25 May 2015

Ooops, I was wrong!

    Mea culpa!

   I was wrong!

   A dear friend of mine, one whom is on her third Warmblood, begs to differ with me regarding warmbloods not doing endurance.

   Her Holsteiner mare did a 25. One of her friends has an Oldenburg that 'routinely' does 50's.

    I'm glad to be wrong. 

23 May 2015

19 May 2015

Endurance riding diversifies

   Sometime during the mid 70’s, (perhaps 1975), I witnessed my first endurance ride. Even then, in its infancy, endurance was a sport of Arabians.
At that time in my life, I was a fan of Arabians. All other breeds (and there were fewer, back then) were below Arabians, in my view. Not that I disliked other breeds, it was just…I was devoted to the Arabian breed.

   Finally free from parental prison, I went solely to wallow in horses. I had no car and no way to get to it, other than a hugely expensive taxi, but I was a horse crazy Yankee in a not so horsey state called North Carolina, and I had been horseless for too long. So I attended what may have been the Old Dominion Ride.

   Of course, being horseless, carless and a stranger to all, I didn’t have much in the way of ‘fun’ but I did learn a few things. One was: one doesn’t snag an aged mare out of her pasture, throw a silver encrusted western saddle on her and ride 20 miles without repercussions. The owner, an idiot through and through, had no idea what ‘conditioning’, ‘training’ or even ‘sympathy’ meant. He thought, it’s a horse; I’m going to compete on her, despite the fact that she’s spent most of her life being pasture jewelry.
   The mare staggered in after a hot, humid 20 mile forced march and collapsed. She may have died. She certainly looked as if she were dying, and most damning of all, the owner wasn’t concerned. He was angry. Stupid horse. That’s how it was back then, with many folks-horses were merely animated machines.

   Twenty years later, I was living in Texas, was older, wiser, and now a professional equine massage therapist. The vast majority of my clients were endurance Arabians. I attended several rides, this time working on horses for money.  

  The difference was astounding. Endurance horses now were  athletes, as highly trained and fed as any human Olympian. Diets were finely tuned to each horse. Electrolytes were added to the water.  The riders rode in endurance saddles that may have weighed ten pounds. The sport was highly regulated, with veterinarians in attendance checking every aspect of the horse (screw the rider!) and pulling a horse in a newyorkminute based solely on his or her subjective opinion. If a horse was pulled, the rider seldom bitched. In fact, the rider often was the one to make the difficult decision, should I pull him or should I ride on. Most of the time, they erred on the side of caution and pulled…and no one derided her for her decision. Public opinion, that of his or her peers, had more influence on the rider/owner than the desire to ‘win’. The phrase was, (and still is, rightly so) “to finish is to win”.
     Endurance had become a sport, not a competition. It had also morphed into more: a team effort. It mattered very much now, what condition was the horse, how willing was he to ‘go the distance’. It is no longer ‘winning is everything’. The highest accolade at an endurance ride is NOT ‘who came in first’, although that is important. No, the highest achievement, the highest compliment one can pay to an endurance rider is: Best Condition. If your horse crosses the finish line looking a bit tired but willing to go another 100, that is the highest of compliments on the rider/trainer/owner.

   But one thing hadn’t changed: the vast majority of horses were Arabians. Up until the 90’s (and mind you, this is just my observations), it was an odd duck indeed for the horse to not be Arabian. One ride I worked at, Bandera, had over a hundred entries and only a handful of horses weren’t Arabian. In fact, two were mules.
   (Mules that, at the 35 mile mark of a planned 50 mile ride, both decided to stop. Not a step further would they go. Indeed, the “ambulance’…a horse trailer dedicated to rescuing a horse that broke down on the trail…had to be dispatched to get them both. They willingly loaded, in fact they ‘JUMPED” on the trailer.  They were ridden by a mother and daughter team, and  boy, you should have heard THEM bitch when they finally got back to ridecamp. That’s how I learned that the mules had stopped solely out of mulishness. Nothing was wrong other than they decided they were done.)

   Six or seven years ago, I did another endurance ride, this time as a scribe for my horse vet. I began to see a change. There were a few more breeds competing. Appaloosas, especially, were beginning to compete.

First vet check

   This past weekend, I scribed again for the same veterinarian. I saw a BIG change in the population. It isn’t just Arabians anymore, although they still are the dominant breed to ride if you want to win, or even compete at a high level. But there were several appaloosas, mustangs, outright ‘grades’(a term designating an unregistered, parentage uncertain horse  that is almost extinct in this day of registries), pasos, Tennessee walkers, ponies, and, most encouragingly, Thoroughbreds.
Trail rider
   Thoroughbreds! Now the TB has always been a breed that has been used not just for racing, but hunting, eventing, and jumping. But seldom has one been ridden in endurance. To see several doing endurance just tickled me. My vet and I, like all horsemen, would ask the riders their horse’s breeding. In this race’s case, all of the TB’s we saw..at least four! were off the track. One was not only a beautiful dark bay, but had a perfect chevron on his forehead.

   They were doing endurance. Endurance! No one-not even the riders-expected them to turn in the fastest times, but the fact that folks are using them in yet another sport is wonderful. Thoroughbred racing is a dying sport. 

    Horse breeds that are unable to adapt to changing cultures and sports don’t survive. When was the last time you saw a purebred Saddlebred, (not one crossed with an Arab)? (in my opinion, the only reason anyone still has Saddlebreds is to cross them with Arabs, resulting in a """National Show Horse""". This ''breed' combines the worst characteristics of both breeds). 
    Saddlebreds hardly exist anymore. During the 50's, they were the darlings of the show world. That was when a 'gaited horse" (even if the gait was artificially induced and enhanced with chains, blisterings, and shoes five inches high) was all the rage. But you seldom find a Saddlebred anymore. They have too many problems: wobbles, spinal issues, low fertility and stallions with a reputation for being vicious. The things the breeders/show breeders did to the poor beasts' tail and the way they were shod in order to get that 'big lick' should be a crime. They were bred solely for the show ring.
 Click on the following link to see what I mean: http://www.writingofriding.com/in-the-media/artificial-horse-abuse/
Saddlebred tails have to be BROKEN in order to get them to  "flag", and must then be kept in a 'set' for the rest of the horse's life.

Saddlebred's feet. This website, by the way, is excellent and this is my way of trying to cite it.

Could a Saddlebred, naturally shod, do endurance? I doubt it. Only because there's been almost a century of breeding them for one specific trait, and an artificially enhanced trait at that. 

Thoroughbreds are still athletes, with the urge to GO bred into them, and I am happy to see them. 

   Another breed substantially under represented in endurance is the quarter horse. They dominate trail riding, but not endurance.  I saw only one horse at this ride that was a ¼ quarter horse. QH’s were bred to go very fast, to be able to turn on a dime, to hustle cattle, NOT go 100 miles in a 24 hour period. They just don’t have the physiological makeup for it. I’m not slamming QH’s…when it comes to herding cows, or barrel racing, or rodeo, there is no better horse breed. 
      However, most Quarter Horses can’t even do that. It comes from breeding for the show ring.  ‘Show breeding’ has destroyed the original Quarter Horse. Having worked at my neighbor’s QH breeding farm during my teen years, I can tell you that QH’s were bred to LOOK good at halter. But the fashionistas ruined them for riding. They were bred for fashionably small feet that usually developed into navicular at a young age, and sloping backs that couldn’t carry a saddle (see “Impressive back”  named for the stallion by that name). My neighbor’s stallion was 15 hands, weighed 1200 lbs.  (550 kilos) and had 00 feet…the same size feet of a small Arabian. Even more telling, my neighbors would breed 80 mares a season, and none of the resulting foals were handled or trained to do anything more than carry a halter. So many of their foals developed navicular (sometimes as early as two years old) that I was forbidden to answer any questions about it from prospective buyers. 
     QH’s bred for the halter ring, and lately, ‘western equitation’ have navicular almost from birth, and saddles just don’t sit right on them without a lot of padding. Impressive, also, was the stallion responsible for the disease HYPP. There’s also a disease from another overbred line that results in the subcutaneous skin to ‘dissolve”.

    For some reason I cannot fathom, the QH show breeders want their horses fat. I mean FAT…I remember seeing an ad for a QH stallion that was advertised as being 16 hands (big for a QH) and 1600 pounds (730 kilos)!! Why? Well, fat hides a lot of faults. 
Take a look at this ad I clipped from the 'net, from "Ellis Quarter Horses". Read the caption. This picture is (I believe) taken of the horse as a YEARLING:
Can anyone out there who knows anything about breeding horses explain why he "had very few foals"??? I mean, Duh??. I'd be scared to death to let this monster mount a mare...but then, most QH's are bred AI, so perhaps the point is moot.
Here is another picture of a QH mare, this one with Impressive in her lines:

   My god, she looks like a Beefmaster steer. I feel so sorry for horses kept like this. This mare, also, had problems holding to a breeding. Keeping horses fat keeps veterinarians in business.
    There is no way you would dare to put a horse like this in an endurance race. Not only would they overheat, they'd have problems getting out of their own way. That is, if you could find a saddle to fit the horse.
    Just to balance things and to prove I'm not really anti-QH, I tried to find a picture of a fat arabian.
I couldn't find one. I think that means NOT that Arabs can't be fat, just that Arabians have a different physiological attributes. QH's are bred to be bulky, Arabs are bred to be thin.  
     In the last, oh, twenty years, all the spirit seems to have been bred out of the Quarter Horse. The show breeders didn’t want a horse that had any ‘let’s go!” in them. They wanted a dead quiet horse, one that would plod along at western equitation speeds, ‘loping’ (cantering) so slowly that a human in boots could easily keep alongside the horse, and ‘jogging’ (trotting) that the same human could WALK the horse in hand. I even heard of people injecting the horse’s tail with botulin in order to kill the nerves, so that the horse’s tail hung perfectly quietly. The fact that the horse could no longer use the tail as a fly whisk didn’t mean a damned thing to these shitheads.    

   Wait, I just thought of another ‘set’ of breeds: warmbloods. Haven’t seen a Warmblood doing endurance yet.  Warmbloods were bred to be riding horses. I know that, having had the distinct pleasure to ‘graduate’ to warmbloods after a lifetime of riding ‘other breeds”. Once you’ve ridden a Warmblood, you know what a riding horse REALLY feels like. But, at this time, I don’t see them being used for endurance. Yet. 

   Before I close up this post, though, I have to mention another change. It seems the AERC (American Endurance Riding Council) has grouped a lot of endurance related sports together. There was the regular Endurance ride. There was a small, elite group that was FEI regulated. They even had to be kept separated from other endurance riders, why, I don’t know. There were “trail riders”…folks who, I guess, were there merely for the fun, not attempting to win points, and finally, Ride and Tie.

   R+T was a sport that came about, again, in the 70’s. I thought it’d died out, but no.
It was based on the supposedly Indian (Native American) way of moving a lot of people fast with relatively few horses. The modern way is the same as the original strategy: two riders, one horse. Both start at the same time. The rider rides out a set distance (of course, quickly outdistancing the second person, who is on foot.). Rider rides, say, 5 miles and dismounts, ties the horse to a tree, and starts running. Runner runs five miles, finds the horse, mounts and rides fire miles, passing the first one on the way. I believe they did the R+T at distances of 25 miles.
Ride and Tie Canadian team-look at the tutu!
   There were three teams. One team was a mother/daughter team (with a grey Arabian, of course) who’d driven all the way from WHITE HORSE. (For the non-North American, White Horse is a town in Yukon Territory, Canada, a distance of 1800 miles (2918 kilometers) from Trout Lake, Washington State. I can tell you, bringing a horse across the international border is NOT for the easily intimidated by pencil necked Border agent. Be prepared for a lot of harassment. )
   Not only did they do this solely for fun, they had fun doing it. They dressed in spangled tutus. I am not kidding. While the rest of us 'southerners' were in layers three deep (you can't see it, but the wind was blowing hard and it was COLD.), these Canucks were dressed, well, like this. It was mostly because they were going to be running, but STILL...
    We appreciated their sense of humor. I was told by my vet that in endurance riding, ‘if you see a horse tied to a tree, LEAVE him there’. He  also told of a ride he worked where both runners came in on foot. Where was the horse? Still tied to a tree in the woods, fifteen miles out…

    Endurance has changed. For the better.  

11 May 2015

"Wolf Hall"-masterful, simply masterful

    This post has nothing to do with horses, so if you're not interested, pass by, please.

    Now, I don't watch a whole lot of fiction ( of any sort..comedy, drama, etc) on TV (nor do I read it). But one day, while flipping through the channels, I fell into an incredibly faithfully portrayed world I knew very little about...the masterfully presented "Wolf Hall". 
    This 'mini-series' of six episodes portrays Thomas Cromwell and his king, King Henry VIII.

     Until the 60's, I'd never heard of Henry the Eighth until Peter Noonan of the Herman's Hermits sang about being one. Of course, being a reading nut, I did a little research and learned about the real Henry VIII and all his women. "Divorce" and "the Reformation" didn't mean much to a ten year old American girl, and truth be told, I didn't learn a thing about English history. For that matter, I didn't learn much about AMERICAN history. This is due to the fact that I went to a Catholic school, and while I learned all about the ''missionaries" who brought Catholicism to the Indian tribes (all of whom had managed for ten thousand years without a Jesus or virgin birth or the sacraments just fine), I learned virtually nothing of secular American history. I learned a little about the American Revolution, but that's as far as Catholic teaching went. Though I'd become atheist in second grade, I was taught that all religions save Catholicism were pagan ones.  Don't start me on religion, I think it's been the worst thing to ever happen to the human species.

    Although I'd never purposefully researched the Tudors, somehow I learned about Ann Boleyn, and Henry the same way I've learned so much other stuff..through osmosis. I'd heard the name Cromwell, but I thought the series meant Oliver, not Thomas. 

  The producers of "Wolf Hall", being British, assumed the watchers know all about Eight and his wives. Being American, I had to do some research online to know the whole story. Adding difficulty, the dialogue in Wolf Hall is remarkably spare, and I'm sorry to say, I have some problems understanding British accents. I was lucky, though, in that not one, but THREE stations in my area were running Wolf Hall, (although none on the same schedule, so I was treated to seeing Thomas More beheaded and then, next episode, remarkably restored to reptilian, slimy life). Thus I was able to reconstruct what was said and get a real handle on the machinations.

   To get to the meat of this post...INCREDIBLE. The acting is superb throughout, although I found Foy to be shallow. Now that I think it through, though, perhaps that was the point. Foy made Ann so disagreeable, so ruthless in her drive to win the King, so despicably careless of anyone save herself, that I didn't feel any empathy for her...until her final scene. Once she was blindfolded, Foy hit the highest notes of her performance. I've never seen credible, believable performances of real terror until this scene. Her terror was palpable. For a moment she made me believe she was about to vomit with fear. 

   Damien Lewis was so totally in the role. The first scene I watched, (the one I came upon while channel surfing) was early on, when Cromwell is in that sumptous garden, surrounded by Henry's sycophants. It may have been episode two. No matter. Lewis, on screen, fairly rippled with well contained malice. Everything about him screamed, danger, this man can have you killed with the snap of finger. Yet it was merely a 'conversation', and right then I was hooked as surely as a trout on the line.
The most masterful scene of the entire series, in my opinion, was when Ann, surrounded by the court, approached the throne 'begging Your Majesty, no more jousting'. He beckons his queen, the woman he moved heaven and earth to wed, forward with an expression of kindness, a bit of humor, come closer, little girl,...and turns instantly into a spitting cobra, his words "Geld me while you're at it! That would suit you, wouldn't it, madam?" skewering her through like shrapnel. No doubt in MY mind what THAT meant.

   Thomas Rylan (?), who portrayed Cromwell, didn't have to say what he was thinking. You knew it. You knew, when he approached Henry after the executions, that he was loathe to even touch the King. You knew, as he stood on the executioner's platform, that he was realizing that one day, probably sooner than he wished, he would be the one losing his head.  You could feel his fury, controlled, waiting, waiting for his chance to wreak his vengeance on the simpering courtiers who'd mocked Cardinal Worsley.

What incredible acting.  I found a website with all the names and photos of the actors and the roles they played, so I was able to piece together who was who.

   Rather mean spirited, I found a Catholic website that advises good Catholics NOT watch the series. They (perhaps the Church itself) dislike Wolf Hall's portrayal of Thomas More. That name was familiar to me, More's being a saint.  However, once again, my schooling only said More was a saint, and didn't go much further than that.  The Church doesn't want its people to know that More was evil, and hid behind the skirts of the Pope. I shouldn't be surprised, then, at the church's insistence on Catholics continuing to believe that More was anything but a saintly, holy man, unfairly and unjustly executed by a pagan king's order. Let's not dwell on the facts that he was as willing to torture a human being, a fellow Catholic,in order to 'save his soul'. As if the man didn't count, just his soul? Pffft.

    Quite possibly the most chilling of all dialogue in the entire series was when Cromwell chastises More. I"m paraphrasing here, but Cromwell said of More's evilness: 'you racked the man so mercilessly he had to be carried to the flames in a chair'". (I would have had the line read "in a basket"). That one line summed up the entire character of More, and more, the utter cruelty the Church was capable of. Can you imagine a person, so disjointed in such a painful, slow and cruel manner that he couldn't walk, and then being burnt alive, solely because he wanted a Bible written in English?  The actor portraying More couldn't have been more oilily perfect.

    I've found that the mark of a truly excellent fictional novel is to miss the characters once you've finished it. I can say that now of a film, "Wolf Hall".

03 May 2015

A horrible week

          My cat, Diamond, had no more problems after her stomach surgery.

        I brought her home on 22 April. Earth Day.

        I hadn't been home more than half an hour when my phone rang. It was my brother, Matt.
        Now, as kids growing up, we didn't have much to do with each other. However, as we've both aged and matured into human beings, we have grown close, even though he lives over 3000 miles from me. The phone and the internet are wonderful things.

       Matt was a jock. Strong, good looking, and with a temperament that is kind, gentle and full of humor, Matt has always been the charismatic one. He's a nice guy. He had it all... a good solid marriage, his one and only, to a lovely wife whom he adores (unlike me, who's on her third marriage), two great kids who are highly skilled, well paid (my niece is a newly minted doctor) and decent citizens. Matt never had to look for a job...he was always 'in the right place, at the right time' to land a good one. He's never been out of work. He went back to school to get his Master's in Engineering. He built his own house. He's a devout Catholic. He has good friends in high places, ones who've helped him out when he needed it. He has a job that is both stressful and yet rewarding, one that he handles well and pays him well.

I never knew Matt to not have a laugh just bubbling under the surface. When he got that shiteating grin, you knew you were about to be teased, let into a joke, or told a funny story. 
Matt, in other words, has had a fairly charmed life.

    Until now. 

     Matt was calling from the ER in his home town. They were shopping for an upcoming trip to Spain when his wife, my sister in law, noticed that his mouth was drooping. They immediately rushed to the hospital where an MRI discovered that Matt has a brain tumor.

   A big one. A malignant one (now we know, after a nail biting week of waiting on the path report.)

     He has brain cancer.

     Less than 48 hours after the MRI found the tumor, Matt underwent brain surgery. They took out a golf ball sized tumor from behind his right eye.

   I literally had to sit down to absorb the initial shock. For the next week, I called daily, wanting to know how he was. 
Subsequent phone conversations with Matt were mostly his fears and his depression. 

   Of course, I thought, holy shit, he's going to die.

    And even though one isn't supposed to google medical conditions, I still did. I couldn't stand Not Knowing.

    In the meantime, silver linings...if there can be any in such a dire situation, still popped up.

Matt, my SIL, and their kids and significant others were all supposed to board a plane for a two week vacation to Spain. 
Imagine the chaos if he'd been on the plane when his face began to droop. Or if they'd made it to Spain and THEN he began to droop, or worse, had a seizure. Not that the Spaniards are incapable of doing anything about it, but being overseas in a foreign country (and only my niece speaks Spanish, and she's not fluent) when a medical emergency strikes is very bad. 

   So it was 'better' that it hit him before he boarded a plane.

    The week of surgery and waiting had already been scheduled for everyone concerned, so there was no 'oh, no, I have to call my boss and tell him I won't be in for work".

   My sister in law is a nurse, one who spent several years in an oncology ward. She works at the hospital he was taken to. Throughout the week, she received tons of support. Her co-workers would forego their breaks and lunch to go check on Matt.

    She went back to work but my niece, the doctor, is going to be home for six weeks. While her specialty is pediatrics, she does know a lot of basic doctoring. She'll be able to take care of Matt as he is going to start chemo and radiation therapy.

    I had a doctor's appointment, and told him. He told me about a new regimen of brain cancer work being conducted at Duke University in NC. He urged me to tell my brother about it.

   When I did, Matt told me HIS doctor (in Michigan) knows the doctor at Duke who is doing the research and is already working to get Matt into the study.

   My best friend, Sue, is a nurse, too. She was MY main support (as well as my husband, who never failed to be there when he saw me puddling up.) when I told her. 

   The pathology report was ambiguous...the 'outside' of the tumor was mildly malignant, the interior had 'just begun' to change into a much worse one. They caught it in time, before it'd metastasized. It was the only one in his whole body (three MRI's and two CT scans later). It was a 'primary' meaning it'd started in his brain 'about a year ago'. His only symptoms had been headaches starting about six months ago...ones that his doctor had brushed away with a 'it's just stress'. Wrong. 

    I and my husband planned to change our summer plans and head out to Michigan to visit Matt. He said, no, not now. 

   I felt.. and still feel, so helpless to help. 
   He didn't deserve this. No one deserves such a horrible thing. But after doing some research of my own, I am beginning to realize that it's not the death sentence brain cancer used to be. 

   I really think he can beat this. 

   The hardest part was how it hit him. I mean, above and beyond the utter terror of realizing that you have a brain cancer.

  My life...and I'm not whining, mind you...has always been difficult. I was never popular, pretty or well liked. I had to bust my ass at everything I attempted. Being female and growing up the tail end of the baby boomer pig meant there was never a job that I wanted that was available. All the good ones were taken. I couldn't afford college until far later in life. I've had medical conditions, to include breast cancer, a bone disease, and osteoporosis. I've got two divorces under my belt. I was laid off from my last minimum wage job and haven't found another.

   So I got used to life giving my tree whacks with a dull axe. I learned to deal with it, learned to deal with adversity, disappointment, frustration, resentment. Poverty. Unemployment. Backstabbing. I learned how to deal with a life that has never been easy and only in the last decade has been mostly happy and comfortable.

  I didn't resent Matt's 'golden' boy status, one where all the breaks seemed to shine on him, leaving me to eat his dust. I am not a jealous person.

   So for this to happen to him was probably inevitable. No one has a easy trip their whole life. Brain cancer...and it hit him like a ton of bricks...was like someone taking a chain saw to his tree and cutting it down right now. No whacks, no 'getting used to it'...nope, ripstart that saw and braaaaaaaaaaaaaap, he's down.

    I love Matt, like a brother (duh) but I will admit that a small part of me was very very glad it wasn't me. It wasn't me.

   I don't know what the end of his story is. I don't want him to suffer. But I'm glad this first week is over and done with.