Possibly Quitting Polo

This morning I drove all the way to Lakeside to play polo, got there, turned around, drove to the YMCA, and went swimming instead. Driving past my horses, as they merrily chomped breakfast in their corrals, I was seized by the large claw of lacka-wanna.  It stemmed from my now officially diagnosed “floating shoulder-blade,” the erratic way it affects every polo swing I make (especially depressing yesterday during practice), and the virtually nil chance the severed nerves will regenerate.

This was my dearly-loved and super-competitive Chloe’s parting gift to me weeks ago.  In one of our final games before she died, she unwittingly dumped me by suddenly turning for the ball when I was turning my weight the opposite way so we could head off an opponent.   That embarassing face-plant on the field left me paralyzed for half a minute.

So I must deal with this turn of events.  Off the polo field I’ll continue re-habbing the muscles around my shoulder blade but (following my orthopedic surgeon’s advice) pressing it back hard against the chair or bench, trying to keep it from turning at an angle (“floating”) when I raise my right arm.  On the polo field I’ll continue trying to re-teach my bundle of shoulder muscles, hoping they’ll finally acquire new muscle-memories for mallet strokes.

For non-polo friends who’ve seen my fanatic love for the game make me dismiss the notion of quitting it, you’ve now got my attention.  For polo-playing friends on whose team I’m assigned, please continue to be patient with my inconsistent performance– at least for a while.

I’ve been told there’s life after polo, and today I gave it some thought.

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A Confession about Lack of Self-Confidence

Here’s what I hope was a helpful “confession” I made today to a freedom-lawyer friend with self-doubts about her ability to defend against complex felony accusations. It seemed too private to post on Facebook but, if you’re one of the few who’ve wandered here, you might relate to some of these thoughts. Please excuse me for sounding like a preacher— I come from a long line of them!

Despite my half-century practicing Zen, I’ll admit I’ve often BELIEVED more about self-worth and cosmic confidence than I PRACTICED. For instance, every time I walked into a courtroom (or now a classroom) I said (or catch myself saying now), “What the hell is ART CAMPBELL doing here!? What can HE do or say of any significance!?” In response, I now wrap those threshold-thoughts in a little bundle (sometimes I visualize an actual bundle), shove them into an imaginary attic of “old tapes,” and march on. Bottom line? I’m personally resigned to the probability my Posi (Parasite of Self-Importance) may never let me FEEL worthy every minute of the day, but I won’t let it stop me from DOING worthy things. What’s that mean? “Doing worthy” means actualizing the totality of me, i.e., actually using whatever awareness and skills the cosmos bestowed on this critter. That’s because I, you, and every creature that ever lived, are the only one the universe ever created with our unique set of abilities. Our sin is NOT using them. And if it takes some of us a little more umph to overcome our fears in finding and being our true selves, that simply adds more courage to the cosmos. I’m keen to hear your response, but show me you’ve actually read this by responding only to my e-mail address: acampbell@cwsl.edu.  Cheers!

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Using Up My Nine Lives in Polo

As if being T-boned two weeks ago wasn’t enough, once again I got dumped playing polo. This time the ball had just been whacked out of my team’s possession and I was glancing around to see whether I should switch to defense or make a play for the ball. But good ol’ Chloe— ex-professional-polo-mare that she is— instantly decided we’d go for the ball. So as we were running in one direction, without a clue from her or cue from me, she slammed her left forefoot into the ground and jerked a 90-degree turn to the right. Instinctively I bent low in the saddle to stay on, but inertia propelled me off her back and head-first into the ground. I hadn’t a chance to tuck-and-roll (an old rugby maneuver that’s left me unscathed through a dozen polo falls in as many years.) What was scary was having to lie paralyzed for 30 seconds, unable to move anything but my right foot. “Well, if that’s working, your spinal cord must be intact,” I reassured myself, “but why can’t you move your torso?” Finally whatever had gripped me released, and I got to my knees, then my feet. My skull seemed fine inside its new safety helmet but the skid lid had apparently transferred the trauma onto my neck. Now pinched nerves there have kept my right arm tingling ever since the incident four hours ago. The good news? The old bodd still responds positively to beer and vicodin! So I’m now sitting at home in a recliner with an ice pack on my neck, feeling no pain and admiring what’s left of a spring-like San Diego day. My mind floats between two thoughts: (1) “How many more falls has your old bodd got left?” and (2) “What’ll you do with this first afternoon in the rest of your life?” Cheers! Art

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Some Provocative Posts to Facebook

Since these garnered a response of overwhelming indifference on Facebook, I thought I’d post them here.  If by chance you DO want to respond, please e-mail me.  Don’t respond here, as 99% of all responses on this BLAWG have been spam and thus trashed in bulk each time I police the site.  Cheers!  Art

■ Re social classes, have you ever noticed (1) how aristocrats seem to live in the past because that’s where their ancestors established the family? (2) how the middle-class live in the future because that’s where they’ve placed all their hopes? And (3) how the poor live in the present because that’s all they’ve got?  (Posted on Facebook’s Notes ca 30 Aug 2011)

 ■ Re insanity, have you ever noticed how rare it is to encounter an insane individual but how common it is to encounter the insanity of an entire culture? (Posted on Facebook’s Notes on 3 Sept 2011)

■ Re having to run in the “rat race,” in the end doesn’t that just produce more rats? (Posted 8 Oct 2011)

 ■ Re two ends of the political spectrum, I see two ends of the political spectrum. Do you arrange them this way? (1) At one end reside fanatics in general and fundamentalist Christians, Jews, and Muslims in particular, i.e., people who need social organizations to be run by father-figures, believe single causes control all complex events, are afraid of change and differences, and transform their fears into hate? (2) At the other end assemble liberals in general and academics, pacifists, and socialists in particular, those who need social organizations to run their lives, believe events are so complex that individual action is futile, are afraid of conspiracies from the opposite end of the spectrum, and transform those conspirators into “them”? So where are we– the political independents– whose vote has elected the last half-dozen presidents of the USA? I say it’s time WE stand up and shout, not wait for our fellow Americans to see how stupid and dangerous both extremes are, how they’re only seeking POWER, not SOLUTIONS to increasingly crucial problems like jobs, pollution, wars. Join me in deciding not to smugly grouse our observations over martinis and beers but SPEAK UP for what now could be called the “Militant Middle” of the world. (Posted on Facebook, 4 Sept 2011)

 ● Re mass media’s curious omission:  Have you noticed how the mass (news)media focus obsessively on good and evil (moreso on the latter b/c blood and havoc video so well), but seldom even acknowledge the existence of what lies beyond good and evil? Is that b/c what lies beyond doesn’t seem plentiful (it is) or visible (it is) or isn’t powerful (it surely is)? Are the media and other folks insane for pretending this huge mass of reality doesn’t exist? Or are we insane for believing it exists? An Old Curmudgeon wants to know. (Posted on Facebook, 14 Oct  2011)

 ■ Re mental “framing” (as per recent neuro-science studies), have you observed how we don’t simply pour a particular bucket of facts into our minds, sort through them, and come out with a viewpoint or solution?  Instead, have you experienced how our conditioning has created “frames” by which we select which facts we’ll consider?  What’s most surprising to me is how studies show we won’t even “see” certain facts that don’t fall inside our frames.  If you have any doubt about the way our minds operate, try persuading someone with strong political or religious convictions to change her viewpoint by simply “giving her some new facts.”  Unless she’s already been taught a conditioned response to your viewpoint, it’s not that she’ll rearrange, reprioritize, or account for the new facts.  Her mind honestly will not even “see” them.  Can this observation switch the calloused buttocks of belly-button fingerers who otherwise spend life’s precious moments clinging to Facebook’s digital onanism?!  (Posted on Facebook, 12 Nov 2011)

 ■ Re constructive dialogue across the political spectrum.  Given the conditioned brain’s inability to “see” facts that don’t fit inside one’s mental “frame” (please see prior post), how do we (or our elected representatives) engage in any meaningful dialogue and solve the pressing problems of our country and planet? (Posted on Facebook on 16 Nov 2011)

 ■ Re the middle of the political spectrum (mentioned in a prior post), isn’t 99% of earth’s population somewhere between the two extremes of Right and Left?  Why do news media and political blogs focus on that narrow 1% and tell us it’s “world news”?  Why do so many of us believe it?  (Posted on Facebook, 26 Nov 2011.)

 ■ OK, how about THIS way to frame extremists the political spectrum?  Can’t you liken them all—both left and right— to children?  I mean, doesn’t the extreme right fear change and differences?  Doesn’t the extreme left fear power and alienation from the herd?  And doesn’t the extreme middle (of which I’m a member) seem to have a hypnotic fixation on their own powerlessness?  (Posted 26 Dec 2011)

 ● Is one test for concrete, practical, down-to-earth intelligence the ability to understand that reality can be DESCRIBED differently at different LEVELS?  That is, can two arguably opposite views be seen as equally valid depictions of life from points of view?  To take two current hot-button issues: (1) Can’t abortion be “bad” at the level of the unborn fetus but “good” at the level of the woman who doesn’t want to be saddled with raising an unwanted child? (2) Can’t capital punishment be “bad” at the level of the death-sentenced person (especially an innocent one) but “good” at the level of those who believe retribution and vengeance strengthen social bonds?  Doesn’t this ability mean many apparently “unsolvable” problems are really just failures to realize the problems themselves are being described from different levels?  Bottom Line: Once each level is given legitimacy, can’t their proponents strive to find ANOTHER LEVEL at which they share the SAME VALUES— and then craft solutions based on these?  (Posted 5 Jan 2012)

 ■ Re being a “radical moderate,” is that a contradiction in terms?  I call myself one― among many still in the closet and others who refuse to soil themselves in political discourse– and I see no inconsistency.  Moderates are those who don’t cling to either end of the political spectrum and don’t believe either end has a monopoly on truth.  So moderates blend or borrow ideas from the left and the right.  Seen from the standpoint of mental “frames,” moderates try to look at the world’s problems as they really exist, that is, outside frames shaped by ideology.  Ironically in a country that was born and formed in pragmatism, currently being a moderate triggers two consequences: We’re assailed by both political extremes and we’re ignored by the press.  “Radical moderates” add another feature to the non-frame game: we try digging to the root (Latin “radix” from which “radical” derives) of problems.  “Radical moderates” trigger an additional consequence: Not only are we dumped on by both ends of the political spectrum and ignored by the press, our solutions seem too innovative (read “scary”) to garner conventional support.  But can you guess who came up with the 40-hour work week, television, and the internet? (Posted 16 January 2012)

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Zarahas Gets T-boned in Polo

Yesterday Zarahas and I survived the most dangerous collision in polo: a T-bone, where one horse at full gallop hits another one turned broadside.  I was umpiring on Zarahas when I saw the ball get whacked in our direction and the hitter (my trainer, Rik Crane) looking only at the ball.  I turned Raa and squeezed him hard to leap out of the way.  But Mr. Casual didn’t leap.  The next sensation was like being tumbled by an ocean wave you’d just been were riding— all I could do was relax and wait for things to come to a halt. Dru was watching and said it looked horrible. When the rolling explosion stopped, I clambered to my feet to check Raa, who had already gotten to his.  Only after standing did I realize, miraculously, I hadn’t broken anything.  Apparently Raa hadn’t either as he walked off the field with me and didn’t wheeze or limp. The guy who hit us split his lip deeply inside his mouth, but otherwise it seems he and his horse weren’t injured either.  I’m not sure I’ll ever get Zarahas on the field to umpire again, but if I do I’ll damn-sure carry a do-it-now persuader, a.k.a. whip. Now, of course, soreness has set in for both of us but, at least for me, it’s nothing a Jacuzzi and drugs can’t handle.  Chalk it up to another near-death experience for that charmed Arab Zarahas.

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Zarahas + Stem Cells

Only in the last year have I learned my favorite horse, Zarahas, my former polo-playing stallion– with his split-and-bowed tendon– wasn’t just facing a career-ending injury.  It was life-threatening. (Viz, Barbaro, that fantastic race horse of a few years ago who had million-dollar surgery on his broken leg, only to break down the good one by standing too long on it.  Result?  Euthanasia.)  So about a year ago I trailered Zarahas up north for stem-cell surgery. One surgeon sliced a chunk from his butt, the cells were processed to materialize the stem-cells, and then my ace-veterinarian inserted them in Raa’s injured leg.  So he’s had 6 months of non-riding rest (except when Raa would rear and jump around in his corral, waiting for his twice-daily hay.)  This was followed by 6 months of (verrry borrrrrring) riding at only a walk (despite his wanting to gallop.)  The last 6 months he’s been cleared for trotting; so we’ve been doing that routinely– last month taking a moonlight ride cross-country for five miles  (Just him, me, rattlesnakes, and coyotes).  He still does his tricks for treats (bows, counts to three, kisses, etc) and whinnies when he sees me exercise or play polo on the other three horses, but I’ve got to hold down his activity til he’s cleared to gallop.  I’ll let you know when that happens.  Cheers!

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Update on Zarahas

                                        UPDATE ON ZARAHAS  (as of 2 October 2010)

 Mr. Yin, meet Mrs. Yang.  In three months Raa has swooped from an extraordinary injury (bowed and split rear tendon) to extraordinary improvement. 

 Until two days ago he’d been confined the last six weeks in a 20’ X 20’ pipe corral on a therapy facility in Jamul.  Three times a day he’d been led into a barn, cross-tied, and his left rear hock wrapped with a compression device that pulsed 40-degree (F) water around the injury site.  The apparatus, called Game Ready, was introduced to equine sports after use on professional football players, reducing swelling around strained, sprained, and torn tissues.

 Two weeks into this regime, Dru and I observed his treatment.  No sooner was Raa cross-tied in the barn than he spotted half a dozen goats in an enclosure 200 yards away.  Although he’d reconciled with steers (as predatory participant in a team-penning contest), he seemed convinced these smelly horned creatures were Satan’s minions.  When the therapist compassionately closed the barn door, Raa anxiously muttered, “Now they’ll creep up and jump us when the door swings open!”  The therapist assured us, “Raa’s usually quite the gentleman.  Just stands quietly and seems to like the pain-relief the treatment brings.”

 For six weeks every Saturday I drove the hour-plus round trip to visit Raa in Jamul.  I rubbed him down, groomed him, talked to him, fed him an apple and his usual pocket treats.  Not sure if his treatment was working, one thing became increasingly clear: After eight years of excitement from weekly trail rides and polo, Raa’s mood was depressed. 

No longer whinnying and tossing his head when I climbed from of my car, he’d wait til I reached his pipe corral, then slowly shuffle towards me with drooped head.  His sole solace seemed to be a pregnant Morgan mare in the corral next to his.  “He neighs love-calls to her every time we lead him to or from the barn for treatments,” chirped the therapist.

Last Thursday was Zarahas Liberation Day.  At the start I didn’t know that it would last nine hours and require navigation through a dozen thunderstorms.  At 8 a.m. I set out to pick him up in the truck and horse-trailer Kip Hering generously lent me once again.  Delayed by a road-blocking car wreck on the two-lane, winding road to Lyons Valley, I arrived at the Jamul facility around nine. 

 I greeted Zarahas, clipped on his halter, and led him to his mare friend’s corral.  Ever the romantic, I thought they’d like to say good-bye, but forgot that neither knew today they’d likely part forever.  Only after clambering into the trailer and seeing her disappear as we drove off did Raa neigh loud and longingly.

 We reached San Marcos at eleven, after stopping for some gasoline.  Two miles later we pulled into the elaborate equine treatment facility.  Raa backed immediately out of the trailer, relieved he could stop shifting weight in response to stuttering patterns of rain-hampered traffic.

 At noon three doctors and I bent to watch the computer screen as one of the country’s best ultrasound consultants plied his magic wand along Raa’s lubricated leg.  I barely held down my elation when I saw much of the surrounding adhesions had released around the tendon and the split itself had partially closed!  These positive results surprised the doctors too.

 We talked about stem-cells as the next stage of Raa’s treatment.  Currently there were three places from which to harvest stem-cells in this new field of equine medicine: From an embryonic/fetal source, from bone-marrow, or from fat cells in the injured horse.  After a free-wheeling session of Q&A, I chose to use ones taken from Raa’s ample Arab butt. 

As we waited for his surgery, I groomed Zarahas and chatted with a vet’s assistant.  Raa was too tired or nervous to show off trick responses to my cues of Bow, Count, Shame, Are You Bad?, Are You a Nice?  The only trick he’d do (for treats, of course) was Can You Give Me A Kiss?

 After general and local anesthesia, Raa locked his wobbly legs while pressed against the operating wall by one vet’s assistant, his nose pinched by a twitch held by another aide.  The sterile operating arena measured 15’ X 15’ with padded walls and trays crammed full of cellophane-sealed surgical tools.  The surgeon climbed upon a stool and sliced a five-inch gash along the top of Raa’s left buttock.  Scooping in the gap with his forefinger, he pulled out three thumb-sized globules of fat. 

 These would be processed by a lab in Poway to extract the stem-cells bound inside.  The vet next deftly sutured the incision while an aide streamed glue around the borders of a bandage we hoped Raa would leave in place at least a couple of days.

 By 3:30 Raa had recovered from his drugs enough to be half-coaxed, half-pushed back into Kip’s trailer; neither apple nor alfalfa hay were strong enough to lure him in.  As Poway was on our way home, I GPS’d us to the stem-cell lab, turning large arcs in the parking lot to avoid backing up.  Feeling like a transplant courier, I dropped off the insulated box.

 Keeping Kip and Dru updated with my cell phone all day long, the instrument was handy one mile out of Poway.  What to do with lab instructions just found lying on the seat beside me?   By phone a lab assistant said they should have been delivered with the fat.  Not wanting to turn back, I faxed them to the lab at a Fed Ex store.

 Around five p.m. two tired but triumphant travelers drove the quarter-mile driveway to Raa’s home at Hering Ranch.  Still groggy, Raa stumbled from the trailer.  I led my alpha equine to his “herd” of my three Thoroughbreds in three adjoining corrals.  As he touched their noses one by one, I glimpsed recognition and relief course through his weary frame.

“And here’s April, the Mare Mountain I told you of last week.  Ten years old and polo-trained, I bought her to relieve you of your duties on the playing field.  If you continue healing as you have, once more you’ll be the trail-riding horse that you were bred to be.  But no matter what, Zarahas, you’ll always be my favorite horse.”


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                                                        (13 Aug 10)

 It looks like Zarahas’ chukkers are over.  Two months ago I heard him gasp slightly as we started a workout of ascending and descending a mile-long hill.  Although he never limped, I noticed when de-tacking him that his left-rear fetlock (like our ankle) was mildly swollen. 

 Two days later I played him two chukkers of polo, between which he stood with his weight shifted off of the stocked-up leg.  In both chukkers he gave me full effort, never limping or favoring that fetlock.  Seemed okay, right?  Dead wrong. 

Next week two low-resolution ultra-sound views revealed what horse folks call a “bowed tendon,” meaning it was stretched out of its normal length.  That injury is often career-ending for performance horses, i.e., ones asked to do strenuous sprinting, stopping, bumping, and turning, as in polo.  Still, the last three years have seen medical breakthroughs in equine surgery and stem-cell repair of damaged tissue.  So I clung fast to this hope. 

Two days ago Dru and I trailered Zarahas north to San Marcos to be examined by the county’s best equine surgeon and the West Coast’s top ultra-sound vet.  (Thanks, Kip Hering, for the generous use of your truck and trailer.)  I asked Zarahas to bow when we greeted the surgeon; he did. 

 As Raa stood quietly (without anesthetic) for high-resolution ultra-sound, we got the bad news.  His tendon was not just bowed but split down the middle.  “In my 30+ years in the business,” said the ultra-sound vet, I’ve never seen a tendon split this way.”

 Zarahas, aged 16 (life expectancy 30), had played polo for nine years.  In good health he might have enjoyed ten more years of the sport.  Not now.  But he’s more than a polo mount; he’s our pet.

So we trailered him south to Jamul, one of the best equine-rehab facilities around.  Three times a day Zarhas’ fetlock will be strapped to a machine that delivers compressed cold to the tendon.  (The machine, called “Game Ready,” was first developed for professional human athletes.)  Tapering the frequency but lengthening the time of each treatment, these treatments will extend for a month.

 In September we’ll trailer him back to San Marcos to see what ultra-sound shows.  Then we plan to have our own vet inject his fetlock with stem-cells (“nature’s own medicine cabinet.”)  If all this works, Zarahas will be able to take gentle rides on river-bed trails and become my bareback taxi around Hering ranch.

 As you see, we’re sparing no expense.  Unlike most polo players, I never considered giving him away or putting him down.  Still, the latter is a sad possibility if (like the racehorse Barbero) he avoids standing on his hurt leg so much that his good leg breaks down from the weight.

 So, as we’ve reluctantly learned from life, we do all we can but can’t control ultimate outcomes.  Tomorrow I’ll play two chukkers of polo on Chloe and umpire two more on Khourney— surviving members of “Raa’s herd.”  Then I’ll drive down to Jamul and give Zarahas much talking and petting and loving and treats, plus bites from a big red apple.

I’ll post any significant news about Raa.  Thanks for all your cares and concerns.  Cheers!  Art

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Postscript to Furloughed Horse Story

Here’s what happened after my Arabian’s 30-day furlough ended back in June, 2009.

Someone asked if Zarahas “got with the program” after his furlough. My answer?  Sort of.   He didn’t altogether duck out of ride-offs or riding into a crowd, but would only ride-off when he found himself already close to an opponent’s horse or asked to lean hard against someone trying to ride us off. But he still refused to close in for a ride-off after we caught another horse from behind.

Actually, the very first game I played him after his 30-day furlough he ran me full-speed into a goal post and knocked me off his back!  That gave me another chance to lie on the ground, stunned, but thinking “Well, I guess this is narrowing my chances of dying from Alzheimer’s or cancer!”

Actually, it’s the 2nd time he’s created a goal-post collision (a.k.a. an “unauthorized dismount”) in the eight years we’ve been playing polo.  But I’m convinced he’s “not malevolent, just an Arabian.”  That’s the reason Arab horses are rarely used for  polo: They think too independently.

So, instead of passing the pole on the right or left side depending on which way I’m leaning out to make a goal shot (a good polo horse will alter his direction according to which way you’re leaning), he apparently decides as we’re approaching the pole which way HE will pass by it, regardless of me.

After he’s knocked me off he comes back, stands over me, and asks, “Hey, Boss, I thought horsemanship was the art of keeping the horse between you and the ground. Why did you let THAT happen?”

Sometimes, as he’s waiting for me to get up, he performs one of his tricks, like “bowing” or “counting.”  See?  I’ve just got to love that horse.

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The Best Polo Shot of my Life


Only in tournaments do I now free my warrior.  “I’ll do whatever it takes,” it warns.  “That’s why I brought you,” I say. 


Time’s running out, our side is behind.  Suddenly teammate Susan breaks away, streaks toward the goal with the ball.  I cover her six and ride off a rival as she blasts her shot towards the goal.  It slices wide to the right!  “Go, Zarahas!” warrior yells and my Arab leaps toward the ball at top speed. 


He reaches it ten yards before it would sail out of bounds but we’re still too far to the left.  Warrior leans out to the right, grunts and whips a desperate forehand across and under Raa’s neck.

We plunge out of bounds, see only a blur of white and the foot-wide gap between posts at this slant.  Regaining my balance, reining in Raa, I hear the crowd’s roar: Warrior scored!







Six seconds before "The Shot"

Six seconds before "The Shot"

                         THE SCENE: The Margarita Invitational, Hering Ranch, 16 May 2009…

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