Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Starting Over
In her annual address to the British Parliament, Queen Elizabeth II referred to 1992, the 40th anniversary of her ascension to the throne, as her “annus horriblis” or horrible year. In the Queen’s case, the marriages of three of her children were failing, reports of their affairs were being gleefully reported in the press and a fire caused substantial damage to her home, Winsor Castle. It looked at that point, like the British monarchy could be in trouble but they recovered and with Kate and William’s strong marriage and recent baby, seem to have experienced a new renaissance. Last year, 2013, turned out to be my horrible year. The troubles began in October 2012 when I discovered, that my 89 year old mother had stage 4 colon cancer. This knowledge, which would be troubling in its own right, was devastating to me. My mother lived with me and she had survived a previous bout with colon cancer in her late 50’s. Mom had always been rigorous about her follow up care and had undergone colonoscopies every three year. When she turned 83, her doctor informed her that she didn’t need any more of these procedures. She had been cancer free for 25 years. So the discovery of this cancer, which should have been detectable at a much earlier stage if she had continued with the colonoscopies, had been missed. Earlier in the year, Mom had complained of pain in the area of her right ribs. Suspecting a cracked rib, her doctor had ordered an x-ray but nothing appeared to be amiss and the pain subsided. My mother routinely took pain medication to deal with chronic back problems and this probably masked most of the pain associated with the cancer. Over the summer Mom’s weight began to drop and when the pain under her ribs reappeared, her doctor order a CAT scan which showed the cancer was forming a blockage in her colon and that it had already metastasized to her liver. Mom’s primary care doctor, Hal Kramer, delivered the news and then immediately went into action to help us deal with the next steps. Although he knew that the cancer was terminal, and told us so, he also told us that we didn’t want my mother to die from a blockage. He contacted the surgeon who had operated on his own mother-in-law and called me at home to make sure I had arranged an appointment. When he found out the appointment had not been made for the following week, he called the surgeon’s office himself and had it moved up so that the surgery could be scheduled right away. My mother began to prepare for her surgery on the Sunday just as hurricane Sandy approached the area. The preparation, which was designed to clean out her digestive system, made her violently ill. The surgery had been scheduled for Tuesday, which was the day Sandy was supposed to hit the area. The governor of Delaware had already declared a state of emergency. I called the surgeon, Dr. James Tikellis to ask him what to do. He felt that since the hospital was likely to cancel any non-emergency surgeries as a result of the storm, I should have Mom stop her prep and he would reschedule for the following week. By Monday morning, Mom seemed to be recovering but by Wednesday it was clear to me that something serious was wrong. Mom was almost continually nauseous and retching. I wanted to take her to the emergency room but she didn’t want to go to the hospital. I brought an air mattress down into her apartment so that I could sleep close to her in case she needed me. Neither of us got any sleep and her condition deteriorated. She was becoming seriously dehydrated by the continual retching. Having been warned by both by Dr. Hal and by my sister, who is a nurse, about the symptoms of a blockage, I became increasingly worried and finally called 911. We arrived in the emergency room at Christiana Care at 4 AM. The doctor listened to my report and then immediately commenced treatment. Fluids and pain medication were administered and then my mother was taken for a CAT scan. At 10 AM, Dr. Tikellis came into the room to tell me that my mother’s colon was now blocked and emergency surgery was necessary. The operation almost didn’t take place. Mom’s heartbeat was irregular but after a consultation with the surgeon, the anesthesiologist and Mom’s cardiologist, we decided to go forward. When the surgery was over, Dr. Tikellis told me that while he had been able to remove the tumor in her colon, Mom had a large tumor in her liver and a smaller one in her lungs. That was the bad news. The good news was that he had been able to sew her intestines back together so that she did not need a colostomy bag and he was sure she would recover from the surgery and be able to go to the Florida Keys for one final vacation. It was something to look forward too, perhaps just what she would need to engage her will to get better. I returned home feeling a little more hopeful. Then I listened to the message on the answering machine. My horse, Sonny, had gone dead lame. Sonny had been experiencing sporadic lameness issues for about a year. I had been working with the vet to diagnose the problem. We’d done x-rays and ultrasounds, all inconclusive. The problem seemed to be worse when Sonny moved on a circle. I had rested him for the entire summer, taking my lessons on my local Parelli instructor, Jane Bartsch’s levels mare, Lynn. Jane even allowed me to ride Lynn in a three day Carol Coppinger clinic that fall. I had been using a red light on Sonny’s hoof and thought he was making progress but the message on my answering machine was grim. Sonny was so lame that he hadn’t come in from the field for breakfast. Sonny is an incredibly food oriented horse. If he was willing to miss breakfast, I knew he was really hurting. I rushed to the barn, hoping it wouldn’t be as bad as it sounded on the message, but when I got there I found Sonny in his stall and not wanting to walk at all. There was no apparent wound and although we couldn’t find any real sign of heat on the foot, both the barn manager and I thought it most likely an abscess. Since the vet was already scheduled to be there on Monday to give Sonny his flu shot, we decided to treat it as if it was an abscess and see what happened. We applied a poultice and gave Sonny some bute. By Monday no abscess had broken out but my vet, Dr. Clark Cushing, agreed that was the most likely cause and suggested we continue the poultices and bute. As the week progressed, there was no evidence of an abscess breaking through the wall of the hoof but Sonny was slowly improving. Dr. Cushing came to the conclusion that there probably wasn’t an abscess and perhaps Sonny had sustained a tendon injury in his hoof. He suggested I discontinue the poultices and start him on a course of Previcox, a stronger anti-inflammatory medicine. This was actually bad news. I knew that Sonny would recover from fairly quickly from an abscess. Any type of tendon injury that was bad enough to make him go dead lame however would probably require an extended recovery period. But at this point, I didn’t really have time to worry about this because Mom was coming home from the hospital. My sister and brother-in-law had arrived from Maryland to help when Mom was released from the hospital. Lynn is a register nurse and her husband, Dan, is a physician’s assistant so their arrival was no small thing. They were so much better prepared than I to deal with Mom’s recovery but they were only going to be able to stay for a week. In the spring, before they knew that Mom had cancer, they had decided to move to Florida. They arranged to have a house built near Tampa and had sold their house in Maryland. They were now scheduled to pack up their all of their belongings and move in the middle of November. I knew that my sister felt awful about the timing. I was just glad they were going to be here for the first week. Mom came home from the hospital weak and disoriented. She could only sit up for a few minutes without being in pain. She didn’t want to eat anything. She was also having issues with incontinence. The tumor in her colon had been at the junction between her large and small intestines. That junction has a valve that slows down the flow of the semi-solid small intestine waste into the large intestine. Between the serious inflammation that had resulted from the blockage and the absence of that valve, Mom’s digestive system was a mess. The surgeon had failed to mention that this would probably happen. It was not uncommon, I learned from researching on the internet, for this to happen following blockage surgery. In the best case it could take weeks to resolve and in the worst case scenario it never would. I cried when Lynn and Dan left the following week. I don’t think I have ever felt so helpless and alone watching them pull out of the driveway. Mom was still very weak and she was also depressed. Sitting up was painful for her and she didn’t want to eat. I knew that I needed to get some nutrition into her if she was going to recover from the surgery but meals were a struggle. We both soldiered forward but the atmosphere at home was grim. Then one afternoon I received a call that would prove to be a lifeline for both Mom and me. The call was from my niece, Karole. Karole was Mom’s only surviving grandchild. Her brother, Mark, had died in a car accident when he was only 25. Karole lived in California and didn’t get back to visit very often but she was between jobs and offered to come and stay with us to help take care of Mom. She could come right after Thanksgiving and stay until New Years, she told me. My sister had offered to pay her airfare. Mom and I both leaped at the offer. Mom was slowly improving. She was still bothered by incontinence but the episodes were becoming less frequent. She was able to sit for longer periods of time and she was getting crabby, which was actually an improvement from her earlier impassiveness. I was tired of being stuck in the house all the time but I didn’t feel comfortable leaving Mom alone. I had done no Christmas shopping and I was depending on Bree, our barn manager, to handle Sonny’s recuperation. I hadn’t been to the barn in weeks. Karole arrived the Saturday after Thanksgiving and she was a godsend. In addition to giving me the freedom to get out of the house, she turned out to be a terrific caregiver for Mom. She was incredibly attentive to Mom. When Mom took a tumble and ended up with a sprained ankle, Karole applied an ice pack at 20 minute intervals until the pain and swelling were gone. Besides that, in her presence, Mom’s spirits began to rise. She insisted we decorate for Christmas and put up her Christmas village, an elaborate display of miniature buildings and figures that covered the entire dining room table. Now that I was able to spend more time at the barn, I was determined to get to the bottom of Sonny’s lameness. On both Previcox and Isoxsuprine, he had recovered somewhat but was still off when moving in a circle. There had never been any heat that Dr. Cushing was able to detect in the foot and given the inconclusive x-rays, he was baffled by the continued lameness. Finally I decided to make an appointment for Sonny with Dr. William Riddle, a lameness specialist in nearby Port Deposit, Maryland. On the morning of our scheduled appointment, Bree trailered Sonny and me to Dr. Riddle’s clinic. Using a combination of x-rays, thermography and nerve blocks, Dr. Riddle was able to diagnose Sonny’s problem as a chronic tendonitis resulting from navicular degeneration. On the x-ray he showed me the rough surface of the navicular bone. The tendonitis was cause by the tendon rubbing across the uneven surface of the bone and aggravated by the upright and narrow construction of Sonny’s hoof. He suggested a series of injections and rest. He felt that Sonny’s prognosis was only moderate at this point. I was disappointed at the prognosis but relieved to finally have an answer. It was clear that Sonny’s career as a levels horse was over but I was hoping that I would be able to trail ride him in the future. The entire family was arriving for Christmas and we were doing everything we could to raise Mom’s spirits. To help assure her that she was going to get to the Florida Keys, we had tee shirts made for the family and friends. We were calling ourselves “Mom’s Pit Crew” and even got a tee shirt for Mom’s doctor. I left the shirt at Dr. Kramer’s office on the Monday before Christmas and then next day I received an e-mail with a picture of Dr. Kramer, wearing his tee shirt and requesting that Mom take him with her! Dr. Kramer even called Mom on New Year’s Eve to wish her a Happy New Year. On January 9th, Sonny returned to Dr. Riddle’s for his second injection. When Dr. Riddle had given Sonny the first injection, the pressure from the inflammation in his hoof had caused blood to well up out of the needle when it had been placed into his coronet band. He had shown great improvement after the first injection and I was really hopeful at this point. There was still a little fluid that came up out of the needle before the second shot, an indication that there was still some pressure in the foot, but this liquid was clear, indicating that the inflammation was greatly reduced. We discussed treatment options and settled on a series of injections that could be administered by Dr. Cushing. He also suggested that I continue the Previcox and Isoxsuprine until spring, and then gradually wean Sonny off so we could re-evaluate at the beginning of July. On January 10th, I took Mom for her final visit to the surgeon. Much to our great relief, Mom’s issues with incontinence had completely resolved and she was also much more comfortable sitting for long periods of time. Dr. Tikellis was amazed at how well Mom had recovered. He had told me after her surgery that it would take a normal, healthy adult eight to ten weeks to recover from this type of surgery but with Mom’s age and compromised immune system, it could take her twice as long. Yet here she was just less than ten weeks after her surgery looking pretty good. He cleared her for the trip to the Keys and Mom came away from the doctor’s office happier than I had seen her since she received her diagnosis three months before. It had been a hard three months but we’d made it this far and in a couple of weeks we would be on our way to the Keys. We had a lovely time in the Keys. For the past few years I had been renting a three bedroom condo on Long Key which is about a third of the way between Key Largo and Key West. It is a small complex, only twelve units, and is right on the Atlantic Ocean. We have become friendly with several of the owners there and Mom loved the warm weather, spectacular sunrises and heated pool. Because it is a three bedroom unit, it is large enough for friends and during the six weeks we stayed on Long Key, friends from as close as Coral Gables and as far away as Grand Junction, Colorado, came to spend time with Mom. On February 27th, Mom celebrated her 90th birthday and the entire condo complex got in on the act. My best friends from Delaware flew down to join us and we gave Mom a rousing party around the pool, complete with presents and lots of good food. I think Mom was actually thrilled to have made it to 90. Both of her parents died relatively young and she had often told me that she hadn’t expect to make 80 let alone 90. Near the end of our stay in Florida, Mom announced that she wanted to spend a little more time in Florida and that she was going to stay with my sister for another month. We had visited Lynn and Dan on our way down to the Keys. They had a lovely new house in a 55 and older community located just south of Tampa. It contained a nice guest bedroom and bathroom where Mom could be comfortable and so toward the end of March, I transferred care of Mom to my sister and headed home on the Auto train by myself. I was grateful for the break. As much as I loved Mom, being a full time caregiver is hard work and I was feeling a bit frazzled. There were things that I needed to get done around the house and I wanted to spend some time with Sonny to evaluate where he was in his recovery. And although Mom had done pretty well in the Keys, I could see that she was slowly getting more fragile and knew that as the tumor in her liver continued to grow, she would eventually go into liver failure, a condition that she could not survive. Sonny was doing pretty well when I arrived in Delaware and looked pretty sound when trotted in a straight line, but he still wasn’t up to any work and I was anxious to get back to my Parelli studies so I needed a horse. I was fortunate to find an affordable solution right at the barn. A friend of mine who owned two appaloosas that I had worked with on and off had decided to get out of horses. She had actually offered to give me one of them several times but worried about the financial commitment that owning a second horse would entail, (I am retired and Sonny was already costing me a fortune in medical bills) I had declined. It turned out, however, that our barn manager’s boyfriend, a nice guy just out of the navy, wanted to buy the larger of the two horses but couldn’t really afford the board. The barn manager brokered a deal whereby I could take a half lease on the horse, making the situation affordable for everyone and so Dillon came into my life. Mom returned to Delaware at the end of April. My sister flew with her and when I picked them up at the Philadelphia Airport I could see how weak and exhausted she looked. We managed to get her home but just as she got to her apartment she began to retch. We were able to bring the situation quickly under control and both Lynn and I wrote the incident off to the stress of the trip but it was to become a more and more frequent occurrence as Mom’s cancer progressed. Mom seemed glad to be home in familiar surroundings and was in relatively good spirits, looking forward to our annual Kentucky Derby Day Party, scheduled for the first Saturday in May. Lynn had remarked about Mom’s increasing confusion while she had been with her in Tampa and we both thought she would benefit from being home, but right away, I could see that there had been deterioration in Mom’s mental state. I guess it should not have been a surprise to me. Mom was 90 years old, on some pretty heavy pain medication and dying of liver cancer so she was probably suffering from an increased level of toxins in her blood. But my mother had always been mentally sharp. It was something that all of my friends remarked about and more than the physical decline, this metal decline threw me for a loop. It wasn’t just that Mom’s memory was failing. I could have dealt with that. It was that her personality was changing and she was confused a lot of the time. It was very hard for me to deal with the confusion and often when she became confused, she became agitated or angry. I knew that her behavior was a result of her conditions found myself also feeling frustrated and angry at time and would occasionally speak sharply to her out of the frustration. Each time that happened I was then filled with remorse. It was a difficult cycle that got worse as the summer progressed. In 2006, when my father was dying of cancer, we had used Vitas Hospice and they had proved to be a godsend during his finally months. Soon after my mother’s surgery, she had asked Dr. Kramer to arrange for hospice care and they had been with us ever since. Although I was willing to do almost anything Mom needed, I was a little uncomfortable bathing her and the hospice aides, a group of caring younger women, had been a huge help from the beginning. The hospice nurses also tried to help me understand what to expect as Mom’s cancer advanced and were quick to respond to any medical situation that might occur. Mom continued to have good and bad days but as spring melted into summer, the bad days began to outweigh the good ones. I still felt comfortable leaving Mom for short periods of time on her good days so I was able to continue working with Dillon and monitoring Sonny. My next door neighbor, Helen, who was good friends with my mother, was also happy to come and sit with her when I had to be away for more than 30 or 40 minutes. I had put a monitor in Mom’s bedroom so that I could hear her at night and get to her quickly if she needed me. On June 1st, we began weaning Sonny off his medicine. First we took him off the Isoxsuprine. This caused him to be a little gimpy. The change was not dramatic but it was big enough to make me realize that the medicine had been helping him. Then we started to wean him off the Previcox. Within days of taking the last dose, his lameness came back with a vengeance. It was almost as bad as it had been in November, with him reluctant to move around. I was devastated. I put him back on both medicines and made another appointment with Dr. Riddle. I had pretty much decided that if it would make him comfortable, I would have Dr. Riddle permanently nerve the bad foot and then I would retire him. Dr. Riddle took another set of x-rays and together we looked at new films side by side with the pictures taken in December. In just six months, the degeneration of his navicular bone had gotten much worse. When I asked Dr. Riddle if nerving Sonny would be a solution, he wasn’t encouraging. He told me that he couldn’t be sure how long a nerve block would actually last given Sonny’s conformation and the degree of damage. He also said that given how fast the disease had advanced in the six months since the last set of x-rays, nerving the foot to allow Sonny to move around without pain would in all probability result in even faster progression. Finally I asked Dr. Riddle what he would do if Sonny was his horse. Dr. Riddle is a kind man. On each of my visits to the clinic he had remarked on what a nice horse Sonny was. When I asked this question he looked away for a moment. Then he put his hand on Sonny’s neck and rubbed him. Finally he looked at me and said, “I know you love this horse, but if he were my horse, I would probably put him down.” I just nodded my head. I was close to tears at that point and was almost afraid to speak. I told him that my mother was dying and I wasn’t sure if I could lose Sonny right now. He said that we could always do more injections and keep Sonny comfortable with anti-inflammatories for a while but at some point it would become more than we could manage. I thanked him, loaded Sonny in the trailer and cried all the way back to the barn. Early in July, Mom had a pain crisis. Up until that time, we had been doing a pretty good job of keeping her comfortable using a morphine patch and some breakthrough medicine. For some reason the pain got out of control. Mom became very agitated and I wasn’t able to calm her down. I was beside myself. Hospice bought nurses in 24 hours a day for a week. Using massive doses of pain killers and a combination of anti-anxiety and anti-depression medicines, they managed to get the pain back under control but we seemed to have reached some kind of turning point with her illness. One of the symptoms of liver failure is a general sense of not feeling well. Shortly after the pain crisis was resolved, Mom began telling me that she “just didn’t feel good”. There was really nothing I could do about it. She stopped eating. I tried tempting her with her favorite foods but dishes she had always loved, she turned up her nose at. She might eat a few bites and then push the food away. I made her milkshakes with coffee ice cream, her favorite or vanilla ice cream and chocolate malt. Her weight loss began to accelerate. She was wasting away before my eyes. At the end of July, Lynn and Dan came up for a week so that I could get away for a few days. I booked a short vacation with a good friend. We went to a lovely bed and breakfast in Charles Town, West Virginia. One night we went to the race track and proceeded to lose every cent we wagered. We wandered around our old haunts in the Shenandoah Valley, where we had worked together for the DuPont Company many years before. I returned home more relaxed than I had been in several month, happy to discover that Mom had actually been pretty good while I was away. I had come home on Saturday, a day early because the weather had been terribly hot that week, temperatures flirting with the 100 degree mark, even in the mountains. I noticed that my cat, Mac, a 20 lb. bruiser with bad eyesight, was acting a little oddly but didn’t think much of it and went to bed early. When I woke up in the morning, I found Mac in the exact same spot I’d left him in the night before and it was obvious to me from his behavior that there was something seriously wrong. Because it was Sunday, my normal vet wasn’t open so I packing him up in his carrying case and rushing him to the emergency clinic that was recommended on my vet’s website. At the emergency clinic, a technician came into the small exam room where we were waiting and took Mac back to see the vet. After a short wait the vet came into the room where I was waiting and told me that it was a good thing I had brought Mac in. Apparently he had a urinary track blockage, a not uncommon but potentially life threatening problem in male cats. Fortunately we had caught it early and it was easily treatable but Mac was going to have to stay at the vet for a day or two. She told me that a technician would be in shortly with an estimate of the cost of the care and some paperwork. The technician arrived minutes later. I took one look at the estimate of $1800 and started sobbing. I couldn’t afford that, I sobbed. I told them that they were going to have to put him down. I told them that everything in my life was dying; my mother, my horse and now the cat. I was inconsolable. I called my sister but I was crying so hard I couldn’t even tell her what was wrong. Apparently I could be heard in the waiting room. The technician left and the vet returned. She told me they didn’t want to put the cat down. They could remove the blockage and keep Mac overnight. I could take him to my own vet in the morning for the follow up care. That would only cost about $600. I pulled myself together enough to tell them to go ahead and then cried all the way home. The incident with Mac highlighted to me how fragile my emotional state had become. Most days I was just barely holding it together. I found that I had a hard time concentrating on anything. If I got the bed made, I felt like I had accomplished something. I had always been an avid reader but now I could only read about a page of anything without losing focus. My mother had always been uncomfortable with anyone crying in front of her so I tried to be her rock but at night I often cried into my pillow. I felt angry at the situation I was in. I was a scientist by training, used to being able to solve any problem but this was something that I couldn’t fix. I felt helpless and frustrated. I was angry at being trapped in the house all the time. I was angry at my mother for being sick and then I was angry at myself for being so selfish. I didn’t like myself very much anymore. Despite the fact that Mom had been pretty good while Lynn and Dan were visiting, my sister must have recognized how bad things had gotten for me. A couple of days after she returned to Florida, she called me and told me that she was going to come up for a week each month while Mom was still alive. I was so grateful for that show of support that I started to cry. I hated myself for my neediness. After Sonny’s last visit to Dr. Riddle, I knew that I needed to find a place where he could retire. I loved my current barn but with an indoor arena on the property, it was a high rent district now that I was supporting one and a half horses. The first barn I thought of as a place for Sonny’s retirement was Stray Fox Farm where my horse, Max, had lived for the last 10 years of his life. Max had also had a navicular problem but he lived to be 32 years old and I was able to trail ride him occasionally until the last year of his life. At the time Max was alive, the barn was run by Bob and Phyllis Malin. We had become close friends during the years Max was boarded there and I knew they would take good care of Sonny. The barn was being managed now by their daughter, Lisa, who told me that right she didn’t have any openings right now but she would keep me in mind. Miraculously, within two weeks she had a boarder move to Pennsylvania and called me to say that she had a spot for Sonny. In the meantime I had been taking lessons with Dillon but I was struggling. Before Sonny’s lameness we were a solid level three on line and at liberty and we were working on our level 3 freestyle skills. Sonny was still struggling picking up his right lead consistently, a problem I now knew was most likely related to the navicular issues in his right front hoof. I was riding bridleless at the walk and the trot and was building confidence at the canter. I felt that we were getting close to being able to pass our level three freestyle audition. I didn’t really want to be switching horses at this point and if I was going to switch, I needed a horse who was at least as far along in his development as Sonny. Dillon was proving to be a sweet guy, anxious to please and a quick learner but he was starting from Parelli ground zero and I found that demotivating. I felt like I was starting over. Just when I had gotten Sonny to the point where I could work on my level three freestyle skills, he had gone lame. Now my only option was a young, relatively green horse that wasn’t even confident in level one skills. I felt like I was going backwards. It wasn’t where I wanted to be. At this point in my horsemanship journey I needed to be working on my riding skills but here I was saddled with a horse that didn’t have the basics. By the beginning of August, my mother had become so weak that she needed assistance to get around. She refused to use a walker and I was afraid that she was going to fall and hurt herself so I had a single bed moved into her living room and began sleeping downstairs. That way, if she had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, she could call me and I could get up and help her. The only problem with that plan was Mom’s unwillingness to wake me up in the middle of the night. Whether out of confusion or a desire to remain independent as long as possible, she would get out of bed without calling. Usually, she put her light on and that was enough to pull me out of sleep. She was getting up several times a night. I wasn’t getting much sleep and was getting tired and cranky. Everyone told me I should try to nap whenever Mom napped but I found it almost impossible to sleep in the daytime. One night she got up to use the bathroom and did not turn on the light. When a loud noise woke me up, I rushed into the bedroom to find her on the floor. When I asked her what happened she didn’t seem to know. I got her to the bathroom and then back into bed but the incident made me realize that I needed help. The next morning I called my sister and we agreed that Mom needed someone with her at night. I arranged through a home care agency for nursing aides to be with Mom from 9 pm to 7 am but I continued to be her primary caregiver during the day. By that time, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving Mom alone for more than a few minutes. I had great support from our friends who would come over so I could go to the store and once a week, Helen would sit with Mom so I could take my riding lesson. Then Mom took a bad spill while Helen was with her, hitting her head on the corner of her bedroom dresser. I was at the barn getting ready for my lesson. I was just putting my foot in the stirrup when my cell phone rang. Helen was frantic. She had gotten Mom up and back in bed but she was afraid that Mon had a concussion. I called hospice right away, untacked Dillon and rushed home. I arrived home before the hospice nurse to find Mom sitting in bed laughing about what happened. I didn’t think it was at all funny. This was the fourth fall she taken that week, all because she refused to ask for help. I knew she was sick and confused but I was scared that she had fallen and I was furious. I began to yell at her and then I began to cry. By the time the hospice nurse arrived I was sobbing. The nurse examined Mom and was pretty sure Mom didn’t have a concussion but she was very concerned about Mom falling. She insisted that we get a hospital bed with side rails. Even in her confused mental state, Mom was adamant that she did not want a hospital bed. With the degenerative disc disease in her back, Mom found hospital beds uncomfortable. She and the nurse argued furiously while I sobbed in the living room. I was trying to control myself because I knew she could hear me but I couldn’t stop. I think my mother didn’t want the hospital bed for another reason. I was pretty sure that she saw the hospital bed as the beginning of the end. My father had spent his last two months in a hospital bed and I suspect that when the bed arrived, Mom saw it as a physical representation of her eventual death. Finally Mom agreed to the bed. She called me into the room and apologized for scaring me. I felt horrible. Here my mother was dying and I was acting like a spoiled child. The hospital bed marked another turning point in my mother’s illness. After the bed arrived, Mom pretty much stopped eating. At the end of August my sister came for another week. She was shocked at the change she saw in Mom since her last visit. That week, to save some money, Lynn and I took turns staying with Mom at night. Mom was now showing evidence of sundowners syndrome, a common problem with Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients. People with sundowners show increased confusion in the evening and often don’t sleep well at night. Mom’s confusion was increasing as her liver continued to fail. Often she would sleep most of the day and then be up most of the night. The first night Lynn stayed with her on this trip Mom spent a couple of hours taking everything out of her wallet and purse one item at a time and then placing each item deliberately back in. By the end of the week, Lynn was convinced that I needed more help. In addition to the night aides, I contracted for aides to be with Mom several hours each day during the week and we split the cost. I lived for the aids to arrive. It was a timely decision because shortly after Lynn left for Florida, I came down with a terrible sinus infection. I ran a temperature and ended up on antibiotics. My primary care physician told me to wear a mask any time I went near Mom. As soon as the nighttime aide arrived, I fell into bed and slept until my alarm clock went off in the morning. It was several weeks before I began feeling better, just in time for my sister’s next visit. As my mother’s liver continued to fail she was having increasing bouts of nausea. These were often accompanied by dry retching which made her miserable. Her doctor prescribed, Haldol, an anti-psychotic medicine that is also used to control agitation. Haldol proved to be a miracle drug to control the retching. Unfortunately it could not be used as a preventative, but only once the problem had appeared. Usually it took less than 5 minutes for the drug to eliminate the symptoms but it was a miserable 5 minutes for both Mom and I while the drug took hold. By the beginning of October, my mother had gone without any solid food for over a month. She was wasting away before my eyes and there was nothing I could do about it. The liver failure was giving her a jaundiced look, with her skin looking a yellowish gray. I had gone from being angry to feeling just helpless all the time. I wasn’t sleeping well and couldn’t seem to get any pleasure from the things I had always enjoyed. Even seeing the horses didn’t help much. Sonny seemed to sense that something was wrong. Given his dominant nature, he had never much liked being groomed and would often reach around and nip at my clothes or shake his head in displeasure but as September rolled into October he began submitting to the curry comb and brush as if this was his all-time favorite activity. Dillon continued to be his sweet, lovable self, rushing to the gate to meet me when I arrived at the barn and progressing to level two skills during our lessons. But the worry over my mother was never far from my mind and both horses took advantage of my lack of attention. I was scheduled to take Dillon to a three day Carol Coppinger clinic in Frederica, Delaware the third week in October and I was determined to attend as long as Mom was in stable condition. I arranged with the service to have 24 hour coverage for the four days that I would be with Dillon in Frederica. Because the farm was only an hour from my house, I would be able to return relative quickly if problems arose and I would also be able to spend each night at home. I had no idea how Dillon would react to the clinic because I had never ridden him in a group of horses before but I knew he would be OK in an indoor arena so on Friday. October 17th, Bree trailered Dillon in the afternoon to Hartland Equestrian so that I could introduce him to the arena and let him get used to the presence of strange horses. When I arrived, Carol was already conducting private session with some of the participants and she asked me if I would like to have one of my two fifteen minute sessions before I returned to Newark. I jumped at the chance to get Dillon into the arena. Before we started to work with Carol, I let him walk around and investigate anything that looked strange to him. He was surprisingly calm and by the time we finished and I had fed him and tucked him into his stall for the evening I was beginning to feel confident that we were going to do alright in the clinic. I have been attending Carol’s clinics in Delaware for several years now and always feel like I am among friends there. Jane Bartsch, my local Parelli instructor and my friend, assists Carol when she is in Delaware and there is a regular core of attendees who I’ve come to feel close to over the years. The environment is always supportive so even though I was emotionally ragged over my mother’s condition, I wasn’t worried about exposing my emotions with the group. During the morning session we worked with our horses on line. Even though Dillon had never been in a clinic situation before, he was fabulous. He didn’t seem bothered by being in close quarters with a dozen other horses and I found myself more able to focus than I had been all summer. After lunch, we tacked our horses up and prepared to ride. I felt confident that Dillon was ready. He had been calm and relaxed after our morning session and when I worked him around me after he was saddled, he appeared to be OK. But as soon as I settled myself into the saddle I sensed there was something wrong. He felt all humped up and crooked to me. I tried adjusting myself in the saddle and walked him around the arena but the further we went, the more he felt to me like he was about to explode. It unnerved me so much that I dismounted. The minute my feet hit the arena floor, I began to cry. No one could see me at that point. I was at the far end of the arena and Dillon was between me and the rest of the participants. I took some deep breaths and tried to get myself under control but I couldn’t stop crying. Months of pent up emotion; frustration, anger, powerlessness, fear, regret, remorse and a crushing sadness came boiling over. I put my forehead on Dillon’s neck and repeatedly wiped my eyes but I couldn’t stop crying. Finally it was clear to me that I wasn’t in an emotional state to ride. I led Dillon out of the arena, untacked and put him back in his stall. By this time everyone had noticed that something was wrong but they all assumed the problem was with Dillon. Carol sent Jane to find out what was wrong. I could barely talk. I waved Jane off and for the rest of the afternoon slumped miserably in a chair, watching the clinic participants ride their horses and barely holding myself together. The next morning I arrived to hear Carol tell the class that she had decided we were going to ride the entire day. I had been counting on working with Dillon on line in the morning. I took him out of his stall and warmed him up with the rest of the class knowing that I wouldn’t be able to ride. No one questioned my decision. I sat miserably through the morning session, angry at myself for wasting the money to come to a clinic that I was emotionally unfit to participate in. That afternoon I had my second private session with Carol. I asked for help with maintaining gate on line but I was so dispirited that Carol let me stop after 10 minutes. I arrived on Monday feeling a little better and determined to salvage something out of the clinic. In the morning we worked on two line driving from zone five. I had never done any driving with Dillon and was pleased when he took to it quickly. Soon we were driving all around the arena, changing direction fluidly at a walk and a trot. Even Jane was impressed with how he was doing. After that we played with some group liberty and once again, Dillon showed surprising maturity. By the time we were ready to tack our horses up, I was hopeful that I would actually get into the saddle. Dillon has always been difficult to bridle. When I first started riding him I discovered that he had some serious dental issues that had resulted in sores in his mouth. After the dentist filed off the rough edges, he was less sensitive but he still fussed occasionally before accepting the bit. Monday afternoon was one of those times and before long Dillon and I were fighting over whether or not he was going to take the bit. Unfortunately Carol noticed our struggle and came over to ask me if that was how I was supposed to bridle a horse. I was riding right on the edge of an emotional break and I snapped back at her that no, it wasn’t the way I was supposed to bridle a horse but it was the way I was going to do it today. There must have been something in my tone that warned her back and all she said was “Oh” before she stepped away. I managed to finish and mounted up before I changed my mind about riding. This time Dillon felt OK to me and I proceeded to finish our warm up without incident. By that time, Carol was giving the entire class a lecture about the correct way to bridle a horse, demonstrating with Legend, who was reaching down to take the bit out of her hand. Chagrined, I rode over to where Jane was standing told her that I thought the lecture was directed at me and then confessed what had happened while I was bridling Dillon. She told me not to worry, she was sure Carol understood what I was going through. The rest of the clinic was a blur. I didn’t ride as well as I might have but at least I was on the horse. Dillon was not really relaxed but he didn’t feel ready to explode and I managed to control my emotions enough to ride safely. All in all I felt like it was a win. On the Tuesday morning after the clinic, my mother seemed to me to be much worse. Her color was almost gray and the features on her face were sunken. She was almost too weak to get out of bed now and was sleeping almost all the time. I was happy that my sister was scheduled to return again to Delaware on Friday. I was afraid Mom wasn’t going to live much longer. By Thursday, Mom had become incontinent and we could no longer get her up to use the bedside commode but she was still recognized me and when Lynn arrived on Friday, Mom seemed happy to see her. Saturday morning Mom asked me to get Helen for her. When I texted Helen, she texted back that she was out shopping and she would come as soon as she could. By the time she arrived, Mom was barely conscious but she was able to squeeze Helen’s hand. Mom was slipping away but I didn’t realize how fast she was going. When I came down to the apartment Sunday morning, I noticed that Mom’s breathing had grown erratic. Mom’s usual night aide had not been available on Saturday night and the aide that was with her had not noticed the change. I ran upstairs to get Lynn and when she saw Mom she told me to call hospice. The nurse who responded assessed the situation and told us that Mom was now “actively” dying. The nurse started administering oxygen to ease Mom’s breathing. At around four pm the nurse told us there had been another change in Mom’s breathing pattern. When we went into the room she appeared to be struggling for air. We both sat on the bed with her and told her we loved her. We told her that we would be alright and that it was OK to go and be with Dad. Mom took one final breath. It looked like she was yawning. And then she was still. I couldn’t believe that after knowing Mom was going to die for a year, when it happened, it seemed to be so sudden. I thought I had been prepared for this but I wasn’t. I felt lost. The following days were a blur of activity. Lynn and I had to arrange the funeral. We asked the hospice pastor, a lovely man who had supported me and Mom for several months if he would perform the service. He suggested that we have the hospice music therapist sing at the service. I asked her to sing the song “Beyond the Sea”. It had been a favorite of my father. My parents had grown up at the beach in New Jersey and my father had been a boat builder. The words to the song reminded me so of both of my parents. They seemed a fitting way to honor them and it made me happy to think of them together again. Somewhere beyond the sea, somewhere waiting for me My lover stands on golden sands and watches the ships that go sailing Somewhere beyond the sea, he’s there watching for me If I could fly like birds on high, then straight to his arms I'd go sailing It's far beyond the stars, It's near beyond the moon I know beyond a doubt, my heart will lead me there soon We'll meet beyond the shore, we'll kiss just as before Happy we'll be beyond the sea, and never again I'll go sailing After Mom’s death, Lynn, Dan and Karole stayed with me for a week. We cleaned out the apartment and gave Mom’s clothes to Goodwill. We wrote thank you notes to the many people who sent flowers or donations in Mom’s memory. We looked at picture albums and talked about good times. We laughed and we cried. Then everyone went home and left me with the cats and my memories and my sadness and my regrets over not being more patient and understanding. Three months have passed since my mother’s death and I am still struggling to make sense of my “annus horribilis’. It was for me a year full of loss; loss of my mother, of my Parelli partner and for a time of my freedom. But it was also a year that caused me many times to recognize blessings. For twenty two years I was blessed to have my mother living with me as an adult. I was blessed to know her in a way that many children never know their parents. For seven years I was blessed to have Sonny as my Parelli partner and benefited from his forgiving nature as I struggled to move ahead in my horsemanship journey. For the entire time that my mother was sick, I was blessed with family and friends who helped me provide such loving care as she completed her journey on earth. I was humbled by love and support they provided both to me and Mom. So, whether I like it or not, whether I want to or not, I’m starting over. I have to figure out not only what I am going to do about my horsemanship journey but also what I am going to do with the rest of my life. This year of caring for my mother and of struggling to be selfless when all I wanted to do was return to the normality I knew before her illness has changed me in ways that I may not yet completely understand. I hope that the changes will enable me to be more supportive and understanding, to be more patient and thoughtful. And I am sincerely hoping that as I set off as a person who has experienced growth as a result of experiencing loss, in a new direction, 2014 will become the first of many ‘annus mirabilis’, or wonderful years in the years to come.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Soak Time

I’ve known for a long time that my learning process is one that requires a good deal of soak time. I ponder things, turning an idea over again and again, examining it from all directions before reaching a conclusion. For me it’s never been blinding flashes of insight but rather small glimmers at a distance to be mulled over and meditated upon before being accepted or rejected in time. I thought this was a particularly human quality of learning but lately I’ve begun to realize that horses need soak time too. My first Parelli partner, Sonny, is a left brain introvert. Big, easy going and slightly dominant, Sonny has a well-developed opposition reflect. Many of our early sessions were consumed with Sonny resisting my efforts to get him to do what I wanted and me struggling to maintain my composure in the face of his stubbornness while trying to figure out how to make my idea his idea. Slowly I developed the patience and creativity that I needed to play with him and he developed more willingness and exuberance for the play. It wasn’t long into my Parelli journey before I realized that Sonny was smart. It was often frustrating for me that he applied his intelligence toward resistance but he did learn fast and once he had a skill, he really had it. Sonny’s learning process seemed to be one of serious resistance followed by a leap ahead. He seldom seemed to be confused about what I wanted him to do; he just didn’t seem to want to do it. He was so calm most of the time that in the beginning, I often missed the both subtle signs that he was worried and the subtle movements that indicated his slightest try. As I became more skilled in recognizing his try, our progress accelerated. Sonny didn’t seem to require any soak time once he had moved past his “I don’t want to” phase. When Sonny went lame at the end of 2013, I began working with a six year old Appaloosa gelding named Dillon. Dillon belonged to a friend of mine and because her work schedule was making it nearly impossible for her to spend much time with him, she asked if I would be willing to work with him. I’ve always been drawn to Dillon. He reminds me of my first horse, Max, also an appaloosa, with his sweet disposition and desire to please. But where my left brained Sonny was calm and mostly confident, right brained Dillon was twitchy and unconfident. I had no such problem recognizing when Dillon was unconfident because he became so emotional. Inherently a right brained introvert, he could go quickly and emotionally extroverted when pressured. Odd things seemed to bother him. He had boundless curiosity and would approach seemingly scary objects like large, noisy equipment but wouldn’t circle in the round pen because he was afraid to squeeze between my back and the round pen fence. He loaded easily into a trailer but it took me weeks of patient work to get him to walk by himself into the wash stall. It’s been a lot of fun to work with Dillon. Like Sonny, Dillon is very smart. But unlike Sonny, who always seemed to be trying to figure out how not to do what I wanted, Dillon really seems anxious to please. His tries were always so obvious that it was easy to recognize and reward him for his efforts. We made progress quickly, moving through level 2 skills both on line and under saddle. Dillon had a lovely trot and both on line and under saddle he had smooth, quiet transitions between halt, walk and trot in any combination. Canter transitions, on the other hand, had been problematic and I whenever I succeeded in pushing him up into a canter, the transition came with lots of emotion. It was a heads up, tail wringing affair, often with a crossfire or counter canter, particularly going to the left. He was unable to even take a canter on a 22’ line and I had been working him on the 45 to give him the room he seemed to need. Given the level of emotion he was displaying going into the canter on line, I’d been reluctant to ask for the canter under saddle and was beginning to lose hope that I would ever canter him I had finally stopped riding Dillon altogether to work on this transition issue. During one of my weekly lessons with Parelli instructor Jane Bartsch, I was working with Dillon on line. It was cold and he was having a problem focusing. To get him in a learning frame of mind, Jane placed a pole on the ground, oriented such that the center of the pole would lie just beyond the outer edge of his circle. She instructed me to circle Dillon for several laps and then disengage him as he was approaching the pole, and once he was disengaged and facing me, back him over the pole. It took several repetitions but he was finally able to focus on what I was asking him to do. Once we seemed to have Dillon’s full attention, Jane told me to ask Dillon to canter by putting a more definite feel on the line before asking with the stick and string. I turned with Dillon as he passed my shoulder, put a slight feel on the line and kissed to him twice. To my amazement, he stepped smoothly into the canter. His head was down. There was no head shaking or tail wringing, just a nice soft canter. We repeated the sequence a couple of times to the right, Dillon’s easier side and then moved to the left. He displayed more emotion to the left, both counter cantering and cross firing but there was a lot less tale wringing and head throwing. Still, both Jane and I were pleased with the progress. Recognizing that you are always training today for progress tomorrow, we stopped after a few repetitions. It has been a horrible winter in Delaware and a combination of sleet, snow and miserably cold weather prevented me from even reaching the barn for more than a week after that lesson. When I finally did get there I wondered where Dillon would be after our enforced layoff. I’ve learned to warm Dillon up slowly to reinforce our connection and make sure he is confident and in a learning frame of mind but this morning he was with me from the moment we entered the arena. When we finally began our circling game he seemed calm and focused. After a few walk trot transitions, I put a slight feel on the line and kissed twice. Dillon stepped into the canter, head down, and back rounded. After a few steps he actually looked in at me as if to say, “How was that?” We tried it again and again he had a smooth, unemotional transition. Then I tried the other direction with the same results. There was no crossfire only a nice soft transition. It was as if a light switch had been thrown in his brain that took him from “Oh my gosh!” to “This is easy!” In our next session, I had Dillon on the 22’ line for warm up and he seemed so calm and connected that I decided to see what his transitions would look like in a smaller circle. A week earlier he had needed almost the entire length of the 45 for his canter. This week, he trotted out to the end of the 22’ line and when I kissed twice to him, stepped smoothly into the canter, first going to the right and then to the left. I was amazed. It was as if he had spent our weather enforced layoff thinking about his canter transition issue, cogitating on the experience of his last lesson and deciding that this canter transition was no big deal. He certainly now seemed to have a “what me worry?” attitude about the transition. As our sessions progressed, his transitions remained calm and smooth and it occurred to me that maybe he was a horse that needed soak time. So I started experimenting with the idea. Whenever he was struggling with a skill but had shown some definite move forward on it, I would skip that particular skill in our next session and then pick it up in the following one. Low and behold, Dillon would display a dramatic difference in his confidence with the performance of that skill. I’ve always thought horses were such interesting animals, each with its own personality but through studying Parelli Natural Horsemanship, I have learned that each has its own unique learning process as well. Where Sonny needed motivation through creative play to make progress, Dillon needed soak time. I’m now on vacation in the Florida Keys for a few weeks, happy to be out of the snow and ice that seems to be a constant issue in Delaware this winter. Because of the extreme weather before I left, I never did get a chance to canter Dillon, and shortly after I return from vacation I will be attending a clinic with Carol Coppinger. So Dillon and I are both getting a chance for some additional soak time and I am hoping that it will translate into some brilliant canter transitions when I return.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Such a Good Horse Earlier this spring, I invited my closest friend’s granddaughter over to meet my horse Sonny. I was planning to give her a pony ride, continuing a tradition that started many years ago when her father had ridden my first horse, Max. Max was pretty much the perfect horse for pony rides. An RBI who wanted to please, he would patiently plod around in a circle all day taking care of any child who was on his back. I once watched him stand quietly, head lowered for over five minutes while the daughter of a friend of mine tried to put his halter on upside down and backwards. Max never moved a muscle as the child tried repeatedly to slip the halter over his head. At one point she had the chin strap over his eyes but he stood patiently until she figured it out. When she finally had it on and clipped, he blew, shook his head and then followed her quietly into the barn. He was, by definition, a good horse. Sonny is something else again. He has a lot of good qualities. He is steady, friendly, calm and not easily alarmed but his personality is definitely LBI and he is not crazy about being told (as opposed to asked) what to do. Because I have been treating him for an ongoing lameness, I haven’t been riding him or even playing with him very much and I decided that it might be a good idea to do that before Elizabeth came down. It turned out to be a good thing that I did because Sonny was full of himself. He was fine until I asked him to circle and then he gave me that look and I knew he was going to take off. When I play with Sonny on line, I usually use a 22’ feather light and it isn’t a line you can grab hold of without losing the skin on your hands if your horse decides he’s outa there. After a couple of escapes, I went to a heavier line and we worked through our differences until I was pretty sure that Sonny had ‘partnered up’! The next morning before Elizabeth and her parents arrived at the barn, I cinched up Sonny’s bareback pad. Elizabeth is such a little mite of a six year old, barely 40 pounds, and I knew there wasn’t any sense trying to use my saddle. Besides the handle on the bareback pad would give her something to hold on to if she needed some extra security. I played with Sonny a bit to make sure I had a partner and not a prey animal on the other end of the line and then took him to the indoor arena. Elizabeth arrived with a bag full of carrots, making her Sonny’s new best friend. After introductions were completed, and several carrots had been consumed, I gave Elizabeth a quick tutorial on staying safe around horse and then taught her to back him away from her by wiggling the lead line. Sonny, being the trooper that he is, dutifully backed away, leaving Elizabeth giggling. After playing on the ground for a few minutes, she was eager to ride so I swung her up on Sonny’s back and off we went. My intention had been to do nothing more than lead Sonny around but after I watched Elizabeth sitting so fearlessly atop my big red horse as we negotiated poles on the ground, I thought perhaps she might be able to learn to guide him herself. So I looped the feather light line around for to make a set of reins, still leaving me 12’ or so of line for a lead. Then I started to show Elizabeth how to guide Sonny. Pretty soon, she was able to get him to go forward and stop, back up and turn by using the makeshift reins. After a few minutes, I looped the remaining line up, tied it to the handle on the bareback pad, turned Sonny loose and off they went, meandering around the indoor arena with Elizabeth looking like a natural. “What a good horse” cooed Elizabeth’s mother Trish, as she positioned herself to take some pictures, “He is such a good horse!” That got me to thinking about what makes a good horse. Before I began to study Parelli Natural Horsemanship, I actually thought there were good horses and bad horses. My first horse, Max, had been a good horse. My second horse, Ready, an off the track thoroughbred who was the grandson of Seattle Slew and just about put me off horses forever, was not such a good horse. He wasn’t mean or vicious, although he had bitten me several times, once rather badly, and I would never have put a child anywhere near him. He just wasn’t that kind of horse. Had I known anything about Horsenality when I was looking at Ready, I never would have brought him home. He was an extreme RBE and frightened of his own shadow. You could ride him past a barrel 10 times and on the 11th trip, he would practically jump out of his skin at the sight of it. He wasn’t a bad horse but he wasn’t the right horse for me. I was pretty down on him by the time I gave him away and I told anyone who asked me that he was just plain crazy. I guess at that point, I would have told you he was a bad horse. Happily, my outlook about horses has been transformed by understanding more about horsenality and horse psychology. I know now, there aren’t really any bad horses; there are just inappropriate matches between horse and human. A horse that would never make a good partner for me could be just fine for someone else. In the end, most any horse can become a better partner. Sonny is a good example. Although I always felt reasonably comfortable riding him, seven year ago when I bought him, I never would have put a six year old up on his back and turned him loose. He wasn’t the natural babysitter that my first horse, Max, was. But as our partnership has developed and we have gained confidence in each other, he has developed into a horse I can trust with my best friend’s grandchild. He is, after all, such a good horse!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sometimes All It Takes is a Look This is a story I wrote a couple of years ago while I was working at the rescue about one of the thoroughbreds we had at the time. I am not sure why I didn't post it then but it is a good story so I thought I would post it now. Well, my accident prone buddy, Jimmy N, has done it again. Honestly, I don’t know how one horse can get himself into so much trouble but this morning when I went out to feed I discovered that he had managed to cut his face. Actually I smelled the cut before I saw it because not only was he cut but the cut was already infected. Jimmy, right brain extrovert to the core, is not always cool with being doctored so I got him out of the field and into the round pen so I would have a better chance of cleaning him up. With a little soap, water, betadine and a lot of friendly game cajoling, I managed to clean and disinfect the wound. It wasn’t all that deep, so I applied a topical antibiotic, gave Jimmy an extra scope of feed with some ground antibiotic tablets to stave off any additional problems and went back to feeding. All was calm when I left Jimmy in the round pen but of course it didn’t stay that way. After the retirees had finished their morning meal, they began to amble out of the paddock to the pasture when a rather large herd of deer, startled by some unseen menace, choose that very moment to make a mad dash across the pasture. Seeing the fleeing deer, our retirees, mostly former race horses took off to join in the merry chase. Jimmy, seeing his buddies running helter skelter across the pasture and trapped in adjoining round pen, kicked into right brain high gear and started circling at high speed and whinnying for all he was worth. Figuring that I better get him back into the pasture before he slipped and fell, I dashed for the round pen myself but when I got inside, lead rope in hand, Jimmy was way too frenzied to approach safely. So there I was, standing in the middle of the pen with this crazed thoroughbred doing high speed laps around me wondering how to interrupt this pattern. I certainly wasn’t going to step into his path and I hadn’t grabbed a carrot stick in my hurry to get to the round pen. So I used the one tool I had with me, my ability to focus my energy on Jimmy. Every time he passed my shoulder, I bent slightly forward and looked with as much energy as I could muster at his butt. After about three laps, he had one ear cocked in my direction. After another couple laps, he was beginning to slow down just a bit. Finally, after another lap or two, he spun toward me and stopped, front legs planted, head up, ears forward, blowing hard and looking like he wanted to shout, “Oh for heavens sake, WHAT DO YOU WANT?!!!” But he had stopped running and focused his attention on me Rather than trying to approach him at that point, I raised my arm and offered him the back of my hand. He hesitated a moment and then walked over, touched my hand with his nose and let me clip the lead line to his halter. I wish I could tell you Jimmy walked calmly with me back to the pasture but he was still a bit fussed up. So we walked and stopped and backed up and changed directions all the way back to the gate and by the time we got there, Jimmy was willing to stand quietly with me for a few moments after I slipped the halter from his head and before he took off to join his buddies in the field. As I watched Jimmy canter off, I reflected once again on just how powerful a tool our focused energy can be. I had managed to interrupt Jimmy’s right brain pattern and get him to shift his attention to me with what essentially was just a very focused look. It was also a reminder to me of how much pressure we can put on our horses without even realizing that is what we are doing.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Mr. Personality The first thing that popped into my head when I was introduced to Jack, a fifteen year old thoroughbred that had been purchased for the newly formed Delaware State Police mounted patrol was that this horse doesn’t have any personality. He didn’t look frightened, he was just all tucked up into himself, eyes dull and interested in nothing. He tolerated the attention he was given and he did as he was told but there just didn’t seem to be any spark to him. Even if I wasn’t a student of Parelli Natural Horsemanship I would have recognized this behavior pattern. He reminded me of my very first horse, Max. When I met Max, a nine year old appaloosa gelding that had been taken over in lieu of board payments; he was being used in a lesson program. I thought he was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen and he was a dream for a novice rider like me. Max had been professionally trained and if I could just approximate the correct aid, he would immediately respond. I was looking for a horse at the time and quickly arranged to purchase him for the princely sum of $1,750, which was a lot of money in 1981. I knew Max was a treasure but it didn’t seem to me that he had much of a personality. He was quiet and obedient to a fault, but didn’t seem to be interested in anything. He was always at the back of his stall, usually facing away from the door. He never fussed when I groomed him or went to tack him up but he always seemed to be mentally somewhere else. In 1981 I had never heard of natural horsemanship so I would not have recognized the traits of a right brain introvert or know what to do if I had, but by shear happenstance I took the right approach with him by spending hours of mostly undemanding time. He was my first horse and I loved to be with him. I brushed him until his coat was soft and shiny. I walked him to the best patches of grass and sat quietly while he grazed. I fed him endless carrots. Slowly but surely his personality emerged and he began to show interest in what was going on around him. He nickered to me when he heard my voice and he nosed my pockets for carrots. Everyone at the barn noticed the changes in Max and he became the barn favorite wherever he was stabled. I wish I had known something about natural horsemanship while I owned Max because I know that I made lots of mistakes with him. I wasn’t always sensitive to his fears. I pushed him past thresholds many times and sometimes when I put him out in the field after a lesson or trail ride he would wheel and run back to the herd. Still, even with my mistakes we had a wonderful relationship and for the 23 years that I owned him, he was a true partner. Now Jack was presenting me with a do-over, a chance to take what I had learned from studying Parelli, add it to what I had learned from Max and see if I could help this quiet horse’s natural personality to emerge without committing the mistakes I had made in the past. The first time I took Jack from the field, he didn’t even have the confidence to walk next to me. Because he is so obedient, he came, but he walked at the end of however much line I allowed him to take. I played lots of friendly game at first, acquainting Jack with the carrot stick and used a 22’ line so he could have as much drift as he needed. He seemed so mentally ‘somewhere else’ and had such a lack of curiosity that I decided to start with the ‘Touch It’ game. We walked all over the inside arena with me driving from zone 3. At first Jack didn’t have the confidence to touch anything. He would approach and stop right next to an object but couldn’t’ put his nose on anything. I just waited for a while before asking him to head off to something else. I didn’t force him to do anything, just asked and allowed. Before long he was beginning to sniff and then finally began to touch. After he touched the first object, a jump standard, he actually turned him head to me and asked a question! By the end of our first session when I took Jack back to his field, he was walking next to me and when I turned him out; he just stood with me and let me give him a good scratch on his neck. In our next session, I played a modified catching game with Jack out in his field. He came to me right away but before I could put the halter on he walked away. I followed him for a few steps but he when he went behind the run-in shed, I decided to stop and wait to see what would happened. After a few minutes, Jack’s head popped around the end of the shed. I could just see him processing the idea that there were actually humans wouldn’t chase him! I waited a few more moments and he came over to me but left again. So I waited again. This time he circumvented the run-in shed and came up to me from the other direction. I gave him a cookie and he dropped his head and let me put on the halter. By our third session I had already moved from the 22’ line to a feather-light line. With Max I am sure that there were many times my body language was shouting but with Jack I am determined to have my movements whisper. He is so sensitive that the slightest of signal could seem loud. We started playing the circle game and my send is quiet and subtle. He is already walking and trotting in a circle. He checks in and asks questions. I work hard to apply the lessons I have learned about working with a right brain introvert. I am rigorous about making sure Jack is looking at me before I ask him to do anything. I go slowly, at his pace. If he hesitates, I wait. If he looks unconfident, I wait. I use repetition until he is calm and confident. With Max, I often insisted he do what I asked, with Jack I allow. I find myself constantly monitoring my actions and his reactions. Cause and effect. By our sixth session he is chewing on the end of my carrot stick and picking up plastic flowers from the jump standards. He noses my pockets for cookies and draws toward me at a trot. He pushes the green ball and backs over a rail on the ground. His ears are pricked and his attention is on me. I see a flash of exuberance on the circle. It is fleeting but it is there and I am thrilled with our progress. Session by session I can see Jack turning into Mr. Personality. In my horsemanship journey, I am fortunate that Max was my first partner. He was so obedient and so well trained, that despite my shortcomings, I was able to build a relationship and learn the basics from him. But without the understanding of Horsenality that I have gotten from Parelli Natural Horsemanship, I would probably still be making the same mistakes, pushing Jack through thresholds and harming our relationship. I’ve accomplished as much in my first six hours working with Jack as I did in the first sixty working with Max. What a gift it is to have this chance at do-over. I am sure that Max is looking down from horse heaven and smiling.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Unforeseen Consequences of a Small Decision Every day we make dozens of decisions. Some of them are important decisions that affect the direction of our lives, like whether to go to college or who to marry. But most of the decisions we make on a daily basis are small decisions, what to eat or what to wear, and we don’t expect these small decisions to have much of an impact on our lives. Two summers ago, however, I made one of these small decisions and the result blindsided me. This is the story of that decision and its unforeseen consequences. When I retired for DuPont at the end of 2006, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do next. 2006 had been a difficult year for me. My father had died at the end of the summer after a 2 year battle with throat cancer. My mother and I had taken care of him while he was sick and it took a lot out of me. I stopped working at the end of the year tired and emotionally bruised. I thought that I wanted to do some kind of volunteer work but wasn’t really attracted to any of the opportunities that crossed my path until I heard about a horse rescue nearby. Located on the Sassafras River in Warwick, Maryland, Greener Pastures was a 160 acre farm that had been donated by its owner to the State of Maryland for use as an equine sanctuary. The operation had recently been taken over by a young woman from Delaware who, in addition to running the rescue, wanted to run programs for youth at risk. I loved horses and with my corporate background in coaching and counseling, I thought this might be just the place for me. After meeting with the director, I began working at the sanctuary three or four days a week. I was insanely happy. The rescue property was beautiful. In addition to the horses, it was home to a blue heron rookery and a nesting pair of bald eagles. The environment was just what I needed to restore my spirit from the death of my father. Besides that, I had always loved horses and the rescue was home to a group of retired thoroughbreds. Although they had been well fed under the previous director, they’d had little human interaction so they were cautious but curious about the new humans who were taking care of them. The director introduced me to Parelli by loaning me a set of the old level 1 program tapes and I was fascinated by what I was learning. I was essentially living out my childhood dream. My own horse Sonny was boarded at that time at a small stable in Fair Hill, Maryland. I’d had him for about a year when I began at the rescue and soon found myself spending more time with the rescue horses than with my own horse. The rescue and the barn in Fair Hill were in opposite directions from my house and each located about half an hour drive from home. The rescue director offered to let me board Sonny at the rescue but I didn’t want to take advantage of my position there so for about a year I declined her offer. The barn in Fair Hill was a great location for trail riding but it had neither a riding ring nor a round pen. As I became more interested in Parelli, I realized that I would make a lot more progress with Sonny if he was at the rescue so in the summer of 2007, I moved him there. Things were great at the rescue for a couple of years. I loved working there and being part of the effort of rescuing and finding homes for a number of horses. In the summer we had programs for children at risk and we hosted groups interested in our mission. During this time, I pursued my study of natural horsemanship by attending clinics and using the skills I was developing with the rescue horses. I was working to become the rescue’s horse specialist, focused on developing ground manners using my on line skills. Sonny and I had progressed through level 2 and were working on level 3 skills. We made good progress during the spring, summer and fall but in the winter it was difficult to practice consistently because of the weather and the footing in the arena. Then came the winter of 2009-2010 and Delaware was hit by a succession of storms, four of which had snowfall totals over 12 inches. I didn’t get down to the rescue for weeks at a time and our progress pretty much came to an abrupt halt. I was beginning to think about moving Sonny to a barn with an indoor arena so we could continue our development without worrying about weather issues but, because this was just a thought, I never mentioned the idea to the rescue’s director. Spring finally came to Delaware and with it, the rescue agreed to allow the New Castle Mounted Police to retire one of their Clydesdales at Greener Pastures. Ben was an eight year old gelding who was so stressed by his job that he had ulcers. The mounted unit had nursed him back to health a couple of times before recognizing that he just wasn’t cut out for police work and they asked if the rescue would take him. Our director saw it as an opportunity for good publicity so she readily agreed. Unfortunately for us, Ben was a carrier of strangles and shortly after he arrived, strangles broke out on the farm. It was a horrible time for the rescue. Strangles swept through the farm despite our best efforts to contain the outbreak. Two of the older, more immune compromised horses had to be humanely destroyed and many other horses had to be nursed back to health. At the same time, the one field of horses that remained free from the strangles outbreak was affected by alsike clover poisoning. Although all of the horses in that field were sickened, my Sonny was the worst. For fifty four days, with the help of our wonderful vet, I nursed him through his illness. Because he couldn’t be exposed to sunlight during that time, he had to be confined to a stall. To prevent the rescue from incurring any additional cost as a result of his illness, I purchased all of his bedding and hay. Between the strangles outbreak and Sonny’s illness, I was at our local Tractor Supply several times a week. On day I noticed an advertisement for a boarding farm that was located in Middletown, Delaware. I scribbled down the number before returning to the rescue with the supplies I had purchased. That evening I called the number and arranged to visit the facility. Rowan Farm was a medium sized boarding operation. Besides a large indoor arena, Rowan had a round pen, a riding arena and a dressage arena. I was impressed by how nicely everything was kept. The stalls were large and the pastures were not overcrowded. But best of all, from my perspective, was the fact that Rowan was located on the route I took every day when I drove from my house to the rescue. That meant that I could stop and see Sonny either on my way to or my way home from the rescue. It seemed like the perfect solution. I could continue my lessons with Sonny without having to worry about disruptions due to weather and at the same time the location ensured that it wouldn’t disrupt my work at the rescue. The decision to move Sonny there was a simple one. The next morning the director and I were sitting in the tack room discussing the day’s priorities. In passing, I mentioned that I was going to move Sonny to Rowan at the end of the month. To my surprise, she burst into tears. After we talked for a few minutes it dawned on me that she thought I was taking Sonny from the rescue because he had been sickened on the clover and that it meant I wouldn’t be volunteering any more. I was quick to assure her that was not the case and that I just wanted to have Sonny at a barn with an indoor arena so that I could continue with my natural horsemanship lessons through the winter. I told her that I intended to continue volunteering at the rescue just as I had done when Sonny was stabled in Fair Hill. In my mind, Sonny’s location and my work at the rescue were two different issues. Apparently the director didn’t see it the way I did and immediately her behavior toward me changed. For three years we had been in almost daily communication about the rescue but once I told her I was moving Sonny, she stopped contacting me about anything. She behaved as if I was abandoning my work at the rescue, mentioning to me several times that she hoped my new barn would appreciate me as much as she had. It happened so often in the three weeks before I moved Sonny that I finally snapped at her about it one day, almost yelling at her that where Sonny was boarded had absolutely no connection to my volunteering at the rescue and asking her if she would please just drop it. After that, I continued to try and work as if nothing had happened but it was clear that she was annoyed with me and it was making me very uncomfortable. Shortly after I had moved Sonny to Rowan, I received an e-mail notifying me that I had been accepted to Fast Track and given a scholarship. I was beyond excited. The first person I called was Jane Bartsch, my local Parelli instructor, and the second was the director of the rescue. Jane was just as excited as I was but the director’s reaction was cool. Since she had been the one who had initially introduced me to Parelli and we had even talked about the possibility of attending a course at the Parelli farm in Florida, I had expected she would have been enthusiastic and her lack of support took me by surprise. I was beginning to understand that moving Sonny away from the rescue had somehow negatively impacted our relationship, although I was at a loss to understand why. I decided that perhaps it would be best to just give it a little space, figuring that if I behaved as if nothing had changed; she would eventually come around to that position also. That fall was a busy one and between attending a Carol Coppinger camp, going on a family cruise to New England and Canada and getting ready for Fast Track, I didn’t have much time to worry about relationships at the rescue. Before I knew it, I had loaded Sonny on to a Brook Ledge trailer for his trip to Florida and I was in my car headed down the highway myself. Despite everything I had done to get ready, I wasn’t really prepared for how physically and emotionally draining Fast Track was going to be and I returned to Delaware at the beginning of December, happy but exhausted and not at all prepared for the Christmas holidays. By spring, my relationship with the director had stabilized. Although I did not enjoy the closeness that I once had, at least things were reasonably cordial. I continued to do ground work with the rescued horses but I was no longer included in much of the planning. My suggestions, which had been welcomed until the previous summer, were now mostly ignored. This had unfortunate consequences when one of the horses I had been working with was shown to a potential adopter. Chip was a sensitive horse that had been rescued the previous winter. He was skeptical of people and would go quickly RBI when pressed too hard or too quickly. When the director told me that a prospective adopter was going to look at him when I couldn’t be at the rescue, I told her that I didn’t think he was ready. She disagreed so I warned both her and the barn manager that Chip needed to be thoroughly warmed up on the ground before anyone rode him. The next time I came to the rescue, all anyone was talking about was how Chip had thrown the instructor when she tried to mount. She had injured her back as a result. When I asked if Chip had been properly warmed up I was curtly told that “we didn’t have time”. The previous year the rescue’s director had become coach to a local college western competition team and had developed a successful lesson program for children. I had never been involved in the teaching of riding lessons but that spring I often observed the classes and began to be concerned about the lack of natural horsemanship techniques that were being used in the lessons. Most of the children taking lesson were young girls and they were being taught to ride with a concentrated rein before they had developed a good independent seat. As a result, most of them balanced using the reins. I could see how that was affecting the horses being used for lessons. Several times I brought that up to the director but she didn’t seem to be interested. At one point we had a fairly heated discussion about the welfare of the horses being used in the lesson program. Eventually after one of my suggestions, this one about teaching the one rein stop, she told me flatly that she didn’t think she “liked Parelli” any more. That really threw me for a loop and I began to question whether I could continue to uphold the Parelli principles while working at the rescue. After that exchange, our relationship began to disintegrate. The director often wouldn’t speak to me at all and when she did, she was short or even rude. I asked the barn manager if she knew what was going on and all she could offer was that the director thought I was too critical of her. When I learned that, I stopped making any suggestions but that didn’t help. Finally, one afternoon, the director accused me of encouraging one of the rescue’s boarders to move to the barn where I was boarding Sonny. I was stunned that she would have thought me capable of that kind of behavior. Over the four years that I had worked for the rescue I had donated hundreds of hours of my personal time and well over a thousand dollars in financial and material resources. I could not believe that she could possibly think I would do anything that would threaten the welfare of the organization. I went to the rescue a few times after that but I now no longer even felt welcome. I was scheduled to have foot surgery that fall and after I had recovered from the surgery, I didn’t return to the rescue. Although I probably shouldn’t have been, I was very hurt by the director’s behavior toward me. I had thought we were friends but apparently I was mistaken. Eventually I was able to write the director a letter explaining why I was no longer going to volunteer. I told her that I would always be grateful to her for introducing me to Parelli and that while I respected her decision to take the rescue in a different direction, I didn’t feel that I could continue to work there and uphold my principles at the same time. I told her that I only wanted the best for the rescue and I wished her the best of luck in the future. It has been a little over a year since I was last at the rescue and I have thought long and hard about the sequence of events that led to my leaving. While there are some decisions I made while working at the rescue that I wish I had not made, moving Sonny isn’t one of them. It was the right thing to do for me and it was the right thing to do for Sonny. I sincerely wish that the rescue’s director had not reacted the way she did but Sonny and I have made so much progress since moving that I know it was the right decision. It turned out that Rowan is Parelli friendly barn and while there are only a couple of official Parelli students at the farm, almost everyone seems interested in some aspect of natural horsemanship. Some of the boarders have commented on the things they have seen me do with Sonny and others have asked me why I do what I do. More exciting for me is the fact that there are now three members of the Delaware State Police’s new mounted unit housed at the farm and I have been given the opportunity to work with these horses. I never thought when I decided to move Sonny to Rowan from the rescue that it would change the focus of my efforts. In fact, when I made the decision, it never occurred to me that it might have any impact other than accelerating my personal development. In fact, it was a simple decision that had a number of consequences I am not sure I ever could have anticipated. I miss working at the rescue and perhaps, at some point in the future, I will find another opportunity to work with horses at risk. But for now, I am happy that I have found a supportive environment for the development of my natural horsemanship skills and that I have several horse to play with. You can be very sure, however, that if I ever decide to move Sonny to a new farm, I will consider carefully even the most unlikely implications of that decision before I make the move.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Walking Wounded My horse, Sonny, is pretty much of a disaster when it comes to injury and illness. I’ve had Sonny for seven years and so far he has cost me over $11,000 in vet bills. Now I know that owning a horse isn’t an inexpensive venture but I had my first horse, Max, for over 23 years and in all that time, I only had to call the vet out twice for something that wasn’t routine care. Sonny on the other hand, is good for some kind of a $500 vet visit about every six months and he is pretty inventive about his mishaps. Sonny’s first misadventure involved a puncture wound that was in such an odd spot, even the vet couldn’t figure out how he had managed to do it. I noticed some blood on Sonny’s front leg up near where his leg connects with his chest. After cleaning the blood, I discovered a puncture located on the inside of his right leg, in what would be our armpit. It was so deep that the vet was able to put her entire index finger inside the hole. She told me that if it had been a quarter inch further to the right, it would have punctured a major artery and he would have bled to death. Fortunately for me he didn’t but between vet visits and medicine, we’d had out first $500 event. Six months after that, he scratched his cornea, we think grazing in some tall grass, and ended up wearing an eye patch until it healed. That wasn’t his only eye injury. A few months after that, he was cantering inside of the round pen and somehow managed to get one hind leg over the lowest rail of the pen. During his struggle to get out, he permanently bent the pen and he whacked his head against the top rail. When he calmed down, I noticed he had cut himself below his right eye. The vet was called for that little adventure and we discovered another scratch on the cornea which resulted in a second stint in an eye patch. I was beginning to think I should be calling him “Pirate Pete”! Sonny’s next misadventure almost cost him his life. I was keeping him at the horse rescue where I was working at the time and he was pastured on a field that was fairly rich in clover. It had been a particularly wet spring and one day I noticed that his muzzle, which is white, was tinged orange. I didn’t think much of it at the time since the soil in these parts has a lot of red clay, but two days later, the rescue director called me and told me that Sonny’s nose was pretty sun burned. I went down to take a lot and what I saw shocked me. Although it was only May and it hadn’t been particularly hot, Sonny’s nose was burned and peeling. I call our vet, Dr. Cushing. He took one look at Sonny’s burnt and orange colored nose and thought right away that he looked a bit jaundiced. It turned out that Sonny had a case of alsike clover poisoning which had affected his liver function. Because the liver was compromised, he was no longer able to digest grass properly and photoactive chemicals were getting into his bloodstream. All of his white skin, where the blood vessels are close to the surface and there is little pigment to protect the skin, had suffered second degree burns. He was a mess. It took us 53 days of doctoring and confinement, during which time he wasn’t allowed to be in the sun. He was miserable (we both were) but he finally recovered. I moved Sonny to a new barn after that and the year after the alsike clover incident was relative trouble free. Then fourteen days before he was supposed to ship to Florida so I could attend the Fast Track course, I noticed a large lump on his sheath. Since shipping across state lines requires a clean bill of health, I called the vet. The lump turned out to be a pocket of infection, probably from a bug bite. Dr. Cushing opened the area and drained it. For days afterwards, I had to swab the opening with antiseptic , squeezing out some really vile looking gunk that gradually decreased until two days before we were scheduled to leave, he finally passed his vet check. For the seven years I have owned Sonny, he has had some on and off lameness problems. He is slightly crooked in the front and his right front foot is pretty upright. We’ve done multiple x-rays, which haven’t shown much in the way of navicular changes and managed the problem with supplements and occasional anti-inflammatory medicine. I have probably aggravated the problem as I progressed to level 3 work and spent more time with circling exercises both on line and when riding but the problem has always been manageable until 2012. I returned from vacation in March and discovered Sonny was lame. We treated, as usual, with Bute and he improved enough for me to attend a Carol Coppinger clinic but the problem proved to be persistent and in June, I finally had the vet come out to evaluate Sonny. Dr. Cushing blocked his right front foot and he immediately because sound so we proceeded with x-rays, which didn’t show much in the way of changes. A test for Lyme’s disease was negative so we assumed we were dealing with a soft tissue injury. With rest and a change in shoeing, Sonny was showing good improvement and I felt we were on the right track until I received a call from our barn manager one morning informing me that Sonny had come in from the field dead lame. When I say he was dead lame, I mean he didn’t want to walk. This was the kind of lameness that usually indicates an abscess. He was miserable. We treated him as if it was an abscess but when nothing developed in a couple of days, we called Dr. Cushing. Sonny didn’t show much sensitivity to the hoof tester and didn’t have much of a pronounced pulse in his hoof so Dr. Cushing put him on a course of Previcox and Recovery EQ. Slowly he began to improve and I thought we were out of the woods until I received another call from the barn manger to tell me that Sonny had ulcers all over his lips and inside his mouth. Really? I was beginning to wonder why I couldn’t catch a break with this horse. I was afraid that he was allergic to the medicine that seemed to be making him better so I called the vet. Dr. Cushing took one look at Sonny’s mouth and asked to see what kind of hay he was eating. The barn had recently taken delivery of some nice grass hay. Because Sonny had been confined either to his stall or the round pen while we were treating his foot injury, he had been eating a lot of this new hay and quite frankly, he loved it. Dr. Cushing looked at the hay and picked out some foxtail seed heads. He was pretty sure this was the culprit. Apparently some horses react to foxtail heads in just this way and of course, given Sonny’s predilection for unusual medical issues, he was sensitive. We changed Sonny’s hay, treated the ulcers with medicine and his mouth is now healed up. We are continuing to treat the lameness and new x-rays have revealed some arthritis so we have added injections to his regiment. I am hopeful that it will resolve enough for me to ride again at some point but have come to the conclusion that Sonny’s days as my levels horse have come to an end. I’ve been playing with him at liberty lately, not doing anything strenuous and he is feeling good enough that he offered to jump a fence the other day. I stopped him before he could but felt encouraged that he would offer. When you buy a horse, you don’t really know what the future will hold in terms of the animal’s health. With Sonny’s confirmation, I probably accelerated his arthritis when I started advancing in my Parelli work, but I am hopeful that by switching Sonny to trail riding, he and I can have many good years together. Given his history, I expect he will figure out some other original ways to injure himself so at this point, I have given the vet my credit card number. It is just easier that way!