Monday, September 25, 2017

My First Ride on Beautiful Girl, Trail Training on Steep, Scary Trails, & a Trip to the Hospital

Be careful what you wish for.  Last Tuesday, I wrote, "Live like you're going to die.
Because we are."  
The very next day, I was in the Urgent Care, having my heart stopped, loaded into an ambulance, and off to the ER.

I had my 6th episode of tachycardia, but they couldn't get it under control by normal means. My heart was pounding out a pretty steady 215 bpm for about an hour and half, so they decided to stop it and let it reset itself.

Before they did that, they were able to catch it on the ECG (EKG), and saw that I a have an extra node.  It's called Atrioventricular nodal reentrant tachycardia or AVNRT.  Here is a description:
AVNRT is caused by an abnormal or extra electrical pathway in the heart, a kind of "short circuit." Electrical pathways in the heart consist of microscopic muscle fibers that conduct electrical impulses. Normally, a single electrical pathway allows impulses to travel from the upper to the lower chambers. An extra electrical pathway in the AV node allows those impulses to travel backward at the same time, starting another heartbeat. During AVNRT the electrical impulses continuously go around the two pathways. This is known as "reentry" and can lead to a very fast heart rate.
I saw the cardiologist on Friday, and he recommended ablation surgery, where they go in and, basically, burn off the offending pathway(s). I went ahead and scheduled it, I mean, who wants to have to go to Urgent Care and have an ambulance show up with paramedics (bless their hearts, they were sweet!) who stop your heart then send you to the Walking Dead Film Set  Emergency Room.

Now, I'm leaning away from it. I'd like to try least invasive first--removing ALL stimulants, lowering my stress through meditation, and taking a beta blocker.  What I have, supposedly, won't kill you, but the "cure" has its own set of risks: stroke, heart attack, permanent need for a pacemaker.  Also, many commenters said their offending pathway grew back after about a decade.

If you've had any experience with this, please share in the comments.  I'd love to hear it.


Would a Horse Fall Off a Cliff?

It [the deer] waited and leaped not
over the skinner's slack length of lead
but into the pack lines over Otto's back
to tangle and thrash and send the whole
entwined line of them down the slope of diminishing scree.

                                    Elegy for Otto the Mule by Robert Wrigley (excerpt)

I'm not sure if it was that poem, or a few bad steps by Cowboy on a steep cliff trail, that got me wondering if a horse would actually step off a cliff.  Years ago, I asked my friend and trainer, who regularly rides the steep cliffs in search of cows that wander away from their herds, and her answer was absolutely, yes.  Every once in a while she had a green horse, who didn't pay attention to the trail, step off, lose its balance and careen down a draw.  None of them were ever seriously hurt, and she always jumped off before going down with them.

Yesterday, I didn't plan to confront all my fears, but there is something a night like Wednesday does to you in making your fears seem much smaller--or, at least, the way around them much more necessary AND clear.

I ride Leah at Riverside State Park a lot, but the one area of the park I have avoided is the steep descent to the river and the narrow switchback trail along the hillside. (pictured above).  I've ridden it a hundred times on Cowboy who, through much practice, has become a pro at traversing the steep trails.  Leah, on the other hand, has a bad habit of always looking up the hillside, as if she's looking for that deer to come thrashing out of the serviceberry or sagebrush.  That's all fine, IF she'd look at the trail, too.

At the worst part of the trail, I got off and walked her. (That's my safe way around).  She did, indeed, take bad steps off the trail--as I suspected she would--but she was able to stay upright without the weight of a rider to balance. I remounted where the hillside wasn't as steep.  All in all, it was a great, SAFE training experience. I hope to do it a few more times this year.


Riding Beautiful Girl

No surprise, after traversing the steep switchbacks, I was ready to tackle riding Bee.

I started the day with asking her to self-load into the trailer.  She will self-load her front feet, but not her back.  It's as if she's saying, I want to do what you're asking, but I don't want to give my consent to being fully loaded and hauled away.  Eventually, however, with a little patience, she did self-load fully by just being pointed in from her side.


The next step was ground work with the bridle and bit.  She's still in that chewy stage where she's thinking a lot about the bit and worrying about how to carry it.  My answer to that is lots of work while wearing it.

And then, I made the decision to ride her bareback.  My plan was that any time she froze or felt bucky, I could get off and work her from the ground and then remount. I've worked on bareback riding all year, and I feel pretty well balanced now.  It also has the advantage of letting me feel the nerves, and tenseness, in her back--and quickly make adjustments.

The first few steps were the scariest, but when we got to moving--all at the walk--I started to get a sense of her and what she's about.

1.  She's not sure of why we're doing it.

2.  She's not soft to the bit.

3.  She doesn't feel the partnership when I'm on her back and out of her sight.

4.  She's ready for a fight.

On the positive side:

1.  She's willing to take the chance.

2.  She wants to please.

3.  She's thinking it through.

4.  She gives me information, through her body, so I can avoid a fight.

This was the first time she had been ridden since her bucking incident.  At one point, her feet stopped, I asked for forward, and she started to back up instead.  I could feel her back tense.  I slid off her back, worked her from the ground, and remounted.  She went forward  nicely.

My plan is to continue riding her in small increments and fill in all those gaps above--purpose, softness, willingness, and trust.  

I don't think getting off at sticky points will cause her to be more sticky IF I continue to stay calm and work her from the ground, and get back on.


  1. The heart problem sounds terrifying. My grandmother had a pacemaker my mother had Atrial Fibrillation, and I've had an endometrial ablation, but I don't know much about your situation. My ablation, though on a different part of the body, was a failure. It didn't do the job. I'd be worried about pieces that got burnt off getting into the bloodstream and causing a clot, but I'd also want to do what I can to prevent my heart from racing. I'll be thinking good thoughts for you.

    Bombay stepped off the edge of a cliff and slid down a hillside when I was riding him. My husband was able to grab his lead rope and pull him up.

    Gabbrielle is bad about backing up when I ask her to go forward. My trainer dealt with it by continuing to cue her forward (kick her) until she went forward. That meant hanging on while she crashed into railings and stumbled backwards. I made backing up a habit with her, because I always stopped kicking when she ran backwards into objects, and that was essentially telling her that backing up was the correct answer. It took a fearless cowboy to set her straight.

    1. I just canceled all the tests and surgery. I don't feel good about taking chances with the one heart I have and I'd only have myself to blame if I don't listen to my instincts.

      Were you still on Bombay when he went over? Some horses are flat landers. Leah would be one of those, but I hope to change her!

      I did kick Bee quite a bit, urging her forward. I also tried walking and turning her at the same time, but she froze her feet and would only back up or stand still. I don't want to get the backing up ingrained, so I decided to dismount and her work her. I hope it works. 🙏

    2. Yeah, I was still on Bombay when he went over the edge. He started sliding down the hill sideways and then as he scrambled to climb back up, his butt was on the downside of the hill. The combination of my husband pulling on the lead rope and me kicking him to urge him forward back up onto the trail got him moving in the right direction. If I tried to dismount, I would have fallen and rolled down the side of the cliff, so I stayed on even though Bombay didn't need the extra weight. I think going over the edge was just a result of inexperience and not paying attention.

  2. Oh my goodness, that would be scary but I'm glad that they found the reason for your issue. I am inspired by how you face your fears but in a sensible way.

    1. Moving forward in a safe and sensible way seems the smart thing to do with the added benefit of building a relationship of trust. It helps that I can mount and dismount easily.

  3. I'm glad you are okay! And I think your approach with Bee is just right.

    1. Thank you. I worked with Bee tonight and it didn't go as well, but someone was shooting a loud gun and it had her unnerved. She was shaking during trailer loading. Maybe I shouldn't have kept going, but I did. When I rode her, she was very tense and sticky. And I realized I need a saddle.

  4. Your heart issue sounds scary. I honestly don't know what I'd do if I were you. I think it's a wait and see if your instincts and new plan of action help. If not then there's always the ablation as an option.

    I think your plan with Bee is a good one. I've found that with a green horse it's a good idea to work in very short spurts even if it's only ten minutes and always end on a good note. Then you can build on your previous accomplishments and keep adding new things to her training.

    Take care of yourself.

    1. Thank you for the encouragement. We've met our deductible for the year, and it is high, so it would offset the cost of this surgery, which is around $18,000. But I just can't trade health for saving $$. If something went wrong, I would never forgive myself. As it is now, I'm very healthy. Blood pressure is normal/low. Resting pulse is 58 or 59. But if they screw up my heart, it could all be ruined. The cardiologist says I can't die from this, so I'm going to try the most natural path and respect my body's warning signs. Wish me luck!

      I agree about green horses. A little bit every day will make great progress. The addition of new things is very wise!

  5. Wow, that would be scary! Glad it turned out alright for you and hopefully you'll decide on the best route for yourself. I know nothing of that condition, but I do have a niece who had a pacemaker put in while in her early 40's. She had no choice because her heart would just periodically stop beating and she'd pass out. Not good.
    Those steep kinds of trails never bothered me when I rode Kadie. I trusted her completely, and she never, ever put a foot wrong. However...that doesn't mean that accidents can't and won't happen. That's why they call them accidents, and horses are not immune from having them. They don't mean to step off the edge, nor would they choose to step off the edge, but it absolutely happens. Working for a horse veterinarian, we see and hear about all sorts of accidents. I was always taught when traversing a steep cliff like the one shown in the picture, it's a very good thing to look up the trail and up the hillside, never down. Where your gaze goes, your body "english" follows, and so does your horse. Always up, never down. It helps to keep a slight bit of upward tension/shoulder lift on the outside rein as well. You never want to pull on the inside rein because that usually causes some resistance in your horse. It's the opposite of what you'd likely do in a panic situation, which is why practicing the outside rein/shoulder lift is a good thing to develop into habit. Outside rein being the sheer drop side. That's how I was taught, and I understand the reasoning behind it, but it did take some practice for it to feel comfortable for me, having a fear of heights. At this point in my riding life though, if I have a choice of just avoiding those trails, that's what we do. I have nothing to prove to anyone, not even myself. No trail ride is worth getting myself, or my horse hurt. I could never forgive myself if my horse fell down a steep cliff and broke a leg and had to be shot. Talk about ruining a good ride.
    Good work with Bee! Eagle stops and backs up when he doesn't want to go forward too. Depending on the situation, it can get scary, but I've never gotten off, unless he completely refuses to go, and then I have to lead him on down the trail and re-mount later again. I hate that! Looking forward to the day when he stops that bad habit.

  6. Yes, you are absolutely right about the outside rein--sheer drop side. I constantly give that little tugs to communicate to her. I keep my eyes forward on the trail ahead. Leah looks up and over to the non-cliff side, as if she's expecting something to jump down on her. She does it on every riverside cliff--possibly avoiding the water. Who knows. Another thing an English rider told me to do a long time ago--she was a friend who always rode the trails with me before I moved to Spokane--she said raise your hands up and get centered, but if you're going to lean, lean toward the cliff, not away. The horse has to balance you. So, if you're leaning away from the cliff in fear, the horse will lean toward the cliff for balance. Backing up is a scary thing--any evasion is. As you know, I don't see any problem with getting off, as long as you get back on. It hasn't set my horses back a bit--so far. I used to get off to lead Leah through the large puddles that ran across the trails--now she just plows through them. There's lots of things she does without me getting off. But I did it initially to keep fights for escalating. Most horses want to do the thing you're asking--if they can.

  7. Holy moley girl, what a scary episode with your heart! I'm glad they caught the cause of it, being informed is important in deciding how you want to deal with it. I think I'd probably avoid the surgery too and look for a more natural route.
    I have no problem with training in small increments and in getting off the horse -to stay safe, and to allow the horse to learn something without scaring the heck out of him or him losing his confidence. Remember Kai? I had to do that with him, just go slow, and build his confidence and trust. And he's a rock star now.
    I think it's important to have control and softness in every part of the horse's body, and to build conditioned responses to your aids so that in troubling situations they will just revert you their body memory and it overrides their fear. Really important for tails like that is control of the rib cage. The lifting of the outside rein, as you said, which lifts and bends the ribs away from the rein and leg keeps the horse balanced away from the drop off. A good prop for working on narrow trails is the narrow bridge like they use for cowboy challenge courses. Start with only a few inches off the ground and work up to a couple of feet off the ground, and you can start with a 2 ft wide bridge and go down to about 1 ft. wide. I'd sure love to try one of Mark Bolender's courses. I'd love to have a horse that would do that, actually! Rosalee isn't quite what I need for trail riding, so I am hoping that Mesa will eventually become my dream horse.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.