Monday, December 28, 2009

Riding in the GA Memorial arena

Yesterday, our friend SH kindly offered to trailer Ziggy and Shadowfax over to his and DA's place (DA and SH are married and I've decided to refer to them jointly as DASH) so that we could ride in their arena. SH and Foxfire practiced tilting at the quintain while DA practiced some dressage and I just rode around getting used to my new horse.

A picture of the GA Memorial Arena from the day of its dedication. It's sort of an "L" shaped arena with a full length dressage arena on the long leg of the "L" and a short dressage arena on the short leg of the "L". It usually also has various SCA stuff set up in it.

Shadowfax was pretty mellow about the whole experience. When we first got there, I led him around to let him meet the other horses and most importantly the llama. Some horses have totally freaked about the llama. Shadowfax just sort of did a horsey version of a double take then wandered over to sniff noses with the other horses who were much friendlier than Ziggy was when they first met, and apparently much more interesting than the llama. Then SH let his dog, Archie out. Archie went zipping past Shadowfax and Shadowfax didn't even seem to notice. When Archie started chasing the guineas around and they started making a fuss, Shadowfax looked over to see what the fuss was about then went back to grazing. However, at one point when I was hand-grazing him while waiting for a spot to tie up so I could groom and tack Shadowfax, something in the grass spooked him. He just suddenly jumped and sort of twisted sideways, then stared at a spot in the grass for a second. I quickly led him away from that area, although he had already calmed down and started looking for more grass. I have no idea what spooked him. I certainly didn't see anything. But even as he spooked, he sort of twisted sideways so that he didn't run into me, so that was good.

Once Foxfire had finished grooming and tacking up Ziggy, I took his spot at the trailer. Here Shadowfax sort of disappointed me. He simply wouldn't stand still while I was grooming him. He didn't try to run off, he just kept shifting from side to side and looking around and stuff. I suppose I can't blame him too much. He was in a new place with lots of new horses and other animals running around. But it was a bit frustrating. He was, however, a perfect gentleman when it came time to pick out his hooves. For that, he stood still. Yay!!!

Once I got him tacked up and led him out to the arena, we had one bad moment when he started walking off when I was only halfway into the saddle. I managed to pull myself the rest of the way into the saddle as he was walking and then made him stop for a moment as I settled myself in. Again, I blame it on the excitement of all the other horses already running around and doing stuff in the arena, but it is something that we need to work on. Simply giving him more experience will probably help. Once I was in the saddle, he did really well. When I asked for a walk, I got a walk, when I asked for more energetic walk, I got a more energetic walk. When I asked for trot, I got trot. When I asked for stop, he stopped. And he went where I asked him to go. I didn't ask him to canter for a couple of reasons. First, the footing was a lot deeper than he was used to and I could sort of feel him struggling just a little bit with it. (He is rather out of shape. As am I.) And second, there were a couple of guys cantering around with really long lances, hitting this shield thing that would make a loud bang then spin around with this bag of sand swinging out on the other end.

An illustration of a quintain.

Shadowfax barely even noticed it, as far as I could tell. The main problem was just staying out of the other riders's ways when they began their runs at the quintain. I was also trying to stay out of DA's way who was actually working on some dressage stuff, since I wasn't actually trying to do any "real" riding. Mainly, I was just working on bonding with my new horse, letting each of us get used to each others signals and responses, exposing Shadowfax to some new experiences, and just spending some time in the saddle. When the guys were taking a break from running at the quintain, I led Shadowfax up to it. He just looked at it for a second then tried to lick the sand bag. He likes to lick things. He licks the sides of his stall after he's done eating. Every once in a while he'll chew on the wood, but mainly he just licks it. He also licks the donkeys. Well, he licks Tessla, the other two tend to move away, but Tessla will just stand there letting Shadowfax lick him. Strange.

After we were done riding, Shadowfax was much calmer while I was untacking him. However, when I was almost done, he starting backing away from the trailer and standing at the very end of the lead. I'd urge him forward and he'd take a few steps forward, then he'd back up again. I couldn't figure it out at the time, but in retrospect, it was when Foxfire had led Ziggy into the area. I think Shadowfax was worried about being trapped against the trailer if Ziggy went after him. I wish I'd figured it out at the time and spared my poor horse the anxiety, but I'll know better next time. BTW, Ziggy is gradually becoming more tolerant of Shadowfax, but they are still a long way away from being buddies.

I also figured out, too late,(or rather DA figured it out,) that we were loading Shadowfax in DASH's slant load trailer in a way he wasn't used to. When the previous owner had kindly trailered him to my house, she used a straight load trailer with an escape door. So I'd led Shadowfax in and gone out the escape door. I thought that was the only way he knew how to to trailer. So when we went to load Shadowfax in DASH's trailer I tried to lead him in through the rather narrow entrance of the slant load, and he wouldn't go in. Someone had to give just a tiny push to his rear to get him to follow me in. After we loaded him the second time to bring him back to our house, we finally guessed that he was probably used to the "point and shoot" method of being loaded into a slant load. That me standing in the doorway, trying to lead him in just confused him. Next time we trailer with DASH, I'll stand to the side, toss the lead over his neck, pat him on his rump and see if he goes in on his own. I'm betting he will.

Anyway, it was a wonderful day, and I really appreciate DASH inviting us over and trailering our horses for us.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

First ride at home

Okay, I'm behind on my posts again. It's the holidays. Everything's chaotic. As you can see in the title, I was finally able to ride my new horse at home. But first I want to give a brief summary of the past few days. Basically, because of Ziggy's animosity towards Shadowfax, the only way that I've been able to spend any time with my horse was to go out into the field wait until the donkeys came over and Ziggy chased Shadowfax away, then walk into the goat pen with the donkeys following me, then walk out of the goat pen locking the donkeys in. Ziggy would stay by the goat pen and I could go halter my horse and lead him into the backyard area and groom him and love on him. Even in the backyard, which is fenced off from the rest of the pasture, Shadowfax still kept a watchful eye on Ziggy. Because of this I wasn't willing to risk trying to ride Shadowfax alone.

On either Monday or Tuesday, Foxfire came home from work for a couple of hours around 2pm.(They let him out for a few hours because they were going to keep him till midnight that day.) And with Foxfire haltering and leading Ziggy, we managed to take Ziggy and Shadowfax for a walk in-hand around the neighborhood. Outside of the pasture, Ziggy was more tolerant of Shadowfax, but he still wasn't ready to accept him as a herd mate. However, when we would pause and let them sniff noses, all Ziggy did was pin his ears, no snapping and no dramatics. That was hopeful. Of course, once we turned them loose back in the pasture, Ziggy went all herd-protector again. Not nearly as dramatic as the first time, but he still wouldn't let Shadowfax anywhere near the donkeys.

And then of course, the past couple of days have been Christmas eve and Christmas day and with all the family obligations and stuff, there just wasn't much time to spend with the horses.

But finally, today, Foxfire is off work, Ziggy has continued to mellow towards Shadowfax to the point that they can now eat off of the same round bale -- as long as they are on opposite sides -- and Foxfire and I decided to try and take both horses on a trail ride around the neighborhood.

It went great! Outside of the pasture, without the donkeys around, Ziggy was actually quite tolerant of Shadowfax. He didn't even pin his ears that I noticed. And although Shadowfax was quite looky. He paid attention to me and didn't spook at anything. Cars went by and he barely looked at them. Screaming kids playing ball in their yard, he just flicked an ear at. Even a bunch of teenagers riding around on ATV's didn't bother him. He looked, but that was it. The only time he had a noticeable reaction to anything was when a big dog ran barking along the fence at him. His gait became a bit uneven as he tried to keep an eye and/or an ear toward the dog. He didn't try to stop or bolt or even go in another direction. His gaits just became a little uneven while we were passing the dog. Considering that Shadowfax has had little, if any, trail riding experience outside of a pasture, he did extremely well.

It's finally beginning to sink in that I actually have my own horse. Grooming him, picking out his feet (Did I mention how GOOD he is about having his feet worked with!!!), saddling him and bridling him all on my own, then riding him around the neighborhood has started making it real to me. It's still not completely real. That may take a while. I never, NEVER, believed that I might actually end up with a dapple gray Andalusian, which has been my dream horse since I first saw one of those Spanish Riding School shows in junior high. (And yes, it was the Andalusians that I was drawn to, NOT the Lipizzaners.)

Unfortunately, I still don't have any pictures, because Foxfire was busy riding Ziggy. But sooner or later, I WILL get a picture of me riding my new horse.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


After searching for over a year, I actually found and was able to buy (barely) my dream horse. He's an eight year old, 16.2 hand, dapple gray Andalusian gelding.

JJ kindly agreed to give Shadowfax a test ride when I asked for her opinion before buying him. I didn't have anyone to take pictures when I was riding him, but JJ said that I looked good on him.

I can't believe that I actually found an Andalusian that I could afford that was healthy, sound and sane. He even has dressage training. Okay, he doesn't have the best conformation, and he has a little arthritis in his hocks, and yes, he is young to already have arthritic changes. But he is still sound enough for what I want to do according to the vet, and should remain that way for many years with proper maintenance. He is also still somewhat inexperienced since after being started under saddle and ridden for a couple of years, he was then put out to pasture and had nothing done with him for about two years. But after being back under saddle for only a little over a month, he was easy and comfortable for me to ride. He's a little lazy, but that might get better with more consistent riding. I didn't have any trouble getting him to trot and canter, though I did have a little trouble keeping him cantering. But just a little extra push with my outside leg and inside hip kept him going. Considering that I'm still learning how to canter myself and that I am just coming back from several months off of riding because of my surgery, it's a pretty good sign that I was able to ride him that easily.

His registered name is Mi Romeo, but neither Foxfire nor I really wanted to call him Romeo so I was trying to come up with another name for him. I was out in the pasture with him and suddenly realized that I had just called him Shadow. So I asked, "Is Shadow your name?" and he walked toward me. Of course any time he hears my voice, he walks toward me(Yes, he already comes to me any time I go out in the pasture. He really WAS meant for me.) But Foxfire liked the name Shadow, so we tentatively started calling him Shadow. However, we already have a cat named Shadow and I also wanted a name with a little more distinction for my horse, so after thinking about it for a while, I decided that I would call him Shadowfax. I know it's a bit presumptuous to name him after Gandalf's stallion in Lord of the Rings, but he is an Andalusian, which is the breed of horse they used for Shadowfax in the movie. And it just seems like the right name for him.

I admit that I'm still a little nervous about having spent so much on a horse. But even though he is not perfect (no horse is), I think he is the right horse for me. I'm still sort of getting used to the idea of having my own horse. I don't think it's really sunk in yet. Maybe once I get a chance to ride him here it will finally sink in. I haven't been able to ride him at home yet because my husband's very mild mannered horse, Ziggy, has turned into a fire-breathing herd protector. Ziggy will not let Shadowfax anywhere near HIS donkeys. The problem is the donkeys (and Ziggy to some extent) are used to coming up to me anytime I go into the pasture in order to get petted and scritched. So anytime I go out in the pasture to try and spend time with Shadowfax, the donkeys and Ziggy come over and chase Shadowfax away. I can't put Ziggy in his stall because when we tried to do that, Ziggy went absolutely balistic and started charging his stall door. We were afraid that he'd hurt himself (and destroy the stall) so we had to let him out.

Foxfire and I have tried several different things to get Ziggy to accept Shadowfax. It's not like we just turned everyone loose in the pasture together. When we brought Shadowfax home, we had Ziggy in his stall and the donkeys and goats in the goat pen. We led Shadowfax around the property and let him see and smell everything. (BTW, Shadowfax behaved very well throughout everything. He was curious and looking around, but not nervous or aggressive.) Then I led Shadowfax up to Ziggy's stall to let them sniff noses. And that's when the drama began. Ziggy took one sniff then snapped at Shadowfax. Shadowfax naturally stepped back, but that's all he did. He didn't snap back or get excited, he just got out of reach of Ziggy. I waited a few seconds and let Ziggy just look at Shadowfax and when he seemed calmer, I led Shadowfax up to him again. Again Ziggy snapped at him. So I decided to leave Ziggy alone for a bit and led Shadowfax over to the goat pen and let him sniff noses with the donkeys through the fence. Tessla, of course, immediately came over and said, "Hi". After seeing Tessla interacting safely with the big gray horse, Kanny and eventually Marie came over and they all sniffed noses. Shadowfax actually seemed to like the donkeys. Maybe he just appreciated that they weren't pinning their ears and snapping at him.

When Shadowfax seemed to lose interest in sniffing the donkeys, I let him wander around a bit on his own. I was still holding his lead rope, but I let him go where he wanted to. He soon found the water trough and took a long drink. After that I decided to try Ziggy again. Same result. Foxfire thought that maybe Ziggy would be friendlier if he weren't stuck in his stall, so I led Shadowfax a good distance away, and Foxfire haltered Ziggy and led him out. We carefully led the two horses closer to let them sniff noses again. This time Ziggy not only snapped at Shadowfax, he reared up a little and sort of thrashed his front hooves at him, accidentally racking Foxfire in the process. Foxfire was okay, just not real happy. Shadowfax remained surprisingly calm and just stepped back out of reach. Foxfire backed Ziggy up and I kept Shadowfax at a bit of a distance and we just let the horses look at each other for a while. Then very carefully we again let them get closer. Again Ziggy displayed very aggressive behavior. Ziggy wasn't actually biting or kicking Shadowfax, but he was putting on one hell of a threat display. We, Foxfire, the previous owner, her trainer and I, finally decided that the two horses would have to just work it out themselves. So I took Shadowfax to one end of the pasture and Foxfire took Ziggy to the other end and we turned them loose.

Shadowfax immediately trotted towards Ziggy who was standing by the goat pen with the donkeys in it. Ziggy charged at Shadowfax and chased him away. As soon as Shadowfax was a good distance away from the donkeys in the goat pen, Ziggy stopped chasing him and went back to the donkeys. This pattern repeated itself several times during which we figured out that Ziggy apparently saw Shadowfax as a threat to his herd (the donkeys). Poor Shadowfax just wanted to join the herd, but Ziggy absolutely refused to let him near. Since Ziggy was behaving so aggressively, we decided to just leave the donkeys and the goats in the pen for a while and see if in a few hours things had calmed down. Watching Ziggy behaving so aggressively was actually pretty frightening. He'd always been such a non-dominant horse before, but now his behavior was really scary. I'll repeat that neither Ziggy when he was attacking nor Shadowfax when he defended himself actually bit or kicked the other horse. It was just a lot of really aggressive display. But even though no one was actually getting hurt. It was distressing to watch.

Unfortunately, even hours later, Ziggy was still chasing Shadowfax away from the goat pen any time he came near. However, both horses were completely lathered and probably exhausted, and the chases were getting shorter and less intense, so we decided to try feeding everyone since it was about time for their evening meal. Shadowfax was quite willing to go into his new stall to get fed and enthusiastically gobbled up his grain. Ziggy had to be haltered and led into his stall and after taking only a few bites started pacing his stall, pinning his ears at Shadowfax in the stall next to him, snaking his head around the stall wall and snapping at Shadowfax. He even started charging his stall gate. At this point, because we were afraid that Ziggy would hurt himself, we had to let him out of his stall. He ran over and checked on the donkeys, then started charging at Shadowfax's stall. Foxfire and I would clap and yell at him and make him turn away, but it was still frightening Shadowfax. For the first time, Shadowfax started displaying nervous behavior. Completely understandably. Foxfire managed to chase Ziggy far enough off so that I could let Shadowfax out of his stall. Once Shadowfax was out of his stall he calmed down. However, Ziggy would still chase him away any time he came near his little herd. Poor Shadowfax.

Once it got completely dark, things seemed to settle down a bit. Every once in a while, Shadowfax would ease up toward the herd and Ziggy would chase him away, but things weren't nearly as dramatic. Since Ziggy hadn't finished his grain which is a very bad thing because he has a history of ulcers, I led Shadowfax into the goat pen and stayed with him so that Foxfire could bring Ziggy's feed bucket to where he was standing with the donkeys and encourage him to eat. Ziggy eventually finished most of his grain, and I let Shadowfax back out. Foxfire and I finally got our own dinner and settled down to watch some tv. But we would go outside every once in a while to check on everyone. Ziggy still wouldn't let Shadowfax join his herd, but at least there were no more big dramatic chases.

Anyway, that was the first day of having my new horse. Which was Sunday, by the way, I'm a little behind in posting this entry. I'll try to post what went on on Monday and today either later tonight or more likely tomorrow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wine Tasting Tour of the Hill Country

Well, I'm behind on my posts again. A number of things have happened lately, but I'll start with what happened yesterday. My husband, Foxfire and I are members of Becker Vineyards' wine club (a winery that's about an hour and a half drive away), so once every three months, we drive to Stonewall, TX to pick up our member wines for that quarter. Well, this time, we decided that we were going to make a day of it and visit several of the other wineries in the area and we invited our friend DA to come with us, since it seemed the sort of thing that she would enjoy.

Our first stop was Texas Hills Vineyard in Johnson City, TX. This unique little winery is very green oriented and their winery was actually built using the rammed earth method. I'd never seen a building built that way before, it was fun to check it out. The hostess was very friendly and attentive, asking questions about what we liked and giving recommendations on what we might like and the proper order in which to taste them. She also gave us each a Texas Winery Passport, a neat little booklet that you get stamped in each winery you visit. There is also space to take notes on the winery and the wines you taste. When you've filled all the spaces in your passport, you can go online at and fill out a form to get a reward. They don't tell you what the reward is, you just have to wait till it arrives.

Anyway, unlike most wineries, there was no tasting fee for most of the wines. They did have a special wine list that you had to pay a small fee to taste, but since they were all reds and I don't generally like reds, and since the selection of wines free to taste was fairly large, I didn't feel the need to pay the fee to taste the special wines. I liked their Orange Moscato so much that I bought a bottle even though our wine rack is already overflowing and I knew that we'd be picking up three new bottles at Becker Vineyards. DA also bought a couple of bottles for herself. In addition to the free tastings, there was also a very nice selection of interesting and unique gifts, much better than the usual t-shirts and wine toppers that you see in most tasting room gift shops.

Our next stop was Pedernales Cellars. Driving up their driveway, we noticed some cute fuzzy black and white cattle in a pasture on the right and a very skinny horse in a pasture on the left. We were all very concerned about the horse since we all ride and/or own horses. During our visit we mentioned to the hostess that we owned horses and asked about the horse in the pasture, being very careful not to imply anything negative. We were relieved to find out that the horse was a rescue that the owner's wife had taken in and was trying to nurse back to health. Since my husband's horse was a rescue and it had taken us about nine months to get him healthy looking, we understood about the horse still looking skinny and neglected and were impressed that the owner's wife was trying to help her.

The second thing we noticed about Pedernales Cellars was the view. Standing outside the tasting room and looking in almost any direction, you have a beautiful view of the Texas hill country. Inside the tasting room, there was a nice, but somewhat expensive selection of gourmet cheeses and chocolates along with the usual t-shirts and wine accessories. Pedernales Cellars does charge a tasting fee, but they wait till after you've had your tasting to charge it, and if you buy a bottle of wine, they waive it. Also, if you ask, they will give you a tour of their facilities. We asked.

In a hill behind the tasting room, they have built a large geothermically cooled cave where they make their wines. There were several large metal machines for de-stemming, juicing and fermenting, then a large area filled with wooden casks for aging the wine. The casks were made of different woods (French oak and American oak with traditional charring and laser charring) which impart different tastes to the wine. They are particularly proud of their machine for juicing the grapes. Apparently, there is a fairly big difference between first juice (the juice that comes out easiest) and last juice (the stuff you really have to force out). Their machine allows them to control the pressure so that all they get is first juice, which theoretically makes their wines better. I'm not a true oenophile, but I did like their wines, especially their Vino Blanco and their Muscat Canelli. I even liked one of their red wines(Pedernales Cellars Family Reserve) which is extremely unusual for me. Unfortunately, it was $49 a bottle which is rather more than I'm willing to spend for wine, but it was very good. Keeping in mind our overflowing wine rack, I limited my purchase to a bottle of the Muscat Canelli. However, DA (who is more of an oenophile and actually needed to stock up on wines) bought several bottles, so all of our tasting fees were waived.

Next we went to Becker Vineyards. The first time we went to Becker Vineyards was when Foxfire took me there as part of our third anniversary celebration. They have since finished re-modeling and enlarging their tasting room. It's absolutely huge and with the wood paneling and arched ceiling sort of gives the feeling of being inside a giant wine cask. (DA made that observation.) Foxfire and I had already been there twice so I waived my free tasting(as a member of the wine club) in favor of a souvenir wine glass, And Foxfire generously shared his tastings with me. The last time we had been to Becker, we had come home with over a full case of wine and still had a fair amount left of our favorites which for me are the Fleur Sauvage, Gewurztraminer and Muscat Canelli Amabile. Foxfire's favorites are the Clementine, Malbec and Raven. So we didn't buy anything, however DA bought several bottles of wine as well as several jars of fancy bath salts to give as Christmas gifts.

We finished our tour of wineries at Grape Creek Vineyards. Their tasting room is located inside a beautiful Tuscan style villa surrounded by oak trees. It is certainly one of the most beautiful settings for a winery that I have ever seen. Of course, I happen to be partial to that style of building. They had several different tasting options, but DA opted for the $10 artisan tasting(which includes 9 tastings and a souvenir glass) and since the host kindly agreed that Foxfire and I could split a tasting that's what we did, too. After tasting their white label wines, several of which I liked very much (Pinot Grigio, Muscat Canelli and Cabernet Blanc), we made our way over to their black label wine tasting area. Now I don't usually like red wines, but over the course of the tasting tour, I had at least begun to appreciate them in a certain way, so even though I wouldn't necessarily buy any of their red wines, I could at least appreciate the experience of tasting them. The fact that the host was very attentive and gave good descriptions and explanations of the various wines also helped. The final black label tasting was a port, and I actually do like ports, so it was a nice reward for making my way through the previous red wines.

DA apparently really liked Grape Creek's wines because when it came time to buy, she bought 10 bottles (apparently some were to be Christmas gifts). I bought two bottles, a Pinot Grigio and a Cabernet Blanc so that we had a complete case. We got a 10% discount on the wines and our tasting fees were waived. As I'm writing this, I'm actually wishing that I'd also bought a bottle of their Muscat Canelli, but at the time, I was thinking that I'd already bought two muscats and we had some at home so I passed on it. Well, I am positive that we'll be going back so I'll just get it next time. We'll also be sure to plan our timing so that we can take their Barrel Tasting Tour. It costs $20, but it seems like it would be well worth it.

Anyway, when we finished our tastings, it was almost 5pm which is when all the wineries close and Foxfire wanted a chance to sober up a bit before driving home, so DA kindly bought me a glass of port and herself a glass of her favorite(which was the Bellisimo, I think), and we sat on Grape Creek's beautiful patio listening to the talented country western singer who was performing there. Aside from the unwanted advances from an overly friendly yellow jacket, it was a beautiful way to end the tour.

After we left Grape Creek Vineyards, we were all a bit hungry, so we headed over to the Salt Lick for some fantastic Texas BBQ. Foxfire and I both had chopped beef sandwiches and split a peach cobbler for dessert. DA had a mixed platter with sausage, brisket and turkey and a slice of pecan pie for desert. None of us managed to finish all our food, so we took the rest of it home to eat later. We were all exhausted, but it had been a fantastically fun day.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My first buck (from before the surgery)

The week before my surgery, JJ let me come out to the barn and ride Saga after her lesson on him. She was riding FuzzyPony's horse Taran in a lesson immediately following her lesson on Saga and so she needed someone to walk Saga cool and untack him and such. Since I hadn't ridden in a while it was a good chance for me to get a little riding in.

Everything went fine at first. JJ's lesson was at the end of the arena closest to the stalls and so I walked Saga around at the end of the arena closest to the pasture. Now it had been raining a lot lately, so most of the horses at the barn had been kept in their stalls for a week or more, but the barn owner apparently decided that the ground had dried out enough to let the horses back out into the pasture. The horses were understandably excited about finally getting out and being able to run around and stuff. Most of them took off running in their pastures, chasing each other and playing around. When they first started letting the horses out, I worried a little bit about Saga getting excited by the other horses running around, but even though he obviously noticed them, it didn't seem to bother him. He was still paying attention to me and would just occasionally look over at the pasture. I'd wriggle the reins and he would switch his attention back to me. No problem.

However... suddenly two(or possibly more) of the horses decided to get into a squealing fight not far from the arena. That was just too much for Saga. He bucked. (I don't think it was that much of a buck because I actually stayed on him.) First his front end went up and then down and as his front end went down, his back end came up and threw me forward. I experienced a VIVID demonstration of why you want heels on your boots as my feet shot forward in the stirrups until my heels caught. He only did the one buck, but then he really wanted to run. Fortunately, I still had control of the reins and although he sort of jigged forward in this REALLY BOUNCY trot, he didn't actually run off with me. I had to pull and release the reins and say "whoaaaa" three times, but after the third time he actually stopped. (GOOD HORSE!) His body was still sort of quivering beneath me, and I suspected that if I moved at all, he probably would take off. So I sat VERY STILL, making soothing sounds and waiting for him to stop quivering.

About this time JJ, who had apparently had some trouble with Taran acting up at the same time and had not seen my masterful (HA! :sarcasm:) handling of Saga's buck, suggested that it would be a good idea for me to get off Saga since the other horses were making such a fuss that they might cause Saga to act up. I sort of quietly yelled back to her(I didn't want to make any startling noises, but for her to hear me on the other side of the arena I had to be pretty loud) that as soon as Saga finished quieting down, I would get off of him. He did quiet down fairly quickly, but with horses still being let out to pasture nearby, I was a little worried about starting to dismount, getting halfway off and having something set Saga off again. So I asked a couple who were standing near the arena hand grazing a horse if one of them would mind coming and holding the reins while I dismounted. The girl headed my way, but she was rather hesitant and I could tell that she was a little scared of Saga. I tried to reassure her that he really was a sweetie that it was just the other horses making him excited. I don't know if that really reassured her, but she did come and hold my reins and I dismounted without any problem. I thanked her and led Saga back to the barn to untack and wash him down.

So anyway, that was the first buck I ever rode. Like I said, it probably wasn't much of a buck. He wasn't really trying to get me off his back. He wasn't angry or scared, just excited. But it was still a memorable experience for me.

Time to catch up a bit

I obviously haven't been posting much lately. It's taking me a while to recover from surgery and I really haven't been doing much besides laying on the couch and reading. There wasn't really much to write about. However, this weekend I finally got out of the house and did a couple of things. And there is a ride I had on Saga before the surgery that I should write about. I'll do that in a separate post.

Anyway, on Saturday, I persuaded Foxfire to drive me out to our property in Liberty Hill(which we call SpiderFox Ranch in the hope that in the not too distant future, we will be able to build a house out there and have our own little ranch), and I managed to walk around the property a little. I love going out there. It's so peaceful. I love looking at the trees and making my way through the trails between them. And at this time of the year there are thousands of little yellow flowers blooming everywhere. There were also some white daisy-like flowers and some little purple flowers. And a great big jack rabbit ran past us. Since it had been raining so much, our tank was full and there was even a little rivulet going across the lowest part of our property. There were hundreds of dragon flies hovering around the tank, mating and chasing smaller insects. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay very long. I still get tired really easily, and we had to get back to town to go to our friend JJ's birthday party.

For her birthday, JJ had a singer perform an informal concert at her house for her friends and family. The singer was Heather Dale. I really enjoyed listening to her. Not only does she have a lovely voice, she tells fascinating stories about the songs she sings. Some of the songs are classics, others have been written by people she knows and a fair amount she wrote herself. She has a website where you can listen to samples of her songs and download complete songs or albums. You can also buy actual compact discs to be shipped to you.

During intermission, an extremely tasty birthday cake was served (carrot cake, yum!) and there were other munchies. I also got to socialize a bit with friends that I hadn't seen in over a month which was really nice. Although I am a bit of a hermit, not seeing anyone but my husband and my doctor for almost a month is rather boring and lonely even for me. Unfortunately, I was REALLY tired and in some pain by the end of the concert so I couldn't stay to socialize very long after it. But at least I did get out of the house and was able to interact with people for a little while. Thanks for inviting me to your birthday, JJ!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Interesting times... Surgery

I am currently recovering from the surgery to remove the cyst from my abdomen. It turned out to be a more "interesting" surgery than planned. Because of where they thought the cyst was, the doctors had planned to do the the surgery completely transvaginally. Assuming that the cyst was were they thought it was, that would be both the most efficient and least invasive way to do it. Unfortunately, once they went in there, the cyst wasn't where they thought it was. It wasn't on the outside of the peritoneum, it was on the inside. And so they had to go in with three laparoscopes to find the cyst so they could remove it. However, when they went in laparoscopically, they found more than the cyst. There was apparently a fair amount of endometriosis which needed to be removed(which they went ahead and removed since they were already doing the surgery) AND there was an old abdominal hernia that I'd apparently been running around with for fifteen years that needed to be stitched up, so they stitched that up as well. And of course, they did eventually find and remove the cyst. So... the surgery ended up being rather more complicated than originally intended. However, in spite of all the extra work, everything went well, and I am recovering. Just a bit slower than I thought that I would. I certainly won't be posting about riding any time soon.

Of course, since I still don't have a horse of my own, that's not such a big deal. The horse that I really liked that came back on the market... not the same horse. It's amazing what a month with an angry abusive son of a bitch can do to a good horse. Maybe I'll write about what happened in another blog post. But you can see from one of my posts on facebook how I feel about matters:

People who take healthy, happy, friendly, willing horses and abuse them into skinny, scared, fearful animals should be whipped bloody, have saddles strapped to their backs so that they rub incessantly against their wounds, and be left without any medical care or adequate food.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Interesting times... A Texas Tango

So... to continue to try and catch up with all the "interesting times" that have been going on...

Let's start with the good. During my horse search, I came across a Belgian warmblood for sale very inexpensively. When we went to see him, I realized three things. One, this horse was neglected to the point of abuse. Two, with a little TLC, this could be a REALLY NICE horse. And three, that even though this horse had the potential to be a really nice horse, he would probably not be the right horse for me. However, he was too nice a horse to leave in the situation he was in. (No horse should be left in a bad situation, but realistically, you can't save them all, and it's just harder to leave things be when the horse is a really nice one.) He was kept all alone without another living creature in sight or sound of him, and being a herd animal, he had understandably developed some rather pronounced neurotic behavior. His feet were in horrible condition and looked like they hadn't been taken care of in at least six months. He was kept on ground that was basically just one big sheet of solid rock. He was obviously in pain though exactly what was causing the pain was unclear. His feet certainly looked bad enough to be causing him pain, and the solid rock footing certainly wasn't comfortable, but he also seemed to have some back pain which may or may not have been caused by the very badly fitting saddle that they used on him. Plus, he was overweight to the point that foundering was a legitimate concern. I suppose over-feeding is better than starving, but neither is good.

Unfortunately, the current owner was not going to sell him to Foxfire and I. I had made the mistake of calling after we had been to see him to ask if we could take him on trial and offering to pay to have his feet trimmed and shod and to have a vet check him out because he'd been exhibiting signs of pain. She totally freaked out, started yelling at me, repeatedly screamed, "THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT HORSE!!!!" then hung up on me.

I simply couldn't bear to leave the horse with that owner any longer, so I decided to see if I could enlist other people's help in rescuing the poor gelding. Since there aren't that many registered Belgian warmbloods compared to certain other breeds, I did some research online and sent out emails to the local Belgian Warmblood breeders as well as to friends and friends of friends to see if we could find someone who recognized and/or was willing to help us rescue this poor horse.

It turns out that a trainer/ex-breeder that we already knew and had taken several lessons from (Foxfire refers to her as the Oracle) recognized that he might be the offspring of her now deceased stallion. She contacted the owner of the mare that she thought was the gelding's dam and positively identified the neglected gelding as her stallion's son, Tango. The fact that she could look at a picture of this horse and recognize not only her stallion's lines, but also know which mare he came from leads me to believe that she might indeed have magical powers. Both she and the mare's owner agreed to rescue him. If he was sound, the Oracle would take him to become her new riding horse and if he was no longer sound, the mare's owner would care for him in his retirement.

The Oracle's daughter and a friend of ours with a truck and trailer went down and bought Tango and moved him to a temporary barn in Austin. A week later, Foxfire and I went to see how he was doing, and he looked like a different horse. He no longer exhibited any neurotic symptoms. He was calm and easy to handle. His feet had been seen by a good farrier and although it was going to be a while before they could grow back into truly good shape, you could see from his movement that they no longer hurt him the way they had been. In fact, he didn't show any more signs of pain. And it even looked like he had already lost some of the overweight that he had been carrying. The Oracle's daughter, who is also a trainer, took him out and free lunged him while we were there. He looked soooooo much better than he had at the place that he had been. Foxfire and I were both impressed by how nicely he moved. With a little more work, he is really going to be a fantastic horse. Since, it appears that he will be sound enough to ride, the Oracle is in the process of getting him shipped to where she currently lives. Her current riding horse is over twenty years old and she is extremely happy to have one of the few sons of her beloved stallion to become her new riding horse. Foxfire and I are both really happy to have helped in rescuing this horse and helping the stallion's owner to recover a son of the stallion that she loved.

Since FuzzyPony and JJ had actually been the ones to drive us down to see Tango, we stopped on the way home to visit Cash, JJ's retired eventer and the horse that Foxfire and I both started dressage lessons on. The farm that he is at is truly pony paradise! Beautiful rolling hills that even in the midst of drought were pretty and green, with stands of oak trees for shade and ponds for swimming in, which Cash had obviously been doing. You can see pictures from our visit on JJ's blog, The Saga Chronicles We brought Cash up to the barn and gave him a good bath, loving on him and giving him bits of carrot. After his bath, JJ offered to let us ride him bareback (or rather with just a saddle pad) for a little bit. (And yes we all wore boots and helmets.) Fortunately, there was a mounting block, and I managed to get myself onto his back without too much trouble. It was great riding him again and remembering how easy he was for me. He wasn't supposed to be a good beginner's horse. He is very light on his cues, very sensitive and he had a habit of running away with people. But he and I always got along beautifully. In my search for a horse for myself, I have basically been looking for one like Cash.

Anyway, that's the story of Tango with a little addendum about visiting Cash. I still have a lot of stuff I need to blog about, but I think that's all I'll do for today.

Interesting times...

I think that I've been the recipient of a Chinese curse. As far as I know, I haven't pissed off any Asians recently, but my life sure has been "interesting" lately. Some of it has been good. Some of it is a mixture of good and bad. And some of it is just plain bad. Starting with the good... I helped to successfully rescue another horse. And a horse that I really liked has come on the market again and I might be able to actually buy him this time. However, since I had to buy a new Air Conditioner because my old one died, I might not actually have enough money to buy this horse even though he is fairly inexpensive and I've been pinching pennies like mad saving up to buy myself a horse. Also, my husband is currently looking for a new job because in his current job he is just really unhappy and stressed by the company's work environment. He is also severely underpaid for his level of experience and what he does. During this time, I took a job assisting with costumes for a local theatre company which should have been a good thing, but which, due to absolutely horrible treatment by the head costumer, led to me quitting a production for the first time in my life. Also, I've recently started receiving stress-filled emails from my brother who is a police detective and a recently divorced father of three little girls which is leading me to worry about his mental well-being. And I'm going to have to have surgery next Wednesday to remove a cyst the size of a walnut from my abdomen. It should be a fairly minor surgery, but having to have surgery at all is just plain bad. So... interesting times.

I think that I'll expand upon these statements in several different posts, otherwise, this would be one REALLY LONG POST.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A very happy birthday to me!

I've been a very bad girl and haven't been keeping up this blog, but somehow despite that the universe rewarded me with a very happy birthday weekend. My birthday was Saturday and at noon I met with the costume designer that I'll be assisting for the next few weeks doing costumes for Austin Shakespeare Festival's production of Measure for Measure. I'd been a bit nervous about meeting her because, frankly I don't always get along with people, but she and I seemed to hit it off. I liked her designs and she seemed to appreciate the comments that I made. So that made for a nice birthday experience.

After I got home, as part of his birthday gift to me, my husband took me to half price books so I could add yet more books to my overflowing collection. I am an absolute bookaholic who has been having to do without, due to tightening up our budget in order to have enough money to buy and maintain a horse for me. So finally having free rein (pun intended) to buy some new (okay used, but new to me) books, was very nice indeed. After buying me some books, Foxfire took me out to Johnny Carino's and we had a very nice dinner out. Another thing that we haven't done in quite a while as part of saving money. I had my favorite dish, chicken scallopini minus the tomatos and mushrooms with capers added, and a pomegranate granita which is just the most delicious drink that I've ever had.

On Sunday, Foxfire and I got up early, joined our friends, SH and DA, and we all went down to Schlitterbahn for the day. The weather was perfect, not too hot, not too cold, and it wasn't raining which it did last year for my birthday trip. It wasn't very crowded and for some rides there wasn't even a wait at all. We made it through all three sections of the park and hit almost all the red diamond rides, some of them several times. It was an absolutely fabulous day! After we left the park, we stopped at Oma's Haus German Restaurant and had a nice dinner.

The only bad parts of the day were at the very end. As we were driving back to Austin, my stomach started feeling bad and we had to stop at a Whataburger so that I could use their facilities. I think the lunch that I had at the park didn't agree with me. Either that or I accidentally swallowed some water on one of the rides and some nasty protozoa or another was making it's presence known. Also, once we were home and putting things away, I stepped on a scorpion which stung me to express its displeasure or its general scorpion-ness, since I know that simply stepping on a scorpion barefoot isn't going to hurt it that much. (I really should write a post about my unique way of dealing with the scorpions that I find in my house(or more usually that my cats find and point out to me).

Anyway, all in all, it was a wonderful weekend, and I'm already looking forward to doing it all again next year.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Keeping notes pays off

Keeping all those notes about the horses that I've called on or looked at has had an unexpected dividend. I saw this ad on CraigsList posted by a girl looking for the horse that she was forced to sell years ago:

Looking for a long lost horse... - $1 (Bastrop, Austin)

Please don't flag. I am looking for a Thoroughbred Mare I sold a couple of years ago to a girl named **edited** who lived in Bastrop. She has since been sold again. Her registered name is **edited**. She is a Chestnut mare about 16hands, approx 13 years old. She was extremely sensitive and flighty and accident prone. I would like to know she has a good home and I would be willing to buy her back if her current owners aren't happy with her. I was forced to sell her during a rough time in my life and regret it very much. So please if you know of this horse email me any information. Her barn name when I sold her was **edited**.

I recognized the horse's registered name, looked in my notes for the contact info of the person selling her and passed it on to the person looking for the horse. She sent me an email thanking me for the info and later sent me one telling me that she was able to find her horse because of the info that I gave her. It made me feel really good.

The ad now reads...

Looking for a long lost horse... FOUND! - $1 (Bastrop, Austin)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

He certainly didn't run away with me

I haven't ridden my husband's horse, Ziggy, for a rather long time because he had a tendency to run away with Foxfire. But recently, Ziggy's been behaving better and Foxfire finally decided that Ziggy was calm enough for me to ride him. So this evening, I mounted up on Ziggy for the first time in quite a while. I had ridden him before, back when he was still recovering from the malnourishment and stomach ulcers that he suffered from when we first got him. As part of his rehabilitation, Foxfire or I would ride him at a walk for no more than 15 minutes. Gradually, we increased the amount of time that we would walk him. Once he'd recovered a bit more we added a few minutes of trot to his riding time and eventually Foxfire started cantering him. However, once Ziggy truly started feeling better, he became a somewhat "hot" horse. Foxfire had trouble keeping him at a trot, and once he started cantering, he was very difficult to slow down or stop. So Foxfire decided that he was too much horse for me to ride until I became a better rider and/or Ziggy became easier to control.

While Ziggy was recovering, I had never really had much trouble riding him. Sometimes, I did have to hold him back a little, but he had always listened to me and never actually went faster than I wanted him to. The only time, anything "bad" happened was one night at the barn when a mare had gotten loose and run around madly, getting all the other horses worked up. That night I did have to work a little harder to keep Ziggy at the walk. And to top it all off, while I was riding, something fell over and made a VERY LOUD BANG. Ziggy spooked and reared, then danced in place for a few moments before calming down. The thing is, it felt like he started to bolt, and I twitched the reins the way that I had been doing to keep him at a walk, and instead of bolting he reared. So... in a way, he was still paying attention to me. He was just too startled not to do anything, so he reared. After the initial fright of,"OMG, he's rearing!", it wasn't really that bad. My body just automatically leaned forward to keep my balance. I managed to keep my hands down and not tug on the reins so that I didn't pull him off balance or anything. And it only took a second or two for him to stop rearing and come back down. When he came back down, I was still leaning forward until Foxfire yelled at me to sit up straight. And Ziggy danced in place for a few more moments while I just tried to relax into his back and calm him down. Once he'd calmed down a bit more, I let him walk around a little to finish letting his nerves out. Once he was completely calm, I dismounted. It was almost time for the end of his ride anyway. Of course, this happened while he was still in recovery. If he'd been fully recovered and full of energy, it might have gone differently.

I rode him several more times after that, up until the time that Foxfire decided that he was getting to be too strong for me to handle. Lately, Foxfire has been working on Ziggy's brakes and our friend, JJ, has been helping. And if you've been reading this blog, you know that I've been taking riding lessons. So tonight, Foxfire decided that it was time for me to try and ride Ziggy again. We saddled him up, and I mounted and sat there very carefully for a few moments taking deep breaths and making sure that I was ready to hold him back if he tried to go faster than I wanted. Then I tapped him very gently with my heels and... nothing happened. I tapped a little harder and Ziggy very slowly began to walk. Veeeeery slooooowly. I tapped him again and he may have moved infinitesimally faster. I finally gave him a solid kick and he began to move about as fast as very fit turtle. The good thing was that he was staying nicely in frame while we moved at these glacial speeds. I tried loosening the reins, tightening the reins, pushing with my legs, my seat... Eventually, I managed to get a decent walk out of him. Not exactly energetic, but decent. So I walked him around for a bit with Foxfire following nervously nearby. Ziggy kept slowing to a meander any time that I stopped pushing him, and I admit, I was getting a little frustrated.

Foxfire said that Ziggy was always a bit slow when he first started riding him, but that once he started trotting, he became more energetic. So I decided to trot him. I was a little nervous, because trotting was usually where the trouble started. Ziggy would stay at a walk really well, but once he started trotting, he generally wanted to start cantering and keep cantering. But I was getting really frustrated going so slowly, and he was paying great attention to me in every other way. All I had to do was think about turning and he turned. And just a little bit of pressure with my inside leg moved him outside. I love a light horse! I just wish that he had been that light with his speed controls. Anyway, I shortened the reins a bit and gave an even firmer kick to get him to trot and he... walked slightly faster. I set myself firmly in the saddle and gave him a strong kick and he... walked slightly faster.

I loosened the reins and let him walk while Foxfire and I tried to figure out why Ziggy wouldn't trot. He didn't feel "off" to me in any way, but I asked Foxfire to watch him closely and see if it looked like Ziggy might be favoring a foot or showing any sign of pain that might make him not want to trot. Foxfire said that he looked fine. So he suggested that I get off and let him in the saddle to see if Ziggy would trot for him. Once Foxfire was in the saddle, Ziggy trotted right off. I watched and he looked perfectly sound and pain free, and Foxfire said that he felt fine, so we switched places again.

I finally managed to get a trot, but it was so slow that I couldn't even post to it and Ziggy fell right back out of it into the walk. I kept at it and got a slightly better trot which he kept up for about 50 feet then fell back into a walk. I eventually managed to get and keep a trot for the length of the field. He again slowed to a walk before I asked him to, so I forced him back into a trot. It was finally getting a little easier to get him to trot, and he was finally doing a nice working trot. But again, he fell back into a walk before I asked him to. I got him to trot again and only went for a little ways before asking him to slow to walk. I didn't go very far at the trot because I didn't want him to slow on his own before I asked him to. Also, it was getting dark and we needed to feed the chickens before they roosted for the night. So I decided to be satisfied that I had at least gotten a trot that lasted until I asked for a walk. I did a very brief cool down. He hadn't exactly gotten hot and sweaty. And that was it.

I don't know why Ziggy behaved so differently for me than he usually does for Foxfire. Of course, the next time I ride him, he may decide to go into race horse mode. Who knows. Foxfire doesn't want me to ride Ziggy unless he's home for a few more times before riding him when I'm alone. Since we're no longer at the barn, and no one else lives here to notice if something bad happens, that seems a reasonable precaution. Hopefully, Ziggy and I will work things out and I'll be able to ride him more regularly. But... he certainly didn't run away with me.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Pictures of potential horses

I have still been looking at horses, I just haven't been keeping up with posting about them. Mainly because I found a horse that I really liked and didn't want to post about him until I had bought him so that no one else would see my blog and go buy him. Unfortunately, someone else did find him and buy him before I was able to drive down for a second ride. Needless to say, I was rather upset and didn't really want to talk about horses for a while. The horse that I really liked is named Cat Ballew. Strangely enough, given my usual preferences, he is a 16.2 hand, solid bay, OTTB. But he listened to me and obeyed my slightest cue the way no other horse has done since I was learning to ride on Cash. I am still kicking myself for waiting to decide on him and letting someone else get him. Here is a link to pictures of Cat Ballew.

You can see the other horses that I have looked at by going to my Potential horses album and clicking on the names listed on the left. Obviously none of the others worked out for various reasons. If you have questions about any of them, feel free to ask, but I don't think that I'll be doing individual blog posts about them.

I have definitely learned a valuable lesson. Next time that I find a horse that I really like, I'm not going to wait around, I'm going to put a deposit on him right away.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Trimming Tessla

Tessla never shed out his winter coat this summer. I asked our equine vet about it and she suggested doing a major de-worming regimen. That sometimes regular worming isn't enough and if an equine has a parasite problem, they sometimes don't shed out normally. So I gave Tessla a double dose of wormer for five days in a row a little while back. As of two days ago, he still hadn't shed out his coat, though it looked like he might be beginning to. However, watching him, I just couldn't bear to leave him with that heavy coat anymore. So I grabbed an old pair of barber shears that I had and went out and trimmed all his heavy matted hair off. It took about an hour and a half, and Tessla was very patient for the most part. He did wriggle around a little. But I imagine me pulling the matted hair out far enough to get the scissors underneath to trim it off felt a little weird, so I can't blame him for moving around a little. He never tried to get away or anything, he just didn't stand completely still.

Anyway, I'd been online chatting with JJ when I decided to go trim Tessla and she told me to take pictures. So here they are:

You can see how shaggy he is.

Halfway through the first side with Marie and Kanemura looking on.

I swear Kanny is laughing at Tessla, and Tessla is getting mad at him. :-)

All done.

Did that all come off of Me?

Without all that fuzz, you can see what a nicely conformed donkey he is.

Though I still need to trim his belly hair a little bit.

The scissors I used on top of a pile of shorn hair.

Marie and Kanemura examining the scene of the crime.

Tessla checking to make sure there's not another donkey under there.

Tessla may look a little funny. It's hard to do a really neat trim with just a pair of scissors. But at least he should be cooler. And I don't think he really cares what he looks like, as long as he doesn't have to wear all that heavy winter fuzz anymore.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I love my automotive service center!

Ever since I moved to Cedar Park about 12 years ago, I've been going to the same automotive service center to have my van worked on. I usually bring my van there for oil changes and other regular maintenance as well. They have always taken really good care of me. They have regularly driven me home after I dropped my van off so that I wouldn't have to spend hours in their waiting room. Then they would come and picked me up when my van was ready. They've done pre-long trip check ups on the van for me with no charge. And on the rare occasion that my van actually did need something fixed, I have never gotten the feeling that they have overcharged me or tried to take advantage of me in anyway. And they very easily could have since I know very little about engines and such.

Recently, they went above and beyond even their usual excellent service. One morning my husband's car wouldn't start. When he turned the key nothing happened at all. Since he really had to get to work that day for a big project, he took my van and left his car at home with me. I called Cedar Park Tire and Service and asked Dwain what he thought the problem was. He said it was probably the battery and suggested that I try and jump-start the car and bring it in. Unfortunately, that wasn't feasible for a couple of reasons. First, Foxfire had already left with my van. Second, even if I had another vehicle with which to perform the jump-start, I can't drive my husband's car because it has a standard transmission and I can only drive automatic. However, Dwain was determined to help me.

He sent one of his workers who knew how to drive standard to my house with a jump-start gadget, and he drove my husband's car to the shop, leaving behind Dwain's automatic transmission truck. Dwain said that he wasn't going to be using his truck during the day and that it could stay at my house till my husband had a chance to leave work and meet me at the service center. So my husband's car made it to the shop, and I was able to stay comfortably at home until late afternoon, when I returned Dwain's truck, Foxfire picked up his car with it's new battery installed, and I drove my van home. How is that for service?!?!?! Not many places would go to those lengths to help out a customer.

So if you live in the Cedar Park, TX area and you ever need new tires or service work done on your vehicle, I highly recommend:

Cedar Park Tire & Service
104 N Bell Blvd
Cedar Park, TX 78613-2917
(512) 335-5093

Dwain, Dave and Mark will take good care of you.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

What exactly do anxiety, depression and non-24 CRSD do to me?

It has come to my attention that most people really don't know that much about clinical depression and have even less understanding of what an anxiety disorder is. So I'm going to try and explain a little about what these psychological illnesses do to me not just emotionally, but physically. I did earn a bachelor's degree in psychology when I was in college, but that was over twenty years ago. And frankly, the very basic knowledge that you get from a BS in psychology isn't that useful. So everything I am going to talk about in this post is based on my own personal experience and many, many years of therapy. However, I did use google and wikipedia occasionally to make sure that I was using terminology correctly, and in doing so discovered some new and useful terms to use to describe and define my problems.

My main problem is anxiety. The depression seems to be more of a side effect of the anxiety, though that may be an incorrect assumption on my part. So what exactly is an anxiety disorder? There are actually several different kinds of anxiety disorders that may occur separately or in combination. I not only suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which is basically just chronic worry and stress (and which seems to me to be the foundation for most of my other anxiety disorders), but also from Panic Disorder, Enochlophobia, Agoraphobia and some type of Social Anxiety Disorder(anthropophobia or possibly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I also suffer from a sleeping disorder that may or may not be related to my anxiety and/or depression.

Panic Disorder seems to be just a more extreme form of GAD. Basically, it means having continuing or recurring physiological fear responses(fight or flight responses) when there is no reason to be afraid. Or when there is reason, having an extreme response when only a mild response is called for. In my case, among other things, it means that I have panic attacks even when there is nothing to be afraid of, and when something stressful actually does happen, these panic attacks can become so severe as to be completely incapacitating. So what exactly happens to me during a panic attack?

When most people think of panic attacks, they imagine the movie version where the person screams and flails about and/or hides in a closet curled up in the fetal position. Well, some panic attacks are like that. And I have experienced that kind, but not very often. In reality, like most things psychological, panic attacks can vary in extremity from mild to full blown. Most of my attacks vary from mild to somewhat intense. A very mild panic attack can simply involve an elevated heart rate and quick shallow breathing. I may not even be consciously aware of one of these mild attacks until Foxfire asks me what's wrong. Somewhat intense panic attacks might include a pounding heart, difficulty breathing, headache, the feeling that your skin is jumping/twitching(possibly caused by spiking blood pressure and/or hyper-firing nerve endings), involuntary muscle twitches, nausea, cold or hot sweats, racing thoughts, difficulty thinking, blurred vision and/or diminishment of physical co-ordination. A full blown panic attack means complete loss of emotional and physical control, and in one case, loss of memory for the event.

One of the stranger symptoms I occasionally suffer is a sort of aphasia. Having trouble speaking during a panic attack is not that unusual. But more frequently, I have trouble understanding speech. In other words, even though I can hear the words perfectly, my brain simply doesn't comprehend them. Sort of like listening to a foreign language, except that the language is English. The more anxious I am, the harder it is for me to understand what is being said. This type of problem is almost always a constant condition associated with a brain injury of some sort, either a trauma or an illness. As far as I know, it is not generally associated with psychological problems. Nevertheless, I sometimes experience it.

So how often do I have one of these panic attacks? Well... almost every morning when I first wake up, I have a panic attack. I refer to it as my Usual Morning Panic Attack (UMPA). (Since my sleep schedule is very erratic due to my sleep disorder, "morning" refers to whatever time I happen to wake up, whether it's 6AM or 6PM.) Sometimes my UMPA is fairly mild and lasts as little as 30 seconds. Other mornings, it can last 30 minutes or more. Very rarely, I don't have an UMPA at all. Those are very good days. Most times, I can still get out of bed even while I am having a panic attack and have done so fairly often. If I hug Foxfire during this time, he can feel my heart racing/pounding. It worried him the first few times it happened, but now he seems to be used to it. Occasionally, my UMPA is bad enough that I can't get out of bed for hours. And even when I make it out of bed, all I can do is lay on the couch and read or watch TV. Reading is usually the most effective way for me to deal with panic attacks, but occasionally, the attack is such that I can't concentrate well enough to read or my vision is too blurry.

Of course, I don't just have panic attacks in the morning. I also have them during the day. Sometimes, they are brought on by a stressful situation, but other times they seem to occur for no reason whatsoever. Like my UMPA, these attacks can vary greatly in duration and intensity. Sometimes, it feels like an attack will wax and wane over several days without ever completely fading away. Those are the days when I just don't leave the house, and frequently, I won't even pick up the phone. These extended panic attacks usually coincide with a depressive episode of at least moderate intensity. Strangely enough, I can still chat online even when I'm beyond the point of being able to talk on the phone. Possibly because you can take longer to respond to people online, or possibly because reading text and typing uses different parts of the brain than talking and listening. I don't know. But sometimes even chatting online is more than I can manage, and all I can do is lay on the couch and wait for it to end. Even when I am asleep, I am not safe from having a panic attack. Sometimes I'll wake up with my heart racing and the sheets will be soaked with sweat.

The most severe panic attack I ever had occurred when I tried to go watch a friend's band perform at a night club. It was very, very crowded. People were literally pressed up against one another. I don't do well in even moderate crowds, so I just kept getting more and more nervous. I should have left, but I didn't. I wanted to stay and watch my friend perform. But eventually, I broke and had a full blown panic attack. I don't remember what I did. There is a completely blank space in my memory. I remember getting more and more stressed out and the next thing I knew, I was standing with about five feet of space all around me and people were staring at me. The friend that had brought me with her to the club came over and led me outside. She didn't ask what the problem was and I didn't ask what I had done, but we never went out together again.

Even though I had suffered from the fear of crowds before that panic attack, that experience has made me even more worried about being in public situations. I had thought that my fear of crowds was agoraphobia, but when I googled agoraphobia, every medical definition that I found described it as being a fear of having a panic attack in a public situation where help was unavailable or from which you couldn't easily escape. But I had been afraid of crowds long before I had that panic attack, and although I did worry about being able to escape, I wasn't afraid of having a panic attack, I was afraid of the crowd itself, of being hurt by the people surrounding me. So I googled “fear of crowds”, and the best term that I could find to describe my fear of crowds was enochlophobia. It's not exactly the most reputable reference, but I couldn't find anything better. The Wikipedia definition of agoraphobia did include a description that seemed more closely related to my fear of the crowd itself rather than just fear of having a panic attack in public. It described ”a condition where the sufferer becomes anxious in environments that are unfamiliar or where he or she perceives that they have little control.” My fear of crowds could well be caused by my inability to predict or control what the people around me are doing. Strangely enough, it seems that there may also be a link between my enochlophobia and my inability to determine spatial orientation once my feet leave the ground. Those with weak vestibular function rely more on visual or tactile signals for spatial orientation and may become disoriented when visual cues are overwhelming, such as in crowds.

Anyway, now, whenever I start feeling stressed in public, I'll try to leave whatever situation I'm in before it gets too bad. Therefore, I have to be careful about getting into situations where I can't just leave whenever I want to, and that rather limits my social life. I recently went on an overnight camping trip, and even though it was just for one night with just my husband and one close friend, I was seriously worried that I might have an intense panic attack during the trip and wouldn't have anywhere to go where I could panic in private. So apparently, I do suffer from agoraphobia as well as enochlophobia.

Fortunately, I do not constantly have panic attacks during most days. And as long as I can avoid anything that stresses me, the attacks I do have are generally mild and short. Unfortunately, it's not just crowds that stress me. All sorts of things can and do cause me stress, but one of the most common stressors I have to face is simply interacting with individual people. Some people cause me more stress than others, and there are the few that very rarely cause me any stress. (I am very lucky to have Foxfire who generally makes me feel less anxious when I am around him. Though even he will occasionally cause me stress.) But being around most people for any length of time almost invariably brings on a panic attack of some sort.

This fear of interacting with others would most likely be called a Social Anxiety Disorder. However, like the definition of agoraphobia, the description of Social Anxiety Disorder doesn't exactly fit my experiences. I do worry about what others think of me, possibly overly much, but mainly I worry about what others will do to me. Whenever I'm with most people, I have an underlying fear that they will attack me, either verbally or physically. I'm fairly sure that this fear developed because of actual events during my childhood. I was repeatedly attacked both verbally(by other students) and physically(by a family member) throughout elementary school and into junior high. (Those experiences could also be the source for my fear of crowds. Students on an elementary school playground could be considered a crowd.) The best term that I could find for this fear is anthropophobia, which literally means fear of people. But it's definitions focus on extreme shyness or fear of blushing, rather than fear of being attacked. I suppose, my problem could be a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I hesitate to compare my experiences in elementary school to being in a war. Though Wikipedia does include being bullied during childhood as a source for PTSD. However, in my case, it wasn't the bullies who hurt me, it was all the normal kids who picked on me. The bad boys actually protected me from the others once or twice.

But whatever it's called, this inability to interact normally with others (combined with my other problems) has made it impossible for me to hold down a regular job. I spent most of my twenties and early thirties trying to find a career where I could fit in. Most of the time, I didn't last two weeks before the physiological symptoms of my anxiety and depression became so overwhelming that I simply couldn't go to work anymore. I did manage to last a bit longer at some jobs. (I think the longest was about two and a half months. I was editing training manuals and didn't have to interact with anyone but my supervisor and I didn't even interact with her that much.) But at almost every job, there eventually came a time when I was simply too physically ill to continue.

There were two jobs where I did not become too ill to show up, the first was a bookstore and the second a martial arts studio. However, I was fired from both places because of the disruptions caused by one or another of the symptoms of my anxiety or depression. I actually liked both of those jobs and it was devastating to be fired from them when I believed that I had finally found a place to belong. But apparently, my behavior was just too abnormal to be tolerated. Both managers cited financial reasons for "letting me go", but I know that it was really because of manifestations of my psychological problems. Those failures, especially the second one, left some pretty deep psychological scars. Now, I'm afraid to find a job that I actually like because I “know” that I will just end up hurt when they fire me because I don't really fit in. I don't want to suffer that kind of rejection again.

Perhaps there is some sort of work-at-home job that I could do, but now, even thinking about applying for a job makes me sick to my stomach. The more seriously I think about it or talk about it, the more severe the physiological symptoms become. Just recently, simply chatting online about the possibility of trying to get a job caused me to develop diarrhea and to have difficulty performing physical activities that I could previously do relatively easily.

In addition to the other physical manifestations of my anxiety and depression, I also have a continuing problem with insomnia. Or at least I thought I did. When I read through the insomnia page on wikipedia, I discovered that what I suffer from, though frequently mis-diagnosed as insomnia, is actually a Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder-free running type, more commonly referred to as non-24, short for non-24-hour sleep wake syndrome. I had no idea that there was a specific name and diagnosis for what I suffer with. Apparently neither did any of my doctors and therapists since none of them ever mentioned it even though the way that I've been describing it for years is almost the exact same way that it is described in Wikipedia, though with slightly less technical verbiage. Basically, my body's internal systems act as if a day is about 26 hours long. Thus my sleep/wake cycle does not sync up with the normal 24 hour day. It is apparently extremely rare, less than 0.05% of the population has it and most of those who do have it are blind. From what I can tell from skimming through a medical journal article about CRSD's, there are fewer than 100 documented cases of sighted people who suffer from non-24. Though I can't help but think that there are more people out there like me who simply haven't been accurately diagnosed with it. Unfortunately, although I now have a more accurate term for defining my sleep problems, I still don't have a way to fix them. (Though it does explain why the normal insomnia treatments have never really worked for me.) There have been so few cases of sighted non-24 patients that treatment is still very much in the experimental stages and nothing has proven truly effective. However the little data that exists does suggest that this sleep problem is strongly linked to psychiatric problems. Whether it causes them or is an effect of them is unclear. But regardless of it's cause, it's effect is that it is very difficult for me to function normally in society because of my dis-synchronization with the temporal norm.

As for my depression, it's manifestations are less physical and more emotional. It can and does cause headaches, body aches, fatigue and lethargy, but I feel it's effects most strongly in terms of my emotions/thought processes. Like my panic attacks, my depressive episodes can vary in degree and duration. Unlike my panic attacks, my depressive episodes are frequently severe, though they rarely reach the very worst level. My depressive episodes also tend to occur less frequently than my panic attacks, but to last longer. Though it is possible that I simply don't consciously notice mild depressive episodes if they don't last for very long. During a mild depressive episode, I feel tired and simply lack the initiative to actually get up and do anything, even things that I normally enjoy/want to do. During a moderate episode, I feel that nothing I can ever do will really affect anything so why bother doing any thing at all. Physically, it can feel like my body is weighted down by heavier than usual gravity. It is literally hard for me to move. I might also experience headaches and/or body aches. During a severe episode, not only are the headaches, body aches and lethargy even worse, I also feel utterly helpless and hopeless. I cannot believe that my life will ever be better than it is right then, and it seems that the best way to escape the emotional pain (the physical pain doesn't really matter at this point) is simply to end my helpless, hopeless, miserable existence. No matter how hard I try to think about more positive things, my mind keeps coming back to how difficult living is and how easy it would be to die. At it's very worst, I have to literally fight the compulsion to kill myself.

I don't know how to describe that compulsion adequately. It is very different from simply thinking about killing yourself. It is not abstract in the least, it is a very real struggle against an emotional imperative. The closest I can come is to compare it to the struggle not to breathe when you have been underwater a long time. You know you have to wait until you reach the surface, but your body just wants to take that breath in, no matter that you are still surrounded by water. If you stay under water long enough, you eventually give in to that desire to breathe and you drown. You can't help it, the physiological imperative overcomes your knowledge that you will drown. Fighting the compulsion to suicide is like fighting not to breathe under water. I have to continually convince myself that sooner or later I will reach the surface, and if I can just hold on till then, I can survive. And yes, I am afraid that someday that emotional imperative will overcome my knowledge that I will die.

I do not mean for this post to be a cry for help. I have plenty of help from my husband and my therapist. I just want my friends to understand a little better what exactly I go through day to day. I also find that writing things out helps me to organize my thoughts a little better for my own benefit. I certainly discovered several useful things while writing this post. Not only the stuff that I found online about agoraphobia and non-24, but also stuff that I worked out a better understanding of for myself through the process of trying to describe it to someone else. And maybe, just maybe, reading this post will help someone else understand either their self or a loved one just a little bit better than they did before.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Seventh lesson with Christine

The lesson that I learned this week is that when you're really stressed out and depressed and slightly sick to your stomach, you should just cancel your lesson and re-schedule it for some time when hopefully you'll be feeling better.

I couldn't do anything right at tonight's lesson. Part of it may have been that I was riding Will, who I am not very used to. Part of it may have been that I was using a very slippery leather saddle when I'm used to a grippy synthetic saddle. But I think mostly it was just that I was feeling too bad to be able to do anything right. We did some trot circles and trot poles and that was it. We didn't even try to canter. The best thing that I can say is that I did manage one pretty circular circle. That was it.

If I'm not feeling better next week, I'll just skip a week and hopefully, by the next week, I'll be ready for my next lesson.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Donkey talk

I realized that I haven't written much about my donkeys lately. Since this blog is titled Donkey Sense, I think it's high time that I did so. Also, it was time for their worming yesterday and it reminded me how much I love my donkeys. Now most people don't like worming their equines. It's a generally a bit of a fight and unpleasant for both the human and the horse. I didn't want to have to go through that with my donkeys. Especially when I first got them and was working on developing their trust and affection. So... when I very first started worming them, I used a trick that the previous owner of the donkeys had told me. I spread the wormer on a couple of tortillas, rolled them up and fed them to the donkeys. Marie and Tessla were still very excited to get any kind of bread as a treat and were quite willing to eat the tortillas, even with the strange tasting paste inside. However, I didn't want to keep worming them that way.

I'd read about a method of training horses to accept the worming tube in their mouths that involved filling old tubes with honey or applesauce and making the tube a method for delivering treats, rather than that nasty thing with the nasty paste that a human forced into their mouth every other month. So I took some old empty tubes and rinsed them out thoroughly and filled them with honey and went out to teach Marie and Tessla (Kanemura hadn't been born yet) that the little white tube had good tasting stuff inside. I also had a pocketful of carrot sticks which they already knew were treats. (I'll explain about why I use carrot sticks rather than just chunks of carrot later.) Now it's been a long while since I actually did this wormer training, but I have a pretty clear memory of how it went.

I called Marie and Tessla over, gave them each a carrot stick and then held out the tube so that they could sniff it. I had squeezed out a little bit of honey and smeared it on the tip so that they could smell what was inside. Tessla just sort of looked at it then ignored it. Marie gave it a good sniff and then started lipping it. I held it in such a way that she could get the end of it in her mouth, then squeezed out a little honey. Marie tasted the honey, then began to try to pull the whole tube into her mouth. I had to grab the tube with both hands to keep her from getting it away from me. I pulled it completely out of her mouth, made her stop trying to get it back, then let her suck on the end again while I squeezed out more honey. This time, she didn't try to suck the whole tube into her mouth, but she did clamp down with her teeth and kept sucking as I squeezed more and more honey into her mouth. After she'd had most of the tube, I pried her teeth open and tried to give Tessla some of the honey. He really wasn't interested in the tube, but I did manage to squeeze a little bit of honey on his lips which he then licked at. He didn't seem very impressed, so I guessed he just didn't like honey all that much. I held out the tube to Marie again and she was quite happy to suck out the rest of the honey. I was a little worried that the tube might break from her biting on it, but apparently these little tubes are designed to withstand a fair amount of abuse.

I gave Marie honey from the tube several times over the next couple of months. (I'd done the initial training right after worming them using the tortilla method.) Marie very quickly learned to look for the little white tube and was always eager to get her mouth around it and suck the sweetness out. Tessla never did really get all that interested in it, even when I kept smearing honey on his lips. I was a little worried that Tessla would end up being hard to worm, but in general, he's a very agreeable fellow and he's a lot smaller than a horse, so I wasn't too worried.

Finally the time came to worm them again. I figured that Marie would put her mouth on the tube willingly enough, but that as soon as she tasted the wormer, she would pull back and try to spit it out. So I put both their halters on them so that I could control them a little better. I held the tube out to Marie and she put her mouth around it and I quickly squeezed the entire dose into her mouth. What happened next was a total surprise. She clamped down on the tube and kept sucking. I was so startled that it took me a while to pry the tube out of her mouth. And even after I got the tube out and she had plenty of time to taste that what was in her mouth wasn't honey, she still wanted to suck on the tube. I had to keep pushing her away so that I could give Tessla his dose.

As I expected, Tessla didn't put his mouth around the tube and suck the way Marie did. I had to hold his halter and put the tube in his mouth and squeeze. However, he didn't put up a fuss when I did so. He actually stood very quietly and let me squeeze the wormer into his mouth. He did make a funny face and mouthed a little bit, but he didn't spit the wormer back out. So even though he wasn't as easy to worm as Marie, he wasn't exactly difficult. When Kanemura was old enough to start being wormed, I did the same sort of training with him. He wasn't as excited about the honey as Marie, but he didn't totally ignore it like Tessla.

I've now had Marie and Tessla for a little over a year and a half and Kanny is almost a year old. When I go out to worm them, I don't even bother with halters. I do still bring carrot sticks and give them some both before and after the worming. All of them now willingly take the tube in their mouths as soon as I hold it out to them and suck down the worming paste. They don't seem to care about the taste at all. Even after the paste is gone, if I hold out the empty tube to them, they will mouth on it and try to suck any remaining paste out. I reward them for their good behavior with carrot sticks and the occasional sugar cube.

An interesting note about this last session of worming. I've always wormed the donkeys myself. Sometimes Foxfire has watched, but until now, he's never actually helped. This time, he decided that he was going to worm Marie. And this time, although Marie did come up and put her mouth on the tube, she backed away from Foxfire as he was squeezing the wormer into her mouth. Foxfire had to move with her to get all the paste in her mouth before she got away from him. I had been watching this and knew exactly what the problem was. Foxfire was used to worming being a bit of a fight. Ziggy is a good horse, but he doesn't take wormer all that well, so Foxfire's body language was telling Marie that something unpleasant was going to happen to her. Instead of holding the tube like it was a treat that she would only get if she behaved herself, he held it like it was something he was going to have to force down her throat. She picked up on that and it scared her, so she backed away from him. By following her and forcing her to keep the tube in her mouth, he could have really damaged her opinion of the worming tube. Fortunately, she'd had enough positive experiences that this one bad experience didn't sour her. Just to make sure, I went over with an empty tube and held it out to her like a treat and when she mouthed it, I gave her a carrot stick. To be fair, and to reinforce that worming tubes are good, I let all of the donkeys mouth the tubes and then gave them carrot sticks.

Foxfire's experience just goes to show how much your thoughts and feelings as expressed through your body language affect your interaction with donkeys, horses or any other animal. Marie loves those worming tubes, but because Foxfire was tense and was thinking about having to force her take it, she became scared and backed off. Once I came over with my more relaxed body language, she was more than willing to suck on the wormer tube. To be fair to Foxfire, he had been having a very stressful day and at least part of his tension was due to that. Also he was used to having to fight to get wormer down his horse. So his body language reflected his prior experiences with worming. And I hadn't talked to him about body language or about how you should think of the wormer as a treat and not something bad. So it's partially my fault as well. Next time he helps me, he will undoubtedly do better with it.

I promised earlier to explain about the carrot sticks, so here's the explanation. When Ryan and I went to the Equine Affaire for our vacation a couple of years ago, one of the presenters talked about how a horse can sometimes choke on a chunk of carrot. It doesn't happen often, but it can. He also talked about how the carrot sticks (he called them slivers) were smaller and easier to control in terms of portion size. Basically, you don't want to give your horse (or in my case donkey) too many carrots in one day. If you simply break the carrot into chunks you can get four maybe five chunks from one carrot. If you chop it into slivers, you can get twelve or more slivers from one carrot. So you can reward them more frequently without actually giving them more carrot. It's especially helpful in my case since I have bad teeth and can't use my mouth to break the larger ends of the carrot into chunks. So, since I have to use a knife to chop up the carrot anyway, I might as well cut it into long skinny slivers rather than short fat chunks.

When I was first taming Marie and Tessla, the carrot sticks were useful in another way as well. As I mentioned previously, neither Marie nor Tessla had ever been handled by humans before I got them. They hadn't been taught how to properly, gently lip treats from the flat of one's palm. When I tried to give Marie a treat that way, she would put her mouth around my whole hand and then suck/scape the treat into her mouth. She never bit down on my hand, but it still wasn't very pleasant. So it was just easier to hold the carrot stick by one end and point the other end at her mouth and let her take it that way. As she got more used to human interaction, I did teach her the proper way to accept a treat from the palm of the hand, and she now takes sugar cubes and horse treats very neatly that way. It wasn't hard to teach her the polite way to take treats, but it did involve bopping her on the nose and/or pulling the treat away whenever she tried to take my whole hand in her mouth, and I didn't want to do that to her while I was still working on earning her trust and affection.

Anyway, that's it for today. I hope that I haven't bored all you horse people with all this donkey talk.