Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cancerversary

After a bit of a blogging hiatus it seems rather fitting to start back up with this post. I haven't written anything for awhile because I've been busy and spending a lot more time behind a computer at work. Truth be told, the hiatus may resume after this post while I finish up a few magazine articles and ride my horses. But on to the reason for this post...

Four years ago today, I was tipped upside down in a chemo chair at the UConn Health Center in Farmington waiting for my last chemo session for Hodgkin lymphoma while my port gave the nurses headaches. A lot of people recognize their cancerversary as the day they were diagnosed. To tell you the truth, I don't remember the day I was diagnosed. I was filling out a medical form shortly after diagnosis and it asked for the date of diagnosis. I couldn't remember it and made one up. I knew it was a Friday, that it was in September and the year was 2008. The 18th seemed like a good day to me and that's been my diagnosis date ever since.

My diagnosis date was irrelevant to me because it took a year of misdiagnosis, two years of debilitating pain and golf ball sized lumps in my neck to get to that date. By the time Dr. J finally diagnosed me with cancer I was just glad to have an answer.

There are two days in the myriad of doctor appointments that I do remember distinctly. October 30th was my first chemo and April 3rd was my last. In the grand scheme of cancer, I got off easy, I did my six months and got out. Knock on wood, fingers crossed and anything else that is lucky I will never have to go back again.

April 3rd is the day I finally got to put it all behind me and that is the day I choose to acknowledge.

I moved to Ashford shortly after I finished chemo. In October, I moved to Windham and one of the boxes that came with me was filled with cancer related paperwork. One night I sat on the couch, re-read it all and threw it all away. I kept the second box of cancer stuff - the box of cards all of you sent me during chemo and things from the dinner - thank you! The only other things I kept were the original PET scan results; the ones that were explained to me as "You lit up like a Christmas tree," meaning there was cancer everywhere and the "medical life plan" that my oncologist Dr. A gave me after my last chemo.

Throwing all of that cancer paperwork away was an activity to bring closure to that time of my life (not to mention its one less box to move next time, because I'll be moving again before too long). But I've realized that you can never completely leave the past behind because it becomes part of who you are.

I'm working on three articles for Massachusetts Horse magazine right now. I love writing for that magazine and the people and their horses that I get to meet. Monday night, I did three phone interviews and had a slew of emails as well. And then I read an email from one lady that stopped me in my tracks. The interview lead had come from a friend of the lady, who told me, I knew a special horse. I told the friend, "have the owner contact me." The horse's owner emailed me a faded picture of her daughter on a Morgan gelding and the story that went with it made me cry.

Here is a condensed version of their story: The daughter (an avid horsewoman) was a year older than me and was diagnosed with cancer when she was 20 and given a 2% survival rate. She died in September of 2000. Shortly after that, the mom found the daughter's childhood horse, a Morgan gelding and brought him home to live out his retirement and offer her some solace and friendship. In 2010, when the horse was 31, the mom was sitting on a bench dedicated in her daughter's memory at the beach in Maine when the vet called from the mom's home about the horse - he was sick. As the mom sat on her daughter's bench talking to the vet, the horse took his last breath.

I haven't responded to that email yet, but I will. And I will figure out how to incorporate that girl, her horse and her mom into the article I'm writing. I don't know yet if I'll tell the woman why her story resonated with me, or about the Morgan gelding who babysat me while I was on chemo and continues to be one of the best friends I'll ever have. The point is, all or our stories are intertwined and the past comes back. It can come back and haunt you, or it can come back and remind you of all you have to be grateful for. I choose to be grateful.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Breaking Bad Habits

I had been riding Secret at home after several wild rides around the farm. In case you missed the earlier post - you can read more about that at "You Don't Scare Me, I Ride A Mare."

I was originally going to take her to Vermont on January 19th for the 15-mile CDR, but then had a funeral to attend that day. When I found out about the funeral, I gave her a month off.

Today, my brother said he was going for a ride over the hill and asked if I wanted to go with him. I hadn't ridden Secret in a full month, but decided to take a chance and tacked her up. We've ridden with Scout at quite a few rides and his calm demeanor and generally good behavior is good for her confidence. I thought following him around the farm would be a good way to start breaking her habit of spooking and then growing roots when we ride around the farm.

True to form, Secret was really good for the majority of the ride, following Scout on a loose rein. She had a few little mare-isms where she bucked and spun simultaneously, but focused again really well. And considering that I hadn't ridden her in a month, it was hard to decide whether to blame the isms on the time off or previous bad behavior.

I'm going to ride her around the farm the next few times with Tim, and see if we can't break her bad habits for good. I don't think she's truly scared, I think she got scared once (okay, so a plastic bag whipping by at warp speed is slightly nerve wracking...) and has wound herself up and made herself even more scared. I know a lot of horses that behave worse at home (not just mine!), but that is one habit we don't need to continue.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sixth Sense

A couple of weeks ago, I had a morning where I didn't need to be at the office until 10 AM. I took advantage of the two extra hours by spending some time in the barn. I still had some time left and decided to hike the pine tree loop up through the cornfields.

I hadn't gotten very far when I saw two deer up eating in the cornfield. I snapped this picture with my phone, and they actually let me get quite a bit closer before they took off.


I've decided that wildlife (at least the wildlife in our corner of the world) have a sixth sense about when hunting season is. These deer seemed to know that hunting season had recently ended and they were perfectly safe to continue eating as I walked through the snow towards them. Although even if it had been hunting season, the deer would have been perfectly safe with me.

I'll take that statement a step further too. I think the geese (at least on our farm) recognize the hunters' trucks. If the guys are in the blinds at the Pine Tree, the geese are in the valley. If the guys head to the valley the next day, the geese are in front of the barn. When the season ends, there are geese everywhere.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Clarification

To be fair to Secret, I should probably admit that I knew I was going to be in for "a real ride" the day I ended up walking the loop with her before we even left the barn.

I took this picture of her standing on the cross ties while I tacked up. She was wired for sound from the minute I pulled her out of the field. One thing is for certain - she makes no secret about what her mood is!


Of course, we've had some fun, quiet rides this winter too. They just don't provide as much to write about.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Minnesota Girl

A Minnesota girl is not an indoor girl.

Remi was born in Minnesota and spent the first couple years of her life there. Remi loves to be outside, and really thinks there is no good reason for her to be in her stall in the barn. Ever. For any reason.

This horse epitomizes what people say about other people, "they haven't had their cup of coffee yet today."

When you go in the barn in the morning to feed and put horses out - Remi is that horse that is grumpy and ugly until you open her stall door and put her outside. Once she realizes you are putting her out, she turns back into the sweet, in your pocket horse that wants to be your best friend.

Secret was raised in a run-in shed for the first two years of her life, living outside with the herd in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Lilac was born on the side of a mountain in Vermont and spent the first three years of her life there. John was born in Illinois and spent one winter there. None of my horses mind being outside, but they all appreciate coming into their stalls and a fluffy bed of shavings at night. Remi, not so much.


I keep promising her that someday I will get things set up so that she can live in a run-in shed. Until then, I'll keep hustling to get her out the door quickly in the morning.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

You Don't Scare Me...

I ride a mare.

That saying was being posted on facebook a couple weeks ago by numerous horse people and every time it made my news feed, it made me smile. Truer words have never been spoken.

There is another horse saying I believe in, "Stallions are from Mars, Mares are from Venus, and Geldings are From Heaven." I'm not saying that my gelding is perfect, he's far from it and has all sorts of behavior issues of his own. But he's very honest in his bad behavior - you always know what to expect with John. I've worked with a few stallions over the years too, starting with Tory, the stallion I took lessons on when I was 12. A stallion that knows the difference between his jobs (working and breeding), can be a really fun horse. Plus the testosterone gives him an extra edge on the performance side.

Sometimes I wonder how I ended up with mares. Looking back at my history of horse ownership, the majority of my horses have been mares. I've had some absolutely terrible rides on Secret this winter, which is why the facebook saying keeps making me smile. To be fair, they weren't terrible, I didn't fall off, no one was injured; she was just obstinate; and acting scared to death of things she's walked by a hundred times. The frustrating part for me is that her "fear" changed from ride to ride. Mounting up, I never knew which horse I was going to be riding.

One day in early December we rode our standard loop of the farm. She stopped and needed coaxing at so many places. I swear she grew roots a couple of times and was turning into a statue. At the end of the loop, I decided I couldn't let her get away with that so jumped off and led her around the loop a second time. You know how much time she wasted standing still staring at things? It only took me half as much time to lead her around the loop than it did to ride it.

Yup, you don't scare me, I ride a mare.


This is Secret on one of our wilder rides in October. It wasn't windy that day - she was just tossing her head and her rump around that much. Deciding to take pictures may not have been advisable, but since nothing bad happened...


Here's the thing though - as much as riding a mare can completely frustrate me, I have learned more from the challenging mares I have worked with over the years than the compliant geldings. Channeling that energy (the good, the bad and the ugly) is an art.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Horses Never Forget

I went up to Massachusetts to visit a friend on Saturday before the snow storm arrived.
Some of the horses that were at the farm when I worked there are still there today.

I headed back down the hill from the house, to the barn parking lot after visiting, and saw three of the barn crew headed to one of the pastures to bring in four of the horses. I wanted to say hello to all of them too (the people and horses), so followed them to the pasture. The people didn't notice me following as they were in conversation with each other.

They caught three of the horses, but the fourth one was pressed up against the fence and staring at me. They called his name several times but he paid no attention to the barn crew, he just kept staring at me as I approached. It was Howie. When Nina looked to see what had captivated his attention and saw that it was me, she had me take him back to the barn.

I've read several studies recently about how horses don't forget people. It's been six years since I lived and worked in Massachusetts, but it was pretty obvious that Howie remembered me. I scratched his neck and talked to him a little as I led him back down to the barn and he happily walked along at my side.

I don't know if Howie was excited to see me because he always liked me, or if he just remembers that I had a soft spot in my heart for him and fed him extra peppermints. But either way, seeing his excited face as I walked up the hill to the pasture made my day.