Sunday, July 27, 2014

Helmet Head

Any rider can vividly remember a few "Oh shit..." moments. 

I had one of those on Saturday. I was on a lovely ride with friends, Harlan was being EXCELLENT, and then we decided to pick up the pace a little bit. 

At Acadia I had the opportunity to take Harlan out one evening with my friend TJ and his spitfire of a mare and gallop around the carriage trails. It was SO MUCH fun, I couldn't wait to repeat the performance.

This time however, my saddle kept slipping so I was having trouble staying balanced. I tried to adjust mid-canter and spooked Harlan, which completely unseated me.

I hit the ground HARD, and apparently skidded. I completely knocked the wind out of myself, which is never a fun experience. I kept pretty calm, knowing that my breath would eventually come back but I made some weird-ass wheezes in the meantime. 

Harlan calmed down almost instantaneously once I got back to him. Poor guy, it wasn't his fault at all. The whole saddle was twisted onto his side, so I resaddled him and got back on. He wasn't jacked up like I thought he might be, but I ended up dismounting and walking back because my shoulder wasn't up to holding the reins and my ribs weren't happy being jostled.

The right side of my back is one big road rash and I had a pretty gnarly headache before the ibuprofen kicked in, but I'm moving considerably well today.

I am so grateful for my helmet, may it rest in peace. Saturday's hard landing would have been disastrous if I hadn't been wearing my helmet. Ol' Greenie took the skids and broke in a couple places so my skull didn't have to.

There used to be a visor on the front.
When I first started taking lessons I had to wear a helmet and I didn't mind. But as I got older and teen-ier, I thought I looked like SUCH a dork.  Plus Tanner was so reliable and I wasn't really prone to bombing around the fields so I thought I didn't need it (despite falling off Tanner mid-canter when he tripped).

As soon as I could get away with it, I stopped wearing a helmet. Lots of people I rode with didn't wear helmets, and I was on a Steady Eddy...I felt incredibly safe on Tanner and wanted to feel the wind in my hair.

I picked back up wearing a helmet when I brought Tanner up to Maine and started to teach my boyfriend at the time to ride. I made him wear a helmet so I wore one too, and Lupine Farm's riders all wore helmets.  Then once I started on my journey to find my second horse I wore a helmet because I couldn't automatically trust each horse.

Now it's become such a habit that it's automatic. That habit won't be broken any time soon especially since I've taken air a few times this year. 


In other news:

- I'm still on a high from last weekend's Acadia ride. We rode 22 miles over three days and Harlan was a superstar.

My favoritest picture from the trip.
- Tanner was diagnosed with vitamin E deficiency so he's been on supplements for a few weeks and already looks LOADS better. This was one of the best case scenarios because it has a clear cut solution.

- I had a surprise visit today from my aunt and uncle! Part of the Wisconsin clan, they were in Boston for a wedding and decided to swing north, which was a lovely surprise.

- The dogs and I found a delightful spot on the river about a 5 minute drive from the farm. The pups don't like to swim but they will wade to about belly-deep. At this little canoe/kayak launch the river is knee-deep almost all the way across so the dogs will come in.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

To Be, Or Not To Be [A Vet]

Life decisions are hard. Blargh!

I've oscillated like a fan back and forth, back and forth, back and forth between vet school and vet tech school. Because writing is therapeutic to me, I am subjecting you all to my state of mind. Mwuhahaha!

1. Shorter and easier schooling
2. More time for my own animals
3. Less responsibility meaning I can do more hobby stuff
4. I don't have to move

1. 3 years of additional school to make less money than I do now
2. Will I chafe under somebody else's authority?
3. If I do this then decide I really do want to be a vet, I'm 3 years behind and lots of money in debt
4. Will I always regret not trying and finding out if being a vet is what I want to do?

1. Reach my full potential?
2. Be called Dr.
3. More responsibility/authority
4. Make more money

1. Really really really hard classes
2. What if I do all the hard classes and then find out I don't actually want to be a vet?
3. Most vets I know don't have much time for their own animals...lots of on-call time
4. Vets don't actually make all that much money (starting salary is ~$45,000)
5. I have to move

I had finally reached the decision to do vet tech school because I thought it was a reasonable step towards figuring out what I want to do. I was accepted to the program and was all warm and fuzzy inside when a wrench was thrown in. I had assumed that because I already have a bachelor's degree that I would be able to complete the vet tech program in 1.5 to 2 years.

Not so.

Because there is a two-semester bio course of mammalian anatomy and physiology (and I've just taken mere human physio and anatomy) that is the pre-requisite for ALL vet tech classes, it would be a full year before I could take any of the actual vet tech courses. This would have me doing the full 3 year program.

Three years is a long time for an associate's degree and a job that will pay less than I currently make.

And what if I do it and realize that dammit I DO want to be a vet after all?! I would be 3 years behind and have that much debt to add on to at least 1 year of pre-requisites and the 4 years of vet school.

But then what if I take awfully hard classes for an excruciating 4 years of vet school to come out on the other side and realize that dammit I DON'T want to be a vet after all?!

Am I chickening out again because moving, the classes, etc seem too daunting?

Do I want to be a vet purely for the Dr. in front of my name and the superiority complex it would give me?

There is a real struggle in me between feeling like I need to achieve the VERY BEST and anything below that is basically failure, and knowing that I want to be able to spend time trail riding, MMSAR, etc.

My dad is a doctor, which was a double-edged sword growing up. On the one hand we had everything we ever wanted and could afford to travel and have horses. And on the other my dad wasn't home very much and when he was, he was often on call.

As much as I would like to have it all (i.e. lots of moolah and lots of time off), I know I can't.

My siblings are all very smart, very high-achieving folks. Their accomplishments include having a doctorate in psychology, being a mechanical engineer, and working towards a doctorate in neuroscience.  While I am incredibly proud of them, it's a lot to live up to. 

So I'm fighting feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and settling if I go for vet tech school.

But going to vet school just because I feel like I should isn't a good reason to go.

But will I regret not trying?


Any and all thoughts would be appreciated.

And to end on a positive note...."Ma'am, there's a lemur on your baby."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Insider's Look: MMSAR - The Horse's Advantage

The unit got a notification of standby Monday evening for a search in Waterford, only an hour and a half from me. My first search, and so soon after certification!

Harlan and I reported at 0700 Tuesday morning at the Waterford Fire Station to help the Maine Warden Service look for a 77-year-old woman who had gone missing after her usual morning walk.

See here for my previous post on what the search structure is like in Maine.

Three other horse/riders were able to go as well, and Harlan and I were teamed with Sharon and her gelding Zephyr. After checking in at Command Post and getting our assignments downloaded onto our GPS units, we trailered to our search area, tacked up, and headed out. Our directive was to ride the roads and any promising trails.

Unfortunately we had only been searching for 45 minutes to an hour when Zephyr's back legs got caught up in a cable. Nothing too disastrous occurred but it was definitely the end of Sharon and Zephyr's search. The other horse team was in the middle of nowhere so I wasn't able to meet up with them so I also had to call it a day.

I'm actually kind of grateful we had a short day. It was HOT. Both Harlan and I were soaked in sweat just standing around. It was a good, short, sweaty introduction to searching.  Harlan did great, Zephyr is doing fine, and the woman we were searching was found alive. Nothing gets better than that.


You may be asking, "Why use horses while searching? Aren't ATVs faster? Don't dogs do a better job of searching stuff out? Isn't using ground searchers easier? It's really just some horse-crazy girls on ponies, right?"

Horse teams have multiple advantages. Mounted searching is not better or worse than any other method, it just provides a different service.

One ear is pointed forward towards the crazy lady
taking pictures, while one ear is cocked
back towards the scary tarp and suspicious dog.

1. As prey animals, horses are constantly on the lookout for things that don't belong. They will pick up on hidden deer and birds and people (and horse-eating rocks of course) on the trail way before we do. So we take advantage of their prey animal mindset to help us look for a missing person.

Horses have superb hearing through ears that can swivel independently up to 180 degrees, a broad field of vision, excellent night vision, and a great sense of smell. They can alert us with a rapid halt, snorting, snapping up their head, both ears intensely focused on one particular thing, and/or of course spooking or shying away from something.

Any kind of rider will at least pay partial attention to their horse's body language. You never know when a horse-eating leaf might blow across your path!

Mounted SAR riders hone that skill to utilize the most out of our search partners. We "look where the horses look" for clue detection.

Here's a great example from the previous search. See if you can spot anything in this picture:

Anything? Neither of the two riders would have noticed what was "wrong" if their horses hadn't alerted them to it.

2. Another advantage of using an experienced horse team is horses will pick out the best paths for them so the rider can concentrate on looking off the path. Harlan and I are still working on this
aspect since he's more concerned with being close to the other horse than going in the general direction I point him, but for more confident teams this is a great asset.

3. Being on horseback provides a different vantage point. Our eyes are located about 8' off the ground, higher than both ATV riders and ground searchers. Having different types of searchers at different eye levels can help pick up things that might otherwise be overlooked.

4. Horses are a type of transportation that are quiet so riders can listen, but can also cover ground quickly as needed. Plus we can pack a lot of equipment onto them!

It's not just cats who find Harlan's
big mug adorable.

5. Some types of lost people might find horses more approachable than "just" a human. Kids and folks with mental disabilities may be more apt to come out if a horse or dog is involved.

Mounted SAR horse/rider teams are certified together, meaning I can't just take someone else's certified horse if Harlan is benched for some reason. As I alluded to in my last post, certification is a rigorous process to make sure both human and horse have a strong partnership.

Our horses really are partners and we're trained to use them as such. The Maine Warden Service is starting to utilize us more and more, and I'm glad Harlan and I can both be part of this.

I borrowed liberally from MMSAR's website so if you'd like more information, please check it out.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


So.....certification. Hang tight, this is a long, text-heavy one.
Although I had mostly decided that I wouldn't put Tanner's legs through the stress of certification/searches, I waffled all the way up to Saturday morning whether to take him or Harlan.

Harlan has been doing much better since I switched cinches and took him to the chiropractor. But I had lost confidence in my riding ability since I had fallen off 3 times this spring, including the week prior to certification (that one was completely my fault)...maybe I just sucked at riding. What if Harlan spooked at certification and I fell off? EMBARRASSING.

I pumped my friend for information. Here's my conversation with my brother about it:

Oh the foreshadowing...

My friend and our unit training officer both reassured me that it was okay if Harlan spooked, they were looking more at how we worked together.

In the end I did take Harlan and I'm glad I did.

We arrived at the Maine Trail Riders Clubhouse around 8:45 and I was very pleasantly surprised to see I wasn't going to be the only one certifying a horse. Shirley and her paint mare Spice decided last minute to certify, for which I am eternally grateful. It took A LOT of the pressure off.

There were two ladies not from our unit serving as judges. They observed Harlan and Spice standing quietly on the trailers, tied to the trailers, and getting tacked up. Then we had to hold our horses while someone zoomed around on a lawn mower and brought a tree trimmer close by. Harlan was a little jumpy which I thought boded ill.

We then went into the outdoor arena where the judges put us through our paces, literally. We had to walk, trot, and canter our horses; Harlan was a little jazzed up and wasn't quite comfortable with the saddle bags on him during the canter. We got a few good strides in though.

Next the judges wanted to test our and our horses' ability to pony and be ponied. Ponying as a verb is Rider A riding Horse A while leading Horse B, possibly with Rider B riding. I had done this with Tanner and Harlan and was fairly confident about it. So we led Spice with Shirley pretending to be incapacitated around the arena.

Then it was Shirley's turn to lead Harlan. I was supposed to have broken my knee in this scenario so I slipped my right foot out of the stirrup and let go of the reins. At this opportune moment Harlan touched Spice's bum with his nose, she kicked him, and he threw a hissy fit. Buckity buck buck buck REEEEAR! Somehow, just somehow, I was able to stay on through it.

A little shaken after that, we continued on although I was sure that we had failed. Someone fired a gun outside of the arena - not a problem. An ambulance drove in the arena with the lights on - piece of cake. The ambulance now outside of the arena turned the sirens on - easy peasy.

I was feeling slightly better when we moved on to the judged portion outside of the arena. One at a time we had to take our horses on a quick loop through the woods. Shirley and Spice went first, leaving a distraught Harlan behind but we survived. When it was our turn, we first had to step on a tarp. No big whoop, Harlan walked across it like a pro. Someone was lying on the ground pretending to be injured. Someone else came crashing out of the woods. My friend came jogging by with her dog. Harlan was fine with all of these, I was so proud.

And then we came to the last little leg of the trail, where someone was using a chainsaw on a tree. There were two path options, so I started to take the one furthest away but the judge observing said to ride as close as possible. Sure, we can do that. Harlan was hesitant but willing.

I was concentrating on getting him past it when I heard someone scream "MOVE!"  I looked up to see the tree falling, almost in slow motion, directly above us. I pulled back on the reins, but it was really Harlan's quick reaction that saved us. He leapt away as the tree crashed down across the path where we had been just seconds before.

I took one breath, looked around, and started sobbing and hyperventilating; shocked at the near miss, feeling like it was my fault, and just the accumulation of the day's events was too much.

Everyone else gathered around, asking if I was okay. The member who had felled the tree was probably as traumatized as me about it; she thought I had seen her hold up a hand signaling to wait. The judge felt terrible that she had instructed me to go as close as possible. Someone else said "Well if you hadn't passed before you've passed now!"

All the meanwhile I was still hyperventilating away, trying to communicate to everyone that really, I was okay, it was just shock. Harlan, seeming to realize that I was not in a good position to be in charge, calmly stood and then walked as someone else led us around. When I slid off, he nosed me as if to say Hay, you okay?

I walked him back to the trailer where I untacked him and got both of us some water. Did I mention that it was like 88 degrees that day?

I would feel like I finally calmed down, and then would think about it and start crying again. And god forbid if anyone came up to ask if I was okay...I'm sure you know how that can set the waterworks off.

We still had some stuff to do, including loading the horses on opposite trailers with a stranger leading them. Spice took a little bit of persuasion to get on my trailer but Harlan walked right onto Shirley's trailer.

And then we were done. The judges went to deliberate and I downed about 50 bottles of water. Our poor president arrived right about then and had the misfortune to ask me how it had gone while I was on my way to get more water for Harlan. My face crumpled and I sobbed out, "You don't want to talk to me right now. Go ask Melissa, I can't explain."

But it wasn't too much longer before I was finally back in complete control of my emotions. The judges came back and announced that we had all passed! Oh happy day!

We had lunch and a MMSAR unit meeting and then everyone else left while Shirley, the training officer Ellen, and I tacked up for the daylight trail ride. Long story short, we rode a hard 10 miles of steep inclines, rocks, mud, and bushwhacking. Back at camp we set up our overnight stuff and waited for night to fall. Then we tacked back up (poor horses, tacked and untacked 3 times that day) and headed back out on the trail. This was a much shorter ride, but it was still rocky and muddy and I couldn't see a damn thing. I tried not to use my flashlight but branches kept whacking me in the face.

I had to keep reminding myself to sit back and relax because I kept tensing forward, clutching the reins. Harlan was a saint...despite the crazy energy I was giving off he calmly and confidently navigated the trail. I high-lined him for the night (strung a rope between two trees and attached his lead rope to that so he could move somewhat) and conked out. In the morning the humans had to do a fitness test and then we loaded up and headed home.

I am glad I brought Harlan for a few different reasons.
  1. One of my favorite things about Tanner is that he doesn't react to things and takes everything in stride. In this instance, that would have killed us or at least seriously injured us. Harlan reacted quickly and safely, pretty much saving my life.
  2. The 10 mile ride would've been really hard on Tanner's legs.
  3. As cheesy as this sounds, it really helped my bond with Harlan. It was a little shaky since we'd been having some problems this spring, but he took care of me when I couldn't take care of either of us.
It's really difficult to put into words my overall feelings about certification. While I'm proud of Harlan and glad we passed, it isn't a positive memory.  There are just too many emotions jumbled up into a tangled ball of feelings-yarn to look back on it comfortably.

I am hoping that I can start to feel excited about finally being a certified horse and rider team. The combination of not being able to certify Tanner and a not-so-great (let's face it, traumatizing) certification experience hit me harder than I would've thought. I had been looking forward to certifying a horse for almost a year and I want to regain a little of what I lost.

On a lighter note, I drove home from work last week in an insane thunderstorm. Traffic was backed up in one of the little towns and I found myself making sure my car wasn't positioned under any of the madly swaying trees.  I will be avoiding trees for a while, methinks!

And I am seriously considering wrapping myself in bubble wrap from now on...I thought I had used up all my luck before but apparently still had some in the bank. Pretty sure that supply is depleted now.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

100th Post!

In honor of the 100th blog post, here are some pictures of things that really wanted to be a part of the Blonde Bomber family.

All applications were denied, although the lunar moth is more than welcome to hang out outside looking pretty and the frog was relocated back to the pond with its brethren. The dobsonfly was asked to leave permanently because GROSS.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Just Another Day as a Hypochondriac

I promise I will write about MMSAR certification, but I'm not ready quite yet.  So instead, I will share my latest neurotic episode!

The vet called around 12:30 pm yesterday and said she wanted to test Tanner for vitamin E deficiency, but the blood she had taken hadn't been prepared properly so since she was in the area, could she come by and take another sample? The prospect of a half day off and not paying a farm call fee sealed the deal.

As I was at home waiting for her to arrive, I suddenly got a bright spot in my vision. You know when you look at something bright, like a flashlight or camera flash, and then you have spots in your vision? Well that's what I had, but I hadn't looked at anything bright and it wasn't fading away like a normal bright spot.

I am severely myopic / nearsighted. If my vision wasn't correctable through contact lenses, glasses, etc I would be considered legally blind. For those of you with contacts, my prescription was -10.00 for both eyes. A year ago I had surgery to insert permanent contact lenses through cataract surgery (that's the simplified version, I'm pretty sure it's not really like that but that's what makes sense to me). It was a huge success, I see 20/20 in both eyes! (I do still have consistent dreams that I can't see without glasses, despite knowing that I had surgery.)

I share that info because I am very familiar with eye doctors. I've seen quite a few. And each one has made sure to warn me about retinal detachment. The general sentiment was "You're at risk for retinal detachment. Watch out for an increase in floaters. If that happens, go to the emergency room or YOU WILL GO BLIND."

So of course when I had this bright spot that wasn't going away and I consulted Dr. Google, it led me to articles on retinal detachment. I am doubly at risk because I have severe myopia and have had cataract-ish surgery. I immediately felt light-headed and started panicking.

I called my eye doctor's answer. Called my regular doctor's office...put on hold for a long time, then they couldn't fit me in that day.

I had just resolved to go to the walk-in clinic when the bright spot went away. Deciding that I was probably okay for the moment, I opted to ignore the entire incident until I could see my doctor today at 4:30.

Except of course I couldn't ignore it. I kept reading article after article about retinal detachment and how serious it was.

I called my eye doctor's office and made an appointment for Thursday without going into details, telling myself "Self, if your retina hasn't detached by now, it'll hold til 4:30 this afternoon for the regular doctor and then Thursday for a more in-depth exam."

Self does not listen very well. So I called the eye doctor back and explained the situation, and said I was nervous about retinal detachment. The eye doctor said that if it was retinal detachment I would experience something like a curtain falling across my vision (which the articles said, but I cherry-picked what suited my hypochondria). She said that it sounded like an ocular migraine.

A second consult with Dr. Google showed that it does indeed sound like an ocular migraine! PHEW

I had considered the possibility of it being a migraine-related incident, but dismissed it because I've only had two migraines in my life, one as a teenager and one last year, and this did not feel like that. Also, I didn't get a headache after the bright spot faded.

But an ocular migraine occurs without a headache. Super weird, yo!

According to All About Vision,
Ocular migraines are painless, temporary visual disturbances that can affect one or both eyes. Though they can be frightening, ocular migraines typically are harmless and self-resolve without medication within 20 to 30 minutes.
You might see a small, enlarging blind spot (scotoma) in your central vision with bright, flashing or flickering lights (scintillations), or wavy or zig-zag lines surrounding the blind spot. The blind spot usually enlarges and may move across your field of vision.

One possible trigger is stress, and boy was I stressed this past weekend.

I'll still go to the eye doctor on Thursday and will monitor my vision closely, but I'm feeling much much better.

So that, my friends, is ocular migraines, brought to you by Hypochondriacs Anonymous.