Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Hot and Sweaty

 

Some of our rides have been more exuberant at times about canter departs. I have probably permitted Chili too long to be a little too crooked in her canter, not take the right rein and not always use her hindquarters as she should.

So for a while, especially on the left lead canter, she would be a little too offended if I used too much left leg on her during the canter or careen into the canter instead and then any time I actually asked her to stay on the right rein, she would break.

My fault. I babied her because of so many past injuries and would just let her have a somewhat wild canter at times because I figured it was better than no canter and then coupled with my left sided weakness, I couldn't really insist on much better.

So, that's been a focus now to ask and slowly put together all the pieces and Chili thinks it sucks.

Canter forward in a quality gait on both reins while using her butt.

Poor Princess. Such offense.

It's slowly getting there and we are chipping away at it. Winter it was a little bit harder because it was easier to maintain and have enough time to have a quality canter in the large arena and the indoor is good sized for the Midwest, but certainly not big enough for our liking, plus filled with spooky corners.


Brave chicken? Stupid chicken? Who knows

Last week, it warmed up to about 80 degrees F. Pretty warm for this area and despite it was kind of windy, I went ahead and rode in the big(ger) outdoor arena. Slowly been trying to put together pieces of a more quality canter and so I was happy that both ways, we cantered in a civilized manner and then on the left lead canter, which is typically her weaker direction, we made it about a lap and a half of the 200 meter long outdoor arena. We do have a ways to work on keeping up her conditioning, but considering a year ago she was injured in a paddock accident and it took until late fall to have an appropriate diagnosis, I can forgive her lack of condition.

My lack of condition, not so much. ;)

 She behaved well with no lunging, despite having most of the week off, did well at the canter, and so we called it a day.

I noticed her saddle sitting a little bit differently than it did previously, so I also tried a different half-pad as I usually ride with a Thinline half pad with shims, but the last ride I just rode in a regular fleece half pad on top of my typical saddle pad and the sweat marks seemed to be better. I imagine as she continues to regain condition, we will keep tweaking her saddle fit. I took a photo of the sweat marks (thanks warm day!) and sent them off to the saddle fitter who agreed that we should probably try switching some of the shims and she could take a peek at the saddle later this month when she was in the area again.

I feel like I should end this post with some major takeaway or revelation, but the reality is that I'm just happy that I had the chance to ride my horse again, canter a good canter for more than a 20 meter circle, and then realize how dang lucky I am that I didn't lose her to that fence accident.

The sweat on our faces at the end of the ride was certainly worth it. Here's to hopefully many more.


Saturday, April 24, 2021

Clinic Recap

 




Last weekend, I worked, but I managed to allow myself to be talked into riding with the clinician after work on Saturday. The clinician, Jennifer, is a dressage rider with a focus on biomechanics and the rider's seat.

I thought that what did I have to lose, so I signed up. I had the last spot of the day, so that I would have enough time, factoring in always possible work emergencies, and recruited my friend to come down and help get my horse ready. Part of my chronic illness is realizing that having a little bit of help pays off.

The clinic was running a few minutes behind schedule when I arrived, so I was able to watch a few minutes of a lesson, except it was somewhat windy and we were riding in the outdoor arena, so it was a bit difficult to hear.

My friend helped catch, groom, and tack up Chili while I sucked down some more electrolytes. After meeting with a cardiologist last month, he pointed out I need to greatly increase my electrolytes and wear compression socks (among some other things), to help mitigate my symptoms and to improve my quality of life. Now, if only I can remember to do this at horse shows when it is blazing hot and I go hours without eating or drinking properly.

Post-electrolytes, I felt much better. Chili seemed pretty relaxed and not in dragon mode, so I hopped on her in the indoor and walked and trotted a little bit.



Chili deciding to bow for grass
Jennifer watched us warm up for a few minutes and then we discussed where we were currently at in our training journey. I am quite self conscious in feeling that I negatively affect the ability of my horse with my physical limitations, so I discussed this aspect and how my left hip is very difficult to use compared to my right.

The first thing Jennifer had me do was decide to have Chili learn to live with my leg on. I have always heard the saying to have a hot horse live with your leg and Chili isn't hot in the zoomy sense, but rather the offended dragon sense. However, I think the goal with having the leg sort of snuggly was to not to offend her by having it on, then off, then on without a lot of prior warning.

It did take Chili a while to learn to live with this. It's different. She is wiggly and is by far, the most mobile horse I've ever ridden. Putting the parts together, especially while I am myself hypermobile, is not an easy job.


Learning to live with my leg


Jennifer's next suggestion was to try and ask me to ride her a little bit "deeper" and to focus on keeping all of our parts still. Keep my leg on and quiet, keep my hands quiet, and to just ask her to be a little bit lower, but not behind the vertical. What I found out was that my perspective of being "deep" was closer to correct and then encouraging her to stay there by being quiet made us both happy.

In the canter, she can be difficult sometimes about filling out and taking the right rein, so she encouraged me to go back to schooling her like a baby horse in that sense. Encourage her to take the entire bend with her body and it if she broke or tossed her head, to be sure I kept an equal level of contact by widening my hands. All basic things I have heard before, but I find I need to hear the explanation different times in different ways.

Chili has had a number of injuries, so it can be tricking to comb through what is a true evasion she has learned (and I permitted), or what evolved from pain related responses or a combination thereof. Jennifer encouraged me to think of it more as physical therapy for the horse and that at times, it may be a combination of all these different techniques to find what will work for her and what will be fair (also known as to keep me from picking at her while she is trying). As one instructor has told me, "Don't be a greedy bitch".

So while, in some aspects, it seemed like a basic lesson, it was nice to have an opinion from a well regarded clinician. She did emphasize to me multiple times that she believed I was a much better rider than I was giving myself credit for, that my leg lay in a good spot, and that Chili's issues were mostly her issues and that I was not creating them or making them worse.

She also emphasized to keep working Chili in hand and having her be soft and reach into contact when I picked up the reins and walked and to not permit her to pull or evade. It's hard. I probably have neglected the walk (and the halt) and her response for too long. The walk is extra wiggly for both of us, so while walking, I find I need to focus more on having a soft contact through the back of my elbows and to relax my hand. Sounds counterintuitive, but once again, I tend to hold too much tension in my hand, since my joints (and especially my elbows) are so unable.

But since starting physical therapy, I am appreciating the awareness of how to bring my elbows into a neutral posture and to be aware of how to engage different muscle groups to stabilize the joint itself. Hopefully this will continue to pay off in the saddle!


I do look forward to riding with Jennifer again in the future and demonstrating progress. She thought Chili was super talented and once we put the pieces together, she will rapidly move up the levels. I can certainly hope and keep chipping away at the goal.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Happy 26th Birthday!

 

The 9th of April marked the Semi-Feral Mare's 26th birthday. I try each year to take birthday photos of my horses. It is sad to see as they age. Toplines drop, Donni has become much furrier due to her Cushing's disease, a few more lumps and bumps, but at the same time, I am glad they are with me.

Here's to another year to the toughest horse I've known. How many horses have lacerated arteries, displaced colons, survived aspiration pneumonia (multiple times!), had Potomac Horse Fever, and more... The one, the only, world's most expensive Semi-Feral Mare. ;)

But at least those soft, sweet eyes make up for it. Mostly.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Behind the Magic Curtain

Like the 52 Thoroughbreds in need of a home, certain things tend to make the rounds on social media.

One example of this is the supposedly long lived Arabian mare Magic.




Magic has made several newspapers and is pretty routinely shared online as being the "world's oldest Polish Arabian". Her owners have shared that she was supposedly born June 15th, 1969 and died in March of 2020. 

Unfortunately, this isn't the truth. A number of Arabian enthusiasts, including myself, looked into the heritage behind Magic when her owners shared her supposed registered name of Bint Suteza. 



Unfortunately the papers don't match up. The Arabian drawing above is taken from the registration records of the markings of the horse and doesn't record any white leg markings. Her color is also listed as a grey mare. While occasionally colors are recorded incorrectly, Bint Suteza had a grey foal by the bay stallion Rainpool Toro. This foal was confirmed to have been grey, so the grey gene had to come from Bint Suteza. The grey gene is dominant and thus is always expressed. 

So this information was presented to Magic's owners who have entirely disregarded it and have continued to promote their stable and facilities with this knowledge.

Also random sidenote. Bint Suteza isn't Polish. Why do people always think all stocky Arabian horses are Polish? So strange. ;)





This is supposed to be Magic at 44. Anyone else think this looks like a gelding?

So when this story inevitably makes the rounds again, you can know the truth behind the Magic curtain. While she looked like a wonderful mare, she was not Bint Suteza, not Polish, and invariably the age they claimed she was. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Remaking an Equestrian

 

Part of my realization these last few months is that I have been neglecting my own health. At first, I just thought it was my mental well being and obviously my occupation and the drag on those involved in the medical industry was pretty taxing.

But then I started to realize that I was putting off my own physical health. My hip pain after my surgery in October of 2018 had been worsening. It's been to the point that when I get on the horse, I usually spend the first five to ten minutes in two point just to relieve some of the stretch and pull on the affected hip.

I finally pulled the trigger and saw the orthopedic surgeon again who thought that I was overusing the hip and to take it easy. OK then. Probably not that then.

However, I did see a new rheumatologist since my previous one is retiring. This new provider was the first one that I felt like has really seen "me" in a long time. She thought that no, being pain free is not a realistic goal, however, she thought that a referral back to physical therapy was a good idea. She also had a textbook she was going to bring to my laboratory with a physical therapy regimen for others with Ehlers-Danlos like myself.

True to her word, she did drop off the textbook and I have dutifully begun my physical therapy sessions again. I have been in physical therapy off and on for twenty years, but for the first time, the whole goal is to stabilize the whole person and an emphasize on the body mechanics and knowing where the expected range of motion is.

One of the highlights from that first PT appointment is that I stand wrong. I apparently have always hyperflexed and locked my knees to stand instead of stabilizing with my quadriceps. I practice at work being mindful of this while standing around and I have to admit my quadriceps are sore! Who knew that actually standing correctly is difficult? ;)

The other major takeaway is that my elbows are very unstable and so I have always used the grip of my hands to stabilize what the elbow should. This makes sense as I often struggle with too tight of a grip on the reins and being inconsistent in the contact. I soften with the hand, but I cannot maintain connection through the elbow: there's been no tension since the collagen and connective tissue is way too lax and I haven't properly strengthened those muscles to try and help stabilize the joint itself.


So I am looking forward to more of 2021. I am working on establishing treatment plans with my physical therapist and have been feeding this information back to my riding coach (who has a strong interest in biomechanics and as a former nurse, knows anatomy!). Together, we have started making some different plans on how to continue to strengthen what I have and to improve communication with my horse.

Semi Feral Equestrian 2.0 coming right up in hopefully in six to twelve months of this PT plan!

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Longest Year Part II

 

More random vacation photos

Part two of the longest year recap. By this point, I had made it past Chili's accident but I still didn't really have any answers on why she was not really sound.

The laboratory was encountering shortages on a daily basis. Microbiologists grow bacteria on various agar plates (think petri dishes with special bacteria food). A lot of these are manufactured in specialty locations and ended up on month long back-orders. Bacteria can be picky and so on a daily basis, I made decisions on how to best serve the hospital and make sure critical results and testing could still be performed.

Sterile pipettes ended up on back-order since the increase in testing worldwide demanded sterile pipettes. Makes sense, but sterile pipettes are used everyday in other applications. Chlamydia and Gonorrhea testing supplies became unavailable since production facilities were focused solely on the COVID situation, which fair enough, except the rest of the world doesn't stop turning just for one disease. In many circumstances, STI testing isn't critical, but sometimes it is (as in for pregnant moms). Another chance to be nimble, greatly restrict testing, and once again, I became the gatekeeper of testing for the hospital. (I'm pretty sure there are a number of physicians and nurses out there that have my name on a dartboard somewhere for how many times I told them "no".)

My area did reach critical capacity once in the summer and I held my heart in my throat. Fortunately, hospitals in the area were shifting patients around to ensure critical care needs were met, but having every single room in a hospital filled made me wonder if we were going to become the next NYC.

My blood culture instrument reached maximum capacity. This had never happened before. What on Earth was going on in my life?

I gained twenty pounds. Not at all what I intended and a bit mortifying, but I am sure it was probably a few too many rum and cokes in the evening so I could finally sleep each night.

I decided to move barns so that I could see my horses on the way home from work. I didn't have the energy to drive an hour each way to and from work, then another 25 minutes out to the barn when I wanted to spend time with the horses.

In addition, the new barn provided a bit more specialized care so as things continued to unravel, I was at least certain my horses were alive.


I attempted to take some time to myself and socially distance at a horse show. Chili still wasn't sound, so I handled a few horses in hand for a friend and rode this cute Fjord under saddle.


He may have bucked once too in a different class, but we won both classes

Unfortunately, during this show, my new barn owner called. This was the beginning of my experience with presumed Potomac Horse Fever

Hospitals have to undergo inspections to retain accreditation and the same is for laboratories. During this time with Donni's illness was the same time my laboratory was inspected. My barn owner was amazing since my horse had daily IV antibiotics, fluids, and bloodwork being done while I was in an office with multiple inspectors pouring through every piece of paperwork imaginable from years prior.

I came through the inspection with flying colors and so did Donni.

Headed into fall, I ended up bringing Chili to the university and we finally had some advanced imaging done. A hock injection later and she was able to be put back into full work.

By October, I was exhausted. My husband and I booked a cabin for a middle of nowhere escape in my state and we left for a week, complete with our princess (also known as the poodle) in tow.

Doesn't she look like a princess?

We spent a week just hiking various trails and seeing waterfalls. It was just plain bizarre and I spent way too much of my time still checking work emails and worrying about if my coworkers were surviving.

October had another dramatic twist and Donni choked. She has choked before and her grain is wetted down, however, who knows what happened that time. The choke itself was fairly easy to clear, but she ended up aspirating and developing pneumonia. This is why after a horse chokes, I am always so fixated on taking a horse's temperature the following few days. If it spikes, it's probably pneumonia!

So for the second time in less than six months, Donni faced dire odds. Her bloodwork was actually more abysmal than her bout with PHF. An ultrasound wasn't promising either, but her attitude was still bright and she was eating. Most days, I was able to administer the IV antibiotics myself which made it still an extraordinarily expensive, but less than daily vet call level care of expense. She made it through once again.

What a tough, expensive animal.

Work life continued on. The situation in my state was still precarious. Then finally, the numbers began to relax just enough that we could start to catch up on work. I implemented more testing in the laboratory so I now had four analyzers capable of running COVID testing and had a system sent to send the majority of non-critical tests up to my sister laboratory an hour away, where a massive analyzer could run about 1200 specimens a day.

So much paperwork and things to catch up on. The administrative desk I used to sit at is still covered in papers from last winter. The projects I had intended to begin to implement still shelved in folders off to the side.

My day to day desk is my "work bench", where I actually work up cultures and the routine important testing in a hospital. I attend often five or more virtual meetings a week, while working and reading plates at the same time. Administrative days seem like a thing of the past. The new normal is keep soldiering on, no matter what. Finish the most critical projects and find alternatives when something else is now back-ordered or discontinued. Answer the always ringing phones.

Christmas Eve I received my first vaccine. The end of the year was marked by death of several family members close to my coworkers, but fortunately, my laboratory remained standing. My anxiety was always elevated as we are close knit and some things are so intricately tied into my job that it would be hard to be quarantined or worse--ill and unable to assist.

And now here were are almost at the end of March. It's been more than a year since I've seen a positive influenza in my laboratory. COVID is still a very daily thing, but the numbers have declined along with the frequent deaths.

The political games still drag on and the moral is often low. I have had other employees in the hospital, clearly with a poor understanding of laboratory testing in general, ask how I can change influenza results to positive COVID ones instead. How did I end up being the villain in a field where I have given up so much this year to help others. I am faceless. People in a hospital will never know who I am or my contribution or the long hours I have spent trying to make sure they make it home to their families.

If only they realized that the reimbursement for COVID testing is a fraction of what private insurance pays for influenza testing. I follow the science and the answers. I have no expectation of what I will find. Social media is often difficult. I can no longer expend energy on trying to correct people or even educate those who don't care to hear on how testing actually occurs in a laboratory.

I am hopeful that 2021 will continue to be better. I am tired. My coworkers are tired. But I have finally realized that while I put my life on hold and gave up much of my good energy, health, and resources to supporting my work in 2020, 2021 is the year that I need to find myself again.

It truly was the longest year.

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Longest Year

 Most of this post won't be about my horses, so sorry!

My attempt to find peace in 2020. Stayed at a cabin on a lake.

My day to day gig is as a hospital microbiologist. I was inspired by L. William's One Year in a Pandemic post and wanted to share some incredible things.

I was cleaning off my administrative desk a couple weeks ago and pulled down a notification bulletin from the state laboratory that I had dated to January 22nd. That was the first time that I had made notice of the novel Coronavirus. I had printed out the bulletin, hung it on my push board, and carried on like normal. Within a couple of weeks, I realized that I needed to make additional preparations. Like many hospital laboratory staff, I began attending webinars, started trying to gather supplies while being swept under in a wicked influenza season. My staff and myself were being overwhelmed by the volume of influenza testing and the escalating positivity rates.

One of the first confirmed positive cases in the country arose in a county nearby. At this point, I had implemented fairly aggressive cleaning and preparation practices in the laboratory. We had PPE, but almost no swabs to collect specimens. Ironically, as China and then Italy shut down, the precious viral nasopharyngeal swabs and viral transport media was no longer being produced. How was it that the countries that made these items were being most affected?

Every single swab would be accounted for and daily inventory taken for more than the next year. Every request logged so I could ensure there wasn't hoarding or inappropriate usage. I didn't realize that I would end up being the keeper of all testing and supplies in short order.

The second week of March 2020, things became very difficult. Hours of paperwork and samples were pouring in. I did not yet have testing in my laboratory and everything had to be funneled to the state. Every result was called. At times, various references laboratories opened testing and within days, would be swamped and shut down again. The phones never stopped ringing. Each day, counting swabs, controlling inventory, and trying to play referee in a game I never imagined.

My state then entered into a safer at home order in the middle of March. What happened next I never expected. We had been battling two fights: one with nCOV-2 (now named SARS-CoV-2) and one with influenza. The side-effect from the order was that influenza spread dropped dramatically. Testing decreased and supplies could finally be adjusted towards declared pandemic.

Mid-April, I was able to bring testing in-house. Safer for the staff who continued to soldier on, seeing a crushing amount of patients. I have never brought a test online in less than twenty-four hours. I wrote almost sixty pages of documents to bring this test in. Every test in a laboratory has to be validated, have samples run, a plan, a procedure, training, and so on. It was an incredible rush, but we are feeling exhausted.

I had originally planned on visiting family in May, but that vacation time was rescinded. While I had initially been hopeful that people would continue to hunker down, it became clear that something else much more sinister was lurking under the surface.

People died. I wish I could share their stories. I'm just a microbiologist, but I know their names. I have some of the specimens forever frozen, others sent for genetic sequencing and surveillance.

I did find some time outdoors in October

I realized about this time in May that things were not going to quiet down the way that so many scientists had hoped. I had the sinking feeling we had tipped past the point of no return...

Time to gather my feelings for the second half of the year.