Thursday, February 14, 2013

Think You Can....

Life is full of surprises.  In my case, it seems to be filled with some sort of unexpected muscle tweak or abcess that tends to derail any plans I ever have of showing my amazing mare.  But it is a part of the horse game that is to be expected, so sometimes you have to make alternative plans.

So when April tweaked something running around after a torrential downpour, I decided for once NOT to pull out of my plans to go to a show.  Instead, I hit up a fellow boarder whose horse I have been schooling, and she was excited about the chance to get him going again.

Bongo is a Percheron/Paint cross that I have been riding who has a history of "colorful" incidents on occasion - and I am not talking about his stunning tri-color paint coloring.  :-)  He has a very random method of expressing himself with bronco-style bucks and a signature move we call "The Porpoise".  It is non-violent in general, but can be quite unsettling when it does happen, and it has been a fantastic challenge for me to tackle in my quest to continue overcoming fear issues in the saddle.  I never would have guessed it, but he has been the perfect ride for me in the past few weeks.  He has fantastic dressage training, and has really helped me to progress in a lot of ways.  And where he has helping me in the dressage arena, I think that I have helped him in the jumping ring, by giving him a loose and allowing feeling, so long as he continues to maintain the trust I have put in his hands.  To say the least, things have been going fantastically.  So when April's entry had to be scratched, we put Bongo in as the pinch hitter.

The week before the show dawned with a startling realization on my part - it had been TWELVE YEARS since I had entered a dressage arena.  With this tiny notion of panic, I decided to cope as I do best by procrastinating.  So Thursday was my first attempt at memorizing my dressage test.  Thankfully, I slipped into the old routine seamlessly, and pretty much had it down by the end of a mini-lesson with Syd, who has been helping me here and there with my flatwork.  A bunch of us have teamed up lately at the farm to help each other out, and my lessons with Robyn, Syd, and even Susan have helped immensely at a time when I have been more or less floundering due to a lack of lesson funds.

Friday night was planned for a jump school since I had a little extra daylight.  Yet horses often have their own plans, and we had to adapt our plans a bit after Bongo gave us a bit more than we had anticipated.  I will spare the details, except to say that I left the farm chanting the old adage - bad school, good show.  HA!

I didn't know what to expect from a horse I still don't know that well, but he had his game face on from the moment we stepped off the trailer.  Our warm up for dressage was seamless, and a last minute bit of advice from Robyn probably saved our 20-meter circles.  I made the rookie mistake of entering the warm-up area outside the show ring a bit early, so my heart was still pounding even knowing I had the forgiveness of the "schooling show" environment.

The honk of the judge's horn came before I knew it, and we were off.  I made it down centerline, across the diagonal, and to the opposite corner of the ring before it happened - brief moment of panic, where everything flew out of my brain.  I literally had to squint my eyes, take a breath, and search my little pea-brain for the next move - and then, just like magic, it all snapped back into place.  I shut the little voice in my head up and rode my test.  And had so much fun.  We had our mistakes here and there - mainly a lack of forward, which was my own combination of nerves and a little fatigue from probably over-warming up a bit.  But other than an early break in the canter, there were really no other glaring errors.  We finished with a 37.5, which was good enough for me after more than a decade away.

I could see the anticipation mounting up in everyone around me, because the next phase was going to be the real test.  Everyone was putting on their game faces, but I knew we were all asking the same questions.  How would the warmup go?  How would he handle the excitement of multiple horses careening around him schooling fences?  Would our bronco-boy show up, or would we maintain the sweet, gentlemanly demeanor he had given us all morning? 

I got a leg up, took a deep breath, and headed for warmup with an expectation for nothing other than what we wanted - a calm, quiet experience.  That's what we came for, and I have been trying hard to adapt the mentality of the quote I remember so well that was painted on the wall of my high school swim complex - "Think you can, or think you can't; either way you will be right."  Just as it has gotten me through the journey with my fear, I proceeded on knowing it would get Bongo through his next phase.  And I couldn't have been more right.

As I looked through the photos this week, the jumping phase made me laugh hysterically.  I have the most ridiculous expressions on my face in every picture, because I jabbered and laughed all the way through it.  I kept telling him what a good boy he was, and laughing when he spooked at the honking birds in the corner.  I gave him a soft, calm, confident round, and I couldn't have been more pleased.  We did what we came to do!

To top it all off, the farm team cleaned up.  While Bongo and I finished on our dressage score in 2nd place, the other two from our farm cleaned up first place ribbons in their divisions!  Merryn rode Thomas in her very first full horse trial, and Robyn finished on a dressage score of 32 in her very first Novice - so everyone had an amazing day.

It's been a bit of a rough week, so retracing the weekend has been a much needed lift for me.  I have been so inconsistent with my blogging, and I really need to get back to it.  Helps me to keep life in perspective when it tends to get twisted around a bit.  Which it has lately.  A lot, in fact!  Poor Samson.  Every scratch or sniffle tends to send me off the deep end of worry, and his latest deal is a recurring snotty nose.  No other symptoms, and culture wasn't horrendous, but I still stress out like crazy.  Other than that, he really is doing well, and enjoys his old man naps in the field on sunny days.  It's these little moments that bring me the peace to know that he is still perfectly content.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

We Made It Through

I have to say, there were many days that dawned with me thinking I would NEVER make it through this past year.  It has been a year of trials, with not nearly as many tribulations.  It always seems easier to take the bumps in the road when they are fairly balanced with the high points.  When you seem to be continually hitting bumps, it can get overwhelming pretty quickly. 

New Years Eve brought mixed emotions for me.  The past week held another trip to Raleigh for follow up testing for Samson.  He had some concerning bloodwork over the last few weeks, and coupled with a less-than-stellar personality change, I felt it was best to listen to my gut a little earlier this time.  It was a mixed-blessing trip.  His ultrasound showed a massive improvement in his lungs, which was a big relief after the physical exam had revealed some continuing noise on the right side and trachea.  There were minimal signs of scarring in the pleural tissue on the right, which could simply be a result of the trauma from his bout of pneumonia.  Then they whisked him off to x-ray, and took multiple thorax views.  Those were better, but still revealed a slight amount of inflammation in the bronchials - the tiny airways that the lungs push oxygen out of.  It made sense when added to the clinical signs, (the noise heard on examination) that this residual inflammation is the cause.  Thankfully, all signs of fluid from the pneumonia have dissapated, and this last bit of inflammation could either be still resolving from the initial insult, or it could be a continued sign of some sort of inflammatory airway condition.  It is hard to say, so for the moment, we have started a program of controlling it environmentally.  The normal therapy would involve a course of steroids, but that would be the worst type of treatment to subject an EPM horse to.

Speaking of EPM.  It appears that all the signs we have been seeing over the past month are mainly being chalked up to that evil disease.  We were about to start treatment a few weeks ago, when the bloodwork indicated something else could be going on.  Whatever was going on has completely resolved, so we are chalking it up to the stress of the move to the new farm, and his lower immune function; as his bloodwork was completely normal at State.  The bouts of lethargy, depressed, and decreased appetite seem to be correlated to the progression of the EPM, and Dr Edwards noticed a visable difference in his neurologic status immediately - an increased gait abnormality, paired with a bit of swaying, as well as the slight toe dragging he had developed over the last week with his right hind.  It is amazing that out of all three of those signs, the only one I had honed in on was the toe dragging.  It can be so hard to monitor the minute changes when you see them on a daily basis - even when you are watching like a hawk. 

With all that in mind, we discussed the various options for treatment, and decided we needed to start aggressively, and immediately.  I had some lingering concerns about the clinical trial drug, so I ended up deciding to go the usual route and start with a round of Marquis.  They sent me home with a 28 day supply, as well as warnings that the first week could possibly bring an onslaught of symptom increases, as the protozoa die-off can be overwhelming to their systems.

The three hour trailer ride home was filled with phone conversations with a newer aquaintance in the horse world who has been through massive experience with EPM and ulcers in her gelding.  We talked back and forth about the various treatments, supplements, and personal experiences with treatment, and she ended up calling multiple people to get additional advice to throw in the mix.  I remember hanging up the phone and being completely overwhelmed with gratitude at the new relationships I have formed in the horse world over the last year.  It is funny that a prospective boarder, who never even moved to the farm, is a relationship that I maintained which ended up being such an incredible resource and source of support.  Yet another reminder that everything happens for a reason!!!

With that in mind, Samson is now on Day 5 of his EPM treatment.  With the combined warnings of how rough the first week can be, I decided to sock everything at him to make it as bearable as I could.  He is on an extremely high dose of natural vitamin E to help with inflammation, a daily dose of omeprazole (as we still have lingering suspicions of ulcers, and Marquis can be known to aggravate that condition), aloe vera juice, and a daily dose of STP, a natural pain relief supplement with devils claw for pain relief, and yucca for more anti-inflammatory support.  I have to say, the combined result has been amazing.  He is (knock on wood!) flying through the first week with ZERO adverse affects, and I am already seeing positive results.  Whether it is the massive support against inflammation that is giving him the boost, or the protozoa dying, I am still uncertain, but I am getting my boy back a little bit every day.  Last night he was nosing me again while I set up his hay and water buckets, and he has been chowing down every bite of his hay with vigor again.  I feel hopeful, and it has definitely been the postive start to the New Year - especially after the past year for him.  When I think about how close we came to losing him, it still amazes me that we made it through all the rough spots to where things are now.  All in all, things are looking up for my big red boy, and it gives me tremendous hope and excitement for his future.

Of course, I mentioned that New Years Eve was a bit of a mixed bag, so the downside is my darling mare.  The week of New Years brought a bad dressage school, which was overwhelming disappointing when considering how well things have been going.  I have warred with myself for years on my comprehension for the most basic dressage skills, but the past month has brought a lot of revelation and improvement.  I was able to get in one lesson in December, but the most significant thing I took home was that I have been letting the redhead get away with too much.  Imagine that!  :-)  I was told that it was time to insist MUCH earlier that she use herself, rather than letting her stroll around evading me until she felt it was time to comply.  So we took that lesson to heart, and I added that to our daily routine, along with the increased awareness I have been trying to use regarding stiffness and locking down in my elbows.  The result was a tiny progression day by day in our flatwork, which included KNOWING I was getting it right each time, and actually feeling her start to use her back.  After a series of incredible rides, I started to realize exactly how often she has been faking me out, because I am finally started to understand the feel of correctness when the back is engaged.  I think for years I have focused on the front end, rather than the whole picture, and it can lead me to thinking I am correct when I am really NOT.  So when one bad ride cropped up after several incredible ones, I chalked it up to us being due for a less-than-stellar ride.  After all, horses aren't robots - that's a lesson I continually have to remind myself of, and an important one at that.  But the little red flag went up in my head, and I resigned myself to really LISTEN the next time, just in case.  So two days later, when flatwork was again not coming together, I really focused on feeling every movement, each limb and joint beneath me, to see if there was a problem.  Sure enough, I picked up my canter, and knew instantly that something was off.  She did not want to engage the hind end, and it was more defined on the right.  When daylight hit the following day, a jog out revealed a minor shortness in stride with the right hind.  **Sigh**  It is definitely hock, and seems to be the front side.  Minor swelling, but no heat, so I am hoping for the best, and meanwhile following a regiment of anti-inflammatories, cold hosing, and DMSO poultices.  Since it happened in 2012, I am chalking that one up to last year, and hoping we will be back in action in the upcoming week.  :-)

So that's a not-so-brief picture of where we are at the moment.  I haven't ever been much of a person for New Years' Resolutions, or black and white goals, because I always find that life seems to interrupt the best of intentions.  In general though, I would like to have my Samson back - in complete health, with no residual damage, and maybe even up to the occasional hack around the farm.  I would like to get out to my first full event with April, and start taking advantage of the fact that I have an AMAZING horse, with so many things to teach me.  Mostly, I would like to continue to be mentored and challenged to grow as a true horsewoman - who understands and always recognizes that these amazing creatures are SO much more than what they can do for us.  Riding is the main reason that we do what we do, but it isn't everything.  It is only a slice of the big picture, and I hope to never lose sight of that.  I hope to continue developing the ability to listen to what a horse is telling me, and to keep improving on discovering what may be at the root.  To me, THAT is the ultimate goal, and I hope to never lose sight of it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Saving Samson - A Love Story

I am utterly speechless at the final results of the project my little sister put together.  For those of you who don't know - a big part of the reason I have been able to have so many amazing pictures of my journey with Samson is because of my lil' sis Courtney, who is working on her photography major down in Florida.  She needed a meaningful topic to use as her final semester project, which was a video/audio/photography collaboration; and a huge undertaking.  I am always happy to let her click away with the camera, as I have gotten pretty used to my redheaded paparazzi.  The part that tripped me up a little was her requesting an interview - not just audio, but video.  Yikes...  I was pretty apprehensive, but she ended up making it conversational, and before I knew it, I was simply having a conversation with my little sister.  What she put together, as a final result, left me speechless.  I am honored to share her amazing talent, in the video she appropriately titled, "Saving Samson - A Love Story."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Present, Yet Absent

I have thought a lot about sitting down to write a blog lately.  I just haven't quite been able to pull together the time or the words to come up with much of anything.  Life has been INSANE.  In November, I got wind that a farm a mile down the road was coming available for lease.  Terrifying as it was, I ended up taking the gamble and signing a lease to expand the farm.  It has been nonstop ever since.  We have spent hours there - replacing fencing, remodeling fields to suit our needs, fixing the dirt floor stalls and raising them up to stop leaking, repairing a moldy tack room, roof leaks...the list could go on forever.  We moved in on December 1st, and it is finally is getting to a point of functionality - at least to where the eleven o'clock weeknights are over.  We are still managing to pack the weekends full of to-do lists, but it's getting there.

With that accomplishment, I have been able to finally shift my focus back to riding, which unfortunately took a bit of a backseat throughout the farm preparations.  I feel so much more complete with my rides being part of the daily schedule again.  It's something I knew I was missing, but I didn't realize how MUCH.  It can be frustrating, having to back off from the riding, to make the farm work - but at the end of the day, it all works together anyway.  So it is a necessary sacrifice, at times.  Hopefully those times of sacrifice can be officially over.

I have been having fantastic rides.  I think we are finally starting to make a little more progress on the flat - at least to the point that I am not feeling like I am hitting the same brick wall on the time.  There are days where it is still challenging, just to get the basics - but it isn't every ride.  I feel like the journey is starting to travel forward, and it is really exciting.

The day that we moved to the farm, I schooled April in the new jump field.  I had set up standards the week prior, and just put the poles wherever the cups were currently set.  I was having a fantastic school over fences, and before it was over, I had attempted a fence that would have sent me into a downright panic attack.  Of course, I have to be honest - we did pull the rails.  And I was too lazy to put them back up and school it again.  But really, how fair is it to be schooling around a 2'3"-2'6" course, and then throw in a fence that was 3'9"???  Okay, admittedly, I had no freaking CLUE until last night that it was that big....and that's when I realized, we've come a long way.

That's right - me and the redhead are starting to head towards bigger and better things.  Mostly because I have finally learned to not be scared of my own shadow anymore.  And probably also because I have learned to trust that funny little mare of mine, and in return, I think she is trusting me more as well.  A new boarder and I were talking about showing the other night, and I have found a lot of newfound encouragement to get out there and have fun with it.  I think that is the part I really need to focus on at this stage of the game.  The thing that has always gotten in the way is ME.  So I am ready to get out and enjoy it, and quit worrying about what everyone else thinks.  Criticism is inevitable, and sometimes you have to figure out how to brush it off and soldier on with a smile.  And I gotta say - so far, so good.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Breaking the Silence

I have been noticeably absent from blogging for awhile.  It isn't that things haven't been happening, it is more a matter of not knowing how to say everything that is going on.  I have been in total overwhelm mode, and in all honesty have been a bit hesitant to lay things out for general consumption.

I have been navigating what feels like a series of minefields - in my work life, personal life, the horse world - pretty much everywhere.  It is exhausting to say the least, so I have done a bit of hiding, as it is my general defense mechanism.

I may be losing my job.  Even typing it sucks, but the truth is, my property is being sold in the next few weeks.  And nine times out of ten the new management companies lay off existing staff members - usually from the top down, which doesn't bode well for me as the manager.  I am hoping and praying that this isn't what happens, but so far things are not looking promising.

Samson is holding steady in terms of his recovery.  He had a fantastic week or two where we was perky and upbeat, even galloping in for breakfast in the mornings.  The last day or two he has been markedly depressed and not quite himself.  Clinically he is fine, but something is not quite right.  I have a sneaking suspicion we may need to get the EPM treatment underway.  He was approved for the clinical trial for a new drug called Oroquin-10, so his treatment will be significantly cheaper; but still not inexpensive by any stretch.  I am really hoping to see him perk up soon, and for the moment, I am monitoring things very closely.

There hasn't been much to report on the April front.  My poor girl took a backseat during all the chaos with Samson, and about the time he stabilized enough that I could get back to work with her, she started up with an adverse reaction that took her out of work for the better part of a week.  So now we are trying to get back to our usual training routine amidst massive weather swings.  Needless to say, last night's ride in what FELT like subzero conditions was rather interesting.  :-)  We had a bit of a conversation about which of us was going to be in charge, but got to a great note to end on.  I am still mastering the art of when to use a firm hand, and when to allow and give to her when little issues crop up.  It can be such a delicate balance, especially with a mare...sometimes it seems their moods change more frequently than my own!!

So, obviously there have been plenty of stresses and worries going on, but through them all, I am trying to focus on the positive, which lately has been the farm.  For the last few weeks I have been undergoing research and negotiations to expand the farm to a bigger location - and as of today, we officially hold a lease for a new property!  It is right around the corner from our current location, but we will be expanding to 25 acres of actual pasture, as well as many other upgraded features.  I am ecstatic, even though I know it is going to be a LOT of work to get it set up the way we have envisioned it.  Thankfully, the farm expansion has been an excellent distraction for me to pour my worries into, and it gives me a major positive to focus on instead of all the negatives.

I even set up a website, so if you're interested, check it out here!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Still Speechless

I don't really have much to say lately.  Samson is hanging in there, and I am still taking things one day at a time.  I have been researching EPM with a frenzy, and am looking into a new drug that is being used in clinical trials - so far with a very high success rate.  I discussed the option with one of my veterinarians yesterday, and he is consulting with the vet/PhD in charge of the trial to learn more about the possibility.  In the meantime, I find myself submitting the poor guy to endless scrutinizing, amateur neurological exams, and lots of tearful hugs.

He hasn't been quite himself the last few days.  It isn't horrible, but his general attitude is markedly depressed from what it typically is.  It started the day we trailered to the vet for the follow-up, and I have this sinking feeling haunting me that maybe the stress of the ride induced a flare-up, if he is indeed EPM positive.  Clinically, he is remaining pretty solid - vitals have been normal for over a week, appetite is fantastic - on paper, he looks pretty good.  His last round of bloodwork showed an elevated white blood cell count, so it has gone to the opposite extreme.  I am a little worried that it showed an increase, although I am curious to see if it had anything to do with his catheter site reaction.  He developed a lump the size of a grape at the base of the catheter, so it was pulled at the last vet appointment.  We are now doing hot compresses and DMSO, which helped at first - but the inflammation has remained stagnant the past two days. 

Tonight will be his last dose of the antibiotic, and then his immune system will be depended on to do the rest.  The next round of bloodwork will be done most likely on Monday to see if there has been any resolution in his white count.

I am uneasy.  I have this unsettled feeling because of his overall attitude; and I don't know what to make of it.  I'm not sure if it is a flare-up of EPM or what is going on - but something is causing him to act withdrawn all of a sudden.  The only time I see him act like himself is at feeding time - that is something that NEVER changes!  :-)

On a side note - I entered my favorite picture of us in a photo contest the Dover holds.  You don't have to do anything, other than click a "vote" button.  You can vote once a day for the next week and a half, til the contest ends.  I would truly appreciate anyone who might be willing to take the time to vote - Dover has a pharmacy that carries one of the EPM medications in consideration for his treatment - and every penny helps.