Friday, December 28, 2018

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Another perspective from a horse show volunteer and exhibitor

In this day and age, showing horses is expensive. Everyone I know is trying to make money last and to do more with less.  I am a millennial and I was raised by someone that knew how to stretch every dollar. When I was fortunate to begin to show horses as a young adult, I just didn't understand why horse shows were so expensive.

It wasn't until I began volunteering, not just at the shows, but serving on committees and looking at budgets to get an in depth understanding of some of  the issues currently plaguing horse shows today.

The bad: one of the most discouraging things with hosting horse shows is the ever rising expenses, coupled with the decreasing number of volunteers. For those that have not yet volunteered on a show committee, here are some of the expenses for an open show: ribbons, insurance, judge, facility, food and drinks, shavings, office staff and supplies, announcer, and prizes. If hosting a rated show, the costs skyrocket supporting all of the previous and then adding in steward costs, USEF and drug testing costs, breed or discipline fees, and much more. One thing I have noticed in recent years is that positions that a show used to have volunteers to support some of the key positions necessary for a show including a gate and paddock manager, announcer, and barn manager. However, this is no longer realistic at many shows. Each year there are fewer volunteers, increasing the burden on the remaining few.

How do shows and committees encourage the increase in volunteers? I have heard suggestions of reaching out to 4H and pony clubs. Every committee I know has done so with very little yield. Where are the people that used to volunteer between classes or on days they did not show? They no longer exist.  One show I know tried to make it easier for club members to see what type of volunteers were needed by inputting everything online and members could just click and sign up for a four hour shift. Unfortunately, there was little response and there were a large number of volunteers that did not show up to assist at the show.

There has also been suggestions for financial incentives for volunteers in terms of payment or gift cards given for shifts worked. Has anyone seen this increase volunteerism? I have seen it tried a few times without much success, but I would be curious if there needs to be a better system created to ensure participation.  However, with most shows barely breaking even or running a financial negative, I am wary of increasing expenditures without a good promise of success.

The good: in spite of all this negativity, I have seen so many positive things. I have seen a small group of people that continue to give so much to keep clubs and shows going. These workhorses are the backbone of these little clubs and committees and deserve an immense amount of thanks. Behind every small open show are some exhausted volunteers that have given up a large amount of time to ensure participants can enjoy some quality time with their horses.

The ugly: shows and clubs are dying out by the minute. Many are in precarious situations. I have personally seen many profitable shows struggling to break even, despite slashing budgets and trying to save a dollar in every possible way. As shows raise costs to try and break even, attendance declines. Volunteers decline and then show expenses rise. The end is in sight for many of these events without some kind of drastic change.

I believe that these shows and clubs can be saved if more individuals cared. Investments need to be made with time and sponsorships. Additional volunteers are needed to step up to ease the burden on the few that remain. If more members joined clubs and the committees, they could look at the budgets, offer suggestions, and perhaps, save these dwindling clubs and shows.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Two Weeks Out

Photo from the last show of the summer with Chili.  Who would think that pesky left hip would be sliced open eight weeks later?

I officially had my surgery two weeks ago and I have to say, I have been doing great.

I read a lot (too much) information beforehand and had quite frankly ended up terrified.  Some folks having more pain after surgery and I really was wondering I had signed myself up for something I would regret.

But two weeks into this adventure, I have no regrets at all. Tomorrow I return to work and I have to say, I am looking forward to it.

Today I met with my surgeon and he was able to show me images from the surgery and give a better explanation of what he found.  Essentially, he was much more conservative and decided not to do as much "reshaping" or suturing as initially indicated on my imaging. He did remove a bunch of torn labral material, but left another portion which, while torn, is still smooth and laying in the correct location.  His feeling as a high performance person himself, is that suturing or provoking that part of my hip would possibly introduce a problem where that wasn't actually the problem (but it certainly was evident on my imaging!). 

The best part of my visit today was because I didn't have a lot of heavy hardware in my hip, I could be weight bearing and get wean off of my crutches, as long as I don't feel I need them to steady my gait.  Hurrah!

Hoping that I will be able to be in the saddle sooner than later.  I have a lot of plans hopefully for 2019!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Surgery on the Horizon

This past year has been one where I feel like I have been primarily whining, which really isn't my goal.  It's been a search for some answers with myself and tools to hopefully improve my riding.

One thing is my Ehlers-Danlos diagnosis.  The second recent thing that has been the diagnosis of a FAI and a labral tear in my hip.  Some people choose to avoid surgery, but after struggling with physical therapy and the pain getting substantially worse over the past six months or so, I have the surgery scheduled for this upcoming Monday.

To say I am anxious about it may be an understatement. 

My surgeon said in the preop appointment that to expect four to six months out of the saddle.  I think these semi feral horses are going to be really quite feral by the end of that vacation, but hopefully some good friends will help keep them civilized.

Chili has been injured since September anyway with a large hematoma that is slowly going down, but was so large, she actually has stretch marks and butt wrinkles from it.  I am sure she appreciates the time off.

So the 48 hour countdown is on. Wish me luck and I am hoping to come back better than ever in 2019 in the saddle.

Monday, August 20, 2018

What A Pain

I have much to catch up on.  Mostly it's a combination of disappointing shows and frustrating life in general.

However, it does seem more of this is tying together.  After a recent diagnosis with Ehlers-Danlos, I was referred to physical therapy for hip pain.  I dutifully attended PT and learned useful things like how to stand on one foot, which I have never actually been able to accomplish before. 

Unfortunately during one round of physical therapy, something distinctly went crunch that probably shouldn't have been crunchy.  The therapist suggested contacting my provider and asking for imaging.

The good news is that imaging was ordered quickly.  The initial radiographs showed Femoroacetabular Impingment which essentially meant that excess bone had been laid down in the hip socket and was rubbing.  Makes sense to a certain point.  I was having difficult moving my left leg back and it would just be stuck or frozen.

An MRI with contrast was ordered to see the status of the labrum.  I was not impressed with the radiologist who injected lidocaine first which was supposed to numb the area before the contrast was injected.  Unfortunately, he went to down with the contrast as he was teaching a young radiologist the procedure and I don't think he really let the lidocaine do the whole numbing thing.

10/10 don't recommend doing it without some kind of pain block

The office called the next morning and said they were putting in a referral to one particular orthopedic surgeon as he's the only one in network who will touch this surgical case.  The labrum is badly torn, but the Ehlers-Danlos diagnosis complicates surgery.

So now I wait until I actually meet this doctor.

Not really sure what to think or plan.  I want the hip to heal and have a chance of not being in pain, however, five or six months of no riding seem to be a bit much.  I was hoping to go to Sport Horse Nationals in the fall of 2019, but I don't know if turning my horse out to be absolutely feral for six months is the way to accomplish that. 

Anyone else have a similar hip surgery?  It would be nice to be a little less crooked and who knows, it may be the magical key to accurately riding a 20 meter circle. ;) 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Another Birthday!

I missed celebrating the Semi Feral Filly's birthday.

OK she's seven years old, but she's still my silly filly.

Enjoy the photos that I took on May 8th, her birthday!

I had just finished bodyclipping her, hence the really pale look, but not too bad for my first real attempt at a proper body clip!

Monday, May 21, 2018

White with Black Stripes?

“When you hear hoofbeats, it’s most likely a horse and not a zebra.”

Part of my struggle as a rider and as an equestrian in general has been pain related.  I have always suffered from a bit of poor luck.  Growing up, I had numerous dislocations and soft tissue injuries: shoulders, knee, ankles, you name it, I injured it.
This horse is also injury prone

In college, I started having some additional chronic pain issues.  Headaches, GI pain, and exhaustion.

By the time I ended up in graduate school, it had combined with some serious drug and food allergies and I was very sick indeed and not a very pleasant person to be around.

It was a time where I ended up with a lot of testing, not a lot of results, and many vague labels and syndromes attached to my chart.

I brought up my concerns to my previous primary care physician who shrugged and was indifferent about my concerns.  After a switch in insurance, I saw my new primary care physician who seemed intrigued by a challenge.  I ended up in a rheumatologist's office (and by far the youngest in the waiting room) and have the diagnosis which I've suspected for the past six or seven years: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. 

There are different types.  Some much more severe than others.  I am pretty lucky in the sense that my classification doesn't involve some of the most serious consequences.

I am not sure why I feel a bit relieved to finally have just one diagnosis on my chart with everything else still correlating.  The pain is still difficult, but I find the fatigue to be even more aggravating. There are some days that going to the grocery store, I get to the car and just have to sit there before having the energy to drive home.  Work is often a similar affair with just sitting after a shift is done before my hour long commute home.

Anyone else dealing with similar issues?  I have finally ventured onto a couple of EDS related Facebook pages and there are some equestrians, but many more that are concerned on how dangerous equestrian sports are, which is certainly true.  My last major shoulder injury was from showing two excitable yearlings.  I subluxated my pelvis in a dressage lesson the other year and I am having a very difficult time with SI pain on my poor, crooked little horse. 

But in the end, I can't imagine anything else right now?  Even if I am a zebra, I want to hang out with the horses.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Horse Fair

The other weekend was the Midwest Horse Fair, which is a large equine expo in my area.  Vendors, demonstrations, clinicians, and all the usual equine goodness.

The past few years I have been pretty busy with actually taking care of horses at the expo.  Everyone usually thinks it's a great time to take horses to the expo.  But I disagree.  It's not so fun.  You are essentially tied to 5,284 things you need to do a day that if you get 5 seconds to leave the area to run to the restroom, you are bound to run into one of the five thousand equestrians you know and probably one you don't want to know and he or she will inevitably want to chat for at least fifteen minutes to the point that you will be late for your next adventure and not have time to actually use the restroom.  

Riding with Jec Ballou.  I look terrified.  I basically was, LOL!  

But I digress.  My point is that I had zero horses to care for this year.  I just was helping with the Morab and Arabian breed areas and then the rest of the weekend was mine to do as I please.  I brought my camera for a couple days and shot some images of the Arabian, Morab, and Fjord groups just to play around and see if I can improve my photography.

That being said, shooting fast moving horses in dark arenas is certainly a challenge.

I did a little bit of shopping, but I didn't find as many deals as I would have hoped.  I watched a few different clinicians, including Clinton Anderson, but the nice thing with not having to pay per auditing experience, I didn't feel I had to stick it out so I left after a few minutes of CA. 

Here are a few of my favorites images from the weekend.

What's your favorite part of equine expos?  Do you usually get to watch demos?  Clinicians?  Shopping?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Birthday Girl!

 Happy 23rd Birthday to the Original Semi Feral Mare

She's managed to survive some hairy situations including a large colon displacement, an arterial leg laceration, and pneumonia!  Tough stuff for sure.

A friend rode her yesterday and she was still absolutely full of P&V.  Twenty-three going on approximately five years old.  :)

A little more hairy this year.  She was diagnosed last fall with Cushing's, but so far, so good.  Just maintaining the coat and needs to be bodyclipped, but if that's the extent of our troubles, I'll be thankful.

So happy birthday sassy grey momma mare.  Hope we can celebrate many more.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Snapshots and Beyond

Something I've been casually interested in the past few years is photography.

I've never had a formal class and to be honest, I haven't invested a great deal of effort into trying to understand a lot of the detailed information in getting the best performance from my camera which is a Nikon D5000.

 This past year, I have just started playing around and my 2018 goal is to be more competent and have more technically skill in the camera compared to just random lucky shots.

I am not particularly interested in being a professional, but rather improving another skill set.  I've joined a few equine photography groups and it is nice to see some generally helpful individuals sharing settings and offering feedback to all the aspiring equestrian photographers and hobbyists out there.  :)

One other thing that I'm excited about this year is that I received a nice Tamron F2.8 lens for Christmas so I should be able to hopefully play around in some lower light (read: indoor arena) situations and try to maintain some quality of images. 

I am also interested in slowly beginning to understand how to manipulate images in a more useful format in Lightroom and Photoshop.  A coworker and avid photography hobbyist is doing a self-based online class with LR & Photoshop and her insight has been a big motivator and inspiration to just push beyond just randomly clicking buttons, to hopefully one day understanding what I am doing and to be able to take simple objects out of the background like unattractive fencing.

We will see how it goes!

Any other photography enthusiasts out there?  Any resources you like to share or input for a hobbyist that would like to take the next jump?  :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Regionals 2017

With my 2017 absence from the blog, I wanted to bring forth some positive things that happened in 2017.

One was showing at regionals.  The last time I showed at regionals was in 2014 and Chili was three years old.  We showed in two in-hand classes and managed to be regional champion in both of them.

I didn't have as high of expectations, but of course, it would always be great to place again.  There are some phenomenal horses in my region that usually take top honors on the national level. 

My dressage classes weren't as spectacular as I had hoped.  I failed to keep track of time and somehow managed to get on my horse as they were ringing the bell to go into the ring.  Because of my work schedule and illness, I hadn't ridden my horse for three days.  So I went into the ring on a blustery cold day with a storm on the horizon on a baby Arabian that hadn't been ridden in three days.

But to be honest, it was OK.  I am slowly learning to be more confident in different situations.  I need to work through my show nerves to be a more effective rider in the ring. 

But on the positive side, I did end up with a regional top five in hand and a reserve regional championship as well in amateur and open sport horse in hand.

Both mares that beat me are absolutely high quality mares.  One with a previous national championship.

I am proud of my little backyard bred, rough board kept, self-trained semi feral. 

Plus she does a pretty awesome bowing trick which looks pretty snazzy in rosettes. 

Our goal now is to keep improving our skills undersaddle with setting goals to attend the 2019 Arabian Sport Horse Nationals which will just be held a couple hours from us!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Lesson Reflection

I've had a few lessons lately on Mr Montana.  While it's a bit of a drive (1.5 hours one way, a big deal here), I feel that I've been trying to learn more feel to take back to my own semi feral horses.

One of my last lessons, I was working on simple changes, which of course, seems simple enough.  In theory. 

However, this isn't theory and this is my life, so nothing is ever truly simple.

Montana is well schooled, so by taking him across the diagonal, he was anticipating flying changes.  It was a good example for me to play around what truly a mysterious half halt is from horse to horse.  For me, I ended up having to close his shoulders with my knees, sink my weight back in my stirrups and then ask him to slow on the outside rein.  If I just stopped cantering with my body, he'd come to a halt and if I didn't close his shoulders and just changed the bend, he would do a flying change. 

It is also harder for me as I am very asymmetric from left to right.  Most of us have a strong side and a weak side, but I've had a plethora of injuries on my left side that have created a very strong right side and a left side that's along for the ride.  Riding a well trained horse points this out just about each time I ride him. 

At least at this point and time, I have stopped (mostly) running over my instructor while cantering to the left.  Some days it's a little suspect still.  

Much to still work on.  This was from this past summer.  Hopefully making progress.

However, I am making progress tweaking the small things like proper geometry and a good square halt.  It's enlightening to ride a well trained horse to realize I need to basically half halt and warn the horse before going from movement to movement.

Of course, you always hear about this, but always riding green horses, I haven't always been very good at preplanning what I need to do and subsequently, have at times, been unfair to the horse.

Oh look, I'm going to halt at X.  OK, at X I ask for the halt, the horse slams on the brakes, dumps on the forehand, and the head goes up.

This last lesson, I was circling and coming in to halt at X and a few strides before, my instructor had me prepping for the halt, reminding the horse, and amazing enough, by the time I completely closed my legs and asked for the halt, I was exactly on X, straight, and square.

Who would have thought?

My goal today is to ride Chili and do at least 5 quality trot to halt transitions, focusing on straightness with proper preparation and impulsion into the halt.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Return 2018 Style

It's been a long time.

Probably way too long for anyone who may have previously followed by blog to still be around, but that's OK.

I have been here, doing my thing.  I often suffer from "too much on the plate" and then get stressed and frustrated when I ignore some aspect of my life and then ignoring it seems to be the best solution.

But I decided I like blogging.  I like seeing progress, history, and everything else.

I'll see if I can touch base on some of the major highlights of the past year, but the Semi Feral horses are still here and mostly feral.  :)  

I'm, as always, working on being slightly less feral one day at a time.

One goal in 2018 I've had is to try and develop a little bit better feel by riding a schoolmaster type horse. 

Meet Montana

Montana is a pony sized Morgan stallion who has been shown through PSG.  I'm 5'11" so of course, in perfect logic, I'm now riding a pony who I think is 13.3 or so. 

That's me above riding.  Obviously still much to improve :) 

But it's been enlightening.  I own Arabians and riding a smaller horse means I have to be much more aware of my seat and aids in order to be most effective.  To ask for a good transition, I need to get out of their way and not inadvertently dump them on the forehand. 

Previously, riding larger horses, I felt they could tolerate and handle some more ineffectiveness or instability in my seat than my little sport cars can.

I am also hoping to show Montana a couple times to gain confidence in the show arena. 

Let's see how it goes!