Weekly Photo Challenge: Admiration

WM blue nube

“Just admiration,” the horsewoman said, trying to sound casual. “Always kinda liked ’em…” But when she exhaled there was a throaty sound, deep and soft, with the faintest whisper of a nicker.

 

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.)

Admiration

Freak Riding Accident? Hardly.

WM helmet sunset

The horse world has lost some good riders in the last few weeks. Sadly, it happens all too often. Horses can be unpredictable and people get hurt. Some of it is unavoidable and some of it is totally preventable.

 

Two of the most recent stories were especially hard: One was a 27-year-old professional barrel racer with wedding plans and the other was a professional trainer who was respected as the most experienced rider in her mounted posse. These two women had much in common: they were both professionals, both very experienced riders, and both died from extensive head injuries as the result of a fall on pavement. And now they are both profoundly mourned by their friends and families, and yes, their horses, too, I suspect.

 

I always feel it’s in poor taste to mention helmets at a time like this. It feels mean-spirited, no matter how well stated. And it’s too damn late for these committed horse women. The problem is that someone has always just died, so to be polite, helmets would never be mentioned.

 

These riders had another thing in common. News reports used the term freak accident in the headline. Do these reporters live in a shoe-box? There’s nothing freak about a riding accident. Emergency rooms treat about 15,000 equine-related head injuries a year. And that doesn’t count other broken bones. Sometimes when I get particularly irked by a phrase, I’ll look it up to see if I’m just being a stickler. The Urban Dictionary defines freak accident as one that’s extremely unlikely and unusual. Their most popular example is:

 

    “Fabio was involved in a freak accident. He got hit in the face by a duck while riding a roller coaster.”

 

Great example; I couldn’t find statistics for duck-related head injuries at all. Why am I so cranky about word choice? Because it’s literally a matter of life and death–not to mention the numbers of brain injury survivors who suffer personality changes, intellectual and memory impairment, or epilepsy.

 

I have a yearly tradition of writing about the importance of wearing helmets every ride. Sometimes I feel like I’m preaching to the choir; my readers tell me they are committed to helmets. At the same time, I wonder why I never see a western trainer in a helmet. The one western trainer that I did know has now stopped wearing her helmet. Do you know one? Am I just living in a backward locale for western helmet wearers?

 

I have a western dressage client who gets routinely “teased” for wearing a helmet. Do these same people tease football players? Statistics say riders are in a greater danger than football players; our teammates literally weigh a ton and the biggest difference; we have farther to fall. Statistics say the altitude makes a huge difference in severity of injury. But if statistical proof mattered to riders, they’d wear helmets and there would be no debate. The increased danger of riding horses without a helmet is as undeniable as gravity. But in many western riding disciplines, a helmet is seen as a sign of weakness. Have we fallen victim to freak lunacy?

 

The most common excuse I hear has to do with a rider saying that wearing a helmet is a message to their horse that the rider lacks confidence.  When has a horse had to check anything so superficial as wardrobe to feel a rider’s fear? Don’t insult horses; they aren’t fooled by your hat. As if wardrobe hides fear, rendering a rider unbreakable.

 

There’s no denying that the hat pays homage to our western tradition. As if history could make a rider unbreakable.

But then even history loses its charm and changes with fashion or a fad. As if wearing a hat like Buck Brannaman makes a rider unbreakable.

 

I was recently referred to a video where a western trainer explains that he’s uncomfortable in a helmet, although he encourages others. As if being comfortable makes him unbreakable.

 

He adds quickly that wearing a helmet was necessary for some [English] riders because they don’t do groundwork or have their horses attention. As if demeaning other riding disciplines makes a rider unbreakable.

 

Or that it’s all about the saddle; that somehow English saddles aren’t as safe because they don’t have a solid “handle” in front (that frequently injures everything but your head.) As if a saddle horn makes a rider unbreakable.

 

Perhaps the saddest for me, when trainers ride bareback, with no bridle and no helmet, advertising a mystic connection that is particularly dreamy to horse crazy girls. As if hero-worship makes a rider unbreakable.

 

When this loss and destruction from Traumatic Brain Injury finally turns a corner in our equine world, I think it will be with the help of professionals. Helmets are crashing rodeo tradition these days. Imagine the difference that it would make–the lives it would impact and even save–if just one well-known western trainer would break rank and wear a helmet every time. As if actions speak louder than words.

 

Imagine that the legacy Courtney King-Dye gave dressage riders gets repeated in all riding disciplines. That in memory of a professional rider who didn’t get to her wedding, that white helmets become the habit for other barrel racers. That for a posse mourning its star rider, helmets become a constant part of their proud uniform, in parades and everyday, and that we all respect that uniform even a bit more than before.

 

We talk a lot about positive leadership in horse training, but it should go past our horses. Whether we like it or not, trainers are role models. It would be a blessing to see the influence of positive safety leadership start with professionals. In some places, it would even qualify as freak common sense.

 

As for the power of tradition, pick one that goes beyond fashion, stands the test of time, and transcends actual legend status. Pick the romantic tradition of riding off into the sunset–protected and whole. And living to see your children do the same.

 

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

 

Stats and sources:

  • Equestrians are 20x more likely to sustain an injury than a motorcycle rider, per hour. Source
  • 60 number of deaths/year due to head injury (compared with 8 for Football)Source
  • 1 in 5 equestrian injuries are head injuries. Source
  • 60% of riding fatalities occur from head injuries. Source
  • 15,000 number of ER admissions for equine-related head injuries in 2009. Source
  • 2 feet number of feet at which head injury can occur Source

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Abstract

WMno telling

Abstract, overlap, and the sun of the parts.

I mean sum.

 

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.)

Abstract

Beyond the Fence Line.

20160310_095227I have a neighbor, a couple of properties to the north, who brings his cattle home to calve each spring. The pasture is empty the rest of the year but then in one day, twenty-five head materialize, casually grazing. They’re hard to miss. The prairie grass is still a monochromatic tan color in all directions and his cattle are Angus–as black as those silhouette cutouts of howling coyotes or leaning cowboys. The contrast is dramatic. So is Clara.

My mare stands at the fence line hour after hour, simultaneously attracted and repelled. It’s her commitment that alarms me. She actually loses a fair amount of weight. Apparently it’s hard to eat with them lurking. This is the eighth year she’s held her position.

The job gets significantly more difficult about April. By then the calves are on the ground frolicking around like little pepper explosions. Sometimes the cows stroll off toward the rise and the calves dawdle long enough to scare themselves into a tiny stampede to catch up. Surely you can see Clara’s problem.

(Maybe some animals have species pride, or are born into predestined gangs, or just have karma to work out. Like dogs and cats. Like horses and cattle.)

In the early years, she could convince our entire equine herd to be concerned and form a line beside her. There was even one Saturday a few years back where all the horses in the group lesson out in the arena participated in some sort of contagious spooking incident, even though they had no idea why. She’s like that grade-school boy in the library peering up at the ceiling. I fell for it too many times, only to hear the taunt, “Made you look!”

The old joke isn’t funny to Clara; her childhood anxiety is real. I don’t know if she loves them or hates them, but she still sounds the alarm; a loud, sharp snort as she stretches a few inches taller. Her tail begins to float up and this time her snort trembles through her whole body. She’s universally ignored by the herd as she lifts the front half of her body up into the air and takes a circle so elegant and so sweet, that her hooves can barely touch the ground. In the split-second hang time of each stride, her ears point to the intruders. And their horrible, unruly children.

At the late night walk-thru, she’s still facing away, standing guard. She looks thin in moonlight so I try to coax her to eat her hay with an added flake of alfalfa. The only thing worst than fear is feeling punished for it, so after a few moments, I carry her meal to her work station on the fence line and give her a scratch.

Now her worry has become mine as well. It’s contagious. Fear is the most diabolical villain because we hold it close inside of us. From that vantage point, rational thought makes no difference at all.

It occurs to me that I finally understand why people bully fearful horses. It’s a defense. A line of demarcation to appear separate from the frightened one. Bullies are ironically afraid of being seen as afraid. It would be laughable if it didn’t do damage. At the same time, it’s probably why fear is such a worthy adversary.

Right about here you want to tell me to give that mare a chance to work stock; that chasing cows will make it all okay. And I hear you. I wasn’t born in a dressage saddle, you know.

But there’s time. You see, I’m just like Clara; I think too much. Sometimes I get worried about things beyond my fence line, too.  All the common sense and rational thought in the world doesn’t break my stare. Fear, or the act of denying fear, are equally exhausting. Days like this, we could use a truce for the sake of our hearts. We’d do better to take time to rest awhile with our uncomfortable notions, and find some peace within the boundaries of our little lives.

After all, we don’t have to chase every silly cow we see.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dinnertime

WMDinnertime

Dinnertime sounds of peaceable chewing;

a rhythm of family

such as we are.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.)

 

dinnertime

A Cautionary Tale About Sleeping Around.

synnap arthur

We heard about Arthur, who had reached that certain age in the life of a young goat, just as we were mourning the loss of our old goat. It was kismet. Against the odds, Arthur managed to have a future after all, not that he was grateful. I was just starting to wear the little bleater down when the Grandfather Horse stole him from me (here). I’m cranky about it because goats are an antidote for a Type-A personality with a time obsession. Not that I have those issues. As long as there’s a goat in the barn.

It’s all Fun and Games…

Right away Arthur started sleeping around. He showed no concern for my feelings at all. Sure, he still came to me for a handful of grain now and then, but I had to coax him way too long. I don’t mean to sound petty but he didn’t seem to understand that I had saved him from being someone’s soup.

Evidence of his carefree habits:

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Every day he’d wantonly throw himself on the ground, reclining with an ear carelessly tossed over his shoulder. Or nap spine to spine with someone, anyone, randomly moving through the herd. He was carefree, seductively sprawling without a concern for decorum. Egads. I don’t care about decorum either, but it irked me. Sometimes he was too busy head-butting the mini to even take grain from my hand at all. It was embarrassing. Then a month ago, he discovered my fingers were capable of scratching that itchy place on nub of his head. It was a miracle; he had no idea I had any real talent. It was a huge step, but still, he made me beg to do it.

…until someone gets hurt.

Then it happened. I came out for some evening air, and he was laying half-way under the Grandfather Horse. Obviously, that wasn’t unusual. I went to give the Grandfather Horse a scratch, and that’s when I noticed a fully weighted hoof on one of Arthur’s back legs. It had been there a while; Arthur wasn’t struggling. It took an effort to release him; old horses get planted sometimes. Arthur was quivering and there was an unnatural twist to that leg. The skin wasn’t broken, but the leg felt all wrong. Not to mention that it was all wrong that Arthur even let me touch it.

I grabbed a rope and pulled my Grandfather Horse out of the run, so Arthur would be safe. Naturally Arthur struggled to his feet and limped after his horse. The injured leg never touched the ground; I could see the feather hairs on that leg quivering. We went into the north pen, away from other horses at least. Arthur hobbled to the manure pile–it’s his favorite place. And I started making the calls.

This is my biggest fear; I hate this part. I’ve got an animal in pain and I’m calling in all directions. My equine vet has helped with my goats in the past, and the after-hours answering service tells me that he is the one on call… but they won’t take a message, insisting he’s an equine vet. I let her know we have a goat history, but she is firm. And it’s too late to un-say “goat” so I hang up. I call another emergency vet but they refer me to yet another number to call. I leave a message for that vet and follow the directions to text them 911 as well. Then I wait. While I wait, I make two more calls, leaving messages. Then I wait some more. It’s dark now. There’s a toenail moon and the ducks on the pond are making a racket but Arthur is laying quietly. He’s not himself. It’s either a good sign or a horrible one but since no one is calling back, I hope for the best. I bring a bucket of water and some hay, which Arthur ignores. So I scratch his head and wait some more. I hate this part.

Phone silence continued while Arthur reclined in his fluffy manure bed, the Grandfather Horse dozed close by, and I finally retreated, cursing under my breath.

20160408_142711First thing in the morning, I rushed Arthur in. Have I mentioned that Arthur isn’t great on a leash? He has two speeds, braced or a dead run, and he flip-flops them without warning. After screeching and stalling our way through four rooms, leaving a trail of bodily fluids and tell-tale droppings, we slam to a stop for x-rays. The broken bones were easy to see. Even from across the room.

This vet used the same nose cone to deliver the anesthesia that they would with a big dog, and once he’s knocked out, three of us lift him on the table. An hour later, Arthur and I are screeching and stalling our way toward the back door with a huge cast on his leg. When he sees our horse trailer, he bolts, launching himself in a three-legged broad jump through the air and miraculously lands inside. The vet bill was a little more than twice what I expected, so after I paid it, I took a flying leap into the cab myself, and we headed home.

Arthur had a rough afternoon, but just as he was starting to eat, the vet called and wanted to re-do his cast. Neither of us were as well-behaved on the second trip, but he’s home now, resting in a goat prison with Edgar Rice Burro.

I’d like to gloat an I told you so! to that goat, wantonly sleeping around without care for hooves or hearts, like he did. But I’m just six months out of a cast myself. Okay, it was a Velcro boot, but close enough to recognize that limp. He can barely peg-leg it along; he’s lost strength just like I did. He picks up the cast to scratch his ear and it’s too heavy, so he sets it down with his head still tilted sideways. An unrequited itch.

The Dude Rancher asked if I thought Arthur would take more care in the future. The way he jumped up to follow the Grandfather Horse before the hoof-print faded, I can’t imagine he will. Truth is we’ve all got some pretty bad habits around here, but at least none of us are quitters.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

 

 

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Future

WMNamsunset

Future

A reckoning comes at the end of the day.

A chance to notice the continuum between here and there,

and the exquisite beauty of an obstructed view.

 

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

 

 

(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.)

 

Future