Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy Canada Day!

July 1st is Canada Day. I love being Canadian......

I love our cultural diversity. I love Canada's big-ness. I love how our provinces and territories have different landscapes. I love that we border on three oceans. I love how much open space we have. I love experiencing four seasons (I actually like winter!). I love our unique wildlife. I love how we have a wide variety of outdoors sports for all seasons. I love that we have two official languages. I love that you can be downtown and be within easy walking distance of greenspace in just about any city in Canada. I love that every Canadian is fed. I love that adventure is still part of Canada. I love that you can be white water rafting in the afternoon and attending a black tie affair that evening. I love the opportunity in Canada. I love our resilience and our sense of humour. I love our music, art and literature. I love being able to go to a doctor or hospital and not have to worry about paying a bill. I love our clean cities. I love our passion for our country. And, of course, I love our national horse, the Canadian. :-)

Happy Canada Day!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Paying for Protection

Last week, LA decided the horses needed a change of scenery and instead of working in the paddock for our usual lesson she suggested a trail ride. It was a beautiful evening; not too warm with a slight breeze, no bugs. My classmates were all over hitting the trails. I objected.

The last time I rode Gem out on the trails, he bucked me off. My fall almost knocked the wind out of me and left me with a lovely bruise where my thigh connected with the horn of my saddle as I flew through the air. I ended up with a compressed rib cage which, for weeks, made it difficult to take a deep breath. LA wanted me to get back out there, so she took me out on the trails about a month later, but she rode Gem and I rode a school horse. Gem acted up a couple of times while she was on him, but she worked him through it. When we finished the trail ride, I rode him in arena for a while. Gem and I have not been out on the trails since.

Trail riding is an important element of the culture at the stables. The trails play a big part in the decision to board at LA's facility; that and the fact that she is a certified instructor. The Arena Gang meet up a couple of times a week. The younger riders go out just about every night. I long to be able to go out and feel safe. I am not there yet.

So, when LA suggested a trail ride the other night, my heart started to pound. I kept voicing my objection, but as she saddled up a school horse, she reassured me, gently, that it would be fine. If I felt really uncomfortable, she said, we would trade horses. She opened the gate from the front paddock and my two classmates happily went through into the small pasture. I was still voicing my objection.....I just had surgery...what if I fall and injure myself?!! LA mounted her horse and told me to walk beside her. Off we went. The voice in my head was saying "Too much space! Too much SPACE!" My heart continued to pound. Gem walked on, unfazed by the drama that was going on in my head.

There was a brief moment when Gem was making me nervous and I asked LA to switch horses. She reassured me that Gem was just being "happy" and was not transitioning into a speed-crazed demon. I started to relax a bit. LA and I chatted as our group walked along the trails and into the woods, and when we came to the "loping field", my classmates were given an opportunity to jog and lope on grass. LA held the side of Gem's bridle, just in case Gem decided that he wanted to lope, too, but he was very well behaved and her precaution was not necessary. I appreciated it, though. :-) We did not go into the field that the herd was in, and I was grateful for that. By the time the ride was over, I felt like a million. I gave LA a hug and thanked her for pushing me through my anxiety.

I have to admit that Gem was quite easy going during our trail ride. I think a few things contributed to his calmness. I have been riding him beside other horses in the arena over the last few months. This type of socialization has helped with correcting his pushiness towards other horses. He's more comfortable with the other horses, he's more comfortable with surroundings and he is more comfortable with me. I also think that having LA ride him once a week has made a difference, as she gives him a good work out and reinforces good behaviour.

Unfortunately, I can't rely on LA to be my trail riding buddy all the time. There are a couple of people who no longer go out on the trails because of falls they have experienced. I don't want to be one of them. I want to get out on the trails because walking is practically the only thing I can do on Gem right now while I continue recovering. I must admit that my recent surgery makes me wary; I am afraid of falling and ripping internal stitches.

So I was thinking about how I can protect myself better, while I am building my skills and confidence. I am considering purchasing an air vest to wear when I am out on the trails. I don't know anyone who has one so I would appreciate any feedback you may have on them if you are familiar with this type of vest. Wearing one will probably turn a few heads at the stables; I think there will be those that might find it interesting and others that will look at it as a sissy garment. It won't be the first time I've been a fashion trend setter! :-) There are a few different models, like this and this and this. My concern would be that they might make me hot...and not in a good way! It's not the greatest look for me, but if it makes me feel safe and help with my confidence, it might be worth looking like the Michelin Man....

What was I thinking....?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bend and Stretch, Reach for the.....What?!

Part Two

Warning: This post deals with mature subject matter and may not be appropriate for everyone. Reader discretion is advised.

I stopped by a drug store on the way home from a dinner engagement. It was around 9:30 p.m. and the store was pretty quiet. I am not familiar with K-Y Jelly. I wasn't sure what section I would find it under - personal hygiene, feminine products, first aid? There was no one readily available to ask. I walked up and down the aisles.

I eventually found it. There was a whole shelf dedicated to K-Y products! I had no idea there were so many different varieties. I was tempted to ask the (male) pharmacist for help, but I resisted because I wasn't quite sure how I would describe what kind of K-Y I was looking for...something for my horse just didn't sound right. I won't go into the details of the different kinds of K-Y, but suffice to say that I ended up having to put on my reading glasses and examine each box. It was an education, let me tell you! I have to admit that I kept checking the aisle for other shoppers....I started to feel like I was doing something naughty. I eventually found the good old original version. Whew! I grabbed the largest tube they had.

I was still a little embarrassed about my impromptu sex education class, so I headed over to the cosmetic section and picked up some make up that I did not need. I placed my items in front of the young lady at the cosmetic counter, hiding my K-Y tube under the other items and started chatting as she rang my items through....I was quite pleased with how I very cleverly deflected the fact that I had K-Y as one of my purchases! OK, OK....wishful thinking.... She probably saw me reading the K-Y packages and was wise to my plan of deflection and giggled about it with her co-workers at break time..... When I got home, I put a blob of the gel on the back of my hand. I wanted to make sure that it was not going to provide anything other than normal lubrication. :-)

My friend and I went to the stables as usual. My friend reaffirmed that she was in no way participating in the "act". I told her that she would not have to do anything but talk dirty to Gem. :-) I came prepared with surgical gloves, bucket, sponge, face cloth, paper towels and vodka...OK, only kidding about the vodka! I filled my bucket with lukewarm water and started my pep talk to myself. My friend started her grooming and I pulled on my gloves and lubed up. I can do this. It's like doing the dishes - you don't like doing them, but they have to be done. The moment of truth....assume the safety position....deep breath....and...

OK, I was amazed at how big a pocket the sheath is and I was also sorry that Gem had gunk there. He never indicated that he was in any discomfort, but the stuff I removed was nasty and in some cases the size of marbles. :-( He didn't move. He didn't fuss. He was absolutely wonderful. In fact, when I started the process, he "dropped" immediately and let me get to it. I had to empty and refill my bucket a few times. Initially, my friend did not want to know what was going on down there....but curiosity got the better of her. She noticed that he would retract when I left him to refill the bucket and as soon as I returned he would drop again. I think this is an indication that he was grateful that I was cleaning him. :-)

I did find it a little awkward bending to see what I was doing, while making sure I wasn't putting myself in harm's way if he kicked. Once I got over my initial heebie jeebies and focused on his comfort, I was on a mission. I was movin' and groovin', lubed up and focused; a vision of efficiency.

My friend: Uh, Wolfie...
Me (bending to see what I was doing): I am a little busy here!
My friend: Well, I think you should know...
Me (still bending and feeling around): Can you give me a sec! I am in the middle of something here!...
My friend: Yeah, well, I think you have some chunks of tar on your hair and forehead.
Me (still bending and feeling around): Tar? What tar? What are you talking about???
My friend: The tar you are removing from Gem.
Me (immediately standing erect): You mean, I have chunks of stuff from his willie ON MY FACE???!!!!
My friend: Yep.
Me: GET IT OFF!!!!!
Note to self: NEVER, EVER use your arm to push back your hair while doing this procedure.

Well, I did it!! And, it was no where near as bad or disgusting as I thought. He did not have a bean (as far as I can tell), but he did have quite a build up. I have no idea when Gem was last cleaned or if he has ever been cleaned. I feel better knowing that he's more comfortable. I can now add Willie Wash to my list of accomplishments...although there aren't a lot of people I would feel comfortable sharing this information with..... ;-)

What was I thinking....?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bend and Stretch, Reach for the...what?!….

Part one

Warning! This post deals with mature subject matter and may not be appropriate for everyone. Reader discretion is advised.

When I first started looking for a horse, I bought a book on horse health. I don't like surprises (unless it's jewelry!), so I usually do a lot of research to make sure I know what I am getting into. One of the items that I came across when doing my homework was “cleaning the sheath’’. What the heck???!! I read the chapter and then read it again and then looked at the pictures and read it again. You have GOT to be kidding me?! I have to do what??! Good grief.

One of the dangers of cleaning your horse's sheath is kicking. I read that when you are grooming your horse you should touch him all around his private parts to desensitize him. Oh, dear. The first few weeks we were together, I stuck to the usual "public" places on his body. Eventually, I started incorporating scratching inside his back legs and on his belly near, you know, there. The first time I ventured around that area, he turned (as much as he could in the cross-ties) and looked at me. I think I blushed. He soon turned his attention back to the others in the barn. OK, he’s not ticklish. Great!

I watched some videos to get an idea of the process and I also chatted with a few others at the stables. I was hoping that actually talking about it would make me a bit more relaxed about the whole idea. The reaction is always the same when you mention sheath cleaning - the person blushes, then they skrinch up their nose and say "Ewwwww". People are uncomfortable talking about it.

Everyone I spoke with has a different routine when it comes to cleaning their horse's privates; some do it once or twice a year, and others only when it's apparent that the horse needs to be cleaned. One of the Arena Gang cleans her horse every 3 months(!) and there are others that have never done it. Hmmm, how do you know it needs to be done? Well, apparently a tell-tale sign is a not-so-nice smell "down there". Do you have to put your nose "down there"??? Or is the smell so strong you can detect it standing next to your horse?? I have been told that sometimes a horse tells you that he needs to be cleaned by the way he walks or a grunting noise he makes when trotting. I can't remember if I read this or if someone told me, but there was a horse that would tell his owner when he needed to be cleaned - as she groomed him around his back end, he would casually lift his leg up each time she got close to his privates. :-)

This past winter, I overheard one of the Arena Gang talking about giving her horse a "willie wash". Great! I asked if I could watch next time. "Uh...sure......" (backing away from me slowly...) Well, I did watch her the next time she performed her "willie wash". Her horse did not "drop" throughout the procedure, so it was a little difficult to clean him. He stamped his feet a couple of times and he side stepped once or twice. But, really, it wasn't as bad as I had built up in my mind. Can I do this?? It took me another few months to convince myself that I could.

So, last week I told my grooming girlfriend what my intentions were next time we went out the groom Gem. Are you kidding me?? You have to clean that thing?? I assured her that she would not have to participate in the actual act, but while I made my attempt to clean Gem's privates, it would help relax him if she groomed him like normal.

I was psyched! Unfortunately, I could not get the same sheath cleaning gel that my barn mate used, so off I went to the drug store to get K-Y Jelly.... (to be continued)

What was I thinking....?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

You Put Your Left Foot in the Stirrup...

I started back at work this week after a 5 week hiatus. I have to admit that it was sort of nice getting back into a routine. There was not too much of a mess and, frankly, I am at that stage in my life where I try not to stress too much....I only have two hands and one brain. The mess will eventually be cleaned up. :-)

I RODE LAST NIGHT!!!!! Yipee! I couldn't take it any longer. I was told that I could start riding in next week's lesson, but what's 4 days...really? I was actually a little nervous! I had butterflies (more than usual) in my stomach driving to the stables.

I met Jean at the stables and we went out into the pastures to retrieve the horse she was going to ride. It was so peaceful walking in the warm sun in amongst the horses. She had no problem haltering the school horse and we walked back without incident. This exercise actually helped calm me down a bit. Jean and I tend to become Chatty Cathy's when we are together and our conversation took my mind off of riding.

Once back at the barn, we put Gem in the cross-ties and started our grooming routine. Jean had to bring my tack to the back of the barn and she actually had to put the saddle on Gem as I can't lift anything yet. This is quite a feat for Jean considering that Gem is 16.2hh and she is 5'4". :-) Time to ride. Hmmmm, what am I missing? Oh, my helmet! I find it interesting that after only 5 weeks, you can forget a normal routine. Jean suggested that we ride in the arena....a more controlled environment. I appreciated her suggestion.

Gem tried to rush me a bit walking down to the arena and I had to correct him. When we got to the entrance of the arena, he reached over and pulled out the whole container of flowers from it's urn - sigh. Now it was time to mount. Jean stood in front of Gem while I mounted, as a safety measure. Apparently, he has been side-stepping on occasion when she tried to mount him. It actually felt a little awkward putting my foot in the stirrup and swinging my leg over. I felt slightly uncoordinated. Once in the saddle, there was a nano-second of anxiety because of how high up I was.....and then it disappeared. Whew. Off we walked.

I spent the next 40 minutes getting used to being on my boy again, just as he was getting reacquainted with having me on his back. I re-familiarized myself with his body and movement. My brain started to recognize what we were doing and my body started to relax into the appropriate position. My hips adjusted to being in the saddle and my rigid spine started to loosen up. We walked around the arena beside Jean and her horse. I worked at having his head slightly tilted inside and I used my legs to steer him. I also did a little reining to turn him in small circles. He was actually quite responsive. The only resistance I got (and it was very minor) was the couple of times I asked him to trot, which I wasn't supposed to be doing in the first place. Oops. Maybe he knew I wasn't supposed to be trotting! :-) Each time, we trotted once around the arena. It was fantastic! It was like riding a bike - it all started to come back to me! If my body hadn't started to betray me, I would probably still be riding him! :-)

Jean and I went for an adult beverage after our ride. We talked about her challenges with Gem (I saw them first-hand), but how she felt that riding him has improved her riding skills and confidence. She has a much better appreciation of what I am up against. However, she now completely understands why I went for a horse like Gem; one that would provide a slight challenge to help me actually learn how to ride. We reminisced and laughed at some of his antics and mischievous ways. Jean admitted that she loved Gem and she is going to miss riding him regularly. I am very grateful that I have friends that really care about my horse and appreciate his quirkiness. Having LA, STA, Jean and my grooming friend step in and take care of Gem while I was laid up was wonderful. I want to share one of my favourite quotes:

"There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women." Madeleine Albright

I actually live that quote and the above-mentioned ladies do too - they will not be going to that "special place". My surgery has highlighted how lucky I am to know them.