HOR$E$ Are Expensive to Keep & Show

Horse Lover shows Sadie on halter in an English class. We also borrowed her attire.

Horse Lover competes on Sadie in a Western riding class. We borrowed saddles for the show.

I made arrangements in June to board our experienced, 19-year-old show horse, Sadie, at a barn where Horse Lover could also take riding lessons. After just four or five weeks of lessons, Sadie was tuned up, and Horse Lover had made significant gains in her horsemanship skills.

I’ve written before about Horse Lover’s lack of opportunity to ride. So this effort was generous on my part, and it meant the world to my daughter.

Horse Lover wanted to leave Sadie at the barn to take lessons much longer, but unfortunately we just couldn’t work that extra expense into our regular family budget.

You see, one thing has become painfully obvious to me as I’ve tried to make Horse Lover’s dream of becoming a seasoned horsewoman a reality – horses are extremely expensive to keep, and are even more expensive to show.

A friend of ours once had a bumper sticker on her SUV that read simply, “HOR$E$.” I now have a complete and total appreciation for the profound and true statement that one-word bumper sticker made.

All winter Horse Lover begged us to take riding lessons. She wanted nothing more than to ride her horse. But with frigid temperatures outside and things like school occupying the bulk of her time inside, we just couldn’t make it happen. There was also the challenge that we still didn’t have a horse trailer to transport the animal, and riding lessons were expensive enough without also having to pay to board the horse.

But somehow as the weather warmed and school let out for summer, we managed to make lessons work for our pre-teen daughter, and she was in heaven. I took her to the barn a few times each week and waited and waited and waited while she learned to brush, halter, bridle, saddle, ride and put away the horse.

As a result of this time (and money) spent, Horse Lover and Sadie earned several blue ribbons at our 4-H county horse show at the end of June, and she is now ready and eager for more riding experiences. So instead of satisfying one of her desires, we simply wetted her appetite, it seems.

While she is no longer incessantly begging us for riding lessons, she is begging us for LOTS of other things including a new western saddle, an English saddle, a horse trailer, an outdoor riding arena, a barn and even a new horse. She’s worried Sadie might be a little too old and too arthritic to lope or gallop.

Just last week we found a used western saddle in good condition in Horse Lover’s size, and we paid $600 for it. She had outgrown the youth saddle she was using and so the need for a saddle was imminent if she was going to continue riding the horse. The other items she wants aren’t needed as urgently, at least not according to Handsome Hubby or myself, and that’s good. Because every one of them would cost considerably more than $600.

As a parent of three, I’m used to buying my kids one thing and then having to buy more to go with it. Think Nintendo DS, iPod or even small toys like the Littlest Pet Shops. Each item requires additional game cartridges, headphones and cases or houses and additional animals.

I did a quick count just the other day and Horse Lover has more than 25 cases for Nintendo DS games on her bookshelf. So including the game system, we’ve probably spent almost $1,000 on this system over the past several years. That’s crazy, but it wouldn’t even come close to how much we’ve spent on this horse obsession in just the last few months!

Besides the big-ticket items I’ve already mentioned, we regularly buy feed and fly spray for the horses. We also pay the farrier to trim hooves and the vet for vaccinations.

We have free access to a pen and pasture in which to board the horses right by our house, and we get ample hay from Handsome Hubby’s father and brother on the ranch. I couldn’t imagine having to pay for these items, as well. I can honestly say that if we did, we wouldn’t have horses.

But since we do have the set up and we already have the horses, I’m sure we’ll continue to invest in Horse Lover’s obsession as much as we can. I hope she can be happy with what we are able to do and doesn’t always just want for more.

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Navigating Options for Rural, High-Speed Internet Access

I recently switched from HughesNet satellite (center dish) ...

... to this Alltel USB modem (black thing on right) to access the Internet.

One drawback to living in the country is the lack of true high-speed Internet access. I’ve been in search of the best Internet connection available ever since we moved to the country six years ago. As a result, I’ve switched Internet providers four times.

And while exactly what constitutes high-speed access is relative, none of the options I tried involved dial-up Internet access; that’s simply not an option for someone who works from home and must have fast, reliable, always-on Internet access for her livelihood. Unfortunately in the sparsely populated area of West River South Dakota where I live, no companies have invested in any fiber, wired option for high-speed Internet to those of us in the country. So I’ve been sampling the wireless Internet access options.

I went from HughesNet satellite Internet access, to WildBlue satellite Internet, back to HughesNet and most recently to Alltel wireless broadband Internet access. And through it all, I’ve purchased three satellite systems and two routers as I’ve struggled and anguished and yearned for the reliability and speed of the service I had when we lived in town.

Initially, the big issues for me were cost, reliability and speed. As my business grew and my kids grew, our reliance on the Internet continually increased. As a result, the biggest issue for me in my most recent Internet service provider change was Fair Access Policy restrictions.

I understand that only so much data can be moved over the Internet at any given time, and that everyone should have the same chance to move this data. But I don’t believe 200 or 250 megabytes of data per day is enough for the average household anymore. Not when we are transmitting graphic design files for proofing and printing, uploading pictures for printing and sharing, publishing web sites and blogs, enjoying YouTube, and downloading and purchasing music, television episodes and podcasts. Something has to be done to increase the Internet infrastructure so it can meet our ever-increasing demands.

I’m not yet ready to recommend wireless broadband access over satellite, but I will share what I’ve experienced and learned:

Satellite Internet

Two satellite services offer Internet access in my area – HughesNet and WildBlue. Both services offer several packages featuring different speeds and allowing different levels of usage. Both companies require customers to purchase or lease equipment, and both allow multiple computers to access the Internet through the use of a standard router.

Each company has a different Fair Access Policy (FAP), and those who exceed the allowed usage are “FAPed” or restricted in their access for a certain period of time. Both companies offer e-mail addresses with Internet access, and both require two-year contracts for best pricing, particularly on equipment. Satellite access requires a clear view of the southern sky and access can and will be interrupted by weather including rain, snow, fog and high wind.

HughesNet The basic home package costs $60/month; the fair access policy for this plan allows for 200 megabytes of data to be transferred (downloaded and uploaded combined) in a 24-hour period before restrictions are applied. Installation is generally free, but equipment can cost an additional $20/month for up to 24 months. Customer service is great, and customers are allowed one free token per month to reinstate their Internet connection if they are “FAPped.”

WildBlue The basic home package costs $50/month; the fair access policy for this plan allows 7,500 megabytes of data to be downloaded and 2,300 megabytes of data to be uploaded in a 30-day rolling calendar. Installation is also generally free, and equipment costs tend to be less than those for HughesNet. Customer service wasn’t as good, and while neither satellite company will guarantee their speeds, rumor has it that WildBlue has added more customers than it can handle and therefore speeds have dropped for everyone.

Wireless Broadband Internet

There are only two companies currently offering cellular service in South Dakota – Alltel and Verizon. AT&T is in the process of taking over the Alltel business in the state since Verizon purchased Alltel and one company cannot maintain a monopoly. Wireless broadband Internet requires the purchase of a USB modem, which can be plugged directly into a computer or can be plugged into a special router, allowing multiple computers to be online using the same Internet connection.

One positive to wireless broadband Internet access over satellite service is that customers can actually access the Internet while traveling, as long as the appropriate cellular connection isn’t lost. But if the USB modem is taken on the road, anyone left at home cannot access the Internet.

Customers can also connect a phone with an existing data plan to a computer for Internet access, but the phone cannot be used for voice calls or for text messaging at the same time. And the data limitations of the existing plan still apply.

Wireless broadband speeds should increase as local networks are upgraded from 3G to 4G systems.

Verizon Wireless Verizon provides a free USB modem after rebate for customers who agree to a two-year contract. The company also offers a modem in a network-compatible device at a reduced price under a two-year contract. Customers must choose between getting the free modem or the reduced-price network device.

Verizon service costs $60/month and allows for up to 5 gigabytes of data to be transferred in a 30-day period. If a customer exceeds the 5-gigabyte limit, access is not restricted. Instead, customers are simply charged an additional 5 cents per megabyte over the limit; so if the limit is exceeded by 1 gigabyte, an extra $51.20 will be charged.

Verizon’s nationwide calling plan allows customers to access the Internet from virtually anywhere in the United States. Verizon also offers a 30-day trial period.

Alltel Alltel also provides a free USB modem after rebate, and customers only have to agree to a one-year contract. Or customers can choose to go with a network-compatible device at a reduced price so multiple computers can go online under the same Internet connection. Service costs $60/month, and there is no limit on data transfer. Internet access is, however, limited by Alltel’s service area. Nationwide access is available for an additional $10/month. Alltel offers a 15-day trial period.

Alltel customers will become AT&T customers within the next nine months or so. While equipment will need to be upgraded, it will be at no cost to the consumer. And customers will be allowed to continue with the terms of existing Alltel contracts, which means the unlimited data feature should continue to be available even though AT&T does have data limits on its wireless broadband Internet.

As I mentioned, I recently switched to Alltel largely because of the unlimited transfer of data option; I was tired of being “FAPped” with HughesNet. I’m actually a Verizon customer for my cell phone service, but the Verizon wireless broadband option still restricted my data usage. I also liked Alltel’s one-year contract rather than two years, so I don’t have to wait as long to change again if I’m not completely satisfied. The cost for Alltel was the same as HughesNet and Verizon, and the speed seems very similar so far.

In summary, my Internet speed still isn’t as fast as a true DSL connection, and I do pay more than most folks with the cable/DSL options available in town. But I’m glad there are options other than dial-up for those of us choosing the country life, and I am hopeful that the options will continually get better.

Ortho Releases Sports Girl for Sports, Physical Activities

It’s been a long time since I have posted, and I know many of you are following Sports Girl’s progress as she recovers from her MPFL replacement surgery. To you I apologize.

I hope you assumed that no news was good news, because things continue to go well. Sports Girl steadily cut her times in both the 800k and 1600k in track through mid-May. She went back to her orthopedic surgeon on June 2, and – as we had anticipated – was fully released to resume all of her former physical activities and sports. It was a great day, and barring any future complications or other issues, it was our last visit to this doctor. While we would recommend this physician to anyone without hesitation, for reasons that should be obvious, we are grateful that Sports Girl doesn’t have any future appointments scheduled with him.

Since then, Sports Girl has been strength training and conditioning three times a week in a summer training program offered by the local high school athletic trainer/physical therapist. She has also participated in open gyms twice a week in preparation for basketball; she has even played in a few summer league basketball games.

She had some discomfort in her left knee during the first basketball she played, but subsequent games seemed to go better. I am sure my knees would hurt if I tried to play a basketball game in my out-of-shape state, so hopefully her pain was due more to her lack of recent activity than to the surgery itself.

It’s been a little over 6 months since Sports Girl had her surgery. While we had hoped her recovery would progress much faster, all her caregivers have said she has done remarkably well.

Just yesterday I took Sports Girl to our local family practitioner for her annual sports physical examination. This is the same doctor who referred us to the orthopedic surgeon at almost exactly this time last year. Since Sports Girl has not had cause to see a doctor this past year other than for her knee surgery, our family doctor hadn’t known how his referral had turned out. He was genuinely interested, and we were thankful that he knew of a doctor who took a proactive approach to frequent patellar subluxation issues. I know of a couple of middle-aged women who have just lived with this problem and the pain and discomfort that goes with it for much of their lives.

It seems we have come full circle, and Sports Girl is looking forward to a successful year playing soccer and basketball as a freshman in high school. I’ll have to post pictures …

Sports Girl Runs Track to Strengthen Quads

Sports Girl running relay after MPFL surgerySports Girl continues to rehabilitate from her MPFL reconstruction surgery. She is now strengthening on her own rather than attending regular physical therapy sessions. She still has a ways to go to get her left leg as strong as it was before the surgery, or ideally, even stronger.

The doctor gave her the green light at the end of March to run some mid-distance races in spring middle school track, but he told her not to expect to have a stellar season. So her goal at meets has been not to finish last – which is a strange twist for my ultra-competitive Sports Girl. But I’m proud of her for knowing her limitations and pushing herself right up to them.

She is running the 800k and the 1600k and a couple of various legs in relay races. She is pictured above right getting ready to take the baton from a team mate in one of these races.

Overall, she’s had minimal problems other than a little muscle fatigue (which is actually a good thing), and a few instances of strange rubbing sensations and minor discomfort in her left knee while running. Sometimes she said both knees were actually bothering her, so I could chalk up those instances to being out of practice physically.

At first I was concerned when she said her left knee was bothering her, but when she actually fell on her knee recently while roller skating, I saw how worried she became when her knee was causing real pain. Thankfully, the knee felt just fine the next morning – so the pain was not unlike what any knee might feel after colliding with a tile floor.

I think she might just have to get used to some of these new feelings and learn how to read them. My hope is that she can grow confident on this newly stabilized knee and get back to her old aggressive self during competition.

Honestly, I believe the biggest risk facing her right now is incurring an injury unrelated to her previous patellar dislocation issues. With one weak leg, she is predisposed to injuries such as ACL and MCL tears.

As I’ve mentioned before, one key thing we’ve learned about how to protect the knee is to have strong muscles in the quads, but also in the hamstring, hips and abs.  So Sports Girl will spend much of her summer strengthening and conditioning.

After spending well over $100 a week on physical therapy, the fees involved for multi-week training programs in our area now seem like a bargain! I recommend all physically active teens should attend performance training as an insurance policy against a more expensive and time-consuming potential injury.

Sports Girl goes back to the doctor for hopefully the last time on June 2, and at that time she should get approval to start summer training/practicing for soccer and basketball, which start in the fall and winter respectively and require more sudden stops, turns and jumps. So there will be open gyms, skills camps and city leagues to attend this summer, as well. We’re looking forward to being busy with these activities – it sure beats being sidelined from them!

Our Sheep Are Baaack and Having Babies!

Black-Faced Ewe With Twin Lambs

With everything going on with Sports Girl and her knee surgery and recovery, I haven’t mentioned that our sheep came back to the ranch sometime around the first of the year.

The ewes had spent the last three months of 2009 at my brother- and sister-in-law’s place a few miles away getting bred. And then in the last week or so, they started lambing. Three of our five ewes have had babies so far – and all three have had twins.

Unfortunately, we did lose one lamb just 24 hours after it was born. Cocoa, the mother, was the ewe who lost her first lamb after giving birth in a snow storm last spring; I don’t think she really wanted to deal with two lambs for her mothering experience as I don’t believe she was letting the second lamb nurse at all. By the time we realized this, it was too late to save the poor little thing. Just another sad fact of nature, I guess. My girls didn’t cry, although there was certainly a feeling of sadness hanging over all of us.

So we have five baby lambs frolicking around our sheep pens. And they are really cute. Busy Toddler got the biggest belly laugh out of watching the little lambs when she went down to help feed this afternoon with Handsome Hubby.

My father-in-law has been very busy calving for the past month, as well. The winter weather here hasn’t really been very friendly for newborn calves and sheep, but somehow things are going all right.

In my naïve, younger years, I always pictured tiny baby lambs and calves laying with their mothers on a bed of bright green grass with the sun shining brightly down on them. I suppose that scenario would be more realistic if these critters were born in May rather than February and early March, but that schedule doesn’t work well for us.

My father-in-law calves in February and March so he has more time for farming later in the spring; we have to lamb as early as possible so the babies will be as close to grown/finished as possible when it’s time to show them at the county fair. So our babies have been born amidst snow, sleet, rain, fog and mud. If the critters themselves weren’t so cute, it would be anything but a pretty sight.

We’re still watching the other two ewes, hoping to keep our lamb crop ratio as close to 200 percent as we can. And we’re hoping for warmer, drier weather.

Horse Lover Struggles To Get Time on Horse Back

Horse Lover's passion revealed itself early. Here she is at 3 years of age using our Welsh Corgi as her trusty steed. Note the saddle blanket and lead line. I'm sure she would have had a halter around the dog's nose if she would have allowed it.

Sometimes I think Horse Lover was born into the wrong family. While we do live in the country, and we actually have two horses at our disposal, Horse Lover doesn’t get to ride them near as often as she would like.

Honestly, she hardly ever gets to ride at all. That’s because Handsome Hubby is gone a lot for work, and my horsemanship skills are seriously lacking. Horse Lover actually knows a lot more about horses than I do, but unfortunately horses are just too large and potentially dangerous for a pre-teen to ride without some experienced help and supervision.

Even if Handsome Hubby was around more, I don’t know if Horse Lover would get to ride any more often. Handsome Hubby grew up riding horseback while working cattle, not for leisure. He might not admit it, but he really doesn’t get the intricacies of showing horses in shows or even understand the importance of certain skills such as proper “posting” techniques.

But Handsome Hubby does respect the knowledge Horse Lover has accumulated through reading and watching. He might even admit that Horse Lover may already know more about horsemanship and equitation than he knows.

I’m Not Interested in Horse Back Riding

Meanwhile, I must confess that I really don’t want to add horsemanship to my list of lifetime skills. I feel bad about that sometimes, but I have absolutely no interest in riding horses. That probably makes me a bad parent, but at least I’m honest!

I do feel some pressure to take up horseback riding for my middle daughter’s sake, but I don’t know when I would do it. As the old saying goes, “There are only so many hours in the day,” and I believe I am already trying to cram too many things into those hours.

Thankfully, Horse Lover is somewhat cautious in her horseback riding approach. So we don’t have to worry about her going off and trying to ride horseback without help. Yet her apprehension does have its drawbacks as it keeps her from improving her skills very quickly.

Horse Lover would like to compete in our county 4-H horse show this summer, but she is scared to ride Sadie, our horse with show experience. The horse is well trained, but she likes to test her riders, and she is a bit rusty. Both Horse Lover and Sadie need some training help, but that presents another problem – we don’t have a horse trailer to transport the horse nor do we have the extra hundreds of dollars at our disposal to pay for these services.

Would It Be Easier If We Didn’t Even Have a Horse?

Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier on Horse Lover if we didn’t have a horse at all. Wouldn’t it be easier for her to handle NOT riding if she didn’t even have a horse to ride?

The winter weather has given Handsome Hubby and I a bit of a break from Horse Lover’s pleas for lessons and to ride. After all, even the most dedicated rider can’t get excited about riding in sub-zero temperatures with 40 mph winds and drifting snow. (Did I mention that we don’t have an indoor riding arena, either?)

What Horse Lover lacks in experience, she makes up for in desire. And while I admire her passion and diligence, Handsome Hubby and I may well go crazy when spring arrives and Horse Lover resumes her begging. I’m not sure which will be harder to bear – a long winter with cold, snowy weather or a long spring with a pre-teen daughter persisting to ride her horses. I should know the answer to that question in a few months …

Sports Girl Needs to Strengthen Quads to Protect Knee

Monday was D-Day for Sports Girl – Doctor Day that is. She went back for her third follow-up exam following her MPFL reconstruction surgery back in mid December.

Except for being told she could immediately resume all her former activities without risk, the appointment couldn’t have gone better. The doctor did say that her left patella (kneecap) is now completely stable with less shifting than even her right. And the x-ray showed that the kneecap now sits straight on her joint rather than presenting with an outward tilt as it did before. The x-ray did, however, highlight the two metal screws she now has permanently implanted in her left kneecap, but these have left no lingering effects, thank goodness. If we hadn’t seen them on the x-ray, we might not have believed they were there!

Sports Girls’ quadriceps, however, are still obviously smaller on her left leg than her right in spite of undergoing more than 15 30-minute physical therapy sessions over the past two months and completing exercises on her own almost daily. Rebuilding and toning muscle takes time, and the doctor says resuming physical activity now would put her at risk for other injuries such as an ACL tear. He recommends another four weeks of physical therapy and exercises to further strengthen her leg and better protect her knee before she starts working out or competing in any sports.

The doctor wants to see her again on March 29 after she completes four more weeks of strength training, so running in spring track is off the table at least until then. And we are all OK with that, including Sports Girls. She’s been through too much already to risk any unplanned setback. It’s more important that she get back into shape over the summer, so she’s ready to play high school soccer come August and high school basketball after that starting in November.

It will be equally important, I think, for her to strengthen her right leg, as well as her left. While the doctor says he doesn’t personally know of anyone who has required the same MPFL surgery on both knees, he has known patients who’ve had subluxation or dislocation issues with both knees. So Sports Girls needs to prevent this from happening on her right knee as much as she needs to rebuild her left.

Besides doing her exercises, these days Sports Girl applies Mederma to her scars daily and looks forward to the day when she can run and play ball without even wearing a knee brace and with no fear of her kneecap sliding out of place. That day isn’t too far off …