Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cow Exposure

Last weekend some of my pals invited me to join them as they exposed their horses to cows for the first time or tuned them up in preparation for a sorting clinic they will be attending next weekend. 

With Poco's sight issues, it's been advised I not put him in with cows as we aren't sure how much he'd be able to see. 

If anybody out there has a horse with Moon Blindness that they've ridden to in cattle, I'd love to hear from you.

It was a lot of fun to watch but it was sad to not be riding, knowing that a year ago I would have been in there with them on Champ.  How I wish, wish, wish (a million times over) that I already had the horse I'm planning to get. 

My friends are all heading to a 2-day clinic on sorting this coming weekend.  I've been invited to come and watch and probably will, hoping I'll learn from observation.  But it's not the same as the comaraderie and fun it would be to ride with them! 

Here are some pictures I took from last weekend:

This little mare and her rider usually jump.  Neither had ever been around cows before.  They were both naturals!  Within minutes of being in with them, they were both having a great time. 

My friend, Lisa, had never been around cows but her new horse had.  The horse knew what to do and took great care of his rider.

My Friend and Trainer, Rachel - our leader. 

The low key environment and laughter as well as the close interaction my friends had with their horses had me quickly sold and knowing that this is definitely something I want to join in on!

Some want to walk amongst the clouds.  I just want to walk amongst the cows - and someday, (hopefully soon) I will!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Heading Home

Although we are lucky to have a place where we can (and do) keep horses, we've boarded a horse a few miles from our place for the past four years.

It started out with our daughter who was showing her APHA Gelding, Champ.  She needed a place with a covered arena where she could work him regardless of the weather. 

We looked at many locations.  One fairly new facility was located between her high school and our house.  It would be convenient to stop by and work with her horse on her way home.  She would then have time to get home to address homework and chores.

The proximity was good but I must say we were a bit hesitant about moving in.  The barn represented itself as a Hunter/Jumper/Dressage facility.  Our daughter was riding Huntseat and Western Pleasure and not involved nor interested in those disciplines.

Yet we were impressed with the overly spacious stalls, turnout six days a week into large individual pastures and the enclosed indoor arena and space of the outdoor arena with so many lights that it made an evening football game look dim.  So in we moved.

As it seems with many kids who ride, within a year our daughter decided she no longer wanted to show.  College loomed ahead of her and after showing for many years she was ready to move on with her life. 

We didn't pressure her.  We'd seen too many kids that had been pressed to continue to ride and then turned their noses up at anything to do with horses from that point on.  Horses are a big part of our life and we'd sure like to see our daughter return to them some day.  So we supported her decision to quit riding in hopes someday she will return on her own.

As with many parents, once she headed off to college my husband and I were left with Champ.  I continued to board Champ and hooked up with the one and only trainer at the barn who provided English and Western lessons.  We clicked right off the bat.  Rachel's common sense approach to a 50+ Mom who had always ridden casually, helped me overcome confidence issues and deal with an aggressive/challenging horse. 

Last summer I started working with Rachel to prepare Champ and I to join a bunch of gals who were attending a cattle sorting event.  But before I could get there we lost Champ to a sudden illness.

I'd only had Poco for a few weeks when I lost Champ.  Now he was my main horse.  Instead of moving Poco home as I'd intended, I moved him into Champ's stall and continued to board.

That was eight months ago and during that time I've struggled.  Taking lessons on Poco hasn't been the same.  I don't feel challenged and I miss that.

The other change has been the facility where I board.  Known as a Hunter/Jumper/Dressage barn, those disciplines had been minimal the past few years when many people moved out due to the economy.  One could pretty much ride wherever and whenever they wanted. 

This winter has been different.  We've had a large increase in new boarders who jump but very few who ride Dressage.  It seems our barn has become a Hunter/Jumper facility.  With inclement weather outside, they need to be able to approach, jump and depart on their horses with a full course set up in the indoor arena.  Trust me, one doesn't want to get in their way.

Outside trainers are coming in to provide lessons to boarders as well as clients who haul in, some arrive with pretty crazy horses.   These days when the jumps aren't up and I can ride, it's not uncommon to have lessons taking place at both ends of the indoor arena while the rest of us try to carve out space in the middle.  In addition, the barn is now starting to lease out the indoor arena for various events and it's closed to boarders.

The intent of this facility has always been for those who ride the disciplines of Hunter/Jumper and Dressage.  With a large number of new boarders who jump, those who are providing training here under that discipline need the space to jump as much as they need the clients in order to generate any revenue.  It's their job.

The barn needs to be able to generate revenue to keep in business.  If bringing in outside trainers and haul-ins or leasing the indoor facility out will help make ends meet, then they must do this to keep in operation.

But it's left me questioning why I'm paying to board my horse when I can't ride like I used to.  I'm not angry, I'm not upset.  It's good to see the barn come back to life.  But the fact is, it's not the life I'm interested in.

Last week I gave my notice.  After four years it's time to go home where I can hop up on Poco whenever I want (except when it's pouring down rain).  Regardless of the weather, I'll still get to ride him more often than I do now.

I continue to plan for a replacement horse for Champ.  But I'm returning to my roots of Western riding with goals to join friends at cattle sorting events, trail ride and possibly do some schooling shows.  I'd love to learn more about timed events like pole bending, etc.  It looks like a lot of fun and will provide some good goals for me.

In the meantime I'm looking forward to seeing Poco outside my windows!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Revisiting The Perfect Match

The Perfect Match.

The ultimate words for you and your horse because it means you've gotten to that inner core that we all strive for. You and your horse are 'one'.  Either of you only needs to think and the other understands your thoughts.

This is the ultimate in a horse and rider relationship.  I've been there with my horse, Barnie years ago; and (amazingly if you knew him) last year with Champ, right before I lost him.  The span between the two events was many years.  I hope I can go there again someday because once you've been you'll want to return again in the worst way.

But there is another Perfect Match.  This Perfect Match is related to medicine and the donation of one's self to help another.

There are certain times of the year that bring up strong memories of the past and The Perfect Match.  The month of February is one of them.

My little brother, a fellow lover of horses and always supportive and interested in my horse life, was diagnosed with Advanced Leukemia in early May of 2006.

A few weeks after we got the news my little sister and I drove to Seattle, Washington, to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), part of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.  There we were tested to see if our stem cells matched our brothers' in an effort to reverse his diagnosis.

A few weeks later I received a call that I'd been declared "The Perfect Match".  I recall Yah-Hooing as loud as I could.  I was so thrilled!  The Calvary was on its way in three sections of Me, Myself and I.  Science had chosen me to be the one to save my little brother.

As I prepared for this event so did my little brother.  I had the easy part compared to what he went through.  The Chemo and meds he took made him terribly sick.  Yet every few days I'd get a phone call from him.  He never complained and talked to me as if we were planning to meet for a special lunch instead of rolling the dice and hoping to save him.  Such courage, I've never seen before or since.

June and July came and went - the perfect time was necessary for this event.  I quit riding horses, worried if I should get hurt it would impact my chances to help my brother.  I started walking every day, I ate only healthy foods, I went to bed early, I kept distance from anybody who was sick.  I "trained" for the event.

A few weeks into August we started the stem cell process. I drove to Seattle for daily growth hormone shots while my little brother was in the hospital being prepared to receive my stem cells.  After a few shots my whole body hurt and I had terrible headaches.  I was thrilled.  This meant the injections were working and I was producing a large amount of stem cells.

The day of the transplant came.  I recall being so excited.  It was a special day, long awaited and planned for.  I envisioned my stem cells looking like the little bubbles in the Tidy Bowl commercials.  With both arms hooked up for the transplant I repeated over and over again, "Come on, Stem Cells, Let's Go!"

My results were taken over to my brother's hospital that same day.  But I wasn't finished.  I took another shot and the next day I came back for another 'draw', this time for research.  It was important to give something back to those wonderful people who were helping my little brother.

On the way home from the second 'draw' I got a phone call from my little brother.  He told me he was in the process of getting my transplant and that he suddenly had an urge to buy a horse.  We were both pretty worn out by that time but I recall both of us laughing at his humor, so typical of him.

August passed to September and his new stem cells started growing.  We were all excited.  Never having an opportunity to give birth to a child, I experienced the thrill of giving re-birth to my little brother.  I was a very proud Sister.

October and November came and the cells continued to grow.  Things were looking up medically but my little brother didn't seem to have the same perk that he used to.  I recall going over to see him on Christmas Day.  He wasn't feeling well and had decided to remain at home and not join us for our usual family gathering.  I recall telling him that HE was the best Christmas present I could ever have.

January brought the news that the stem cells had quit growing and the Leukemia was back.  I urged my brother to go through another Chemo set and I'd donate more stem cells, telling him we'd do it again and get it right this time.  He was game for a second round but by the end of January we got the news we had hoped to never hear.  The Perfect Match had been too perfect and the Leukemia was back in full force.  His days with us were growing short.

February was a time of many wonderful, heart-warming family dinners.  My little brother would not tolerate any sympathy and I never saw him feel sorry for himself.  We led by his incredible example.  We held our heads high and shed our tears out of his sight.  There was lots of laughter, seeing old friends, telling stories - factual or not, and trying to say everything one could think of before time ran out.  The words, "I love you" were used often.

My little brother loved Cabin Creek, an old logging town on the east side of the Cascade Mountains where we all have cabins.  It had always been his favorite place, it was his true home.  In early February he requested to be taken to Cabin Creek.  It would be his last time to travel a road he knew by heart.  Family and friends stepped in to make his wish come true, clearing the road of deep snow, cleaning the cabin top to bottom so that he wouldn't pick up any germs.

At this time of the year, with four feet of snow at Cabin Creek, we all went up to spend one last weekend together. We held a potluck dinner at his cabin that Saturday night and everybody in 'camp' came down to eat.  His cabin was packed with family/friends (truly all of them are family).  My brother was animated and joking with everybody.  You could hear the laughter inside as you approached the front door.

The next day he was exhausted.  You could see how much the prior day had taken out of him.  Yet, so like him, there was not a word of pity or complaint about how horrible he must have felt.  With his brother-in-laws supporting him on each side, he left his beloved cabin for the last time.

The Master Gardner, Arborist, avid jokester, great guitar player, maniac driver, and fellow lover of horses, indeed all animals, passed away on the first day of spring.   He stayed true to the end, never allowing us to feel sorry for him and leading by example.

Four years have now passed since we lost him.  There are times of the year, as in February, where it all comes back so clearly.  We deal with our grief and the huge hole that has been left in our hearts.  Yet as time passes we can now smile at his memory, laugh at the stories, and nod our heads when we hear a certain song.  He wouldn't have wanted us to remain sad.

Not many days pass when one of us doesn't mention my little brother - such a character that he was.  More than one of us has felt his presence at Cabin Creek from the soft sigh of the wind in the trees to the the shimmer of sunlight on the creek.

The Perfect Match. 

It isn't always what it turns out to be.  Yet to be a part of it will always be part of you.

In Loving Memory of My Little Brother, Don Stewart