Uh-huh. That's like naming a horse Lucky.
Boy, has Santa Anita Racetrack been mired in controversy these past few weeks. Even so, we went to the Derby on Saturday to celebrate my husband's 50th birthday. Protestors be damned.
The Santa Anita Derby has been run for more than 85 years. The derby's winner is guaranteed a spot in the Kentucky Derby which makes it a big draw for horses on the west coast. More than a few of the Kentucky Derby's winners have been horses that won at the Santa Anita Derby: Justify in 2018, California Chrome in 2014, I'll Have Another in 2012, even Affirmed in 1978. It might not be as glamorous an event as Kentucky's derby, but Santa Anita sure puts on a good show.
I've written about Santa Anita quite a few times; we try to go at least once a year. When we bought our Club House tickets in late winter, the controversy surrounding the track hadn't yet reached the crescendo that boiled over in mid-March. For a couple of minutes there, we wondered if the Derby was even going to be run. Thankfully, the Stronach Group made a bunch of quick changes, and the track reopened the weekend before the Derby.
What I love most about Santa Anita is how up close and personal you can get with the horses, jockeys, and trainers. At the end of the headline race, my husband and I were making our way to the betting windows to cash out our voucher when a groom darted past us carrying a leather lead and stud chain. For half a moment I wondered what he was doing in the grandstands.
Suddenly, Bob Baffert appeared in front of us doing the right left dance with my husband. Roadster had just pulled off a victory ensuring his place in the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. Baffert was leading the horse's owners down to the winner's circle. He was in a pretty big hurry so I wasn't able to ask for a selfie.
We already have tickets to this year's Breeders' Cup; it will be our third BC. With any luck, Roadster will back in the starting gate. I'l be sure to bet on him in November. Damn horse cost me $5 on Saturday when I bet on Baffert's other horse, Game Winner.
Uh-huh. That's like naming a horse Lucky.
My husband's birthday is tomorrow. Happy birthday, honey!
My dad's birthday was on Tuesday. Hope it was a good one, Dad.
I read a lot of cards this week.
But none were as good as this one ...
I could kick myself for not buying the whole stack. Best card ever.
Izzy never makes things easy. There's hey, we're getting somewhere and a whole lot of Dude, figure it out! There's rarely anything else. This past two or three weeks have been more of the seriously? kind. Over the weekend I tried yet another strategy to get him focused and listening.
There are three main components that keep Izzy and me out of the show ring: leaning on the bit, tightness in his back, and no stride length in back. These are all mostly the same thing, but over the years, I've been able to get one or two of them fixed, but without all three things working well, we're just not going to be able to show.
For a long time, I fought the heaviness thing. He just would not flex his poll or unlock his jaw. Time and changing bits really helped with that. Then it was his tight back. He was simply unable to stretch over his topline. Patience and a whole lot of long and low have unlocked his back so that now it actually swings - sometimes. Once his back was moving, his stride opened up. For a few minutes last month, we had it all - a poll with flexion, a swinging back, and length of stride.
And then we crashed and burned. Out of nowhere, he has started to once again lean on the bit to the point where I have no steering or brakes. Never one to give up, I tried a new strategy. Rather than focus on getting his back to swing, or engaging his hind end - why do that when he's blasting through my hands?, I focused on suppling his poll and the base of his withers.
I would love to say that getting him to let go of the bit and carry his big noggin himself did the trick, but it didn't. We've spent a couple of weeks working on the idea, but he still thinks the idea is a crappy one. So crappy in fact that he'd rather duke it out with me for an hour and a half rather than carry the bit lightly for 30 minutes.
It's a good thing we both have a pretty good sense of humor.
Boy are they ever. Especially the gray ones; they're really pricey. Speedy's vet bills have really started to pile up, but I've been able to pay each one - until now. In March, we had a bill that ran $1059.40. There was also one for $367.00 as well as one for $458.33. And those weren't the only vet-related expenses that we incurred.
While it kills me to do it, I've had to break up that one big bill into several chunks. I've paid a little on it already, but I'll pay for the rest over the next two months. If we don't rack up too many additional bills that is. I know I'll have at least one more vet bill when Speedy goes back in to have the wires cut out.
Other than vet bills, I paid board, bought feed, and had three lessons. That was it. Once again, no tack, no breeches, and certainly no shows or clinics. One thing my expense report doesn't show is all of the random household bills that have also attacked my checking account: new tires, a fender bender (not my fault but the other driver fled the scene so I still had to pay my deductible), DMV fees, and a slew of other bills.
Out of curiosity, I ran a report showing all of the vet expenses (including supplements) incurred since this fall. So far, I've paid just over $2,750 with almost a thousand still left to pay (pus anything new). I suppose that isn't too bad. I would rather be spending it on lessons, clinics, or shows though. I think I need another job.
It's a good thing this horse likes me. It's probably even better that I like him! As always, Go, Team Speedy!
The finally ...
I've been a wee bit worried about Speedy's lack of shedding. One symptom of Cushing's Disease is delayed coat shedding or an inability to shed at all. Speedy has been on Prascend since late January, so I wasn't really sure why he wasn't following his normal shedding routine. By now, he should have been at least halfway done shedding his annual polar bear coat.
Someone suggested that horses who aren't sweating - also known as working, might hold on to their hair longer. That may well be the cause. When I saw some loose hairs this weekend, I dragged out every shedding tool I have to help him get rid of as much hair as possible.
And now the AHA!
I've been following a series in USDF Connection that was written by Hilda Gurney in 1978/79. Every month I snag at least one nugget of wisdom from the articles and usually more. As luck would have it, this month's topic was the flying change.
Hilda does an excellent job of discussing what the horse will do instead of changing the lead, all of which Speedy has tried. She also gives a variety of ways to teach the change; just before a corner, on a counter canter circle, after a change of rein across a short diagonal, or for the horse who "diligently retains the counter lead regardless of your efforts to the contrary, congratulate yourself on your fine job of schooling obedience at the counter-canter and go set up a low ... jump."
The one thing that Hilda wrote that really resonated with me was this, "The tendency to change late behind is the most difficult problem to correct. In most cases it is caused by the horse changing from rein aids rather than leg aids." Speedy's changes are clean and have been from the beginning, but he does want to rush them when he knows one is coming. And he always knows when it's coming.
It occurred to me that Speedy has probably learned to change more from the rein aid rather than from my seat aid. As I prepare for the change, I maintain my seat position - inside leg at the girth, outside leg back, but I change the bend. As soon as I change the bend, Speedy starts skipping with his hind legs offering changes with every stride.
I realized that it might be really helpful to show Speedy that just because I ask for a new bend, it doesn't mean that I want a flying change. I started out at the walk asking for a change of bend, and then I asked for a traverse or renvers. For both, he jumped into a canter. Yah for being sensitive to my leg, but that only reinforced the idea that Speedy is not cantering from my seat.
It only took a minute, but he quickly realized that I was just moving his parts around: first his shoulders, then his haunches. Counter shoulder in, regular shoulder in. Travers, renvers. When he accepted my aids at the walk, I repeated the exercise at the trot.
Speedy's a very smart dude, so once he realized he wasn't making a mistake, he focused on his job and moved his shoulders and haunches where I asked him to. He was nicely in front of my leg so that when I asked for the canter, he stepped right into it. Almost immediately he started skipping in back as he asked how about now? what about now? and ... now?
Each time I answered with a no, but he started to take offense. He likes to help make decisions, and when he feels as though his voice isn't being heard, he gets a bit grouchy. I changed things up by cantering down the centerline, asking for changes of bend to the right and left all the way to C.
He was still rushing the change, so I put him on a circle making sure to keep my seat and legs on the lead I wanted him to stay on. And then we cantered the circle while I asked for small changes of bend. I had to work really hard to make sure that my seat and legs insisted that he hold the lead, but he did it.
One thing this winter has shown me is that if I want Speedy to help me earn a bronze medal, I am going to have to listen to him and help him more than I've ever needed to in the past. Frankly, he's done most of the work in this partnership. Third Level isn't easy, so we'll take it slowly and do our best.
I think that's all Speedy wants from me anyway.
I didn't think I'd be writing those words this soon, or ever, frankly. Because really, if you're an adult amateur like me riding whatever you brought to this sport, or more likely riding whatever you can afford to ride, flying changes aren't easy.
But sometimes, if you're really lucky, you get a horse who wasn't purpose-bred for dressage who still really, really likes to show off. If you're that lucky, every once in a while, things can be incredibly fun.
Speedy's health, my health, and being an adult in general have kind of sucked the fun right out of life lately. I made it to the barn last Monday, but because of adult responsibilities, I wasn't able to get back out there until Friday. By that point, I was trying to talk myself into just wiping down a piece of tack or two and ditching the whole idea of riding. In fact, I even started with my boots. But then I looked over at Speedy, and I knew that he wanted to play.
I always set my chronograph on my watch, mostly so that I don't over-ride my boys. Speedy is happy to work for a an hour if it's during a lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, but if it's just me, I keep it to about a half an hour. I think this is even more important now that he's coming back into regular work. I wanted to keep the ride short and do only as much as he wanted to offer.
We started out with some suppling work, and then quickly touched on everything at Second Level and a few of the Third Level movements. Out of nowhere, Speedy broke into a balanced and collected canter. I asked for a few canter to walk to canter transitions which he had done smartly a few days before.
Speedy told me what was coming next. As we crossed the diagonal, he skipped once, skipped twice, and I giggled and told him to wait for it ... and then boom! We had the flying change. I laughed my head off, asked him to whoa, and praised the heck out of his effort. That boy has an enormous heart. And then because I knew he wanted to, we flipped around and did the exact same thing on the other lead.
Two asks, two flying lead changes. Those are fun flying changes!
My weight that is. Not too long ago I shared my weight loss journey. It was hard. It sucked. I am still on it. It's been more than a month since I wrote that post, so I thought I'd give you an update, especially for those who might have been inspired to lose a few pounds themselves. You can do it!
When last I left you, I was trying to get down to 123 pounds. I never made it, but that's okay. My doctor actually insisted I stop losing weight as my BMI was starting to get too low. I am holding steady at 125. I tick up to 126 now and then, but I easily bring it back, and when I've been particularly diligent, I even drop down into the 124 range. Don't tell Dr. Sharma.
It's been both easy and difficult to ease off the militaristic approach I took to losing weight. While eating yummy things now and then is wonderful, I am wracked with guilt as I do it which sort of diminishes the treat factor. The other problem is the slippery slope effect; if I've already had 1 scoop of chip and guacamole, I might as well have 12.
I am finding that within one or two days of a "splurge" - does 12 chips even count as splurging?, I can lose the gained pound without much additional effort. I feel good, my clothes are comfortable, and Speedy probably appreciates packing around less of me. Izzy's a chunk, so he doesn't even know I am up there.
Just about the time I started to think I had reached a kick-ass state of health - why wouldn't I think so after losing 40 flipping pounds?, I scheduled my annual physical, smug in the knowledge that I am HEALTHY.
The first thing my primary care physician noted was that my platelets were low. After pulling blood three times over 6 weeks, it was finally decided that my platelets are just low when compared to other people's platelets. My normal is just low. Be prepared; this will be revealed as a theme.
Even though I already take vitamin D and omega-3 fish oil, she noted that I am now rather deficient in B12 as well. Amazon should be delivering some of that in the next day or so. Again, low.
With the blood pressure cuff squeezing my now much skinnier arm, the nurse pointed out to the doctor that my pulse was quite low, somewhere around 52. An EKG machine was quickly rolled into the room and wires were strapped to my chest. Yep. Low.
Along with a questionable pulse, my blood pressure now regularly dips down into the 85 over 65 range. We're pretty sure that's where the dizziness is coming from. At the doctor's urging I now own a blood pressure monitor and cuff which I use twice a day every day to monitor and log my pulse and blood pressure.
I suddenly found myself being asked if I have a cardiologist. A what-ologist? I am 48 years old. Old people have cardiologists; not skinny pear-shaped women who carry their weight on their hips. I now have a cardiologist who I have seen three times, with yet another appointment scheduled for next week. That's how I found myself wearing one of these.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a Holter monitor is a small, wearable device that keeps track of your heart rhythm. Your doctor may want you to wear a Holter monitor for one to two days. During that time, the device records all of your heartbeats. That I even have to visit the Mayo Clinic web site smacks of "old ladyage." Yes, that's a word. I just made it up.
That's how I ended up wearing the heart monitor on Wednesday. The day before, I had an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of my heart. After that I had a Carotid ultrasound, an ultrasound of the arteries in my neck. It was after that that they strapped on the Holter monitor and told me to come back the next day to return it.
So what does all this mean? Nothing. The cardiologist already explained that losing so much weight, nearly 25% of my body, has made the workload much easier for my heart. Losing weight is also an easy way to lower your blood pressure.
But remember, low. My normal BP has always been right around 120 over 70 which is considered a low, healthy number. So now, it's really low, low enough to make me feel dizzy when I stand up. In all likelihood, my body just needs time to adapt to all this lowness.
So. Get healthy. Get fit. Your doctor needs to earn a living. Right now, I am supporting an entire medical team, mine and Speedy's.
Go, Team Speedy!
Making plans is the easy part. You peruse Facebook and click interested. You open your email and read over the show premium or clinician info. You click add event to your calendar. Suddenly, you've made plans.
I tend to keep my plans pretty close to the vest, especially so if they're important plans. But lately, I've been a bit more forthcoming about my plans. Plans like earning a bronze medal. Plans like riding with Lilo Fore. Plans like showing Izzy. So far none of those things are happening.
In my experience, talking about things that haven't yet happened as though they are a "done deal" somehow makes them even harder to achieve. This is especially true lately as the Universe and I aren't on particularly good terms.
Speedy's health issues have made that bronze medal look much farther from my grasp than it did in October. Lilo Fore? Had to cancel that. Izzy at a show? Well, no, not yet.
And yet ...
Ooh, look! I just got the info on an Erika Jansson Cavaletti Clinic that's being held in May. This would be a good outing for Izzy. Sign me up!
I wish I could say it was mine, but it's not. I am wondering about Speedy's though. He's had a really rough go of it these past 4 or 5 months, and as a result, he hasn't been very happy. I am starting to wonder if he's ready for retirement.
It hasn't helped that every time I touch him, I am doing something that he finds uncomfortable. I am either giving him pills, scrubbing wounds, picking at his mouth, or scraping mud off his heavy coat.
And that's a whole other load of stress, the Cushing's Disease. Not only does he get that pill every morning - a very special thank you to the ranch owner who does that every day, but he's suddenly looking like a Cushing's horse. For the first year ever, Speedy isn't shedding. His coat is just as heavy as it was in December.
Our winter has been unusually cold and wet, so I am just hoping he's holding on to his hair for good measure. I sure wish he'd start to shed though. I've promised him that I'll wait until April before I clip him. That should give him enough time to begin shedding on his own.
Over the weekend, he just looked so pissy. I really started to question what is right for this horse. Is he tired of dressage? Does he hate the work? Does he just want to be left alone? I can only answer no for the latter. The ranch owner lets me know when Speedy is particularly challenging to dose with his Prascend, and he is always easier to dose on the days after he's been ridden.
Even though he looked so sour on Saturday morning, I saddled him up anyway. He grouched at me and let me know that he wasn't happy with life in general and with me in particular. But then he started trotting, and his attitude changed. He gave me a really lovely ride which let me know that he does enjoy the work.
The next day, he was crusted over with mud. He had paced himself into a nasty sweat that had dried by morning. My heart was crushed. I don't know what has made him so unhappy. I hosed him off, which annoyed him even further, and tacked him up anyway.
I walked him up to the arena fighting back tears. I adore Speedy, but more than anything I want him to be happy in his work and happy living in his field with friends. I started to think he might be happier living somewhere else with someone else. But then we got to work.
A neighbor came over to use the round pen just as I started our warmup, and Speedy got spicy. Like tail over his back, hot to trot, spicy. I just kept asking for leg yields, transitions within the gait (trotting), and a lengthening here and there. Eventually he focused on is work and gave me the most brilliant canter-walk-canter transitions.
After several months off, I didn't think he'd remember how to do them. He did. And after asking for the first couple, he started showing off by offering them if I even thought about a half halt. I could see his self esteem rising after every movement. He was positively glowing with pride in himself.
Is he ready for retirement? I don't know, but I do know he still loves to work. Maybe he just needs to start feeling useful again. This horse has always needed a purpose, and now that he's (mostly) injury free, maybe he'll start to feel more like himself when he's once again being ridden regularly.
While I desperately want to earn my bronze medal on him, I only want it if he's happy to do it. Speedy's happiness is more important.
With things trying to quiet down around here, I am finally able to get to a few smaller things that have been going on around the ranch. A month or so ago, a crew of tree trimmers arrived to do some serious pruning of the ranch's massive forest of sycamores and cottonwoods.
The crew was here at a good time. The weather was less than ideal for riding, and Speedy was on the disabled list anyway. In fact, I had to take him to the vet to get his sutures out on one of their work days. If you can't ride, it's always best for it to happen in the dead of winter while the trees are getting cleaned up.
While it was more than annoying to have them working - their equipment rattled my teeth, there turned out to be a most unexpected bonus. After they thinned out the wayward branches, they dumped it all into a wood chipper rather than haul it off. As the mountains of wood chips began to pile up, I quickly asked the ranch owners if I could use some of it for dust control.
Not only was I given a resounding YES, but I was encouraged to take some home with me. And once I really stopped to look around, I realized there were dozens and dozens of wood chip mountains for me to use. The first thing I asked was if Reggie (the handyman) could lay down a layer of the wood chips around the tack room and the small trailer where I tack up.
When I saw how well that worked, I got bold and asked if we could pour some tractor loads of it into Speedy's paddock. With all of the whirling and pacing that he does, he stirs up a fine powder that fouls up his water trough and hangs in our summer time heat. That request was also met with a positive response.
Even though Reggie has been slowly using up the piles as mulch in the expansive yard at the ranch, there are still plenty of piles for me to use in Speedy's paddock keep the dust down. And as my boys grind the wood chips down, I'll even be able to replenish what we've already poured around the tack room.
So far, no one has shown an inclination to eat the stuff, so I feel quite confident about using it to control our dust. I am already eyeballing a few more places where a dust-free zone would be appreciated.
I love free stuff, especially when it does double duty!