Sunday, June 4, 2017

The last dance

Even before we went to Burbank this weekend, we knew.

After the Del Mar fiasco, I said I wanted to take him to the Burbank show, just to see if he was calmer, to see if his performance improved when he wasn't stressed and exhausted. I said he'd definitely be retired at the end of this season.

But Niki knew the truth of it, and in the end, so did I.

Every lesson at home told me that his body moved differently. I was now doing a lot of work to keep his shoulders up, his hips pushing forward. Sometimes it felt like rubbing my head and patting my stomach--lifting the reins, sitting right, rubbing my right spur against him, just to get a left lead that would get us both over the poles. Poles that were flat on the ground.

By the time we loaded up for the Hollywood Charity Horse Show, I knew it was our last competition.

The good news is, Snoopy was happy to be there. He settled pretty quickly. When he wasn't eating large quantities of hay, he was asleep. He actually laid down at one point. The barn was a good place, unlike Del Mar.

As expected, though, his body tired easily and getting him around the courses was doable, but not pretty. I won't fault him, won't tell you he was being lazy. He responded to my leg, never ignored me. He gave us everything he had. 

As Niki warmed him up for his last class, she said at one point he laid his ears back and she could swear she heard him say, "Woman! I am TRYING to do what you're asking! THIS is all I've GOT!"

Maybe he did.

Usually, at a horse show, Niki takes him in a class to school him, preferably before my class. Even if she goes after me, she can clean up the areas I screw up on. At this show, her class was after mine. I told her on Saturday, that if she didn't want to show, there was no point in cleaning him up after my class. It wasn't like he was going to show, ever again.

"No, no, I'll do it," she said.

Stupid me. I was so focused on my last ride with the big goofball, it didn't dawn on me that she'd like one more time to take him around a course. 

I stayed focused on the task at hand and didn't think about what it meant. It turned out to be a hard ride, because everytime I did something I wasn't happy with, I'd think, I'll have to work on this at home. Then I'd realize I didn't have to. Still, I didn't cry until I was done and had dismounted. That moment, of my boots on the ground, signaled the end.

Niki waited until the end, too, because she couldn't risk having tears on her eyeglasses. There was crying, there was hugging. An era ended.

My friends Ernie and Tina were sweet enough to capture my last ride.


And I captured Niki's go (excuse the wobbly camera work).


So here's a little ditty for us to ride off into the sunset. 

Happy Trails.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Reality packs a wallop.

I've been pretty quiet for a long time here, as has Snoopy. Last year was good for us, once we convinced Snoopy's body to cooperate. It took a few visits from Dr. Pollard, a new anti-inflammatory, and a bi-weekly shot of Adequan (joint lubricant) to get there. And by "there" I mean we got to a New Normal. Snoopy warmed up slower, and his left lead began to feel very much like an off-balance washing machine. But I learned how to push the back end and lift the front end to even him all out, and we went out and showed.

We showed well, even going to Las Vegas to the Novice Championships. It was the only time we could have gone, since you usually have to get enough show points to be invited. In 2016, they moved the show date up, so they waived the point requirement. Snoopy and I have never shown enough in a single year to earn enough points. 

Vegas, baby!

My promise to him has always been to keep him as sound and as comfortable as I can, for as long as possible. You cannot realistically do that if you run around showing all year. We had a four-show-per-year budget, both for my wallet and his body.

This year, Snoopy's body needed more convincing. In addition to the anti-inflammatory, we upped the Adequan to once a week, added monthly(ish) Legend injections (another drug for joints), injected his hocks specifically with hyaluronate sodium, and finally got "there" -- to yet another New Normal. Now his jog looked choppy and his bionic leg looked very stiff and vertical at the lope. Kind of like a peg leg.

I considered getting him an eye patch and a parrot, but he finally came around and started moving better. Not like two years ago better, but "serviceably sound," as we say in horses.

We went to our first show this month in Del Mar, at the racetrack. Snoopy was a good horse in the arena. He was very obedient and calm. Back at the stall was another matter. He was distressed. He paced, he circled, he reared, he screamed. For five days. He never laid down, never relaxed, barely ate.

The first day it was annoying. The second day it was frustrating. From that point on, it was heartbreaking. He'd only eat if the hay was outside the stall and I held the lead rope. He only slept when I led him to the arenas and let him stand around with the other horses. We had been joking about his fat hay belly when we got there; by the third day, we could see his ribs. That's about 100 pounds, folks.

And although he was technically good in the arena, he wasn't pretty to watch. I rode well and he got over the poles, but our scores were average. We weren't competitive.

Getting mileage out of that outfit--and that pad looks gorgeous on him!

So Niki and I have talked. Maybe it was the Del Mar stalls that stressed him. Maybe if he wasn't so exhausted, he could have moved better on the course. Maybe. 

Or maybe the day I promised has come, the day he is no longer sound enough and comfortable enough. I just didn't know it would come this soon. He's only 13. 

We plan to take him to Burbank at the end of May, to a show he's been to many times, to verify whether it was Del Mar that he hated, or whether he is telling us in the only way he can that he doesn't want to show anymore.

The bottom line is, we'll be retiring him, if not in June, then certainly by the end of this show season. 

In the meantime, Niki is looking for a good retirement home for him. The bad part about not having horse property is that I can't just bring him home with me. 

I spend my time crying at odd moments. This is my baby. I've known him since I watched the vet inseminate Frostie. I helped pull him out. He'll always be my baby. My big, silly, frustrating, funny baby.

Now I watch Niki warm him up and see how hard he tries for her and I weep about how his body looks in each attempt. I'd like him to be able to relax, just be a horse, but I worry about taking him to a new place--will he understand that I'm not abandoning him? 

I've learned so much about riding from him. 

I'm trying to be philosophical and realistic about all this, but it's hard. I keep waiting for him to open his mouth and tell me it'll be all right.