and get it done or else I'm going to have a big, red problem on my hands. It doesn't matter if it makes me sad to work with Jack, because I'm not the only one in this equation. I only lost Spider that day, but Jack lost both of us.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Is This What Getting "Old" Feels Like?

I look at pictures from the last 15 years of my riding career, and I realize that most of the horses in them have died.

It's..... I don't know how to describe it.... Humbling?..... Reality Check?.... Mid-Life Crisis?

The horses of my youth were all good old soldiers, and I expected that I would outlive them. You ride old horses, Schoolmasters, when you're just starting out. After that, it changes. You start to ride younger horses. You train them, you bring them along, you outlive them.

I've been training horses long enough that now I'm outliving them. I am suddenly being confronted with the knowledge that the young horses I train today will be the old horses I will have to say goodbye to eventually.

Jack was always Spider's "replacement", and I find it difficult to work with him now because I'm not ready to replace Spider yet. In the back of my mind, I also know that I will outlive Jack, and I will have to deal with this pain again.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Coming Back

It's been a month since Spider died, and I still haven't ridden. I did drive a pony the other day, and that was fun... but it's not riding.

I kept trying to use my seat to stop and turn. It didn't work, which is why my passengers look terrified.

I think about riding, a lot, but then I can't find the motivation to actually pick up the tack. It's still too raw. 

I know myself, and I know Jack. He's young and he's green and he will make mistakes. There's nothing wrong with that, but in my current raw emotional state I will blame him and I will get angry that he's not Spider and that is wrong. I can't do that to him. So, I'm not riding yet. 

I've had so many falls, including breaking my back, and never hesitated to get back on and ride again. I always bounce back, nothing keeps me down. But somehow riding again after losing Spider is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. 

I suppose it will resolve itself. The kids are back in school, and I'll have less things competing for my attention. Eventually I'll have nothing better to do, so I'll go grab Jack and we'll go for a ride. And I'm going to have to ride Beau and Spots now that the kids are in school, to keep them tuned up. It's inevitable, really. Riding isn't a choice for me, it's life. 

And maybe that's why I still haven't gotten over Spider....

Monday, August 15, 2016

One Week

One week since he died. 

I made it through the day without sobbing or even any actual tears. Loads of almost tears, but more of a bittersweet feeling than actual heartbreak. 

The farm is so different without him. It's quieter. 

We called him "The Princess" for a reason. Everything was always about Spider, and if it wasn't all about Spider he would find a way to make it all about him. 

The farm is quieter, maybe because the spark has gone out. 

I suppose we need to ignite that spark again. I don't know if I'm up to that yet, but I get a little closer every day.  


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