Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Take That, Mr. Groundhog!

After my rather depressing post on Monday, I needed to get back to my "happy place", which of course is almost always with my horse. Are you ready for some good news? Here it is...

I have it on VERY good authority that spring is on the way! No, I did not hear it from any rodent meteorologist wannabe. Please. My source is infinitely more reliable; he has accurately forecasted the onset of spring every year since I had the pleasure of making his acquaintance. I am hesitant to even reveal his identity as he is a bit of a private being, and the media frenzy that would no doubt result once the world discovered a prognosticator who could actually prognosticate might just be too much for him.

Who is this visionary, this oracle, this meteorological genius? Why, Legs of course. And he is officially shedding. OK, maybe not in great billowing handfuls of fur yet, but there was decidedly more hair in the ol' curry comb yesterday.

Plus, the vet is coming out today to give spring shots and float teeth. We call them "spring" shots for a reason. Who would give spring shots in the middle of winter? That just does not make sense! No, the season of vernal warmth has to be on its way - and soon.

I have to believe this is true. Because I'm cold, and I'm sick of being cold. I'm sick of needing a flashlight to walk the dogs at 6:30 PM. I'm sick of my winter clothes. And my barn jacket is getting pretty ripe. And if I knit Chef one more beanie this year he will probably divorce me.

I need to be outside more! I need sun and warmth! More than that, I need hope that these things will soon be possible! Thank you, dear prophet Legs, for providing me with this.

I will now return to ignoring the snowflakes blowing outside my window.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Irrational Fears of a Horse Owner

NOTE: Apologies in advance for this post. I will try to post something happier tomorrow.

Does anyone remember The Sunscreen Song? It got some airtime in spring of 1999, and is actually an article by Chicago Tribune staff writer Mary Schmich set to music. Even if you do not remember the song you probably remember the internet hoax that went around in the mid-90's attributing this article to Kurt Vonnegut, who allegedly gave it as a commencement speech to MIT's graduating class of 1997.

Now that we have cleared that up, let me explain why I brought it up in the first place. One line from that article has always resonated with me:

"The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4PM on some idle Tuesday."

Or 8 AM on a Sunday in my case.

Every horse owner has suffered a bout of the "what ifs" from time to time. There is just SO MUCH that can (and does) happen to horses. A horse owner can drive him or herself crazy worrying about the multitude of things that could possibly happen. Just last week, V told me how Zachary the mini-donkey's breeder had been horrified that we were going to stall him at night.

Her statement: "But, don't you worry about a barn fire?"

Yes, Zachary's Breeder, we do. And we worry about lightning strikes when they are out in the pasture. And the coyotes that frequent our river valley. And alien abductions/mutilations. Colic, strangles, West Nile, sinkholes, speeding drunk drivers careening into the field/barn. All of these scenarios have crossed our minds at one point or another.

And yet as Ms. Schmich so eloquantly states, it is seldom those lie-awake-at-night worries that actually end up happening. But back to 8 AM yesterday.

Chef had left for work and I was trying to get some coffee going (I am no good without coffee). The phone rings just a few minutes later. It's Chef.

Chef: "Have you talked to V this morning?"

Me: "Hmmmfffth."

Chef: "I just passed the barn. They have G___ B___ Rd. shut off and there are cops everywhere. Looks like animal control too. And there is a helicoper hovering over the river."


Chef: "I don't know. I was watching the helicopter, didn't notice the barn...."

Me: (pulling on pants, phone pressed to shoulder, kicking dogs out of the way) "M&#$% F&%$ GD...what do you mean you didn't notice the barn???...I'm on my way!"

Chef: "Wait..."


I'll admit, I don't really know what I was thinking at this point (remember, I had not had any coffee yet), but the words "cops" and "animal control" were flying through my brain. It's possible I've just watched too many rescues on Animal Cops.

I won't keep you in suspense any longer. I got to the barn. V was there, and the horses were fine - munching their hay and occasionally looking up at the helicopter, which was in fact hovering over the tree farm adjacent to our pasture (they really are a pretty laid-back bunch). The "animal control" vans that Chef thought he saw were actually K9 units. V filled me in - they were searching for a missing person (16 year old boy) whose last contact had been with his family late the night before, and they believed the call had come from this area.

Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. I will spare you the details, but in case you are curious you can click HERE.

My heart and prayers go out to the family of this young man. Right now the police and FBI do not know anything. Which gives a whole new area of things-I-did-not-know-I-should-worry-about.

And it proves Ms. Schmich was right - get some sleep when you can, because you never really know what is going to cause the next sleepless night.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Valentine's Story

Valentine's Day is a lonely day for the wife of a chef, especially if said day falls on a weekend. Chef left the house early this morning to get ready for a busy brunch as well as a booked dinner service, and I don't expect to see him anytime soon. Still, as I have pointed out before, his long days and crazy hours allows me plenty of time to spend with my other love - Legs. So it's not a complete loss.

With the snow blowing like crazy outside, it was a perfect day for some "beauty parlor". Cozy in the barn, Legs enjoyed his hay net and I zoned out, remembering another Valentine's Day so many years ago.

I think I was about 10 or 11 and in my early years of the Medium Pony Division with Daisy. Mom was working at a stable whose trainer was a young, charismatic guy that I'll call Brett. There were several other pony kids at this stable and together we had quite the little gang going on.

My best friend of all was a boy who I'll call Andy. To quote a famous movie, "we was like peas and carrots." Andy and I shared absolutely everything including a love of our ponies (who HAD to be stabled next to each other), cheese nachos, and practical jokes. Though all in fun, occasionally our shenanigans would get out of hand, as they did on this particular Valentine's weekend.

We were at a show; it was cold and rainy and things were running slowly...not a good situation for a couple of troublemakers like Andy and I. We tried to occupy ourselves by building a course in the barn aisle out of buckets and broomsticks, but after Brett tripped over one of our structures and just about broke his ankle, we were chased from the barn with the promise that we would not see our stirrups for a very long time.

Deflated but not defeated, Andy and I wandered off toward the concession stand plotting various forms of revenge on the evil Brett. After a brief consult over a plate of nachos, the perfect plot was formed.

I should tell you a few details about Brett here. As I mentioned, he was young. He was also good looking and more than a little vain: always dressed to the nines, not a hair out of place, and never more than a week past a good manicure. He also had recently purchased a shiny new black BMW of which he was immensely proud.

Andy's older sister was a high school cheerleader; his mom therefore had a supply of window soap in their suburban for use in the pep rally parades. New Beamer + window soap + a couple of bored peas and carrots with revenge on the brain = nothing good.

In all honesty, we really did not expect Brett to be as angry as he did. We knew that we had gone to far, but at the time did not really understand why. It was just soap. A few hearts, a little holiday well wishing...good clean fun. What's wrong with that?

OK, maybe we could have been a bit more careful. Perhaps we got a bit on the paint job. Maybe we should not have been quite so thorough with the coverage. And maybe, just maybe, we should have asked someone how to spell Valentine.

Many years later it occurred to me just why Brett got so upset when, at the end of a long day, he was forced to drive home in a brand new black BMW with "Happy VD" written in large letters across the back window.

And no, Andy and I did not see our stirrups for a very, very long time.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

♪ ♪ Very Superstitious...♪ ♪...Writing's On The Wallll♪ ♪

I love Stevie Wonder. My favorite quote is by him:

"Ya gots to work with what ya gots to work with."

Some people give me a hard time about it, but when you consider the source it is very inspiring.

Anyhoo...I don't really want to talk about music or inspiration today. I want to talk about superstitions. Specifically, horsey superstitions. I tried to engage my Facebook peeps to share theirs, but got very little response. Which really proves one thing - not only are all those peeps weird, they are liars too! (OK OK...that was harsh. I only posted the request once and I suppose it is possible that not everyone immediately looks for my status updates as soon as they sign on. What an ego blow.)

We all have them. Those weird little beliefs, old-wives'-tales, etc., not to mention the habits and traditions we all have to ensure good luck. Or at least ward off bad luck. Face it, if you have a barn you have at least one horse shoe hung up somewhere - open end up as pictured above so the "luck won't run out." You do. I know you do. Liar.

Natalie over at the Retired Racehorse blog (a must read for anyone in the process of or thinking about re schooling an OTTB, and a darn interesting read for everyone else) did share one that pretty much every horse person I have met believes in strongly: one does not, under any circumstance, change a horse's name. Sure, nicknames or "barn names" may change, but these are really no more than terms of endearment. To actually change a horse's name...well, I don't have any proof of the repercussions of that because I have never heard of it being done.

Funny side story: Mom had a boarder once whose horse was named Double Precision, a wonderful, dark bay warmblood. He was called D.P. in the barn. One of the workers there had a rather thick accent, and somehow the very elegant D.P. became "Dippy". He did not seem to mind, but we had to watch ourselves around his very particular owner.

Once again, I digress. I had a ton of these little habits when I was riding competitively and, because I have chosen this forum to share my weirdness with the world, I will continue to do so now.

  1. Nylons would not get changed if luck was good. My usual competitive attire (for the lower half anyway) consisted of socks, breeches, nylons, boots. If I was winning, the nylons did not get changed or washed, no matter how ratty and ineffectual they became. Lucky for me my luck seldom held too long.

  2. Headstand to turn luck around. If I was having a hard time on a particular horse, I would do a headstand in his/her stall (not while it was occupied of course) in order to turn the tables. Pretty sure that one worked. Or else the resulting head rush just rendered me to loopy to worry about our problems. Whatever.

  3. Horse chestnuts in pocket. I think I got this one from The Black Stallion (didn't Henry carry horse chestnuts in his pocket for luck?). Wherever I got it from, once I heard of it I never went into the ring without them.

  4. The "Lucky Braid". When I rode hunters, I always wanted a Lucky Braid on them. I.e. one braid in a slightly different color than the rest of the mane. Since I did a lot of braiding myself, this was pretty easy. Or, I would just undo one and redo it.

  5. Do NOT wish anyone "good luck". Theatre people have this one too, which is where the term "break a leg" comes from. A generic "Luck" or "Have a Good Time" will do just fine. To wish someone "Good Luck" is a jinx. If anyone has the audacity to wish you good luck: jump off the horse, cross yourself, and spin around 3 times. That should take care of it.

I could go on an on, but I will spare you for now. What got me thinking on this track is Legs and his history of getting sick/hurt when I am 1,000 miles away. Chef and I are back from our trip out west now. I did not post much while we are gone for one very important reason: Legs KNOWS when I am not around, and V and I truly believe that he will deliberately hurt himself because he misses me. Three years ago, while Chef and I were on the same trip, he got kicked in the stifle. Two years ago, he colicked (mild, thank God!). And last year he managed to get a puncture wound in the knee of all places - missed his joint sac by millimeters. V and I walked that pasture for hours and never did figure out how he did it.

Needless to say, when I am planning a trip - even for just a day or two - V and I are very careful not to let Legs know. I do not talk about it. I should not even write about it. I really really thought hard about posting that one while we were gone. But it was the last day of our trip, so I thought we would be OK.

It happened on Monday, the day we were travelling home. The horses had been cooped up a lot due to the weather - just going out in the little paddock. So I guess the freedom was too much for them to handle and they had a "Great Tear Around" the pasture. Ordinarily, I like it when Legs does not act his age (21); it means he feels really really good. But, he can and does get carried away.

We got in really late Monday night, but I ran down to the barn early on Tuesday and was greeted to - swollen right hind!! He was putting full weight on it, no heat, no visible injury, but still...yuk. And worry.

Wrapped it up, a little bute. He's much better now. Wait...I did not say that...(crossing myself and spinning....)


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Intimidation...Or, Karma Comes Knocking

Sorry once again for the posting pause...consistency has never been one of my strong points. Chef and I got a little tired of snow and ice in NC, so we decided to get out of town. Where do a couple of weirdos head when they are tired of shoveling snow? Why, Utah of course!

When we relocated to the mountains several years ago, Chef and I found ourselves faced with a novel concept: an "off season". That is, for 3 or 4 months out of the year, our respective jobs are pretty low key. We needed a winter hobby, and decided to take up snowboarding. Both of us had skied as kids (Chef was on his high school ski team), but snowboarding presented a whole new set of challenges. We both truly believe that if you do not continue to learn, you stagnate, and that is what brings on old age.

Chef and I began frequenting a great little resort just an hour from our house; we've really learned a lot there and enjoy getting out once or twice a week. Its a great release and keeps us active in the cold winter months. But now that we have a few years of boarding under our belts, its nice to head west once in a while to really continue the challenge. And it is with that in mind that I write today's post.

There are a lot of similarities between riding a horse a riding a snowboard; the fact that both acts are referred to as "riding" tickles me. Here are a few others I have noticed;

Balance is key, and one of the hardest basics to master. Just like riding a horse, staying on a snowboard (upright) requires keeping your feet square under you and maintaining your center of gravity on a moving object. Much easier said than done.

Always look ahead. We've all heard "eyes up, heels down," and while heels do come into play on a board (steering purposes), keeping those eyes ahead of you - forward and truly ahead of where you are going - is the only way to get where you want to go. Looking down = falling down, or at the very least ending up somewhere you did not intend to be.

Expensive equipment does not a good rider make. Don't get me wrong. I do strongly believe that quality equipment is necessary to success in any sport a person really wants to take seriously. Quality equipment does also tend to hold up better under hard use and is therefore a better investment in the long run. Still, the best equipment in the world will not make you better if you do not spend time using it.

Investing in lessons is great, but investing in time is priceless. Regular lessons with a good instructor will help you push yourself to improve. However, if your time in any activity is limited to only lessons (unless you are fortunate enough to take them every single day), your rate of improvement will suffer.

Learning to snowboard has given me a perspective that would have come in handy years ago (ain't that always the way with perspective??). Back when I was teaching lessons, I was often flummoxed by my students who struggled with skills that I just took for granted. That and their occasional fear performing exercises that I could do in my sleep. I distinctly remember one lady gripping the mane of her horse, literally white-knuckled, legs locked, body stiff, and that wide-eyed look of sheer terror obvious across the arena, all while just trying to hold a two-point. (I have to say it - this lady was in a $2,300 saddle she had bought on a whim after just two lessons.)

It was perhaps my greatest flaw as an instructor. Because I had been riding - and riding a lot - my entire life, I just did not understand how my students could not "get it". I am a good rider; I am by no means a great rider. But what I lack in skill I make up for in confidence. Confidence that comes from many, many hours in the saddle. I am truly more comfortable on a horse than I am on the ground. This lack of perspective and understanding did not serve me well; it is one of the reasons I ultimately quit teaching, and I doubt the world is a lesser place because of it.

It is only by placing myself in a situation where I am learning and developing new skills myself that I can understand what my students were going through. Here in Utah, surrounded by locals who have literally grown up on a mountain, I really get it. I watch them in awe as they tackle slopes that scare the hell out of me. I see them effortlessly performing maneuvers that I struggle with. Sometimes it frustrates me. Then I realize that they are simply doing on skies and snowboards what I can do on a horse, and I get a sense of peace from that.

Someday, many years from now, that will be me out there - as comfortable on the mountain as I am on a horse. I hope. If I could turn back time - to know then what I know now - perhaps I would have been a better instructor. For the time being, at least I have learned and grown some as a person.