Tuesday, September 27, 2011


It's almost embarrassing that after more than a year of being a (fairly) consistent blogger I have seemingly fallen off the face of the blog planet. I've thought about it many times...about the folks who followed it pretty regularly and feeling almost like I let them and myself down. All I can say for myself is that my mind went numb for awhile. I'm not saying that it's all better, but I have been feeling a bit more creative lately. Sadly, I doubt I'll be able to recount all my adventures since Derby ...which I am most certainly aware that I left the blog with a photo from Derby..and then nothing...nada...nil...*insert chirping crickets....* until now.

What I've been going through mostly has to do with my knee. This has been, by far, the hardest thing I've ever had to do physically. While there certainly have been some triumphs in the process, I can not say that it's all better, not by a long shot!

It might've been the pain management. I am typically one of those people who never uses the full prescription or even the full dose. I'm what ya might call a lightweight in those areas. Being "on" something has never appealed to me in any way and I've typically been able to muscle through whatever discomfort I had in the past. I've been told I have a fairly high pain tolerance...but not this time. After I had to refill prescription after prescription and not feeling like I was progressing as fast as "I" thought I should in physical therapy my psyche got the best of me...and I do mean that in the most literal of ways. It seemed to drain more than just my creativity, it felt like it took away my ability to complete anything. Everything seemed like a struggle.

I eventually progressed to the point here I was riding in lessons once per week and was back to a walk/trot/canter on my favorite schooling horse, Jag. By late June (2 months back in the saddle) I had also been able to ride Coconut again as well too which made me very very happy...and hopeful that I was coming out of the fog.

First ride after knee replacement

...but then I had a set back...

Earlier in the year I had a dream that Maeve painted this painting of horses racing in hues of white, cream and gray. It was quite different than the colors she typically works with and in my dream she entered into the Emerald Downs Equine Art 2011 show and WON! When I told her about it she said that since I dreamed it, it was my painting to paint....good gawd...NOooooooo...I can't even seem to complete a sentence let alone a painting but I took her challenge and started going to work at her studio on a pretty regular basis.

I sketched out what I remembered the painting in my dream to look like and eventually transferred it to canvas and began painting. As hard as I tried to stay in the color pallette of my dream painting, I could not help myself and kept reaching for color...and the more color I added, the more it seemed to want and the end result was nothing like I had imagined in the beginning but I found a "finished" point and decided that I would, in deed, enter it into the art show. I wasn't confident that it was good by any means, but I was pleased that I had actually acheived a goal and there was nothing going to stop me from entering that piece in the show. I didn't care how well or poorly it might be received, the point was it could not be complete until it was at the show.

Color Splash (pre-framed)

After an online poll of my friends, I had decided to call it "Splash Dance" but when I wrote out the entry I called it "Color Splash" & that name stuck. I framed it, drove it to the track and happily handed it over to the show organizers ...and exhaled deeply.

The following night was the Artist Preview Party. It's a really nice reception with wine, beer & hors d'oevres followed by the awards. We had some food and Les was off to grab a glass of wine and I was going to get a water or coffee but when I passed the food table, I stepped on an egg roll (or some lumpia looking thing) that was on the ground, slipped & fell. I don't remember much except that someone offered me a hand up and so I bent my right knee to stand and my foot slipped again. That's when I noticed the food lodged under my sandal.

Something in my head just clicked and I told the gentleman trying to help that I thought I just need a moment to gain my composure because I'd had a recent knee replacement and I just wanted to figure out how I was going to get up off of the floor (decently...modestly...I was dressed in a very summery dress with a little white sweater and pearls...I wanted to make sure that I did this with dignity & that, I thought would take a little bit of an assessment of the situation).

That's when I gently pulled back the hem of my dress to check out my left knee, the replacement side and was suddenly horrified to discover that there was a hole..a giant gaping hole in my knee....approximately 5" long and probably 3-4" wide...and bleeding...a lot. I thought "oh crap!", in fact I may have said it out loud, and quickly pulled the hem of my dress back down to cover it secretly hoping no one else had seen it...but that horse had already left the gate and there was suddenly a collective gasp around me & a rush of people coming to help.

I honestly can not say how it happened, but the scar from the surgery had been ripped open and had taken a left turn across my knee about half way up. I remember that a very nice young woman stayed with me on the floor while team after team came to see what they could do. First it was the young woman who asked for clean linens from the caterer...and then Emerald Downs security, who bless his heart, called in the EMT's & told them I was 30 years old (love that man!), the EMT's decided that I needed to be taken to the hospital so the next team was the ambulance crew.

I landed on the ground next to Robert Geller, the track announcer who kept me chatting about my piece and we even talked about the fact that I'd actually used Bucky B Lucky's last race as the inspiration. He remembered Lucky, even recalling that he was "a good miler". That made me very happy and really all I wanted to do was talk about Lucky...I didn't want to think about my knee or the fuss or any of that. I guess I wanted it all to just disappear. Sadly, it could not...and the ambulance came and hauled me away to the hospital where it took 22 stitches to repair me.

In a situation that instantly took me back to 2008 and the SAFE show (my first show ever) where I was injured 8 weeks before the show and was grounded until 2 weeks before the show & with 6 weeks off, I could have 2 weeks to get ready to ride in the show...but at that 6 week mark my broken rib was re-broke by a chiropractor and I was sunk!...this time I only had one month until the SAFE show and should have the stitches out in two weeks. They actually told me 10-14 days and I wanted to give it every opportunity so I waited the full 14 days...in a brace to keep it from bending, driving my truck because I could not drive my stick shift Escape and NOT riding...in fact, I had to take it really really easy because I wanted back on the horse as soon as humanly possible.

At the 14 day mark I had the stitches out and was really hopeful that I still had time to get it together to ride in the SAFE show. Two days later I slipped in the garage and ripped the whole thing open again. Apparently it was not completely healed...how was I supposed to know that just bending it would pop it all open ...argh!! So...yes, I was grounded from riding (or trotting in-hand or anything remotely close to risking injury) and would not...again....be showing Coconut to my best ability. It was an instant realization as I was sitting there on the garage floor... I'm not typically hysterical but I cried harder than I think I've ever cried out of frustration that everything I had worked so hard to push through my difficult knee recovery ...with the goal of riding Coconut at the SAFE show...was a complete loss. There was really no way that I would get it back in time safely. Back to the hospital I went to get stitched up again!

I threw myself emotionally into the organizational side of the show, which was also very difficult working around my own heartbreak, but the show was a huge success and I know it needed my extra hands, so there is that.

My knee, however, has survived it's ordeal and as of 2 weeks ago, after the extra time that Dr. Hunter asked me to give it this time, I am riding again...just walk/trot right now.

I keep thinking about a conversation I had with former jockey, Nick Martinez, while we were at the Old Friend's Homecoming party the day after Derby: He told me that he had a bad fall that required him to get a knee replacement and it was 9 months before he felt normal again. He returned to professional racing after 18 months off and continued to ride for 6 years until he retired but still worked as an exercise rider for a few more years after that until he was able to pursue his passion for painting Thoroughbreds full time.

The afternoon before my fall at the art show I had just had a really great ride with Jag & was feeling really hopeful about what my new knee was going to be able to do once I was 100%. I think the biggest blow was not that I got hurt but that it was going to set me back so very far in my recovery and severely delay my return to 100% riding. I was mentally exhausted from the process already by that time and was just starting to see a glimmer of hope...the tiniest of lights at the end of the tunnel. The second fall was just too much and if I hadn't been able to find my blog voice before, it certainly wasn't going to be anywhere accessible within my psyche at that point. But now that I'm back pursuing my passion for horses, especially riding them, I'm feeling a little more hopeful...a little more able to share the good things without peppering everything with the frustration and helplessness of the knee saga.

It occurred to me that I had to write this...to tell the horrible part of the tale...so that I can get on to the rest of it because there are still so many good things that have happened in the last 6 months...so many stories that fit into my theme of making a difference in the lives or horses and horses who make a difference in mine.

I've felt as though I was stalled...mentally...and, perhaps metaphorically as in the treatment for a lame horse. But now I'm still limping but have some light turnout time...it's all part of the process. I'm hopeful it works. I hate being lame!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Derby Day 2011 (sneak preview)

8:30am - Leave the hotel
9:15am - Arive at Churchill Downs

Rain, sun & eventually smiles.

8:00 pm leave Churchill Downs
10:45 return to hotel


More tomorrow :o)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Back at the Track

Yesterday we went back to the track so that Mike could go through the Kentucky Derby Museum & the track tour. One of the first displays was the tribute to last year's Derby Winner Super Saver. If you've been following my blog for at least a year you may remember my post Super (Horse) Saver the story of how my Pick 3 win with Super Saver as the final horse landed me enough cash in hand to go to Enumclaw and buy Bucky B Lucky out of the kill-pen. That continues to be my #1 most popular post getting hits just about every day. I couldn't help but sport a very big smile when I walked in and saw his Derby Saddle Blanket & Calvin Borel's silks. It was a great visit to memory lane.

Remembering the difference Super Saver made in the life of a fellow Thoroughbred.
 The Kentucky Derby Museum is very interactive. They have a display where you can watch any Derby video replay you want. You can also learn to bet on an interactive animated race so we played each other (I won!) and there's a chance to race each other on the back of a Derby horse. I opted out of this one because it requires you to stand in the stirrups for about two minutes. Les & Mike made interesting jockeys but in the end Mike won.

One part of the track tour takes you by the Eight Belles' tribute in the garden of the museum. I was there the day she broke down and had to be euthanized. Seeing her tribute always brings back the memory of how hard I took that and the gratitude for my racing friends back home in Washington who invited me back to the track after almost a year away, showing me that it's not always like that & to get to see a racing barn who really cares about their horses which led me to get to know many more who I consider to be good owners and positive role models in the racing world. While Eight Belles' injuries didn't indicate poor ownership, it did give racing critics more to raise concerns over. I always say that I dance a fine line between race & rescue.  I am a life-long race fan but I am fully committed to equine rescue. I believe there is room for me in both worlds, but I still mourn the loss of this great filly.

Another bonus of going to the museum was that Secretariat's jockey, Ron Turcotte was there for a signing and Mike was thrilled to meet him and get a signed copy of Secretariat's Derby Winner's Circle photo.

After the museum fun we headed to Lynn Paradise Cafe (a food network recommendation) and had a delightful meal in a quirky and fun atmosphere. I highly recommend this one. The guys both had sandwiches with the macaroni & cheese and thankfully I got a bite...YUM!!! I had the Hot Browns and it, too, was a hit!

As you see above, Lynn's Paradise Cafe has a lot of humor in it's decor. I had to laugh at their horse outside...

Thorough Bread

The guys headed to the Pegasus Parade. I didn't think I was up to walking/standing for a few hours so I dropped them off and ran some errands.

Later on we went to the Tilted Kilt for dinner. It's an Irish Pub/Sports bar and I was THRILLED that along side Basketball, Baseball, Golf & ESPN, there were several Tv's tuned into German Eventing! I got to watch Dressage, Cross Country & Arena Jumping highlights while the guys enjoyed their own interests. I LOVE Kentucky!!!
Today we went back to Churchill Downs for the Oaks. As they say here, "Fillies First" as a nod to the running of the girls on the day before the (mostly) boys on Derby Day. We certainly had a good time and we each got to cash in a few winning tickets! The hat is always a big part of the day and this year's hat is a cream colored version of last year's Derby hat (in black) with lillies from Oaks days past plus two new brown lillies to match my floral dress with brown accents.

My pick for the Oaks, Zazu (from Zenyatta owner, Jerry Moss) didn't quite get there for me. The winner was Plum Pretty, who did stand out to me but that's easy to say *after* the fact. She had a great race! Congrats to her and her connections.

Just before entering the starting gate.
 I did have one winner with a Washington connection. Blind Luck is owned by Mark DeDomenico who's Pegasus Thoroughbred Training & Equine Rehabilitation Center is located in Redmond. We had the great fortune of watching her win the Kentucky Oaks last year & her return to the Churchill Downs winner's circle today in the 26th running of the La Troienne. She did stumble coming out of the gate which is always scary but she came back to win it! Here's a couple of photos from today...

Running second here, but she'll overtake the lead by the end!

The weather cooperated with us most of the day. I even had to apply sunscreen a few times but it was also pretty chilly at some points too. I hope tomorrow is at least as kind to us but there is rain in the forecast for later in the afternoon which is right about Derby time! We'll see.

One last photo of us in the sun...having fun!


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Millionaires For The Morning Workout

Les has been on his own personal "Derby Hunt" for months, if not the better part of the year since we returned from Derby last year. His hunt does not include actually running, crossing a finish line or winning big stakes (originally typed *steaks* which could have been funny/yummy) races, although the winnings could come in handy! No, his hunt is in finding the best deals in accommodations, transportation & entertainment. In fact, he reserved a couple of hotel rooms very early out the gate in hopes that a certain someone would be joining us (I won't name her because it just might make her cry!). Our travel partners have changed and re-arranged a few times but it finally came down to 3 of us: Les, myself & my brother-in-law Mike.

Mike & Les are very serious about this stuff!

The mix may have changed but the aim did not. He really had to work hard for this year as, for some reason, we failed to make the cut for the initial drawing to purchase reserved seating at the Oaks/Derby. Getting tickets was a bit of a worry for us and while he continued to watch tickets on ebay going for quite a bit more than we typically pay for our tickets, it was starting to make more sense to purchase the Taste of Derby tickets for around $500 each and get food with it too vs paying more than that just to buy a set of tickets on ebay.

It came down to early April when he had this great idea...Since I'm walking challenged at the moment he thought he'd call the track directly and see if they had any disabled seating available. I had already told him that his back up plan to buy an infield ticket for $40 was NEVER going to fly with me. We typically get to the track around 10am on Derby day and standing around until 7pm was going to turn me to mental & physical mush. It seemed like a great idea to me...but it turned out they had very little disabled seating and it was all sold by the time he called. He was about to hang up when he thought to ask if there were ANY seats left and the customer service gal said that yes, they did have some tickets available in Section 120.....ONE TWENTY!?!?!?! Yahooooo!!!!! That's still on the racing side of the finish line and you get to watch the horses pass you twice during the race as you get the excitement of the start and the thrill of the finish. AND...at face value too! Perfect! He was able to buy 3 sets of Oaks/Derby tickets and *whew* our trip was back on track...with very little time to spare!

While he'd been on the Derby ticket hunt he had already moved our hotel reservation due to a better deal that came along, reserved our rental car at a very reasonable rate and purchased "Dawn at the Downs" tickets on Millionaire's Row up on the 4th floor which is breakfast while you watch the morning workouts!

Dawn at the Downs. 7am comes early, but it's worth it!

We arrived at Churchill Downs this morning at 7:00am and made our way up to the 4th floor just as Dialed In was getting his workout. We only caught it on one of the hundreds of TV screens but as soon as we were shown to our table (#6, right by the front window!!! Thanks for the early thinkin' Les!!) I ignored food and drinks and headed right out to the famous Millionaire's Row rail terrace and watched the ponies!

Les & I on the rail at Millionaire's Row
One of my favorite things to do at home is to go have breakfast at the Quarter Chute Cafe and watch the horses pass by on their way in or back from their morning workouts. We get to see several horses in the hour or two we're there but there were horses everywhere you look on the track at Churchill Downs. It was hard to keep up with the who's who and who's where. Thankfully there was an announcer giving a running commentary so we were able to figure out when the Derby & Oaks horses were on the track (plus the Derby horses all had yellow saddle blankets with a rose on it while the Oaks Fillies had pink ones!)

The breakfast was good and so was the conversation. We shared a table with a couple of teachers from Ohio & a group from the Bay area, they all seemed to be avid race fans so it was fun to talk racing with everyone but I'd take a few bites and head back out to the rail to watch.

I wish I could tell you who all these horses are. I only took photos of Derby & Oaks Horses. Among them I do know we saw Derby horses, ArchArchArch, Animal Kingdom, Twice The Appeal, Santiva, Soldat & Midnight Interlude. Oaks Fillies included Daisy Devine, Joyful Victory, Lavender and Lace & Zazu...and that was just who I can remember off the top of my head.

One that I do remember is Bonnie's pick, Shackleford, for whom I still have the exact same two $5 bills in my wallet that she gave me for her bet on him!

That's Shackleford right in the center
(as Bonnie said "going the wrong way")

It was a wonderful morning and I'll have to add it to "My Picks" of Derby-Must-Dos. We were actually among the last to leave and got herded out by track employees but on the way out we did get one last surprise. A HUGE hand-blown glass replica of Churchill Downs.

This display was at least 4 feet high and 10 feet long.
This is just the center section!

Every horse, every spectator, every detail...hand blown!
 Someone had a grand passion and look where their work ended up...on Millionaire's Row...kinda like me and my passion, on Millionaire's Row for the Morning!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Derby Picks

A few months ago Liz contacted me on behalf a young lady who (among some other amazing adventures) chose to go to all three Triple Crown races for her Bat mitzvah gift. Yes, she's one VERY lucky kid, indeed: so not knowing how long they're planning to be there I gave them the "Jet's Picks" when it comes to the Kentucky Derby and I'm sharing it with all of you....you know, if you should find yourself here some day! (or if you should be so lucky as to be on the Triple Crown tour)

The first thing to consider is that Derby WEEK is amazing. To the best of my knowledge, there is not another horse racing centric event series like it. Of the three, ( Derby, Preakness, Belmont,) Derby is the only one that creates THAT much of an event. The week preceding Derby Day is FULL of fun. It is also full of changes to things that are not available in any other time of year because everything in the entire Louisville area is in Derby Mode.

While it's possible to fly in see the derby and escape immediately, I can't for the life of me figure out why anyone would...especially if they LOVE horses!!!

One of the Must-See's is the Kentucky Derby Museum & lunch at the Derby Cafe. I think we were able to do both on a Wednesday before Derby but it's closed for Oaks Day on Friday and Derby Day on Saturday. Thursday is typically a private luncheon so the cafe is closed but it's a good idea to check their calendar or contact them first to see what they have planned.
http://www.derbycafe.com/ (Hot Browns are a tradition & very yummy there!)

That's probably a good day to just go to the track and explore, watch a few races while the crowd is minimal. Oaks & Derby Day are a ZOO! You can typically get to your seats and some key other places but it's not a day to get the feel of Churchill Downs. I'd even suggest that Mom/Dad join the Twin Spires Club and start getting updates on events.

Then there's the Derby Festival. LOTS of events and a HUGE Waterfront party in Downtown Louisville on Friday night after the Oaks. There are usually large act music groups who play..for free! Lots of Derby excitement and family oriented as it's intended for the locals. You buy a Pegasus Pen at any Kroeger Food Store and it gets you into any of the Festival events. I think they're $4 and they are at every check out line.

Speaking of Kroeger: at the Middletown Kroger Food store on Shelbyville Rd (**eta** I just learned that they moved it this year to the Hubbards Lane Kroger...just in case you were headed out to see it) they make the Derby Rose Garland on Friday night before the derby. I know it sounds silly but it's a LOT of fun to go there and watch them sew the roses on. It's a huge deal! They have live music & the whole store has Derby Traditional food for sampling plus a life size model horse with a mock Rose Garland that you can take your photo with. The line to see the garland being made is a little long but they come by with free rose petals, pins and sometimes snacks! I take folks there and have never waited more than 45 minutes to see it. You've never had so much fun in a grocery store! I believe they also do it on Thursday for the Lilly Garland for the Oaks race on Friday.

I also love TACK shopping in Kentucky. There are several great ones around Louisville and Lexington as well as a race tack shop right near the track: Luckett's http://luckettstackshop.com/ makes custom racing/exersize saddles and leather halters. I bought really nice used ones from a box for $15 each when I was there last year. But a new one is a really cool way to remember the Derby at home every day in use with your own horse (I have one other suggestion about that too...later). Bob Mickler's, The Hitching Post & Kentucky Horse Supply are also great. My husband let me have a whole day of tack shopping for my birthday last year in Louisville and I wished I'd packed an extra bag! It was so fun, I felt like a horse crazy 13 year old, myself!

Most of the Horses are out in Lexington. There are few in-person horse experiences in Louisville, especially during Derby but Lexington is about an hour away and my personal favorite place in Kentucky! The majority of the breeding farms are out there and you can go on organized tours through Thoroughbred Heritage Farm Tours: http://www.seethechampions.com/ or you can contact local farms on your own to try to arrange tours.

I also highly recommend the The Thoroughbred Center in Paris, KY (minutes from Lexington). I'd take the early morning tour so you can see the workouts. They take out out to the practice track and through the barns. On our tour we met a trainer and got to hear how he prepares horses for racing & got to pick his brain a bit. It was awesome! They have something like 1,100 horses there and train year round. It turns out there are 5 tracks in Kentucky and this place is central to all of them. They run horses year round, a month at a time at each track, plus an extra month at Churchill & Keeneland (the MOST beautiful track I've seen!). http://www.thethoroughbredcenter.com/ Book your reservation well ahead of the trip on that one.

Another excellent Lexington adventure is the Kentucky Horse Park. It's like Disneyland for Horse people!! I have not been there since the World Equestrian Games but I have been there twice before the games and then spent all two weeks of the games there last Sept/Oct. The facilities they put in for the games are magnificent. You can ride trail horses (slow, but a run way to see the place) for a tour but you can also drive out through the Rolex 3 day Cross Country course (which runs the weekend before Derby, typically...so much of it is still set up). Inside the park there is a museum of the horse, several breed demonstrations and a Parade of Champions where you can meet the horse that won the Derby on my honeymoon, Funnycide...among others!

Also located on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park is the Makers' Mark Secretariat Center where they take off-the-track Thoroughbreds and retrain them for post-racing careers in pleasure, jumping & dressage, getting them ready to be adopted. It's a really great way to give a race horse a chance at a great life beyond the track. I understand they do allow visitors but not on Sundays and it's a good idea to contact them well ahead of your trip too. http://www.thoroughbredadoption.com/Makers-Mark-Secretariat-Center-c8.html

If you are in Lexington on Sunday after the Derby, you can also attend the annual Homecoming Party at Old Friends, a racehorse retirement facility. We've gotten some of our BEST Derby mementos there at their fundraising silent auction. Two years ago I came home with a 5' original painting and last year my husband got an autographed Hall of Fame induction "jersey" for Bob Baffert! They have this party and usually have food & some really cool auction items. They typically have several halters worn by actual TB Champions. Two years ago they had Big Brown's halter, donated by his owners. There are sometimes art, photography and other stuff there, I've even seen the personal scrapbooks of certain horses auctioned there. It's a great evening for a great cause: to give a retirement home to Thoroughbreds.

I would suggest to spend Sunday/Monday in Lexington to get the full horse experience.

While in Lexington there is also Quillin's Tack Shop...where they make the special PINK Leather Halter for the Kentucky Oaks Fillies (and a certain special Arabian Mare in Washington!!!!) They are another race centered tack shop but it's amazing to see what they make there and it's not ALL about racing! http://quillin.com/jshop/

Another fun day in the "area" is Shelbyville (bout half way between Louisville & Lexington). It's the Saddlebred horse Capital of the world & the local visitors bureau will take you on a farm tour for free (if you decide to donate, it goes to a therapeutic riding center) and you get to see one of THE most lovely working farms I've ever been to! http://www.shelbyvilleky.com/horse-farm-tours.html This is also the home of Claudia Sanders Dinner House (that would be Mrs. Sanders of the KFC fame) she opened a dinner house with her private recipes after they sold their Kentucky Fried Chicken business. The place is fun & the food is served family style. I would never actually go to KFC in Kentucky when I have THIS option!!!

I will also add that my husband has also attended the Belmont and just did not have the same experience has we've continued to enjoy in Kentucky going to the Derby. At first we thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime but we just couldn't stay away...and it's almost yearly now! I tell him we're practically residents!!!

OK....that's about all my brain can spew out at one time...but I LOVE Kentucky and hope that any of you who make the trip has a, likewise, amazing experience.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My Old Kentucky Home

Yes....I'm still alive...

ya know, I actually did write a little but thankfully in my pain managed haze I had the good sense not to hit the publish button. It seemed a little like the right thing to do to chronicle my progress but as I went back to read it I found it just a tad too graphic and not really things I want to share. It may have proved humorous for some who know me but I'm thinking (now) that my drug induced rants on knee replacement recovery are just a little too much for this forum. I will, however, write about the process because I've learned that I am not the lone equestrian who's undergone joint replacement and have chosen to continue to ride.

Just a quick update to say that this has been very difficult and it's only been the last week that I've begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I've ridden twice now and am taking this recovery time to revisit my riding basics. But that's all going to have to wait just a little while because I happen to be smack dab in the middle of another exciting equine adventure...

I'm sitting in a hotel room in Louisville, Kentucky for another week of horses and fun for Derby 137. My husband, Les & my brother-in-law, Mike and I are here and already having fun in the place I'm calling my Old Kentucky Home-away-from-home.

We had great luck with out standby flights and even got here 3 hours earlier than expected (as well as 3 hours earlier than our luggage) so we rented our car and headed for one of our local favorite burger joints, the Steak n' Shake but got side tracked by the discovery of another location of BuckHead's, the restaurant I discovered Cheese Boulders last year across the river from downtown Louisville over on the Indiana side and have craved all year since. We thought we'd set aside some time to head over there but this other location pretty much jumped out in our path over and all the burger & shake thoughts were quickly cleared as we steered into the parking lot. Within an hour of landing I had cheese boulders placed in front of me and I suddenly felt so welcomed back. I think they love me here, I really do!

I don't have a ton of time to write tonite because I really should try to get some sleep as my adventure leads me to Churchill Downs tomorrow morning for viewing AM workouts from Millionaires Row. How exciting!?!?!

It feels good to have the keys beneath my fingers & I look forward to sharing this week with *all y'all* & I promise a little gift in the morning before we leave so I hope you'll come back and visit!

I'll close this with a fun hat I saw today: "WORK?? It's Derby Week!"

Monday, February 28, 2011

While I still have one good leg to stand on....

A few weeks ago I was riding with Ruth, getting compliments on my leg placement and seat but when she approached me to to suggest a different placement for my foot (toe in) and moved my foot into position a pain shot through my knee and made a sound that gave us both a fright. This is the pain that I ride with, the one that sadly limits the time I am in the saddle and the one that really prevents me from progressing.

"How do you ride with your knee like that?", she asked. "With my foot like this (pointed more straight ahead) because it hurts any other way" I replied. In her stern voice she flat out told me that I needed to make a commitment and that if I intended to continue to ride I would get that knee fixed. On my ride home I thought about it and decided that Ruth was right. I could continue to ride like this, through the pain, and I might be able to make it another two years but then I'd be DONE! Or I could get it fixed and I might get another 10 years of riding. That night I told my husband that I was going to make the appointment I'd been dreading...to start the process of getting a knee replacement. He wasn't exactly happy with my reasoning (he would have preferred that it be because I wanted do something really important, like "walk") but he did agree that it was time...perhaps even well past time. I called the next day and made an appointment & their first available was 2/22.

Twelve years ago I was on a ski trip to Big Bear with my family. I KNEW skiing was not for me so the dog and I hung out while my Mom (yes, my MOM!), my son, my brother and his friend were all up on the hill. I was walking from the lodge to the observation deck across a gravel path that had iced over and I slipped, fell and twisted the heck out of my knee. We were just a couple of months away from moving to Washington state so while I did get it looked at 2 days later in Los Angeles, I decided to wait until I got to Washington to start the physical therapy that the doctor suggested. I got to Washington and no longer had insurance so I decided it could wait a little while longer. I babied it...a lot!

About 3 years later we bought a two-story house and within a month of using stairs every day the knee was toast. I had also fallen two more times and finally went to the doctor (because now I had insurance!). The menicus was not only torn (almost shredded) it was now dislodged and had fallen back behind my knee. I had surgery to trim up the tears and put it back into place but who knows how long I'd been walking on it with bone on bone action and there was already signs of damage. To top it off, I'd come to rely so much on my *good knee* that I'd damaged that one too (sounds like lameness issues, eh?). I was told that I needed TWO knee replacements but at my age (then turning 40 the next day) that they'd like to see me go as long as possible because the knee replacement at that time would only last 8-10 years and they could only replace it twice. So I toughed it out.

I started riding again (because that seems like a great idea for someone with a severe knee injury right?) at the age of 45. When I got serious and hired Chrissy as my trainer I noted that I was good for about 30 minutes before the pain started to slow me down. As I worked up to 40 minutes and then a full hour, I really felt my riding was improving. I started doing schooling shows and rode for a few hours, but not continuously. Then came some trail riding and did a couple of 2-3 hour trail rides where I thought I was going to blow out the knee ON THE TRAIL and hoped Coconut would be able to get me back. Most of you probably know that going down steep hills is hard on the knees but once you're up there, you have to get back down and what was I going to do, get off and walk back? So yes...I suppose it was time to get serious about this and enter the program to get the knee fixed.

Over the last year I did start to address the problem by consulting an Orthopedic surgeon who started me on Synvisc injections. Synvisc is basically (as I understand it) purified chicken fat that, when injected into the knee, creates lubrication and less friction between the bones. Those are supposed to last up to 6 months and the first round seemed to have some good results. The second round was not as successful. I got injected days before I left for the World Equestrian Games were I walked extensively every day. I knew a week into it that I wasn't getting much relief from it, but I pushed on.

I tend to sit pseudo-yoga style at my desk and about 4 days after my conversation with Ruth, I was working at the computer and went to unwind my legs but discovered that I could fully extend my knee and could barely put any weight on it. I had no choice but to break out the crutches and was on them for the next 36 hours.  The next morning I called Dr. Hunter's office and told them that even though I had an appointment in a week, I really felt like I was having an unexpected urgent issue and they were able to fit me in early the next morning. Of course when I woke up for that appointment, the problem seemed resolved but I didn't know what could trigger it next so I kept the appointment anyway.

They took a series of x-rays and Dr. Hunter came in within a few minutes and said, "I don't know how you even walked in here today" ... the knee is completely blown. He said if he didn't know me, he'd say it was the knee of a 78 year old (about 30 years off!!!) and shook his head saying there was nothing he could do but replace it. Apparently it's covered in bone spurs and too damaged to try to treat. He asked if I could clear the next 6-8 weeks and since I happen to be in a position to do that, he put me at the top of his list and I got a call later that day that they scheduled me for Monday the 28th, just 10 days away at that point. No time to go through the seminar, prep classes or any of that...get in and do it, pretty much, NOW!

When I told him I wanted to ride at least another 10 years, he said, "Why not 15-20?" and I smiled BIG and said "OK!" There will, however, be no running in my future (oh darn...bwahaha) but riding pleasure, trails and some dressage would be ok. No Jumping though! Hey...I'm starting to sound like Bucky B Lucky! I knew we were kindred spirits. In fact I went to visit him on Friday and he kept sniffing my knee. How weird is that? Do you think he knew? Maybe when we're both all better, we can team up for a ride. That would be amazing!

A little Lucky Love before I go off to fix my leg. You next handsome!

So projects that I'd been looking at doing over the next few months either had to go on hold or get done in a hurry! The last week has been a whirlwind of stuff that I felt pressured to do. Now it's hours away from when I need to leave for the hospital and I'm looking around thinking that I guess some of it will just have to wait until I can get to it. I did what I can...it's time to get better!

I'm not too worried about the procedure. I have a highly recommended surgeon and my own personal recovery nurse. It turns out that my friend Becka, who's mare Autumn was my first lesson horse at Chrissy's & is now Coconut's neighbor on the other side at the barn, is a recovery room nurse and she has a plan for me! I will be in good hands all the way through this so nothing to fear...and every thing to gain, I think! I'm starting to consider how much more relaxed I can be in the saddle once I am out of pain. I know there is a LOT of work I will have to do to get rehabbed from the surgery and get used to the new knee but I have every reason to believe that if I can power through the pain to ride and do the things I love, then I should have no problem applying myself to, what some call, a difficult recovery. I'm pretty tenacious... but I also know that I could be writing "omg, this is the hardest thing I've ever done" posts later. I hope someone will cut and paste this back to me if I do turn into a screaming/crying mess. Maybe Ruth can come over and remind me how committed I need to be...you know...if I am serious about this riding thing.

Tonight I'm hopeful. Tomorrow I'll sleep it off & then it's on to a new adventure!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Value of Good Riding Apparel

This story is probably less about the title but more about the event and the "what did" and "what could have" happened....

A week or so ago I got this really nice postcard from Olson's Tack Shop about their upcoming big clearance event, including a 20% coupon off of one regularly priced item. On that post card was a photo of the very Ariat Boots that I have been craving since WEG...
The Windemere Baker by Ariat (In Black please!!)
 Since I don't currently have a budget for boots, I kind of knew that I wasn't going to go get them but I held on to the post card ... just in case.

Then on Thursday Olson's started posting photos of their tent sale merchandise on Facebook while they were getting ready for the big sale on Friday morning. I saw a shot of several stacks of Dansko shoes and sent Maeve a text to let her know that her beloved footwear, the same ones she'd had to put down so she could help rescue Sugar back at the beginning of the Great Paint Project, were on sale and I might have hinted that these would be less expensive in the long run...especially since they were half off.

Before long I got a call from her and somehow she'd been magically teleported from Tacoma to Bellevue and not only did she pick up a pair in red, but also a yellow pair in snakeskin .... and a few other things including a new pair of Kerrit's Full Seat Riding Breeches ...in BLUE!!! She was so excited! I recycled my postcard knowing that my work here was done and it was not my day to get new boots...in black or any other color! The message was just to pass on the info to some other deserving soul. It was reward enough to hear how excited Maeve was about her treasures...and to feel like she finally got the reward she'd denied herself in order to help a couple of sad Paint horses...TWO YEARS ago!! (I can't believe it's been that long already!)

I try to remember to follow that little voice that tells me to do things even when I make a million excuses not to. On Sunday I was working in my storage unit trying to get things situated so I can finally move my (ex) business out of there. My original plan included going to see Coconut afterward but it was getting pretty cold and close to evening time so I thought I'd head home instead. I had to turn right before I could make the U-turn to head home but when I got to the intersection I decided it was really just a mile or so to go see my girl and I continued ahead.

As I pulled up I was excited to see Maeve's car parked in front of the barn and an arena full of people and horses. It always makes me happy to see folks enjoying horse time. I noticed right away that Maeve had on her new breeches and so I rolled down the window to say something stupidly clever like "nice seat" or something equally equestrian-y...until I saw the look on her face was not that of great joy but instead of great pain. Before I could get any info she said "I was just trying to call you" and I looked at my phone confused because I had received no such call...what she meant to convey is that she was trying to reach her phone to call me because she was hurt and could not bend into the car to get her phone or her purse. Thankfully one of our young barn girls, Vanessa, was there trying to help so I jumped out of the car to help if I could as well.

Maeve said she didn't think she could drive home and asked if I could take her....no, no I couldn't in my right mind do THAT! She was clearly in pain and I felt she needed immediate medical attention.

It turns out that Sugar bucked during a ride, Maeve lost her balance and went feet over head (similar, I'm sure to my September unplanned aerial dismount) and had landed on her back. She says she got the wind knocked out of her and, after awhile, was able to turn over onto all fours, but was unable to stand from that position for quite some time. Eventually her wild pony (who had been standing at her side quietly) lent her a stirrup and she was able to stand. Once up she got this notion (as we all do) to get back up and ride, deciding to lunge her a bit first. It was then that she realized she couldn't move well and gave up on the remounting idea.

I told her I needed to take her to get checked out, especially after she could not lift her left leg to get in my passenger side. We were standing beside the car and I was wondering if I might still need to call an ambulance. We then tried to load her in on the drivers side into the back seat and it took some doing and a couple extra hands but she got in and off to St. Francis we flew.

Upon arrival there, I parked in the ambulance bay and rushed in to get a wheel chair, by the time we got back to the car with, Maeve was already out of the car but insisted that she had to walk in as she would not be able to sit in the wheel chair. I walked in behind her with my arms out like a force field ready to catch her at any angle. It was at the check in desk that a nurse stepped around to access her and when he ran his hand down her back she cried out in pain. He reached over and grabbed the phone calling a code yellow trauma in the ER Lobby...and suddenly 15 people came out of nowhere, descending upon her. They placed her on a back board, standing up, and then lowered her to the ground before lifting her to a gurney. although she protested a bit at first saying she was probably ok since she could walk, the nurse said that his concern was that she could walk tomorrow & they were going to take every precaution to make sure she could. That scared the daylights out of me and I was just standing there watching the whole scene unfold. I can't even imagine what was going through her mind at the time but I do believe that even if she hadn't been before, she was sufficiently scared by then.

As they wheeled her back into an exam room I noted her cool new breeches and already had a bad feeling about how long they were going to last in an ER setting. I toyed with saying something but I just kept saying to myself "No! her safety and well being is waaaaaay more important than a pair of breeches!" but it kept nagging at me and I wanted to bring it up so I asked her if I could make her laugh yet and she indicated "NO!" it wasn't a good time yet. So I kept the thought to myself....for the moment.

About then I realized my car was still in the ambulance bay so I excused myself to go move it and check on her dog Ruby (who was now investigating every interesting smell inside my car in hopes of finding something tasty). After moving my car and noting what wrappers were now empty on the seat of my car so I could tell Maeve later what her dog may or may not have eaten, I returned to the exam room. She was in a hospital gown and they were covering her with warm blankets. I glanced around the room to see if I could find any sign of the breeches....nothing!! Argh....the agony...somehow I knew that my job would be to make sure those breeches were not compromised!

Breeches are one of those riding apparel items that really make a difference to those of us who use them. I can totally tell the difference in my riding comfort in a well made pair so to find a pair that fit well, feel well and (hopefully) look great is a major discovery and, yes, we can convince ourselves to spend well for them! But...to find that fit, quality and style ON SALE...is like a dream come true!!!! The love story would come to a tragic end should one have to be cut out of them. I know...is not the well being of the rider the most important thing?...well....yes....ok ... YES...but good breeches....I'm just saying...they're worth saving too...you know...if you can!

The Doctor came in and ordered xrays so they wheeled her off. I was told I could wait in the exam room for her to return and I took the opportunity to approach the remaining nurse about the beautiful new Blue Kerrit Breeches..."I know this might sound silly....but were you able to save her riding breeches?", I asked. She started to laugh and told me that Maeve's main concern in the dis-robing process was too "PLEASE Save my breeches!!"

Great Minds Think Alike!

The nurse had a cousin who rides and she said she got the impression that everything about horses was expensive, including the clothes. I told her it's not cheap but more importantly is that when you find a good pair of breeches, they're priceless;  to get them on sale is even better but to only get to ride in them one time would have been heartbreaking. About this time they brought her back from xray and I told her about my conversation with the nurse and we finally got to have that laugh! Then one of the other nurses read my jacket logo...Troxel Performance Headgear...and asked me what that was. I proudly indicated it was a riding helmet company. It was only then that anyone bothered to ask if she'd been wearing a helmet. I was very proud to answer "YES, she was!!!....I wouldn't talk to her if she didn't!" ...and this weak voice broke through her pain to say "That's kinda harsh!"...with a bit of a laugh behind it. So while it's probably not exactly true that you can't be my friend if you don't wear a helmet, you certainly can't be close to me and NOT know how I feel about riding safety!. With all of the current unknowns about her physical well being,  her back, her legs, etc...she had not a single complaint about her head. She spoke clearly & logically and I felt every confidence that she saved herself the possibility of head injury because she does wear a helmet when she rides...EVERY TIME!!!

By now I hope you know that I can poke a little fun at her and I'm writing this with her permission because the xrays showed no fractures. Other than being very stiff and very sore, we believe she's going to be ok. She's still got a bit of a fight ahead of her in terms of dealing with the pain but she's a strong woman and she's already up and around...just slower and more cautiously than normal. We hope she'll be back to herself soon...and wearing those cute new blue breeches!

Friday, February 18, 2011

February's Featured HeARTist ~ Leah Anderson

It’s certainly fitting that we celebrate the month most closely associated with the Heart with a feature of Leah Anderson.

Leah Anderson

Thanks to Leah, who has worked on both of the past HeART of the Horse events, we have a beautiful logo & some wonderful graphics!

Poster for the Original HeART of the Horse Art Show in 2009

Leah is passionate about everything she does, be it riding, taking photos or caring for those around her. It was while she was a volunteer for SAFE when she was finishing up at the University of Washington that she was inspired to create her cornerstone project, “Forgotten”, a look at rescued horses and what it means to the people who rescued them in their own words and Leah’s beautiful photographs. Everyone who has ever had the opportunity to enjoy the book has been deeply moved…many of us to tears!

Leah & myself looking at her book, "Forgotten" - photo: Debbie Hess

“Forgotten” is available through blurb.com and won their People’s Choice Award in 2008.

Leah is generously donating any profits from the sale of her images on her website Dapple Bay Design or orders of the book “Forgotten” to SAFE this month.

Lost Boys by Leah Anderson

I met Leah in May of 2008 while she was working on the "Forgotten" project after her call out to the SAFE Message board for rescued horses to photograph. I immediately offered Coconut as a subject. Leah came out to KCJ stables and spent the morning shooting the "model" coconut as she posed endlessly for the camera. It's almost as if she knew she was a star!

Coconut as art. photo

Leah shared those photos with me and they've become some of my favorite images of Coconut Macaroon.

Coconut in motion (framed in my office!)

It was at the end of that first photo shoot that I took her up to meet a special little guy who'd been born at KCJ just 17 days earlier...he didn't even have a name.

Baby Basil

But she snapped this photo of him on his very first day out on a pasture with his Mom....Sugar....and then some 9 months later they both were surrendered to Maeve & I and this leggy little creature would end up being called "Basil" and eventually registered as Macho Bar None and sold to his trainer, Kelli Jordan who just took him to his first show (but that's another whole blog post!).

So serious!

In 2009 I had Leah come back out and do a glamor shoot with us as a Christmas gift for my husband Les. He was always so patient with me, my horse activities and the boring (and often dirty) barn attire. I figured he needed a permanent reminder that I *can* clean up OK...

Sylish Girls!

Silly Girls!

We got fancied up and while the original plan included some seated shots, the weather did not cooperate so we played with what we had and used the old barn as our backdrop and I was very happy with the results.

What a fun day that was, even in the rain! Be sure to check out her work and we look forward to her next project. Whatever it is, it's sure to have her heart deeply embedded in it. I can hardly wait to see what's next for this amazing and talented young woman.

I'll close with this favor to ask....If you happen to know a publisher, please share her project with them. We'd all like to see "Forgotten" offered to the world. You certainly do not have to be close to the project to feel is impact & emotion.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lucky Stars!

After the story about Bucky B Lucky hit the front page of the Seattle Times the popularity of a certain handsome Thoroughbred went public. No longer was he just a favorite among SAFE Volunteers, he now had a larger following, including some folks from across the country.

In December SAFE was contacted to see if Lucky was available to be featured in a story that our local PBS Affliate, KCTS 9 (Seattle/Yakima) was working on about the life of a Thoroughbred after the race track. Of course we said yes and on January 5th reporter Jenny Cunningham & her film crew came out to interview SAFE President Jaime Taft, VP Bonnie Hammond and myself about his story & our efforts to help Off The Track Thoroughbreds and other horses.

Getting ready for his closeup!

Lucky is no stranger to the camera for a quick WIN photo but he found this extra attention quite engaging and the new equipment very interesting. At one point he got so close that he fogged up the camera!

Will it eat me or is it something for ME to eat?
He got cleaned up for his interview and then got turned out with two other Off-The-Track horses who live at Jaime's farm in Monroe: Slam (of Dressage Days fame) and Vanna (Vanity Fair) who is a former SAFE horse that Jaime personally adopted. They played a game of "race horse" around the arena and gave us quite a show!

Vanna & Slam have fun playing "Race Horse" with Lucky

After the turnout it was time to show off what a good boy he is. We got him tacked up and Jaime rode him around her arena. He did great demonstrating his walk & trot but best of all showing off how calm he is!

Lucky at the trot.

This week we got word that the show will air this coming Friday, February 18th at 7:00pm on their regular program KCTS Connects (channel 9 or 109 for local Comcast customers.)

We decided that it would be a great reason to get together with other local equestrians so SAFE is holding two Viewing Parties that evening.

If you're in the Monroe or surrounding area join us at:

Monroe Fire Station
163 Village Court
Monroe, WA

if Auburn/Black Diamond is more convenient, please join us at:

Horsepitality Too! Riding Center
33623 206th Ave SE
Auburn, WA

Both events run from 6:30 - 8:00pm and light snacks & drinks will be provided.

If you're interested to attend, please contact me or RSVP on one of the facebook pages:

Monroe - http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=1 ... 23&index=1

Auburn - http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=1 ... 65&index=1

We hope to see you there! If you're outside the viewing area, I'll post links as soon to watch it later online as soon as I know when that feature will be available.

EDIT TO UPDATE ( 2/23/11): Here is the link to the KCTS Video. It's easy to skip ahead to around Minute 12 to start the Bucky B Lucky Segment. I will add that in any story there can be a few things that aren't quite right, overall I'm very happy with the outcome.
Enjoy! http://video.kcts9.org/video/1809648702

Monday, February 14, 2011

Calling Your Stallions!

Doesn't your stallion or stud colt deserve a shot at a long and happy life? Have you considered his options by remaining in-tact? What are your goals for him by keeping him a stallion? Is he showing, performing & earning his status? Please ask yourself these questions and then consider giving him the gift of a life-changing opportunity...

Make him a gelding!!!

Save A Forgotten Equine (S.A.F.E.), in partnership with Tacoma Equine Hospital, is offering a Low-Cost Castration Clinic...just $50 will buy him a brighter future.

Date: Monday - February 28, 2011
Location: Tacoma Equine Hospital - 3112 156th Street East, Tacoma, Washington 98446

Apply now at: Save A Forgotten Equine Web Application

Approved candidates will receive day-of-treatment pre/post surgical care on site at Tacoma Equine Hospital, basic medications and the services of a castration by the very qualified Vets at Tacoma Equine Hospital.

All horse candidates must be in good health, have a verifiable up-to-date Tetanus vaccination (or may purchase one on the day of service), and have both testicles fully descended. 

There are only up to 10 spots available that day so get your application started now. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Planning For The Unknown

52 Thoroughbreds needed homes or were going to be sent to slaughter in Ohio....or so went the email, Facebook and Craigslist campaign that swept the internet last week.

I even received six emails from several of my huge hearted non-horse friends about this story asking if I knew anyone who could help. I had also seen it posted on Facebook a dozen times through various organizations I "like" &  my extended friend network that includes many rescuers and other equestrians (and non-equestrians too!). My first reaction was that there must be more to the story and so I didn't immediately pick up the phone and call the number listed because a) I had no way of placing them from my corner of the county & b) it did appear they were getting plenty of attention.

So as it turns out, there really was an owner who passed away recently; a breeder, owner & vet in the Ohio Thoroughbred racing industry by the name of Daniel Stearns. If you'd like to read more about the internet sensation and resulting discoveries, you can read it on the Fugly Blog. As it turns out by the time most of us heard about it, the horses were reportedly rehomed to other racing barns and that by late last week, there were no horses who needed to be placed and the plea then went out to please stop calling the real phone number that had been posted over and over and over....

So it sounds like an acceptable outcome for these horses but I saw an underlying question in this drill...

Do you have a plan on what to do with your horse(s) should you become unable to care for them? This is about to go in a few directions....but one would be the obvious first concern (to me)....if I died, what would happen to my beloved Coconut? My son, Corey, says he wants her but is he truly prepared to provide for her in the manner in which she has become accustomed? I promise anyone who cares for my horse after I am gone that I will come back and Haunt the Hell out of you if you fail her in any way shape or form, should you accept the challenge of becoming her next forever home! So, maybe the fear of me nagging him from the other side is incentive enough to make sure he'd always do the right thing by her, is it really the best thing for her? Maeve said she'd take care of Coconut until the right home could be found. I also thought about the rescue I work with, certainly through their contacts they could find a placement for her through the SAFE Assisted Adoption Program, right!? I choose to believe in my heart that there are several others who would step up for "The Nut!" and either give her a home or find the best possible one. (you KNOW who you are!!)

All that and I only have ONE HORSE!!! What if you had more than one? What if you were a racing barn, a training facility or even a rescue? What if you had 10? ...20?....100? or more??? This idiot, James Leachman, in Montana didn't die, but he did lose his property and had no where to take his 450 horses....let's spell that out... FOUR HUNDRED & FIFTY Horses....and left them there!! Unacceptable!!! If you can no longer care for them, SOMEONE has to. If you own them, breed them or have any plan to make it your income, it is YOUR responsibility to care for them until you can find a suitable/responsible placement for them. Responsible means just what it implies. They are YOUR responsibility now and will be until you die unless you get someone else to accept that responsibility for you. I can't even begin to wrap my head around trying to rehome 450 horses!

...but back to the main subject...

There are so many things to think about & I don't know how one might plan out every scenario but it's really thought provoking to consider the possibilities. We don't need to play out every scene of Black Beauty to understand what can happen in the course of a horse's long life. Some of us need only look as far as our own stalls to be reminded how close horses can come to the brink of disaster.

What would I choose if I had the ability to? Of course I'd want her to feel very loved and that she enjoyed her new home. I would want her new partner to be a good fit and that they both earn respect with one another. Much of that philosophy goes into what I do with her. If today was my last day at the barn, what would happen when the next person steps in to grab her lead rope? Would she be respectful & do as they ask? I think she would...although she's going to eventually ask them her own interview questions like "What will you do when I jump like thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiissssssssssssss and get all four feet in the air while lunging?" "How will you protect me when horse eating alpaca's come to get me on a trail ride? .....show me riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight now!!!!!!!!!". She'll also ask the question (while batting her beautiful white eyelashes at them) "Can you promise to love me?" I feel I've answered those questions for her and she's pretty trusting for the most part. But then again, I do feel like she chose me and that can make a difference.

I feel like what we do together is training, no matter what it is. My trainer Chrissy taught me that! Even if it's just me coming out and grooming her and having some hand grazing. There is still the element of constant behavioral expectations. When we ride, it's done with consistency. The same cues mean the same question every time. She gets to know me and what I want, I get to know her and how she'll perform. It's a dance of sorts....an ever evolving dance. I've seen others ride her and it's always interesting to see how she responds to them. I watched her test people. When I think to myself, "She never does that for me!" I guess I have to understand that it's because we're a team and we know each other pretty well. She no longer has to ask me the interview questions (I'll add here that I sometimes see her bad behavior as a message she's sending me, not always as a question she's asking me).

How does that translate to the potential rehoming process, you ask?  It matters plenty to me since I need her to possess as many of the quality skills as possible so that her re-homing value grows. Not in a monetary sense, but in a behavioral sense. What happens if her lack of confidence or her intuitive interview skills unfairly portrays her as the rowdy sort? The likelihood that she'll make a good impression starts to dissipate and the odds that her future might hold drama grows. That is not the outcome I would want for her.

It becomes my job to make sure she's a good citizen, to borrow a phrase from Monica Bretherton's Blog, HorseBytes,  and to make sure that while I can't provide her full history, I can account for the history I've created for her over the last 4 1/2 years. I've also been marketing her to a point. She's certainly not my little secret pony at home. I share her story with the world mostly because I want others to feel they are not alone in their journey, whatever part of mine they might feel akin to but also because someday that story may help her in her next chapter if for some reason I can not be in it. No, I have no plans to ever part ways with Coconut. However, if it were not my choice, I think there is enough out there about her that someone would step up and say that she could be a good fit for them and vice-versa.

The next thing I think about are my friends who have large herds, horse facilities or business attached to their horses. What provisions are in place should you no longer be in a position to make decisions...or even care for them....tomorrow? Are your horses going to be advertised on Facebook, Craigslist & emailed out to the entire world? Is that how you want them dispersed or re-homed? If you don't, the time is, while you still can, to put a plan in place.

I like the model Save A Forgotten Equine (S.A.F.E.) has for placing horses. They assess the horse for it's strengths and needs, matching that up to potential adopters. There are a series of meetings between horse and adopter as well as a reference & site check. It's never done solely over the internet. A placement is the work of several people touching each aspect of the horse's well being before the word "Approved" is announced. This makes me feel confident when a rescue favorite ends up in a home I know I might never see them at again but knowing they found a great match is worth what I, as a volunteer, might give up.

There's also the SAFE Assisted Adoption Program that has been in place for many years but has been updated for 2011. We will go out and do evaluations on the horse, document their health care and photograph the horse, if needed, to help us most effectively market their horse. The goal would be to help good owners find responsible placement for their beloved equine companions through the same screening process that SAFE gives it's own herd with the additional promise to look after the horses' well being in that new home for the rest of its life. The difference is that the owner continues to care for the horse and has a say in the final adoption. The rehoming fee is then donated directly to SAFE. I've had the honor of being able to work on this program and invite anyone who might be looking to rehome their horse to check it out on the SAFE Website.

One horse that recently entered the SAFE Assisted Adoption Program is Walker, a 17 year old New Zealand  Thoroughbred with eventing experience. Check out Walker in his SAFE Thread.

I certainly don't have all the answers, especially for those with large herds but I'd like to pose the question to those of you who do....What is your plan?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Fly Me To The Moon...

I'm just smiling today and it's all because of a little horse named Sinatra...

Even the winter coat can't hide the neglect. Photo From SAFE Msg Board
Almost 3 years ago, a straggly little colt was seized by King County Animal Control as part of the large & highly publicized Jean Elledge neglect case. He was thought to be 4-5 months at the time he came to live with SAFE (Save A Forgotten Equine) in Monroe. His young body was thin, covered in rain rot, loaded with parasites and his tiny feet were severely overgrown. This is how Jean Elledge apparently "cared" for the colored horses she so deeply desired. Yes, this is the same herd that my beloved Coconut Macaroon came from.

Rain Rot, 2 days after the seizure:  Photo From SAFE Msg Board

His Cremello coloring was passed to him through his sire, Seas The Golden Day, the Saddlebred Stallion that Jean owned and bred to everything that walked...and then starved to death. This little guy was discovered in a 12x36 pen with another neglected colt and a dead mare decomposing just 15' feet away who, at the time, was thought to be the Dam to one of these boys.
Starting to recover. Photo From SAFE Msg Board
It was his stunning blue eyes that inspired SAFE to name him Sinatra. All along, like his namesake, Sinatra has being doing things His Way. It turned out that he was actually almost a year old at the time of the seizure, just very small for his age. He might have seemed wise beyond his years in some ways & he never let his size get in the way of doing his job, be it pretending to be a ferocious Stallion (which he isn't....all the SAFE boys are geldings...or become one!) or being the self appointed leader of the baby herd.  Over the years he developed quite a personality & has always been a volunteer favorite.

Stallion (gelding) Game at Bonnie's w/Benny. Photo From SAFE Msg Board
 There were some less than flattering images of him posted of his awkward 2-3 year old phase & he often wore a coat of green and brown because he wasn't necessarily tidy about his personal appearance (Hey, he's a horse right!?!?)

Two months post-rescue and showing some improvement. Photo From SAFE Msg Board

But when he got cleaned up, he cleaned up VERY well!!

Summer of 2009  Photo - J. Parrett

At his first horse show, the 2009 SAFE Benefit Horse Show, he won FIRST PLACE in Halter-Rescue. The judge said he walked in the arena and shot her a look as if to say "You know you want to give me the blue...now what are you going to do about the rest of those ribbons?" She was powerless to his confidence and we were all very proud of him that day.

Quite the Showman at the 2009 SAFE Benefit Horse Show

Back home, even after his Horse Show victory, he was the same old guy....up to his own brand of mischief and just a funny horse who seemed engaged with his human staff.

Nap time with the SAFE Babies. Photo J. Parrett

Some time last year one of his fans stepped up and offered him an amazing opportunity to move to a fancy barn & receive training. This week SAFE Volunteer, Sara, went over to check in on him and was thrilled to report back that Sinatra was on stage for a jumping lesson and he did really well. On top of that, he recently went to his first jumping competition at the Gold Creek Jumper Schooling Show and took FIRST PLACE in all four of his classes.
In Training: January 2011 - Photo by Sara Hall

Another show, another FOUR Blue Ribbons!! Photo by Sara Hall

He's still available for adoption  & my guess is that he'd be missed at his current home and by his current rider. But what a fantastic job they've done with him. What a transformation from gangly colt to fancy showman, but then his name gave him a reputation to live up to and I think he has.

Very soulful: Photo J.Parrett
He's about 14.1 hh and suitable for a child or light adult intermediate rider. If you're interested in Sinatra he's available through SAFE & his adoption fee is $1,000. That's a bargain when you consider all of the training he's already received and his Proven Show Record!! 5 for 5 and BLUE all the way...to match his eyes!

More information about Sinatra at the SAFE Website

Take Me Home! Photo-J.Parrett