Friday, June 27, 2014


Lately it seems like my family has been subject to an awful lot of excitement. It should be pointed out that "exciting" isn't necessarily a positive word. After all, a car accident is pretty exciting. I've been thinking it would be nice to have a few spasms of boring.

I suppose it shouldn't have been much of a surprise when it started to feel like life was returning to some semblance of normal (new normal; we'll never have the same normal we had when Julian's vibrant light shone upon our lives) that something had to happen to disrupt us. On May 24th, my mother was attending her 55th college reunion in Oberlin, Ohio. While exiting a local restaurant, she missed a step and took a fall. In the end, she broke her left wrist and elbow. She will need surgery to repair the damage, but she has to wait until she's been off the blood thinners for 10 days and the swelling comes down.

Getting home turned out to be simple enough. The airline was very good about helping her out, and she was able to upgrade to first class. The problem comes with being unable to do very many things for herself in the splint. My sister Debbie, who lives with Mom, works as an in home care provider and is gone from Wednesday night until Sunday morning. This means Mom needs someone who can be with her. I am blessed and grateful to be in a position to provide this. The only hitch is, she has to stay at my home.

I can't really go to her house and take care of things there. I simply have too many things I need to do at home. Fortunately we've been able to make our home reasonably comfortable for her. I think she's actually rather fond of my husband's easy chair. The only other thing is, I need to have a second person here with us. The timing was perfect in that my husband came home right after Mom's fall and was here the first weeks we needed to take care of her. He is setting the bar a bit high. He's been cooking three meals a day. I'm afraid I won't be able to keep up with the expectations he's set.

Mom's surgery was ultimately scheduled for late on Thursday, June 12. What proceeded from there has been a wild ride.

My husband took Mom to the hospital for the surgery. I was tense and had a terrible feeling about the surgery, but it was important to Mom that I be able to continue with my plans to ride Descanso that weekend. I heard from my husband about 10pm. Mom was awake, alert, and doing fine. She would stay in the hospital at least overnight. He came home.

On Friday morning, Mom called and we spoke briefly. She felt she was best off staying in the hospital another night, as the cast on her arm was set nearly straight and she did not know how she was going to get around with it. She mentioned in passing having had trouble breathing in the night and receiving her first-ever breathing treatment. I figured it was simply a combination of age and anesthesia. We spoke again later, and she was definitely staying through Saturday.

Friday afternoon, Mom talked with my daughter. She wanted the charger for her Kindle, which was still in her car. So my daughter picked it up and headed up to the hospital to give it to her. When my daughter arrived, she was barred from seeing her grandmother. All the staff would say was that Mom was being moved to ICU. They would not tell my daughter anything.

At this point my husband and I had finished setting up camp and eaten dinner. Hoss was vetted and settled in for the night. My first instinct was to pack up and go on home, but truly, what could I possibly do? I made sure my sister knew what was going on (she holds power of attorney for Mom) and arranged for my daughter to pick up my husband in the morning while I went on the ride.

We really did not know at that point how serious things were. Mom was on a ventilator. She had experienced flash pulmonary edema and had a heart attack.

Hoss was not doing well, and we pulled at the first vet check. By this point I was far more aware, through text messages, what was going on, and I needed to get home anyway. Once we were back in camp, I threw everything in the truck and we left. I got Hoss settled at home, unhitched the truck, and drove to La Jolla.

I arrived at the hospital, frustrated, angry, and worried as all hell. I went back to see my mom. Fortunately, I happened to arrive when my mother was coming out of sedation due to pain, and I was able to communicate somewhat with her. I was able to see she was intact neurologically, a great relief. I wasn't able to get the doctor to give me any real sense of what the plan was. His answer to when she could be removed from the ventilator was "when she's ready." I didn't think of it at the time, but my question should have been, what exactly he's looking for to get her off. I did get that answer later, after I'd thought of it on the drive home and asked my husband to get the answer.

Saturday night my niece performed in the Youth Benefit Concert at church. We decided to go ahead and attend, as our mother would surely be furious if we failed to do so. And, again, there was really nothing to be done. It really didn't matter where we were while we worried.

Sunday was another tense day spent mostly hanging around the hospital. I did my level best not to threaten the staff, but I will admit it was hard. When someone told me they were "taking great care" of my mother, I responded with, of course they are, it's their job, I don't expect anything less, and why the hell is that supposed to be comforting? I am not good at this sort of thing.

Mom was on the ventilator through Sunday night. My husband had to drop my daughter at the airport early on Monday, so we was there before visitors were allowed back. He made sure the staff knew he was there, then repaired to the waiting room until visiting hours started. At precisely 8am, he headed back to see Mom, only to discover they were removing her from the ventilator. Obviously, this was excellent news, but boy, were we all ticked off! My sister had requested she be contacted at least an hour ahead of any action taken with Mom. They never even bothered to call her, or any of us, or even getting my husband, before starting the procedure.

Mom said later the first thing she saw was my husband's yellow shirt outside her room. She was confused, had no idea what was going on, and indeed still has no memory after she was anesthetized for the surgery Thursday night through being taken off the ventilator Monday morning.

Mom spent another five days in the hospital. I was having a pretty serious bout of asthma/bronchitis and was as a result unable to spend much time. Pity, too, as I probably would have gotten her out of there sooner. I only learned on Friday night (a week after she had the surgery) that they were only keeping her because they were messing with her blood pressure meds. Well, her blood pressure wasn't any worse than it was before she broke her arm, and she has a doctor of her own. Had I known earlier, I would have pressed to take her home sooner and get her to her own doctor. In the end, I went in on Saturday morning, and made it abundantly clear she would not only be going home that day, she would be doing so in time to make it to her hair appointment (I understand my mother's priorities).

Mom did go home on Saturday, June 21, and indeed we left in time to make it to her hair dresser for a wash and blowout. Then we dropped her prescriptions at the pharmacy and I took her home.

Monday, June 23, was my mother's birthday. My sisters and I and our families gathered at her home for dinner and sang a very heartfelt, very grateful, Happy Birthday to the matriarch of our family.

2014 Vail Lake LD

This was our first "real" ride since my hip replacement. Daniela wasn't quite ready to go straight to a 50, and I'm not a big fan of the 3 vet check 50 anyway, so we decided to do the 25 mile ride.

I took Eclipse home with me on Wednesday morning after Daniela and I had ridden, to make it easier for me to haul him to the ride on Friday. Eclipse and Hoss had a great time together for the following two days, refusing to allow one another to wear a fly mask and dashing about. I came home from choir on Wednesday night to find them laying in the pasture, back to back. Unfortunately it was too dark to get a picture.

On Thursday I saw a request on the local endurance riders' Facebook page looking for a ride for a horse and rider to Vail Lake. The pair were along my route, so I volunteered to pick them up. Thus I met Becky and Dusty.

Friday morning I got the boys loaded up and hit the road. We picked up Becky and Dusty in Escondido, and made ride camp by about noon. Camp set up didn't take long and we took the horses over to vet in.

The boys settled in at camp
I didn't want to leave Hoss or Eclipse alone at the trailer while the other went to be vetted, so I just grabbed both horses' vet cards and took them. When we arrived at the vets, Hoss immediately spotted Fred Beasom. Fred has a habit of offering every horse a bite of carrot, and Hoss remembers this. Hoss practically ran the man over!

Fred was available, and so was Alina, who we met at several Duck rides last year, so Fred vetted Hoss while Alina did the same for Eclipse. I trotted them out together, which worked just fine until Fred yelled, "OK!" Hoss promptly stopped, recognizing this as the cue he was done. Eclipse, on the other hand, cheerfully continued trotting until I had two horses at the extreme ends of my reach.

Daniela arrived in time for the ride meeting, and we all did our best to listen attentively. I had learned that morning that a dear friend's husband (who worked with my sister) was killed on Thursday in a freak motorcycle accident. It being precisely 6 weeks after Julian's death, and a Thursday, I was anything but normal. Seriously, I am considering campaigning to have Thursdays removed from the calendar for good and all.

I never sleep well the night before a ride. I am always listening for the horses. It's a good thing, too. Early in the morning, about 2am, I heard a horse walking about, and it didn't sound quite right. Shortly after I heard it, Hoss started calling. I knew immediately what had happened: Eclipse was loose.

I leapt out of bed and put on my shoes, then went out to retrieve the wayward horse. It was a very dark night, no moon and few stars. I could hear Eclipse walking around, but I couldn't see him. Ultimately we nearly ran into each other, as I couldn't see him but he was pretty sure I should and didn't stop. He was perfectly happy to come to me when I called him. He had slipped his halter. I got him close enough to the trailer and got him tied back up.

Once it was close enough to morning to do so, I fed the horses, including returning Dusty's hay bag to him, which he had managed to unhook from the trailer and fling behind him. Hoss did not eat well, and I realized later it was probably because he's used to being out with the first horses of the day. Eclipse was his usual picky self. I wasn't worried. I had extra tube electrolytes for him, knowing he's like that.

We left reasonably early. Late enough to let the hot shoes get out, and early enough to be ahead of the slowpokes. Both horses were relaxed and eager to go.

It was nice to have a ride with another person. I'm not particularly used to it, but it's not a bad thing to have someone to talk to or even just be with for the duration of the day.

We completed the first 14 miles very quickly, coming in to camp for the first vet check at 9:30, 2 hours and 30 minutes after the start. I was a little addled still, and I initially forgot to take the horses straight to the vet rather than waiting until the end of our hold. We walked back and vetted them through before heading to the trailer to feed them.

On the second loop, a group of riders who had dressed as super heroes (really), caught up to us and we rode with them for a short period before breaking away and getting ahead.

And then the trouble started. At the ride meeting the night before, I had understood the ride manager to say the 50 mile riders stayed on orange, and the 25 mile riders went on yellow. Those aren't her precise words, and honestly I have plenty to say about the notion each loop should have its own individual color, but the result was when we got to an intersection where orange went one way and yellow the other, I naturally assumed we were supposed to stay on yellow.

We got to the parking lot of the pool before I realized my error. There was no way to make the pool parking lot work with the instructions, and I had done the ride once before and recognized something was off. It took me a little while to realize what I had done. We were forced to turn around and retrace about 2 miles of trail to get back on track. What a wonderful way to introduce a newbie to the sport! (Not)

We made it back to where I had gotten us off track, and now we really needed to be on the muscle. As I have told Daniela before, we needed to trot or canter every step we could to make it back in time. Under LD rules, we had to have the horses' heart rates down before cut off time, not just cross the finish line, so we needed a good 15 minutes to be sure we'd get a finish. So we downright hustled.

Coming down the final stretch, we passed the Challenge Ranch kids and skated in to camp at about 12:30. Knowing the heat and the amount of work we had done and the extra miles we had put in, I knew it would take Hoss longer than usual to recover. I got off and promptly got to work sponging him down. Eclipse came down readily. Hoss was just a few minutes behind him.

I had two devices tracking our miles that day. One was my GPS, an older Garmin eTrex, the other the EveryTrail app on my phone. I got wildly different results on mileage. My GPS said 28 miles. EveryTrail said 34. I suspect somewhere in between is the truth. It does point out, however, the vagaries which can exist in our methodologies.

Once we had all had dinner, Daniela headed home, and Becky and I got the camp broken down and loaded the horses. I got every body home, and Hoss and I hit home sometime after dark. He wasn't even tired. He looked like he was wondering when we were going to do the rest of the ride!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Mo Parga Clinic

Mo Parga has, for a number of years, conducted clinics and trainings for police horses in the San Diego area and perhaps beyond. She's an interesting lady and clearly she has been successful in performing sensory training on horses.

This clinic was at Oakzanita Ranch, located just outside the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Daniela and Eclipse were able at the last minute to get in, so I loaded Hoss up early on Sunday morning and we drove first to Imperial Beach to pick them up.

Overall it was a great day. The first part of the clinic involved doing some weird stuff which allegedly caused endorphin release. The idea is to calm the horse through various methods of touch. I'm not convinced it really works, but whatever. The first was the rub the horse's gums, then the hollows above the eyes, the tips of the ears, squeeze the withers in front of the saddle, and rub the hollow along the spine in front of the pelvis. Hoss liked some of these techniques, and I expect the ones he appreciated probably induced an endorphin release, but I'd argue any touch the horse likes would accomplish that.

Once we were done with the hocus pocus stuff, we headed out to the obstacles. There were quite a few set up.

The first thing I decided to try was the Gauntlet, a set up of a framework of PVC with flappy bits attached. Hoss walked right through it, no trouble. And that's pretty much where the "OK" ended.

Hoss has always been resistant to opening gates. The "gates" at this even were ropes strung between poles. This seemed to be a set up he might be willing to let me try. No go. There was no getting him alongside the rope for me to unhook the end. When Mo handed me the end, he promptly backed up until it was out of my grasp. Oh yeah. He's gonna be working on that one.

Another obstacle was a mattress to walk over. Hoss has habitually approached such obstacles with aplomb and gone right over. Not this day! It took a lot of circling, and following Mo's horse, before he finally capitulated and walked over it.

When we approached the obstacle with the pool noodles set up horizontally so the horse would be touched on both sides by them, Hoss definitely didn't want to go through. When he saw Eclipse on the far side, he went, but wouldn't do it again.

The trash pit I figured would be no challenge. We ride in the Tijuana River Valley, after all, and it's just this side of a landfill. Instead, I asked him to cross, and he gave me a whole lot of trouble. Daniela and Eclipse walked right through it without a moment's hesitation. Hoss just acted like he'd never seen any such thing.

Why would I walk through that???
Another obstacle Hoss had particular trouble with was the backing up between cones. He would back up anywhere except between the cones. He doesn't like to back between any sort of objects, so this will be another one we need to fix.

The pole held by the rider at one end and resting on a barrel at the other we were able to work out. The idea is to hold the pole and ride a circle without allowing the pole to fall off the barrel. We started out by simply riding a circle around the barrel. Next, the assistant held the pole next to us as we rode around. Then, I took hold of the pole and rode around. It went very well, and I was quite proud of my boy in spite of the silly behavior he had been engaging.

We all lined up, and a girl came up the line on crutches. Hoss was more interested in whether or not she had carrots than the crutches.

After the line up, several flags were brought out. I was pretty confident in Hoss's ability to deal with this one, and took one pretty quickly. I was able to unfurl it without so much as a flinch, and even passed it over Hoss's back without trouble.

Overall, Hoss did okay. There were a few things I would have liked to have go better, and I really did expect better of him than I got. Still, it revealed some things we really need to work on, and showed I do have a pretty good horse, even if he has a few "holes."

Is It a RIDE or a RACE?

There was a question/comment posted on the AERC Facebook page pointing out, properly, that "AERC" stands for American Endurance *Ride* Conference, not American Endurance *Race* Conference. It resulted in a lively and shockingly respectful conversation on the merits of the two terms. Unfortunately it was deleted by an unknown person. I expect it was deleted by the original poster, as the conversation definitely seemed to move in the opposite direction from what that person would have preferred.

In essence, the post was about hearing endurance riders talk about going to "races" rather than "rides." I got involved by pointing out when the uninitiated hear "race," they tend to picture the Kentucky Derby, and even those competitors described as "racing" in AERC aren't doing anything close to that sort of racing. I also mentioned many people are intimidated by the term "race," and I've had to disabuse several people of a distorted understanding of what it means to participate in an endurance ride/race.

I seem to recall, in the early days of my participation in AERC, there was a great deal of talk of referring to events as "rides" not "races." The perception was people would be put off or offended by "race," and would be more apt to think we're abusing our horses when we talk about racing them 50 miles. The Duck makes several excellent points in his article on the topic.

The simple reality is, in one way or another, we're all "racing." Whether we finish first or last, we have to beat the clock. While simply beating the clock is a far cry, exertionally speaking, from racing to finish first, it's still a race.

At one ride put on by the Duck, he stressed we were never to use the word "race." The reason was because the land manager interpreted the rules of the agency which owned the land to strictly prohibit competitive use of the trails. Thus, we were to say "ride."

The only reason I can really see to stick to "ride" is the land management problem. When land managers are looking for reasons to deny permits for endurance rides, the perception of the event as a race could be all they need. So from that perspective alone, we may, as an organization, wish to discourage the use of the word "race."

Aside from all that, the argument over what we call our events is a bit silly. There seems to be a faction that believes anyone who refers to it as a "race" is uninterested in the welfare of their horses, is only in it for the win, and has little regard for fellow competitors. While it is true that "race brain" is more obvious in the top riders, I've seen it in the turtles, too. A desire to win does not, however, mean an individual does not have a love and respect for his horse, and it is unfair to suggest such.