Monday, August 30, 2010

Fitness and Carriage Rides

(I've been meaning to write this post for quite some time now, but just never forced myself to sit down and type. It's about time I found something to write so I have a more cheery post at the top of my blog. )

I stopped taking time to ride Arabee in April because it's something I can't do with my children. I expect to get more time this winter to ride, but after a few weeks of not much physical activity I found a second-hand (but in great condition) double jogging stroller and started training to run a 5k race (3.1 miles).

My goal before the end of 2010 is to be able to run from my driveway, to the stop sign North of our house, then turn around and continue South to that stop sign, then back home, which is a hilly distance of about 3.5 miles. I don't push myself very much, really, but right now I can run for about 2 minutes at a time, then take a walking break to catch my breath, and so on. Eventually I'll get there.

But I'd entered a 5k Fun Run that supported the Ronald McDonald House back in June, held at the Indianapolis Canal - a beautiful paved course that follows the canal, pretty much completely flat. Which was a lot of fun, I probably ran about half the time, walked half the time, alternately, and learned that I had a lot of training to do before I could keep up a running pace the whole time. But I'll get there. It's good for me, I think, as someone who is aspiring to compete "someday" in endurance - if I'm asking my horse to compete, maybe I ought to have a clue what it's like to be physically in shape! And besides all that, I'm losing baby weight, too :-)

Well, the whole family made a mini-vacation out of this fun run. We traveled up to Indianapolis and checked into a hotel just across the street from the NCAA Hall of Champions (where the race was to begin and end) with a pool, had dinner in town, and walked around the Circle Center Mall a bit. My daughter was amazed by many of the sights of the big city, including but not limited to: man hole covers, newspaper stands, and elevators......we need to get her out more. haha!

Before we checked into the hotel we stopped by Yellow Rose Carriage's downtown stable. I had worked there for several summers as a carriage driver and it was such a great place to work. It was such a great feeling to stop in unannounced at their barn and see how everything was still in perfect condition. The horses' stalls were spotless, fans were running to keep them cool (it was unusually hot for June when we were there) the harness was all hung up neatly and clean, the carriages parked nicely, ready for their next shift. It just felt really good to stop by and see how very very well everything was being taken care of for the horses.

I wasn't able to talk to the manager/owner - she had taken a couple of the horses to the equine chiropractor. I know there's a good amount of controversy over horse-drawn carriages in some cities, but the horses at Yellow Rose have the good life. If you find yourself in downtown Indianapolis, take a ride with a Yellow Rose Carriage - it's a great company who treats their horses very very well.

We had a really nice ride through the city - it is so relaxing to sit back and take in the city surroundings at the relaxed speed of the draft horse's walk, and comforting to know that the horse pulling the vehicle has received the best of care. Keep up the good work, YRC!

Friday, August 6, 2010

In Memory of MW Jack Daniels, 3/29/1980-8/4/2010

Above: A photo of Jack in his retirement years.

Jack was my first horse, a 15 year old gelding. He’d won many halter championships as a young horse and then showed Western Pleasure for many years before my family found him. My dad built a very nice 4 stall barn and a nice 3 rail wooden oak board paddock and the previous owner delivered him after school on Friday, the day before St. Patrick’s Day. I was ecstatic. I was eleven years old and had my first horse. I’d paid half with my own money; both my name and my mom’s name are on his registration papers.

So Jack got the privilege (burden?) of teaching me how to own a horse. He was so patient when he needed to be, and ornery enough to keep me on my toes when I learned enough that he didn’t have to babysit me anymore. He did nearly all the classes offered at the county 4-H fair, and did me proud when I took him to the Arabian shows. If I asked him to do it, he gave me his all.

Left: showing at the county fair.
Center: the day he arrived, he would’ve walked right in had I let him.
Right: Mom holding Jack after my sister and I helped him play “dress-up” – what a patient horse he was.

He had a beautiful rocking horse canter, and he loved to be ridden. He was willing to go any way you asked him to. Jack and I got to the point in our partnership where if I simply looked, he would go – no need for rein or leg to guide him.

Eventually, at 14.2 hands high, I outgrew my little Jack and began riding Arabee, and we tried to loan him out as a lesson horse. The little stinker wouldn’t do it, I had reports of him bucking all the way around the arena whenever they tried to ride him. This I couldn’t believe so I had to see for myself, and when I got there they had me ride him. My horse was as good as pie for me, not a single buck or even a tail shake. Looks like as much as I had claimed Jack, he had claimed me, and so we gladly brought him back home.

I rode him occasionally on pleasure rides, and he was always so eager to go, but a perfect gentleman, ears pricked forward happily but after only a short time he would start short-stepping and show discomfort, even at the walk, so I kept his rides short and infrequent since he clearly enjoyed going. Eventually when he was stiff from the very beginning of the ride it was clear that he needed to be retired as a riding horse. So Jack became a pasture pal for my mare Arabee and we maintained his health and hoof care, and decided that as long as he was still comfortable, he would live out his days with me.

Above: one of my senior pictures taken with Jack.

So both Jack and Arabee moved to my new life as a married woman in 2005, and he never was ridden once in the last 5 years. He loved having acres of pasture to roam and graze on the farm, and his existence was about as good as it could be if you were a horse, I think. He didn’t have much left in the way of teeth, and was on senior horse feed as much as he would eat. He always was a hard-keeper and a thin horse, and every winter in the last few years, I’d think he would look awful once his thick winter hair shedded out, but he’d put on weight again in the spring and keep on going. My husband and I were somewhat surprised he’d made it through this last winter; it had been very cold this year. But, he did, and a part of me was almost beginning to believe he was going to live on forever.

But, as he was checking the animals on the afternoon of August 4th my husband called my cell phone to tell me that I needed to come out and check on Jack, he just wasn’t right. So I turned off the burners on the stove (supper could wait) and jogged up to the paddock, and what I saw was not good. My sweet gelding was in obvious pain laying flat on his side, looking back at his belly and drenched in sweat. He had rubbed his sides raw from rolling, and right away I called the vet. I had just never seen Jack be so distressed, in pain, and miserable, and as a retired 30 year old horse I owed it to Jack to as best I could make his last hours as comfortable as possible.

The vet arrived within 30 minutes, and gave him Banamine and said that if we could get him back up to keep him walking. He said if the Banamine helped then he’d have a strong chance of pulling through the colic. Unfortunately, the Banamine never seemed to make a difference in Jack’s comfort level. We felt that the humane thing to do was to have the vet put him down so he wouldn’t have to suffer any longer. I don’t want to describe too clearly what the poor horse was going through, but I’ll just say it was clear that we made the right decision.

It was a hard night, and a hard morning as I explained to my nearly three year old daughter what had happened. I kept his forelock and tail hair as a memento, but I’ll always have many happy memories of my 15 years spent with a very special horse. I will miss him very much :'(

Above: Jack pausing from his frolic around his new surroundings the first day we moved him to where we live now.