Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lengthening The Leash - Sort of...

On October 6th, I had my one and a half years post-chemotherapy CT scans. Six scans later I left the hospital feeling quesy (the combination of barium sulfate and injectable dye gets harder to stomach every time).

My follow-up appointment with my new oncologist, Dr. B was not until the end of the month, so I emailed Andrea, my nurse, a couple of days after the scans. No Evidence of Disease, see you at the end of the month!

On October 27th, I headed back into Farmington and met with Dr. B. First I met with the resident. I truly believe that the job of a resident oncologist is to scare cancer survivors. Did you know there was swelling in my bronchials that showed up on my CT scans? Neither did I. But she sure listened to me breathe for a long time before checking my prior scans and deciding it was always like that - residual scar tissue from the cancer. The joys of being a human science project :)

Dr. B came in and he did a shortened version of the results talk and exam that the resident had done.

Then he said they would switch me to scans every six months, if I was okay with it. Okay with that, yes, I am great with that. Moving my scans to every six months (versus every three) was my big goal for this appointment.

He did say that they still need to be very vigilant and I will still need to be checked every four months, but that it can be done with bloodwork, rather than scans (with scans every six months so there will be a period twice a year when I am in the cancer center every two months).

Although I was not overly thrilled with this decision (I was hoping they would lengthen my leash to only showing up at the cancer center once every six months) I accepted his decision without argument or comment. Both Dr. B and Dr. A have talked about being vigilant about my follow-up care and since I did have cancer and they are oncologists, I am not going to argue that one.

I will take my victories where I can though and am very happy that I do not have to drink barium sulfate for another six months!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

NEATO Trick or Treat Ride

Last Saturday, I loaded John onto the trailer and drove out to the Hartford County 4-H Camp in Marlborough for the New England Arabian Trail Organization (NEATO) Trick or Treat Ride. It was advertised as a 13 mile pleasure ride with two river crossings, numerous brooks and rocky footing where shoes or hoof protection were recommended.

I was eager to take John on a "fun" ride and it has been years since I rode the trails at the 4-H camp. Trick or Treat with NEATO sounded like the perfect opportunity.

I arrived at the campground and parked next to Jim and Esther (who also ride Morgans on the competitive trail circuit). The next trailer into the lot was one of the riders I met at Fun In The Forest the previous week. Its a small world!

NEATO does a great job organizing rides. I went to register and there was a huge breakfast spread, including coffee, candy (makes sense, it was a trick or treat ride), fruit for humans and apples and carrots for horses. I grabbed another cup of coffee, some carrots for John and candy for my saddle bag and then went over the trail map and markings with Roxanne.

The trail was separated into three loops, the loop out of camp, marked with striped tape, which is one mile one way. The next loop was pink and seven miles. The third loop was orange and 4 miles. I tacked up and headed off down the trail at twenty of ten. On the first loop, you cross the Salmon River, with the drought we have had, the river was not high, but it is the first sizable river I have had John cross. He had a lot of fun pawing the water and then scurried to the other side.

Riders were all incredibly bunched up on the first loop. When we got to the turnoff (left for pink and right for orange), Esther and Jim decided to go right while everyone else was going left. John was a bit jazzed up, but so was Esther's horse, so I decided to go left with the rest of the pack onto the pink trail. I thought it would be a good opportunity for John to practice being calm and not racing other horses.

We rode alongside the Jeremy river and then crossed that river as well. This one was deeper and a lot more fun to cross. John was having a great time exploring the river until a horse came flying up the trail and into the river behind us. We quickly crossed the river and pulled off to the side of the trail to let the excited horse pass us.

After a little while on the pink trail I discovered why hoof protection was strongly recommended. The trail was one of the rockiest I have ever seen. And there were lots of hills. The terrain neccessitated a slow and careful route, something John was not always willing to do but he soon settled in. I kept him behind the horses in front of us for a long time. After awhile, I got bored of always walking, so when we found a good spot, I let him trot and we passed several groups. John decided that this meant we were on a competitive trail ride and should be going fast, so we started over with trying to calm down and walk quietly.

We finaally made our way back to the Jeremy river. This time, I let him cross the river as slowly as he wanted. I was enjoying the view too. We walked down the road, past the opening to the striped trail (that led back to camp) and picked up the orange trail for another four mile loop. The orange trail is airline trail - packed dirt and gravel roads. John loves airline trail and I let him canter right away, to make up for the rocky woods trail (his least favorite kind of trail). He had just settled into his stride when I saw people walking on the trail up ahead. I eased him back to a walk and we walked past the people. Off we went into the canter again and then we rounded a bend and saw a mother and son sitting on a rock with their bicycle off to the side. I eased him back into a walk and we went past the people.

We encountered our first loose dog of our lives further up the trail when he came running at us. Luckily, his owner was right there and grabbed him. The owner also had his elderly mother sitting in a chair at the trail head that I needed to cross into and was standing next to the small opening (half blocked by his mother in her chair) with the dog straining to get at John. Despite this mini-circus, John behaved like a star and listened very closely to me as we eased past the lady in the chair and the dog. I also mentioned that there were several horses behind me that would be coming along the same trail (since they had not offered to move).

We rode down a steep hill on some woods trail from one set of airline trail to another to make the loop of airline trail. As we galloped along the Salmon river, another loose dog ran out at us. He was only a small dog (Boston Terrier) and he would run at us barking and then run away because he was scared. I kept walking John forward, talking to the dog and soon his owner appeared from the river bank - they were fishing. And on we galloped again. Until we found a great spot where we could walk down into the river so I rode John right into the Salmon river and let him stop for a drink and a break. We continued to canter along until we were back at the road.

The striped trail was not far from the orange trail and we quickly headed back to camp (after crossing the Salmon river one more time).

Our thirteen miles were complete and it was a great time. I had let John run a bit on the airline trail because I was hungry and the registration form said lunch was only being served from noon until one. I rode back into camp at twenty of one. I had lunch with several of the other riders (chili, mmm) and then they all headed back out on the trail. Wait a minute... I could have taken my time on this ride. They all did one loop (pink or orange) and then had lunch and then did the other loop. And then they were going to do it all over again on Sunday.

I guess my horse is not the only one who needs a little more practice on the art of a "fun" ride.

Friday, October 22, 2010

2nd Annual Fun In The Forest Trail Ride A Success




The 2nd Annual Fun In The Forest Trail Ride to benefit First Descents (www.firstdescents.org) was held on Saturday, October 16, 2010 at the Silvermine Campground in Natchaug State Forest in Eastford.

Short story - it was really windy from leftovers of a Nor'Easter but we had a lot of fun and raised $800 for First Descents. For the long story, keep reading.

It was windy and cold. Only nineteen people rode. Some came, walked around and decided it was too windy for their horses and then went home. The nineteen that did ride had a great time. I usually don't ride the rides I am organizing - its just too much to do. But my good friend Debbie was driving an hour and a half down from Massachusetts with a three year old gelding that had never been on a trail ride before. I decided to ride with Debbie.

Dice K (Debbie's gelding - nicknamed after the Boston Red Sox pitcher) got off the trailer and walked around pretty calmly. So far so good. We tacked up our horses and off we rode. Half mile into the trail, riding side by side, both horses scooted forward really fast. I yelled "hey" at John because he knows better than that and then looked behind me to see what he could possibly be afraid of. I saw a really large branch hit the ground. It would have hit Debbie and I in the heads if our horses hadn't saved us! The rest of the trail ride went great and was lots of fun :) Dice K was a star - so much better behaved than John was on his first trail ride.

I would not have been able to ride without the help of Kelsey McMullen and Sharon Aborn on registration and Carolyn Stearns coordinating lunch. Thank you ladies!

And of course, the ride would not have been nearly as much fun without Janeen Rose choosing and marking the trail and coordinating the scavenger hunt.

The Fun In The Forest Trail Ride also has great prizes. Thank you to our prize donors - all riders left with at least one prize! Our 2010 sponsors were: Edible Arrangements, Dover Saddlery, Jade Stanbrook, Judy Candage, Absorbine, Finish Line, MacMountain Tack Repair, Riding Right, Deb's Special Treasures, Farnam, Griffinbrook Saddles, Best Shot Pet, US Rider, Slypner Gear, FarmVet, HorseLoverz.com, Long Riders Gear, Equine Monitors and Hunter Pace Tack Shop.

Lunch also had sponsors this year! Subway donated grinders, Chaplin Farm donated apples, Edible Arrangements donated fruit, and Walmart and BJ's Wholesale Club both donated gift cards that were used to purchase water, soda, chips and granola bars.

And finally a really big THANK YOU to everyone that came out and rode with us. The 2010 riders (and fundraisers) were: Maureen Hanink, Linda Wenner, Barbara Godejohn, Janeen Rose, Hannah Kalichman, Lauren Marshall, Jenna Goldsnider, Debbie Lukas, Barbara Archambault, Sylvie Napoli, Loree Oswoski, Gail Miller, Susan Scott, Lisa Gallagher, Dennis Gallagher, Lisa Glow, Bonnie Glow and Jean Morrison. Thank you all for coming to ride for First Descents with me!

I can't wait to see you all again in 2011 as we ride for First Descents again!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Marking Trail For The Fun In The Forest Trail Ride

We went out on Thursday afternoon to mark the trail - 10.5 miles in a local state forest, the same state forest I used last year. We rode out of horse camp at 2:25 pm. I started marking trail by myself and then Janeen and Maureen joined me. Janeen had picked the trail and also organized the scavenger hunt. In addition to putting trail markers up, she was placing scavenger hunt items. Now that there were other horses with us, my gelding decided it was a race. We stayed anywhere from 100 to 500 yards in front of the other two at all times. I would ride back to them to check trail routes (turn right or left) and so that we did not get too far ahead and then ride off on my own marking trail some more. When I stopped to put a marker up, he gave me 2 seconds to get the marker onto the tree, if I didn't get it done, I had to try again at the next tree. Luckily Janeen was behind me to fix my "oops" moments when I could not get a marker up fast enough.

I ran out of markers on the gas line trail. I really underestimated how often I would want to put markers up. Luckily Janeen had lots and she put markers up and I just rode along with her (well, in front of her).

It was getting really dark, and got to the point where we could no longer see the branches. Janeen said she would finish marking the trail on Friday and that we should just be done. We were headed back to camp and came upon the turn off for her house, she decided to ride home rather than having me trailer her horse home - her horse is pretty sure footed in the dark. This made me kind of nervous. There have been several mountain lion sightings in horse camp. And it was almost pitch black out. And my cell phone battery was almost dead.

I trotted John (my gelding) back to camp chanting the mantra "I am not an easy meal!" quietly to myself. I learned this mantra (and to yell it at mountain lions if confronted by one) from Beau, the campground director at my First Descents camp in 2009. It probably would have been better if I yelled "I am not an easy meal" on the way back to the trailer. Every time a twig snapped, I jumped. We got to the trailer and I quickly untacked John and loaded him up. Home we went.

A huge THANK YOU to Janeen for being an outstanding volunteer. The Fun In The Forest Trail Ride would not have happened without her help!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

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Thanks so much for your support,

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Volunteers Wanted!

I am looking for volunteers to help with the 2nd Annual Fun In The Forest Trail Ride on Saturday, October 16, 2010 at the Silvermine Campground in Natchaug State Forest. As many of you know, the trail ride is a benefit for First Descents (www.firstdescents.org). First Descents has had a major impact on my life and I am looking forward to hosting the trail ride for them again this year.

Volunteers Needed For:

Marking the Trail - Janeen (rode at Fun In The Forest and Spring Fever) is going to help me pick a trail this Sunday. We need to mark the trail on Friday.

Pick up apples - Chaplin Farms has donated apples but someone needs to go pick them up Thursday or Friday (October 15th). We have a volunteer - thank you Kelsey!

Registration - it starts at 9 a.m. so volunteers would need to arrive around 8:30 am and be there until at least 10:30 am - We have at least one volunteer - thank you!

Photographer - we need more pictures this year! I have a lot of prizes being donated and the donors would like pictures and First Descents would also like pictures and I bet the riders would like pictures too

Scavenger Hunt - optional for riders and lots of people are signing up. Its a photographic scavenger hunt and I need someone to check off items as riders are returning from the trail.

Lunch - This is a big one. I am still looking for a sponsor for lunch and then we need someone to coordinate, feed riders and volunteers and clean up. If you have any ideas for a sponsor - let me know! I have asked a lot of local restaurants but haven't found anyone willing yet.

Unmark the Trail - Take the trail markers down. I would like to ride Fun In The Forest if possible this year, and if so, I can ride out last and take them down as I ride back.

It seems like I must be forgetting something, but this gives you a rough idea of what I need help with. If you have any availability or ideas for me, please let me know. I know some of you won't be able to attend, but forward this on if you know of someone that wants to volunteer. I am still trying to figure out prizes for volunteers too!

Thank you for your time and consideration! If you are interested in helping out, email me at stearnsiejr at yahoo dot com

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Warren Tessier




My last competitive trail ride of the season. And I am kind of bummed about that, but I was really looking forward to this ride because I have heard so many good things about it.

The Warren Tessier 30 mile Competitive Trail Ride is hosted by the Hartland Riding Club at Connie Tessier's house in Hartland, Vermont. Once again, Megan picked up John and off we drove (in the pouring rain) on Friday afternoon to Vermont.

When we arrived at Connie's house, no one was there. For a minute I had foxhunting deja vu and worried that we were in the wrong place or the ride was cancelled! Once again, I was glad to be wrong! Soon more trailers and horses arrived.

We set up our paddocks and unloaded the horses and settled them in. John had spent the past two days in his stall because of the heavy rain at home so I took him for a walk around the riding ring and back. I walked and trotted him and then trotted him in circles. He was pretty spunky to start but he settled down and was trotting with some semblance of behaivor so I took him back to his paddock.

Shortly after this, the vets arrived and the vet in process began. John had his best trot in ever. He scored below average and I was ecstatic. I know that sounds odd, but at past Competitive Trail Rides he has bucked and cantered during the trot in, or done park trots. He was getting a reputation for "putting on a show" during his trot in. The only problem with this is that you lose points for change in gait from trot in before the ride to trot out after the ride. It is hard to replicate the "shows" John put on in trot ins after a 25-30 mile ride. I have been trying to untrain the show horse in him to just do a relaxed trot in. Although we still have more work to do, we are making progress.

Dinner was a potluck in Connie Tessier's house. This was a lot of fun. At many rides, we are all in our own area, doing our thing with our horses and often don't get to interact much with everyone else. Dinner at Warren Tessier was a big family affair with everyone laughing and joking. The competitive trail group is a really nice group of people and it was fun to sit and chat.

We were visiting with Connie (who at eighty is spunky and lively and one of the nicest people I have ever met) in the living room when Joanna came in and told us that one of our horses was loose and eating grain out of the back of the pickup truck. Megan thought it was Minnie since her paddock was in front of the truck, but the situation sounded rather suspicious of something John would do so I followed them back out to the trailers.

Minnie was standing in her paddock, watching John eat her grain with a horrified look on her face. I grabbed John's halter (the first time I have ever taken it off of him at a ride and look what happens!) and carefully backed him out of (he was in between Lasher's electric fence paddock and Meg's truck and trailer) and took him back to his paddock. We use a single strand of tape and it was pretty obvious he had ducked right underneath one section and gotten out. When I put him back in his paddock he started leaning on the fence, eating the grass on the other side. Burnie soon discovered that he had forgotten to attach the tape to the fence charger, John got zapped a couple of times and his healthy respect for the fence returned.

For anyone that has ever heard me joke that I sleep like a dead person, it has been confirmed as a truth in the competitive trail ride community. Two horses (not ours) got loose Friday night and everyone in ride camp heard them and woke up to help catch them. Everyone, except me. I slept through the entire incident and heard the recap from Burnie and Dale Saturday morning.

More trailers (local riders) arrived Saturday morning. We had our pre-ride talk and we were off. They lengthened course time because they recently had six inches of rain. We had a maximum of five hours and forty five minutes to complete the ride without time penalties. Several friends and veterans of the CTR circuit told me that this was a very tough ride and to be careful and use all the time I was given. I asked a lot of questions and made a game plan. Go fast when I could, go slow where it was questionable and take time penalties if necessary.

John and I were riding alone again. As we were warming up, I could feel a lot of horse under me. He was raring to go. Considering that our last ride was only two weeks ago, I was a little surprised! The first ten miles were pretty interesting. John was very strong and even though we were riding alone I had to work hard to keep him at a controlled trot and to bring him back to a walk for questionable terrain. Somewhere in the first part of the ride we went through a mud puddle, I just thought it was a regular mud puddle like the others we had seen and ridden through but in the middle of it, the water was up over my stirrups. John lunged and slipped a bit to get out of the puddle. At another point early on, I was trotting in some decent woods trail and all of a sudden we hit a puddle that was obscured by leaves and John slipped. I blame myself for not paying careful enough attention to the trail and I believe one of these two incidents is the cause of later problems on our ride.

There was more dirt road than I had bargained on. We trotted most of it with short spurts of canter and a few short walk breaks. I was still a little nervous about time after the VERDA ride and decided to go fast when I could since I did not know what the rest of the trail would be. I should have given John a few more walk breaks.

At around mile ten, John stopped on the trail and did not want to move. Two riders were right behind us and he kept stopping as we climbed a hill. I had a very strong suspicion that he needed to pee. He did, but he would not do it (despite the fact that he did on other rides).

After seventeen miles we arrived at the hold. I had caught up to Megan and Burnie (along with several other riders) in the last couple of miles before the hold so rode in with them. John was very busy watching all of the action at the hold. He made the pulse check, but they said he would have pulsed down lower if he could just focus. We went for our trot out and the vet said he was off and asked me to trot again. He has never had lameness issues and I was freaked out. I asked the vet if I should pull him but she said it was mild and that I could keep going. I seriously considered pulling him, I really don't want to hurt my horse, but since I was ahead of time and the vet said it was okay, I headed back out.

I went back out with Megan and Burnie. I thought I would try riding with them and see if John could behave in company now that a large chunk of the ride was done. For awhile, we were fine riding together and it was a lot of fun. I was very glad for the company because I was still slightly freaked that John was off and they could help me keep an eye on him. After about five miles of riding together I had to let them go ahead though. Leaving the hold, John was pretty mopey and didn't have much "go." After a few miles, he got his second wind or whatever you want to call it and started grabbing the bit and galloping to catch up with Minnie and Dolly. In areas of questionable terrain, with a horse that the vet has already declared as slightly off, I decided this was not a good idea. I let them ride on without me. John was thoroughly unimpressed with my decision and declared this by snorting as he park walked down the trail. Once they were out of site he settled back down.

The last five miles were pretty uneventful. It took forever to get from the four to go sign to the three to go sign and I started worrying a bit about making time. Then all of a sudden I was a the "1 to go" sign. I let John walk as slow as he wanted to for the last mile, I had a little over fifteen minutes left to get back. When Joanna and Bill caught up to me I verified that it had really been the "1 to go" sign. Where was the "2 to go" sign? I had missed it about one minute after the "3 to go" sign. They had mismarked that stretch just a tad. I walked John back into base camp after five hours and forty four minutes out on the trail (including 31 minutes at the hold). I untacked and sponged him off and waited for my pulse check.

Linda, one of our judges from Leverett, did John's pulse. He was antsy and kicking out with his hind leg. He still needed to pee and would not do it but was obviously very uncomfortable. And he would not pulse down. Despite all of the walking on the last five miles, he still pulsed at a 56. I was really bummed. Linda told me to throw him outside and not let him in the barn until he figures out how to pee outside. She said that if he hadn't been so uncomfortable he would have pulsed down lower. Tough love. But I'm not so sure I can do that to him. Since its our last ride of the season I am going to try to train him to pee when I whistle instead. Friends that race Standardbreds do this and we have months to work on it.

We trotted out and the vet said he was off in his right front. It had been the left front at the hold. She was not too concerned, I was more worried because I have never lost lameness points before.

After the trot outs, I tied John back up at the trailer to eat hay. He finally peed, for a really long time. We did our hands on with the vets and he was puffy in his right front fetlock and right rear. I really think those two slips early on had a lot to do with this and feel bad that I didn't steer him clear of those puddles.

All in all I am really proud of John. Once again he tried his heart out and really did a good job. We have plenty to work on before next season but I am really happy with John and the amount of effort he has put in this year. I want to take him on a couple of hunter paces and fun trail rides this fall and then he will get three months off to rest before next year.