Thursday, November 6, 2008

Legacy Stable Alumni Club & Team Sunflower Meadows

Well, it's been a little over two years since Valie and I set foot on the grounds of Legacy Stable! And, it was with a heavy heart when I had to say goodbye to the owners and trainers, Mike and Liz Murphy.  Why?  Well, that is because, on Tuesday, the 28th of October, we set forth on our new adventure to Sunflower Meadows Farm in North Grafton, MA. However, as sad as I was to leave the place that helped me gain the confidence I needed to become a horse owner again, I was happy to be moving to my good friend, Lindsey Canesi's, new venture as she "took the reins" as head of this lovely facility!

As we attempted to load Valie on the trailer, he was very hesitant to do so and even though we had no trouble loading him the last time we trailered him, he gave all of us a hard time as he continually refused to put even one hoof on the trailer. After trying numerous methods coupled with several different people attempting to lead him on, myself included, we were getting "nowhere" fast! And when his favorite treat, baby carrots and then even grain didn't work as an enticement, we knew that it would take an extra special magic-trick to get him loaded and moved to Sunflower. Liz did some thinking and then realized that maybe a bit of manual assistance would help so she suggested that we try to put one hoof on by hand and then another. She began to gently place her hand on his right front leg and then carefully lifted his hoof and placed it on the loading platform and held it there for a second and when he realized that the trailer wasn't going to instantly "swallow him up", she then went about the business of doing the very same thing with the remaining three legs and before we knew it, he was safely on the trailer. And, even though it was a short ride to our new home, he was covered in sweat when we arrived and for the first time ever, I was stunned to find "steam" rising from him when we took off his sheet. However, as soon as he was happily enclosed in his new big and brightly lit stall, was rubbed down and then had a cooler placed on him, he was immediately comfortable, settled in, hanging his head over the yoke front of his stall and curiously looking around while getting acquainted with the other horses that are stalled in front of and beside him! The miracle of that evening, was the immediate cessastion of his cribbing and that continued for several days so he was able to be without his cribbing strap for an extended period of time. But, as much as I would like to report that his cribbing was gone forever, he did begin again but he now does it far less than ever before. What with the ability to see horses all around him while in his stall and turnout with his old buddy, "Sweet William", Lindsey's Thoroughbred, his activity level has picked up and his galloping and frolicking and his constant "rolls in the mud" have helped him to forget his previous need to crib as much as he did before. So, needless to say, he and I are now happy members of "Team Sunflower Meadows" but will forever be members of the "Legacy Stable Alumni Club".

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Talented Rider, A Great Person & A Wonderful Friend

My friend, Lindsey Canesi, is a young woman I met when she purchased a Thoroughbred from the barn where Valie is boarded. Despite a huge age difference between us, we became very close friends. It was then that I rapidly grew to rely upon her expertise as a horsewoman and even her wisdom as a friend. It's always special when you meet someone so young, yet they are so intelligent and ever-so-wise plus they have a golden heart as well! When I find myself upset about anything, Linds is there for me, comforting me and helping me to feel that everything is going to be all-right! Wow, talk about role reversal, when it should be me, the Auntie figure in her life, talking care of her. But the truth is that I am commited to being there for her when she needs me!

Anyway, up until the time she moved her horse to a stable that was more akin to the type of riding she was going to do, we had a lot of fun and shared a lot of time helping one another at the barn. I am happy to report that she and I have remained friends and I wish her nothing but the best; however, she is one young woman that is going places in life so remember the name, Lindsey Canesi, because I'm sure you'll hear it in the future or see it in print or.......who knows, maybe you'll even see her on television!

Anyway, I want to take a moment to post a photo of her and her wonderful off-track Thoroughbred, Sweet William. They recently went to their first show of the 2008 season at Azrael Acres here in Massachusetts and they did very well. So, with that said, "Please allow me to introduce Lindsey and William!

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn

On Tuesday afternoon, July 8th, I received a call from Liz, one of the owners of my boarding stable. It's a funny thing, when I get a call from someone that I'm not expecting to hear from, a friend that hasn't called in awhile or even someone that I usually talk to at night but they call in the morning, etc., I never register surprise or shock BUT when the owner of the barn calls, out of the blue, and I'm not about to have a lesson or the Farrier isn't scheduled, you know, those kinds of things that you might expect a call about for one reason or another; well then, the ol' fear factor strikes the heart immediately! And when she began to talk, the only thing I heard was the word, "colic". She briefly explained that after utilizing Valie in a showmanship lesson, he was then taken back to his stall and within a few minutes time, he was covered in white, lathered sweat and was looking quite ill. He was given Banamine and she told me that she would call me again in 10 minutes, when she called back, she said that it appeared as if the Banamine took hold and that he was on his way to feeling better. She also said that if I didn't hear from her throughout the afternoon that I should not worry and that she would see me when I arrived in the early evening. At 6:00 PM, I entered the barn and found Valie in his stall, he didn't appear to be ill, he just looked exhausted, he was standing in the corner of his stall. He immediately came to me and hung his head on my shoulder and we nuzzled for a bit. I spent some time with him, went outside to talk to a few people and then was ready to leave. I went back to his stall to make sure he was all-set for the night and I was shocked to find him down in his stall and violently rolling in pain. Unfortunately, the barn owners had gone out to dinner but Katie, their barn manager, was there and she quickly helped me get him up, we began to walk him and called the BO's by phone. They said to give him another dose of Banamine and to continue to walk him but even at the walk, with Katie walking him and then with me walking him, he continued to try to go down and roll even when we were walking outside on the concrete. The BO's returned and called the Vet, the Vet came and after an invasive inspection she found that the large intestine was distended and out of place and she made it clear that he should be rushed to Tuft's. On the trailer he went and off we set for Tuft's (thank God it is so close to us, less than 1/2 hour away). When we arrived at this remarkable facility, I was amazed at the speed at which they began to attend to my guy and the "second-to-none" team effort that converged as they attempted to get to the crux of his problem. After an ultrasound, another invasive exam, belly fluid was then drawn to determine whether or not it was bloody (which would have been a very bad sign). However, even though the fluid was clear, he continued to show signs of pain even though he was sedated and on pain meds. The Vet, Gustavo Abuja, DVM, an incredibly talented man that has a great manner in dealing with equines and humans, then informed me that surgery was probably imminent BUT that he would like to wait a 1/2 hour to see how Valie felt when the sedation/pain meds wore off. It was approximately 45 minutes later when they called me to come to his stall (I had been sitting in the waiting room attempting to get myself under control, you know, a lot of crying and a lot of praying) and when I arrived at his stall, there he was lying down and passing gas so loud that it appeared as if a fog horn was blowing! It was an absolute miracle that Valie's body had begun the process of healing itself and with that, they called off the surgery, albeit temporarily and sent us home and he was then offically a patient of Tuft's. I was told that if he took any steps backward at all that I would be called and surgery would begin but by 9:30 the next monring, all the gas had passed and upon yet another invasive exam, his large intestine was back to normal. He was still ill and had to be hospitalized for several days as they monitored him and slowly got him eating again but none-the-less, I don't remember, in my recent past, ever feeling so devastated but just as happy at the same time! Our horses depend on us to make the right decisions for them and I'm so glad that I was able to make the right choice for his well being. Moreover, I thank God that I have insurance on him which made it so easy to be able to send thoughts of $$$$ to the back burner of my mind and also, what with the ability to transport him to Tuft's and the expert care he received at the barn and then at the hospital, I am glad he received that level of care and I was thankful that I was able to be there with him for the duration!

He's home now and doing well and I am there with him on a daily basis and attending to his every need while he is on stall restriction (only 1/2 hour of turnout and hand walking twice a day). He's lost weight but that will come back in time and as I sit here and type this tonight, my eyes are heavenly bound that such a miracle took place, how grateful I am that he didn't have to have surgery.

I want to thank all of those people that supported he and I that night and into the next day. My dear friend, Cathy Fleming who drove all the way from Connecticut to stay with me at the barn and at Tuft's until the wee hours of the morning, Mike Murphy and his wonderful Mom, who trailered us, Liz Murphy and her sister Kathleen, who provided help and emotional support and Katie Speer, the one person whom I would not have made it without, had it not been for her patience in walking him for hours in that humidity while I was off crying and generally breaking down, God knows how I would have handled that without her!

Ohhhhhhh, what a night and one that I will never forget but I will say that I now understand why the word "colic" has been said to strike fear even in the most experienced horse owner! I think that I have been fully inducted into the "Equine Colic Survivors Group for Significant Others" and for all Valie knows, he's getting pampered and loving every minute of it, with what he went through no longer foremost in his wonderful equine mind!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Something To Be Said

Well, there's "something to be said" about that moment in a horse owner's life when one actually feels as if they've seen a sign of recognition in their horse's eyes, that moment when he sees you and he knows who you are and actually seems happy to see you! Many experts say it's possible and many others say it isn't but I am certain that just as our canines know us so do our equine partners.

Earler tonight, Saturday evening, after a particularly bad day of attending to my Mother's illness, suffering with the humidity of the day as it managed to creep in, even with the air conditioners in full force and the constant comings and goings of other family members, I finally felt the need to get out of the house. So, I loaded the canines in the car, Romeo, my Brittany and Luigi, my German Shorthair Pointer and off we went! We picked up ice water at the local Dunkin' Donuts and with a baggie full of baby carrot pieces in hand, we began the short ride to the barn. Within moments, both dogs were curled up and asleep from the motion of the car and even after a light change of route so as to take some time to relax behind the wheel, we were there within what seemed like minutes, even though it clearly took far longer than that.

I left the dogs in the car and slowly walked down the barn's main aisle and made my way very carefully so my guy, Valie, would not hear me coming. I took this approach with the hope that I may stumble upon him before he noticed me and boy, was I ever in for a surprise! When I came upon his stall, there he was with his head turned toward the window and his muzzle was lifted ever-so-slightly toward the bars of the open stall window. For several seconds I watched as he stood transfixed in his equine thoughts. Suddenly, he turned and saw me and with that, he let out the most mournful "nicker" I've ever heard, almost as if his noticing me was so unexpected and that maybe he was so lonely for human company that it had saddened him and when he saw me, his tone was reminiscent of the truest form of joy, the feeling one gets when an unexpected visit from a loved one happens during a time that is usually spent alone. Anyway, he rapidly approached me with his head pointed down so that I could pet that soft patch under his forelock. Now, despite what you think, I saw, right at that moment, the look of recognition and whatever joy or happiness an equine knows, was passed on to me, the supreme benefit of equine to human interaction and it was such a pure moment, void of all the miseries of the day, just he and I communicating on some unknown level, that suddenly and without warning, I felt tears coming and a sense of relief that the tension of the day had disapated as a result of this wonderous moment; oh, how I hope that this happens again!

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lesson With Liz Vaughan-Murphy

Per usual, the best laid plans for my Thursday night "Lesson With Liz" (she's pictured above) just didn't work out because of constraints imposed upon me by family. As a result of my disappointment on having to cancel the lesson, I was determined to get there Friday night. I chose to not call Liz prior to my arrival lest something else come up that would prevent me from making it to the barn.

Anyway, after making sure that the dogs had fully relieved themselves, the "older" members of my family were fed and tucked in for the night and a borrowed car on hand, off I went to the barn and much to my surprise Liz did have time for a lesson. The truth is that I hate to rush when I'm getting ready to do anything at all with Valie, rushing makes me feel out of control and that feeling usually leads to unfounded nervousness. So, since she had one lesson before me, I had plenty of time to groom, prepare my tack, pull on the ol' boots and chaps and I even found time to clean out my purse while in wait! When her lesson was over, I began to tack up my boy and this evening, I needed very little help in getting him ready. Even though my hand is still disabled, I do wear a therapeutic wrist band that gives me the strength I need but more often than not, I'm either in pain and sometimes, although rarely, I don't even have an ounce of strength in that hand. However, the ol' left hand served me pretty well tonight and I was able to tighten his girth without standing on a step-stool but....bridling was another story. I am happy to report that Valie did not try to scoot away from me after pulling the reins over his head and removing his halter; however, I did have trouble getting the bridle up over his ears, partly because of my hand and partly because he is just so damn tall and I am so damn short. Liz suggested that I place one hand on his poll thus giving me the ability to easily handle the bit and since he opens his mouth readily for that, I just popped it in at that point! Of course, it worked and we were off to the indoor!

Well, no sooner had we entered the indoor when Valie decided to act as if he was just about to run the
Kentucky Derby, up went his head and out came a scream for the benefit of his harem of mares. I won't lie, I did get nervous, but just for a moment because he then got down to the business of standing still and with only one re-adjustment of the mounting block, I was up and ready to go. I think Liz was surprised that I wanted to ride off my myself without a lead or assistance for the old disabled lady that I am; but, I was sooooo comfortable that I wanted to be treated as any other rider during a lesson. The few times that Valie screamed or even the one little stumble he had, I calmly talked to him and moved him forward. I asked Liz to critique my position and after an adjustment here and there, we worked on leg yielding, half-halts, etc. It was time to "step up the action" so I began with a sitting trot and since Valie's stride is long and comfortable, it was easy to sit to and then some posting and landing on the correct diagonal and yes, even though the "injured hand" has been hurting my ability to ride, this ride, for the first time in a long time, was quite different and quite good! I did cut the lesson a bit short as I was beginning to tire and didn't want to push it, but I have to report that I dismounted with a smile and thanks to Liz along with Mike and Katie as the spectators (that did their best to boost my confidence), I felt like I had finally had a breakthrough and that the disability could no longer really be considered as such and the resulting nervousness about it was now a "thing of the past"!

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Wednesday Night Dressage with Katie Speer

Victorious - The team of Katie Speer and Diesel

Katie and Diesel with Legacy's Owner/Trainer, Liz Murphy

I am pleased to announce that my Thoroughbred Valie and I will now be learning from Katie Speer (the young woman pictured herein), Apprentice Trainer, here at  our wonderful boarding farm, Legacy Stable in Mendon, MA.  On Wednesday night we experienced our first session with Katie and even though it was mostly ground work with just a short walk/trot with Katie in the saddle, I was amazed to find that every moment of our time was extremely beneficial.  I have been suffering with an ongoing left-hand disability for some time now and as a result, there have been many things that most horse owners take for granted, small chores and the like, that I just either couldn't do or had an awful hard time in my attempts to accomplish on my own.  For instance, the simple act of tightening his girth was very hard and often painful for me, "Oh yes, I could get it done but it was never tight enough as I just couldn't gain enough leverage on my own power to accomplish this seemingly simple task".  If it were not for the fact that Katie didn't make me feel inferior, I would have felt quite foolish when she immediately came up with the idea of having me stand on a foot-stool so that I could lean on Valie thus giving me just the "edge" I needed to girth-him-up properly.  Another example of trying to accomplish a simple task on my own was bridling, it's not that Valie won't take the bit, it's just that sometimes when you get the reins over his head and remove the halter, he scoots away and........without having enough strength in my hand to firmly guide him into place for bridling, it was exasperating for me and often impossible to accomplish this on my own and again, another simple suggestion from Katie was to use the halter as a collar so that I have something to grab and hold onto; well, again, the bells and whistles went off when I suddenly realized that problem would now be a thing of the past as well!  Moreover, even though I've now owned Valie for some time now, there have been many things I had forgotten since I had not been a horse owner for well over 17 1/2 years.  So, with her simple to understand instruction, for example a quick refresher on bandaging and I was able to do it quickly and quite well if I do say so myself, she then went about the task of answering my endless questions and by the time we led him out of the stall and into the arena, I was already feeling as if I was well on my way to becoming an independent owner and rider again despite this nagging hand disability.

My first issue in the arena was dealing with getting him to stand still for mounting because it has been so hard that sometimes it even kept me from getting on at all.  The specifics of my disability is that my hand has lost all of its strength as a result of a bone that had been broken in the same place twice, had never healed correctly and then arthritis set in.  And since the left hand is the one that supports your weight and guides you when mounting, my tension level would always rise when attempting to pull myself up into the saddle.  She worked with him for a few moments on standing still and then decided that the easiest and safest way for me to mount was to face him to the wall and utilize the mounting block while he was focused on the wall as a barrier that would keep him from walking! Well, with that, he quieted down immediately, so much so that she didn't even have to hold him and after a few false starts, I was able to easily get my foot in the stirrup, grab the bucking strap and pull my weight up into the stirrup, "Ahhhhhh, success!".

Last but certainly not least, I was then able to watch my wonderful TB begin the process of schooling Dressage and I was thoroughly amazed as she talked me through what she was doing and in turn, I watched my lovely, handsome guy adjust to her cues and quietly go "on the bit" with his ears forward and an almost happy look to those kind eyes of his!  This is what I needed to feel inspired and motivated and to hear her say that he was cooperative and did basic low level Dressage movements quite well made it even better!

So, I'm finally well on my way to becoming an independent horse owner again and will now be riding with Katie twice a month and with Liz twice a month.  However with Liz, I will be concentrating on the Hunter discipline and will look forward to some jumping down the road and maybe eventually can look toward some low level cross country (well, that's waaaaaaaaay down the road for now!).  But at least, I finally have a plan that allows me to move forward rather than remain stagnant.

Valie and I thank Katie for that wonderful training session and to Liz for coming up with the idea, a plan that will certainly get me moving toward my goals, "Yup, my equestrian life is looking better by the minute, "Thanks Legacy Stable".

Monday, June 2, 2008

Sunday Evening Visit

Each and every Sunday evening, rain, snow, sleet, hail or otherwise, I go to the barn to "just" visit with my horse. These visits are for the sole purpose of observing his moods, looking over his body for cuts, scratches, swellings, etc. and just plain ol' hanging out with him, sharing carrot snacks and being close and affectionate. These non-stressful visits are so very valuable for the both of us, it gives him an opportunity to relax away from the pressure of having to do anything but just hang out in his stall with me. Often times, he makes certain that he gets a thorough head scratching in by using my back as his "scratcher" and he ever-so-gently runs his head up and down on my back and other times, he will lift his leg to signal an area that he wants me to hand scratch for him and of course, I oblige.

When I first brought my boy home I used to spend an extraordinary anount of time in his stall with him because I truly believe that it creates a strong bond between human and equine and while I no longer do it as often as I used to, the Sunday night visits are mandatory and more often than not, we usually take time throughout the week to do the same thing. These visits have been very educational for me, I've learned to be in tune with his "horse cues" the things he does that signify various changes, the ability to determine his needs and to detect illness and frankly, I was even able to detect Lyme disease in him just by sharing his space with him. He has learned to trust me, he no longer finds the need to crib when I'm there and I now know that his
cribbing was because he was anticipating something in his past as a race horse that was probably far from pleasureable to him and coupled with his strong effort to overcome his headshyness, he will finally allow me to touch his face, put my face next to his, pet the area around the ears and I think that by year's end, he will finally let me touch his ears with ease, I think that Valie is finally well on his way to leading the life he was meant to have. My boy knows I will never hurt him and I know that he will never take a dishonest step with me and........that is, by far, the most incredible bond I could have ever hoped to create between him and I.

Friday, April 25, 2008

15 Minutes of Fame

....Cathy and Valie as seen in the "Chronicle"!

....if you read last week's issue of "The Chronicle of the Horse" and happened upon an article about an completely unknown, "older" woman that returned to riding after many years; well, guess what, that article was all about me!  For some strange reason, COTH's Assistant Editor, Molly Sorge, thought that my life with horses and dogs might be of interest to some people and even though the only thing that I feel is interesting about my life, is the fact that I make it through each day, I still agreed to be interviewed!  Frankly, I was awe-struck after reading the finished article by Ms. Sorge because first and foremost, she is an incredible writer and try as I might, I just don't understand how she gleaned so much knowledge about me in what I thought was a short telephone interview and I actually found myself thinking that "this person she was writing about was quite interesting"!  But, reality hit pretty quickly when my phone rang and lo and behold, an equestrian friend of mine wanted to know whom I had to bribe to get myself in the famously, long-standing Chronicle!  Oh well, that's when the "House Lights Went Dim" and I knew that my "15 Minutes of Fame" was really over!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Thinking About Then and Now

A Head Shot (ohhh, those eyes!)
As you know, in the Fall of 2006, this handsome boy, Valentino, walked out of the trailer and into my life!  And, as a result, the difference in each and every day has changed in a very dramatic way!  Even though I had been away from horse ownership for so many years, it felt very natural to actually own and "partner with" one of these great creatures once again.  However, more importantly, the fact that we are "a team" in this ongoing learning experience, me, getting back into riding in the English discipline again and him, adjusting to life away from the race track, has made it much more interesting and challenging!

Does Class Always Show? You bet it does!

"Class Always Shows"
a 5 year old, 16.1 hand, bay, Thoroughbred gelding
Well, here's my guy, "classalwayshows" (his registered Jockey Club name) better known as "Class Always Shows", "Valentino" or "Valie" for short (thank you Toni Sabella for helping me choose this special and oh so romantic, Italian name for him)!  Valie was foaled in Florida at a very impressive breeding farm!  He was a hard campaigner on the race track and with an impressive bloodline and a Breeder's Cup Nomination, you would have thought that this horse was going to be a contender!  But, it quickly became evident that his racing career was being mismanaged and with that, his life began a chain of disastrous events that started with an entry into a claiming race.  He was claimed by a person that surely must of been unscrupulous, an owner/trainer who raced him hard and didn't provide the level of care that would meet his needs.  He was eventually found by Canter USA - New England at a typical fairground racetrack in Northhampton, Massachusetts.  They only needed to take one look at his "kind eyes" to know that despite being in poor shape, he had a big heart and a deep soul.  Canter volunteer Fran Recchi immediately loaded him into her trailer and took him to her farm in Vermont.  And, as the story goes, by providing top-notch care and the "let-down" time he needed, he began the process of learning to be a horse for the first time in his 5 year old life.

His first time in a pasture was foreign to him, he didn't know what to do, he was skin and bones and just stood there looking lost and forlorn.

Fran began a program to build weight and muscle (see the outcome of her care in the photo at the beginning of this blog) and while giving him a slow but consistent start he began to adjust and relax!  While he was getting healthy, I began to Volunteer my services to Canter, in an effort to raise funds, to help the many horses in their program.  I was also at the very beginning of my search for an off-track Thoroughbred but I didn't want to start with one that was "fresh" off the track.  As a young adult, I was comfortable buying right off the track but at my "advancing" age, I wanted to find a TB with some let down time and maybe even some training!  One evening, early on in this exciting search, I received an email from Ellen O'Brien (Canter-New England's President), she said that she was quite sure that the perfect horse was waiting for me!  She attached a few photos and it was "love at first sight" but I knew that I needed to meet him in person and that he would need to be vetted too!  He was on trial here in Massachusetts with someone else but they had made the decision to pass on him; so, I went to meet him and after a short "trot", I knew he was going to be mine!

He vetted sound and was soon trailered to me and that began "The Adventures of Cathy Ann and Valentino".  So please, come along with me as I begin to chronicle our life together!  I promise to tell you the good, the in-between and even the bad but no matter what, when or how, I'm confident that he and I are in for "one heck of a ride"!  Go Team CaVal!