Friday, July 26, 2019

Some days.

It's hard to believe that Snoopy has been retired and living in Temecula for almost two years. 

Snoopy kept following me around the paddock. 

Last year, Frostie joined him, although they don't live in the same paddock. She lives at the other end, with another mare, Aisha, and a gelding, Bodie. Her next-door neighbors include a Mustang named John Doe. He's her boyfriend. Bodie is interested, also. It's quite the triangle.

Frostie, chilling in her fly mask.

I try to visit as often as I can. Sometimes, it's once a week, sometimes it's once a month. Temecula is a good hour-and-a-half from my house, so I have to plan a 4ish-hour trip. I always bring treats for them all, carrots or apples. At Christmas, there are candy canes. When I can in the summer, I make popsicles for them out of Jello, apple juice, carrots and apples.

It never feels like enough.

Some days, I go and feed them and pet them and feel happy that they are settled and being horses. Some days, it's more like a haunting--a graveyard of memories. I remember meeting Frostie for the first time, at a horse show in Santa Barbara. By the time the show was over, I wanted her so badly, it felt like a fire in my gut.

I also reminisce about Snoopy and me. I have a new show horse now. His name is All Hats Off, aka Dhani. He is beautiful, and a great competition horse--easy to ride, totally chill personality, yet quirky. I'm having a great time bonding with him. He's not as cuddly as Frostie, but he doesn't try to eat me like Snoopy does. I'd say, he puts up with my nose smooches. He's a much better show horse than Snoopy, and we get better every time we compete.

Dhani and I at the Hollywood Charity Horse Show

Having said all that, there are still days when I wish with all my heart that he was Snoopy.

Today, I visited and spent time talking to each of them. Frostie and I talked about planning for an emergency. I explained that, if and when the time comes for her to cross over, I want to be there with her, but I may not be able to. The most important thing for me is that she not suffer just because I can't get there in time. I told her that I would be with her in my heart, and I would always love her.

Did she understand? I can't say, but it made me feel better.

Snoopy and I remembered all the good times at the shows, even the times he was a total goofball and grabbed plants and things on the trail course. I told him how grateful I was for everything he taught me, and that, even if he wasn't an "old soul," he'd earned his place as one. When the day comes for him to cross over, I thought he'd be able to return, if he wanted, to help someone else the way he helped me.

Did he understand? I can't say, but... hell, I'm not sure if I understood.

Afterward, I had a lovely lunch at South Coast Winery, and cried all the way home. 

Some days are like that.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Retirement is good

Dear Diary,

I am happy. Living at Miss Linda's ranch, hanging out with my friends all day, is good. I get lots of food and attention. MomToo visits me pretty often. I'm always happy to see her, but when I first moved here, I got mad if she didn't come every week.

At least, as I counted the sunrises.

I was in a pen with Freeze and Briley. Then a new horse came, Sebastian. He was next door, with Joey and Seven. Sebastian is a big horse, bigger than me, and kept pushing Joey and Seven around. They didn't like that, so Miss Linda moved me in with Joey and Seven, and put Sebastian in with Briley and Freeze.

That was pretty perfect. Joey and Seven liked me a lot better than they liked Sebastian. Of course, I've gotten better horse manners, too, after being with Freeze and Briley. They are now teaching Sebastian good manners.

Our paddock is quieter than next door. Briley and Freeze like to run and play. I like to run and play, too, but sometimes it makes my body tired. Joey and Seven just like to hang out. Seven can't run very well because his knees hurt. I like hanging out, especially with Joey. We are best friends now.

(Seven and I are waiting for Joey to come back from his morning snack.)

My hair is getting very thick and my mane is long and I don't look like a show horse any more. Monte still comes to trim my feet. I don't wear shoes on my back feet now. MomToo says I look like a horse, which is good, because that's what I am.

Life is good.

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. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Ranch Rashomon

Gayle's story:

I've lived long enough to know that change comes to everything. Sometimes it's a matter of simple, small adjustments over time, so that you don't notice that nothing is the same until you look back through the years. Sometimes it's an abrupt difference in the way you do things, or where you live. 

We've recently been through the abrupt thing, as a result of the small adjustments. My horse trainer Niki has moved two doors down--that's the abrupt one. It happened as a result of the little things we didn't notice until we turned around. We loved the Silver Rose Ranch. It was peaceful and pretty. Snoopy was born there. When other trainers came and went, we sighed and said, "More arena space for us."

Then we looked up one day and saw that we were isolated from other horse trainers, other horses, and opportunities for Niki to expand her business. It was a gut-wrenching process, touring the new facility, asking question after question, wondering whether we really had to do this. 

In the end, the answer was yes. We've been at the Hillcrest Equestrian Center for a week. It's lovely and quiet. The other trainers and their clients are friendly. 

Of course, my horses are settling in, each a little differently. I'll let them tell you what they think.

Frostie's turn:

Gayle told me of the new stable before we went. She tries so hard to visualize what is going to happen so I'm not surprised by anything. I don't like surprises. She kept showing me a very large pipe corral with a roof on half of it, and shavings. 

At least, I thought I didn't like surprises. Instead of taking me to the pipe corral, she took me to a much fancier in-and-out. It's kind of like a box stall with a little yard attached to it. I have two neighbors. Both are very nice, after I explained I was the mare in charge. We eat flake hay here, not cubes, and they clean my stall a lot.

If I had one complaint, I'm not fond of the walk to the round pen and the arena. It's very uphill. I had to stop three times the first day because I'm not used to the climb. But other than than, I love my new home.

Snoopy's thoughts:

WHERE AM I?!?!?! 

I am not at a horse show, because no one is giving me a bath or putting bands in my mane. I am not at home, but I am close to my home. I've never lived anywhere but my home. I can smell my home from my stall. Why am I here?

They feed me good here. Lots of hay. The first few days, I couldn't stop walking around in my stall. MomToo is worried because I look so skinny. The arena is good. The dirt there is very soft and bouncy, and makes my legs feel good. 

I don't like the crossties so much. There is a bar in the back and when I step back, it hits me in the bottom. Then there are buildings and horses and people and noises behind that. It makes me nervous. 

MomToo keeps telling me that we've moved, and this is my new home, but she is still my MomToo and Auntie Niki are still here and no one will leave me. After a while, I started believing what she said. I'm getting calmer now.

I've seen Mom every day, too. She tells me to calm down, that this is a good ranch and I will like it here. As long as I'm with my family and my friends, I guess she's right.

Gayle again:

Come visit Victory Farms at Hillcrest Equestrian Center!

Friday, May 22, 2015

The view from the outside looking in

Remember a few posts back when Dr. Pollard was flexing Snoopy's feet and discovered his front feet were bothering him? 

As treatment, we've been giving Snoopy Previcox (an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever) and monthly Adequan injections for osteoarthritis. He has his days where he starts out stiff and warms out of it, then his days where he's good unless I jog him in a sudden, tight circle right. His lope still feels like an off-kilter washing machine. So I started thinking...

Perhaps it was time to take some x-rays. Not only might we see what's going on, but we would have a baseline for any future changes.

Karma was kind to me, and Dr. Pollard could only come out on the same day as Monte, our farrier. This meant Monte could pull Snoopy's shoes for the photos, then put them back on, or make changes if necessary.

My biggest fear was that we'd take the photos and not see anything. That's more frustrating than seeing something awful.

What did we see? Let me show you a diagram of how a horse's leg is supposed to look:

Snoopy's legs don't look anything like this. His cannon bones (the beige one) tilt slightly in one direction. The two pastern bones (the green and purple) are straight, then the hooves tilt in the other direction. 

As Monte said, "He gets his legs from his mom. They grow in three different directions."

The x-ray on his right leg told the story of what was wrong. Along the outside of the hoof, next to the little point (see the red arrow, but on the opposite side) there was a weird arcing structure pointing up toward the purple bone. Dr. Pollard said that was calcification, which wouldn't account for his soreness UNLESS it was combined with what he showed me on the outside of the top of the green bone - a tiny bone spur pointing toward the brown bone. 

The bone spur was miniscule, but the way his leg winds this-way-and-that, it's like having a teeny pebble in your shoe. It's not going to result in amputation, but it bugs the heck out of you.

Monte and Dr. Pollard discussed his shoeing needs and decided on aluminum bar shoes. More expensive (*sigh* Ka-Ching), but it would fortify his heels and support the sidewalls. 

We gave him a few days off, per the doctor's orders, and today I watched Niki ride him. He landed a lot easier on his front feet, and she said his lope felt better. 

I'm just happy that it's easier for him to move without discomfort. And now we know where to look when anything changes.