What's In a Warmblood by Marian Michalson

Lady Killer xx

Lady Killer xx

How many “In Search Of” ads do you see these days stating “warmbloods only. No thoroughbred or thoroughbred crosses? Is a warmblood with thoroughbred blood automatically worth less, just because it is a tb cross? Can a thoroughbred cross be registered with a warmblood registry full verband, or is it limited to ‘B’ book? What is in your warmblood?

A warmblood is a medium built horse that originated in Europe. Each region developed horses to do the necessary job of the times. Their characteristics aligned with the jobs they were needed for, such as to work fields, clear logs, drive carriages, and carry solders in war. As technology advanced, horses were used less for work, and more for sport. The warmblood was lightened and refined to produce more agile horses with more suspension and scope. The thoroughbred was frequently used to create and improve today’s warmbloods. Some of the most influential stallions in jumping pedigrees (read “foundation stallions”) are indeed thoroughbred and include Furioso xx, Cottage Son xx, Rantzau xx, Lady Killer xx, and Lucky Boy xx. If you see “xx” on your horse’s pedigree, it indicates thoroughbred blood. Today’s modern warmbloods are still heavily influenced by thoroughbred blood and should all be considered thoroughbred crosses. Hippomundo is an excellent source for finding out exactly how much thoroughbred your warmblood possesses.

Chacco Blue

Chacco Blue

If you study the list of the top show jumping sires in the world, the amount of blood might surprise you. Chacco Blue topped the sire list for 2017. He is a Meckelenburg warmblood born in 1998. Full warmblood right? He has 48.44 % thoroughbred. He is almost HALF thoroughbred. Second on the list for 2017 (and leading sire in 2015 and 2016) is Diamant de Semilly. He has 42.88 percent thoroughbred blood. Interestingly, 5 of the top 10 Show Jumping stallions have over 40% blood including Coronet Obolensky, Casall Ask, and Kashmir Van’t Schuttershof. How awesome is that?

Stedinger

Stedinger

Ok, we can see how the light, agile, athletic thoroughbred would be a positive influence for a show jumper, but what about the dressage horse? Of the top 10 dressage stallions in the 2017 world rankings, 5 have over 30% thoroughbred blood. Stedinger had the highest amount at 40.34, followed by De Niro, Don Frederico, Sir Donnerhall, and Sandro Hit with over 30 percent. The thoroughbred added suspension, heart, and a competitive spirit. They also have a fantastic work ethic, stamina, and muscle tone.

Obviously the thoroughbred is more accepted into the eventing world, with two full tb’s in the top 10 sire ranks with Master Imp xx and Heraldik xx, and Jaguar Mail at 80.86.

Creedence

Creedence

You could try the argument that those stallions are old, and are now being crossed with warmblood mares to lower the tb blood, in order to produce the extremely athletic jumper of today. Again, this is not the case as breeders understand the NEED for blood in order to be competitive in the highly demanding international courses now built. Lets look at the current top 10 show jumpers currently in the USA. Eddie Blue with Devon Ryan tops the list. He would be considered 1/3 TB. Second is Creedence ridden by Kent Ferrington. Creedence is over half thoroughbred, carrying 51.74 percent blood. Again, 5 of the top 10 show jumpers in the United States today boast over 40% thoroughbred blood including Hester, Coach, Breitling LS, and Confu.

Quit Easy

Quit Easy

Right, but too much thoroughbred makes hunters too hot. Maybe not. Of the current leading high performance hunters with an easily accessible pedigree (apparently, it’s fashionable to omit bloodlines from hunters in the states), Flamingo K carries 40.98 % thoroughbred blood, and Cassico has 49.45%. The leading hunter producer is currently Quite Easy, who turns out is a higher percentage of thoroughbred than any of the leading show jumping and dressage sires at 53.03%.

Hard To Read by Alphabet Soup X Little Missouri

Hard To Read by Alphabet Soup X Little Missouri

The next time you are looking for a young prospect or competition horse, don’t shy away from the tb blood, embrace it, as we have. All warmbloods are crosses. It is in fact, desirable. In the United States, we have some of the absolute best thoroughbred blood in the world. It would be a waste not to infuse some of it into our future sport horses. Luckily, at Michalson Farm, we have held on to some great tb broodmares from our racing program, who also contain top tb sport horse lines, to produce some fantastic warmblood athletes. Check out some of our offspring at www.michalsonfarm.com.













The Ups and Downs, and Ups Again by Marian Michalson

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    It was love at first sight.  I was in Germany with a group of like minded friends graciously carting me around while I shopped for a new horse.  We were on our way to an International Student Rider Nations Cup when we stopped in at a training barn I had visited in the past.  Out came a little 4yo mare. She was a rose grey at the bright pink stage with a lot of presence and spirit.  After watching her jump, quick off the ground, tight and careful, tail swishing and a bit fiesty, I hopped on.  She felt like she could easily jump a big track one day and passed the liver pool test (yay, she jumps liverpools!). I was sold, she was sold, she would be my Grand Prix prospect. A horse I would keep for myself this time around.

      Coretta's career in the States, unfortunately, started off rocky. I could tell she always wanted to be good, I could feel it in her. She was a little spooky at home but always ready to work. Away from home was another story. The sounds, sights, and high energy sent her into a panic. She would buck, bolt, freeze, rear, and spook at everything. We became "that" person in the schooling ring. I was lucky if we could make it through the start line in the show ring, and chances were slim we'd make it around the course cleanly (though the jumps themselves didn't bother her).  

     We spent the next year going to local shows, and entering in 2' or 2'6 hunter classes, feeding her treats in the ring every time we made it in. She calmed down a bit, but it was still always difficult. If she could walk and trot both ways around the ring before jumping, she was better. Then she had a panic episode at home.  She jumped sideways, reared up, spun me off, then remained out of control when I got back on.  I knew we were at the breaking point where I could ruin her forever, and needed to figure out how to fix things. I took her to a highly respected team of trainers in Florida who start horses under saddle, fix "problem" horses, and teach and train hunter/jumpers (Colts & Company). This is when we really learned how to communicate and trust each other. We both gained a lot of confidence from the experience. Things were improving but there continued to be a lot of tension and nerves.  

     In the early fall of 2015, Coretta had an episode of Uvitis in her right eye. While treating it, I started thinking about all of the times her eyes were a little watery, or she squinted in the sun. I had shrugged it off as allergies, and plain sensitivity to the bright sun (I mean I squint too). She frequently wore a fly mask, and I had tried to keep her out of bright, dusty conditions.  It had never occurred to me she might have something seriously wrong.  A couple of months after that I noticed a color change in her eye and took her in to be seen.  The diagnoses was end stage moon blindness due to Equine Recurant Uvitis leaving her 99% blind in her right eye.  This was an incredibly scary diagnosis for me to hear. I felt like I had let her down.  She had been trying to tell me for so long! And I missed it! And what did this mean for her future? Was it over?

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     At least I had an answer and could start to understand her behavior.  It really helped moving forward and we trusted each other more and more.  It didn't take long, however, for the vision problems to start affecting her jumping.  We were no longer on the same page picking a distance. She started having problems seeing be back rail of the oxers and judging the width.  She began backing off and hesitating at the jumps, and I no longer felt safe to jump her.  That's when a friend suggested I cover her eye.  We did, and immediately jumped 100% better.  She also seemed to be getting headaches, or just uncomfortable all the time.  I called Mid Rivers that week to schedule an enucleation.  Instead, they recommended injecting the eye with a toxic dose of gentamicin, essentially killing the nerves and taking away any slight vision she may have still had.  The next day she was bright eyed, happy, and much less spooky! I felt we were finally on the right track.  

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    About 6 weeks after injecting her right eye, I walked out to the the barn to find her having a uvitis episode in her other eye.  Panicked, I took her back to the vet.  They confirmed the worst.  She in fact has Equine Recurant Uvitis in her left eye.  While there were some lesions visible on the retina, she seemes to have full vision.  We decided her best chance of staying visual was surgery. 

      On March 14, 2016, Coretta was in the capable hands of the Mid Rivers Equine veterinary team while I was at work, quietly freaking out that she was being put under General Anesthesia. They had flown in an opthomology specialist to assist in implanting a slow release cyclosporine disc into her left eye.  The disc delivers the medication for 3-5 years to prevent the eye from attacking itself.  The procedure was sucessful and a giant sigh of relief. Shortly after her surgery, I ended up having surgery on my hip.  Since I was going to be out for awhile, we went ahead and bred her.  

     On March 11, almost a full year after her surgery, she gave birth to her colt Masterpiece.  She handled being a mother with one blind eye really well.  Masterpiece learned to stay on her left side...until his independent streak took over.  I waited not so patiently for Coretta to raise her foal so I could ride her again and test out her eyes.  

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   In August 2017 Coretta weaned her colt and started back under saddle after about a year and a half hiatus.  She was relieved. I was relieved by how well she was coping and how ridable she was.  She was soft on the flat, and schooling confidently over fences. She was a whole new horse!  I took her to a show in November, and to my amazement, she walked right in and jumped around! I might have cried. On March 10th and 11th 2018, almost two years exactly from her surgery and one year exactly from foaling, I took Coretta to another show.  Again, she warmed up incredibly relaxed and soft, walked in the ring she hadn't jumped in in 4 years, and through the weekend won 3 out of 4 classes.  She offered all of the inside turns, sliced jumpes, and never had a rail.  It might not have been a Grand Prix, but it might as well have been as proud as I was of her.  Onward and upward!

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All I could think of was how amazing it feels that she is so willing to jump around for me and how much we have been through to get here (I didn't even mention the new career starting during this time).  I started thinking about all of the people who have been instrumental in helping us get through all of the downs to reach this high! And I'm excited about what is yet to come. 

Thanks especially to all of the Coulters for the training, her eye vet Dr. Ellis, her repro vets at Equine Medical, Jeannine keeping me positive, Daniella for helping us through the hardest part of her ERU to date, and of course my parents for the support and making sure Coretta gets everything she needs.  

 

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Working in Winter by Marian Michalson

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     January brought us random days of freezing cold weather, wind, and abnormally warm days. Bartletts work schedule has been sporadic at best.  He has become quite fond of his girlfriend Coretta, even though KC continually reminds Bart that she's his. 

     Bart began the month with a new set of shoes. The goal is to gradually bring the break over back and grow out some heel so mechanics are more suitable for jumping. He has some heel pain contributing to muscle sorness, but the new shoes have helped. Bart is also getting adaquan to keep his joints happy.

     Most of his muscle tension has been in the base of his neck which is plenty apparent in the trot. He holds his head straight up, has trouble bending, and has a slightly uneven gait. Adding lunging aids only made him brace harder, as it's more a physical issue than a training issue. I have scrapped those for the forseeable future. He had a PEMF treatment a week and a half ago and the results were amazing! It took a couple of days, but he was able to move with a more relaxed, even gait, soft and bending to the inside.  That lasted for about 4 days. He's still better than he was before the PEMF, so he is scheduled for another treatment in a few days. 

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     As far as his training goes, he is coming right along! He thinks I ask him to do silly things, but he always does them anyway. Walk/trot/canter, circles, figure 8s, surpentines, and halts.  He trots and canters poles on the ground, even when I can't for the life of me place him well to the first one. He also recently jumped his first cross rail! He's still working on turn on the forehand and haunches, leg yields and side passes. All of this had been in the soft rope halter. I'll probably transition to a bridle next month, but I wanted to make sure he wouldn't be tempted to lean on a bit while he learns his new job. 

     Here's a quick video. I can't seem to upload to YouTube without losing a ton of quality. I could really use a pixio to use with a quality camera! If anyone wants to donate to that fund, I would sure be grateful. 

 

From Being Ponied To Being The Pony. by Marian Michalson

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     Winter has finally hit. With the wind chill at -3, my weather app informs me there will be a "cold wave" coming this weekend. Are we not already in the middle of a cold wave? It's a good thing I don't live further north anymore. 

    Before this miserable chill fully took hold, Bartletts added "pony" to his repertoire of skills. Annie had just turned six, and like all of my favorite children not related to me, she likes to play with horses. She's taken some lessons on perfect little ponies in the area, but non of my horses were safe enough for her to ride. That is until Bart stepped off the trailer. 

     In just a few short weeks, Bart has become more and more relaxed walking around the ring, trotting over a series of poles, and practicing his lateral work and bending. So far he has just been ridden in a rope halter and taking it slow while his body heals from racing. Giving a pony ride seemed like a good, low stress activity to keep Bart mentally stimulated. 

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     I offered for a fellow equine friend to bring her daughter out to ride Bart. "Bart?!" she exclaimed. Even her non horsey husband had enough sense to question a fresh off the track long time racehorse as a kid safe candidate, but gave in. Annie came out ready to groom, pulling up a step stool so she could reach his back. Bart happily stood with one leg cocked while she practiced following the direction of the hair with her brush. She also gave a valiant effort picking out his feet and he stayed perfectly still. 

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     Once Bart was tacked up, Annie grabbed the reins and headed out to the arena. She was more interested in leading him around than getting on. She took a couple of laps around the ring leading him over the poles. Her ground work game will be strong! Once on, Bart was a good teacher. He would get a little tense when she held her breath, and would relax with his head down when she relaxed. I think this is always an important lesson for the kids to learn quickly, and it's much easier to learn when there is a safe yet tangible difference in the horse. Horse and rider were happiest while Annie practiced her two-point over poles. She is clearly meant to be a jumper rider! When she was adequately frozen in the 30 degree weather, Annie slid down. Bart turned his head asking for a pet and Annie happily obliged. 

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     Not too many horses will go from being ponied at the track for close to 12 years to taking care of a kid a month later, but add Bartletts to the list. He's finally not begging to work everyday, and the arctic blast gives me a good excuse not to make him. 

 

 

Feeling Lucky by Marian Michalson

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     While heading out to the barn today I was bombarded with intense gusts of wind.  After spending two and a half years in South Dakota, instead of being used to strong wind, it just makes me crazy.  And the horses, wind makes horses crazy.  After cleaning stalls and supplying each one with a leafy green flake of alfalfa for later, I walked out to check on the herd.  They all had an extra bit of electricity in their spirit evident by the squealing, snorting, and high tailing around. 

     It didn't take long to notice a strap on the blanket Bart is borrowing from KC had come undone.  Like a responsible horse owner, I leaned into the wind, shut my eyes, and walked over to Bart to fix his blanket.  I hadn't brought a lead rope with me and i was pretty confident that KC would try to chase him off when I got close.  I chanced it.  I imagine it would have been pretty comical to watch as I climbed under him trying to catch the strap flapping around while simultaneously trying to keep KC back and begging Bart not to kill me.  Bart braved KC's mean face and the bite of the wind, until my head was out of harms way and his blanket was buckled up.  

     This is just one of the many examples so far that makes me feel like I lucked out buying a horse off of a simple trot video.  It only took Bart a couple of days to warm up to me, and show me his exceptionally kind personality and character on top of his already professional behavior.  Even when I ask him to do something out of his comfort level, he is able to work through it and seems to appreciate the learning process.  He is a class act to be around.  I could have just as easily ended up with a grumpy old man. 

     On the syllabus for Bartletts' first week so far included learning to lunge at the walk, trot, and over poles.  The poles proved to be difficult for him.  He was pretty sure there shouldn't be anything in his path.  I rotated through leading him over the poles, to sending him over in the lateral lunge at the walk and trot.  I also lunged him at the trot avoiding the poles to help him settle and go forward on the circle.  In the video you can see how he has trouble right now adjusting his step to the pole.  He had more trouble with the pole near the fence almost as if there was a touch of claustrophobia.  He improved when I pulled the pole away from the fence.  I found it tough staying behind him to keep him forward, while staying at his shoulder enough to push him out on the circle.  A few times he jumps in towards me to avoid the pole.  I am definitely in need of practice to improve my timing and instincts.  When I lost the ability to send him forward, I went back and practiced without the poles.  After doing this, I was able to keep him forward while standing more at his shoulder, pushing him out and over the pole.  Repeating the exercise at the walk after putting on the pressure allows Bart to absorb what he learned. I was very happy where we ended.  We both improved, my technique and his willingness, without ever getting upset.  I need to be more definite in the halts and direction changes while still being careful with his joints.  

     

 

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     Another skill I want Bart to develop under saddle that is usually lacking in their race training is to move away from the leg.  I have found it extremely helpful to introduce new concepts to the horse from the ground so they are more easily understood from their backs.  To start I used a dressage whip.  After making sure he's not scared of it, I put pressure on his butt in a way that as soon as he moves away from the pressure, the whip drops as an instant reward.  As he becomes more sensitive to the pressure, I move my way up to just behind the girth on both sides.  I then drop the whip and use the stirrup iron and ask for the same. As time goes on I expect him to actually step under and over with the hind leg.  Instead of fully rewarding just a weight shift or a half attempt to move over like I had at the beginning, I'll only release the pressure partially so he knows he has the right idea, and then immediately reapply until he steps under and over.  

     The next time he works I think I will go ahead and get on him.  So yeah, I'm feeling lucky.  

Working Horse by Marian Michalson

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     I wasn't planing on writing again so soon, but circumstances as they are prompted me to get started with the first day of retraining. Anybody who knows a grandparent who retired from their job but refuses to quit working, can understand Bartletts' mindset. He is a working horse and working horses Don't sit idle. 

   Just 24 hours after arriving, Bart was practically begging to get out and work. In the afternoon I decided to go ahead and take him out to get to know him. I bought him sight unseen off of a brief trot video as many people do, so I was anxious to figure out more about him.  

     I started off with just leading him around the ring with a rope halter and a yacht rope line. I did some walk, halt, back transitions and while he complied, he wasn't really with me. He has probably never worked by himself with as many horses as there are on the backside.  

     Next, I wanted to see if I could send him away from me into a lateral lunge. I have no idea if he had ever been lunged, but it's best to just assume he had not. This way, there would be no expectations and everyone learns. I concentrated on keeping my energy as quiet as possible while explaining to him where I wanted him to go. Horses who have only been led on the left side struggle with understanding how to move off to the right. They would much rather keep you in their left eye. Think of it as trying to mount from the right. It just feels wrong and unsafe. Keep encouraging them to move off, staying in their right eye, and they will become comfortable. 

 

In the video (excuse my attire, the wind chill was 17) you can see how when he is uncomfortable or unsure of what I'm asking, he looks for support elsewhere calling to the other horses or traveling with his head up looking away. The more he understands the exercise, the more he relaxes his head down, and bends his body around. He starts to keep an ear on me. A few times in the video I ask him to put his head down manually. A horse who lowers his head, also relaxes his mind and body. I will also put his head up for two reasons. One, it is easier to get him to drop his head slightly if I raise it above his comfort level. Him dropping his head slightly gives me a chance to release the pressure as a reward. I'm then able to get it even lower as he figures out the que. secondly, when I have put his head low, I will raise it to his comfort level before he raises it on his own. He will learn to wait to lift his head until I tell him. This will make bridling easier for my short self. 

  Next I worked on "siding up."  I am 5' tall and had hip surgery. I'm not very flexible. Getting on from even a mounting block is hard. I teach mine to side up to the fence so I can gently ease into the saddle. I highly recommend this method when starting horses under saddle. There are a lot less fireworks sitting on them from the fence than leaping on them from a mounting block.   

  The premiss here is to annoy the horse to get his feet to move. I bounce the line, sometimes adding energy but never yanking, until he moves his hind feet towards the fence. The timing of the release of pressure is important. If you keep bumping after he has moved a hind foot toward the rail, the horse will think he got the answer wrong and try different answers eventually getting frustrated. In the video, you will see if I feel stuck I will sometimes reward any foot moving, or a weight shift in the right direction, but these pauses are briefer than a full step with the hind end. The video is raw, uncut beginning to end. I'd say he's a pretty quick learner! 

    We ended the session with more leading walk, halt, back transitions. This time he was very much with me, the difference was amazing. I won't bore you with this video unless requested. His eye was soft, his head was down, and his body was relaxed. The work certainly settled his mind.  I will repeat this same ground work in the days to come. 

 

 

The Journey Begins by Marian Michalson

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     After spending all afternoon and night worrying about my new horse on his journey away from the race track, a trailer finally pulled up to the barn right as the sun cleared the horizon. Bartletts stepped off the back unscathed and unperturbed. He took a few minutes to greet the herd of mares vying for his attention, then calmly walked to his stall for a little roll and some hay. 

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     The idea of the Retired Racehorse Project has always lit a little excitement in me. I've reschooled my family's thoroughbreds since I was 11 starting with City Lights. Unfortunately my last two racehorses had too many rides on them to qualify. I've never had a horse or the time for the RRP.  This year I made time, and I found a horse. Fingers crossed I get accepted. 

     In my search for a candidate, I was obviously looking for a resale prospect as I already have far too many horses (babies and broodmares).  I wanted something 16.2 or bigger, solid build, between 3-6 years old with clean X-rays. I've always steered away from anything older as I found their body and balance are set in their ways. We contacted all of our racing connections and I scoured the Internet. That's when Bartletts' photo popped up on my newsfeed. After looking up his name on equibase I sighed and said "he's too old."  I asked for a video anyway and was completely blown away! This horse still had plenty of presence and heart left.  I delved deeper into his race record and was impressed with how consistently he performed on the track.  He raced steadily for 10 years with no long breaks totaling 23 wins in 111 starts and earning just under half a million.  That means he is not only sound, but professional.  I quickly sent the money, no longer concerned with a resale. 

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While Bartletts was relaxing in his stall for the morning, I threw the Back On Track sheet on him, grinning at the irony. After 17 hours on the trailer, he deserves a little muscle therapy. After awhile I decided to turn him out next to his future buddy, a TB gelding we bred, raced, and restarted named Kansas City Slew. I fully expected this horse, who has spent his life on the track, to go galloping around and squealing at the fence line. Nope. Bartletts walked around, rolled, said hi to KC, then went on his way grazing, totally chill.  

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     I think Bartletts will fit right in here.  I'm excited to get the opportunity to see what this special horse wants to do next!  

 

Finding Balance by Marian Michalson

Photo by Jennifer Keiser. George Morris demonstrating releases with me and Belvue Ben.  

Photo by Jennifer Keiser. George Morris demonstrating releases with me and Belvue Ben.  

So I recently made somewhat of an irrational decision. I quit my full time job and took a PRN gig with no guaranteed hours. And I did this with full awareness that winter is coming. Why? Life is short and I need to find a balance.  

Let's rewind. Since graduating highschool in 2004, most of my time was spent in the horse industry. I did a few stints as a working student which I considered at the time "college" of sorts. A trade school if you will. I was able to adress my weaknesses in horsemanship at each place I worked, learning what helped and what hindered the progress of myself and every horse I interacted with. Even the couple of years I spent at an actual University to get my bachelors degree allowed me to be in the saddle just about everyday through the NCAA and IHSA equestrian program. 

Eventually, my lack of marketing skills, people skills and time with my personal horses, as well as suddenly breaking out head to toe in hives every time I rode, drove me to another type of trade school. I became a Surgical Technologist and got my amateur status reinstated.  I loved my career choice and looked forward to being able to afford to just enjoy the horses. No pressure.  

The other me. 

The other me. 

Things don't always work out in the utopia originally planned. While I do love the work, the early mornings and late nights, frequently working on call, got to me. For months out of a year it was dark when I left for work and dark when I got home. The job requires me to be on my feet for almost the entirety of a shift.  It demands that I be vigilant and focused for the patient at all times. My legs are completely worn out by the end of the day spent in the OR (or sometimes into the next morning) and my brain was mush.  Riding or working horses after work seemed impossible.   A George Morris quote that has always resonated is, "you're either training or untraining your horse."  I certainly don't want to "untrain" because I'm not physically or mentally sharp. I ended up hiring a great employee, Anna Gaffney to help handle and work all of my horses while I was scrubbing cases at the hospital. Knowing the horses were being handled and trained to my standard made me feel better for awhile. 

Anna Gaffney playing with the babies.

Anna Gaffney playing with the babies.

But wait, why was I working so many hours, just so I could pay someone else to train? This realization came to a head when I was preparing for the George Morris clinic. When I started riding Coretta again after she was weaned from her colt 6 weeks before the clinic, I got a rude awakening. I was weak. Everything hurt when I rode her. No stirrups was suddenly (or not so suddenly) near impossible and I was jumped loose over crossrails. Riding a made horse and riding a 3yo turned out to be two very different things. My inability to ride often coupled with the long hiatus before and after my hip surgery had drained me of my skill and strength and left me somewhat embarrassed and partially resentful. The main thing I have always been pretty good at was disappearing. 

I realize I'm in my 30s. If I don't get my skills back up now,  I likely never will. Only riding once or twice a week at best is not going to fix anything. So I quit my job. I'm looking forward to the flexibility to ride and show again. I don't think I could be happy totally giving up on a Surgical Tech career, as that is definitely my second calling. I need to be able to do both. 

Here's to balance! 

Coretta and I working to put the many pieces back together.  

Coretta and I working to put the many pieces back together.