Monday, September 28, 2009

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

This is me.

This is me the day Cliff and I exercised the gift certificate I bought at the Mylestone Equine Rescue charity auction. The certificate entitled us to a portrait sitting at a fabulous (and I mean that in every sense of the word) studio much heavy traffic away from home.

The look of intense constipation on my face here does not reflect my feelings about the event, only my effort to capture this one-time-only outfit for a book cover head shot by setting my new camera's automatic shutter release timer and, having done so ineffectively, my effort to press the shutter release and run quickly to the window and sit down. I give myself credit both for not falling out the window and for putting this miserable photo out in a public space.

But before I wrench a shoulder patting myself on the back for such idiocy, it is with great pleasure that I share my total fascination with the photography studio of Kramer Portraits in Hillsborough, NJ.

I'm not a portrait kind of person. I'm certainly not a ruffly-white-blouse portrait kind of person. My only "portraits" since my first marriage in 1971 have been the annual desecration of that term by the photographer that did the school pictures where I worked. There's not much one can do with a thousand rapid-fire sittings in one afternoon, so I'm not complaining, just explaining. When I won this Kramer sitting, I had no idea what I was in for.

First, Kramer isn't your average photo studio. I've been in those. I dragged my teen-aged daughter to two of the stripped-down, stool-and-background type common to the Twigs where I live. I'm a novice but not entirely a newbie. I had a head shot done at Wal Mart for my first book.

But walking into the opulent outer waiting room at Kramer's was an unexpected pleasure. The decor is elegant, the walls lined with amazing portraits... even the coffee was fabulous! For the hour we spent being posed, lighted, and shot by Peter, we were royalty, and suddenly the cheesy Ralph Lauren ruffles and suede jacket seemed appropriate. Peter was pleasant, even affable, offering water and conversation while we relaxed into the photo shoot. The hour flew by.

This weekend we returned for more coffee and a viewing of the proofs. This is a modern shop, so the photography is digital and there are no clusters of tiny pictures on sheets of paper for your fondling pleasure. Instead we relaxed on friendly, stylish furniture while Monica flashed not only our portrait options full-sized on the screen, but our chosen portrait in various incarnations directly onto the background photo I'd emailed her of the wall in my living room on which the portrait may finally hang. What ho! 'Tis a brave new photographic world!

I will return for another lovely interlude with the charming Monica when the portrait, retouched, hand-painted, and framed, is ready for pickup. My only regret in all of this is that I won't be needing another portrait, probably ever. If I were the vanity-struck type, I'd happily make an annual thing of this if only for the opportunity to see what Peter can do with me in riding gear, in jeans and my barn jacket, and maybe in a ball gown, should one pop up on the sale rack at Marshalls. Considering what he did with the Bozo look in the photo above, I have a feeling any morphing would have an elegant and beautiful outcome.

If you have a chance to attend next year's wine tasting fund raiser for Mylestone at the Lloyd farm in Califon, NJ, let me be the first to announce that Kramer's has already offered to donate another gift certificate for the silent auction. Bring your checkbooks.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Middle Aged and Afraid to Ride"

When I saw that topic in Juli Thorsen's blog today, I had to borrow it and comment on it. It's something that's been nagging at me this week. It's nagged so loudly that I ordered new sand for the arena rather than saddle up Zip for the battle I know is likely to come when I ask him to do things my way. Theoretically, he'll be happier with new footing and peace will reign. Theoretically.

The question is, is middle age (okay, so maybe I'm just a smidge past that into $2 Off For Seniors) causing my lack of enthusiasm for the fight? Is the sum of all the injuries, added to the sum of all the riding years, making me a dullard, albeit a sane one?

A week ago I visited my friend the Lovely Ellen Ryan, who showed me her new horse and commented on what a great time I'll have with him when he's settled in and I have a lesson on him. Ellen's faith in my riding ability is one of her more endearing qualities. About two years ago she allowed me a walk-trot episode on her big dressage horse, Tico, and despite being fresh out of chemo, I had a grand time. But staring at the HUGE (over 17hh) young Appendix Quarter Horse she just bought and watching his eyes wrinkle in that "worried" look some horses get, I wondered if I had the same worried expression. That's a really high place to fall from. Really high. She's got nice rubber footing (unlike my wet sand and road grit mix), so the impact would be less disastrous.

But why was that the first place my mind went? Why didn't it go to the incredible stride on that horse and his obvious natural talent and balance and what fun it would be to fly around the ring with him?

I realized as I thought about Juli's question that the creep of fear is insidious and not single-sourced. There's the leftover aching in my joints from injuries past laying the groundwork. There's my recent realization that the farm work isn't as easy as it used to be. There's the thought that has been behind much of my riding for the past 12 years that if I get seriously injured, there's no one to take care of the horses, so I have to do it regardless of my state of health. That's a biggie.

But middle age...? When does middle age start? I always thought it was around 48. When I was 48 I was still barrel racing and had a new foal to train. No fear! Bareback rides on the trail were a regular part of the routine. That stopped when I moved away from the trails and my Quarter Horse mare died.

Does it start, maybe, at 55? That's when I started thinking about retiring from work, and I was pretty much healed from the fall off the loft ladder that caused me to buy one of every kind of back supporter ever made. I was still jumping Zip. Only 2-foot courses, but jumping nonetheless. That stopped when I had the last of the really big falls and dressage suddenly seemed like a really good discipline to learn to love.

Age doesn't seem to be a determining factor. I've known younger riders with far worse injuries than mine who kept riding at the same level and others with no injuries at all who simply slowed down. So it would appear to me to be a matter of personal issues possibly unrelated to but impacting on this horse life we've chosen.

In a few minutes I'll go find Zip in the pasture and saddle him up. Maybe we'll have a fight. Maybe we won't. We'll see. But quitting isn't in the cards. Yesterday Leo and I explored the back fields that I spent two hours mowing. I smeared us both with Cool Green jelly and off we went. But first we played in the ring...and we jumped. It was Leo's idea. Leo, at 23, lost interest in jumping a few years ago. Apparently his arthritis supplement works better than mine. But we had a wonderful time. The day before, it was Dakota doing crossrails (very, very tiny ones that don't worry his western spirit) and trails. Today is a new day and I'm going to try to keep that in mind when I hop on the Big Boy. Tomorrow is newer yet. Maybe middle age starts when we stop remembering that.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

When is Enough?

This pretty white horse with the black head is Pokey. Her registered name is "Missleading", which is also an accurate description of her. She is a Paint horse off the track in Oklahoma and Florida. She's Zip's mom. She has a huge spirit that she shares readily with anyone in need of comforting. She's my friend.

I pretty much make a rule of taking the best possible care of my horses, and Pokey has definitely been a beneficiary of my compulsive nature. But into even the best lives some rain must fall. In her case, there's been ample rain to qualify as a flood.

Foundered and pregnant when I bought her, she popped out a terrific colt and has gone on to live another 13 years with barely a lame step. Then Pasture Heaves happened. About ten years ago, she tested positive to 22 plants in her environment, testimony to what happens when you move a horse from one side of the country to the other. When I couldn't bring myself to tighten her girth anymore (and she is not a bareback horse!), I gave her my blessings to live forever in my care in semi-retirement. Her job is to make sure the geldings don't get out of hand, and to make everyone crazy with her occasional bursts of insanity that seem to take her by surprise as much as the rest of us. Her job is also to make people feel good. I don't know how she does it, but she can send out waves of peacefulness that are nearly palpable.

Then a few years ago I noticed blood on her hindquarters. The vet diagnosed a squamous cell carcinoma, and the surgeon removed it right in my barn. There was no chemo or other advanced techniques readily available at that time, so a couple of weeks after surgery, I removed the stitches, and she went about her life happy and healthy...until recently.

With a re-occurrence of the carcinoma, she and I ventured into a brave new world of veterinary medicine. I'm delighted to report that laser surgery is not just for humans anymore. With a five-hour round-trip visit to the only clinic in the state to sport a surgical laser and an hour of treatment by a surgeon versed in its use, Pokey was once again free of the growth on her barely-used private parts. We rejoiced with carrots and wine.

But now that we are over a week into the after-care for this particular treatment, which consists of rather painful cleanings of the surgical site (to permit healing from the inside out, it was left un-sutured) followed by the application of a chemo ointment called 5-FU, a chemical in common use in humans to stem the growth of various cancers. On days when the surgical site and the nubbins of additional tiny lesions that were lasered off at the same time are "weepy" from the intrusive quality of the chemo ointment, the cleaning is followed by smearing with another ointment. I've opted for Triple Antibiotic over the silver sulfadiazine that the vet recommended only because I know it works on her and I have tons of the stuff. Then there's the antibiotic Tri-meth and Bute for the pain.

I have no problem with playing nurse to my mare. I've diligently followed instructions, and the area appears to be healing. But with the recommended course of Bute doses finished, the pain in that area has increased exponentially. I can see it when I clean the site and she shifts her hindquarters as far away as possible. I can see it in the way she carries her tail straight out away from her painful area. I can see it in her eyes.

I will continue with the treatment as ordered for the prescribed 14 days. We've come so far that it seems a shame not to give her every chance for a longer, healthy life. But the pain is bothering me, and it has caused me to question: Just because we can, does that mean we should?

Pokey is 21. The tumor caused her no discomfort, but the treatment is causing plenty. In another week she is supposed to reappear at the vet clinic for a "touch-up" and a reassessment of a small tumor discovered during the first procedure. A "touch-up" means another round of laser cutting with the same after-care. I'm not so sure this falls into the "we should" class of actions.

At what point does it make sense to let nature take its course? I'm guessing on behalf of this mare that we're at that point. To take away the joy she exhibits in her daily romps in the pasture in order to ensure another chunk of time without guaranteeing that it will be longer than otherwise seems unfair. As much as I appreciate the additional years I've gotten from my own surgery and chemo treatments, I lost a lot as well. Maybe I'm more sensitive to the possible losses as a result.

I will wait it out this time. Pokey will heal (hopefully well) from her surgery, and I'll let time pass. If it takes another four years for the cancer to re-occur, we've done well. If it takes longer, better still. If it comes back quickly, then a new approach may be in order. But for now I'm passing on the "touch-up". This time I will temper my fascination with technology and my desire to wring every possible breath out of this lovely animal with patience and the knowledge that a life lived in pain isn't the goal.

For us, for now, "now" is "when".