Good fortune greets me today. Welcome to the fabulous Las Vegas.
Took a long run this morning and wow. Excited to finally be here. Forgive me for being away for a bit- the slots are calling my name.
Good fortune greets me today. Welcome to the fabulous Las Vegas.
Took a long run this morning and wow. Excited to finally be here. Forgive me for being away for a bit- the slots are calling my name.
I left my job as an Emergency Veterinary Technician last June at the 24 hour ER/Specialty veterinary hospital that I worked at for almost 4 years. While it was absolutely the right decision as far as my own personal and financial well being, it still kills me inside to have left. I was built to be in an ER, I was made to care for critical animals.
This past weekend I picked up a few shifts and it was a joy and a curse. A joy, because I was back. I was in my territory, I was in my element. I can place and IV in a seizing dog in less than 1 minute, I can intubate and start ventilation on a coding cat in 20 seconds. My record for stabilizing a GDV including 2 IV catheters, IV fluids, pain medication, a lateral x-ray, and prepping for a stomach trocharization is 9 minutes. Oh, how I live for this job. It consumed me and made me feel whole and worthwhile again. A curse, because I just walked back into the same problems that pushed me away.
Me being super psyched about working an overnight shift.
I hate to say that money drove me into research but it did. Money and quality of life. I now have a job that I rarely ever leave late, and I can usually plan for it ahead of time. I never have to work insane weekends or 14 hour shifts. I don’t have to stress about being the only technician in the ICU on an insane Sunday with 20+ hospitalized patients and a revolving door of incoming sick animals. People think that human hospitals have a high nurse to patient ratio? Try vet med. I left because I know how amazing I am at my job and I was unable to perform it to the best of my ability. I was being torn into pieces trying to care for everything at the same time and knowing I was failing.
Not to say I didn’t have help – I certainly did. I had several fantastic assistants and doctors that would do as much as they could. But the doctors have their own responsibilities and the assistants can only do so much. I had my right hand – the other Jen RVT. We were the dream team, Jen squared. But more often than not, we were split up to cover the empty tech shift gaps. But together we conquered that ICU every day. We were so great that often they didn’t even schedule us an assistant- apparently 2 techs was the equivalent of 4 people.
The stress and under-staffing finally took other Jen away too, just a few months after my departure. It’s extremely disheartening and disappointing. Here we were, two extremely competent, experienced technicians who were thrown into the ocean of ER right out of school to either sink or swim- and swim we did. But at a certain point neither of us could take it. We both wanted a life outside of work, Jen wanted to be a Mom with normal working hours, and who can blame us? Who wants to work at such a low-paying, high stress job and then barely have time to come home and breathe to turn around and do it again tomorrow? We often were scheduled 10 or 12 hour shifts, so only working about 3 or 4 days a week. I always needed at least a day to recover. The long shifts mean I can’t run many errands after work, so all my off days are spent grocery shopping, doing laundry, caring for Pony, trying to make up for lost days with my own critters. Maybe getting to actually see my husband for more than an hour. A full weekend off was a rare treat and I wanted to do everything – oh but I better be in bed on Sunday night early so I can wake up at 5:00am on Monday to start over again.
I tried to make it work. I truly did. But there is such a vast misunderstanding between the upstairs management and the downstairs workers. Isn’t that how it always is? Oh we care, we want to help you, but first lets have a meeting that lasts all day and talk about it. Literally, I sat in a meeting for 5 hours once and it accomplished absolutely nothing except for pulling two of us off the ICU floor and drowning the assistant in things they couldn’t do. And then when I gave my notice – nothing. I had one manager who called me to talk about and said there was nothing she could change about the job right now, but if I could just wait, just hold out a little longer, change was coming. Well I’m glad I didn’t wait- because the change still hasn’t come.
So now I work in research, which is fulfilling in a different way. I might not be working to save this individual animal, but my work can potentially save the lives of hundreds or thousands animals and humans in the future. I get to take actual lunch breaks. I am part of a great team that shares the work load. And stress? Forget about it. I have so much support. I can work late and comp time at the end of the week – what a luxury that it. I’m actually getting to take a real vacation this week too. My last vacation I took at my previous job was a stay-cation and I was called twice to come in for just a couple of hours.
There needs to be a change in this industry. We are losing hundreds of truly talented technicians every day due to poor management, lack of acknowledgement, and practically poverty level salaries. I loved my job – but I couldn’t take it anymore. Burn out is real but the industry itself is contributing to it – not the actual work. We love the adrenaline, we love the rush. But we also love to have a work/home life balance. We love being able to pay our bills and still have some money left over to eat. But shouldn’t it still show my immense dedication and love of the job that I continue pick up shifts? That I enjoy the job so much that I just want to taste it for a few hours every week? After already putting in my 40 hours for my regular job last week I still picked up 16 additional hours and skipped my weekend to just help out? This dedication isn’t realized and it is definitely not appreciated by those who should be noticing it.
Dedication runs deep: this little nugget with grossly infected KCS in her left eye and two busted MPLs eventually came home to me to be my little puppy-mill-basket-case-hot-mess-turned-best-dog-ever. A few months later, minus one eye and a whole lot happier.
And that came home with me too. FIV positive, busted ear, broken toe, and then became the world’s greatest cat-dog.
Would I go back if I was asked? Only under the absolutely, 100% right circumstances. That I am not the only technician on the floor at any given time, that there is at least one assistant during the week, and two or more on the weekends. They decide to pay me what I’m actually worth. I have fewer weekends. I am fine with doing weekends, but it’s not fair to work almost all of them. Hiring more qualified technicians – I can’t train another tech that comes in and is unable to poke a vein on a stable patient on the first try. This is ER – this is for the pros. I’ll train you to handle critical and unstable patients with crappy blood pressure and non-existent vessels, but you better be able to at least give an IV injection to that happy, stable beagle who was unfortunately stung by a bee.
Until there is a change I will have to suffice on fussing over my own critters and the occasional pick up shift. Until then, I will have to just watch from the sidelines.
This weekend I read an article about the tragic loss of a rider in Great Britain who was accidentally strangled and dragged by her horse with a lead rope that was draped over her shoulder (see article here via the Mirror). This was a totally freak accident. This was also, sadly, a totally preventable accident. This rider, Kathryn Bull, was a very experienced, dedicated horse person. It is just the constant reminder to us equestrians that we can never be too careful. It was likely something she did every day, something she never thought twice about. Even the greatest riders make little safety mistakes every day because we fall into complacency and give too much blind trust to our horses.
I trust my horse 100%. But let me define that trust: I trust him 100% to behave like a horse. He is gentle, he is careful, but he is fallible. If you’ve read my previous posts you will know that he can be totally on point one second and then once I change the rules he can be a bit of a drama queen. While he is the least spooky horse I’ve ever met – I still trust that if we are going to be walking by a field of open gun fire that he is going to be engaging in his “flight” response no matter how convincing and calm I might be.
My purple rope is my favorite thing in my tack box. I put on his rope halter and attach my purple rope and off we go. This is my go-to tool when I need just a little more bend, a little more attention, a little more movement. It’s longer than my regular lead rope, but not as long as a full lunge line. It gives me the space to teach him how to move freely on his own in the circle, while also being able to be collected enough to come near me. It’s long enough that I don’t need to use a whip to move him away – just a flick of the end can send him out. This purple rope is to help teach my horse respect with some gentle guidance, to keep me attached to him without demanding it. It’s the perfect piece of equipment for any ground session.
It’s also the perfect piece of equipment to be misused.
This purple rope could be used to harm him or harm myself. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve draped this purple rope over my own shoulder on numerous occasions. Moments that I need two hands for something. I set the rope over my shoulder so I can still hang onto my horse – yet if he was to walk away I’m not even really holding him. It would be just as efficient to set it on the ground but I don’t do it. I know I shouldn’t put it on my shoulder but I am guilty of forgetting that my horse is a horse first and no amount of spook or desensitizing training will completely prevent any freak situation from happening. We forget that even the simplest of things can be dangerous. We can train every day but there is no reason to put yourself or your horse in the position of a disaster when your horse decides to respond like a horse. Kathryn Bull could have been me instead. I’m disappointed in myself that it is taking the death of another person for me to have more perspective on this dangerous habit.
This isn’t the only thing I see myself or other riders doing that could be dangerous but is often overlooked. Leaving a halter attached to cross tie for instance – the horse is no longer wearing the halter so what is the problem? No one thinks about the next horse to walk down the aisle and accidentally step into that halter (while it is still attached to the cross tie on the wall) and get tangled and injured or even damage the barn itself. Again -such a subtle little act that can have extremely dangerous consequences. Walking down the aisle mounted on a horse, not giving space to a rider nearby, riding without a helmet; all things we do every day that we are inviting an accident to occur.
We can all do our part as equestrians to minimize any potentially dangerous thing we might encounter in our daily barn visits. We are already caring for and riding 1000+ pound animals- we do not need to add to the danger by being careless. This purple rope will not touch my shoulders, my waist, my feet. It will not leave my hand until I am finished using it.
It’s amazing how often times when I don’t plan on doing something, then go ahead and do it, how it turns out to be so amazing. Yesterday I did not plan on riding but when I arrived to the barn my stall was clean and pony was happily eating his dinner. I didn’t have a whole lot of chores to do so I figured – eh, I’ll just hop on for a bit. It was a beautiful night, about 50 degrees and sunny – perfect riding weather. Pony must have been feeling the relaxation vibes too and he was just rockstar-ing it the whole time. It always surprises me how going into a ride with no expectations turns into the best ride. That whole stretchy trot challenge we could barely do on Monday was no big deal, so I was feeling balls-y enough to go ahead and try a stretchy canter – which he did pretty well! He is normally very tense and speedy because I get very tense and anticipate speed… so instead I let him stay long and low, kept my leg on and he had several great circles on both leads. I stopped right there- only about 20 minutes into my ride- and said we are done! I wasn’t messing with this perfection any more!
We enjoyed some sunshine and grazing last night too with our buddy Tyler the cat. He’s pretty perfect too.
In other life news, I’ve recently started running again. After my stupid stress fracture in my fibula last year I’ve been pretty nervous to run consistently but I’ve had time on my lunch breaks recently at work and have been putting in about two miles with several walk breaks. I’m guessing last year I just pushed too hard too fast, so I’m going to take it waaay slow this time.
happy tails and trails for your weekend x
Yesterday was Pony’s 20th birthday. I can’t believe he is that old – he is truly what you are talking about when you say “age is just a number.” He spent the evening being spoiled with grazing on the good grass and sharing a large McDonald’s french fry with me.
I left for the barn around 6 last night and as I was walking out the door I told hubby that I wasn’t going to ride, but I was going to be at the barn for a bit just to spend some quality time with the birthday boy. He gave me a funny look like he always does when I leave, and I headed out the door. As I was driving over I realized: I spend way more “quality time” with this horse than I do with my husband and I was using his birthday as the excuse to hang a bit longer. As an average horse owner, I am well versed in making a “quick trip to the barn” take hours, even though all of my chores can take me about 45 minutes most days. I’m a dedicated horse owner, but I think as a wife I’ve not been quite up to par. What did we even do for Josh’s birthday last year? We went to the local wings restaurant up the street, and then I spent the following Saturday at the barn for 5 hours. I specifically set time out of my day just to hang with my horse for his birthday, and my husband’s birthday barely saw him at all. I don’t even think I’ve mentioned him on this blog.
I never feel like any moment at the barn is ever a waste of time. No amount of mucking, mud, or cranky boarders can make me feel like my trip was not worth it. But there are certainly days when I could make a conscious effort to be a better wife to my husband, who graciously puts up with my addiction. We do have an agreement in our house though because Josh is a big video gamer. So while most wives might be irritated at the amount of time their husbands spend fixated on a screen playing with virtual people, I usually take that time to spend with my horse and we can’t complain about each other. He has his activity and I have mine. Granted, my activity generally takes up a bit more time in each day, I absolutely have to partake in mine every day or make arrangements for someone to do it for me, mine tends to cost about 20x as much and sometimes can take me out of town for days at a time or call me out in the middle of the night, or… well, you get the picture, we still are respectful of our hobbies outside of our relationship. If I didn’t have a horse to take care of, I don’t think I’d recognize myself. Having Paisley is a part of who I am and my husband understands that. He doesn’t complain, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t try and set more time aside for him.
Paisley and I being adorable on my wedding day. Oh and Josh is there too.
I’ve been trying since the day I brought home Paisley to talk Josh into riding with me but for some reason he just isn’t totally into that idea. It’s not for everyone but I am lucky to have a person who knows that it is important to me. He has mucked my stall numerous times and attempted to walk Paisley to the pasture a few times, but his patience and understanding will always be enough for me.
Ugh – this morning I woke up and every inch of my body was hurting. I had a fantastic lesson last night and I’m really kicking myself for being so lazy this winter.
As an adult equestrian who also has to venture into the real world occasionally I have many non-horsey friends. It is funny to talk to them about my lessons – as they A. usually don’t care and B. don’t understand what I’m saying anyway. My favorite comments are usually along the lines of, “I thought you already knew how to ride?” Well… yes, and also no. Do professional athletes have practice? Why would all of baseball go to spring training if they already knew how to hit a ball? I know my reading, writing, and arithmetic but I still felt the need to go to college. Medical professionals have to do required “Continuing Education” hours. Did you know that you might forget something or you might want to learn a new technique or possibly want to improve on something you already know but want to know better?
Last night we work working on our stretchy trot which will be the death of me. Pony and I have only recently engaged in this thing called dressage, since we have both been doing it wrong for many years. I get really anxious and nervous when we start stretchy trot because we are working on letting Pony figure out that I can’t carry him anymore, he is quite large and heavy. So slowly but surely I’m trying to slide my rein out a bit and extend the contact so he can lengthen his neck, soften his back, engage his hind. Pony deciphers this as – “Mom…mom… hey mom… you aren’t holding my hand Mom, MOM HOLD MY HAND WTF!!! MOM COME BACK!!! I MUST RUN FASTER TO REACH YOUR HAND!!” And then he even gets to the point he is reaching behind the vertical in a desperate search for contact to help him – he was creating the heavy contact to cheat. Eventually… very eventually… with a few minutes of trainer hopping on him too… he GOT IT. He did NOT have to run faster, he did NOT have to lean on me, he could support himself with a little guidance of my outside rein and a lot of leg moving him forward and off his forehand and encouraging him to reach out not down. Whew! What a freaking ride but so nice once he figured it out. We managed to get a few really solid circles before we stopped on a good note.
I do blame myself for these habits he has- as I was not always consistently working with a trainer, and I have also always treated Pony like the precious Prince that he is. I don’t want him to fall on his face from trotting so out of control – so I help him and hold him too much. When he was doing something nice (or what I was interpreting as nice) I would stay out of his way. When he would get fussy about his face I would just give him the reins. He gets seriously so offended when he is told he is wrong. The other day I was doing his liberty work again and I legit tapped him on the haunches just to move him over a bit. Good God you would have thought I was trying to kill him. I could barely get him to just walk on a lead rope like a normal horse after that! And he is the most desensitized horse you’ve ever seen – I can touch him all over with a whip, I can throw it all around the arena, but God forbid I actually use it to ask for a little more. Just like as we are learning our new dressage tricks I’m actually picking up CORRECT contact and he immediately throws his head up in a fit “HOW DARE YOU TOUCH MY MOUTH!” For the record- there is nothing wrong with his mouth, bit or bridle. He is just very easily offended. He does the same thing when he is ignoring my leg and I give him a little kick – then he gets cranky I asked so hard. He is a sensitive delicate flower.
Anyway back to the point. Although I’ve been riding for 15+ years now there is a never ending list of things I don’t know and I’m not good at. Paisley and I are back to basics right now and there are so many steps we skipped in our younger days so I think that is also hindering us a bit, but even at 20 years old we are going to learn them together whether he likes it or not!
I’ve been interested recently in watching and learning about “liberty” training in horses. I’ve been watching a few clips on YouTube and I felt like they didn’t seem too difficult. I generally round pen or will do ground work with Paisley almost every time before I ride him. I know he is approaching 20 – but this horse responds and performs so much better if he has 10 minutes of ground work before I’m mounted. I do find it interesting how little emphasis is put on ground work with older horses. I’m a converted believer in a better ride if you do ground work first. Even if I’m just planning to bop on a trail I will put him through a little ground work and stretching.
Anyway back to liberty, some of the cues are similar to what I do in the round pen so I figured I’d try and adapt a few of them to the liberty moves with his halter and rope. Poor Paisley didn’t know what hit him. There is a cue asking the horse to turn and follow you by simply stepping backwards. P-Money was very confused. Usually if I’m moving I’m asking to change direction – so that is what he did. So it took about a half an hour before he figured out I just wanted him to walk towards me and not change directions totally. Once he nailed it at the walk we tried at the trot – he was very mad! This is not what this means! It’s so funny to watch him figure out what I’m asking – you can see his mind wheeling around. He grows another hand when he is thinking hard. A few of the times he got so frustrated with me and would change direction and start cantering. Eventually we figured it out together and he was getting it every time. A few days later we tried these cues in the round pen with no halter and wow! He remembered. What a smarty pants.
I just have to say that people who think having an older horse is boring are totally wrong. Learning this new skill is not only fun for me but it is totally blowing his mind too. He is so funny, I love when I suddenly change the rules on him when he thinks he knows what is going on – he is too smart for his own good and always assumes that he knows what I’m going to ask and gets mad when I change it up. He throws a hissy fit but will always comply and try and figure out what I want. I can’t wait to continue learning more with him. Maybe next we will try ground driving or trail challenges. The sky is the limit!
I’m not sure what makes a sunset ride so magical. Maybe it’s the sunset, or maybe it’s being on a horse. Probably both. So double the amount of awesome means that a sunset ride is basically the best thing you can do for yourself when you are having a rough time. I also enjoy rides at sunrise, although those are often more difficult to come by. Moonlight rides are especially special too. Myself and a few of my dearest barn friends went for one during the “super moon” this past fall.
Can you see how much fun we are having? Yeah me either.
It’s very difficult to capture the magic of a moonlight ride in a picture so this is the best I can do.
Even though I’ve had Paisley now for going on 7 years, I still always get little giddy feelings when we are about to experience something new together. I guess because being a non-horse owner for the first 21 years of my life my riding was very limited to once or twice a week at a scheduled time. Didn’t matter that it was rainy, or extremely hot, or extremely cold, that was the time I could be on a horse so I had to take it. I never had many opportunities at sunset rides, but somehow always experienced the extreme weather rides. Now whenever I have a chance for a sunset ride or some other beautiful experience I tend to jump on it and lap it up as if I’ve never done this before.
I do not take one single second of horse ownership for granted. I do not complain about any chore. I do not complain when I have to come up at 6am before work to give him antibiotics. I do not complain when I have to come back throughout the night on a colic watch. The opposite of doing these things is not doing these things, and not doing these things means that I don’t have a horse to do them for. I will always do these things and I will do them with a smile and happiness knowing that I am the lucky one who gets to do these things. I was horse-less for 21 years and I hope to never remember what those dark times were like.
I hate to admit it, but I have become a huge chicken.
You might think – “hey jen, how is that even possible! You have a big horse that you like to ride over big jumps! that is pretty brave.”
And I would say, “yeah – in a past life that was true.”
Truthfully, I’m so done with jumping. I want to say that it is mostly Paisley that was done – but I think I was just as done as him. Last summer as we struggled through a few Diana Rich lessons I knew this wasn’t clicking anymore. Why was I spending so much money on these lessons that I was barely enjoying? Diana was fantastic and her lessons were phenomenal – she could make us look like rockstars. But I hated doing most of it. I hated running through the grid over and over, I was exhausted after doing the course again – once more, now just the last oxer. Riding was supposed to be fun! It wasn’t fun anymore.
Maybe my own frustrations are what led to Paisley to begin stopping at fences. In the 6 years prior – this horse had never refused, run out, or been otherwise nervous about a fence. The only thing that had changed was me. I was suddenly afraid of anything more than 2′. How had I tackled BN courses and even some novice and training level fences just the year before?! What changed in me? I have no idea. I haven’t had a fall in years, in fact I’ve only fallen off of my horse 3 times. Once jumping a fence that was entirely too large for me, many years ago, then I went a few more years without any issues, and then I had two falls within two weeks. The first I was warming him up over a tiny x-rail and I was trying to stay forward and out of the saddle, I don’t know why, I guess I decided my 2-point was not being held up long enough? So I stayed up, landed, he did a tiny little trip and I flew over his shoulder. And then the next time I was being stupid and riding him bareback in a halter and trying to trot away from the gate of the pasture and I just lost my balance and slid off like an idiot. I guess all of those situations would be something that would make anyone nervous, but all of them I got back on and did whatever I was doing over again (except that giant fence- that was real dumb. I just made it smaller).
I remember both times as we were running on XC at the Kentucky Horse Park during our two USEA shows that the entire time I was thinking – “I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.” I just could not wait to get to the finish. Both times I was so excited and so ready – but once on course I hated every second. I was so nervous. These fences that were so tiny in my many course walks were now giant, huge, Rolex sized. I would not quit though – so I guess my stubbornness outweighed my fear of what was actually happening.
Last summer he began to get really nervous about jumping. I tried my absolute hardest to not be nervous too. I kept the fences small and the ride positive and light. He was not finding his distances, he was launching over the fence, and then taking off completely. Then he started bucking after landing. This horse has never once bucked during work- not while I’m riding and not even on a lunge line. I immediately stopped and fortunately the chiropractor was out the following week. Nothing physically wrong. Nothing significantly out of place – just his usual spots. I tried jumping again – and it was the same results.
It was disheartening at first, but then I realized that if he doesn’t want to jump – why the hell am I forcing myself to jump? Neither of us are enjoying this anymore. So the jump saddle went to Craigslist and we started riding with dressage trainer Jennifer Flory. Holy hell does she do amazing things to my horse, and wow does he enjoy dressage. Even after these amazing lessons, I’m still asking myself – “what am I doing?” What is our goal now? I feel like I’ve always given myself a goal with Paisley. Establish solid gaits, check. Go to a few local shows, check. Score well at said shows and get some ribbons, check. Go to a USEA show, check. Get a USEA ribbon, check. Initially my next step was- “go to a dressage show” and now I’m like… umm, no thank you. I think I’m good.
Honestly, I think I am good. I feel like I’ve reached these goals and life-moments with my horse that I’ve always wanted. I’m not saying that we are done – but I’m saying I have nothing to prove. Maybe my next goal is to just go on a happy trail ride and not have my horse come home an anxious psychopath like he normally does. That’s a good goal! And once we have achieved that, maybe my goal is to take a trail ride every week this summer.
I don’t really care if that sounds boring. I don’t really care that I have hundreds of dollars of fancy show clothes going to waste. What I do care about is that my horse and I are doing something that we both enjoy, together. This is just the next chapter in our relationship.
No one wants to move. I hate moving. I hate uprooting my bed, my cats, my life and relocating it to a new place. It always takes so long to finally be adjusted and feel like, “yeah, this is my home.” I felt awful when we moved to our current house because one of my cats (Winston) hid in a rolled up carpet for two days. He has no idea why we moved and certainly doesn’t care, but fortunately we had a rolled up carpet to camp out in. Eventually, he came out and all of my pets and myself adjusted, but it still sucks.
Which brings me to the subject that I am moving not myself, but my horse. I think this move has caused me more anxiety and tears than any move of my household ever has. I absolutely love my current boarding barn, but a few significant things are finally starting to get to me. I’m moving him down the street from where we currently are. Literally – I’m not even bothering to haul him, I’m just going to ride. My biggest peeve is that he has been in a very large turn out group in a space not suitable for the size of the herd, so we are moving to be in a smaller barn with a much smaller herd. His happiness and safety to just “be a horse” is more important than my lack of riding space.
It has made me sick to my stomach to be leaving my wonderful barn family. The one I am most sad about is leaving Paisley’s best buddy Dio behind, and consequently my best barn buddy Amy. I hope that the transition is easy on everyone. Paisley doesn’t fit into a rolled up carpet quite as well as baby Winston does.
I’m also moving from essentially a self-care facility to a full care facility. Although I am stall fairy-ed quite often – I still generally count on cleaning my stall, setting up his feed, and taking him to/from the pasture every day. It will be very weird to go from doing everything to doing very little. However, I am looking forward to spending more 1:1 time with my boy. On rushed days I rarely have time to do more than give him a carrot, a kiss, and run out the door once my chores are finished. Now I can spend those precious minutes riding him, grooming him, or just plain spoiling him.
Adventures to go, adventures to come on our new journey.