Thursday, May 11, 2017

Girl Scouts and Ring Stewards

Last week was rather a blur, but I got to do two new things.

Thing One: My daughter is in Girls Scouts (Technically, she's a Brownie, but whatever), and there is a "Horse Badge" for her Troop. Evidently, my daughter is the only one in the Troop with easy access to horses and so I was chosen as Tribute to host the Horse Badge. Technically, my daughter was the one to lead the Troop in earning this badge, but she's nine, so I helped. A lot.

I took a picture of the requirements, because I'm scatterbrained professional like that.

Every once in awhile I get a bug up my butt to try going pro again. I was a pro years and years ago, training horses and running big farms, and I enjoyed it. But, eventually the people burned me out. Between the unrealistic expectations ("No, your 3 year old will not be doing PSG next year.") over-the top-demands ("No, I will not feed Princess 8 times a day and and change her sheets 5 times a day.") and just general insanity ("Are they having a fist fight over polo wraps?"), it was just tiring. Isolated as I am now on my own little farm, I occasionally forget how tedious I found dealing with the horsey set every day. Sometimes, I even miss it a little. Luckily, a group of giggling, shrieking nine year olds was just the cure for that.

They were actually fairly well behaved (particularly after they were shown my large and varied collection of whips). My daughter did a wonderful job explaining what the horses eat, their equipment and grooming items, etc..... and then it was time for me to bring out the sacrifice horse for the grooming demonstration.

I chose Beau, because he was really the only rational choice. Spots is the the perfect height, but I'm not sure how well he would tolerate the molestation that is a Girl Scout Troop learning to groom a horse. Jack would have absolutely loved it, but he's way too tall. They would only be able to groom his hocks and shoulders. So, Beau it was. This did not go over well with Jack.

"I volunteer as Tribute...."

At first Beau was a little... surprised. I don't think he'd ever been surrounded by that many children before. He took it in stride, though, and even enjoyed it once he realized he was just getting groomed. Afterwards, he gleamed like a model horse.

Honestly, I'm a little surprised he still had hair left afterwards.

Thing Two: I got to be a Ring Steward at a recognized show. This was fun! I'd never done it before, but I knew what the job entails and knew the USEF equipment rules already, so I was fairly prepared.  I met with the Technical Delegate before the show and got the final rundown on what I needed to do.

At a recognized show, the Ring Steward's main job is to make sure that the rider's equipment meet the USEF guidelines and that there is no blood on the horse. The Steward must examine 1/3 of the horses in each class. Since it was a smaller show, 1/3 of the class meant inspecting basically everyone and I was happy to do that since I wanted the experience!

As a competitor left the arena, I asked to check them. I put two fingers in the noseband, to be sure it wasn't too tight, then opened the horse's mouth and slid my fingers in to check the bit. Since I was wearing white latex gloves, this also checks for blood: any blood in the horse's mouth would end up on my glove. Then I looked at the rider's spurs to make sure they met the regulations and ran my hands down the horse's flank to check for blood. Finally, if the rider was carrying a whip, I measured it to make sure it was 120 cm (It's 100cm for ponies, but there weren't any ponies this day so it didn't come up).

Everybody passed my check, so I didn't get to find out what happens if you find something out of sorts. I suppose I can't really be disappointed at that, but it would have been interesting to know what the process is. I also learned a handy trick for telling the difference between a Dr. Bristol and a French Link: "A French woman has curves". I had asked the TD about it, because it can be hard to tell the difference between a French Link (legal) and a Dr. Bristol (illegal) even when you can see them, let alone when you're just shoving a gloved hand into the horse's mouth. So, you feel for curves and if you don't feel any you signal the TD who takes the rider and horse back to the trailer or stall and visually inspects it.

French Link on the top, Dr. Bristol on the bottom. Shamelessly borrowed from the University of Kentucky's 4H website.

I also learned that Spots should probably have a Pony Card, and that there isn't really a set way for the Ring Steward to determine whether a rider is on a pony or not without it. I was curious, because Spots will show at USEF recognized shows at some point, so I asked the TD what the procedure was for determining what was a pony and what wasn't for the whip rule. Her response: "Ponies have a Pony Card."  My response: "Uhhh... my pony doesn't have a Pony Card and he's a large pony, does that mean I can carry a 120cm whip?"  Her response: "Oh! You need to get him a Pony Card!" Point taken. Luckily, we can get him a Pony Card with the TD at the first recognized show he goes to, as long as it's before his class.

And now we're both caught up on last week. Seriously, it took this long for me to process all that.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Diagnosis: My Give A Damn Is Broken

Well, two months and $3K later, I now know that I don't have lupus, Lyme, RA, or a host of other diseases. My thyroid is failing, but it hasn't failed yet, so they won't start treating it until it actually craps out.

At first I was a little upset. I saw a bunch of different doctors, I spent a ton of money (I have crappy insurance), and it turns out that it's all the damn IBD that we can't seem to get under control.  I've been battling Crohn's for over a decade, and I'm tired of this fight. As silly as it sounds, I wanted something new to attack.  But, no: it's the same shit, different day.

I am glad that I don't have any of the other diseases they tested me for, don't get me wrong. And now that I've had time to contemplate it, I think I'm just going to stop giving a damn about it. I know I've said it before, but I really have to accept that this is my normal and this is as good as it gets.

That's a tough concept for a Dressage Queen, we really aren't wired that way. The fundamental tenant of our sport is that you never stop working on getting better, moving up the levels, fixing everything, making everything perfect all the time....

So, what does a Dressage Queen do in this situation?

For starters, I asked my trainer if I could go to his barn and take lessons on his trained horses. I'm still  going to ride my own horses, but they're really still kind of green because I train them myself and I've felt like total shit for years, and I feel like I'm not getting a lot out of that. I want a challenge. I want to see if I can still ride a horse I didn't train myself. I want to make sure I haven't completely lost my mojo as far as dressage riding and training goes.

I also think I'm going to learn how to jump. Call it my "mid-life crisis", but it's something I never learned to do and I feel like it's a hole in my education. I've got a friend who teaches jumping, and she'll be totally cool with me having a large glass of wine before my lesson (because I'll need it!). Also, if I can get decent at jumping, I'll totally clean up on the dressage portion of eventing! So, while I may never be an FEI level dressage rider, but I can totally be a mediocre eventer who is great at the dressage part. And, seriously, it's way more badass to be mediocre at three sports than it is to be super good at one.

Lastly, I think I'm just going to stop giving a damn. I've spent too much time and energy trying to fix something that probably can't be fixed. It's time to go balls to the wall and live the life I've got.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


After 4 different injections, my back is feeling pretty good. Now I'm just tired and cranky. I'm not sure if that's from the steroids, or if I'm always tired and just don't notice it because I'm usually always in pain. Pain does give you a nice little endorphin rush, now that it's gone all that's left is a bone-crushing weariness.

I saw a new rheumatologist last week. He poked at me a bit and then removed 9 tubes of my blood, which left me feeling even crappier for about two days. I was rather attached to that blood, apparently. I'm being tested for: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren's Syndrome, Hepatitis A, B and C, Lyme Disease, thyroid problems, kidney problems, and Lupus.

I suspect the doctors may just be throwing darts and hoping one sticks to me at this point.

But that's enough about me, let's talk about The Great Red Menace. (AKA:  Giant Baby Giraffe, Shmoo, Stuart The Man Child,  Stupid Baby, and many other less family-friendly nicknames)

Occasionally called "Jack".

Since I feel like utter crap, I'm not riding Jack very much. Instead, I'm focusing on ground work. Jack is actually quite well-behaved under saddle, it's in all other aspects of his training that he fails spectacularly. He has very little understanding of the size of his own body and the concept of "personal space".  He also has zero concept of how to lunge, in spite of multiple people's efforts to teach him. So, we're working on that.

Why are we working on that? That's a question I've gotten a few times from people that I've told about Jack in real life. The answer is two part:

Part The First: I'm tired and I don't feel like saddling and then climbing aboard a 17+ hand nincompoop that requires all my strength to keep from turning into a wet noodle. Not that there's anything wrong with wet noodles, but we're going for dressage here, not Western Pleasure.

Part The Second: I find work on the lunge line, long lines, and in hand to be great for correcting Wet Noodleness without me having to expend as much energy. But, first the horse must respect personal space and lunge like a non-feral creature. So.....

Step One: Get Jack to stop being feral on the lunge line.

And that, my friends, is a work in progress.....

(Heh. Get it? Hehe.)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Finding Fun

My daughter is getting better and more confidant in her riding by leaps and bounds. She's almost 9, and finally physically ready to tackle the finer points of horsemanship. I teach her what I can, but I'm not really good with beginners. She also expressed an interest in jumping, a skill I never learned, so I decided to haul her over to a friend so she could learn to jump.

My friend has an army of school ponies at her Hunter training barn, all of them veterans of teaching squealing little girls the finer arts of patience, stubbornness, and pulling a pony's head up out of the grass. It was an eye opening experience for my daughter. Up to this point in her life, she had only ever ridden my trained dressage horses and her pony that I train for her twice a week. She had never experienced the humiliation of coasting aimlessly around an arena on a been-there-done-that lesson pony who is not interested in your subtle dressage cues. Not gonna lie, I may have laughed at her. But, it was totally in an understanding way.... hey, I've been there!

After a few lessons she got the hang of it, and is starting to learn how to convince a disinterested lesson pony to pay attention. It's a "must-have" experience for anyone who wants to learn to ride and train horses well.

I was talking to my own trainer about it, and sharing a laugh about mutual experiences getting drug off into the weeds by surly lesson ponies, when he made a very good point. "You just have to make sure it's fun. Don't worry about the frame and the position right now, that will come with experience. She has to have fun."

One of the things I struggle with the most in teaching her myself is that I don't really know what 9 year olds are capable of in terms of horsemanship. I look at the pony and think, "Dammit, the reins are too long and he's not on the bit. She's got her hands all over the place and he's moving at half the speed of snails. Gotta fix that." Then I tell her to fix it and it devolves into a shouting match between us and nobody is having fun anymore.

Watching my friend teach her, I realize that much of what I expect from her she just isn't capable of yet. It will come with time and experience. And the only way for her to gain experience is for me to step back and let her have it. So for now, I sit on the mounting block outside the arena and let her meander and figure things out for herself. When she has a question, she asks it. Nobody yells, everybody has fun.

My eyelid only twitches a little when his head is in the air.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Athleticism, Or Something

Jack often reminds me of Stuart from MadTV. Remember Stuart?

I'm dating myself, here.

Stuart was a character who was supposed to be a little boy, and was constantly looking for attention and getting into trouble. His catchphrase was "Look what I can do", then he'd do something completely bizarre. That's Jack to a "T".

"Look what I can do."

What Jack lacks in grace and control, he more than makes up for in sheer enthusiasm.

What do you even call this?

If only his pasture mates wanted to play as much as he does.

"Hey, Guys! Look at me!!!" Guys! Guys! YOU'RE NOT LOOKING!!"

Someday I'm sure we'll be able to channel all this energy into some lovely dressage work.

Straightness: 0
In other news, I do not need new hips. YAY!

I saw an Ortho who looked at my films and said, direct quote, "I wouldn't send my dog to that idiot."  I do have arthritis in my hips, but it's not inappropriate for my age and activity level. This Ortho is familiar with horse people and how we abuse use our bodies, so I trust his judgement. I gotta say, he impressed the hell out of me when he told me that his only goal is to keep me riding for as long as I want. That is not something any other doc has ever said to me, most say "You need to stop riding", others just sort of ignore it. This guy actually wants to enable my addiction!

His diagnosis for my hips, after reading through my (extensive) chart, looking at all my films and examining me, is that I probably have trochanteric bursitis, an inflammation of the bursa on the outside point of the hip.

Treatment, for me, is stretching exercises and corticosteroid injections. If I could take NSAIDS, that would be the better treatment, but I can't. He believes it was caused by a dastardly combination of my use and abuse, my lumbar scoliosis, and having an inflammatory disease (IBD). He also believes that the problem with my sacroiliac joint is that it's "rebelling" against the stress being placed on it by everything else that's screwed up in my lower back.

So, there we have it. It took a team of specialists, enough diagnostic imaging to make me glow in the dark, and one visit to a raging quack, but I think I finally have a pretty good handle on what's going on with my back and how to treat it. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017


So, in my hiatus from blogging I noticed that a few things have changed. I no longer have a reading list on Blogger, which is annoying because now I'm going to have to track everyone's blog down individually. I also no longer have a Blogger app for my iPhone (they switched the app to Android only, because Google). How annoying.  I may have to switch platforms, except I'm super lazy and probably won't do that. How does everyone else keep up with blogs?

In other news, Jack either ran into something or was bitten by one of his "friends" (with Jack, there's no telling) so I guess I have to wait for the swelling to go down before I do anything with him. I mean, I suppose I could still ride him or something, but it's cold and windy today so I'll just let him heal while I screw around on the internet and drink wine do important blog research.

Looks painful, better let that rest.

These posts don't write themselves, after all.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Getting Back To Good

It took six months, but I'm finally in a place where I'm enjoying riding and working with horses again.

I wish I could say there was a blazing epiphany involved, where the heavens opened and trumpets blared as I realized my true calling in life, but it was really just sort of a non-event. I never stopped working with horses after Spider died, because my horses live on my property and either I handle and train them or they turn into a feral menace to society that neither my farrier nor my vet will appreciate, but I definitely lost the "spark" for awhile. I was just going through the motions. Then, one day, I woke up and was actually interested in going out and riding. After awhile I realized I was even looking forward to it. I found myself really engaging with the horses again, enjoying their antics, wanting to spend more time with them, not getting as frustrated with Jack being Jack or my kids' endless requests to ride and groom their horses. I still tear up at least once a week over my Spider, but now it's more about happy memories and less about my loss.

We had a lot of fun together.

Of course, once I actually get interested in riding again, the weird weather and my health problems have conspired to keep me from riding as much as I like. January and February are always bad months for my IBD. I don't know if it's a lack of sunlight, poor diet over the holidays, being more sedentary in the cold weather, or a dastardly combination of all three, but I always get an IBD flare this time of year. So, they play with my meds and try to get things back under control while I stew.

The last time I went to the gastroenterologist, he recommended I see a rheumatologist for my various odd aches, pains and swellings. So, I randomly chose one of the two rheumatologists in my area, and off I went. Turns out my random choice was a poor one.

I sat in the waiting room for two hours before I was seen. First Red Flag. Then, when I get into the exam room, the first thing the guy says is, "You seem awfully young for lower back problems. Do you have some form of IBD?" Seriously? I told them this was why I made the appointment when I made it, I filled out five pages of history that clearly listed that I have a diagnosis of IBD, was referred by a gastroenterologist, and listed four medications that are prescribed for IBD. So, I pointed to my chart that he had casually tossed onto the counter and asked him, "Did you read that?". The smarmy bastard says, "No. I'm talking to you now. I want you to tell me what's going on." Second Red Flag. At one point during the exam, I tell him I've had SI injections and they helped, he responds: "You've never had SI injections. I'm the only doctor in the tri-state area who can do SI joint injections". Third Red Flag. At this point I'm done, but the twit wants to do x-rays and he's got an in-house x-ray. Fine. Take your damn x-rays. He reads the x-rays, and tells me my hips are shot and I'm going to need double hip replacements soon. Naturally, I'm a little skeptical. He takes this as a personal affront. Fourth Red Flag.

I am getting a second, third and fourth opinion. The first thing I did was go see my physiatrist, who examined me, sent me for new x-rays and referred me to an orthopedist who specializes in hips. I also made an appointment with the other rheumatologist in my area. I'd like to believe this guy was just talking shit, but he doesn't do hip replacements, so what's his motivation? I will say that even if he's right, I won't ever go back to that smarmy shitweasel because his attitude sucked.

In the meantime, I'll keep on keeping on. I feel motivated again, and I'm excited to be getting back into the swing of things. No sketchy diagnosis is going to keep me down.


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