Friday, August 18, 2017

The big change

Dear Diary,

Things are different now. 

After the last horse show, MomToo and Auntie Niki acted a lot different. They tried not to worry me about it, but I knew. The last horse show was my last horse show. MomToo kept crying and trying to hide it from me. I could tell, though, when she rode me, how sad she was. 

It was okay, really. I like the shows, but I'm tired. My legs are always kind of achy, and I can't stand up as straight and round as I used to. I feel kind of...old.

I heard MomToo and Auntie Niki talk about moving me to a place. At first, I thought they were talking about the Clover Fields, and I didn't think I was ready to die. Then I figured out they were talking about places that have pastures for me to hang out in all day. That sounded good, but I was worried I'd never see them again.

A friend of MomToo's came to visit me. She was a very nice lady, very quiet, and just listened while I talked. I told her to tell MomToo that it was okay to give up showing. It was fun and I know we won some things, but I was too tired to keep doing it. I also told her how much I missed Bubba. He died last year, and he was my only friend. 

I asked her, if I went to another place, would I ever see MomToo again, and she said, "Oh, yes, she says she will visit you at least once a week." I felt a lot better.

(Now I have to remember how many times the sun comes up in order to make a human week. I don't count that well.)

After that, I made certain to tell the lady how much I love MomToo and how grateful I am for everything she did for me, from helping me be born to making sure I had good doctors when I broke my leg, to never giving up on me. The lady started crying when she gave MomToo my message. 

I didn't mean to do that.

One morning, Auntie Niki and MomToo showed up and put me in the moving box. I didn't have a bath, so I knew I wasn't going to a show. I was in the box for a long time, bouncing along. At last, we stopped, and when I got out, I saw great big pens with horses in them. A lady was there. She showed Auntie Niki where to lead me.

Auntie Niki put me in a pen by myself. It was huge! I walked around, sniffing it, until I found a horse in the pen next to me. He put his head over the fence--I hadn't put my head over a fence since I was a baby. We started to play, running up and down, chasing each other, striking and kicking. 

All of a sudden, the lady chased my friend into his barn, and Auntie Niki took me out of that pen. Darn! She put me in the pen with two horses, Joey and Seven. Seven is really old and grumpy. When I tried to touch him with my teeth, he kicked me. Joey kept trying to bite my shoulder, so I bit his leg. I thought that we were playing.

I guess it's been a long time since I played with another horse. Johnny and Tucker and Uncle Snowy weren't that playful when I was a baby. They just wanted me to behave.

Auntie Niki took me out of that pen and put me in with two other horses, Freeze and Briley. I liked these guys. Freeze made me walk to each corner of the pen, while Briley watched. Nobody tried to kick or bite me. At last, we all just stood in the sunshine and rested.

"Relax," Freeze told me. "We live here all the time. We've got forever to be friends."

It was then, standing with my head down and my leg cocked, that I felt like I was home. I wasn't nervous about anything. I still needed to get to know my new friends, but I hadn't had a friend for a long time. 

MomToo was nervous. She and Auntie Niki kept looking at me as they walked to the truck. Even as they drove away, I knew they were looking at the pen. I didn't look at them. I was too busy introducing myself to everyone, even the lady. Her name is Miss Linda, and I like her.

So far, MomToo has been visiting me a lot. She brings me treats, and shares them with the others. Freeze and Briley and I have figured out who is in charge, and I can now eat at the feeder with them. I'm still learning my manners--I had forgotten much of what Uncle Snowy taught me.

MomToo says I can live here forever, which is good. She says she'll visit as often as she can, and that I'll always be close in her heart, which is better. 

It's still a wonderful life.

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.