Endurance Riding

Feb 14 2018

Capturing Memories

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Giving birth is such an intense, intimate experience. It is one of those single moments in a woman’s life that she will never forget. Most women want to preserve those birth memories in some form — whether through photographs, video, or stories from friends who were there for the big moment…

 

When I was pregnant, it was a struggle for me deciding whether or not I wanted a birth photographer. Sure, I wanted photos taken, but did I want a stranger in my home seeing me naked, with fluids dripping out of my most intimate parts? And how would I react? Would I want the camera on me? Would I even be aware of the photographer? Or would I tell her to get the heck out of my face?

 

Ultimately, I decided I did, in fact, want a birth photographer present at our home birth. The decision was an easy one when a client (now a good friend) offered to take our birth photos free of charge. We invited a second photographer (the daughter of a close friend) to take photos as well; she isn’t a professional like Kristi, but is a talented student and Kristi was willing to mentor her. The photos they both took left us breathless. I would like to share some of their work here, along with their own personal accounts of Asher’s birth (both of which left Gary and I in tears).

 

***

 

Jaya’s Birth Story, Through My Eyes

Haley MacPhail

 
“Gary Gregory” popped up on my phone while I was driving to target with my roommate. It was around 7pm. A rush of adrenaline ran quickly through my body, and I thought to myself, “Oh shit”. I picked up the phone and in my normal high pitched somethings-happening voice, I answered “Hellooo”? Declan’s sweet voice started speaking, “Um, hi, Haley I just wanted to tell you we think mom’s in labor but wait to come up but just pack your stuff, like now.” He immediately hung up the phone. I took a deep breath and smiled. 20 minutes later my phone rang once more, and it was Declan.
 
“Um, hi, Haley, mom’s in labor, so you need to come… like now.” I laughed, and said, “Give me 30 minutes, I’ll get up there as fast as I can.”
 
I was panicked. I was feeling every emotion: excitement, anxiety, adrenaline. It was all there. I hadn’t showered, hadn’t eaten, and had a final presentation the next morning. But those things didn’t matter at all in that moment. I shoved a couple outfits in my bag, grabbed my camera, and yelled goodbye to my roommates. It was about 9 pm, and I stopped by Dutch Bros. Coffee because I knew it would be a long, but incredible night. I wasn’t able to wipe the smile off my face when I told the employees what I was on my way too. They gave me the free coffee, and said “go go go!” The 30 minute drive up there felt like eternity, and it consisted of constantly checking my rear view mirror for police (I wasn’t speeding tooo bad).
 
When I stepped inside the house, I was immediately greeted by the other photographer and good friend, Kristi. The house was quiet. It felt sacred, and personal. I heard Jaya’s voice in the back, and it had begun. The midwife, Katarra, was on the ground with Jaya, along with that big smile on her face. Next to her was her husband, Gary. On the bed were Jakob and Declan. Declan had the video camera in hand, with nothing but awe and interest glued to his face. Jakob had more of a “holy crap I’m watching my mom give labor what is this” look on his face. But both, you could certainly tell, were beyond excited to be there with their mom.
 
The next 30 minutes or so were painful, but beautiful. I noticed a couple things that night that I want to mention, because they will stick with me for life. Jaya and Gary have a magical relationship, and the way they handled this birth was beyond me. I was standing and moving about the room while Jaya switched positions about every 5 minutes. In between contractions, Declan would ask a question about birth, whether it be “why is mom yelling so much?” or “are you sure she’s okay?” I did my best to comfort them both, making it known that is a natural process, and that their mom is the strongest of all.
 
The next thing that happened was only a comment, but one that stuck with me. Jaya was in a lot of pain, pushing in uncomfortable positions, and Gary was by her side the entire time. Now, of course husbands are supposed to do that, and they want to do that, but while I was focusing on Jaya, I was also focusing on Gary.
 
His eyes never wandered from her, his hand grip never let loose, and the excitement and surprise in his eyes were extraordinary.
 
As Jaya was finished with another painful contraction, Gary looks at all of us and back down to her, and he says, “Babe, your toes are beautiful”. I released my finger from the shutter, and stared at them. As they gazed into each other’s eyes, I had to hold back tears. Although this was a simple observation, you could tell that the love they have for each other is infinite. We all shared a laugh, and the room was vibrating with positive energy. This painful experience had turned into an enlightening process, one with excitement and laughter.
 
Jaya sat on the birthing stool, and out came 5lb Asher. I was focused on getting the right angle, and taking all the photos I possibly could. But then it hit me. After a few minutes of getting situated, Gary held this little ball of life in his arms. Next was his momma, on the bed, with Gary, Declan, and Jakob by her side. I felt a hand swipe across my back, and I tried so hard not to let out a stream of tears. But they fell, one by one down my cheek to my neck, while I rubbed my nose and held my hand over my mouth. Asher had come out of Jaya, into the most beautiful family I know. It was magical.
 
The pain, the blood, the cramps, the cravings, the headaches, and muscle pain, and the anxiety all went away. Disappeared. Into an abyss.
 
In this moment, that I had the honor to experience, nothing in the world mattered, except that family, on that bed, with a new light in their lives. Thank you Jaya, Gary, Declan, and Jakob for letting me be a part of something so beautiful. I will never forget it.

 

***

 

Photographing Jaya’s Birth

Kristi Carlson

 
Being a photographer is about capturing moments, capturing memories…
 
Being a photographer for an at home birth is life changing. Intimate, real…
 
As Jaya labored on the floor, her hands and knees pushed deeply into the covered carpet, her breathing steady and strong, the sounds of labor intense and powerful…energy flowed from each breath, in and out…to her husband who provided continued support through the gentlest of touches and soft whispers of encouragement, to her two boys who watched in amazement at their mother’s incredible strength, to her midwife who was there for her every moment, allowing Jaya to feel her way naturally through the process of birthing her child, to me… the photographer, trying to capture the emotions and life that was flowing within the room. Jaya pushed one last time, her body worn and tired, exhausted but steady, she birthed baby Asher. In that moment, the room fell silent as we watched Asher meet his family for the first time.
 
It doesn’t get more real than a home birth. A beautiful testament to the power of a woman, the love of a husband and father, and the bond between a mother and her children.

Jan 10 2018

The Birth of Asher

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Every woman, from the time she finds out she’s pregnant, dreams, plans, and anticipates for that one big moment. The birth of her child.
 
I was very confident that I would know exactly when it was time. I had done this twice before, and both times the start of my labor had been exactly the same — my water had broken in bed, and one hour later contractions had started.
 
I knew when I lost my mucus plug that I would have about 24-48 hours until my water broke, if this labor started in the same fashion as my last two. When I hit about 35 weeks, my boys started asking me each morning before they left for school, “Have you lost your mucus plug yet?” It became a normal daily question, no different than if they’d asked, “Is it supposed to rain today?” or “Can you make my lunch today?” or “Can I go to the library after school?”
 
I pictured myself in early labor, while the boys were either sleeping or at school, alone with my husband. I had envisioned walking in between contractions, and when the contractions came, rocking back and forth in my husband’s arms, as if we were dancing. I was going to throw everything in the crock pot for taco soup, and make a chocolate cream pie to enjoy with my birth team after the baby was born, while the boys and I snuggled in bed and I nursed our new bundle of joy.

***

Wednesday, November 29th started like most days did for me: outside, feeding an entire herd of horses. I spent more than an hour filling and hanging a dozen hay bags, for on this particular day, I didn’t have a student helper like I normally do. After feeding the horses, I decided to shower before the equine dentist arrived to float three of our horses’ teeth.
 
While in the shower, I began feeling some pelvic pressure, along with some light cramping, but didn’t think anything of it, for I had been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for several days.
 
Jessica and her husband arrived before noon and I soon became occupied with the horses again. While Jessica was floating their teeth, I had to sit down, for the pelvic pressure was becoming increasingly more uncomfortable. I knew this had to be because the baby’s position was so low, but again, I didn’t think anything exciting was really happening inside my body. I was still 20 days before my due date, I hadn’t lost my mucus plug yet, and my bag of waters was still intact.
 
I continued about my day, feeling extremely exhausted by mid-afternoon. I tried lying down for a nap at 3, but was restless and uncomfortable. When my husband returned home at 3:30 after picking Declan up from school, I asked if I could accompany him to his coaching session, where he would be working on hitting with one of the high school baseball players. As we were walking to the car, I finally told him I had been having “pretty strong Braxton-Hicks contractions” all day (“strong” and “Braxton-Hicks” should not be used in the same context… that should have been clue #1). He asked me if I really wanted to go with him, and when I insisted that I did, he asked me not to disclose to anyone at the batting cages that I was having contractions (he didn’t want to worry anyone), to which I replied, “They’re just Braxton-Hicks contractions, Gary. I can walk and talk through them. They’re just Braxton-Hicks.” (Not sure if I was trying to convince him or myself of this “fact” that they were just Braxton-Hicks contractions.)
 
After batting practice, Gary offered to take me to dinner, and I agreed. We ended up at a local diner, where I enjoyed ½ a tuna melt, onion rings, a salad, and a slice of apple pie ala mode. I was hit with a few more strong Braxton-Hicks contractions (again, “strong” and “Braxton-Hicks” should not be used in the same context), one of them in particular that I really couldn’t ignore, although I didn’t say anything to Gary.
 
On the way out of the restaurant, I ran into a co-worker and her family. We chatted briefly, and I told them I’d be having my baby… in about two weeks!
 
It was when we were sitting in the parking lot of Jakob’s high school that I really noticed something was going on. I remember asking Gary how long Jakob was going to be, for I longed to get home immediately. I also remember telling Gary I was going to check my own cervix when we got home to “make sure these Braxton-Hicks contractions aren’t actually dilating my cervix.” (Clue #2: Braxton-Hicks contractions don’t dilate your cervix.)
 
As soon as we walked in the door at 6:30, I forgot all about checking my cervix. I headed straight to the bed, asking Gary to bring me a big glass of water. I was convinced I was having so many Braxton-Hicks contractions because I was dehydrated and had over-exerted myself with the horses in the morning.
 
I asked Gary not to leave my side as I tossed and turned in the bed, unable to find a comfortable position. (Clue #3: You should be able to relax through Braxton-Hicks contractions.) I could no longer talk through the contractions, and asked Gary to hand me my phone so I could use the timer on it to time “these Braxton-Hicks contractions.” They were 5 minutes apart, lasting one minute and 7 seconds in length, and peaking around 30 seconds. (Clue #4: Braxton-Hicks contractions are never this regular and don’t peak, and you should be able to talk through them.)
 
The pelvic pressure was increasing and I was experiencing some pretty intense back pain as well. (Clue #5: Braxton-Hicks contractions don’t come with intense pelvic pressure and back pain.) The word “labor” was mentioned, at which point an excited Declan came running down the hall. “Is Mommy going to have the baby?!?!?”
 
“No, no, Mommy is just practicing for the real thing.”
 
I lost it in between a couple contractions, asking Gary if I could really do this when it was time. I was crying, begging for encouragement, which he whole-heartedly dished out to me.
 
“Are you sure? If this is how strong Braxton-Hicks contractions are, I don’t know if I can do it when it’s the real thing. But I did do this without pain medication before, didn’t I?” (Losing my emotional shit and doubting my ability to handle labor — Oh, BIG clue #6.)
 
I finally asked Gary to get out my book What to Expect When You’re Expecting and to read aloud the page on Braxton-Hicks contractions. He did. And that’s when he determined, despite what I was arguing (I haven’t lost my mucus plug. My water hasn’t broken.) that we needed to call the midwife. I told him no. “Just draw me a warm bath. Let’s see if these contractions go away if I get relaxed enough.” (I was remembering when I thought I was in real labor with Declan, only to find out, much to my disappointment, that the contractions went away after a relaxing warm bath.)
 
In the bath I went, and three more strong contractions I had. Gary insisted he call the midwife, and this time I obliged, but added, “Just tell her I think I’m in labor.” After a brief conversation with Katarra, she determined I really was in labor, instructing Gary to set up the bedroom for the delivery. I still wasn’t sure.
 
While Gary and Jakob got things set up for the delivery and Declan added more hot water to my now-lukewarm bath, I got out of the tub to use the toilet. And that’s when it happened: I had my bloody show. Now I believed I really was in labor.
 
Declan called our birth photographers and told them to come, and come now, and also made a few other phone calls, letting our inner circle know baby Gregory was on his or her way.
 
When Katarra arrived shortly after, she checked my cervix in the bathtub in between contractions. I was six centimeters with a bulging bag of waters. My mind had a hard time wrapping around that information. She left me to set up her supplies as her assistant midwife, Paula, showed up to lend a hand. Gary returned to my side.
 
It must have been only twenty minutes later that I was on all fours in the bathtub, trying not to vomit down the drain as the contractions stacked on top of each other. I whined that I had to get out of the tub, but couldn’t actually bring myself to get out as I watched Gary drain the water. When I yelled, “I’m feeling really pushy!” I heard Katarra calmly yell from the bedroom, “Get her out of the tub and get her back here.”
 
I walked straight down the hall and landed on all fours on top of a shower curtain taped to the carpet in our bedroom. My water finally broke with that first push. I continued pushing. I pushed and pushed and pushed. I tried pushing on all fours. I tried pushing on my back in a semi-reclined position. I tried pushing sitting up. I tried pushing while side-lying.

The breaks in between my contractions were heaven. I had no desire to push, no pressure, no pain. I was euphoric. The breaks were long and beautiful and I laughed and made jokes and had serious inquiries and listened to the quiet conversations around me.
 
When I became discouraged that I wasn’t making progress and I was becoming exhausted from all the pushing, Declan reached out, gently caressed my shoulder, and said, “Once you push the baby out, you don’t have to push anymore.” How true that statement was.

I admitted to having anxiety about the “ring of fire” and thought that maybe my own psyche was inhibiting my ability to successfully push this baby out. Katarra put a tincture under my tongue to help me relax, and soon after, I asked if I could try squatting.
 
I got up onto Katarra’s birth stool, grasped the sides with my hands, leaned forward slightly, and that’s when I felt a wave come over my entire body. It was intense. It was uncontrollable. It was painful and heavy and beautiful and graphic and spiritually enlightening. I was giving birth.

Katarra and Gary guided out the baby’s head in unison, gracefully spinning his body around and around when he arrived with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck twice. The cord was also wrapped around his body, and I was in awe as I watched my husband and my midwife twirl him as if he were a dancer in a ballet. I was lost in this surreal moment, photographing this one moment in my mind, as I heard Jakob announce that he was, in fact, a boy!
 
I reached out and took my baby into my arms, grabbing him from Gary’s bare hands. He looked up at me, and I studied him with intent passion, most of his umbilical cord still inside me. His life-organ, my placenta, had not yet delivered. We were not one being anymore, he no longer lived inside me, yet we were still intimately connected.

I looked up at Kristi, one of our two birth photographers and smiled, “I have three boys, just like you.”

I had been gifted the title of Mother yet again.

Photo credits: Kristi Carlson & Haley MacPhail

Jan 08 2018

Because Why

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When I was pregnant this last time, with my third child, at 35 years old, I had some very different reactions when my husband and I first announced our pregnancy. Of course, there were the typical “Congratulations!” “So happy for you!” “Wonderful news!” reactions.
 
But then there were the whys. Why would you want another child (when your other two are 12 and 15)? Why would you want to bring another child into this crazy world? Why would you want to have another child at your age? Why would you want to start all over again?
 
And then there were those who wanted to know if this pregnancy was an accident (maybe surprise would have been a better word choice).
 
No, Asher wasn’t an accident. He wasn’t a surprise either. (And no, we weren’t trying for a girl… not sure how you do that, actually. You get what you get, right?)
 
Maybe I wanted another child because I couldn’t imagine sending my children off to college before I turned 40.
 
Maybe I wanted to know what it’s like to actually make a baby — to go to bed with the man I love and consciously make a baby (because yes, the first two were surprises).
 
To do it. To do it on purpose.
 
Maybe I wanted another child because I am terrified, fucking terrified, to leave my childbearing years behind me, despite how I always claim I’m not afraid of getting older.
 
Maybe it’s because I’m terrified, fucking terrified, to be alone, and I’m acutely aware everyday (thanks to my smart ass teenager who always reminds us all just how old Dad really is) that my husband is 15 years older than me and may leave me behind earlier than I’d like, but hell, at least I’ll have a child still at home.
 
Maybe I just missed the experience of child birth. The rad, spiritual, painful, uplifting, fucking empowering experience of child birth.
 
Maybe I missed that newborn stage. That newborn smell. Those little faces they make, the sounds they coo, the cuteness, the smallness, the helplessness.
 
Maybe I just wanted someone to need me so badly again that his life, his entire existence, literally depended on me.
 
Whatever the reason, here I am, sitting in front of the computer, trying to get a moment to myself while my newborn sleeps. I haven’t showered yet today. My shirt smells like curdled milk. My hands were covered in poop earlier. My hair is a mess. I cried over a broken electric tooth brush yesterday. I am far from the sexy woman my husband made love to when we first created Asher. And I have several loads of laundry to do, thanks to the dirty cloth diapers that have piled up in our bathroom.
 
And now, ask me again, why. Why would I chose all these sleepless, exhausting nights (and days) to the life I used to live just a year ago — the sometimes glamorous life of a career woman, who had such an exciting hobby (insert photo of me galloping on the back of a beautiful horse through a stunning field with my hair blowing in the wind).
 
Why?
 
Shit, I don’t know why. But I can say this with utmost certainty. I wouldn’t change all these sleepless, exhausting nights (and days) for the life I used to live just a year ago.
 
Jakob was the one who turned me, a young woman who never wanted children, into a mother, one week after my twentieth birthday. And while I still have no desire to attend any Mommy-and-Me classes, and I am still mostly clueless about the “right” way to raise a child, I couldn’t be more proud to be “Mommy.”
 
So I’ll take the half a dozen or more diaper changes today, tomorrow, and for the next few years. I’ll take the shirts covered in my own soured breast milk, and the bags under my eyes, and the piled up laundry.
 
I might even write a love note or two for my older children’s lunches, in between nursing the baby, feeding the horses, and trying to stay sane.
 
And P.S. I will gallop on the back of a beautiful horse again, with my hair blowing in the wind.

Dec 16 2017

Me too.

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There are so many things we still don’t talk about. Sure, a huge social media campaign has thousands of women admitting #MeToo. So, that is one step forward. We are less afraid now to admit it has happened. But we don’t talk about what #MeToo means. We don’t talk about how years after the incident we can be reminded of it so acutely that we feel as if it has just happened. We don’t talk about how what should be normal — even positive — life events can cause us to think irrationally because of what happened. We don’t talk about how it has affected the way we look at ourselves in the mirror, what we think of our vaginas, our sexuality, or our self-worth. We don’t talk about how, even after months, or years, of counseling, sometimes it is still hard to come to terms with what happened. We don’t talk about how one day we can feel completely healed and empowered and the next day we want to scream and cry and ask why.
 
Yesterday, I found myself in the operating room of my own hospital. I had to go in for a suction D & C (dilation and curettage) procedure to remove the partially retained placenta that my uterus had held on to for two weeks after giving birth. I was absolutely terrified. Not of the procedure itself, but of being under anesthesia and not being completely awake and aware while my body — my vagina — was on display so that surgical instruments could fix what my body had failed to do. I had tried, fruitlessly, to convince the surgeon to do the procedure using either a spinal or local anesthetic, either of which would have allowed me to be awake and alert during the entire surgery. When I refused general anesthesia, he at least agreed to do the procedure under conscious sedation. So while I’d be asleep, thanks to the drug propofol, I’d at least be breathing on my own, would awaken immediately after the procedure (thanks to the short half-life of propofol), and could safely breast feed my newborn afterwards.
 
But as I entered the operating room, after a tearful restless night, I wanted nothing more than to get up off that gurney and walk out of the OR suite. My circulating nurse was a man. One of the technicians who would be assisting the male doctor was a man. The anesthesiologist was a man. These were all my coworkers. I knew them to be professional, competent men who chose to work in health care for many of the same reasons I had. And they would take extra special care of me because I was one of them… Right? That was the rational part of my mind that convinced me to stay, coupled with the knowledge that I knew I really did need medical intervention. Being a registered nurse, I knew the risks associated with doing nothing and they were risks I wasn’t sure I wanted to take. I also knew I would feel a whole lot better once the placenta that I no longer needed left my body completely.
 
The last thing I remember as I lay on the OR table was the anesthesiologist showing me the syringe of the white milky medicine after I had insisted he show me the propofol dose. He said he was going to push the medication into my IV as soon as the surgeon entered the room, and the next thing I remember is seeing that surgeon standing at my feet. Before I even had a chance to yell, “Wait!,” I was asleep.
 
Wait!… my entire body is still covered. Several blankets were on top of me. I still had the disposable mesh panties on that my intake nurse had given me. My legs weren’t placed in the stirrups, allowing my body to be in that wonderful lithotomy position, a position that allows the doctor full access to a woman’s most private area; that position all women come to know well from the time they first start having sex, when it’s recommended they go in for regular pap smear tests. Wait!… my hospital gown is still covering me completely.
 
Wait!… I want to be the one to remove my own panties. I want to remove the blankets and expose my own self. Wait! I want to lift my own legs into the stirrups. Wait! I don’t want to be moved and manipulated and positioned for surgery while asleep. Wait! I want to see what you are doing to my body…
 
But how do you explain to an entire room of penises that there was a time in your life when your vagina was abused, your body manipulated, and you weren’t in control, so you just want to be in control now? How do you explain to these men, whose bodies have never been scrutinized or otherwise objectified in the same way your body has, that it terrifies you to have things done to you that you aren’t aware of, even if you know what is going to happen? How do you talk about things like this? How?
 
And so I kept quiet. Because I didn’t want to be that patient. That patient who doesn’t cooperate. That patient who insists on receiving her treatment differently. That patient who is trying to tell her entire medical team how to do their jobs. I didn’t want to be that patient. That difficult patient.
 
I awoke from my sedative state and immediately a few tears started streaming down my face. I hid those tears from my surgeon, my anesthesiologist, my nurse. I asked for my baby and my husband brought him to me while I was still in the post-anesthesia care unit.
 
We returned home a couple hours later and then I cried. I cried. And cried. And cried. I cried for the body that had failed me. I cried for what had been done to my body when I wasn’t fully aware. I cried for the cervix that stung inside of me, and the uterus that cramped, and I mourned for the pain that I wasn’t allowed to feel, the pain that had caused this discomfort inside me afterwards. I cried for what it meant to be a woman. I cried for what I had to sacrifice, the privacy I had to give up, in order to have the beautiful, amazing, most wondrous ability to give life. I cried for what happened to me more than fifteen years ago. I cried for the girl I was then, and the woman who couldn’t leave her behind sometimes. I cried for the inability to explain why I was crying when my concerned husband pressed me to tell him what was wrong. I cried for isolating myself from him, and from my older boys. And then I cried because I was crying.
 
The next morning, against my doctor’s orders and my better judgment, I walked outside just after first light, and stood in the barn. I was still bleeding and sore, my body exhausted, but I needed to return to some fragment of my life before I gave birth. I stood in the barn and cried while I filled multiple hay bags. I cried while I carried those hay bags over to the horses. I cried while I hung the hay bags in the horse paddock. I cried as I walked between the horses, stroking some of them with my bare hands as they followed me to their food. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.
 
And then I went inside.

Mar 19 2017

Jenna’s First 50

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One of my students, 15-year-old Jenna Asnault, finished her first 50-mile endurance ride back in November at the Gold Rush Shuffle. Last month, she wrote a beautiful testament of her ride and her experience trying out different equestrian disciplines. Her story is both inspiring and wonder-filled. Reading it brought tears to my eyes…

 

Passing Ships

by Jenna Asnault

When I first became interested in horses and riding, I was not sure what I wanted my “thing” to be. I knew of so many different riding styles and disciplines, like ships passing by the shore, but was unsure which I wanted to practice and improve in. I didn’t know which ship I wanted to board.

The first ship I saw was the one carrying my neighbor and her horses – the first horses I ever rode – and her style of riding. Primarily with her, I just rode on the trails in Bidwell Park. I have always enjoyed the trail rides, but I knew that they were not all I wanted to do.

But another ship sailed by. On board was a different lady with a different style and a different discipline. So I started taking lessons from her. I soon discovered that she competed in schooling shows with her students, and under her training, I ended up in two different shows. Both resulted in ribbons for me and general pride in my accomplishment. However, I was not really learning as much as I could from this trainer, and I was not fond of her ideas about training and disciplining horses. So, I jumped off that boat and swam out to find a new one.

The next boat I boarded was closely related to my previous one. It was barrel racing, which was an exciting sport that I knew many people participated in and enjoyed. But poor preparation for my first official barrel race resulted in the horse throwing me off on the home stretch. I had by no means lost my confidence in my riding ability, but I did come to the conclusion that barrel racing was not for me.

But before I could commit myself to something knew, an unexpected boat sailed by and picked me up. On Christmas day, 2012, my neighbor gave me my first horse. He was a horse that I had been riding and caring for frequently, and who I adored. I rode him frequently in Bidwell Park, taking trail rides of varying lengths, exploring the park further, and just having a great adventure. Three spectacular years that horse and I were together, but his death in 2016 transferred me to a whole new ship as his sailed away forever and marked a turning point in my life. He had been a good first horse, but now I was ready to move forward and try something new. But I still was unsure of which ship I wanted to board next.

I started by boarding a ship that got me back into taking lessons. I found a new trainer, who was an old friend of my neighbor’s, and was better than my previous trainer by a wide margin. I knew she had been doing endurance riding for a long time, but did not quite picture myself as an endurance rider. I decided to give it a try though, like I had done with shows and barrel racing. Before I knew it, I was all aboard the SS Endurance. But recalling my lack of success in the previous disciplines, my expectations were not high.

My trainer invited me out to my first ride in October of 2016. I had a fantastic time at the first endurance ride. The course was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and I ended up finishing in the top ten. But I still was unsure if I wanted to stay aboard the SS Endurance. The second ride I did, however, was different.

Most of the ride was just a normal fifty-mile endurance ride. Similar to the first ride, this one was beautiful with gorgeous weather. The first loop was a lot of fun. We rode happily around Camp Far West Lake, admiring the stunning landscape and laughing as we trotted down the trail. We had quite an adventure when our horses decided to have a race and we had to regain control. The copious amount of mud was frustrating, and we ran into some trouble at the vet check halfway through, when my horse’s heart rate was not slowing to the ideal rate. In addition, Jaya’s horse had a bloody nose, which concerned her and further delayed our departure time. I was worried we might have to pull out of the ride, but we managed to continue into the second loop.

It was slow going at first, since the trails were dense with mud. But we soon arrived at a long, straight trail that was much less muddy than the rest of the trails were. It started with a very forward trot to cross the whole length of the extensive trail. Before I knew it, we were all cantering.

It had been a long time since I had had a good, long canter like that. I felt the roaring of the wind on my face and in my ears, I felt the horse moving effortlessly beneath me, and my hair being thrown backwards. I heard the pounding of three sets of hooves, Jaya’s joyous whooping, and the purest, lightest, most liberating sense of freedom I had ever felt. I stretched my arms upward and out, drinking in the feeling and letting it fill me. Everything I had ever worried about or stressed over had been left behind at the beginning of that trail, and now nothing mattered except me and the horse. But even when we slowed our horses to a walk again, the feeling lingered.

It was that day, that moment that I decided I wanted to ride endurance. I realized it was what I had always loved and wanted to do. For years I had ridden on trails, and loved it, and all I wanted was to just ride on trails all day, which is what endurance riding is. I found my calling on that winding ride, and now there is no way I can leave the SS Endurance.

I realized that day that I believe in long trail rides.

My life, like everyone else’s, has been a crazy winding roller coaster. With all the ups and downs, those horses and those trails have always been there. I know that when the going gets rough, I can always go riding. Discovering a blooming passion for endurance has given me a vision of what I would like my life in the future to look like. I have begun building a scene of my future around the base of horses and endurance. My newly discovered passion has given me a greater sense of purpose to fulfil and direction to follow.

Jenna and ZaZaLast Loop Selfie

Jun 30 2016

Lessons From Candy

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I had never heard the name Sara Ashley Hobbs before. Not before Candy, that is. Candy is a 13.2 hand Quarter pony, short in stature, but stocky and stoic. She tolerates anybody and anything, coming as close to “dead broke” as they come. She has a soft eye, a shiny bay coat, and a quiet, calm demeanor. She is truly the Mary Poppins of ponies.

Candy came to Lightfoot Horse Farm on May 1st. Her owner, after hearing of how we had tragically lost two of our main schooling horses nine months apart from each other, loaned Candy to the farm for the youngest, most beginner riders to love on and learn from. She was well cared for here, and it took no time at all before we all fell in love with her. After going through a string of horses that didn’t work out for our schooling program, we finally found one we wanted to stay. We were confident Candy would be with us for a long while at Lightfoot Horse Farm, to live out her retirement years being doted on by a multitude of little girls and boys.

What happens next is something out of a novel, or a daytime drama. Candy went missing. She literally just up and disappeared. One minute she was in my horse paddock, eating and drinking with the other horses. The next she was gone. At first, I thought it was a joke.

She must be behind the shed in the back stall.

Maybe behind a tree?

Next to the water trough?

She’s hiding. This is a joke. This is so silly, it can’t be. She has to be here.

Look again.

My heart was pounding, my senses on high alert. My breathing started to pick up, and my eyes darted back and forth, scanning the entire area, as my son, Jakob, continued to walk the same circles around the horse paddock, holding Candy’s fly mask.

Okay, she got out.

But the gate was latched.

“Jakob, maybe she got out. Maybe she’s somewhere on the field. You and Declan should walk the entire fence line along the property.”

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Seven. Seven. Seven. My god, where is she??? One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. God, there’s only seven! Where is she???

Crazy thoughts raced through my head. Was she injured? Did she colic? Am I going to find her down somewhere?

The boys reported back to me that they couldn’t find her. I asked them to walk the perimeter again. They did. No Candy.

“Walk it again! Look again! She has to be here.”

“Mom, we just did! We walked it twice. She’s not here!”

I screamed at my boys, “Walk it again! Look again!”

Jakob’s eyes got wide, and he snapped me back into reality with his own raised tone, “Mom! We can walk it a million times, but she’s not here. Candy is not here.”

What do I do? Do I call 9-1-1? No, that’s silly. This isn’t an emergency.

I shook my head. No, no, it is an emergency. Just not a life or death emergency.

I grabbed my phone and frantically dialed a phone number. I had to call Candy’s owner. No answer. I called her work, her cell, her work again. Then I called Candy’s breeder. Then I called the sheriff.

… and that’s when I learned who Sara Ashley Hobbs was.

It wasn’t long before we realized Candy had been stolen. Her owner had received a text message from Sara, admitting that she was the one who arranged for the horse to be taken.

This is when I learned Candy had been Sara’s childhood pony, from 1997 to 2006. In 2006, Sara gave Candy back to her original owner when she moved to Massachusetts after her parents’ divorce. Sara had seen photos of Candy on the Lightfoot Horse Farm Facebook page, and decided, after ten years, she wanted her childhood pony back for her own two children. When she asked Candy’s owner for her back, the owner declined, stating that she didn’t believe it was humane to ship a 27-year-old pony across the country in the middle of the summer, to a climate she had never lived in before.

So, Sara Ashley Hobbs took matters into her own hands. She arranged for someone to pick up the pony from my place and house her until she could have Candy transported to Whately, Massachusetts. She had somehow come to the conclusion that Candy belonged to her, even though she hadn’t cared for the pony in ten years. In Sara’s mind, she was simply taking back what she believed to be rightfully hers. The only problem is that she reclaimed “her” horse illegally. She never contacted me. Not a letter, not a phone call. She had a stranger come on to my property, enter my horse paddock where my other horses were housed, and walk off with a pony, all without my knowledge. She completely violated my privacy, and the privacy and security of my family and my animals. What if the wrong horse had been taken? What if the gate had been left unlatched and my horses had gotten out?

In light of this realization, the next several hours after Candy went missing were a whirlwind of reports, phone calls, and research. Our dining room table looked like something that belonged in a conference room, and I felt like I had suddenly been thrown into an episode of CSI.

A report with Stolen Horse International was filed, all local animal controls contacted, photos of Candy sent to all the veterinarians in the area, and shipping companies notified.

We located Candy late in the afternoon the next day, after a terrible sleepless night. I located her, using just a little savvy common sense and detective work. She was a little over an hour away, sharing a paddock with another horse on Humphrey Road in Yuba City. Apparently, a friend of Sara Hobbs’ family was housing the pony.

I notified the sheriff and animal control in that area immediately when I had confirmation of where Candy was. However, when they went to the house, they were presented with registration papers on Candy, and the last recorded owner on those papers was Sara Long (Sara Hobbs’ maiden name), and the last transfer of ownership was in 1997. Candy’s current owner had not completed the paperwork for a transfer of ownership in 2006, the year she re-acquired Candy.

I realized then that I was simply an innocent third party caught in the middle of a civil dispute over who was the legal owner of this pony. I knew I would never see Candy again, and I would have to tell the students what happened to their beloved pony, the one they thought was here to stay. I felt angry, sad, confused, and violated. Completely violated. The way in which Sara reclaimed Candy was not only illegal, it was morally wrong. But I had no proof of trespassing. No eyewitnesses, nothing caught on a security camera, no evidence of forced entry because I didn’t have locked gates. The only thing I knew was that I had a pony in my custody, who I was loving and caring for at my own expense, who was here one minute and gone the next. And no one got to say good-bye.

No one.

Not the twelve-year-old girl who braided Candy’s mane the day she arrived. Not the eleven-year-old who was scared to ride the big horses because being so far off the ground trigged her anxiety. Not the seven-year-old who could groom Candy by herself because Candy was just the right size for her. Not the slender, quiet five-year-old who thought she was going to be able to ride Candy in a lead line class at her first horse show. Not the eight-year-old boy who cried when he found out Candy wasn’t coming back, for Candy had been his first and favorite horse experience. Not the six-year-old girl whose hair is just now growing back, for she’s finally entered remission for leukemia.

No one.

Not even my own son, who refused to ride for an entire year after our beloved Appaloosa, Forest, left us after we tried for eight months to save him. Forest was the only horse Declan trusted, and no matter how hard I begged, bribed, and pleaded, I couldn’t get him to ride after Forest died. One week ago, Declan climbed on Candy’s back.

_________________________________________________________________________

Until this actually happened to me, I thought stealing horses was a thing of the past — something that only happened in those Western movies, set in the 1800s. But I’ve come to learn that I am not the only one in this modern day who has had a horse illegally removed from her property. Horse theft is considered a felony in the state of California (and I’ve actually heard rumors that it’s punishable by hanging), but proving you have had a horse stolen is an entirely different thing. Although I knew someone had trespassed on to my property, I could not prove it. The law wants concrete evidence — in the form of an eyewitness, security surveillance catching the trespasser, or proof of forced entry. On top of that, when the stolen item (in this case, a living horse, not a material object) is found, the law wants you to prove it’s yours. So, how can you protect yourself???

  1. If your horse is registered, make sure he’s registered in your name. Many horse owners drop the ball here. They simply forget to the send in the paperwork, or maybe it was a previous owner who didn’t send in the registration, so the horse’s name isn’t in the seller’s name, making it impossible for the seller to sign the transfer of ownership over to the buyer. In this case, contact the breed registry. They will tell you what paperwork you need to send in to register the horse in your name.

 

  1. Always, always write up a bill of sale. If the horse is a gift, pay $1 for the horse and write up that bill of sale.

 

  1. If you are leasing a horse, make sure you have a lease agreement in writing, signed by both parties.

 

  1. Protect your property and your horses by having your property’s perimeter fenced off and installing a locked gate. It’s true that if someone really wants to get in, they will find a way in, but a locked gate will at least stall someone, and if they do get in, it will be by force, giving your case more credibility when reporting to the police.

 

  1. Hang “Private Property” and “No Trespassing” signs.

 

  1. Consider installing surveillance cameras, especially on large scale horse facilities where multiple people will have access to many different horses.

 

  1. Check on your horses daily; always do a head count. The sooner you notice a horse injured, sick, or missing, the better.

 

I have learned a startling and valuable lesson. The day I added the lock to our gate and hung “No Trespassing Signs,” I was filled with a disappointing sadness. It’s too bad agreements can’t be made on a handshake anymore. And it’s sad we have to lock down our properties in order to protect ourselves. But, unfortunately, you just never know. If you had told me the day I brought Candy home that a woman 3,000 miles away who owned Candy ten years ago was going to come out of the woodwork and make claim to her, I would have laughed out loud. But it happened. I hope my story is eye opening and helps other horse owners to become more diligent about protecting not only themselves, but their beloved equines.

Candy 2Candy 6Candy 1

 

Jun 03 2016

A Ride Called Mud

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This endurance season didn’t quite start off the way I had planned… I hit a first. The first time I went to a ride and didn’t start. I had been working out and training hard. My head was finally back in the game. I had dreams of riding through the night with my son, and my student and friend, Nyah, taking them both through their first 100 mile rides. But when we arrived in Ridgecrest, CA for the Twenty Mule Team 100 Mile Ride, Asali felt “off” in her left hind, and I dismounted at the start of the ride, just minutes before the trail was open and sent my juniors down the trail with the wonderful Jennifer Perryman.

Nyah and Ember made it an amazing 70 miles together before Ember starting looking tired and we decided to pull her. Jakob and Dippi both finished strong in the wee hours of the morning, alongside Jennifer and Roaster. It was such fun crewing for them all day, along with my dad and son Declan, and Nyah’s family. I was more than proud to watch my son cross the finish line of his first 100, on a horse I had trained and conditioned myself. But, I am not going to lie, it was hard to let go of that dream I had to carry my son through his first 100.

Needless to say, I was so excited to arrive at the Cache Creek Ridge Ride on Mother’s Day weekend. Jakob and I have attended the Cache Creek ride for six consecutive years. Last year, though, I was unable to ride with him due to my ankle injury. This year, however, I was going to ride with him again — and I was in the 50 for the first time, since I had always previously done the limited distance mileage at Cache Creek.

The beginning of the ride was fairly uneventful. I was thankful for the cooler weather. Jakob and I trotted along at a pretty good pace, but it wasn’t long before the rain started. It wasn’t a chilling rain, or even a heavy rain, but it was steady enough that the rain gradually began soaking into the ground, making the trail a muddy mess. As we came into our first vet check, we were both soaked to our skin, and starting to shiver. A friend loaned Jakob a jacket, and I put my vest back on, making a conscience decision to tough it out for another 25 miles.

We weren’t too far into our second loop when Asali started to slide on the trail. It was as if she couldn’t find her feet. She didn’t want to move forward, and I began to panic that something was wrong — Was she tying up? Did she pull a muscle? Am I asking too much of her? We didn’t properly train for this, did we? I feared her falling on me like she had at American River Classic, and so I decided to get off and hand walk her down the trail. I walked for what seemed like mile after mile. And each mile, my shoes captured more and more water, until it felt like there was a river in my shoes. We climbed several hills, and Asali wouldn’t let me tail up a single one. My new half chaps were caked in layers of mud, adding weight to my already fatigued legs. Jakob was quiet, still mounted on Dippi, moving forward little by little. As we approached what seemed like my hundredth hill, I lost it. I literally lost it. I remember screaming something about another f-ing hill. I was tired. I was wet. I was cold. I was covered in more mud than I could have ever imagined. I was hungry. I was thirsty. And here I was, trying to get my son through yet another 50 miles, on my Tevis horse. My TEVIS horse. My reliable Tevis horse. But we were, once again, having issues. And Jakob was going to, again, go on and complete another ride without me. For him and his horse were fine. Just fine. But I was not fine.

Jakob had nothing but encouraging words for me. The more he encouraged me, though, the more the voice in my head brought me down. You can’t do this. You aren’t an endurance rider anymore. You should go back to hunter-jumpers. Or maybe you should just quit horses altogether. I did not feel strong. I was weak, and somewhere at the top of that hill, I hit the lowest point I have ever hit at a ride before. I wanted to lie down in the mud, let the rain run down on me, and cry until someone picked me up off the side of the trail. Because I just couldn’t do it. I could not do it anymore.

We kept pushing forward, slowly, only because I had my kid with me and was acutely aware of what a bad example of sportsmanship it would be if I just threw myself on the side of the trail and cried like a two year old. Instead, I fantasized about heading back to camp every time we passed a purple ribbon, the color which signaled the way back to camp. So, we stayed on track, following the blue ribbons. After some time of silence, I decided to turn on our music, using the rugged waterproof speaker attached to my saddle. I was going to just get my son to the next vet check, where I could quit and send him down the trail with a new, more capable sponsor.

All of a sudden, the beat of the song Sail, from one of my favorite movies, blasted through the speakers. That beat radiated through me, and I was transported from the cold, wet, muddy, rugged, miserable back country I was stuck in, to a dark football field. And with each beat of that song, that empty, dry, warm football field lit up until it glowed like heaven. I was standing on the middle of that football field, and I just began laughing out loud. I don’t like football. In fact, I don’t even understand the game. But what I do understand is heart. I understand heart, and I understand passion. And I understand effort. Perfect effort. And as that song played through that little rugged outdoor speaker, scenes from the movie When The Game Stands Tall, flashed through my mind. I heard Coach Ladouceur’s voice in my mind: Life’s most impressionable lessons are when something challenging happens and confronts you.

I put one foot in front of the other, thankful I had legs to walk on. Thankful I was healthy and strong and could walk whatever mileage was required of me that day. I wasn’t going to be hungry or thirsty or tired or cold or wet or muddy for the rest of my life. I began laughing so hard I almost cried. When Jakob looked at me funny, I yelled out, “I have never had so much fun in the mud before!” I began dancing to the next song, a jolly upbeat tune by the name of Happy, skipping and sliding and running in the mud, as Jakob dismounted and began “downhill skiing” in that mud. We laughed at all the riders passing us, all of them having as much difficulty navigating the trail as we were having.

At the final vet check, we were greeted with food, drinks, rain jackets, and encouraging words from the vet who said our horses were fine. We ditched the rubber boots, leaving our horses barefoot so they would have more traction in the slippery conditions. We headed out for our last several miles, and after Jakob had an unplanned dismount into the mud, I swore the day couldn’t get any better. We laughed and laughed and I took photos of him covered from head to toe in that mud. I hiked another great distance alongside my horse, vowing to try the Ride and Tie the following year, since I was absolutely prepared and conditioned for it now.

We were the last riders to finish that day, and with that finish, I discovered I am an endurance rider after all.

IMG_4983

Before it got REALLY muddy…

 

IMG_4985

Downhill Skiing

 

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At our last vet check before the finish line…

 

IMG_4994

Such a long day… but we finished! And to finish is to win.

 

 

Apr 05 2016

I Couldn’t Save Her…

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I usually give myself a few days after any event — happy or sad — to formulate my words and process. Usually, when I sit down to write immediately, the words that come out are much more suited for my journal, because what comes out are choppy sentences, irrational phrases, and often I don’t even find healing in that kind of writing. But, today, I just decided to write this blog post, without holding back, not caring who is going to read it, who might judge me for my words or decide that I am, in reality, a horrible writer. I don’t even care to edit this post, so forgive me if I misspell a word or forget a period.
 
So, that’s my disclaimer.
 
And now I want to yell out to the universe, FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK FUCK YOU!
 
My last two blog posts were about losing horses. Why? Why am I writing another? There is a huge gigantic hole in my heart that I don’t even know how I am going to begin to fill.
 
Fifteen months ago, a young gal from my endurance family called me up. I still remember the first message she left me. I was in Orange County, visiting family. We were at Disneyland with the boys. I remember being really intrigued by her message — because while I knew her, I didn’t know her well, and wasn’t sure what it was she was calling about, but it was obviously for a very specific reason.
 
When we touched base, I discovered she had a little Arab mare she had grown up riding — the mare she completed Tevis on as a junior rider. She was looking for a new home for Ember and thought she’d be perfect for my students and my schooling program.
 
When Ember arrived on January 2, 2015, I thought she was just the sweetest, cutest pony ever. But after she bolted with my son on the trail — and ran all the way back home — I had my doubts. She head tossed too much, and she was quite possibly too forward for my young, beginner students. But I decided to give it some time…
 
I don’t know what happened, but Ember became one of my favorites around here. She was the least intimidating horse in my herd, she was so easy to groom, and to teach the kids how to pick hooves. She would just follow the horse in front of her on the trail. She rarely spooked. She tolerated all those who were still learning their balance, who maybe pulled on the reins at the wrong time, and those who didn’t quite know what to do around a horse. She was always healthy and sound, one of my easiest keepers. She never got herself in trouble, and she was just the sweetest. I never worried about anyone’s safety around her.
 
Ember wasn’t just an incredible asset to my business, she was also my friend and a fellow teacher, my partner. I trusted her, and was constantly in awe of how well she took care of my students. I loved having her around.
 
Last month, when a schooling horse I was trying out for my business didn’t work out, I remember thinking, I still have Ember. I thought that when Forest died. I still have Ember. When Lady died, I still have Ember. I always had Ember. Ember was mine. She wasn’t going anywhere. She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t as old as Lady. I always, always had Ember. Every time another free horse was offered to me for my business that didn’t work out, I still had Ember. She was the free horse that worked out. I still had Ember.
 
I don’t have Ember anymore.
 
I don’t have Ember anymore. And the hole in my heart is so big right now, I fear my heart might just stop. I am so broken. I am so lost.
 
I do not understand. I don’t understand Forest’s loss, I don’t understand Lady’s loss, I don’t understand Ember’s. Why all three? Why all three in less than a year? Why Lady and then 18 days later Ember. 18 days. 18 fucking days. FUCK YOU, universe. 18 fucking days.
 
It was a nightmare watching Ember suffer. It wasn’t a peaceful death like Forest’s, it wasn’t her time like Lady’s. I caught her colic early. I called the vet immediately. Between myself, my family, a few special students, and Haily, Ember’s beloved previous owner, she was never left alone. I was in constant contact with the vet — I had her out twice in a 24 hour period. I made the best use of my nursing skills, constantly monitoring her vital signs, administering oral, IM, and IV meds. I spiked fluid bag after fluid bag, bolusing her with LR just like I’ve done in the ICU with my human patients. For more than 37 hours, I tried to save her life. I didn’t sleep more than an hour at a time. Moments when she was too quiet, the silence woke me, and I’d check just to make sure she was still breathing. When she wanted to walk, I either walked with her, or stared up at the sky, listening to each hoof beat pass me. Every time she peed, or her behavior changed, or her vitals were different, or I treated her with medication, I wrote it down, recording every little note of her progress, or lack thereof.
 
The first night, Nyah and I lay under a star laden sky in the arena with Ember. We could hear the sound of the rushing Feather River behind us, down in the abyss of the canyon that called itself home across the street from my house. I tried hard to manage Ember’s pain with the best veterinary medications money can buy, though I don’t know how successful I was. Ember moaned, she sighed, she groaned, her lips and muzzle curled up tight. But I was hopeful. Five years ago, I had gone through an impaction colic with Forest, and after 4 days of fluids, Forest recovered and never colicked on me again. I didn’t believe that after Nyah just lost Lady, we could possibly lose another horse so soon. I’m a nurse. I have a great vet. We can figure this out.
 
Ember couldn’t take anymore after 38 hours. Her gums turned bright pink, her breathing was irregular, she had difficulty swallowing, she started drooling foamy white drool. Her abdomen was so distended it looked as though it would just pop like a balloon. It wasn’t until I ran my hand down her neck, trying to comfort her with every stroke, that I realized she was sweating. Haily was holding Ember, and when I looked at her, I knew. I knew. After 38 hours and 30 minutes, I knew I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t put her through anymore. I couldn’t let Haily see her childhood horse like this anymore. I frantically called the vet; she was already on her way up, but I wanted to see how far out she was.
 
When the vet arrived, I asked her to re-assess Ember, even though I knew. I knew. But still, I had to have one last assessment. I had to hear the vet say it. It’s time. This wasn’t a simple impaction colic — something else was going on. Ember was dying from the inside out. Every time she breathed out her nostrils, a rotten smell filled the air. I had smelled that smell the night before; it wasn’t quite so strong as this morning. Necrotic bowel. I knew. I knew. I can’t fucking save this horse. Just like I couldn’t save Forest.
 
Ember was given a lethal dose of medication to end her suffering. Haily and I were by her side, as she went down and gasped for air. She gasped and gasped, as I stroked her face, quietly telling her that it was okay to go. It was okay to let go. It was okay. She died under the great madrone tree in my beautiful field. Under that great fucking madrone tree.
 
Haily and I laid with her body for a long time. Haily cried and cried into her neck, finding it difficult to catch her breath. I bedded down next to her front legs, lying up against her heart girth, her beating heart no longer there. I stared blankly out into the field, watching the sunlight touch every blade of grass, and all I could think of was the first patient that had died on me when I was a brand new nurse. One minute she had been talking to me, sharing stories and smiling, the next she was bleeding out, a violent, terrifying death. We tried for hours to save her life. I hung fluid bag after fluid bag, I pumped blood transfusion after blood transfusion into her. Suddenly, her blood pressure dropped until it was no longer there. The doctor took off his gown and walked out of the room. Just like that. It was over. I was so overwhelmed with grief that I sobbed and sobbed as two other nurses helped me clean up her body before her husband arrived.
 
As I sat in that field, watching the sunlight touch every blade of grass, I thought about cutting down the great madrone tree. That great fucking madrone tree. I thought about violin and painting and dance and all the other things I could have chosen instead of horses. I thought about opening a shoe store or a music shop or a breakfast cafe, where losses would just be merchandise, not living, breathing, soulful beings.
 
I sat there, watching the sunlight touch every blade of grass, condemning myself for choosing horses. And the more I thought about selling all my horses, and closing my business, the more I realized I didn’t chose horses. They chose me.

Ember 1Ember 2Run Free, Sweet Ember. You will be remembered not just by me, not just by Haily, the first girl to love you, but by every student and child you taught along the way. You are missed so.

 

Mar 20 2016

Another Farewell

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I will never look at the madrone tree in our field the same way again. While it has always been my favorite tree, I suddenly have a new appreciation for it. It towers above the black walnut tree, reaching the sky almost as high as one of our tallest pines. Its orange-red bark so smooth, branching out in spindles, curling its fingers out to give life to its tips. I imagine it is older than my grandparents would be if they were still alive. Much older. The way it withstands the most wretched winds and the most torrential downpours with such grace and ease tells me that tree is much wiser than anyone I know. That tree has many stories to tell, and on March 17, 2016, I watched another story unfold underneath those age-old branches.

 

A horse named Lady died beneath that tree. I watched as her sixteen year old owner buried herself in her chestnut colored neck and cried while Lady lay quietly still, letting the medicine release her of her pain. She never seized, she never heaved, or coughed, or gurgled. She left us so still and peacefully, and I watched a girl’s heart crumble as she said goodbye to her first love.

 

With Lady’s last heartbeat, I joined her and her owners underneath that tree, sitting in a mixture of grass, leaves, and the comforting sight of dried-up horse manure. I sat along her spine, in silence, as a young woman mourned, with her mother by her side. I stroked Lady’s hair, thinking how soft and warm and alive it felt. I was devoid of any concrete thoughts running through my head, but I did feel. My heart ached. I felt bad and sorry and strangely relieved and comforted and in all the sadness, I felt alive. And while the three of us sat in silence for a long time, it was a calming silence, and the three of us were connected through that silence, interrupted only a couple times by the calls of a single bird, sharing the sky with that great madrone tree. I began braiding Lady’s mane, tying each braid off with a colorful band, knowing those braids, once cut, would later become treasured keepsakes.

 

It was some time before I made us lunch, or rather breakfast at lunchtime. A feast of scrambled eggs, warm tortillas, salsa, yogurt, bagels, and juice. I carried it all outside, and we ate under the shade of the madrone tree, with Lady right there, in her resting state. I wanted to pretend we were enjoying a relaxing, joyous picnic at the park on a leisurely Sunday. But an air of grief surrounded us in all that beauty, as we stroked and stroked Lady’s neck, her soft ears, the tuft of her forelock, and the just-braided mane.

 

Another hour passed with few words before good-byes, hugs, more tears, and kisses were exchanged. I promised I would stay with Lady’s body until it was carried away.

 

I bedded down into the soft ground, stretching my legs out and burying myself into Lady’s neck to wait. It was then that I realized the shade of the madrone tree had left us. The sun had peaked in the sky and was directly overhead, warming me to a state of discomfort. I removed my long sleeve shirt to reveal my tank top underneath, and used my baseball cap to shield my face from the sun’s rays. When the flies came out, I fly sprayed Lady. I lay in the sun with her, as if we were both tanning on a summer day at some exotic beach. I could hear every buzz of every bug, and suddenly realized I could distinguish between the buzz of a fly, and the buzz of a mosquito, and the buzz of the bees pollinating each flower on each branch of that great madrone tree. The bees gave off a hum, more than a buzz, harmoniously going about their work, their purposeful, useful work that was crucial to life. I watched as they moved about, flying with tiny wings from one white flower to the next. When a breeze kicked up, little white round petals rained on Lady and me, there in the comfort of the great madrone tree.

 

As I lay there with Lady, intermittently reading a book I was more than half way through, I thought of Forest. I imagined Lady meeting up with her old friend, and the two of them running through endless green pastures, up and down soft hills, kicking up their heels, both of them free of any suffering. Memories flashed through my head as if I were watching an old home video, each image bringing me back to a moment in time that sometimes I wish I could relive. From where I lay with Lady, I could see the beautiful flower garden that was planted a few days before, a remembrance garden planted in memory of Forest and Lady, their very own manure feeding those flowers. As I stared at that garden and the plaque my husband had hand painted, I caught sight of ZaZa just beyond the garden, drinking from the water trough. Everything was quiet, the buzzing of the flies, and the mosquitoes, and the bees had left us, and I was suddenly chilly, the shade of the madrone tree beginning to again creep over Lady and me. I thought I might cry, sitting there watching ZaZa drink and hearing the sounds of the other horses alive on the property, but I was instead filled with gratitude, and this overwhelming sense that everything was just as it should be. While a small part of me was terrified of the next time I will have to say goodbye to a beloved horse, I knew this was my life. My life is right here, under this madrone tree, with these horses. It was then that I knew, regardless of why, Forest left me when he was supposed to. He gave me the knowledge to recognize when it was time to let go. He gave me the strength to hold a girl while she grieved over her own horse, her very best friend. He showed me that love exceeds boundaries, in so many ways, and that sometimes the deepest bonds aren’t made through words, but through time — time and just being.

 

The sun continued to move throughout the sky, and in the cool evening, I had to put on a sweater, and then a jacket. My youngest son joined me, placing himself on top of Lady, spanning himself across the length of her side. He talked and talked, filling the air with happy stories, commenting how “warm and soft and comfortable” Lady was, saying he wished we had had Forest this long after he had left us. We stood watch over Lady’s body, until her owners rejoined us with dinner, another picnic, but this time in the setting sun, to a loud chorus of frogs.

 

When the big black rendering truck roared into my driveway, it was past dusk. Lady’s owners had left as he was arriving, hours later than we had expected him. It was then that the calmness that had surrounded me all day suddenly left. The engine noise was disruptive and rude, and the finality of it all suddenly overwhelmed me. I had spent the last 7-odd hours with this horse, this horse named Lady, leaving her only to tend to my own horses. I had stayed with Lady, under the madrone tree, watching the sun rise and fall, feeling every minute temperature change, as the bees went about their daily work, until they were done and the frogs came out to welcome the night. And now, so abruptly, it was all coming to an end and Lady’s physical form was leaving us too. I began to cry, real big tears, one after another, the kind of tears that are difficult to talk through. I kissed and kissed and kissed her, saying childlike nonsense over and over about how she should say hello to Forest for me. I felt young and exposed when I handed the check to the man from the rendering company, the man with the big black disruptive, rude truck. I ran into the house, yelling at the boys to blast some music, as I jumped in the shower. I didn’t want to hear that big black disruptive, rude truck.

 

I stood in the shower, the warm water soothing and cleaning my body, as I cried exhausting tears, singing along at the same time to Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk. I laughed and cried and laughed and cried, and the next morning when I went outside to feed the horses, Lady’s body was gone. The field looked so still and empty, except for the great madrone tree.

 

tree

Dedicated to the memory of My Fair Lady and the girl who loved her so.

 

Aug 19 2015

And He Left Me With a Broken Heart…

Published by under Endurance Riding

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It was a Saturday when I knew. It was warm out, slightly muggy, and my skin felt sticky under my worn T-shirt. He didn’t follow me around the horse paddock as I mucked. He didn’t try to tip the wheelbarrow over. He stood in the corner, hanging his head low.

That’s when I put a call in to a woman who I knew would know the answer.

How do you know when it’s time?

When he has more bad days than good.

On Monday, I called the vet at UC Davis who had been following Forest’s case for months. He, too, agreed it was time. Sometimes, the only thing we can offer is relief from suffering.

The days leading up to Thursday were sad, so sad, but so very beautiful. Many of my students who had learned to ride on Forest came to see him, came to say goodbye. They came with handfuls of treats, bags filled to the top with sliced apples, carrots, watermelon rinds. Forest was allowed to eat all the alfalfa he wanted. We took him off his treatment meds, but gave him an increased dose of pain medicine. Sometimes, the only thing we can offer is relief from suffering.

On Wednesday night, Melissa (whose mother had been Forest’s original owner) brought her 3-year-old son, Hunter, to meet Forest. Hunter spent time with “Grandma’s horse,” brushing him and gingerly handing him treat after treat. A group of us sat with Forest, brushed him gently, combed his tail until it shined, and took him for a walk.

The next morning I awoke just after dawn. I got Forest out of the paddock, brushed him, and sat on his back as a friend walked us around the field. I closed my eyes, locking every last step in my memory. I lied down on his back, my head on his rump, counting the clouds in the sky. I put my arms around his neck, and I kissed him all over.

The haul to UC Davis with Forest and Beauty (who was going to be re-evaluated for her splint bone fracture) was quiet. Gary drove, the boys slept in the back seat, and I stared out the window.

When we arrived at UC Davis, the boys and I spent more time with Forest, offering him more of his favorite treats. Declan quietly sat on his back, as Gary stroked his neck, and Jakob laid sweet kisses on his muzzle.

When it was time, the vet tech placed a catheter in the vein in Forest’s neck. As she did, I spent a moment with the veterinary students, sharing Forest’s story. I told them about Randi, Melissa’s mother, the reason Forest had found me. We had lost Randi 6 years previously, in the same month, July.

The walk to the lawn was quiet. I led Forest by the handmade rope halter and lead I had made him years ago. He was sedated, and comfortable. I slipped him the heart shaped horse cookie I had in my pocket, and the boys and I gathered around him, whispering to him, touching him all over. I knelt down in front of him, wrapped my hands around his face, and kissed him over and over. His muzzle was soft, and I continued to touch my lips against his until I realized it was time. I suddenly had this overwhelming feeling that I just wanted to get this over with.

Sometimes, the only thing we can offer is relief from suffering.

Dr. Prutton approached Forest with a large syringe. I remember seeing a pink fluid, a bright and happy color, like bubble gum. Tears flowed down my face, as my fingertips gently stroked Forest’s face. I saw his legs wobble, and I suddenly turned away, yelling that I didn’t want to watch. I wanted to run, I wanted to run so far away from the pain.

Sometimes, the only thing we can offer is relief from suffering.

Moments later, in the time I took only one breath, Forest had found the ground. The world around me disappeared. I do not remember the vet standing near, or the students observing, or my family around the corner. I wanted to throw myself on top of Forest, and beg him to take me with him, but someone gently touched my arm. Soli. She told me to be careful of his legs, because he wasn’t gone just yet. I leaned down and buried my face in his neck. I was suddenly filled with an immense sadness as I felt him leave. The sobs choked me, almost stealing my breath, and the sadness suddenly turned to anger as I cried over and over, “I am so sorry, Forest.”

Sometimes, the only thing we can offer is relief from suffering.

Dr. Prutton put his stethoscope on Forest’s heartgirth, quietly announced that he was gone, and I continued to cry. My family joined me, gathering around Forest, and as I sat there, buried in his neck, my tears finally slowed. The sun warmed my back, the softness of the grass stroked my legs, and I was suddenly so comfortable there in Forest’s neck that I wanted to close my eyes. I wanted sleep to find me. I knew I could find it here, and I would sleep for hours, dreaming beautiful dreams, and awake, and all would be right in the world again.

I looked up to see Declan picking flowers from the grass, little flowers with purple tops. He carefully placed each flower on Forest’s face, arranging them just so. It was then that I knew it was over, but it was going to be okay.

Sometimes, the only thing we can offer is relief from suffering.

We picked ourselves up off the grass, and went to find Jakob’s Beauty. We received good news about her – she is healing well. Her destressed whinny called out for Forest as we loaded her into the horse trailer without him. We put Forest’s fly mask on her and hung his halter next to her, hoping his sweet smell would bring her comfort.

The drive home was quiet, and I did find sleep, off and on, as Gary drove.

A few days after Forest’s passing, I posted this on Facebook:

Six years ago, a little black and white Appaloosa gelding came into my life. I wasn’t looking for a horse. In fact, I already had a horse. But this little gelding found his way to me, and into my heart, after his original owner, Randi, lost her courageous battle with breast cancer.

Tonight, as I was reading some past entries in my journal, I found a short paragraph I had written back in 2011: “Forest is my rock. He is my friend, my confidence builder. He constantly challenges me. He is like a young child who questions your authority, but you can never stay too mad for too long because he wins you back every time. I enjoy being with him – sitting with him in the round pen, going for a slow, Sunday ride, grooming him. He is my big lap dog, honestly. I always seem to love myself a little more when I am with him.”

Is it possible to love another being, one not from the same species, as deeply as one human loves another? The answer is yes.

Forest left us on July 23, 2015, and on that day, I was filled with a sadness I did not know existed. But I imagine Randi is riding carefree now, galloping astride his back. And for that, I am truly glad.

“The love for a horse is just as complicated as the love for another human being… if you never love a horse, you will never understand.” ~ Author Unknown

RIP Forest Gumption

March 1, 2004 – July 23, 2015

Forest

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