Monday, June 29, 2015

She's a Lady....and the Lady is Ours

There's a new lady in Bud's life.
Meet Ruby.
Ruby is a 9 year old Thoroughbred who became part of our family today.  We've been talking about getting another horse to keep Bud company and for Mark and I to ride for years now but the time and place were never right.  Well, the time and place was finally right a couple months ago ( basically since we moved to the new place and established a family type relationship with the owner) and we began searching.
Finding the right fit for our family and Bud was extremely frustrating at times - you would think finding a horse that was younger than Bud and in better physical shape would be pretty easy, right?  Wrong! After calling on ads and visiting several horses in person, then walking away either sad or angry, I decided to put an ISO ad up.  I did not think it'd come to anything based on my requirements and what we'd already seen but within 12 hours I was contacted by a lady who had what seemed like just what I had been searching for.   We conversed for a few days and she sent many pictures and videos for my inspection and things just kept looking better and better.
Let me stop and say that this was another of those instances that you KNOW was a match made by God.  Everything just fell together and clicked.  One of the main issues we were having with sellers was blatant dishonesty and this lady left me with a sense that she could be trusted and that the drive to her place would be worth our time.  So we went out to meet both her and her horse yesterday....during what ended up being a really awesome thunderstorm.
 It made for an interesting backdrop which Mark is kicking himself now for not videotaping.  We both wish he would have based on how things went.  It would have been really fun to share.
Ruby's owner saved her from a slaughter buyer at Emerald Downs (race track) last August.  Apparently she went to buy a specific broodmare from a specific seller who had several other mares up for bid.  She got her desired mare but after the auction found the mare's owner in tears over a kill buyer getting Ruby.  Ruby's owner sought after the kill buyer and bought her from him.  Her plan was to re home her but time just got away from her last year and she never listed her.   She was just about to list her last week when she saw my ISO.   She thought Ruby might be a good fit for me and reached out and I am so thankful she did.
When my first horse died, it was SO hard to search for a new horse.  None of them compared to what I had.  We ended up with Bud's mom, ten months pregnant, and while this sounds harsh, Bud's mom was no prize.  I tried to love her.  I really did.  But I didn't.  My mom picked her out thinking it was a really good two for one deal.  And it was because I ended up with Bud.
  When Bud was born, my lack of love for his mommy didn't really matter because I gave Bud my full attention.  But he still wasn't anything like my old horse.  And the pain of loss lingered for a long time.  Looking for a horse while Bud is still alive so that he can impart some of his "Budness" to has always seemed like a good idea.  And when the day comes when Bud is done with this world, perhaps it would soften the blow to still have a horse who knew Bud and learned from him.   I hope to not know for sure about this for many years but it seems like a good plan for now.  Anyway, looking at the perspective horses that we did not buy sent my emotions back to the loss of my first horse.  The feelings of disappointment when we looked at horse after horse and none of them even came close.  Only then, I just went home feeling the loss even more and there was no remedy.  This time, I'd come home feeling sad/angry and then head out to see Bud for some Bud therapy.  At least he was still alive and it wasn't as horrible to find nothing as it had been in the past.   Mostly I felt sorry for the horses we'd seen and hoped they'd find owners who could help them - some of them were in BAD shape.
We went to meet Ruby yesterday.  I told the owner what I wanted to do with her and the plan was agreed to so all was set before we arrived.  Ruby was out in her pasture with her mates and walked right up to me.  She stood with great interest while I looked her over and picked up her feet, still loose in the field.  Her owner gave Mark and I space to really get to know her which was nice.  It didn't take five minutes before I knew she was the one.  She acted a lot like Bud, in girl form.  And I didn't think it was possible for a horse to be more loving that Bud, but she was, right there in the field.  What is funny is that when we were looking for a horse to replace my first horse, I wanted a horse I could ride anywhere.  Personality didn't enter in because my first horse was pretty bland.  And now, it isn't so much about riding anywhere as it is about personality.  Being sound and free of metabolic issues was also a must but having both of those AND personalty makes it a win.
I wanted to be able to catch Ruby, bring her into an open space and groom her.  Then work her on the lunge, tack her up and ride.  That was the plan but as I told her owner, I was going to assess where she was and take her as far as I could take her.  If she showed me she wasn't ready for any step in the process, I would not push her.  The owner didn't really know what Ruby was capable of.  Ruby was on the track for her first five years and she won a few races.  Then she was a Mama.  Then she was back at the track for auction.  Then she came to her current owner.  The owner did not ride anymore and never bonded with Ruby so didn't do much with her.  I figured that if we didn't buy her, at least the owner would have a better sense of what Ruby could do from our visit and that might help her to place her with another family.
The main issue the owner had with Ruby was that Ruby was bonded so strongly with her other mare that they could not be separated.  She was concerned about this being an issue when we came to visit.  As Mark and I groomed Ruby, she got nervous when the other mare left her sight so I took Ruby out to lunge.  This was during the lightning storm.  It was far enough away but interesting to note that Ruby did not care about any of it.  I got her going, which she did not initially like, so she started racing and bucking in the round pen.  Her owner was a little worried so Mark went to sit outside with her to comfort her.  I'm serious. 
She really needed him to feel assured that I had this under control.  We later found out that the owner was never able to control Ruby, was fearful of her in certain circumstances and she assumed the same would happen to me.  It did not.   Bud acts like an idiot just like this on the lunge at times and I just ignore it, let him get it out of his system and we go on.   After a few minutes she settled back into a nice trot and I said, "Would you like to walk now?"  Her answer was to walk.  A nice under control walk.  I then asked her to stop and then asked her to come in, motioning with my hand, much like I do with Bud.  I really didn't expect her to understand but in she came showing me all the signs that she was calm and ready to mind.  I hand walked her for a bit telling her how good she was, then took her back to tack her up.   I never tied her up once in this, same as I don't with Bud, he just stands and so did she.  It was wonderful.
The owner was really not wanting me to ride.  It'd been awhile since she rode because she had an unfortunate accident that has left her afraid to get back on.   I think she was afraid for me.  Like she was having flashbacks.  I assured her that I would not get on if I did not think Ruby would be fine.  It wasn't as if Ruby was having her first ride.
  I ended up spending ten minutes fixing her tack which was sized for the owner's former horse before I could even put it on, all the while Ruby watched and waited.  She no longer cared about the other mare.    She was 100% tuned in to me.  I had to sign a release that I would not sue for injury and the owner was still really leery about me getting on.  Note:  I used to exercise race horses, I know what they are like.  I assured the owner again that I would not get on Ruby if I didn't think she'd be fine.  At that point, I knew we'd be buying her so I definitely would not want to set her up to fail.   Where Bud is, we don't have a round pen, so it was safer for me to actually take the first ride there.  I had Mark come help at this point, keeping Ruby on the lunge with Mark holding it:  ground support.  I got on with no issue.  I felt Ruby tense up a bit and assured her that she was doing very well.  I had Mark lead her, keeping her close she could just get used to a rider again.  She was tentative, but relaxed quickly.  The tight circles got larger and larger until I was on the rail and Mark had a loose attachment in the center of the ring.  I was steering and Ruby was listening.  She felt like a racehorse.  Very responsive to leg, but a bit hard to steer.  Within a couple minutes, she was understanding what I was asking.  I was SO impressed.  This horse has most likely not been ridden since 2011 so it was just awesome.  I was probably on for less than ten minutes and it was enough to know what I needed to know.  She was like Bud in that she was extremely teachable.  I got off her with a flying leap, just like I exit Bud's back and she acted like that was common for her.  It was awesome!   There were absolutely no red flags. 
We untacked Ruby and did our final groom as I do with Bud before turn out and she remained focused on us, never caring what her mare friend was doing.  Her owner walked up and I told her that I wanted to buy her and then asked if she was comfortable selling her to me.  It was a big resounding YES!  Her owner has told me several times during the final transaction that she knew Ruby was meant for us based on how everything went.    She said she knew it on a spiritual level.  She said she believed God cared about horses and He made this whole thing possible.  So, I am not the only one who feels this.  It is nothing short of God to both buyer and seller.
You might think it doesn't get better than this but it does.  We went to get her today.  Always nerve wracking hauling a horse trailer...but even more so when you really don't know how the horse will react.  With all the formalities taken care of, I walked Ruby in her field to make sure she remembered me and was going to be attentive and react how I wanted her to.  She did.  Then I led her out of the field away from her friend.  Her nervousness was immediately apparent.  I kept walking, ignoring it, just walking like it was normal.  She settled.  Her owner told Mark she was astounded that Ruby left the field like that.  Apparently she was never able to take Ruby out of the field without the other mare in tow.  I am not saying I am SO AWESOME, I am just saying that Ruby and I connected and she was as okay as she could be leaving her friend.   We allowed her to get into the trailer in her own timing which only took a few minutes.  She was still nervous so I asked her to stand a minute and then allowed her to exit.  She got out well, unlike Bud who seems to get hurt every time he gets out so I was happy.  I took her around the yard another few laps and told Mark that we would load her this time and it would be for real.  Again, in her own time, now less than 30 seconds, Ruby got in and stood.  We secured her, said our thank you's again and were off.  Ruby did not cry for her friend.  She stomped the floor a few times and after that was quiet.  It was just over an hour home with much prayer for safety.  We arrived very safely thank God and found her standing calmly waiting to get out.  She exited the trailer just as calmly and we led her into the field. 
Bud had been watching all of this from afar.  I think he recognized the trailer and did not want to approach.  The trailer, to him, means he is moving and trust me, he doesn't want to move.  So he kept his distance which allowed us to show Ruby the smaller field, the water, hay, fence line, etc.  And Bud calmly stood outside and watched.  A gentleman.  Or maybe he was just dumbfounded.  Mark brought him in and I turned Ruby loose.  Their first meeting was uneventful in that there was no kicking, squealing, etc.  They smelled each other's noses, and then proceed to lick each other's faces.  I have never seen anything so cute in my life.  It was like they were long lost friends.  And after that, they stayed together.  Bud following her kindly as she checked out the field.   A bit like a doting father or even a loving grandfather.  It was awesome. 
These are some pics I took in the first ten minutes.

I just had a shouldn't surprise me that a horse that reminded me so much of Bud would be able to fit in with Bud like they were old friends.  It's still cool.
We left the horses to get to know each other for a few hours and returned later to see what they were up to.  Bud is smitten.  He nickers to her in a low soft voice much like his mommy used to nicker to him when he was a baby.  It is so cute.  They touch noses and lick faces about every ten minutes.  If Ruby gets too far away from Bud, he prances around like a stallion to get her attention.  Now that is hilarious.  We got them both groomed and good for the night and then went to top off their water.  They both, being super curious, came to watch.  I used the hose like a sprinkler and they stood under it of their own free will.  And then it just got funny because Bud got one side sprayed and then turned his butt to us for it to get sprayed.  And then he turned to his other side for it to get sprayed.  Ruby did the same.  They loved it.  And after that I got out the video camera to capture what they did next.
It is surreal.  Ruby will get a few more days to settle in before she begins her training.  I look forward to getting her going.  The thought is that following the same workout that Bud is doing, she will be ready for some good trail rides next year.  She looks pretty good for a former mommy, but like Bud, there is a lot of room for improvement. 
Mark and my biggest impression of Ruby was that she needs a real family to thrive.  She is an amazing mover and as I mentioned, learns very easily, but what I did not mention is that she has a few nervous habits.  My belief is that they came from life on the track as I've seen them before.  So we will work with her slowly and gently so that trust is consistently built and hope these will just vanish.  She is super loving already and I think once there is a good foundation of trust, there will be no limit on what she will do or be.
But the most important thing is: we love her and Bud loves her and she has found her forever home.  I am excited to see what the next days, weeks and months will hold.  One thing I am assured of, I will definitely be entertained.  And on another note, Bud's joy on earth is complete.  His loneliness is over.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

When Yesterday and Tomorrow Intersect

I've been working with Bud nearly every day without a miss since March.  Not aimless work or mindless riding by any means.  I have a definite goal in mind.  I want to bring his 22 year old body into a condition that matches his much younger heart.   Goals like this always start with the wishing phase.  I wish he was ten years younger.  I wish life would have afforded me the time I have with him now much earlier.  I wish tragedy would not have left me feeling like I was going to live perpetually in "catch-up" mode.  In many ways I continue to feel like I am waking up to the reality that too many opportunities have been lost to too many yesterdays.  It's not a good feeling.  It makes me wish we could pick and choose the areas of our life we wish to pause time on until we can get back to them.  Freeze Bud's aging at age 12, the age we took Samuel to meet him.

I remember being so proud of Bud on that day.  It'd been about three years since I'd last seen him.  He was enjoying herd life with about 20 horses on 60 acres yet he still came when we called as if nothing had changed and no time had passed.  He was so gentle and patient with the kids climbing on his back when prior to that, no one but I was ever on him.  The land owner even admitted her surprise over this.  But that's Bud.  That's why he's named Bud.  He's always been trustworthy.

Back in the "wishing" phase, I began to sort through all my pictures of him to determine when exactly his back began to drop and his posture took on that of an old man.   When we brought him home, he wasn't looking wonderful but that was accentuated by the laminitis where he stood and walked in very contorted ways to combat the pain.  And yet, it's one of those things that could not be helped at the time.

When I began to ride him in the years after the laminitis was resolved, I knew there was a problem with his aged shape but what I didn't know was that it could be corrected with proper workouts.  I thought when the back began to sink, that was it.  Not true.  Yet, even if I had known, I wasn't in a place where that work could have happened - it could not be done on the road.   Since moving him last year, that has changed.   

I've never been content to remain in the wishing phase of life.  The wishing always leads to questions of what can be done.  What can be done today to make tomorrow better?  Thanks to countless  hours of searching the internet and many youtube videos, I found exactly what I was needing to find.  Hope and a game plan.   Bud's physique can be improved immensely.  And as such, his quality of life will be improved as well.   Bud enjoys exploring the world outside his field so much and yet he's never been comfortable to go out for long.  We always come home before he's ready and he lets me know this by trying his best to walk past the gate in.  He definitely wants to keep going so it's been up to me to say "enough."

So here is a picture of Bud from early April.

Clearly, his back is collapsed, he has a pot belly and there is no muscling along his top line.  His hip bone protruding is showing a clear lack of any muscle both in front and behind it.

And here is a picture from late May (Daniel is peeking over the gate at him) showing a dramatic improvement.

His back has come up, he is carrying his belly better, and the muscling in his rump is starting to fill in.

This next picture was taken ten days ago.

Continued improvement!  This picture is comparable to how he looked at age 12.  Still lots of room for more improvement though but the difference in his shape in just two months of correct work is evident....and very hopeful.  I cannot wait to see how much he changes over the next two months.  Of course, patience is part of this work and that has never been my strong suit.  Taking lots of pictures and videos as we go along helps me see very vividly that progress IS being made.  It takes about a year of consistent correct work to bring the body, most importantly the top line muscles back. 

You might wonder how Bud feels about this.  Here is a picture of his "skeptical" look.

Actually, in this pic he was paying more attention to eating than to me so I tossed my hat at him and it landed perfectly on his rump.   He's asking me, "What are you doing now?  Stop annoying me!  I thought I was done for the day."   Pretty funny!

In all seriousness, he has been a willing participant.  He generally always has been but his new home has brought out the best in him.  He is happier, more willing and most importantly, he has given me his heart.  I like a willing participant in all areas of life.  Especially in dealing with horses.  I like my horse to have choices and hope he consistently choose to work with me.  I've said it a thousand times but Bud is the horse of a lifetime.  I can always hope to have another horse similar to him in the future, but I think that after Bud is gone, I will always look back and say he was "it."

The above picture is what my grooming/tacking up area looks like.  I was actually done for the day when I took this and notice that Bud is enjoying his favorite pass time, but he always stays close until I leave.  This is an immense change from his previous home where when his small amount of grain was gone, so was he.  These days, when I arrive, he heads straight in to this spot and waits patiently for me to bring everything out.  I don't have to tie him.  He chooses to be with me.  Some days I like to "test" this a little.  I bring everything out and then do chores.  I clean the water tub.  I pick up turd piles that are in my riding track.  He will be well finished with his food supplements that he thinks are candy before I am done and still he waits.  It's so special. 

Nearly each day he does something that is just SO cool.  I'm sure Mark is tired of hearing about how cute Bud is but I don't care.  It's been pretty hot here lately and I generally offer Bud water several times during our work but over the last couple days, right in the middle of his grooming session, he has decided to walk off.  The first time, I went after him thinking he was being naughty which only made him trot off.  I then thought he was being really naughty until he rounded the corner and went to get a huge drink.  Once I realized what he was doing, I simply went back to the grooming spot and waited.  Sure enough, he finished up and returned.  SO cute.   Along with getting his body back into shape, mutual trust and respect have also played a huge part here.  It's not just him listening to me, but also me listening to him.   It's about partnership period.  Nothing less is acceptable.

One of our early goals has been to get Bud to begin to loosen all his tight muscles.   He was over-developed in the underside of his neck and was literally pulling himself along by the shoulder.  This is incorrect movement.  His hind end should be the driving force.  For the last few months, I have been waiting for his muscles to release and allow him to begin to stretch under saddle.  And for the last few months, it hasn't happened to the degree in which would be most beneficial.  I kept telling myself, "Maybe tomorrow."  And I kept praying because that's always part of the plan as well.   A few days ago, tomorrow because today.  Those tight neck muscles released and his head literally fell to the ground while we were walking.  He began to actually twist his neck so far sideways that I could see his eye looking up at me.  Poor guy!   But that release brought him so much pleasure.  I could hear the "Ah, that feels so much better" as we went.   Of course, I was ecstatic!   It's huge for both of us not to mention that his work will now get easier and more comfortable for him.  Most importantly, it will be more enjoyable for both of us.

I had Mark come out to watch yesterday.  He agreed that Bud looked so much happier and more comfortable than he's ever seen him.  It's encouraging to get a second opinion on the matter from eyes on the ground as well.  Mark also took a ton of pics for me yesterday and they don't lie.

This one tops my list of favorites simply because it shows him really stretching and it shows how well that stretch is allowing his hind end to come under him and propel him forward.  Compare the above with the below taken a few days earlier.

This was captured at nearly the same leg position but his back is not round as it is in the first image.  He is more flat/hollow in the back in the above pic and his left hind looks like it is stuck in mud.  In short, movement isn't smooth, regular or balanced.
The above and below are much more balanced.
Big stretch here brings the tummy in and pulls his back up.  Over time, his back will pull up and flatten behind the saddle eliminating the dip you see there currently.  And that dip is already improved if you compare to the image below which was taken before we began to work correctly.
The above image was from early April.
I love how even a "boring" gait such as the walk can look dynamic when he is moving more correctly.
I love this pic above - it looks like Bud's skeptical "stop annoying me" look again but what happened was that we stopped to talk to Mark while he was snapping pictures and Bud tipped his head to have one ear on me and the other on Mark.  
Apparently he needed a closer look at the camera.
Happiest! Yummy carrot...

Friday, April 10, 2015

Twenty-Two: Five Years Past Laminitis

Yesterday was Bud's birthday.  He is now 22 years old - 66 in human years.  Come June, he will be five years beyond the laminitis. 
Laminitis is considered a death sentence for horses by most accounts.  If they don't lose their life to it initially, the prognosis for their future use is significantly diminished.  In addition, the risk of future laminitis episodes is huge and requires strict management.   Laminitis is akin to type 2 diabetes in humans.  It can be managed by a low-insulin diet, exercise, and weight management.  But with that said, "pasture pet" is a term often assigned to a horse who has recovered.  There is little hope for their use as a riding horse in any significant way.
I don't like prognoses that use the words "always" and "never."  I prefer to hope when most lose hope.  I prefer to try new things when others throw in the towel.   I prefer to go against the grain and hope to conquer the norm.
So here we are.
Bud is not a pasture pet.  He is not just a survivor, he is thriving! 
Bud has adjusted well to his new home.   He has been here just over five months  and seems happier than ever.  I am seeing a lot of his younger-self  behaviors coming through such as joy, playfulness, and curiosity.  It is wonderful to see given we have spent so many of those younger years apart and at times it has felt like it was forever a memory never to be relived.   He has been very patient with his three goat friends but thus far, none of them seem to have really bonded in any significant way.  They just keep him from feeling alone and bored which is a good thing.  The property owner is one of the best people I've ever dealt with and thus it's a pleasure to be there from all sides.  Hers and mine.  No longer are Mark and I referred to as "those horse people" and Bud referred to as a "dumb animal."  Makes a huge difference in the atmosphere.
Our weather has been good (read: little rain, temps in the 50's-60's) and this has provided me the opportunity to work with Bud 2-3 hours a day, 4-5 days a week.  It's been ages since I had this much time.  The progress he is making has also been significant.  Bud was never a "dumb animal" by any stretch but in all the years of my horse experience, he is the smartest horse I have worked with.  An old horse can learn new tricks!   In spite of his senior citizen status, his mind is as sharp as it ever was and his physique is coming along nicely in spite of the laminitis and old age.  He might have some gray hair, and he might be slightly stiff and slow in the mornings but when I get on his back, he often feels like a five-year-old.
When Bud came home in 2008, he had very limited riding hours on him.  He wasn't steering well at all and really had little understanding of what I was asking.  Because the property owner was adamant about me NOT riding on the property, all his training had to be done on the road.  While we do not live in a highly populated town, working a green horse that does not steer or stop well on roads with traffic, or trails with bikes, strollers, roller bladers, and skateboarders passing less than five feet away while semi trucks and Harleys are passing on the highway at highway speeds 50 feet away is less than a neutral, calming atmosphere.  
For the first year, where I could ride did not matter as he came home with a huge crack in his hoof all the way to the coronet band.  That killed riding for the first year or so.
Pulling this photo up again makes me sick.  Somehow I had forgotten how awful it was and yet it was nothing compared to the laminitis.
I was able to ride in 2009 but my head and heart just weren't in it.  One needs both especially to train in less than safe environments.  In 2010, Bud got what my farrier refers to as a VERY BAD laminitis.  But with her amazing work keeping his feet trimmed to encourage proper fusion in the new hoof structure, and guidance to me in what I should be doing with Bud at any given moment, he recovered extremely well.   Now instead of referring to Bud as the one with the VERY BAD laminitis, she refers to him as amazing.
From 2011 to now, my work with Bud has had many stops and starts.  There are a multitude of reasons for it: head, heart, environmental conditions - just to name a few.   Last summer, Bud was able to get from Point A to Point B but not always in a straight line.  (drunk Bud)   He was steering well, stopping reasonably well but still lazy as a turtle at times, and stubborn as a mule while he was mimicking a turtle.  And he still bucked so read NOT trustworthy under saddle.  In my younger days with my first horse, I had many an unfortunate opportunity to get dumped on the side of a busy road.   I am really not interested in this "fun" anymore.  Curbing Bud's issues in a meaningful and an "as safe as possible" manner really required a closed field.  As I now have such space and can actually use it, I can really begin to weed out these problems and make Bud into the kind of horse I always dreamed he'd be from the day he was born. 
Yesterday, I spent some time thinking about the day he was born and all I thought I would accomplish with him well before now.  Plans never go as scheduled.  But alas, I thanked God that I have the opportunity to do these things now.  I am so grateful that Bud is doing so well mentally and physically in spite of his past.   I thanked Bud for never giving up.  I thanked him for still being alive (my first horse died of colic at 14) and waiting for me.  Truth is, we've waited on each other for many years to get to the same place at the same time.
Now that we are finally able to do some "arena" work," (I put that in quotes because we have no arena but the work is the same) Bud is making steady progress in every area I've been wanting to refine.   One of the biggest nagging issues with laminitis is that the horse will not extend his gaits (read choppy jarring gaits) or ever be able to turn well due to sensitivity in the toe.  Try walking or turning without ever putting weight on the ball of your feet and you'll see what I mean.   Several of my starts and stops with Bud have been because I wasn't sure if he was being lazy or experiencing pain.   That was hard to determine because he really had no baseline to go back and compare to.  It wasn't as if he was perfectly trained and his capabilities known prior to the laminitis so I chose to be cautious and not sour our relationship by asking him too much too soon. 
What has really helped with this has been our move.  It has acted like a reset button.  His spirit is most certainly more positive.  His behaviour in the pasture points to joy almost daily.  His younger self is coming back.  Rather than mope around, he is moving with a purpose and more curious than ever.  He even plays hide-n-seek again!  This is my new baseline. 
Admittedly, Bud is slightly confused by all this field work.  As we've spent more time on the road, he actually prefers that.   His turtle/mule mentality says that was easier and I am sure that is some of it.  A quarter mile from this property is residential Buckley, sidewalks and all.  Thankfully, this city is quite used to horses walking around so we have always been kindly greeted by people working in their front yards while out and about.  Traffic has been equally respectful.  Bud loves these meanders through town.  One day, we visited the nearby church, played around in the parking lot and later helped them "mov the grass."  It's been quite fun for both of us and now this wardering around town is a reward for good work in the field.  He finds it relaxing which still strikes me as truly odd.  There's not a barn sour bone in his body.  He gives me no trouble leaving the field.  The trouble comes when returning to it.  Many people I tell this to wish they had the same issue.   Nevertheless, the field work/road reward system has already begun to pay off because he has been a much better mount on the road.  The turtle/mule issues have disappeared almost entirely.  Trust is increased significantly.  Field work is just what was needed.
Bud still has a long way to go in terms of building his back muscles and working off his hind end more than his front.  Both of these will help immensely with his current choppy trot and canter.  At this point, I don't think either of those gaits are choppy as a result of laminitis but rather because the muscles there are not developed yet.   For the majority of his life, he has not been carrying me.   This lack of muscular development would hold true for any horse who hasn't been carrying a rider on a regular basis.  What is encouraging at the moment is that he is really moving well and through his entire stride at the walk.  There is good rhythm.
Look at the extension of his two front legs here.  This is a wonderful, smooth, moving with a purpose walk that uses his whole foot, extends fully from the shoulders with good head and neck involvement.   No evidence of laminitis whatsoever nor is there evidence of old age stiffness.   I set up my not so great quality video camera yesterday (hence not so great quality stills from video but they give a good enough representation) so I could see what he looked like with me on him.  I was ecstatic when I saw this one above.  

In the past several years, we have done most of our work at the walk.  Remember, it took him several years past the laminitis to be able to canter with me on him.  And when he did, it was pretty uncomfortable so I limited it to the first eighth of a mile and I stood like a jockey while he did it.  I didn't want to hold him back from doing it because I was just so glad he offered it to me at all but a crappy gait does nothing to help build the back and hind muscles.  It in fact, causes more harm than good.  Just like when first going to the gym, you don't start with the most strenuous work if you are not fit to handle it.   You'll either be very, very sore or injure yourself if you do.  Same with horses.  The canter is not a gait Bud is ready to work with me on his back.  Other than a quick bout of "I'm excited, let me go for a few minutes," it serves no useful purpose. 
So we have started working intently with the walk and tiny amounts at the trot.  This kind of extension and purposeful walk without me nagging him every stride to get it tells me that eventually he will be able to trot and canter with similar extension and smoothness with me on his back.   Just takes diligence, practice and patience.  

Bud's attitude toward this new work has been very positive and I believe he looks very happy and even proud in the video.  In the end, that is what I want.  Enjoyed time spent together.  Period.

There was no "I'm mad" tail swishing whatsoever which speaks volumes about his attitude toward the work.  I felt like he was doing well while I was riding but seeing the video really solidified in my mind that we are on the right track.
Now onto turning - another thing that laminitis can affect.  You see the poles up behind me.  Once upon a time, Bud might have made a great pole bender.  His Mommy was.  He really is enjoying them.  He thinks I should allow him to canter them NOW.  I've allowed him to break to a canter from the trot but no matter how much he wishes he could be a speed demon, he is not yet ready.   But the fact remains that he CAN turn, sharply at times, without pain.  It's not the prettiest thing you ever saw but with more bending work and muscle tone, it might eventually be.  I'm not setting limits on Bud.  He wants to go for it so we will work toward it....slowly.   A few years ago, I honestly never thought I'd see the day I needed to slow him down.  It's so wonderful!  I am looking forward to more consistently decent weather and cannot wait to see how he progresses this year.

Hope you are all doing well and finding joy in life.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Direction, New Blog

You know that saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same?"  Untrue.  At least in some cases.  Your child gets cancer, things change and life is never the same again.  You lose a child, things dramatically change, and are never the same again.  The years have passed since Samuel left us and from the outside looking in, things that have changed a lot might look as if they've stayed the same.  We live in the same house, kids are still schooling at home, we still have the van we used to drive Samuel to the hospital in, and the list of sameness goes on even though everything is NOT the same.   I am beginning to understand why many families who lose a child move.  I understand why they dramatically change their lives in the ever after.  It doesn't change the fact that the child is gone, but it does reflect outwardly that things have changed.   Business is not "as usual." 

We did not move because we are buried in this house.  The housing market crashed just after Samuel left for Heaven and we've been stuck.  We are still stuck.  I don't know if we'll ever be unstuck.  I pray for a miracle in that regard.  And that stuckness seems to have affected us all in one way or another.   It is as if we are all in limbo in certain areas of our lives, waiting for a change that does not come.   I have always been a firm believer that if you cannot change the big things, then change the little things.  Do something new, different, challenging.  Something that takes your mind off the stuckness and/or helps you move through it.  It has taken me awhile to personally find something I could be passionate about enough to pursue but last summer I found it.

I decided to take up quilting.  I love it.  It's new, different and offers its own unique set of challenges for me personally.  I have always been one to keep a record of life in some shape or form.  Wither it be a personal journal or writing more publicly.  So in the spirit of making a small change and doing something new,  different, and challenging, I have created a new blog that revolves around my new passion.  You can find me blogging more regularly here.

I won't be closing this blog down, but as you've noticed, I don't have much passion for posting regularly.  There are a variety of reasons why.  It's not that I have lost my passion for my family and what everyone is up to.  I haven't.  I simply recognize our need for privacy.  That and stuckness isn't all that interesting.

The events of Samuel's life needed to be shared.  I believed all we endured, all he endured, was information that might help people.  And it has.  I also recognized the very real possibility that he might not live a long life so having a "tell all" accounting of his life wasn't something that might become a sore spot in his later years.  So like I said, the more things change, the more they stay the same is incorrect.  I believe the more things change, the less they stay the same.

That's it for now.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Twenty-one: A Tribute to Bud

For those who have asked about how Bud is doing and those who like horsey stories, this post is for you.

Bud is having his best year ever.  Twenty-one is a great age for a horse!  I have never had my own horse live this long though I have taken care of other people's horses who were "elderly" in the past.  Those horses seemed aged to me but Bud still seems like a little kid in a lot of ways.   I am certain there are many factors for this.  One, he has had an easy life.  Low mileage if you will.  Two, good bloodlines make a huge difference and his are very good.  And more than likely the most important factor is ownership.  He's been mine since birth and he will be mine until death.   For his entire life, he has only known kindness.  When I tell people about his temperament, I always tell them he is like a dog - the best dog you ever owned.  He is cute, cuddly, playful, silly, willing, trustworthy, entertaining, always hungry and most importantly, he is full of love.   I then tell people they simply need to understand "Bud Logic" when he has one of his stubborn mule moments which are fewer and farther between these days.    And it's been over a year (world record) since he destroyed something (of his) just because he was bored, or mad, or whatever his Bud Logic was for that event.
Last summer we were able to find Bud a smaller pasture with several other horses where he did not have to wear a grazing muzzle. 
It was a nice change for him after being alone for the past several years.  I enjoyed the fact that he did not have to be muzzled in the hot summer.  Unfortunately, life after laminitis demands grass intake be limited in the growing seasons and while he seems to have accepted this reality, I still feel badly for him wearing the "Hannibal" mask for six months out of the year.  The time spent at this particular property was short mainly due to humans and mud more than horses but I realized that Bud had grown accustomed to living alone and having "friends" was optional.   As he was the odd one in the lot of seven, he wasn't always treated nicely by the other horses and often I'd find him alone - with a new cut or several.  I thought he'd be hanging out with at least one of them after some time had passed but he really never bonded with any of them.  
So I didn't feel bad at all when we pulled up with a trailer to take him to the most perfect home he has ever had.
Bud hasn't been trailered since 2008 when we brought him home from Morton which was about 90 minutes away.  He has been trailered several times in his life.  Once when he was only a few months old with his Mommy.   A couple years later, we had him moved a few miles down the road and I actually rode in the trailer with him.......not one of my finer decisions but he did fine.  He was only two at the time.  That was the first time he was trailered alone so my rationale was that he'd be fine as long as I was there.  And he was but it was a very long couple mile ride in a one horse trailer.  But I digress. 
I always wonder how he'll do.  Will he load?  Will it become a training session?   The last time we loaded him it took some work.  We only needed the rental trailer for a five mile trek this and we had five hours rental time to make it so no problem.  It didn't take more than 20-30 minutes last time to get him in.  
We pulled the trailer up into the yard and find Bud already waiting at the gate.  He seemed ready to get away from his horse frenemies.  Mark opened the trailer and I lead him to it like it was no big deal and said, "So, you are getting into the trailer now."  I got in and he just walked on in like he does this every single day.  I swear I heard him say, "Okay, whatever," as he got in.   It was so cute!  Just makes me grin for days to think of it because he was SO good.  We closed the door and that is when he realized none of his frenemies are coming because they are all going nuts in the field.  Back to my own logic that he'll be fine if I'm with him, I stood on the side of the trailer so he could see me and told him it was all going to be fine.  That helped a little.  As long as he could see me.   So off we go on the five mile trek to the new place and Bud is hollering and I am yelling out my window that he's fine and everything is okay.  After a couple miles he quieted down.  It is always nerve wracking for me to be hauling Bud, my baby, anywhere.  I am sure I drive Mark nuts telling him to drive slow, take the corner slow, etc.   I know some people do this all the time but we don't and it seems totally surreal to be hauling your horse behind your van.  I'm glad we got some pictures of this trip because it was really a standout. 
We arrived at the new place in good shape and of course I was anxious to get Bud out of that thing.  I was hoping he'd get out better than he did in 2008 where he cut himself somehow on the way out.  We opened the stall and he first backed out, put two feet on the ground and then reloaded.  He was still a bit upset.  I managed to turn him around so he could see where he was going thinking things will go better but that was when he took a flying leap out unfortunately sending me flying as well.   Thankfully we both landed on our feet and it seemed we did it without injury until we noticed him holding up his back foot and kicking it repeatedly.  At first we didn't see any reason for it but then we found the blood oozing out from the inner part of his leg.   Appears he kicked himself on the way out.   Mark said it looked like he jumped out of the trailer and stepped on himself trying to avoid landing on me since I hit the ground before he did.  Poor boy.  The good news is, this new place actually has running water which we actually can use so getting the wound clean and dressed was quickly done.   And this is yet another thing to remark upon.  It's been about 15 years since we had access to a hose and how well I remember those days - Bud was NOT impressed at all. Yet,   how easily I was able to tend to Bud's wounds because even though it hurt, he knew I am taking care of him.   Mark was concerned he might kick at me because he was hurt and because the water was cold but he never did.  It appeared he thought it felt good.
Bud has been at the new place for a month now and has settled in well.  He is alone again, at least horse wise though there are some horses he watches and calls to one pasture over.  After seeing him with horses for a few months, I think he is fine with this arrangement.   He does have three goat friends to graze with and a friendly dog to visit with at the fence line so he technically is not alone at all.  And then there is the landowner.  She used to have horses but no longer does and is thrilled to have a horse back on the land again.  In short, she loves Bud, spoils Bud, which is music to my ears.  It's been ages since we've boarded him at a place where the owners really seemed to like the animals more than the money we paid to keep them there.   I have never had Bud at a place where on the day I moved him in, the owner sent me a text telling me that he was doing fine with this picture attached.
I already felt great about the decision to move but that solidified it.  And it has been nothing but bliss ever since.  The place is wonderful.  Very little mud.  Two huge shelters.  3.5 acres which I can actually ride on which seems weird and wonderful after spending 6 years at a place where the owners were adamant I NOT ride on the property.  There is running water, power, a real hay barn and a real tack room none of which Bud can destroy because he cannot get near them.    These seem like givens but in this day and age, they haven't been.  So having them again seems surreal as well.
Some may remember how I found Bud's first home here in 2008.  I dialed a wrong number thinking I was dialing for one boarding place and it ended up being another.  What are the odds of that?  Only God could make that happen obviously.  Well, this one wasn't based on a wrong number but it did come from a lot of prayer for a decent place.   Years to be exact.   Bud is obviously getting older.  He needed a real shelter, not a tent.  We also wanted a field that did not flood for 8 months of the year.  Boarding from a decent human being was also high on the list as well as affordability.  There were other things too but those were the biggies.   So when this place popped up, I almost didn't call on it because it is not just down the street like the most recent two, but instead in the next town and that is the only thing that isn't perfect since I cannot drive.  But aside from that, if I were to have my own place, it would be set up much like this one.
Bud gets to wake up every day to Mt. Rainer peeking at him.  How lovely is that?
And he can watch the people in the gym (large building on the right) work out if he's bored.  And they get the pleasure of watching him eat and poop.  Yeah!
Currently, he can go ice-skating if he wants....
Mark can just jump on for the heck of our own field!  Dare to dream!
And here Bud is doing what he does best.  Being curious.  He needed a new blanket because it is very windy up here and he's checking it out hoping it's food.  Sorry Bud.
What do you think?  Cute?
Definitely a cute butt!
And a cute face with applesauce dripping from the lips!
There are some interesting places to ride here apart from the field.  Mainly back roads, as you see, town is just around the corner, but we are on the country side of it.   In 2008, I would have not been as interested in this place simply because the riding areas, aka trails, are miles away and you must travel roads to get there.  These days, no problem.  Since I could never ride in the field, Bud was taken from green to golden on roads and pedestrian trails.   He has seen it all and is good to go.  Roads?  No problem. 
I took him out for the first time a week ago wondering how he'd feel about the new roads and places and things he's never seen.   Here's what happened...we had the most wonderful time.  No issues whatsoever.  And even that seems surreal.   Even my "bombproof" first horse would be weird for the first few rides at a new place.  But Bud, he was ready to get out of his field and go exploring.  Something somewhere finally clicked and he realized that me on his back equals satisfying his curiosity bump.   He does not get barn sour.  He is opposite.  He does not want to return to his field until he's had enough outside adventure.  He's been like this for a few years now so it's not just the new place.  It's pretty funny that he wants to explore everyone elses driveway except his own.  But once he grows tired, then it's fine to go home.
I've come home so many times this month and asked Mark, "When did he get so good?"  Mark laughs and says he's always good.  But the thing is, he wasn't always riding good.   Ground good, yes.  He's had years of ground work put on him before I ever met Mark and ever had kids.  Years.   And it's interesting to think of Bud in the time frame of decades but in truth, he is only remaining animal from the days when I lived with my parents, was not married, not even thinking about marriage, and had no kids - except Bud.  Mark put this another way.  He likes to tell people that I had Bud before I had him.   There's some Mark humor for you!  Bud was about 18 months old when I met Mark and one day as he watched me working with Bud he said, "I can tell you'll be a good mom."  I laughed because I wasn't planning to have kids.
Well a few years later I became a mother to a human and Bud's training went to the back burner for about 12 years.  He was green broke very early in life and other than a few free days here and there, I didn't do a lot with him because mothering children came first and there just wasn't time or babysitters.  And of course Samuel changed everything and that is how Bud eventually moved to Morton.  Way too far away but at least with a person we trusted.   And then Samuel went to Heaven and Bud came home.   The next year was spent healing his broken hoofs.  That was horrible.  A couple years of some very annoying rides!  I remember thinking that it was supposed to be relaxing and it was simply frustrating instead.  He was balky, scared, and barn sour.  Not a good combination.  And I knew I did not have the patience for it.  So I let him sit for a long time riding sporadically here and there but nothing much.  Each ride was better but still had bits of frustration.  Mainly because all of the training had to be on the road.  And then in 2010 he got laminitis which is pretty much a death sentence for most horses.  If it's not, it usually limits their use significantly.  And their lifespan as well.   And that was horrible!  I still have nightmares that he cannot walk.   But as I ask Mark when he got so good, I already know the answer.  It was when he got laminitis. 
I believe Bud has always known I was his owner even when he was away from me for so long.  He still came when we called even after years of not seeing him.  But I think the special bond we had so early in life was - not broken - but significantly lessened during that time.  And even after we brought him home, it wasn't just there  again overnight.  It took that horrible laminitis to really bring back the trust and love we had in the early years.  There was a marked change in Bud, not just as a riding horse, but as a complete horse overall as he healed from that.   And I began to notice it immediately as we started getting back out and about together.  Rides got better and better.  Time spent seemed more like old times and less like strange times.   For awhile I'd tell you Bud would go with me anywhere......on foot.  But these days I think Bud would take me anywhere on his back too.   That is a whole different level of trust.  A whole different level of love too.  
There are a lot of horses that anybody can ride.  My first horse was that way though it took a solid two years of training to get her there.  And much of that training revolved around me having a whip and not being afraid to use it more than love and trust.   She was an eight-year-old green broke broodmare who was very herd bound when I got her.  She was not interested in being a teenager's riding horse by any stretch.   She did become an excellent riding horse and I loved her very much.  She was also very trustworthy.  I cannot be sure if this love and trust ran both ways.  I am sure it was there, but not to the degree I have it with Bud.  
My relationship with Bud was built on love and trust from day one of his life.  Looking back, there were many turning point moments with him.  Similar to the laminitis turning point.  Certain things would be awful and then one day, the awful was over and it never came back.  This wasn't the result of having a whip and not being afraid to use it.  It was the result of patient perseverance on my part as well as loving training.  This is why I stopped riding him soon after he came home; I knew I lacked the patience to do it right so I went back to the basics of good ground work and excellent care.  I did not want another horse I had to beat into submission.  I wanted a horse who enjoyed being ridden as much as I enjoy riding.  I wanted a partnership, not a dictatorship.  And that is what I now have.  Strangely not from riding hours a day for two years straight but instead from being consistent in love and care on the ground. 
With all that said, Bud is not the kind of horse anyone can ride.  Case in point here.
Bud was not pleased to have Mark on his back.   We found this picture hilarious because it captured the moment so well.   Bud planted his feet, laid back his ears and just looked overall annoyed.  Mark can ride him, Bud will carry him around, but it is with this very same look and reluctance that he does it.   It's simply because they have never bonded and Bud is the kind of horse who needs that and that is perfectly fine.  There are tons of movies made about horses who bond with only one person that depict very well the very special bond between them.   Bonding with a rider makes a horse a better mount.  Mark needs his own horse....and hopefully some day that will happen.  In Bud's lifetime would be even better.
 While I've owned Bud his whole life, I have waited a long time to have the horse he's become.  And I think it's pretty special to have such a wonderful bond with a large animal.  It's pretty special when a horse would injure himself before injuring me most especially when he is upset and not thinking right.  He still thought about me.   It's pretty special to have been able to ride him all over the roads of his new place for the very first time with a bridle that was basically a halter with two reins attached.  Now that's trust
So, it's wonderful to finally get Bud to a nice home.  A place he has settled into nicely and seems to really like a lot.  I love that the owner loves him and treats him with a very special kindness.  I don't know why she no longer has horses but I sense that she regrets the decision.   I told her that I might sound braggy when I say that she could not have a nicer horse than Bud but I have been around quite a few horses and none of them even come close.  She told me today that she believes this too.  Bud is a very special guy.  I hope and pray I have at least another decade to enjoy him.  Horses, like people, are not replaceable.  And if I didn't say it already, Bud is doing GREAT!