Whew. Practicing Intermediare 1 in 90 degree heat today was tough. But the generous girl put it out there for me. Lets hope this weekend at Raleigh will go smoothly and successfully. Nobody else is coming with me. So, no Pro-am challenge. That is disappointing. but on a good note: having a hotel room all to myself Thursday and Friday night will be sooooooo peaceful... no snoring friends, no kids, and hopefully no party-ers in the hallways. Please come out and see the Saturday night Grand Prix. It should be very good quality. It will train your eye and your minds vision as a rider even if you aren't near that level yet. Its good for you and fun. Go. See you there!
When I got the frustrating news that my collar bone was not solidifying, going to a competition with two babies seemed overly ambitious. But, the entry was already paid, students were going, my parents wanted to camp on grounds for the weekend, and Ines was coming along as groom. Wonder and Sanibelle seemed ready to go... so off I went. I started both horses under saddle (I "broke" them) and knew them well. My optimism was rich. At noon on Thursday, Ines arrived and we loaded the girls for the 1.75 hour drive.
Upon arriving on the show grounds, Ines and I find a note stapled to the side of our assigned barn informing us to move to the barn next door, but the stall tags and shavings were not there. We settled the confusion quickly with the management and spread some shavings. Then we unloaded the girls and led them toward their stalls. Sanibelle's leggy 17 hands tested the low height of the barn entrance. But, after a pause to peek, Sandi followed me into her stall. The stall "door" was a swinging gate. Wonder planted her feet at the barn entrance letting Ines know her opinion that she would not fit inside. I put Sanibelle in the stall and she began to whirl around and whinny in her high pitched, needy scream. Then she lunged up toward the space above the gate. Quickly, I waved my arms above my head and she recoiled, rattling the gate with her knees and chest as she decended. She sat back on her hind legs again. I kept my arms up. But she sat on her coiled hind legs popping up and down with her giant grey shoulders. Wonder was frozen on the end of Ines' line. Sanibelle was going to try to clear the gate as soon as I moved away. So, I grabbed her face at a reachable moment and snapped the lead on her halter. We pulled both girls out of the barn. Then, we walked off to find management again. Sanibelle needed a solid stall door!
After walking the charged-up baby girls for an hour and a half, we had no luck finding someone from management. So, I made the excutive decision to move our stalls back to the formerly assigned barn with solid doors, move all the shavings bags, and reassign the stalls myself. By this time, I was desparate to let go of this big horse and... get myself to the ladies room! (argh, coffee!) We had to ask a camper to move her rig as it blocked the barn entrance. We waited as she kindly moved it back far enough for us to enter. We placed the girls into two stalls. *Whew!* Then, Ines and I began the big task of moving our shavings into our new stalls and unloading the tack and supplies. Ines took all the heavy loads without complaint or direction. By 6pm we were completely settled in. It was time for me to get the girls saddled for a bit of schooling. As I prepared to take Wonder out to lunge, Susan arrived. She smoothly unloaded and settled Ebella ('Bella) into the barn. Wonder lunged hot and frantic, so I made the decision not to ride her at this time. Then, I brought Sandi out for a little session. She lunged beautifully. So, I decided to ride, and she was a doll! Susan also had a nice schooling session on Bella. By 9:30pm we were completely done and ready to go eat dinner. Dana was going to arrive with Watson around 10:30pm with her son and husband to assist, so we didn't wait around to help.
Back at the hotel, at 10:45pm, Ines disappeared into the shower. Susan answered her ringing phone. I hear, "Shit!" ....long, silent, listening pause.... "We will be right there." Watson broke his halter when unloading and bolted off into the darkness. He vanished in the night. Dana had thought she unhooked his trailer tie, but the snap had not released, in her fatigue, she had fumbled. As we dart out the door, we shout to Ines, "Stay in the room, we will be right back!"
The moon hid behind a black blanket. The unfriendly night offered silence and stillness as we searched.
Dana was mortified.
Susan and I worked hard to keep visions of disaster out of our minds as we navigated through the possibilities.
The Pinehurst police got a call: a loose horse was spotted going up Morganton Road and then he turned left at the light.
We searched the nearby neighborhood, but still, we were answered only by silence and darkness. Time passed and the town seemed lifeless.
And then, another call: a loose horse was spotted by the clubhouse. Dana was nearest to the clubhouse and ran there on foot.
She saw the police cars... and Watson standing on the yard, with a naked face and shipping boots still in tact. She called to him and he walked toward her voice. She put the bridle on and they walked together back to the stables. It was 1:30am, Friday morning. Watson didn't have a scratch on him. He was calm.
Fridays sunrise arrived peacefully and the beautiful weather helped lift everyone into the saddle with a renewed since of positivity and fun. Dana was the first in our stable group to go into the show ring. She was tackling her first ever recognized show at second level. Watson carried her in his usual proud and glamourous way to win the class. As the announcement was made, Dana threw her arms around her son in the barn aisle and let her "face" down as gratitude and emotion overwhelmed her.
My baby, Wonder was tackling her first recognized show... ever. I guided her around her first competition arena. She was scared.... of the tent, of the fake red flower boxes, of the tire tracks in the sand, of the auditors, of the announcer, and of every sound within ten miles of the place. But we entered the arena and managed the test. The second day, her relaxation improved dramatically and she broke the 70% barrier early in her young career.
Sanibelle bounced her big body over the show grounds with her usual grace and dignity. She was tackling first level... perhaps a bit early in her career. This was Sanibelle's second show ever. Her competition arena was grass and felt slightly slippery. Her big powerful strides were challenged. She tightened her neck in the struggle for balance and focus. Her modest scores in the 60's did not reflect the generousity and effort the mare put forth in her tests. She gave me a "10" all weekend, in my book.
Sunday morning arrived with the usual bustle. Susan was scheduled to show Bella minutes before I was scheduled to show her baby, Sanibelle on the far side of the grounds, so Susan planned to ride Bella over to Sanibelle's competition arena to watch the test. As I warmed up Sanibelle, I looked out for Bella's beautiful black body to arrive with Susan on top. The ring steward called me up next. I circled the arena and the whistle blew. I had to enter. Sanibelle pulled off a great effort. During the ride, I noticed Susan had walked on foot, leading Bella, to audit the test. I figured they must have been allowed to ride early and she had time to untack. After my test I rode directly up to them. As I neared, I could read Susan's distraught face.
"Whats going on?"
"She collapsed," Susan sobbed.
"What? Who? When you were on her?" I question with horror.
Bella had collapsed at the mounting block. Then she lay there, not thrashing, peaceful. One witness said she layed there 10 minutes others said just a couple minutes. Susan's leg had been caught under her body but she was able to wiggle out. A crowd gathered offering all the help they could think of. When Bella finally got herself back up, she was calm. The vet arrived and took her vitals. Everything checked out fine. But Susan scratched her ride. Bella's behavior for the rest of the day was peaceful, perky and sound. Bella trailered home perfectly that afternoon. Soon after, the home vet checked her out: just fine. So...what happened?
The vet's thoughts: Bella had fainted (vaso-vagal syncope). The two recognized causes of vaso-vagal syncope are tightening the girth, and "handling the head". Both had occurred seconds before Susan swung her leg over Bella. A friend's husband, seeing Susan prepare to mount, offered to assist. Susan declined in her usual quiet way. But, he placed his hands on each cheek piece of Bella's bridle and stood in front of her in a generous intention to help. She flipped her head in objection, but he held fast, and steadied her with his arms... and then let go as Bella buckled below Susan.
Although this show was overwhelmed by unforeseen challenges, everyone got home safe and happy. Most competitions carry on without any drama. In fact, this was the most "scary" show of my career. I am pleased that both Wonder and Sanibelle carried me through three days of competition with kindness and gentleness that enabled me to return home with no injuries to my fragile right shoulder. They did not disappoint. Ines was as mature and sophisticated with her handling skills as any great horsemaster on the planet. I extend my sincere gratitude for her, as I could NOT have succeeded at the show without her in my current condition. Thank you also, to the officers who assisted in finding Watson, and to the show campers who tolerated the noisey chaos as they tried to sleep through the night. Thank also for the attentive care from the "crowd" of people assisting Susan and Bella in the frightening moment of her collapse. This story is told as truth as I understand it and permission was granted by the human characters, Dana and Susan, in good faith that the information provided will be educational for the future health and wellbeing of animals and people who care for them.
Below, I have added information on equine "fainting" via an email provided by Dr. Wallace, DVM. And below that, I have a gallery of photos from Pinehurst taken by Daryl Taylor.
Vaso-vagal syncope is a cause of episodic collapse which is well recognized in humans, but is poorly documented in animals. In people it is associated with fear, i.e. a classic "fainting attack" and is most commonly found in very highly strung individuals. Although horses are not entirely analogous, it seems likely that a similar mechanism may occur in this species. Usually the animals affected are at rest and are then suddenly excited by a precipitating event. Recognised causes are grooming of the head or tightening of the girth, although other events may be responsible and should be identified if possible. In some cases the inciting cause will be a sudden, unexpected event. The mechanism of vaso-vagal syncope is thought to involve an inappropriate combination of sympathetic and pararesponses. In the "flight-fight" mechanism, animals which are excited have an increased heart rate, myocardial contractility and central arterial tone, resulting in an increase in blood pressure. This is reauired to counteract a marked vasodilation in the skeletal musculature. These changes allow muscular perfusion to increase drmatically, enabling the animal to respond rapidly. In vaso-vagal syncope, baroreceptors in the left ventricle, carotid sinuses and aorta may be over-sensitive and when stroke volume is increased, a reflex may cause a vagally mediated drop in blood pressure to the brain and collapse ensues. The drop in blood pressure in only momentary and cormechanisms result in the animals rapidly regaining conscioiusness and standing, unless seroius trauma has occurred. It should be emphasised that the existence of the mechanism in horses is conjecture. There is no specific treatment, however, it is very unlikely that the episode will occur once the heart rate has risen while the horse is being ridden. If there is a specifinc inciting cause, it is wise to take steps to avoid it being repeated, if possible,. In preparation for excercise it may be worhwhile lunging these animals, or trotting them in hand, so that mild tachycardia is present before the horse is ridden.
Below: pictures from Dressage in the Sandhills, May 2011 Karver's stable group. Click on small photo to enlarge and enable the slideshow feature.
A lot happened at the Pinehurst show in our stable group so I am working on writing it up. I have been really busy. Yes, some of it will be quite educational and some of it laughable (now that we all survived.) Soon. Very soon. ... and photos too. Thanks for waiting.
Isn't it funny how we can get one thing right only to discover a whole bunch of other stuff we need to improve and learn? Dressage calls that climbing the levels. Horses call it work. Trainers call it job security. Students call it expensive.
Today was a day of preparation. Next weekend two of the babies go to the Pinehurst show. Wonder, showing training level, and Sanibelle showing first level, worked through tests at home today. The purpose of the run-through was to show the horses with clarity where the half halts are in the test pattern. Sanibelle got a bit fed up with too many transitions so I had to ease back on her power to facilitate a more easy connection inside the test, including stretchy canter circles where the 15 meter circles are required in her test. She wanted to take over in the leg yields so I designed a zig zag pattern for her instead. Wonder did well, but in her usual style, she tries to go too fast. So, I have to half halt very frequently to control her tempo and prevent over powering herself. Since her test is very riddled with half halt "checks" I need to be clear, prior to the show, what balance she needs to maintain in the checks. She has the tendency to react to the "whoa" aid with the same big enthusiasm she has for the "go" aid. When her whoa is abrupt, her down transitions feel like a wheel barrow hitting a rock. I need to be careful and coach Wonder to half halt with fluidity, pleasant balance and continuity of the forward desire. Great brakes is a nice feature on a horse, however, I don't want to run into a sliding stop at X.
Additional preparations filled the afternoon. Ines came to practice braiding with rubber bands. Susan came to watch Sanibelle's schooling session and help with trailer training for Sanibelle and the littlest baby, Winnie. Being a very independent person, Susan likes her horses to be very good, reliable loaders. When Sanibelle was loading to leave Maryland, she gave a few minutes of hesitation. She was exhausted and didn't want another 8.5 hour trailer ride. So, a short, rewarding loading session was warrented. Sanibelle did great today. Winnie also loaded easily and drove around the block with her sister, Wonder, babysitting. At first the trailer bumped and rocked a bit as Winnie searched for her sea legs. Then, all was calm. She unloaded nicely with Ines guiding her out. Then I asked Winnie to step back in and out for affirmation and clarity. Winnie will not be showing at Pinehurst this time, but maybe in the autumn.
Bob checked the tires and brakes on the truck and trailer and washed the trailer. Although there is still much more preparation to do for our special six minutes of spotlight in the sand, we got much accomplished today.