Wednesday, June 22, 2011



Except it doesn't really work this way.  It was a cute T shirt I saw the other day in Cambridge.

The last 24 hours have been the most incredible of my life.  The opportunity to share in the birth of my first grandchild is a blessing I am so happy to have experienced.  My daughter Lora had to have a C section due to her placenta covering her cervix, which made for a strange introduction into the world for little Taylor. Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge England did an outstanding job of his birth   and due to my 'act like I belong' attitude I was able to be included in the whole process except the actual surgery.  Daddy Rob held Lora 's hand, and even had a peek over the screen.   he was able to hold Taylor immediately then put him on his mothers neck.  Taylor then leopard crawled up and latched onto his mummy's chin. Bless.  The surgeon had a little shock when Taylor immediately peed in her face when he was lifted out, the funny little guy.  Taylor weighed in at 7 lb 5 oz much to the medical teams shock.  Lora had a very tidy little bump that was all baby. One midwife asked if she was full term.  It just shows you that you don't have to get fat to have a healthy big baby and Lora's strict healthy diet paid off with a strong little man.

The experience on the ward was difficult though, and despite my desire to tell the nurses and midwife's off, I kept my mouth shut as I wasn't really supposed to be there the whole time.  If it hadn't been for Rob and I Lora wouldn't have had anything to eat or drink.  they seem to have forgotten that she was a section and told her that her meals were in the kitchen,,,she had a catheter in at the time and couldn't get up!  Luckily we had packed a cooler of healthy additive free food for her to eat and made use of the kitchen facilities.  After all the tests were done we then insisted she get released to go home and begin their lives as a family.

Right now Mummy, Daddy, baby Taylor and Indy are all cuddling in their bed, comfortable and together the way it should be,   Nanny is next door waiting for Lora to ring her bell for assistance if needed.  The hard part for me is to back off and let them figure it all out.  Lora had a few tears last night when the house was full of well meaning family and she just wanted she and rob and babe to be together.  It's a very narrow line to walk...doing enough, without taking over, or making Lora feel inadequate.  But we will all figure it out.  The feeling of love and contentment in this house right now is making it pulse with peace.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Currently I am about 25lbs over MY ideal weight.  I am specific about the 'MY' because allot of doctors weight charts would tell me I am only a few pounds over.  I use my mirror to access my condition, and trust me, you don't get back fat unless you are over weight!  Equate my extra weight to carrying around the bag of cat food in the barn, all day, everyday.

 So I am trying to trim down for a number of reasons.

1) Health:  Carrying these extra pounds is not good for my heart or my joints, just for starters.
2) Looks:  I want to look good!
3) Mental Health:  If I look good, even if I hurt, I will feel better about myself.

There is only ONE WAY to lose weight.  STOP EATING SO MUCH AND EXERCISE!

I won't go into my diet in detail, but suffice it to say I have cut out allot of the foods that I really like, substituting stuff I don't really care for.  Yes, it hurts my feelings a little to choose fresh fish over that Big Mac, but it is necessary.  It always amazes me when people say they don't like vegetables as their excuse for not changing their high fat diet.  Really?  You know it is going to be a little unpleasant at times to seriously lose weight, right?

That brings me to the BIGGY!  EXERCISE!  Easier said than done when you have RA.  Keeping your body moving is an important part of managing any arthritis, including RA, but is important to be careful to not do further damage to the joints at the same time.  It is a real balancing act.  The question is HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

Many experts recommend using pain as the cut off point.  Sounds reasonable, doesn't it?  Well if I never exercised a joint because it hurt, I may as well stay in bed, because they a pretty much always hurt.  Sometimes only a little, sometimes they seize up and moving them is agony. Worse than that, is that many times I can achieve quite allot of quality exercise time, only to have all my joints seize up the next day.

The conclusion I have come to is simple.  Many of the meds we take for RA and other auto-immune diseases are a compromise.  They endanger our health in many ways with these medications, including greater risk to our heart and other organs, as well as very unpleasant side effects.  But we take them to help stop some of the damage that the disease does to our bodies. 

Exercise has to come under the same heading.  COMPROMISE! I may do some damage to my joints by using them when they are hurting, but the benefits far outweigh the possible (and not proven) damage to the joints.  By exercising and losing weight the benefits to my general health, less stress on my joints and muscles, fitter heart capable of fighting off the damage from the meds, and over all feeling of well being far out weigh any of this possible damage.

So my line in the sand is AS LONG AS THE JOINT IS FUNCTIONING I am going to exercise it and build strength and fitness. 

The down side, is that getting fit is going to hurt a bit!  It is not easy or everyone would be an Olympic athlete.  Like eating stuff you don't like so much, there is no easy way to do it.  Your muscles that are not accustomed to it, will be stiff and sore and actually hurt like hell, until you build them up.  Your joints, without the firm muscles, will also hurt a bit, even if you don't have RA.  You have to work through this. It does get easier.

If I choose to use pain as an excuse not to exercise then I am accepting a life of limitations, and condoning myself to poor health and being fat for the rest of my life.  No thank you.  Besides, isn't that what they make pain meds for? LOL

(Please understand I am not suggesting you go out and run 5 miles the first day, but do some gentle physical exercise that your condition and level of fitness allows you to gentle stretching, yoga, swimming, or walking. In time you can build from there and run a marathon if you are able.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I don't want sympathy.

I don't need my family and friends to feel sorry for me. In fact it is the opposite.  I want them to still see me as the strong, both mentally and physically, person that I used to be.

Therefore when I don't feel strong, either mentally or physically, I have a tendency to hide.  I isolate myself with my animals who love me no matter what I feel like or if I cry alot or sleep all day.

Sometimes I attempt to break out of this isolation and share with a family member of friend who doesn't have a chronic illness. Usually we both leave the conversation disatisfied with the outcome.  Maybe they make comments about how their head or knee hurts, professing to understand how I feel.  How can they?  Their head or knee will feel better with a couple of Advil or rest.  This isn't their fault and I love them for trying. They want to help and give me sympathy but it makes me feel bad that I have burdened them with my problems and they feel like I'm always complaining.  Or perhaps they offer a solution that worked for them and can't understand how I can not immediately drop everything and rush out to buy the latest and greatest cure. 

What I need is empathy.  This is somethig that only another person dealing with the same type of problem can relate to.  I can turn to a few trusted friends or groups where I can unburden my feelings and get both practical advise and understanding.  Sometimes I forget the value of this empathy and stay hidden longer than I should.  The past few days are a good example of this.

Last weekend I took part in a horse show, something that I love with all my heart.  For the first time it was almost physically impossible to keep going.  Every stride was absolute agony and brought tears to my eyes.  Up until now I have been able to put the pain aside, both with adequate pain control and shear stubborness of will.  This weekend I was unable to do that and it scared the hell out of me.  The future loomed dark and terrible.  What if someday I couldn't do this anymore?  What if three days of labour and effort become impossible?  What if beyond that even an hour in the saddle became impossible?

I tried to express my fears to a few people close to me who either tried to show sympathy or worse gave flippant, 'of course you can' speeches.  One asked why I did it if it hurt so much.  One simple answer...I love it.  I realised that in my efforts to appear strong and able bodied I had hidden just how hard it was. 

Maybe I need to explain that the medicine I'm on IS IT.  Maybe types or dosages can be adjusted, but if 3 opiate pain killers didn't make it tolerable on Saturday morning, what the hell would?  I see one of the best rheumatologist in the country, a Fellow of the Arthritis Foundation, who does research and teaches around the country.  I am on the latest and greatest Biologic and a well proven DMARD.  I have a medical team who controls literally every step and breath I take, yet I'm still getting worse.  Unless someone discovers a cure, this is IT, at best.

This morning I was finally able to put this into words to a dear friend who also suffers from chronic pain.  She didn't whine and wail for me.  She listened and didn't interupt even when I choked up.  She didn't try to compete with her symptoms.  She made a few suggestions that made sense, but mostly she was just there.  Non Judgemental, not critical, not frustrated at me....JUST THERE

I can't expalin how this helped.  It didn't cure me, or get rid of the pain, or even offer any hope that all the worst wouldn't come to pass.  But it did.  The sun came out and I have spent the day looking forward, not too far, but just as far as the next show.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I’ll never forget the first time I saw her.  She was pacing in a tiny dirty stall at a horse sale in Ocala, Fl., hairy, dirty with a look of distrust and fear in her eyes.  She was desperate to find something to get hold of to crib on, but the smooth block walls stopped her.  Around her neck were scars from a cribbing strap and she had half her mane roached off.  The rest was standing on end from rubbing against a hay ring, and half her tail was missing.  She had white spots from healed scars on her sides, either from spurs or skin infections. She stood about 13 hands and was skinny and dull coated.

We had hauled to Florida to show at the Florida reining horse show with our old war horse Eurochex.  After giving my daughter Allie and myself the confidence to succeed in the reining pen it was becoming obvious that at 15 yrs old it was time to retire him for good.  The night before, during our warm up, he really felt sore in his hocks and after a long, late night discussion with Steve and Keeter we decided that this would be his last show.  But the question remained, what would I show this year?  Zero was not stopping and kept falling out of lead, and without extensive vet investigations that probably would not show anything, it was too frustrating to keep trying to show him.  I also had 3yr old Mitch, but after his fractured skull he was at least a year from being ready. For something to do while waiting  for my class later in the day we decided to visit the local sale barn.  On arriving and getting a catalogue we opened it to a random page…and there she was.  Hip number 37 was a 7 yr old ‘finished reiner’ by Conquistidor Whiz.  She had also been used for polo and all sorts of other things. 
Keeter was excited, although I was pretty doubtful that this funny, ugly little mare was worth hanging around waiting for.  Keeter asked to see her ridden, so a ‘cowboy’ with no reining knowledge proceeded to gallop her uncontrollably around the muddy makeup pen.  When he changed direction, she changed leads. When he yanked her around in a circle, she ‘spun’, albeit swapping ends.  But there was potential there, and even without shoes she tried to stop on the awful ground.  Long story short, the deal got done, and later that afternoon she arrived at the showground. 
On Tuesday morning I drove to Keeter’s house and was to be the guinea pig to see how she went.  We had no idea if she had been drugged for the sale or what she really knew.  After lounging her for a few minutes I decided that she probably wouldn’t buck me off straight away, swallowed my fear and mounted.  I rode her around the round pen for 20 minutes trying to get the feel of her.  By this time we had started calling her ‘37’ although we had found out her real name was Jezzibel.  Her head was in the air and she had no face.  If you tried to get hold of her she panicked and stuck her head further up and went faster.  If you put your leg on her side she scooted away from it in fear.  Quite quickly I established that you had to keep her legs moving or she would start to panic and I began bending her head toward her hip in circles at a walk.  Over time this has become our touch stone whenever panic sets in for her.  She had very little directional control and had obviously never done any trot work.  She would ‘turn around’ but would either stop or leap forward if you moved your leg.  We had our work cut out to make her into the ‘finished reiner’ she was advertised to be. 
Although she was the most unbroken, untrained horse I had ridden in a decade of lost confidence, and that sometimes it took 10 minutes of soul searching and walking her around to actually mount, I had fallen in love.  After a week of riding her everyday at Keeter’s and getting her help with the exercises that would teach 37 the things she needed to know, I brought my horse home.

It has taken four months of hard work, dedication and sometimes downright fear to produce the lovely mare she is becoming.  She is weird and quircky and loves me as much as I love her. Other than at dinner time, she rarely cribs, and is fit and shiny with health.  She does lovely level headed circles, guides with my legs, and can stop like nobody’s business!  At home her spins are developing well, although she is still a bit bombastic with them in the show pen, with a tendency to want to jump out.  She can change leads every three strides without ire, and most of the time doesn’t try to buck me off or run away with me anymore.

On Saturday evening she competed in the DRHA Green Reiner Classic and with a combined score of 134 placed 7th  out of 40 reiners to win her first NRHA money.  Watching her video makes me cry with joy when I think of this ugly scared little mare of just a few months ago, and appreciate what she is becoming.
Most of all she likes COOKIES!  Whenever she does something well she gets a reward of a cookie.  I tap her on the check and ask if she wants one.  She will nod her head in response and gobble them up.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Have you ever heard the saying "You get what you ask for", or even "Be careful what you ask for"? 

I truly believe that for allot of things in life this is very true, our health care included.  One of the recurring posts on some of the support sites I visit everyday is frustration and disappointment with our medical care.  We all try to support each other and encourage our fellow sufferers to empower themselves with information and strength.  That is the beauty of being in contact with people who really do 'get it'.

We are trained from childhood to be polite and nice and accept what the nice doctor tells us like it is the holy grail.  We are told to be good patients.  THESE PEOPLE ARE HUMAN, NOT GODS!  They forget, don't know, assume, have doubts and insecurities just like the rest of us.  A 'good' doctor still does these things but by admitting his humanity and listening to his patient he has a better success rate then the 'bad' ones.

So how can we as patients be sure to get the best treatment possible and leave the doctor's office with a feeling of satisfaction and success? 

Many patients don't know how to be assertive with their health care professionals.  They either are aggressive and insulting or meek and accepting of whatever is said to them. 

One of the best way I have found to get better SERVICE is to remember that you are paying for this service.  Would you keep going back to a restaurant where the waitress (receptionist) was rude and didn't seat you?  Or the chef (doctor) burnt your steak time and time again?  Probably not.  If you didn't actually complain at the time, you probably wouldn't go back.  So try to remember that the Doctor is providing a service and is in business.  This immediately empowers you.

What is it about sitting half naked on the examining table that takes away our voices?  If you are unsatisfied with an answer to your questions or don't understand the directions, then ask them to clarify.  You can do this in quite a mild way by saying, "I'm sorry I don't understand, could you explain that to me again?"  So simple but why is it so hard for allot of us?  I bet we would all ask the guy at Best Buy to explain how the DVR worked if we didn't understand him. THIS IS OUR BODY AND HEALTH!  Ask questions and be sure to understand the answer before you leave. 

You can also disagree with your doctor and express your sentiment. Just like anyone else in your life, as long as you are polite, disagree and EXPECT a polite opinion back. 

We need to deal with medical professionals the way we deal with everyone else.  Communicate, EXPECT respect, don't ACCEPT poor service and vote with your feet if you continue to be treated badly.  Empower yourself to be a good patient, and you will find that suddenly your health care needs are being met.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I get goose bumps when I remember the joy of this Mother's Day. 

It may have taken me 3 days to recover from the exhaustion and pain of travelling to Lexington, KY to watch my daughter compete in her last Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National comptition, but it was worth every ouch!

Allie has competed both as an individual and for Berry College the last four years at Nationals and has recieved some very good results.  Last year she was Reining Reserve Champion, and competed at the NRHA Derby.  This was her last chance to be champion. She travelled up on Thursday with her team and by Saturday night Berry College had a slim lead for the team Gold.  It all came down to Allie's Team Horsemanship class, the last of the show.  If the Oregon State competitor beat Allie, then Berry would be Reserve National Champions.  Not bad, mind you, since Berry has never been National Champions or close.

Catherine and I joined up with Allie's friend Keri in Rome, Ga, and her husband drove us 7 more hours to our hotel in Lexington.  It was a rough ride, as I'm not very good at trusting others to do the driving, so stayed awake the whole journey making sure he stayed on the road.  The funny thing was Catherine is a control freak like me, so here both of us were watching intently that he drove us safely.   The night was miserble for me, as I shared a bed with Catherine.  I didn't want to wake her so tried to lie very still, and not toss and turn in pain.  At 4am I was up and rearing to go.

Allie started the day with the final round of the AQHA Cup, where she performed an awesome reining pattern to clinch the Reserve Champion. But was she always destined to be the bridesmaid?  Other team members did their thing and finally it was Allie's turn to ride for the Team.

The class started with rail and then on to the individual patterns.  Allie's ride was very good, but this is the best college riders in the country so they all did great rides.  The awards are announced in reverse, so 10, 9,8 etc.  The 4th place rider was the girl from Oregon State!  We knew Berry had one the Championship, but where would Allie place?

The silence was deafening when only two were left standing.  When they announced the Reserve Champion the whole place went crazy!  We were crying and screaming, including Allie, who bowed her head in tears of joy.

This week two of my babies leave the nest.  Allie is taking her incredible win and Bachelor of Science Diploma and staying at Berry as the Assistant Coach, where she will continue to help Berry win many more Championships.  Catherine is graduating with a Bacholor of Science in Phychology on Saturday and begins her hunt for her dream job, while doing Post Bach classes in medicine.

I am throwing out the pain of RA (I wish!) and getting my horse ready to compete in a few shows this summer before going to England for a month.

And the Newest addition is only 7 weeks away from making his entrance into this wonderful world! When the circle starts all over again.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


It's Saturday morning and I have woken stiff and sore from my activities yesterday.  Oh it was fun and worth it, but somehow I have to get a balance so that I can have fun a few days in a row.  I have a tendency to feel a bit better and jump all in and do way too much.  I might manage this for a few days or even a week but eventually it takes it toll and my body (or actually the RA) says enough is enough.

I spent the day with my friend who is a fit 70 year old.  She did exactly what I did...hauled 2 horses 30 miles, tacked up and rode both of them for approximately 3 hours, and hauled them home again.  I spoke to her about an hour after I got home and she was still on the move, going somewhere with her husband.  On the other hand I was shattered!  I had to go to bed and take a nap just to be able to do the barn chores. Whats up with that?

Now some of you reading this, who live in cities and the only exercise you get is an hour at the gym, would probably be as shattered as I was even withoutt the RA.  But as someone who only a few years ago was up at dawn working physically outside and in my job for 18 hours at a time, this is nothing!  The frustration is immense.

When I asked my husband, from my recliner, how it could be that a 70 year old outlasted me? He replied BECAUSE SHE HAS NOTHING SERIOUSLY WRONG WITH HER. 

I guess this is the memo that I missed...I do have something seriously wrong with me, and I have to cut my cloth accordingly.  Bummer is all I can say. I'm going to ride my wonderful horse this morning, after doing the barn chores for 9 horses.  Then I'm going to get in the truck and drive 8 hours to Lexington, KY to watch Allie compete at the ISHA Nationals tomorrow.  Too much?  Probably.  Steve says he will be dressing me again Monday morning and he is probably right.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I am sometimes asked by well meaning people, how, if I am so crippled with RA, I can ride my horses.  This is a very good question. 

The first thing I want to clarify is that THERE IS NEVER A TIME I AM COMPLETELY WITHOUT PAIN.  The most up to date advice on exersize with RA is not to use the joints that are actively inflammed and painful.  Easier said than done, as many days all my joints hurt to some extent.  The trick is deciding if it is active RA, in which case I should rest it, or 'normal' (for RA) stiffness and soreness.  I don't want to do any more damage to those joints but on the other hand I can't stay in bed my whole life either. And exersizing the supprting muscles is very important, as is keeping my weight under control, to lessen the stress on the joints.


Once you have the mental attitude sorted out the rest is pretty easy.  I have developed many little cheats that allow me to function while on a horse.  It means that sometimes I don't ride as well as an able bodied person, and can't always get the finesse from my aids that is necessary to perform at a high level. But I can usually get the job done.  For instance I make sure my stirrups are a little shorter than I used to ride.  This helps me keep my knees stable.  I also wrap the stirrups with vet wrap to assist with grip.  I use very thin well oiled reins that are easy for my hands to hold.  My mare, 37, is only 13.2 hands high so I am able to mount her easily, but with a larger horse I train them to stand still for a mounting block because I can not raise my leg very high or bend my knee enough to mount easily.  My left hip has very little movement in it, so leg aids to the left are hit and miss.  Once my horses are used to it I can usually keep them balanced to both sides, but it can be a challenge with a young horse.

I then concentrate on training my horses to tolerate my limitations.  The first thing I teach them is voice control. This saved my life the other day when the pain in my ribs caused me to lose partial consciouseness.  I was able to get my mare to slow down, then stop, by voice control alone.  We have been working on this for 3 moths now and she has definitely got it!  right now I am concentrating on learning to use my legs and seat more to guide my horses.  My hands, once soft and supple while giving the aids, have become jerky and rough from the RA.  I am concentrating on keeping them still while steering with my legs.  We are making progress.

So how do I manage to ride with RA?



Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Anyone who has had an accident prone or chronically lame horse will have an inkling of how I feel at the moment.  You know the type...loads of talent, could be a serious contender if you could ever just get him ready to show!  You get him over the stone bruise, ride him for 2 weeks and he cuts his leg on nothing.  You get this healed, ride a few more weeks then he colics.  After  while you throw him out in the field to let Dr. Green fix him or sell him to some unsuspecting soul and forget to tell them he is a lemon. lol

Well in this case, it is ME, THE RIDER, who is the lemon!  I finally get on a cocktail of RA meds that works pretty well and let me operate on a fairly low evel of pain from day to day.  I start riding my horses and just get them ready to show and BAM! I get pnemonia.  Antibiotics take care of that and just when I can stand upright again I break 2 ribs from the coughing.  Back to bed.  Then they start to heal and I get back on my horses and even get a breakthrough with the 3 year old.  He actually figures out how to spin without getting his long uncoordinated legs too tangled up.  Then for no reason out of the blue the RA attacks my body again.  I am in so much pain I can't even sit down without screaming, never mind ride.

So I'm laying in bed, trying not to scream in frustration and pain.  It is a beautiful day and my mare comes up and stands at the gate calling me.  She wants to play, ie ride!  She is saying whats wrong with you? I want to gallop across the sunny fields and kick up my heels in a big buck to make you laugh.  The 3 yr old stands at the gate watching every move, sure that I will be tacking him up soon and giving him cookies when he does well.

Instead like an invalid I sit in the sun on the porch crying in frustration.  This morning I said screw it, I'm going to do it anyway...I can deal with pain, it is part of my life.  That attitude lasts until I try to bend over to put my jeans on.  The sweat is pouring off my face as the stabbing pain makes me feel like fainting.  I did it anyway on Monday. Luckily my mare looked after me because the agony in my ribcage caused me to let go of the reins and try to hold myself until I could figure out how to stop her without letting her do a sliding stop.  The training is working because she locked in and galloped around a large circle without guidance in perfect form.  Once consciousness returned I asked her to trot then walk by voice command and she did.

So what do I do?  Turn myself out?  Sell myself at the Friday night sale?  Buy another body and try again?  Like a 'lemon' horse or car I can't afford to keep going to the doctor. 

Life is too short for spending in bed. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Six Steps To A Fit Horse

Although the weather in Georgia continues to frustrate me trying to get my horses fit for the upcoming show season, or in the case of the youngsters, ready for serious training, a concentrated effort to avoid injuries is a must.

This year I am showing an older horse, 14 yrs old, in some fairly serious NRHA competition.  It is a balancing act between having  him able to compete with the 5 and 6 yr olds, and keeping him sound.  He has fused hocks and also can be stiff and sore from Osteoarthritis everywhere else!  The best treatment for osteo is to keep the joints moving gently.

The aim with my youngsters is to have their still developing joints and muscles able to tolerate the extreme stresses reining puts on them, while advancing their training ready to compete, without causing damage that will lead to the problems my older horse suffers from.

I have developed a 6 steps program that helps both these categories, as well as any horse expected to compete seriously.

1.  Feed and Supplements:  Access your horse's body weight and start a program that will make sure he is not too fat or too thin..  Horses need muscle mass, and only an adequate feeding program designed around a good quality feed will accomplish this.  I feed Nutrena's Safe Choice to everyone on the farm.  It is a high fat (7%), moderate protein (14%) all in one feed that has all the vitamins and minerals needed.  It has very low carbs which if too high can cause horses to 'heat up' temperament wise.  The slightly greater costs is worth the peace of mind that they are getting everything they need and actually works out less expensive than feeding allot of low quality feed.  I also add a small amount of a rice bran and flax seed supplement called Empower to boost fat content allowing for more slow release energy and endurance.  It is most important to continually adjust the amount of feed depending on work level and condition.  And I mean DAILY if necessary!

2.  Other Vitamins and Supplements:  Every horse on the place gets Electrolytes added to their feed summer and winter.  In winter it keeps them drinking, in summer it keeps them from losing too much condition from sweating.  I then access each horse's need for further supplementation.  For instance the older guy gets a joint supplement to help his osteo.  Another horse gets a mixture that controls his skin allergies.  The show horses, or anyone under stress through illness, get pro- and prebiotics.  I use Smart Packs, which make it easy to be sure every horse is getting exactly the right dose, and they auto ship so I never run out.

3.  Start Slowly!  I always estimate that it takes approximately six weeks to fitten the average horse ready for the show ring.  If he is too fat or too thin it will take longer as his condition needs to be fixed first.  You can't decide on Wednesday that you are going to show your horse on Saturday and expect to get away without a combination of poor performance and possible injury.  The first week I concentrate on walking and long trotting, combined with flexing exercises.  The second week I had some loping, about a half mile each way.  By the 4th week I want to be able to lope at a fairly good rate of speed for 2 miles.  I break it into a mile on each lead, with a 10 minute break between to allow the horse to get his air.  Muscles need oxygen!
One way to measure this is drive the route you are taking and measure it, or if working in an arena get a human jogging meter that measures distance.  I downloaded an app for my phone which tells speed and distance!

4.  Be Consistent:  It is no good riding only on Sat and Sunday and letting them sit in the field all week.  With your work schedules it can be hard to get in the saddle this time of year during the week.  Try to fix your schedule to allow a few minutes of conditioning work either early in the morning or evening.  Set up some lights...a few outdoor lights at the top of plumbing pipe of 15-20 ft at each corner of your arena works great!  15 or 20 minutes of fittening work is all that is needed.  A good walk and long trot around the pasture is better than nothing.  Attempt to ride at least 4 times a week, preferably 5.  Like us, they do need time off to allow any minors aches and pains to heal. 

5.  Get Yourself Fit:  We all could do with being a bit fitter ourselves, and for the sake of our horses we should strive to lose those few extra winter pounds to lighten the load.  Most fit, well built Quarter Horses can safely carry 230 lbs.  This includes tack!  So if you and your tack are over this do everything you can to achieve this goal.  Regardless of your weight, your horse will thank you for establishing a balanced seat, and satisfactory muscle tone to stop you bouncing around on his back.  Barn chores, walking and swimming are ideal exercises to get us more supple and lose those few pounds.  Spend some time each ride doing a few exercises while mounted.  Riding without stirrups, pulling your legs up and balancing on your butt, stretching forward, back and to each stirrups will help us achieve a more balanced seat.

6.  Warm up!  This means you and your horse.  Don't just mount up and gallop off into the sunset!  Do some simple stretching before mounting to loosen up.  After mounting spend at least 5 minutes walking your horse on a loose rein, then another 5 min. long trotting allowing him to stretch forward and down.  You will soon get a feel for when you are both ready to get to some serious work.  Asking a horse to do a spin before warming up is asking for injury and mental breakdown. It is an advanced movement that puts allot of stress on mind and body!  At the end of your ride spend another 5 minutes letting his mind and body recover walking on a long rein.  You will both finish with a feeling of accomplishment and joy no matter how the rest of the ride went!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

My RA is not Your (or your friend's) RA

Steve, my husband, and I have been talking allot about our frustrations with this disease lately.  We both are working along our own steps toward acceptance, and it is a hard frustrating experience.

One stumbling block that we have both encountered is the fact that RA doesn't seem to follow a set list of symptoms or progress the same for every sufferer.  If you break your leg, chances are the doctor will xray it, operate on it, set it, and over the next 6-8 weeks it will heal along well known progression of steps.  The antibiotics and the pain killers are usually effective in treating the pain and infection.  In other words, it does what it says on the box!

When I was first diagnosed, (as an adult), I believed that the medicines they advertise on the TV would 'fix' this or at least make life tolerable.  After a few months of researching I began to understand that it is not quite that easy.  The doctors and insurance companies have a tier of care that they treat this disease with, but the disease doesn't realise it needs to cooperate.  I was put on a Biologic; it didn't do anything.  They started me on MTX (chemotherapy) and I am still waiting for some benefit and not just side effects; shortly I'll be on another Biologic---maybe this one will work.  Basically my RA is not responding well to the treatments attempted so far.  Frustrating? What do you think? 

Steve, too, believed the hype of the ads and in the course of his business, has run across others who suffer with RA.  One in particular seems to lead a normal life from the outside!  She was diagnosed almost 10 yrs ago and is well controlled on MTX and predisone.  She works in the family business, at her home, and is always cheerful and happy to the customers who enter her shop.  On the other hand his wife, on the same drugs, cries out in the night in pain, is grumpy when he gets home from work, can't tie her own shoe laces and isn't responding to these drugs.  How can this be?

This is because MY RA IS NOT YOUR RA!  Every patient seems to be affected differently.  For instance, it is believed that RA primarily effects the hands first.  But when you read the onset stories on RA  you see that this is not actually the case.  It is now understood that different components of our immune system are effected by RA and therefore the different Biologic drugs target different aspects of the immune system to suppress.  It is a lottery to figure out which one works the best for each individual.

I also believe one of the biggest causes of confusion is the misunderstanding of the differences between RA and OA. Osteoarthritis (OA) is what your Granny has.  It is caused by wear and tear on the joints.  Most of us will have OA by the time we reach our 50s.  Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that destroys the lining of the joints.  It can affect you at any age.  I was originally diagnosed at 6 yrs old. 

I hope that in the near future I will find the perfect combination of treatment that will prevent days like yesterday.  In the mean time please remember that just because that cream worked for your granny, it may not work for me.  I try to keep my disease in perspective.  By belonging to an online RA community I am very aware that there are folks that are not as badly affected and there are many many more who are allot worse than me.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Today I decided to carry on the conversation taking place on another blog, RA Warrior.  Many people diagnosed with a chronic illness like RA suffer from feeling of guilt due to their disease.  This guilt usually stems from feelings of not being productive enough in their lives, and letting down children, spouses and friends.

Of course, logically we know that this disease is not our fault.  But society has set a standard that we have to live up to, and having RA means that rarely can we make the grade.  It is very frustrating to go from being a successful business woman, active mother and prize winning athlete to needing a disabled parking badge to do the weekly grocery shopping.

Those both living with a chronic illness and friends and family supporting them should ask a simple question of themselves.  Did we (or they) ask for this disease?  Of course not!  So why should you feel guilty?  Or why should you make someone you love feel guilty?  If you were diagnosed with cancer would you feel guilty?  Sad, angry, frustrated and frightened, perhaps.  

Do I feel guilty about having RA?  No, not really.  The further down this road I travel, the less guilt I feel.  Being made to feel guilty by my family and friends is what I battle against everyday.  Almost from the first I have had to defend myself with statements like "This is not my fault" or "I didn't ask for this".
I feel frustration that I can not achieve the things I want to achieve and anger that all my plans for the future are not possible.

My real friends understand, whether they have RA or not.  Allot of the anger expressed by those who do not is frustration on their part, and something they will have to come to terms with, or walk away.

I say to myself a hundred times a day....I'll do what I can, and what doesn't get done, oh well, maybe
tomorrow will be better.

Love and guilt free days to you all...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cold Weather Care For Your Horses

Down here in sunny Georgia we rarely have to worry to much about very cold weather and snowy icy conditions.  Today is an exception though, and this is what makes it dangerous for our four legged friends.

Most horses, except the old, very young or ill, can cope with cold temperatures provided that they have grown warm woolly coats.  The danger comes when it is also wet.  Snow, freezing rain and sleet bring a whole new game to the ballpark.  If you have a stable or run in shed bring your horses in.  I don't have enough stalls for all my guys, so I have even doubled some up to keep them out of this weather.  The two colts are sharing, and Zero and Hochie, who love each other are sharing the run in shed.

If you don't have access to a stall or shed get to Tractor Supply and buy them a waterproof blanket.  You will need to get their coats as dry as possible before putting it on but this will help keep them from getting chilled.  If you put a blanket on a wet coat you could cause fungal skin conditions to develop, as fungus loves warm wet conditions to grow.  Dry them with old towels and handfuls of hay or straw to draw out the moisture.  A quick way to do this is pack loads of hay under a fleece throw and put the waterproof on top.  After an hour or so remove the now damp fleece.

The most important thing is to remember WATER!  Most of the hay we feed does not have a high moisture content and needs allot of water to keep it from impacting in their gut. Once an hour go out and break the ice off of the troughs and buckets.  Invest in a safe water trough heater if you have access to electricity.  Topping off the troughs and buckets with warm water from the house, and even adding molasses to it, will encourage them to drink.  I also add electrolytes to their feed to keep them wanting to drink.  If you don't have electrolytes, add 1/4 teaspoon of table salt to their feed.  Don't trust they are going to use their salt or mineral blocks this time of year.  Most horses that colic in the winter do so because they don't drink enough water to keep their guts hydrated!

Check that you are feeding good quality horse hay.  The hay should be sweet smelling, green and long stemmed.  Short stemmed hay adds to the impaction risk.  Having free range hay to munch on also keeps horses warm by keeping their metabolism active.  Feeding large round bales is ok if you have a hay ring to stop them urinating and defecating on it.  Otherwise feed it by unrolling it and giving it to them.  This prevents allot of wastage and makes sure they are eating clean hay.  If you have minis, foals or donkeys, or calves make sure you lay the round roles on their sides!!!  Every year numerous small equines are crushed by bales falling over on them as they eat from the bottom!!

Everyone stay warm and safe and look after those babies in this nasty weather!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bridless Riding

I have had the privilege to spend the last 3 days at Darling Farm in Princetown, KY, hosted by NRHA Professional Horseman Keith Tidmore, his fiance Michelle, and the rest of his fantastic team.  They have recently relocated to the old Hilldale Farm, and under the new ownership of Ricky Darling, are in the process of developing a training and breeding establishment that will be the envy of the horse world.

The highlight of my stay was the chance to see ridden and to ride the AQHA stallion Tuckers Lil Playboy.  He has earned over $40,000 NRHA and 24 AQHA points.  He is by Elans Playboy out of  Pocita Senorita by Smart Chic Olena.

After being warmed up by Michelle, they asked if I would like to ride him.  Despite the fact that I was in extreme pain with inflammation from RA, I immediately took them up on the offer.  After loping a few fast and slow circles, backing up and turning him around (spins), Keith asked if I was really, really brave.  Well, in reality, I'm not!  In fact up until earlier last year I wouldn't have dreamed of mounting a horse that I hadn't ridden a 1000 times.  Thanks to RA my attitude has changed though, because who knows if I will ever get the opportunity to do these things again.  Better do it today because tomorrow I may not be able to. So I lied, and said I was really, really brave! 

Keith stepped up and removed his bridle!  He hung it on the saddle horn and handed me a rein passed under Playboys neck.  He instructed me to ride with my legs and weight and do all the same things I had just done.  I walked off, then stopped him and backed him to make sure I could, then we were off into a fast lope!  What an exhilarating feeling to trust the horse so much!  He could have done anything he wanted but he loped circles like he was on rails.  Slid to a stop, backed 20 steps and spun right and left like the Champion he is!

I will never forget that feeling as long as I live.  Thank you Keith and Playboy for opening my eyes to both my ability and confidence which lurks somewhere underneath! 

Allie has ridden Trigger Bridleless before, and who knows, maybe I'll give it a go on him.  Here I come Stacy Westfall!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Controversial! Why do you REALLY want to rehome your dog?

Working in the pet industry really opens my eyes to the selfishness of people! (I warned you this was controversial!)  Every day I see something about people who need to rehome their dogs for a variety of reasons.  Number Uno seems to be moving.  Why?  I worked in real estate for 3 years and am very familiar with the laws and rules some rental properties have for pets, but with a bit of effort you can find accommodation that allows pets of all shapes and sizes.  Sure, most will require a pet deposit, and you might have to spend some money on a fence, but a dog (or cat) is for life not just a whim.  They consider themselves part of your family (pack), and will be heartbroken to be banished from their family.  They do have feelings, maybe not human feelings, but feelings nonetheless. 

When you choose to bring a dog into your home and make it part of your family you should consider the future, not just today or tomorrow.  Just like having a human baby.  Do you rehome your child because it will mess up the carpets in the fancy home you want to move to? 

Spend some time and effort when hunting for a new home for yourself.  Make sure your whole family will be comfortable there.  Maybe it is 5 minutes further from work, or has laminate floors instead of carpet.  But accommodating a dog when you move is the deal you made with that dog when you rescued it, bought it, were given it, etc.  You should have thought of that before you said yes.  Now you have a responsibility to provide it with a home, not destroy it's trust in human kind by dumping it on someone else, or worse yet dumping it at the pound!

No one HAS to move to one particular place, unless you just joined the Marines!  Stop, look, and rent a place that will allow your pet!

Peanut's Story

We had 8 dogs, the last thing we needed was another one.  Until I spotted Peanut.  While traveling to the hospital to visit my son on a chilly Sunday morning I first saw a small puppy running up and down the verge of the highway on the opposite side of the road about a 100 yards in front of me.  I just knew he was going to run across the road in front of me so I started slowing down.  Coming in the other direction was a Dodge pickup truck, and despite flashing my headlights at him he never slowed down.  Just as the truck drew even with the puppy he darted out under the wheels.  I was horrified and closed my eyes because I was convinced he was going to be squashed right in front of me.  By this time I was nearly level with the truck, braking hard.  Lo and behold, the little puppy came out from under the wheels straight to my now open door!  I scooped him up and he was shaking and crying.

So here I was with a 8-10 week old Jack Russell mix sitting in the middle of the road.  I started hugging him and looked for a turning to get off the road while deciding what to do.  A few yards further was a turn to a neighborhood.   I knew Steve would not be overjoyed at welcoming another one of my rescues into our already overcrowded home, so I decided to look for his owners.  Maybe this was a much loved puppy who had gotten out of his yard.  Except when I examined him he was skinny with a wormy pot belly and crawling with fleas.  Not 'much loved'!  I drove up and down the neighborhood looking for someone looking for their dog, but no one was about.  I could see no dogs behind the few fenced yards on the road.  Then a lady came toward me in a car and I flagged her down.  On being shown the puppy she said she had seen three children walking toward the road being followed by this puppy and a few others. The children did not acknowledge the dogs or the danger they were putting them in.

My mind was made up!! I rang Steve, who just sighed when I promised I would find him a home, and carried on to the hospital.  I left Peanut sitting in the passenger seat while I went in to see the doctor.  An hour later he was still sitting right where I left him.  On arrival at the house, he was immediately dumped into the kitchen sink and scrubbed with flea shampoo, which I don't normally recommend for such a young puppy, but he was so infested I had no choice.  I also stuffed a tiny piece of Heart Guard down his throat and gave him a 7 in 1 shot.  Poor guy was shaking and scared to death but seemed to know we were trying to help him.  After settling him in a cage wrapped in a blanket he slept all day and ate loads.

He was immediately house trained, in fact he was scared to come onto the porch.  He looked like he had been chased off the porch and made to stay away from the house.

Two months later...he sleeps between his Mummy and Daddy cuddled up to one of us, right above Tilly, another Found dog.  He talks to us in little  squeaky noises and catches at least a mouse a day!  I have been told by someone familiar with the breed that he is a Feist.  It is a Southeastern type of dog bred to hunt squirrels.  All I know is he is adorable and sweet and so thankful to have people who love him. 

So now we have 9 dogs!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What I Learned Yesterday!

Training in earnest started this week on Mitch, my Quarter Horse gelding , who turned 3 yrs old yesterday.  All horses have their birthday on Jan. 1st, so although Mitch's real birthday isn't until April, he will be competing this year in the NRHA Futurities held throughout the Southeast.

Up until Monday he had been ridden in a snaffle for is basic training as a 2 year old but it is now time to advance to a shanked snaffle to prepare him for a curb bit later this year.  In two days he went from being the calmest most accepting colt I have ever had the joy to work with into a stubborn head shaking demon that scared the heck out of me!  Although Allie, his jockey, felt we could work through the problem, I was envisioning having to sell him!  He would bend easily to the right but would throw a major tantrum if asked to bend left in a turn around and start pitching his head and almost rearing.  When we got back to the barn Friday evening I was hugging him and looked down and saw a welt and blood on his lip just where the bit rests!

I checked the bit and realised that where the mouth piece of the snaffle met the shanks was very narrow and not completely smooth.  It was obviousely pinching him on the left side. Poor baby!  Yesterday we went back into the snaffle and had no problems at all.  He was happy to bend both ways, ears forward and very relaxed. And boy can he spin!

So LESSON OF THE DAY!  If a horse suddenly starts acting out of character check for pain first! Check your tack and his body for the problem before you blame his behaviour!  I know THIS, yet I didn't check!!
and NEVER try to save money by buying the cheapest!