Sunday, October 24, 2010

Something's Not Right

There’s something bothering Silk, but I can’t quite figure out what it is. Earlier in the week, I sensed that she was not a happy girl. There was some tail swishing at night when I came into her stall to say goodnight. She’s been edgy, looking into the woods as if she sees the same imaginary people that my mom used to see back there when she was having her delusions last year. I found myself tensing up whenever I was around my sweet horse, worrying that she might do something weird.

On Wednesday, I had to go to New York City for a meeting, and it concerned me to be leaving Silk all day. She wasn’t waiting at the gate for me the way she usually is when I pulled into the driveway I went immediately to the barn, and when she saw me, she turned her back to me in her stall and stood in the far corner. My first panicked thought was colic. Then, I wondered if she’d been bit by a Lyme tick. She ate her dinner and was drinking water and pooping, so I reassured myself that it probably wasn’t her stomach that was bothering her.

When I started to pick out her feet, she glued them to the ground and refused to lift them. Silk never does that. In fact, one of the things that I marvel at is that she will normally let me do anything I want to her without complaining or balking. It’s such a change from when I first got her that it always reminds me of how much she trusts me. So when she refused to lift her back right hoof, I began to think “abscess”. Frankly, I was hoping that’s all it was.

She finally let me clean all her hooves and soak and poultice both her back feet. She didn’t really want to balance on either when I lifted the opposite leg, so I decided to treat both to be safe. Then, the battle of the boots began. Silk lets me put the Soft Ride boots on her hooves with the Animalintex pad in them. As soon as I walk away, she starts trying to pull them off. We’ve struggled with this annoying game for three days. I gave her a 500 pound dose of Banamine morning and night for two days. Her mood began to improve, but forget about wearing those boots! I finally duct taped the poultice pad on her back right foot since it appears that’s the one that is most sore.

What’s hard to determine is whether there’s actually an abscess or if she’s just bruised her sole or maybe even feels stiff in her hock. I wish she could talk. She’s not like Siete, who lets me know loud and clear what’s bothering her. Silk is very stoic and from past experience, I know she’ll hold it in until she keels over. And I certainly don’t want that again. Several years ago, we had a mystery illness where she just fell down on me one horrible morning and couldn’t get up. After rushing to the equine hospital, all they could come up with was perhaps an electrolyte imbalance. Thank god, it’s never happened again. Even after all this time, I am relieved each morning when I approach the barn and see Silk stick her head over the Dutch door to greet me.

This morning, she seems better. Her body language is softer and more like it usually is. We’ll leave the boots and poultice off today and see how it goes. It’s always something, isn’t it?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

In the Moment

I’m recovering from a really intense experience that I had on Thursday night. For the second year, I am producing the video that the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society uses to help fundraise for their “Light the Night” Walk. One of the walks takes place in Manhattan, starting at the South Street Seaport and following a route across the Brooklyn Bridge and back. Last year, it rained like crazy, and I got soaked to the bone. Despite the weather, a couple thousand people turned out.

This week, I started watching the weather forecast early, and it didn’t look good. I warned my video crew that they were predicting a Nor’ Easter so they should be ready for big rain. The weather channels were calling for one to two inches, and I really had to batten down the hatches at home and in the barn since we would be gone. Fortunately, I was able to get one of my neighbors who is an experienced horsewoman to come feed the horses for me and secure them safely in their stalls. My daughter was spending the night with some other good friends, so I didn’t have to worry about her. Knowing that everyone was okay on the home front gave me the ability to really focus on my job at the Walk.

True to the predictions, it began to rain around 5 pm. The crowd was even bigger than last year, probably around four thousand people. What was so remarkable was that no one was complaining, even though the rain was coming down in a solid sheet. I think that initially my cameramen thought that I had been exaggerating with all my dire warnings, but they soon realized that this was like shooting in a monsoon. I had five layers of clothing on, and they were all wet. During the entire time, I kept myself totally in the moment, never thinking about how good it would be to get home to my warm bed or how long the walk back from the Bridge to the Seaport would be or how tired my feet were.

Standing on the Brooklyn Bridge watching a solid mass of drenched people with the LED lighted balloons they carried valiantly bobbing in the sky against the downpour, it was truly a memorablet scene -- a visual metaphor for the bravery of facing a deadly disease. I just kept marveling at all these people, many of them diagnosed with Leukemia or other blood cancers, walking along with such great spirit and love, regardless of how difficult it was.

It was only looking back on it this weekend, as I took some time to rest, that I realized how much my ability to focus had grown in a year. Recently, I’ve been re-reading Mark Rashid’s wonderful book, “Horsemanship Through Life”, and a phrase he uses came into my head. He talks about how as a young boy, he was riding on the trail with his mentor, “the old man”, and his mind was wandering. Suddenly, his horse spooked and did some crazy moves, and Rashid fell off. The old man said, “You shouldn’t have stopped riding… She didn’t buck you off. You fell off ‘cuz you quit riding… You were sitting. You quit riding over an hour ago.” Then, Rashid explains how many of us only keep our intent and awareness for short periods of time when we ride, letting the horse do all the work as we become passengers who are thinking about what we are making for supper or something that happened at work or being distracted by a million small things. Then, he points out that the only way to really hone the skills of attentiveness and communication with your horse is to live your whole life with that kind of intent and awareness in everything that you do.

Now, I know that I’ve been really working hard on being in the moment when I’m with my horses. I also have felt that my ability to stay aware and focused has increased in my daily activities away from the barn. It wasn’t until Thursday night that I really appreciated how much better it can make a painful situation. Last year, standing on the Bridge, my mind was worrying about how my mom and the horses were doing at home and distracted by how long the walk back to the car would be and a flood of other concerns that I couldn’t do anything about right then and there anyway. This year, I had a more meaningful and rewarding experience because I “never quit riding”.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Time for a Change

We had our first date with our new farrier, and it was great. For five years, the same man has been taking care of Silk and Siete's feet, but he’s followed his dream out West and bought a small ranch. I was fortunate to find a young man who has recently gone into business after working for many years with one of the most respected farriers around here. All signs point to it being a good match. I consider my farrier to be one of my most important relationships, so you have no idea how relieved I am that we’ve all hit it off to a good start.

First of all, this guy loves horses and shows it. He was really gentle and able to help Siete keep her balance better than our old farrier. She is going through another one of those stages where she’s getting these little abscesses, probably due to the abrupt change in the weather. It’s been so dry all summer, and suddenly, we were deluged by rain last week. The corral is still mushy, and this seems to be the “perfect storm” for abscesses. If anyone has any suggestions about ways to pump up Siete’s immune system, I’d love to hear them. We’ve gone through two years without any of these problems, but this is the time of year where she seems to be most prone to this problem. I’m slathering Venice turpentine on her feet to harden them and she gets Triple Crown 12% Supplement instead of grain. She’s also on a diet, after a summer of freedom in the pasture and all this beautiful second cut hay we’ve been getting. I call her a little “Hoover” since she vacuums up every bit of both her own and her mother’s hay if I don’t stop her.

I also just joined a group on LinkedIn called “Horses and Leadership” which has some interesting discussions going. It led me to think about leadership styles in business and in horse training. Sad to say, we are taught by most trainers to be rigid with our horses. “If you let her get away with that, you’ll spoil her.” My first trainer used to yell at me. What I realize now is that if my horse is just learning the rules, she isn’t really paying attention to me. Often, she was just doing it by rote so she wouldn’t get punished. Over the last few months, I have discovered, thanks to Carolyn Resnick, that the key is to keep the horse’s attention on you and create a trust that makes the horse want to listen to you. That’s how the lead horse in a herd does it. I think the same thing applies to people who are working for you. No one likes to just take orders. It’s so much better to make a request and have a willing response.

Siete was very relaxed with the new farrier today. She’s been anxious and irritable over the last six months when she got her feet trimmed, and I have found myself dreading the old farrier’s visits. This morning, I think that it was a combination of Siete’s developing trust in me and the good vibe of our new friend that made my little horse take it easy, despite the draining of abscesses and hammering of nails. I’ve resigned myself to front shoes for both horses since our pasture seems to grow rocks as fast as it grows grass or weeds. Happily, everyone around here is doing better today, now that hooves are feeling good and the sun is shining.