Sunday, May 24, 2009

Wallflower Abloom: Volunteering at Owyhee Fandango International 2009

I pulled up on a bit of grass at the Teeter Ranch at 6:30 a.m. Coffee mug in hand, I headed straight for the nearest outhouse. (Hey, it's a long drive.) Before I could even knock on the door, a friend hollered across the clearing, "Tamara!"

And my heart lifted.

The drive had been long, you see, in more than minutes. I came in my little car, horseless, accompanied only by the tattered remains of my plans for the 2009 endurance season. This ride was, in 2008, Aaruba's and my first LD. I'd have given half my soul to be riding two 50's on him this year, plus an LD on Consolation. But it wasn't to be. Aaruba's colic and my recent injury conspired to put me in the volunteer crew at this year's Owyhee Fandango International.

But as anyone who truly loves this sport knows, it's far better to grounded in ridecamp than absent altogether. There are friends to be made and knowledge to be gained, and it's absolutely true that you'll meet more people in camp than you will on the trail. Besides, every ride needs volunteers -- and every rider can do with an occasional reminder of how the world looks from a volunteer's perspective.

And, I got to take pictures. These were snapped during the warmup for the 50 mile race, in which some riders competed seriously for both FEI and AERC recognition and others took a more casual approach. The riders below are FEI competitors; if you recognize them, please let me know and I'll be happy to identify them here.

Promptly at 7:00, they were off! The start was crowded but uneventful, so far as I'm aware. 51 horses started the race, and 39 completed.

At 8:00, the Limited Distance riders set out. Here, Elly Burnett and her green horse Jasper take a calm and sensible approach to the race, which they completed in good form. Congratulations on your first completion, you two!

During the first hold, I had an opportunity to do a little impromptu crewing for 2007 AERC national champion Bob Steller and his horse Majestic Star (pictured below). Both Bob and his wife Monika, herself a 2003 AERC Hall of Famer with her partner Markoss, are exemplary ambassadors for our sport.

We had plenty of volunteer help, so the workload in camp was light. I had the privilege of spending a couple hours chatting with Monika between passing time slips and pulsing LD finishers. In addition to being extremely knowledgeable, she is one of the kindest and most encouraging women I've ever had the pleasure to meet. Monika, you're on my shortlist of people to be like when I grow up.

All told, it was a beautiful day in the Owyhee canyonlands. I may not have gotten to dance, but I'm glad I showed up to sit on the sidelines and sway to the music.


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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bouncing Back

Almost a month has passed since the dog-chasing incident (I refuse to call it an accident!) that grounded me with a torn hamstring and a grudge against irresponsible dog owners.

Thanks to my savvy physical therapist, a rather extreme nutritional program (15+ servings of produce per day, anyone?), and countless hours of stretching, strengthening, and icing, I'm now able to walk through most of my daily tasks in reasonable comfort.

On Monday, I even earned my PT's permission to reintroduce some jogging into my workouts. I promptly went out and made myself sore with a few miles of hill repeats. Ahhh, bliss! Now we're getting somewhere!

I'm trying to ignore the depressing fact that five, slow miles and fifty squats made me sore in the first place. Excuse me while I put my fingers in my ears and hum. I'm like a rubber ball, baby, that's all that I am to you...bouncy-bouncy...bouncy bouncy...

(Ha! I just love the internet. Y'all can't even slap me for putting that tune in your heads.)

Anyway. We know that equines retain their physical conditioning much longer than do humans, so those few miles I managed to get on Consolation earlier this spring won't be entirely wasted. In fact, an experienced endurance friend of mine is convinced that I can have her ready for the LD at Pink Flamingo in early August.

Maybe she's right. What the hell. I'm going for it!

The bad news is that I still can't ride. This isn't just PT's orders; it's my own assessment. If I were to mount up, the knot of injured muscle tissue that remains just above and to the inside of my knee would press against my beloved Stonewall (or any other saddle), causing constant pain and risking re-injury with every stride. Besides, I'd be a fool to risk riding a strong-willed greenie without all systems intact.

So, it's into the round corral with Consolation for some trotting, just to leg her up her muscle tone and aerobic capacity. I could be wrong, but I think she rather enjoys it. That's my smart girl.

Rubber ball, I come bouncing back to you...

P.S. I keep meaning to mention -- as many of you have shown great interest in the subject -- that I've decided to take the dog's owner to small claims court. It's not about revenge. It's about justice. And PT bills. I'll keep you posted.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Shot in the Dark: Victory

I'm not the first to observe that the 2009 season has been rough on the endurance blogging community. Jonna of Barbs, etc. continues to struggle with hoof issues. Elly of Living in a Zoo is working through behavioral troubles. Jacke, aka Endurance Granny, suffered a crash course in exertional rhabdomyolysis. I had to retire a promising mount, then was grounded by an unhappy riding incident. Tabata of My Friend Shah concluded that her horse has done his time. Nicole of Adventures on Arabee and Shana of Sinwaan are sitting out the season, albiet for happier reasons. I've probably missed someone...but I hope not!

This post is for all of you dealing with setbacks -- horse related or otherwise. The quote comes from Jack Medina and Roy Vartabedian's excellent book The Winning Edge: Fueling & Training the Body for Peak Performance. If you don't own a copy, you should.

"There are times when a person puts out everything they have and still fail, they still don't win.
But in the striving, in the development of a will that goes down that deep, a man or woman learns a great lesson about life.
That somehow there can be more victory in striving like that than there is in victory itself.
And even beyond that I will predict that there can be defeat in victory if a person doesn't learn this.

...You can't tell me that there can't be victory in defeat and that there can't be defeat in victory depending on the attitude you have.
It isn't where you are going that counts,
it's the direction in which you are headed!
One of the great things about the sports world is that it can teach you to take frustration and come back out of it and go on to Victory."


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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Shorts Stories

I hardly ever wear shorts.

They aren't practical on the farm or welcome at the office, and considering that I have no life beyond those two places, I can safely state that my shorts-wearing time is limited almost exclusively to whitewater rafting expeditions and workouts.

Well. I've discovered a new use for those scraps of navy nylon: Campaigning.

Fresh from yesterday's physical therapy session, still clad in athletic gear, I set out to run a few errands about town. It didn't take long for me to notice the less-than-subtle commentary that rippled in my wake:

"Look at her leg," said the old biddy in the feed store's poultry aisle. Her companion shushed her while I smiled sweetly and stacked scratch grains on my cart.

"That looks like it hurt," whispered the cashier to her co-worker.

"Oh, my god," said a teenaged girl in the parking lot. "Is that a bruise?"

Ahh, the perfect opening line. The girl was the first of many to direct it at me. She was followed by the cowboy with the silver Chevy, the cyclist in line at the post office, the natural foods stocker at the grocery, the guy on the sales floor at Play it Again Sports, and several more.

One after another, they asked, "Is that a bruise?"

One after another, they winced when I said, "Pretty much. Torn hamstring."

One after another, each of them took the bait. "What'd you do?"

And one time after another, I set the hook. "My horse was attacked by a loose dog, and I fell off."

Their reactions ranged from amusement to curiosity to indignation. A few jumped straight to storytelling or advice-giving mode. All wanted to hear more of the story. At some point during every conversation, I made sure to comment that if I'd fallen on pavement instead of dirt, I might have died. Yep, those loose dogs are dangerous. Surely do appreciate owners who pen them up.

The message, of course, was the same one I wrote to you two days after my wreck: If you cannot train your dog to stay on your property no matter what, find a way to confine it. Period. Because if you don't, someone could get killed.

Sadly, humans are less capable of picking up subtle messages than are our equine friends. (Sorry, did I say "subtle?" I meant "glaringly obvious.") As the strangers walked off, shaking their heads in rueful dismissal, I began to wonder if I was getting through.

Oddly enough, it was Mr. Pick-up Line who made my efforts pay off. Eying my tank top as he rang up my kale and flax seed, he asked, "You on your way to work out?"


"Mm. 'Cause whatever you're doing, it's working out."

Right. Clever. I thanked him politely and punched in my PIN. It wasn't until I was walking away that he glimpsed my leg.

"What'd you do?" he called after me.

"Tried riding my horse past a loose dog," I said. "But it didn't work out."

And it happened. The next woman in line dug her elbow into her husband's ribs and chided, "See? You'd better chain up that damn dog before we get sued!"

Mission accomplished.


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Monday, May 11, 2009

Mentor in Motion

Yes, that's Aaruba. He looks great, doesn't he? Like he could trot 50 miles, race for the finish line, and emerge with all A's from the ride vet. But he couldn't.

My Aaruba looks like that because of who he is -- not because of how he feels.

Sometimes, when it gets very bad, he shows the pain. In any other horse, I'd call the symptoms "mild." But Aaruba's pain symptoms were mild even when the colic diagnostics said he should have been thrashing on the hospital floor.

So, you'll understand if I worry.

There are a few, precious instants when I can almost forget. When the weight of dread, so familiar now that I scarcely know it's there until it lifts, is blown back by the force of his joy. When I remember what he is trying to teach me:

Live now, because now is all we have. Embrace the pleasures of sheer physicality. Run until sweat pours from your skin. Build muscle -- it looks good and feels better. Bask naked in the sun. Eat when you're hungry -- natural, nourishing foods. Quench thirst with water.

The dividing line between body and spirit is narrow indeed. Does it even exist? I think Aaruba would say not. So, do not only what is healthful, but also what is right and good.

Challenge your mind. Live with courage. Be prepared to fight, if you have to.

Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Respect those who deserve it. Ignore the opinions of those who don't.

Trust slowly. Love rarely -- but when you love, love deeply. Discover passion. Practice gentleness. Never give up.

In short, live as the best of horses do, for all the time you have. Like Aaruba.

Keep running, Buddy. I'm right behind you.

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Shot in the Dark: Determination

The flower
that follows the sun
does so
even on cloudy days.

~ R. Leighton

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Doggone It

All right. I reckon I owe you all an update. (Many thanks for the concern of those who wrote to make sure I'm not in a coma somewhere.)

Absence of life support notwithstanding, this hasn't been my best-ever week. Since the Border Collie incident that resulted in my unscheduled -- and painful -- dismount from Consolation, I've run a gamut of emotions ranging from frustration to gratitude to resignation. I guess I'm still running, if truth be told.

Last Friday, my physical therapist informed me that my right hamstring suffered "massive soft tissue damage" in the form of "extensive micro-tearing throughout the semimembranosis muscle" as a result of blunt force trauma. Said blunt force also delivered a bone contusion to my knee, but the hamstring damage is considerably more distressing. If properly rehabilitated, however, it should heal completely. That's the good news.

The bad news is that I'm looking at about 6 weeks to return to full use for normal, daily activity and light workouts. Nine weeks or more for my preferred style of working out, which is to say, intense. At that point, I'm guessing I'll be able to ride safely.

Aside: Have you ever noticed how many people assume that you should be able to ride shortly after an injury, because obviously riding isn't athletic. All you have to do is sit there and let the horse do the work! I like to smile agreeably at these people and say, "Oh yes. Riding is a lot like know, where the hill does all the work."

Anyway, though I plan to beat my PT's healing-time estimates through a combined approach of excellent nutrition, appropriate exercise, and (should I tell you this?) positive visualization, it's clear that I won't be riding anytime soon. By the time I get at least three months' conditioning on Consolation, the endurance season will be nearly over. If you've been reading The Barb Wire for any length of time, you understand that this is a heavy blow.

Meanwhile, what's to be done about the dog? Or, more specifically, about its irresponsible owner?

Many of you commented that I ought to file a report with Animal Control. Don't worry. I did. Last week, a county animal control officer served "dog at large" charges to the Border Collie's owner. Unfortunately, although the dog's behavior meets our county ordinance's definition of "vicious," it doesn't meet the supersceding state definition, which requires that a dog actually bite someone before it is considered vicious. The upshot is that the worst that can happen to the owner, if he's found guilty on this "dog at large" charge plus two more, is that he'll be fined $100 or less. The dog still won't have to be contained on his property.

Several individuals, including myself, have expressed hope that the owner will demonstrate a sense of responsibility and offer to cover my medical bills and the cost of a replacement helmet. Better yet, he might even build a fence or otherwise contain his dog!

Yeah. Don't count on it. The ACO observed that although the gentleman admitted ownership of the dog, he refused to acknowledge the chasing incident or the dog's frequent off-property roaming. And he wasn't friendly about it. At all.

So, if I want to pursue compensation, I'll have to file civil suit. Idaho small claims court looks like the most reasonable route, should I choose to take it. But is it worth my effort? I've no chance of a ruling that would require the dog to be controlled. The sum of money involved isn't substantial. (Yet.) What's much, much more substantial the loss of most or all of my 2009 endurance and training season. Does that count as pain and suffering? Legally, I doubt it...but emotionally? Yes. It does.

And yes, I'm still running that gamut. But I'll get through. I know what's at the end, even if I'm not there yet: Commitment. Setbacks or no, I'll keep climbing. Always have. Always will.

Longfellow said it best. (So well, in fact, that he named my farm.)

The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.
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