Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. ~ Thomas Merton

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Dream, My Journey

My dream is my own dream.

My journey is my own path which follows my own dream.

My dream is my own and it is not concerned with your dreams.  My journey does not follow your path.

I am competitive by nature.  I don't like being left behind and I don't like being left out. As such, I struggle with holding onto my my dream and following my path.

I have started by defining what my dream is not.  I do not dream of becoming an equine professional.  I do not dream of entering the competition arena.  I do not dream of adventures in trail riding.

I am an introvert.  I want things to be intimate and close to home.  I want to reserve my energy and emotion for my passion.

So if I know what my dream is not, can I then define what my dream is?

My dream is partnership and willingness and joy and fun.  My dream is enjoying the time I spend with my horse, regardless of what happens in that time.

I want simply to be in the moment with my horse and have my horse in the moment with me.  When the day seems to call for lazy, undemanding time to just spend that time together and not waiting for something better to come along.  When the day calls for a spontaneous ride in the snow, we are together in our mini-adventure.

My dream does not preclude progress and improvement but strives to balance that with acceptance and peace.

I am delighted for my friends who are pursuing professional goals.  I am excited for my friends who are entering the competition arena.  I am happy for those weekend trail-riders.

But that is not my dream; not my journey.

My dream is my own dream.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Playing in the Dirt

Cricket and I got to play in the dirt yesterday.  It was so much fun!

The owners of my barn are having some major earth work done around the boarding barn.  The result of Sunday's work was two big piles of dirt where one of the terraces used to be.

When the bulldozer guy took a break, I asked if I could play on the dirt with my horse.  He grinned and said, "Have at it."  I'm not sure he really understood what I wanted but was happy to oblige.  I ran off to get my boots, giddy as a school-girl.

I brought Cricket out, hooked her to my 45' and off we went.  The dirt was in two piles, a smaller one down away from the barn and a pretty large one in the paddock.

She was pretty easy going and we started with some friendly game of just moving around near the dirt.  Cricket was pretty nonplussed about the whole thing.  I asked her to head up the big hill and up she went.  She got to the top and looked around as if to say, "well, this is different."

The front of the hill, where she went up, was pretty well packed from the bulldozer.  The steeper back side was all loose dirt.  I asked her to crest the hill and come down the steep side.  Over she went and down she scootched as if she it were an every day occurrence.

From the ground, we played with both dirt hills.  I asked her to go up and over or go up and wait before turning around and going down the way she came.  I stood on the smaller hill and had her circle around me.  She was a little confused but eventually figured it out, even jumping part of the dirt pile as she traveled around.  I played with yo-yo, standing at the top of the hill and asking her to back at the bottom and then run up to me.  That was fun.  I even asked her to back down the hill from Z5 while I stood at the bottom.

Everything was going so well, I saddled up and decided to ride on the hills.  Going down hills on horseback scares the begeezus out of me.  Cricket and I nearly somersaulted down a hill during our one ACTHA ride.  But I figured this was a good opportunity to practice.

My Crickie-Monster was an absolute champ!  She took me around, up and down.  The little hill was okay - the top had a good platform to turn around and walk back down the packed side.  The big hill was a little narrower at the top.  Our first attempt was a little nerve-wracking.  Cricket tried to go down the loose dirt but I was able to clarify my request and face her down the "ramp."  Where she stopped dead in her tracks.  I encouraged her forward and she walked calmly, straight down the hill.  Where she got lots of cookies at the bottom.  We finished our dirt play by riding up the small hill and then backing all the way down.  I took her out into one of the open fields and we did a little trot and canter before ending our ride.
My view from the top of the smaller dirt pile.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What It's All About

I made the choice to play with my horse last night.  To actually play with her.  Not "do stuff with her" or "work on her on-line canter".  PLAY.

I invited Cricket to come play with me.  She accepted and so we began . . . with haltering.  Just the softest touch to ask her to keep her head lowered and towards me.  Just the softest reminder to please bring her head back.

My idea was to squeeze out of the stall and head to the arena.  Her idea was to squeeze out of the stall and grab hay from the bales stacked across the aisle.  We went with her idea . . . why not?  After the initial, frantic bites, I asked her to yield her HQ in a half turn followed by her shoulder in a half turn, all with a "hurry up and get back to the hay" attitude.  Suffice it to say, she didn't believe me.  At least not at first.  I repeated the pattern so she understood that I loved her idea and could she please consider my idea.  I also added in some sideways away, sideways towards, hurry up and get back to the hay.

In the arena, there was a 3-barrel pattern set up and my plan was to use that to do some free-form change of direction.  I decided to keep everything at the walk or trot.  She doesn't want to canter and I'm tired of telling her she's wrong.

I started slow, just using the barrels as objects and asking her a series of "can you" questions.  We played with all three barrels before I asked her to circle.

At a walk, she made it past the first barrel and at the second barrel, I wanted her to go around and draw back to me.  She wanted to jump.  But only half way.  I wish I had a picture of the expression on her face.  She was so proud of herself.  This is something we've been working on and she knows I like it and she knows it almost always yields a cookie.  She was right - I loved it and gave her a cookie.  It took more effort to do what she did than what I wanted.

She showed me she wanted to jump so I changed my plan to "go around or go over."  As we approached each barrel on the circle, I asked her to either go around (and maybe draw and redirect or draw and stop) or go over (maybe half way, maybe all the way, maybe jump and stop or maybe jump and keep going).

It was so far from perfect but it was so much fun.  She started asking questions and participating.  Her energy never really came up, except for the jumping, and that's okay.

We finished with some upward transitions following a change of direction.  It's a pattern my friend taught me to help the horse prepare for FLC.  I asked Cricket to change direction at the walk and then immediately move into the trot.  I don't know if I really set us up for success but on the last one, Cricket put in an energetic trot and held it through the change.  I figured that was enough and told her how wonderful she was.

Leaving the arena, I sent her back to the hay and we played some more with her idea.  I opened her stall door and asked her to back into her stall and quickly come forward for more hay.  She liked that a fair bit and it was a little bit of a challenge to get her to stay in her stall.

Last night made me aware of how I have drained the fun out of being with my horse.  Up until now, it's been about what we need to do or worse, what we cannot do.  It's not been about what we can do or better still what we want to do.

This is supposed to be fun.  It's supposed to be recreation for both of us.  So what if she's not perfectly bio-mechanically correct, so what if I ride a bit like a drunk monkey, so what if she doesn't canter on line.  We'll get there . . . when we're both ready.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Different Take on Yes and No

In a recent issue of the Savvy Times, Linda Parelli wrote an article on the Minister of No vs. the Ambassador of Yes.  This theme has come up, in different ways, in various aspects of my life.

I've been reflecting on this and have come to the decision that, in order to say YES to the parts of my life I most want to embrace, it's time to say NO to some other parts.

I have no energy, no joy in my play sessions with Cricket.  All my "yes" has been used up and all I'm left with is "no."

I started saying "no" when I gave Bleu back.  It was a hard decision but the right one.  Bleu is doing so well back in her old home.  It's hard to read the Facebook updates and not feel like a failure but I know I did the right thing for me and ultimately the right thing for Bleu.

I need to say "no" some more.

I need to say "no" to some of the things that waste my time.  Like spending way too much time on Facebook or other meaningless games on my laptop.

I need to say "no" to some things that do not constitute good use of my time.  I may decide to let go of trimming Cricket's feet.  It's not that I cannot do it but rather I don't want to have the pressure of maintaining her feet.

I need to say "no" so I can free myself to say "yes."

I want to feel more joy and connection in my play time with Cricket.  I want to get out from under the pressure of finishing my L3 and I want to forget about L4.

I want to feel more peace and serenity in my house.

I want to use my time to get things done rather than waste my time and scramble at the last minute.

So forgive me as I put on my Minister of No hat.  Forgive me if I'm just not as available or flexible as I once was.  Forgive me if I don't please you as I've often done in the past.  Forgive me as I learn to say "no."  But if you are patient and forgiving, I promise that when I can once again become the Ambassador of Yes, I will be a more true and authentic person.  I will bring more light and joy and our interactions will be richer because of it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Concerning Circles

I have this idea that if could ever achieve even a modicum of mastery of circles with Cricket I would be somewhat of a horseman.

And not just will she send, will she stay out, will she come back.  I mean rhythm, cadence, tempo, impulsion, obedience, flexion and maybe a little exuberance.

Cricket on a circle is the picture of resignation.  She puts forth only as much energy as it takes to create motion in a sort of forward direction.

Nothing I have done has produced consistent results.  I've tried psychology - do less to try and cause her to want to do more.  After awhile she realizes she can just do less.  I've tried playing a game - come here so I can tag you.  That will get her energy up but only in short bursts and it's pretty easy to cross the line into offending her.  I've tried leaving her alone and rewarding her when she offers more.  I've tried a driving circle game.

But fundamentally, I saw no purpose in the circle game.  And neither did Cricket.

Sunday night, I asked my friend Kathy to watch our circle game.  At best she might see something I was missing; at worst she could at least commiserate with me.

So I just played while Kathy watched.  Cricket did her poky little trot.  Her canter was barely a canter.  It was more of an "un-trot" - four beat, stilted and just crap.  Her walk was not easily distinguished from her halt.

Kathy and I chatted about it.  She has some similar issues with her LBI TWH mare.  Kathy suggested using raised poles on opposite sides of the circle to see if the pattern itself could cause Cricket to move better.

I put two ground poles on Rail Razers and sent Cricket on the circle.

It's almost embarrassing how un-athletic she was about these little poles.

To clear the poles in stride, Cricket needed to be straight on the circle.  Which she wasn't.  Hmm, how interesting!

So I left her alone and she started to figure it out.  And she started to move forward in a lovely energetic trot.  All without me asking.  I rewarded the trot and then asked her to go again.

On the right circle, she offered the canter and after a few laps, she adjusted her stride and balance and was doing the most beautiful free, flowing canter.  She was taking the poles in stride and she was just relaxed.  I cannot count how many circles she did - isn't that cool in and of itself?!

To the left, she was a bit of a hot mess.  She kept falling in on the circle and loosing the arc.  She was bunny-hopping on her hind legs instead of reaching into her stride.  I had to use some driving on the circle to encourage her and help her understand what I wanted.  Physically, she never got it as well on the left as on the right but mentally she was trying her heart out.  I rewarded her for a good try and called it a day.

So now my quest is to find ways to turn the circle into a "maintain gait" puzzle and build her both mentally and physically.  I was so pleased with how well she worked to figure out the game and this might be a way forward.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

If It's Not One Thing . . .

I mentioned it in passing but feel it deserves a little more attention . . . Cricket has borderline anemia.

Cricket has been lethargic for the past month or so.  By nature she's a conservationist but something told me there was more to the picture.  I'd seen her nibbling some weeds in her pasture and became concerned about possible toxicity.  I made an appointment and had my vet draw blood to run a full check on her.

The good news is - no liver or kidney damage.  In fact Dr. Harry said her levels and ratios couldn't be more perfect.  The one anomaly is her low red blood cell count and low hemoglobin.*  Her red blood cells are perfectly healthy but there just aren't enough of them.

That would explain the lethargy. But what explains the anemia?

There are three main causes for anemia in horses: blood loss, increased blood cell destruction and inadequate blood cell production.  My gut feeling is Cricket is suffering from inadequate blood cell production.

The most obvious sign of blood loss would be acute injury.  That one's easy to rule out.  Other sources of blood loss can be gastric ulcers and parasite infestations.  Symptoms of gastric ulcers and parasite infestations can include, among other things, poor appetite, poor hair coat, mild colic and weight loss.  Cricket shows none of these signs.  Outwardly, she appears to be the picture of health.  Minus the whole "I'm not moving" thing.

Blood cell destruction is often accompanied by fever, yellowish mucous membranes and, in more severe cases, dark reddish urine.  Possible causes are toxicity (red maple leaves or certain classes of drugs) or infection (EIA).  Another cause could be increased exposure to wild onions or garlic, resulting in Heinz body anemia.  As Cricket's blood cells appeared perfectly health, it is unlikely cell destruction is a the root of her problem.

So by process of elimination, we have inadequate blood cell production.  And of course this is the hardest to resolve.  Go figure.  Just my luck.

Inadequate blood cell production can result from prolonged disease, stress, environment, nutrition and probably the alignment of the planets.  Okay, maybe not the last one but still . . . .

Since her blood work showed no signs of infection, I can rule out one cause.

I'm going to look at stress, nutrition and environment and see if we cannot iron out the kinks.  She's been on limited pasture forage and I think her run-mate is bullying her out of her food.  When horses lack access to adequate forage, it can increase stress.  Horses have evolved to graze slowly over long periods of time.  Unfortunately modern horse-keeping doesn't always honor that instinct.  Different horses have different levels of tolerance.  Apparently Cricket's is pretty low.  Go figure.  Just my luck.

* this is the diagnosis as I recall from my phone conversation with my vet.
† Please note the information in this blog post is based on my internet research following Cricket's diagnosis.  It is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.  If you suspect your horse is anemic, please contact your veterinarian and discuss your concerns.