To ride dressage is to dance with your horse, equal partners in the delicate and sometimes difficult work of creating harmony and beauty.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"I could have missed the pain...

...but I'd of had to miss the dance."

Our last dance - Tuesday morning before the rain set in.

The view out my east windows throughout Wednesday.

It was better after the sun set; out of sight, out of mind (or at least a little less ON my mind). Then, last night around choretime, I had something of an epiphany. I have been mourning not only the upcoming loss of my dancing partner, but also the end of the dance. I have really, deep down, been crying over the possibility that I may never have another dressage horse. No other riding I have done has developed the same kind of relationship with a horse, the subtle and nuanced level of communication and understanding. And when you get one with the right mind combined with physical ability, the results are almost magical.

Russell and I have had that kind of relationship for over eight years now. On top of that, he has been the horse to whom I could trust both my safety as a new mother and that of my son, just a toddling tot when Russell first joined us. There's a whole lot of special memories wrapped up in this horse; once-in-a-lifetime memories. (My dad said once, after watching Brian scale up the side of Russell like a mountain climber, "There's not a horse in 20,000 like that.")

God willing, I will be blessed with another dancing partner someday. Russell's dressage days are over, but he can continue to be a trusted babysitter and special memory-maker with his new family, just by being who he is - Special Majesty.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Breezy demonstrates the horses' approval of their Christmas morning treats - apples from the neighbor:

Hope your Christmas was equally lip-smacking good!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Family portrait

Russell met his new family yesterday (all except the husband/dad). Russell hadn't been out for over a week, so for them it was a good demonstration of his stellar nature and training. After all four of them took turns riding him around the arena, I got on and briefly "put him through his paces." With them he walked quietly and slowly; when I got on and gathered up the reins, he put on his "show face."

I've been having cold feet about letting Russell go, but felt better after watching them and talking with the mom. The plan is that the mom will come back next Thursday morning when the farrier is here to get instruction on how Russell's feet have been managed, after which she will take him home. My stomach is in knots already, but I do think it's a good fit for them and for my wonderful "Muscle Man." Will there be another dancing partner for me in the near future? I hope and pray so. In the meantime, I'll throw my leg over Brian's pony or one of the little Quarter Horses in the barn so my muscles stay ready. As for my heart, it may be sore for awhile....

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Emotional roller coaster

That's what I've been experiencing since Saturday night. That night I attended a Christmas party for the ladies of our church. The hostess is one of Rick's clients and we've talked about getting together for a trail ride over the years, but we're both moms and have never made the time. As I was getting ready to leave, I asked casually, "So, do you still have horses?" She confirmed that she did, but none that she can ride. Two are boarders, and two are 30-year-old pensioners. I commiserated, and she told me of her experiences trying to find a suitable horse for her needs - a safe, well-trained trail horse for herself and a safe, well-trained horse who can occasionally give kids rides in the arena. As she talked, I realized with crystal clarity that she needs RUSSELL! So I asked two questions: would she be interested in giving him a home, and would she give him a forever home? With affirmative answers, my spirit soared.

Its flight lasted about as long as the Wright brothers' epic success 108 years ago. Then I seized up with the thought of letting Russell go. My head told me it was the best thing for both of us, but my heart started back-pedaling, then went into mourning.

As always, my head prevailed. This lady has the facilities (bigger acreage and barn; indoor arena) and means (she and her husband are both physicians) to care for my horse for the rest of his life, and needs a good boy like him for light riding. She is happy to sign a contract giving me first right of refusal in any unforeseen event that she can no longer keep him. Finding the perfect home for Russell - like this one - has been the elusive prerequisite to my getting any future dressage partner. I don't have one lined up, but with a stall vacant, I can act when the right one comes along.

She is going to come meet him the week before or after Christmas. That means Russell and I still have a few slow dances left....

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011

On reopening U.S. slaughter plants to horses

Yesterday I learned that our lawmakers recently passed Bill H2112, which re-legalizes the commercial slaughter of horses in the U.S. Horse lovers are rising up in outrage. How do you feel about it?

Being close to the "unwanted horse problem" (intensified by banning horses from U.S. slaughter houses), I know too much to have the luxury of a knee-jerk reaction. My husband is an equine veterinarian; he sees the good, the bad, and the ugly of horse ownership. We can testify to the horror stories that abound when people can no longer afford to care for their horses. Rescue facilities are full to overflowing and short on resources. Most vets will not euthanize healthy horses, and even if they were willing, often owners can't afford to pay for a backhoe to bury them or a rendering company to haul the body away if they live in an area with these options, or have them cremated if they do not. So horses too often suffer neglect and slow starvation or are turned loose to "fend for themselves" (in other words, starve, or get hit by vehicles, often killing people in the process). No one likes to think of horses hauled off to slaughter, but there ARE fates worse than death, and untold numbers have been suffering those fates with the closure of all U.S. slaughter houses to horses. The horses that are shipped to Mexico are enduring far more inhumane handling than they would receive here in the U.S. (as per undercover reporting), and even Canada is a long, exhausting haul that could be shortened by having slaughter houses open to horses within the U.S.

Personally, I'm a vegetarian in part because I can't stomach the thought of subjecting ANY animal to a slaughter house when I can be nourished less expensively and more healthfully on a plant-based diet. I've had pet cows, pet goats, and have pet sheep; horses aren't any more (or less) friendly, beautiful, or useful, so why do people get so much more up in arms over their slaughter? As long as people eat meat, animals will die at the hand of man, and as long as people have the freedom to breed animals indiscriminately, there will be more dogs, cats, horses and other animals than there are people with resources (owners, rescue facilities) to adequately care for them. As a result, many - too many - have to be destroyed.

One solution is for the government, in Big Brother fashion, to ban all animal breeding except for those with licenses to do so, and requiring the rest of us to spay/neuter everything, including horses, sheep, etc. Would you be for such legislation?

The bottom line for me is that opening U.S. slaughter houses to horses is a necessary evil given all other current realities.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On the line

After several days of hectic preparation and nine days away, I'm home and exercising Russell again. I've just been lunging him for short periods since our return; I hope to get back in the saddle this week.

While we were at my sister's house in Texas, we watched the documentary Buck, on the life and work of Buck Brannaman, a real-life "horse whisperer." It's a compelling story and well-done film; I recommend watching it.

Tomorrow night we are going to see Cavalia in Portland with Rick's office manager and her husband; it is our Christmas gift to them and to ourselves. It should be a real treat!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Recalibrated and recharged

This weekend the Oregon Dressage Society celebrated its 40th anniversary at its annual Fall Festival. I don't often go to the Fall Festival because of time, cost and/or distance, combined with the fact that it isn't Rick's "thing" and we try to do things together. But this year, when Rick heard from someone else that Olympian Steffen Peters was going to the featured speaker at the Saturday night banquet and the featured instructor at the Sunday educational event, he asked me if I was going - and urged me to do so!

I needed no further encouragement. Saturday night was spent enjoying the company of my fellow Chehalem Mt. Chapter members, eating good food, shopping the benefit silent auction, applauding award winners, and listening to a charming and engaging Mr. Peters:

On Sunday, the time change assisted me in getting up early to do chores so I could head out to DevonWood for a day of education and inspiration. Steffen worked with seven rider/horse pairs ranging from Training Level to Grand Prix, and his message was consistent with each one. The basics must always be correct; if they are, the movements will be easy. We must train our horses to be honest - teaching them to respond promptly to subtle aids, keeping them in front of the leg and in a soft connection with the bit. These things can - and should! - be executed every single time we ride, from warm up to cool down, no matter what level a horse is at. In fact, it can all be done at the walk! He demonstrated this while working with every single pair, and in riding himself the first horse of the day, a Training Level warmblood mare:

and the last horse of the day, a Grand Prix level Welsh Cob stallion:
(Sorry the last two photos are so dark - but you can still see Steffen's beaming smile in that last one; love it!)

As I listened and watched, my understanding of proper riding and properly ridden horses was confirmed. And I realized in the process that even though Russell is still in rehab mode, and may never be able to return to dressage competition except at the very lowest levels, I can still ride him properly and keep both our basics correct. Eager to solidify in my mind and muscles what I'd seen and heard, I drove home, changed clothes and tacked up my horse (all the while very thankful for cooperative weather). Surprise, surprise (not :-) - we had the best ride we've had in recent memory!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Out, damned spot!"

(I'm not using bad language, just quoting Shakespeare.)

Since his crash at the beginning of May, Russell has had a spot around his left stifle that sometimes gets sweaty. It comes and goes like a mirage, with no rhyme or reason; it doesn't correspond with weather, work or time of day. Rick thinks Russell might have some nerve damage from the wreck, although we have seen no other signs of such - besides this strange, sometimes-sweaty spot:

Not that I'll be noticing it as often; it is jacket season!

Actually, this is just a sheet; I've never blanketed Russell for warmth. I think keeping a sheet on him may reduce the amount of winter hair he grows, but my main objective is keeping him cleaner for faster grooming. Homeschooling Brian dominates my waking hours, so everything else has to be shoe-horned in here and there, and every way of economizing my time helps.

Sometimes when my time is especially limited, I lunge Russell with just a halter and lunge line; saves the time it takes to thoroughly groom, tack up, untack and groom again. It is reassuring to see him walking and trotting around with regular cadence and relaxed tail. This week I've even asked him for a round of canter here and there, which he readily picks up. Last night he was feeling downright frisky and took off leaping and plunging when I first asked him to canter, and moved out in a beautiful forward trot much of the time. He really looked good - more like my dressage partner of the past than he has for a long time!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Scenes from the saddle

Since the beginning of October, my saddle time has been curtailed by the weather, our homeschool schedule, and a house guest. But I keep plugging away, squeezing in rides whenever possible for both Russell's and my sakes. Since we still aren't cleared for anything other than walking and jogging, I don't need the singular focus used when schooling dressage. So I look around, and sometimes stop and try to capture what I see from the saddle. Here are a couple recent images. Looking west toward the house:

Looking east at the Hunter Moon:

Underneath it all, my horse and I, going round and round in the sand....

Monday, October 3, 2011

Wet and worth it

A couple hours ago it looked like it had stopped raining, so I grabbed a jacket and headed to the barn. Before I could get Russell saddled up it started raining again, but after seeing that his rear fetlocks were slightly stocked up and determining that it was really only sprinkling, I decided a short ride was in order. I whisked off his head and saddle area, threw on my old Wintec all-purpose sport saddle, and off we went to get the mail. It was only a 15-minute walk, but it got rid of the swelling in his hind legs and seemed to perk him up. And we didn't get that wet. Yep, totally worth it. (-:

I waited too long

After our strenuous-for-us trail ride yesterday, I thought it would be good to take Russell for a short ride today to loosen up any sore muscles. Rick came home for lunch and took Brian with him when he left, giving me the perfect opportunity to ride off-property. I thought we'd play Pony Express and go get the mail that arrives in the afternoon. Well, I waited too long. The day has gone from overcast but dry to gloomy-grey and very wet, and neither of us like to be out in the rain. Obviously, the early bird gets the ride. )-:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Over the hills and through the woods

What a wonderful ride we had today! Rain threatened, but held off until we got back, put up our horses, and went to the covered arena for a potluck picnic and meeting of the Chehalem Mountain Chapter of the Oregon Dressage Society. My husband and son even came along for the ride and picnic, so it couldn't have been any better. All three of our horses worked up a sweat going up and down the hills, but we took it easy and weren't out much more than an hour. Sigh; it was just perfect.

(That's poison oak, easy to see - and avoid - in its autumnal colors.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Another outing planned

This Sunday, my local chapter of the Oregon Dressage Society is meeting for a trail ride, picnic and officer elections at a member's acreage. With Russell out of commission for so much of the last few years I've been feeling "on the fringe" even though I go to meetings when I can; I am really looking forward to riding Russell with the group. Rick and Brian might even come along on their mounts! Hopefully we won't get rained out . . . .

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Almost normal

Who knew that getting turned out into the arena could be so momentous? The last time Russell had this much freedom to move was the night of May 1, when he escaped his stall during chores and fractured a pelvic bone. And before that, it had been since February 20, when Russell came up lame and Rick diagnosed the worst torn suspensory he'd ever seen.

Today Rick gave the go-ahead to turn Russell into the arena, where he has been happily hangin' near the other horses and nibbling on stray bits of hay from the rams' feeder and weeds that have taken advantage of the reduced foot traffic. In other words, he has enjoyed just being a horse, instead of a patient.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Plodding perfection

Yesterday a friend joined me for a ride on the beach - the first I've enjoyed in a coon's age! Given Russell's stage of rehabilitation, it was out of necessity also the most sedate beach ride I've ever been on; no cantering or galloping allowed. Even so, it was wonderful. The Oregon coast is one of my favorite places to be; to be there on the back of my horse with a good friend along for company made it perfect. We were even spared the ubiquitous ocean "breeze" - that's right; it wasn't windy!

The tide was coming in, so the firmest footing was at - or in - water's edge. Russell acted like he'd never seen waves before; it took persistent coaxing to get his feet wet. Once he did, though, he relaxed and splashed along.

My friend rode Breezy, my son's pony, who is at least three hands shorter than Russell. Fortunately, Wanda is shorter than me and fit Breezy well.

Wanda took the last two photos; I love them!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Scarce rides

Last Sunday's ride through the harvested oat field nearby

This week has seen little riding because we spent two days at the State Fair, which crammed everything else into fewer days. Too bad, too, because it's been deliciously cool this week; next week is supposed to be a scorcher. Still, it will probably cool off in the evenings, and Russell and I most often get our ride in after evening chores.

Looking forward to a beach ride in just a week and a half!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hold onto your hats!

Brian rode his pony two days in a row this week, and yesterday he rode with me!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The days are getting shorter. Russell's brain takes note; his body responds. He is shedding his summer coat, which means that winter hair is starting to grow. Grooming creates flurries of short hairs, in contrast to the furry blizzard of the spring shedding season.

There is little daylight left after chores to ride by. No worries; Russell and I can do our thing in the arena in the dark. We have spots that shine out into the arena but I don't like their glare.

This is a hairy week around here schedule-wise, too. Riding time is going to be hard to come by, even the short rides of Russell's rehab. But we can ride in the dark.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A date to look forward to

This week Rick cleared Russell for longer walks, and a bit of jogging (yeah, I was already doing some of that). Russell's still slightly "off" on his left hind; hopefully that will go away as he continues to heal and get stronger.

In the meantime, I made a date with a friend for a beach ride! In a month when Brian and Rick take a trip to Minnesota, Wanda and I are going to take Russell and Breezy (Brian's pony) to Lincoln City. WooHoo! Riding on the beach was one of the dreams I got to live when we moved to Oregon but Wanda hasn't ever gotten to experience it - and I can't remember when I've gotten a chance in the last decade since having Brian. There's going to be a whole lot of anticipation between the two of us - and good motivation to keep taking those baby steps with Russell.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Baby steps

It's been three months since Russell's wreck with the tree, so we celebrated by adding a wee bit of jogging and lateral work (at the walk) to our daily 15-minute ride. Adding in some variety was nice!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Recruiting help

It's been a busy few days here with my MIL visiting and cherry/raspberry harvest in full swing. I was busy and Brian was "bored" Friday, so I sent him down to give Russell his daily walk. Brian wasn't happy about it, but Russell was his usual upstanding self!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Proceeding with uncertainty

Today I talked to the Morgan's owner. She is no longer interested in a trade, as she would like to reduce her total number of horses (she has two old horses and a herd of miniature horses besides Ritz) rather than maintaining the number. She would consider selling Ritz, but her price is more than I can afford and probably more than the current market would bear.

So I proceeded with Plan B. I called a woman who I think would appreciate Russell and give him a wonderful home for the rest of his life. She owned the stable where Russell was boarded most of his life before I got him, and helped Russell's owner train and show him in OHSET (Oregon High School Equestrian Team). She is now a grandma with an old equine partner who isn't really sound but is safe for her and her baby granddaughter to putz around on. Russell is ten years her horse's junior, more sound, and every bit as safe; a match made in heaven? She seemed pleasantly surprised by my call and offer, and will get back to me after some consideration.

Being poised to rehome Russell with no future dressage partner in sight gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don't want to be horseless; the other three equines here aren't mine, or what I want to work with. And when Brian heard that Russell may be leaving, he actually cried; that didn't help. He's like his dad; he may not USE something, but he can't bear to part with it. I had hoped that Russell might become Brian's mount, but Brian doesn't choose to ride more than once or twice a year. I'm of a mind that horses should be used for optimum mental and physical health. They take considerable resources to keep as well, an investment we can't make lightly.

As long as I have him, Russell and I will continue our daily walks. When I have time I tack him up, as I think a rider's weight is more comfortably distributed by a well-fitted saddle than concentrated on two human seat bones.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Easy to take it easy

Russell is cleared for 15 minutes of walking a day, but no work. So the easiest way to give him his daily constitutional is to put a halter on him, throw a saddle blanket over his back (cuts down on laundry), and walk around the arena. I don't even tie the lead rope into a loop; there's no need with this upstanding citizen.

His reward? Some green grass!

Friday, July 1, 2011


Since I had some free time yesterday, I decided to go visit the Morgan. I've held off going again because with Russell's most injury, I didn't know if there was still a chance of a trade. No point in getting attached, right? But now that I am s-l-o-w-l-y beginning to recondition Russell, hope sprang up again. Plus, a few weeks ago I had a conversation with a Morgan breeder. She cautioned that Ritz's sire is known for throwing "tough" horses; not mean, just not very trainable. Although that has not been my impression at all with Ritz, I wanted to interact with him again with that information in mind.

It's been almost three months since I've seen him; he's shed out and gained some needed weight. I interacted with him loose in his stall and paddock, as well as in the cross-ties and out and about on a lead. (I really wanted to ride him, but that would have been foolish with no one around. I don't think he's been ridden in many months, maybe a year.) It was a pleasant visit, and I did not see any hint of the temperament I was warned about.

Now to call Ritz' owner a call to see out if she's still open to considering a trade . . . eventually.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The sign of a happy woman

This weekend Rick gave the okay to start hand-walking Russell again. But after stacking six tons of local grass hay in the barn yesterday afternoon/evening and doing chores, my knees were too achy to face it. Rick told me to get on, and he watched how Russell moved. The verdict? He is moving normally, so I can RIDE Russell for his short daily constitutional!

Onward and forward (at a slow walk, loose rein :-)

Friday, June 3, 2011

I've grown accustomed to his face...

Wednesday Rick ultrasounded Russell to see how he is healing. He showed me the normal right tuber coxae images he took right after Russell's injury, and then showed me how his left looks now. The fracture is easy to see even for me, but also visible is some calcification in the void. It is healing. Of course, I assumed as much by how comfortable Russell is acting. When I take him out to hand-graze him I am really hand-walking him, because I criss-cross the pasture looking for and pulling up thistles. He moves freely and comfortably, and seems none the worse later for the activity.

Rick continues to think it likely that Russell will be able to be someone's trail horse when all is said and done. Whose, I don't know. My head says, "Not mine. I can't use 'just a trail horse,' because I can't go on trail rides. With Brian here and not wanting to ride, I am restricted to our home arena. That's perfect for schooling, but boring if you can't do more than walk and jog around and around." But my heart hears Higgins' voice, and I can't deny how much I like this horse. This horse. "I've grown accustomed to his face...."

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Hand-grazing Russell:

Pulling thistles:

Enjoying beauty: