Saturday, April 30, 2016

Finding the Threshold

When we last discussed Razz, he was sore from all the work we had been doing and he'd acquired a couple noteworthy battle scars during turnout, the worst being a huge whelp on his neck. The whelp was firm and had perfectly shaped teeth marks all around it. I've never seen a bite quite like that one before. It wasn't bad enough to make an emergency vet call. But it was unsightly as hell. I assumed the area was just super traumatized and swollen, and would disappear in a few days. 

That was a Sunday.

I left for Ohio on Tuesday, returned the following Monday. Got home, dumped my bags, hit the road again to go check on the boy.

He was fat and happy, and the whelp was still there. It was shaped slightly different than before, as if gravity were pulling it down. And it was now kind of squishy. Then I realized it was a hematoma. I have seen large hematomas before but they were gone within a matter of days. Why was this one hanging around so long? Was there a main vessel in there still torn, leaking slowly?

I sent the vet an email with a brief description and a few pics. She said I shouldn't worry too much. Even so, I kept rides short and the work load light in case the damn thing were to open up again. It did eventually go down after another week and a half. 

During that week and a half Razz got a fresh trim from the farrier and a spring check up from the vet. All the shots, coggins, teeth and sheath. It took five doses of sedation to get Mr. Man through. He wasn't fighting the procedure, just the drowsiness. Razz is a type A. I'm certain he doesn't like feeling so vulnerable. His visit was in the aisle of the upper barn. One of the horses stalled in there reached over and simply sniffed of the side of Razz's rump, causing him to jump and squeal like a little girl. He would never have acted like that if he were sober. 

The vet that came out was a new partner to the practice I've used for years. She really liked my boy and kept commenting on his facial markings, personality, and long thick tail. I discussed all my concerns about his diet, body condition and the loss of his top line. She thought he looked to be in really good shape for seventeen. She'd have guessed he was somewhat younger. This made my day. His top line is on par for his age. 

And Razz's medical records and coggins are electronic now, accessible online through an account I create on the vet's website. If I need a copy of my coggins I log in and print one out. And no more generic horse with Razz markings drawn in at the bottom of the page. Nope, now its legit iPhone pics. Who else has digital vet files? Are we late to the party or ahead of the curve here in eastern NC?   

Now that we had fresh feet and a clean bill of health it was time to get back to serious riding. Hehe. Serious riding. That's almost funny coming from my mouth compared to some of you guys. 

This past Saturday morning the hubs joined me on a ride in the sand pits. He did his usual hike behind us. Most of the time this ends up getting on my nerves because he is easily distracted and I end up having to wait on him to catch up to me the whole ride. It's been so long since he came out that I didn't mind having to wait this time. And can you believe he found a five dollar bill lying on the ground? I rode right past it. 

everything is so green in the sand pits now
The air was fresh. The woods were so pleasant. The sky was so blue. Pony was in an excellent mood. I couldn't have had a better ride that day. And since we've been doing more jumping in the ring, Razz is taking it upon himself to jump things he could easily walk over/across. More power to him, I don't mind at all. 

the wildflowers are taking over this field
On the way home we stopped by the seafood market to pick up some local yellow fin tuna and had the best dinner. We blackened the fish outside and all the neighbors were jealous. Perfect ending to a perfect day.

Sunday morning comes and I'm back at the barn first thing. Meeting up with a friend this time, and we're headed into the Croatan. I'm beginning to feel as if our Croatan rides are numbered. The insects will be ruthless soon. So I am taking every opportunity I can to get in there. 

The horses' bombproofing skills were put to the test before we even got to the forest. As we passed through one of the small farms along the way, there was a running sprinkler mounted on a four foot pole, complete with all the scary horse eating sounds that sprinklers make. We both marched right on by, both ponies giving the water spraying monster a hard look in passing. Yay for safe passage.

At this point we are roughly half way over to the forest and approaching the fenced edge of some dude's back yard who has a large yellow lab. This lab always runs to the fence barking. Today, no dog. He stayed on the back porch and never made a sound. Huh? That's completely out of this dog's character. My riding buddy and I were just beginning to chat about how strange the fenced dog was acting when out of no where a second, unfenced dog begins to approach. It was a large grey and white pit bull. I have no preconceived notions about pits, each is natured differently and I've known plenty that were loyal lifelong partners. But this pit was approaching with his chest out and his tail straight up in the air, only the tip swinging back and forth. Correct me if I'm wrong but last time I checked that was considered aggressive body language. Great.

I was bringing up the rear. The pit approached us from a wide angle and came up behind me but stayed a good ten feet back. He sniffed the air and trotted along behind us for a few steps, then cut left and went back in the direction he came from. As he was leaving I spoke kindly and told him what a good dog he was, and he looked back as if he were saying "whatever lady". We got lucky. Regardless of the breed, a loose dog situation can go bad quickly.

Carrying on, we make it into the Croatan just fine. It's been a month since I've been in here. Things are starting to get a little thicker in places with all the spring growth. The spiders are building webs again and my face is finding them. The ground is beginning to soak up a lot of the standing water that has plagued us all winter. We decide to take a trail that heads north west and follows the railroad tracks for a while before snaking off into the wilds. 

I'm not sure if I've mentioned them before, but there are a few homeless people that live in the forest. I don't know why they would choose to set up their "homes" all the way out here when there are several options for them between here and town. They don't bother anyone. I'm pretty sure the forest service knows about them, all the locals I've spoken to know exactly who I'm talking about when I ask questions. 

Anyway, this trail we were taking has a "home" on it, although none of us riders have ever seen anyone occupying the site. Until today. Someone was home and they were taking a piss when we came around the corner. Both of us immediately turned our horses around and got out of his field of vision before he knew we were there. Then we started complaining, having wanted to take that particular trail and now our plans were ruined. The trail literally goes right by the front door. I just don't feel comfortable riding that close. He could be drunk (there are tons of beer cans around that camp) and have a weapon. He might not be hitting on all six cylinders, I don't know. What I do know is I'm not going thru when he's home. 

On our way back out we come to a clearing and skirt around the edge of the tree line rather than staying on trail in an effort to appease our urge to explore. And seemingly out of the blue, an old path was barely noticeable over in the corner of the clearing. The angle it cut into the woods made it almost impossible to see. Off we go. I don't know how far down the path we went. Not too far. It took us into what I call a fairy forest. It was different from the rest of the woods. It wasn't a pine savannah. It definitely wasn't pocosin. It was full of very tall but super skinny pines growing close together, and all over the ground were these super green primitive fern looking plants. 

It was beautiful. Just beautiful.

We both stood in disbelief. Taken aback by the surprise and the beauty of it all. It seemed a little more quiet in here (aside from Razz chomp chomping on the bit). The ambiance was slightly magical indeed, just like you'd expect a fairy forest to feel. The green color of the ferns was so vibrant, nothing else in the forest is that color green. 

Once we got over the initial surprise we began to walk around and get familiar with our new discovery. The fairy forest is probably a little smaller than a full acre. Some one came in and built a ladder for hunting season out of timbers they scavenged. Looks like we're not the only ones who know about this place.

A small single track leads us out the opposite side of the fairy forest into more of the typical pocosin growth. The trail gets progressively wider as we go, eventually turning back into a four wheeler path. Okay, those four wheelers did not use the path we were just on, so we are about to tie into another trail system. Hell yeah.

And we end up on the power lines. This is the best thing ever. You see, there is a trail that cuts off the power lines and opens up a whole other wing of the forest. An area that no one at the barn has ever ridden. This trail is visible on google maps. However we can't access it because the power lines stay flooded out and impassable. At this point I was thanking the vagrant that made us turn around. Without him standing in the way we would never have turned around, never found the fairy forest or the power lines. 

Now time to find the white rabbit. The trail I've wanted to ride for so long. I can see water off in the distance in either direction underneath the power lines. Hopefully the trail's in the dry area in between. First we go right, thinking farther back into the woods and away from civilization. And we go as far as we can, all the way to the water and a little bit beyond. No sign of the trail. Damn. Its depressing, I just knew it would be this way. But I'm not giving up yet. We go in the other direction, what would originally have been a left. Again all the way to the water. No real trails in that direction. Only one overgrown, unassuming deer path that is too thick to bother. Feeling defeated and left with nothing else to explore, we turn around and head for home, hitting a couple smaller trails on the way out that we didn't use earlier.

just a couple more pics on the way out

You can bet your ass as soon as I got home I was on google maps looking for any trace of the new trail I was just on and how close (or far away) it was to the trail no one can ever find. And here is what I saw:

The wide space up the middle is the power line. Trail on the right going into the woods leads back to the fairy forest. Just below it on the left, the gap in the trees, that's the fuckin trail I've been looking for. The threshold to the other side was right there in front of me. It was the overgrown, unassuming deer path.

I can't get that trail off my mind. I was right there. The more I think about it, the more it becomes the entrance to Narnia. If I peel back the overgrowth it's the same as digging in between the coats in the wardrobe. I will be back out there this weekend. 

The above image shows the trails I know and ride in solid line, the Narnia trails are dotted lines. The new trail and fairy forest are located at the heavy black line in the center. And I popped a little squirrel face in there to hide the highway number, just because this is the internet and all, & you never can take too many precautions with identifying information.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Winter Guard Wrap-Up

I never meant to go three weeks between posts. Somehow it happened. Life caught up with me, I was removed from my bubble for a while, now I am back.

Even though I blog about horses, I feel the need to share a bit about winter guard. That's what has kept me on the road so much this season.

You know when a marching band comes out and there are people on the field tossing flags? Those folks are part of the color guard. The color guard, much like eventing, has military roots. They toss flags, rifles and sabres. Winter guard is an extension of color guard, performed indoors and without the band. A strong influence of ballet and gymnastics is incorporated into the winter season. 

My daughter is on her high school guard team and I have traveled with them to every long distance competition this year. Four trips total. On three of them I drove. We rented 2 eight passenger SUVs for the girls and formed a three part convoy with the truck pulling our small band trailer. Most competitions were held on college campuses. It was a great experience to visit all the schools and to drive the different vehicles.

  • Activity bus to Norfolk Va. Thank God we didn't go farther than 4 hours away, I don't miss those buses at all. Cold, uncomfortable, smelly...Lysol all the things upon return.

  • Nissan Armada to Princeton. By far the most practical SUV for me, and the nicest school/town to visit. Loved the atmosphere in the college district. Interstate 95 and NJ Turnpike = No Fun At All  

  • Chevy Tahoe to Monmouth. This car was the nicest of the three but HUGE. The university is small but very nice. The traffic beyond DC is just too damn much for me, however I now have a small love affair with the DelMarVa peninsula. 

  • Ford Expedition to Xavier, U of Dayton, and Miami of OH. This was our world finals trip and competition was spread out between all three schools. The Ford was the easiest to drive of the three but still huge. Ohio has some beautiful countryside and their cities are easy enough to navigate.

We finished 38th out of 120. Respectable, yes, but no where near our 10th place finish last year. We were a little bummed at first, but our scores improved over ten points from the previous outing. And since we didn't make finals we had an entire Saturday to play. Free time on these trips usually comes in the form of an hour here or two hours there so the whole day was a real treat, and the perfect way to end. I also became an expert at parking large cars in small spaces. 

I am grateful to have been able to accompany my daughter's team this season. Of the twelve girls only one other mom joined us. Fortunately she and I are very good friends and we will forever be travel pardners. 

If you enjoy performing arts at all consider watching the video below. It will give you an idea of what I was immersed in while removed from my bubble. These guys won top honors in the highest division this year. Skip the first minute unless you really wanna watch them set up their floor. 

And now that we have all this out of the way, we can continue on with our epic equine adventures...

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

One More Break

Not too much going on 'round these parts. I've ridden once since my last post. Razz and I dressaged a bit on Saturday. It rained all Friday night and Saturday morning, then stayed gloomy through the afternoon. On days like this it's really hard for me to motivate. But around five I decided it was time to go to the barn. The ring was sloppy. However we made the best of it and actually got some decent work done. I noticed during my grooming session that the boy was a little sensitive around his loins, more so on the left. During our ride he was super fussy when I would shift my weight to ask for a lead. I rode for a half hour and was pleased with his effort despite the soreness. Razz was giving everything he had to make me happy. 

While I had my pony out, the barn owner added a different horse to my pasture. The little herd of three was unfortunately reduced to two on the Thursday prior, and the balance was being restored. Razz is dominant and the horse they added was a small framed, submissive palomino. No big deal, right? When I turned the boy back out I watched them for a good 20 minutes. Everyone was happy go lucky.

My husband left for a turkey hunt on Sunday. He went to my family land in the mountains. Not long after he took off I went back to the barn. One look at Razz and it was evident that things had been a little rowdy overnight. He had a small whelp on his left side in the saddle flap area, and a huge, swollen bite on the right front side of his neck (complete with individual tooth impressions from both the upper and lower). He was still touchy in the loin area too. So I groomed him well and turned him back out. 

Another boarder was at the top barn getting ready to go out for a ride when I headed up to the car to leave. She owns two horses and offered me one to ride. Of course I accepted. Both her horses are Peruvian Pasos. I'd never ridden a gaited horse before. 

My horse was nervous about me riding him at first. He wasn't naughty at all. Just tense as hell, not knowing what to expect. I was aware another lady who isn't really familiar with horses had been coming out and riding him some. As I groomed him (he was sooo muddy) I spoke softly and tried to be as unintimidating as possible. My glasses darken in the sunlight and I took them off a few times so that he could see my eyes and understand I meant him no harm. When I first mounted he kept his ears tuned in on me 100%. I was tacked up western. Haven't done that in quite a while. Paso was very responsive. Hardly any aid was needed to ride him and I liked that. He neck reins and works off the seat. I kept my hand super quiet just above the wither, free arm bent at 90* (think reining position). No leg at all. Not needed. At. All. 

It was refreshing to ride a horse that operates so effortlessly. I praised him and rubbed his neck regularly. His nerves eventually settled and we had a nice ride. He was really athletic too. At one point we were galloping down the trail, I was in front. Everything is green in the woods now, except for that fallen pine tree laying on the right side of the trail. The needles are still attached and bright orange. Homeboy sprung left out of nowhere, the upper half of my body continued to go right. I wasn't expecting it at all. Thank god for the built up pommel on that western saddle. As soon as he spooked I instinctively gripped with the legs but the pommel made it much easier to stay centered over him. We were out for an hour and a half. Upon returning my pony wasn't sweaty at all, even under his long, thick mane. His owner made the comment about how he comes back all sweaty with the other rider and they don't gallop the way we did on our ride. She thinks the other lady makes him nervous, confirming what I was picking up on as soon as we pulled him from his paddock. I took the chance to mention " if he's not used to a lot of hand or leg it will drive him nuts". Paso goes in a long shank bit with a spoon port. Poor thing has probably had the roof of his mouth torn the fuck up. 

It was fun spending the morning on a different horse, but I'm not ready to go western, or gaited, any time soon. I feel right at home in my english saddle with a rein in each hand. The paso strikes me as an arab/iberian blend. Huge neck and shoulder relative to the rest of his body, refined and compact, athletic, sensitive.

So it looks like Razz will have one more break in our riding. I'm headed out of town this afternoon, gone for six more days. This is it though, my commitment for the year will be fulfilled. Relieved doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about that. 

my peruvian paso pal

Friday, April 1, 2016

Bright Spots

Riding has been the absolute best thing in my life lately. Aside from my daughter, who will always be #1. But the riding, oohhh the riding. I've been on Cloud Nine since Saturday morning. 

The travel and politics of winter guard are slowly wearing me down. And the sickness after the last trip. I feel certain the producers of Monsters Inside Me would love to get together and discuss an episode. Now that my affliction has subsided and the schedule is kinda sorta normal for the next week, I'm kinda sorta feeling like my normal self. 

Saturday was the first free day Ive had since I don't know when. After sleeping in for an hour (is 7 really sleeping in though?) I downed a cup of coffee and played in my raised beds before taking off to the barn. I didn't text any of my barn pals to see what they were up to. The last thing I wanted was to be on some sort of time frame. 

"Ok leaving now, meet you there"  
"does 11 a.m. sound good?"  
"Let me call so and so to see if they can come too!"

None of that today. I'd had enough scheduling for a while. Today was mine to do whatever the hell I felt like. And I felt like having a fun jaunt over to the sand pits. 

Sunday morning I was up at 4:30. Not sure why but I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. By 6 a.m. I was in the car and on my way. The roads were busy for such an early hour on the weekend. Most everyone was dressed in their finest and headed out to receive their share of the blood and body. I was headed out for a jump school, trying to beat the cloud that was on its way and setting in with lots of rain. The birds were singing their morning tunes as I set up the arena. I got the total shite standards out of the way. They had been pointlessly taking up space in the ring since the last time I drug them out, not realizing the damn things weren't square and had no cups. I made a two stride line of crossrails, and two verticals not connected to anything else. I measured the tallest jump, it is 2'9" just as I thought.

the mini course

the 2'9" monster, it's a big deal for us

Once the boy was groomed and tacked, we warmed up with ten large laps of walk, changing direction every two laps. It took this many laps for Razz to bring his back up into the saddle. I then went straight to canter, two laps in either direction. The trot afterward was much nicer and driven from behind. But nowhere near perfect. I continued to flat for a while more, focusing on downward transitions in an effort to fine tune pony's brakes between fences. He likes to speed up and ignore me when we begin a course.

Our jumping was ok. Very fun, but ok. The only distance I considered in my rush to set up jumps quickly was the two stride. Next time I will walk my verticals and establish some reference points (small cones or a line in the sand) to get the strides correct and avoid chipping.

Here's a quick vid of some of our jumping. We had been in the ring for about 30 minutes when the video picks up. Of course the only rub we had the whole day was during my filming. But oh well, it didn't come down and he didn't rub anymore. We picked up the incorrect lead after the crossrails and our approach to the first small vertical was a little wonky because of me focusing on fixing that lead too much. 

I also grabbed a shot of the healing bee salve I make. The two spots where I used it on Razz the day before looked significantly better. I'm shocked at how well this stuff works. If anyone wants to give it a try hit me up, I'll send you a sample :)

This jar was from the original batch. I thought I would be smart and blend some real honey in, just to see what would happen. Guess what? It doesn't blend in with other ingredients. It settled at the bottom instead. 

Monday I went to the barn planning a bath only. My best good barn mate was tackin' up when I pulled in. I had my Soffe shorts on I wore to work. But no shame, I climbed on for a short bareback trail ride. My ass cheeks were hanging out on both sides and I'm sure it wasn't the most pleasant thing to view, considering I still haven't gotten rid of the extra winter weight that somehow accumulates on my thighs every year. Ride went fine, pony got bathed, dried, groomed. All was well.

Tuesday Razz and I had a cardio session in the bean field. A trot lap either direction, then a canter lap either direction with a few 20 meter circles interspersed, and finally a lap of walk either direction. These 6 laps took 50 minutes to ride. I'm telling you the bean field is massive. And Razz did four quick paced laps without a break. I'm amazed that he has such good stamina compared to the amount of real "work" we do. And I'm amazed his respiratory system is as efficient as it is, he comes back to normal in no time. I should really give the boy more credit.

And of course, every yin must have its yang, Razz's herd of three is now two. One was put down yesterday. Razz has been cantering around looking for his friend and neighing. It's truly heartbreaking to watch. Hug your ponies tonight ladies, tomorrow is never guaranteed.