Thursday, May 20, 2010

Peaks and Valleys

First off, I would like to offer an apology for my long absence from blogging, and correspondence in general.

Like the toughest endurance ride, 2010 has been a year of ups and downs for me -- and it's only May.  My absence from blogging is both a long and short explanation.  The short version is that I lost a lot of my enthusiasm and momentum after a disheartening start to the ride season, and before I could regain my footing, my personal life came along and knocked me for another loop.

In trying to deal with life and the turmoil, I'm afraid I've very much retreated from one of the things in life that was always my refuge -- the horses.  When your refuge is one of those things causing so much discontent and unrest, it becomes difficult to find your balance again.

After many weeks of soul-searching, I feel like I'm finally starting to gain some peace in my life again, and I'm ready to offer an explaination for what has been going on for the past four months.

The best place to start is probably chronologically, which would be at the start of the ride season -- the Land of the Sun ride in Wickenburg.  After being postponed and rescheduled due to foul weather and flooding in January, the ride was held in the beginning of February.

The ride started out very nice, but ended for me at 35 miles when I pulled Mimi after she started to tie up.  Rather than typing out the whole explaination again, this is the email I sent to one of the endurance e-mail lists I'm on.

So, I'm sure as most of you saw on Facebook, I pulled from Wickenburg yesterday when Mimi went weird on me at about 35 miles. She had been doing fabulous all day, pulling my arms out in her cheer and enthusiasm during the whole first loop. About 10 miles into the second loop, she really slowed down, to the point where I was having to peddle and cajole her -- definitely not normal for her, as she normally is very free-moving, and all it takes is a loosening of the reins to get her to move out at a ride.
Then she stopped to pee, and she peed very dark urine. :((( Never a good sign. We were very close to a water stop at the point, so we proceeded very slowly up to the water. I tried to get her to drink, but she wasn't interested, so we sat at the water trough with me syringing water into her mouth, making her drink one sip at a time. She also had no interest in food -- VERY unusual. Her respiration was super-high, and she her flanks were really tucked-up and doing this weird fluttering thing with her rapid breathing.
Her pulse dropped down to 36 within about five minutes, but then spiked to 44 a couple minutes later. And she just looked very unhappy. She's not a subtle horse by any stretch of the imagination, and can be a drama queen, so it's very easy to read her expressions and emotions. And she looked very sad and worried. Her mouth was tight, and her eyes very worried.

With all of those factors combined, I wasn't going to continue, so I pulled her there. Fortunately, we were at a place where it was very easy to get a trailer in and out, so we loaded up and got the quick shuttle back to camp. When we got back, I had one of the ride vets look at her, and all of her metabolics checked out with all As -- good gut sounds, normal hydration, loose muscles.

She never got really tight in the back end, but she did look stiff when we stopped. Both Dad and I walked her out and trotted her in hand after we had been at the water stop for about 15 minutes just to see if she would "snap out of it." She wasn't moving as well as she could, especially since her earlier trot-outs at the VCs had been beautiful, so I didn't think 15 more miles -- and the toughest part was still to come for that loop -- would do her any favors.

It's a maddening situation, as I don't really know what to call it or what she did. I don't think it was a true tie-up. I think it could have gotten to that if I pushed her. So what do I call that? Pre-tie-up? I've been researching my brains out this morning, and I'm no closer to pinning down any one cause.

There's potentially several factors at play:

-The weather turning cold, windy and rainy as we were heading out for the second loop. She did the same pre-tie-up thing at a Wickenburg NATRC ride about four years ago, but that was within 5 miles of the start, and due to insufficient warmup. However, she's also done a couple cold, rainy rides since then without a problem.

-Dehydration? She could have drank better overnight (she's drink better if she didn't poop in her bushel bucket...grrr...I'm going to start putting out multiple buckets for her at night). She ignored the two water troughs out on the first loop, and didn't drink until VC1 at 13 miles. Kind of normal, kind of not. She typically drinks within 10 miles. She drank really well at the VC, then again on the way back to camp. At VC2, she drank well as soon as we got in, but didn't drink at all back at the trailer during the hour hold.

-E'lyte imbalance? I e'lyted her with small doses in the morning before starting, at VC1, and at VC2. It was a breezy, cool day, but they were sweating a lot, especially in the beginning.

-Unaccustomed climbing? There were a lot of ups and downs and hills, but we train in terrain that's very similar to Wickenburg.

-Fighting me too much? She was feeling really, really good, and just wanted to GO in the first loop, so we spent a lot of time having "discussions" about not pulling my arms out and not running over the steep, rocky ups and downs. Don't know if she got herself too worked up doing that? She was feeling very competitive and forward. Our last two rides, we've had a space bubble since early in the ride, and she was happy to tootle along on a loose rein. This time, we were riding a bit faster, and there was always another horse within visual range. Both she and Beamer were being very competitive, but the trail was such that we had to make time where we could, because of the slow, rocky sections.

-Food at VC? I actually had a crew this time, but I'm wondering if her intentions were too trying to get our ponies to eat, she was plying them with a lot of alfalfa and the ride-offered bran mashes, plus some oat hay. Mimi, being a protein-and-insulin-sensitive pony, is on a limited alfalfa diet, and a no grain diet. My fault for not communicating to our crewperson. I don't know if something like that could be a contributing factor? Too much protein?

Or maybe it's something I'm totally missing, or a combination of a lot of factors. I'm going to call my vet and see if he can come out tomorrow and if a blood panel will still be good at that point.
And after the visit from our vet the Monday after the ride:

Well, I got Mimi's blood panel back from the vet today. Her AST and CK levels are elevated -- 3016 for the AST and 8030 for the CK. Everything else falls within the normal range. Per my vet, she did have a tie up episode, but probably a minor one, as her muscles never got tight and crampy.

Best I can figure, after all the theories have been banded about, is that she wasn't drinking enough and we need to work more on actually drinking at rides.

The vet had several recommendations, but no real answers.  After cogitating on this for the past several months, I think there were a few other factors at play: the six weeks or so leading up to the ride had been very wet and rainy, and they didn't get out as much as they should have.  Quite frankly, I think it comes down to she was ill-conditioned for the ride and what I was asking of her.

She's 17 this year (in less than a week, actually!), she's not an Arab, despite how much she tries to act like one, and because of that, she's not going to hold her conditioning the way an Arab in their prime (like Beamer) would.  I feel bad, coming to that conclusion, because it puts the blame squarely on my shoulders where it belongs.

It is also leading me to the conclusion that maybe it's time to retire her from 50s, but that's another topic for another post, as this one is getting long-winded enough.

The following is the other side of the story -- my personal life, something I tend to leave out of this blog for various reasons, mostly because I figure that people come here to read about my adventures with my pony, not listen to me whine.  But I'm going to temporarily lift that moratorium, because that is a major part of what is going on right now.  To anyone that might feel uncomfortable with the subjects, death, dying, and personal religion are going to come up.  Several things have been happening, all kind of at once:

- As everyone knows, the economy sucks right now, and like a lot of people, we're feeling it, financially.  As such, going to rides isn't really a feasible thing right now, which is more than a little bit depressing and tends to cut down on one's motivation to go out and train.  I don't like admitting to this -- never an easy position to be in  -- but it's one of the reasons I've not been showing my face around the local rides.  Let's face it -- even though endurance is one of the cheaper equine sports out there, it still costs money.  And ride entry fees aren't going down.  And with very few truly local rides, travel expenses quickly add up, even to show up and volunteer.

- Right about the time Mimi should have been getting out again,  I came down with pneumonia and spent a couple weeks down for the count, and probably about five weeks away from riding.  Naturally, this would happen at the prettiest time of the year.  It's been about two and a half months since that happened, and I'm only now starting to feel like I'm recovering.  (Not helped by the worst seasonal allergies I've ever had.)

- Finally, I've experienced a lot of pain and turmoil in the last couple months that has put me on a path of a lot of questioning and bewilderment, and as a Christian, I'm not proud to admit this, but I've spent a lot of time being very angry at God and wondering why all of this is happening. 

First, I lost a dear friend to cancer in March.  She was only 26.  I still can't understand why someone that young, vibrant, and full of life could be taken so soon.  She fought to the end, and I will forever admire her grace, determination, and positive attitude.  I don't know if I could have done the same.  She's my newest guardian angel watching over me, and I'll always cherish the memory of our friendship and her encouragement.  Miss you, Siobhan, but I know you're using your performance talent and sense of humor to entertain all the other angels in Heaven right now.

On the heels of this, I just returned from a very difficult trip back to Pennsylvania for one last visit with my grandfather.  He has been fighting a very long, difficult battle with prostate cancer that then moved into bone cancer for the past two years, and about a week ago, his hospice nurse told the family she was giving him maybe two weeks to live.

Despite it being a painful, emotional trip, I'm glad I went.  There's so much about the situation I'm still confused and angry about, and not even going to begin to try to delve into here.  I've got questions that could probably even make theological scholars scratch their heads, but I know they'll likely always remain unanswered.  The biggest question, of course, that everyone asks is, "Why?"  I haven't figured that out, and maybe I never will. 

This is also the first grandparent I'm losing, so I feel particularly raw and vulnerable, having been relatively sheltered from the whole notion of death and dying up until now.  I know that the inevitable end is very near now, but I feel a lot more at peace after this trip than I was before I went.

It's been a lot to take in over the past four months, and I feel like I've spent a lot of time wallowing in the valleys, managing to scale a little peak, only to quickly slip down the other side.  Now, I feel like I'm gradually starting to come back again, thay maybe the next slide isn't going to be all the way to the valley floor again.  There's that saying, something about "darkest before dawn" that I think is very applicable at the moment.  Things will get better, it just might take a bit more mountain-climbing to get there.

Despite all of this, I have been maintaining Mimi's bare hooves myself still.  Her feet are looking fabulous, and I'm mroe and more happy with them with each passing month.  I bought a loop hoof knife, which makes trimming her bars a lot easier.  For the first time ever, I was able to take her on several rides entirely barefoot.  Granted, it was only about 6 or 7 miles, with very little trotting, but she was totally sound and comfortable.  Also more on this subject to come, since it's enough to make a whole seperate post.

Thank you, all of my readers, for hanging in there and listening to my very rollercoaster life.  I can't promise an immediate turnaround in my blogging habits, but I will say that I aim to try for slightly more regular other words, no more abandoning you for four months.  :)