Friday, May 28, 2010

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.....

Well, I had another follow up visit with my surgeon yesterday. I am doing really well. However, he doesn't recommend getting back on Gem for at least another two weeks and when I do, I have to get someone to saddle and unsaddle him for me. I will not be able to lift his 75 lbs. saddle (OK, it's only 35 lbs.!) for another few weeks. :-( I hate feeling "helpless" and asking for assistance, but I guess I am going to have to suck it up if I want to get back on Gem sooner rather than later.

Jean rode Gem in lesson last week. I was unable to watch the lesson but Jean told me they both really got a work out. She had to really work at getting him to lope, but once he realized that he was going to have to work, he started listening to her cues. However, he kept picking up the wrong lead - unusual for him as he almost always picks up the right lead. He's a smart horse, so my conclusion is that Jean was sending the wrong cue. Obviously, there were a lot of starts and stops. They were both puffing at the end of the lesson. Jean admitted to being quite sore the next couple of days.

Jean also rode him last Saturday and I did get an opportunity to watch that session. I must admit that initially when I see her riding him, I get a little jealous. But after I got over myself, I really started to watch what Jean was doing. STA joined me watching my beautiful boy and we both said at the same time "wrong lead" as Jean transitioned to a lope. She tried again and again. I noticed that Gem's nose was bent outside (those lateral moves again!) and he was not bending around her inside leg. STA agreed. I mentioned it to Jean afterwards over a cold alcoholic beverage. As we were enjoying our drink, she actually got a little misty-eyed when she realized that she may only have another couple of lessons on Gem. She has grown quite fond of him and has really enjoyed the challenge of riding him - push button school horse, he is not!

My non-horsey friend has continued to help me groom Gem. As a matter of fact, she helped me give him a bath last weekend. He was stellar. I still believe that he understands that I am not 100%. He has been so kind lately. My friend is getting the impression that Gem is such a gentleman! She has not had an opportunity to see him push boundaries. :-) My friend walked him in the front paddock to dry him off. With the warm weather we have been having, it didn't take long.

He certainly has not being neglected over the last few weeks. Jean is riding him and so is LA.... my friend and I get to baby him. :-) I have had no guilt over not being at the stables 3 times a week and knowing that he is being taken care of has helped me concentrate on recovery.

I really, really miss riding. I may not have been exercising myself in the saddle over the last few weeks, but I certainly have been exercising my "riding" mind through reading. But, when I think about getting back in the saddle, my heart races with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Boy, when I do, I hope it's like riding a bike - it all comes back to you!

What was I thinking.....?

Friday, May 14, 2010


When you have time on your hands, you think. Sometimes that's a good thing, and sometimes it's bad. It's bad for my husband because I have come up with quite a long to-do list. :-)

Obviously, I have been thinking about Gem. LA has been riding him once a week while I recover. I am actually grateful that she is "training" him while I am unable to ride. Initially, I thought she would be working on his loping cue or just giving him a really good workout. But, she informed me last week that she has been working on his lateral movements. Crap, and here I thought that she would be making it easy for me to lope him by the time I was able to ride again! Hmm, what's the big deal with lateral movements any way? Why does LA always try to get me to correct Gem when he bends inside? How can bending be so important?? I decided to investigate.

After doing a little reading, I now understand why LA gets on our case at lesson when Gem bends the wrong way!! Although LA would try to explain, I didn't really appreciate how important these movements are to having balance and suppleness. From what I understand, lateral movements encourage better responsiveness to riding aids and more efficient movement of the horse's legs to improve impulsion and, of course, balance. Now, for a newbie like myself, I don't fully understand the concept or advantages yet. Heck, I am just at the point where I feel comfortable in the saddle! However, having personally experienced back and neck pain, I can understand how improving your suppleness and moving or bending your body the right way can have a positive impact on your well-being (I am looking forward to more suppleness soon!). I suspect that learning lateral movements properly would have the same positive result for Gem.

Another positive outcome from learning lateral movements is muscle tone. Hmmm, muscle tone....not something that I am intimately familiar with. :-) You may remember that when Gem first came into my life a year ago, he was "over-conditioned"; he was not being ridden regularly and was kept in his own paddock. He was round. Over the last year, he has dropped weight - his food has not been reduced, but he is being ridden 2-3 times a week and now has pasture buddies to run around with. As his winter coat started to shed out, I could see how much he had slimmed down. LA did a show-and-tell for me and pointed out on Gem's body why he is at a good weight now and not to be concerned that I could now feel his ribs. What she did say, however, was that now that he has lost the fat, he needs to build muscle. Gem had his annual examination a couple of weeks ago and my vet agrees with LA.

I have been replaying past lessons in my mind, where Gem was having a particularly bad go of bending correctly; either he sticks his rib cage inside or he swings his back end out of the bend. Was it because he played too hard that day and was stiff? Was he being lazy or is he just not that supple yet? Was he rusty on the concept? Perhaps it is all of the above plus the fact that I am not asking correctly. I can sense that Gem knows what he supposed to do and there are times when he is spot on and the ride is amazing. But more often then not, this isn't the case.

So I have been thinking a lot about when I get back in the saddle (again with the thinking!). It will take me some time to get re-acquainted and I am prepared for not really getting back up to speed until late summer at least. As I thought more about this, I realized that Gem would be starting all over again, too. Now that I know more about lateral movements, loping is secondary to me - what I really want is for Gem to be supple and balanced and building muscle. In fact, lateral movements is sort of like learning to ballroom dance, don't you think? There's rhythm, you have to have flexibility and balance, be able to communicate through subtle touch and you have to trust your partner. I really want Gem and I to be able to dance together.

I spoke to LA and she has agreed to continuing riding him once a week over the summer so that he continues to learn his laterals and gets a proper work out. It was a hard realization for me to admit to myself that I am not experienced enough or physically able and that I need additional help. But, as I learn and get into better shape, so will Gem. Win, win. Tango, anyone?

What was I thinking....?

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Magician

I went for my first follow up after surgery and it was confirmed that I will not be able to get back in the saddle for at least 5-6 weeks. :-(

Jean rode Gem last week for lesson. Although she rode him in Drill last year, riding him in a lesson is completely different. Riding in Drill was mostly follow the leader; lesson is not. She told me he was a gentleman, but asking him to lope or trying to work on his lateral movements was a chore. She admitted to being sore the next day and now has a much better appreciation of what I go through each week. :-) I was actually pleased to hear that she had problems with him responding - it means that it isn't just me!!

I went out to the stables for the first time in 10 days this past weekend. A non-horsey girlfriend volunteered to take me out and help me groom Gem. I could barely contain my excitement when I saw him in the front paddock. However, I almost didn't recognize him - he was absolutely covered in dried mud. I called him - he looked at me but didn't respond. :-( My friend and I went into the barn and retrieved all of my grooming supplies and set up shop at the back of the barn next to his stall. We then went out to get him. He was waiting at the gate! Come on! What took you so long!

I think he knew that I was in a fragile condition. Was it the cautious way I was holding myself? Was it the medicinal smell? Did I look weak? He allowed me to put his halter on without incident (he sometimes chews the halter when I am trying to put in on, or he will playfully try to pull it out of my hands and shake it). He quietly walked out of the paddock; he did not try to eat the grass, he just slowly walked behind me.

My girlfriend, who had never spent more than 1/2 hour around horses at a distance let alone groom a horse, was diligent at removing the caked on mud. She accepted her mission with energy and determination, a look of deep concentration on her face. She went over Gem's body twice top to bottom with 3 different brushes. I worked on his mane and tail, washed his face and cleaned his ears. Then we did his feet. Occasionally, he would very gently mouth my clothing and then look at me. I am glad you are here. It seemed the pain from my surgery was somehow mysteriously reduced.

I cannot tell you how much dust was coming off Gem. Clouds and clouds of it. Sneezing and coughing were part of the grooming experience. Gem was polite and relaxed. It was interesting to watch my friend as she groomed Gem. I could see her start to relax, her face softened, her brushing technique softened. She could sense that Gem was enjoying the attention; she started to quietly talk to him. She occasionally stopped brushing him and allowed her hands to travel around his back and neck, feeling his strength. Right in front of me was an example of how horses possess the magic to make us relax and breathe.

We groomed him for over an hour and our efforts paid off. In spite of the fact that he is still shedding, he looked pretty darn good. We were dirty and had Gem's hair clinging to just about every part of our clothing. When we put him in his stall, I started to have separation anxiety.

I was physically drained when we were finished. Perhaps I overdid it. But, I felt wonderful! As my friend and I pulled out of the lane, she said to me "Do you want me to pick you up and help you groom next Sunday?" "What? Really?" "Absolutely! I can't explain it, but I really, really enjoyed it."

Yep, magic. :-)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fence War

I love my bed. I didn't realize how much I loved it until I returned from the hospital last week. My 1000 count sheets, feather pillows and feather comforter....nice cool breeze on my face.....birds chirping.....yep, I love my bed.

The first few days home, I was confined to bed. I had filled my pain medication prescription, but I only took it the first night so I could sleep. I haven't taken anything since. I know this is going to sound weird, but I actually like to know how much pain I am in so I know if I am recovering. Weird, eh? I can tell you that I am recovering nicely. :-)

I am not the type to lie in bed, but this time I had to; I could not get out of bed without the assistance of my husband. The first day home, I lay there dozing in and out of wonderful, blissful sleep. The second day I was a little more aware of what was going on around me. When you work all day, you have no idea what really goes on in your neighbourhood between 9:00-5:00 p.m. Having to lie in bed and actually "listen" to my neighbourhood was educational.

The highlight of my education was Pep and Lil, a male and female spaniel. They are gorgeous dogs. They are well cared for - their coats glisten. Unfortunately, Pep, the male, is not fixed. So, if my three dogs are outside, Pep has the need to show his dominance by hysterically barking at the fence, trying to inflict has much viciousness as he can through the 1 inch gaps between the boards. This is not new. The Fence War has been going on since my neighbours moved in 3 years ago. However, Lil recently joined the family and follows Pep's lead. We now have two hysterical adult dogs at the fence. My guys respond by puffing themselves at the fence and a barking/growling throw down ensues. It's awful.

My dogs are pretty good at responding to "enough!". Pep and Lil aren't. Well, actually I don't know because our neighbours never try to calm their dogs down. Although one or the other adult is home during the day, they are completely oblivious to the Fence War. On top of the barking, Lil has taken to gnawing and pulling on the fence boards (it's our fence, for cripes sakes!) in an attempt to tear down a board or make a hole big enough where her brother can come over into our yard and REALLY show everyone who's boss.

I didn't realize how bad the Fence War was until I had to stay in bed and listen to this madness every time my husband put our dogs out for a bio break. Good bye cool breeze on my face. Good bye birds singing. I feel bad for Pep and Lil. Their human parents should be taking more of an interest in their well-being and setting acceptable guidelines. Pep is just doing his job and his job never seems to be done. He has never been told when to quit and relax. My husband and I always take it upon ourselves to call our dogs in so that Pep calms down. It sucks, but because we don't want the whole neighbourhood to suffer with the noise, we do what's quick and easy. Yes, we are enabling our neighbour's inconsiderate behaviour.

My husband set up the patio furniture this past weekend so I could sit outside while I recover. I have been avoiding taking advantage of the nice weather because of having to leave my dogs inside. No longer! I will not be a prisoner in my own home! It's a sunny day today and I intend on sitting out on the deck with my dogs beside me. Yes, Pep and Lil will be going berserk and my fence will no doubt take a horrific beating. But I have every intention of winning this battle today. My strategy involves a lounge chair, music/earphones, book, daydreams of riding Gem, lots of patience and (several?) vodka soda.....

What was I thinking...?