Rain, and what happens to the parade

Since I last wrote, we experienced what they’re calling a “1,000-year flood” out here in northern Colorado.  At first, it seemed like any other fall in Colorado – temperature fluctuations, a couple of rainy days, drivers fearing the clear wet stuff on their windshields and being idiots.  But on the morning of September 12, it became clear this event was anything other than ordinary, as Boulder, then my hometown of Longmont, started to flood.  The damage was immense and the cleanup will last for several months, if not years.  We were evacuated from our home for two days as our nearby creek became a raging river and threatened our neighborhood as it grew wider.  I cover my experience and that of my company in a blog post on my company site, so I won’t go on and on about it here.

Suffice to say, it was a bit wettus muddus interruptus for my new lease for a little while.  Luckily, my new barn is not close to any creeks or streams, so it has dried out nicely and all that remains are about 8 million mosquitoes who patiently await my arrival in the evenings after work.

I mentioned in my last post that I was still trying to figure out what I had gotten myself into with Luna, my new ride.  Since I wrote that last post her owner and I have exchanged some stern emails regarding her training, which went like this:

Me: So, just curious if you’re planning on taking any lessons to learn how to ride dressage so you can train your horse to be a dressage horse, since you keep telling me she’s a dressage horse but all she does is careen around the arena and try to buck me off when I ask her to use her hind end?
Her: I have kids, a full-time job, and I’m broke – are you kidding me?
Me: I fully respect your situation at home, and with all due respect – are you kidding ME?  Do you really expect someone with a clue about riding to spend the next months trotting/tilting around on circles on an untrained horse so I can pay you to train her/with no hope of her ever improving so you can show up at your convenience and then undo everything I have worked on for weeks and weeks in one ride?  Good luck with that.
Her: I’ll schedule a lesson next week.

So needless to say, the verdict is still out.  Luna is a nice horse, but until she gets into regular training and her owner commits, I am fairly certain this won’t be a long stop for me.

In the meantime, I think it’s a good lesson for me to learn how to train a horse in dressage (which I highly recommend doing AFTER you train yourself in dressage, in the event you may actually need to show progress at some point).  Since Otto and Primo were both already well-trained, this was not something I had to think about while learning not to flail around in a dressage saddle.

Dressage pyramid

Image courtesy of USDF.

To start, I went out to audit Luna’s owner’s lesson last weekend, which was mainly focused on getting her moving forward confidently and not tilting alarmingly to the left and dropping her left hip, which can be minimized with a strong left leg sitting far behind the girth and pushing her body right.  Now, she seems to more careen around the arena at a higher rate of speed (some may call it impulsion, in this case I’d just call it speed), but at least there is less tilting.  I have been working on getting Luna moving forward more confidently while trying to keep her balanced at least and not messing with her face. Now, I’m struggling not to flail while Luna flails underneath me. It doesn’t feel super awesome, but this time around it makes a lot more sense as I now know what level of the dressage pyramid we fall into (somewhere between rhythm and blank space at the bottom of the pyramid) and what we’re working toward (possibly relaxation without running into the side walls of our indoor arena).

So, what do you do when it rains on your parade?  When your wacko days continue and your therapy involves mass amounts of flailing, and then the floods come?

I’m sure you thought I was going to say “you whip out your umbrella and dance” or some philosophical crap like that.  At the time of the floods, I was more thinking “where’s my bottle(s) of wine?” But then we took in evacuees and drinking took second tier to taking care of other people, which is really what I do best anyway.

When I asked them how they were doing, given that their home was likely to be unlivable for many more months and their hometown had been almost washed off the map, they said simply: “We take it one day at a time.  Tomorrow can only get better.”

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Wacko days that end with neighs

Let’s just say the past few months of my life have been a little wacko and leave it at that.

So wacko, in fact, that it struck me as a good idea to temporarily suspend my riding activity while I sorted out my life.  When the wacko hit, I had been wanting to escape my current lease situation because of the barn I had landed at with my current lease horse Primo. Primo’s owner had moved him to escape some political issues at her old boarding facility, and was enamored by the cheap board and laid back quiet at a new private facility we found.  But as they say, you get what you pay for. Although I still was loving riding Primo, I was not loving the tilted undersized arena that was flooded or unrideable approximately 70% of the time, or the three sets of electric fencing I had to go through just to get to the arena, the tiny messy barn, and finally, and most importantly, the lack of access to FWT (Friends With Trailers).  It had gotten to a point where it wasn’t fun anymore, and I did not have the energy to spare to extricate myself and find something else.  So I just stopped riding.

Me, 25 years ago and today.

Me, 25 years ago and also today.

I realize that was a mostly unintelligent thing to do, as I had only recently discussed how riding was my therapy and was pretty much the only thing that really kept me moving during bad times.  But as I also mentioned, as a perma-leaser, I have to deal with a lot of crazy – people, horses, scenarios, you name it – to make this therapy thing work.  And as the general wacko-ness in my every day life was in a giant upswing, I felt I just couldn’t handle another new lessor and their myriad strange issues right away.  Believe me, it made sense at the time.

Needless to say, although the wacko in my daily life really hasn’t lessened, I did realize my mistake in interrupting my riding, pulled myself up by my literal and figurative bootlaces and went in search of a new lessor and a barn that sucked a little less.  Luckily one of my friends had just moved her horse to a new barn and knew of someone there looking to lease.

Luna of the long locks

Luna of the long locks

Enter Luna, who somehow ended up being the third Percheron-TB cross in a row I have leased (they seriously are the best). I’ve only been riding her for a couple of weeks and am still figuring out what is going on with this situation. I’m told Luna is a dressage horse, but she doesn’t seem to know much dressage (and given my level of expertise in that area, we make quite a pair).  She does, however, seem to know how to careen around the arena with her head in the air, on her forehand and so out of balance it’s impressive she isn’t falling over. She pretty much doesn’t canter to the right.  I’m told her last lessee rode her Western, on trails.  I may not be an expert in dressage but even I can tell something is a bit amiss.

Further, Luna’s owner seems like a nice person, but appears to be slightly afraid of her, which can be a dangerous situation with a smart horse. She also doesn’t seem to know the answer to questions like “how does this horse do in trailers?” or “do you have splint boots?” or “when was the last time you washed your saddle pad?”  So I’m going to consider this a trial period.

But it’s good to be riding again.  And when the wacko level during the day is high, there really is nothing like hitting a few (sacred few) balanced strides in the arena, and then sitting and listening to the sounds of horses settling down for the evening to make things seem okay, if just for a little while.

Snow horses (or why freezing your butt off riding in the winter is a great idea)

This blog has been woefully abandoned.  But sadly, so has my riding.  A combination of bad weather, health issues and new competition for saddle time with my lease’s owner has created a vortex of doom, and everyone suffers.  I suspect it has been the worst for folks in my immediate vicinity… I have gotten a lot of questions lately about when I am going back to riding, which makes me suspect there’s a reason for it.

It’s been so bad that even my job coach told me I had to find a way to carve out some equine therapy time, and I’m pretty sure her focus isn’t on my extracurricular activities.

I finally had a lesson yesterday, and have reconnected with my inner thigh muscles, which are punishing me now for attempting some correct half halts (which only went into affect halfway into my ride; naturally, the first half of my ride I just hauled on my reins because it was easier than trying to actually use my balance, which was MIA because I’m so out of shape).  I was a lot happier at the end but my trainer looked exhausted.

Mae on a cold day

Brrr… old lease horse Mae on a cold day in 2009

Wintertime in Colorado is rough.  Obviously it’s cold and snows a lot, which makes riding a challenge for those without an indoor arena.  This is my first winter riding in this area without an indoor, and I have learned that for those horseless few, it takes an extraordinary amount of effort to ride regularly in such conditions.  Who wants to drag around in a half foot of mud and freeze your ass off in the dark to ride someone else’s horse when they don’t even really need to be ridden and it’s just for your own benefit?  It has mostly seemed like a much better idea to stay in my warm house and entertain the idea of trolling the gym, but then not doing it.

Well I am here to tell you: BAD IDEA.  If you’re a true equine addict/someone who exercises regularly/someone with a desk job and a tendency to gain weight from one day of inactivity, you shall suffer mightily:

  1. First, your body will decide it is hibernation time and convince you that being inside and sitting on your ass as much as possible is a great plan, while it gains weight so you can survive brutal cold conditions you will never actually experience.
  2. Second, you will get irritable and everything will piss you off because you are not working off stress and getting those happy post-run hormones flowing.  Time bomb waiting to happen.
  3. Third, research has shown that exercise actually stimulates your thought process and people who exercise can expect more creativity and ideas to flow both during and after exercise.  So basically, you’ll just get dumber and slower.

Sweet!  And let me tell you, all true.

So, my horse-full and horseless friends, the only thing to do is ride.  Ride up the road bareback, ride back and forth in the barn aisle, but ride. Get winter riding gear (my Kerrits winter breeches were worth every penny, I can even feel my legs when I leave the barn) and get your ass in the saddle, or suffer the consequences.

A foundation for excellence

The time for change has come again.  Spring is almost here – that infernal groundhog says it’s so.  My equine-related arrangements have started to follow the changing of the seasons, or so it seems, and so it follows that my current arrangement is coming to an end.

I’ve been lucky in that typically, the proverbial door closing opens a window, or at least a peephole.  But I’ve got this door propped open with one foot because I’m fully conscious that this current arrangement is very, very good for me.  In just shy of one year, I went from a recovering hunter/jumper who just didn’t get the concept of being on the bit to a reasonably poor rider of dresaaaaage.

I don’t love riding dresaaaaage [insert snooty british tone] any more now than I did six months ago.  But I’ve been riding for so long that I am no longer able to gauge whether I’m making true progress, and in adopting a new discipline, I’ve watched myself grow in ways I never thought possible. I only occasionally flail in the still-bizarre dressage saddle, I have learned how to hold a dressage whip without accidentally whipping the horse every other stride, I can half halt without causing the poor horse to slide backwards – and I do all of it without thinking about it.  It means that even at this age, with as many bad habits as I have and my sordid past, there is hope for me.

primo dressage

Not flailing! Photo by Michelle Vergez.

I also realized, that for the first time ever, I like my trainers.  “Liking” was never a criterion for me in the past; I took what I could get as long as they were willing to exchange work for lessons or riding time.  Things like trust, respect and experience were so far out of my list of priorities for a trainer that my modus operandi during any lesson was just to do what they asked and then try not to make it a habit, in the event that the next trainer I rode with told me it was wrong.

The current arrangement I am facing, should I keep this door open, is being reduced to riding once a week because the owner of my leased horse has recovered from surgery and is getting back to riding regularly.  From a logical standpoint, this is not a good thing; most athletes would say that once a week of any kind of work is hardly enough to instill any kind of muscle memory, much less make it habit.  From an emotional standpoint, once a week is nowhere near enough for me to feel like I’ve gotten my full dose of therapy to continue forward in life all zen-like.  But from a quality versus quantity standpoint, since I’m riding a better horse and receiving better training than I have possibly ever had, and if I want to feel certain my progress can continue in this same vein, it might have to be enough.

In attempting to think this issue through, I realized this type of decision is difficult for me because I’ve never valued my riding skills enough to look at a situation from this perspective.  When put in a similar situation often enough, you begin to see yourself through others’ eyes, and if those eyes see expendable, then expendable you become.  After spending a year growing in leaps and bounds and seeing a foundation for excellence being built, I now realize that my riding has value, and that value is worth investing in.

My inclination is to leave things where they are for now and see where it takes me.  I might not be bothered by it now, but once show season starts I’m going to be itching to get out on cross country and mountain trails.

And maybe I’ll take up sailing in my spare time – I hear it’s cheaper than riding.

Humiliation and memoir, horseless rider style

Why write, horseless rider?  You’re bringing me down.  Keep your bummer life to yourself.

Well, I figured that creating this blog might result in one of the following possibilities:

  1. I would get famous really fast and people would be stopping me in the street to ask for a photo with me,
  2. Someone from a famous horse publication would realize I was the voice they’d been missing all along and offer me a lucrative writing contract to bitch about their primary clientele, or, and most likely –
  3. I’d have approximately five readers, including my partner, mom, and horse friends.

I also figured that eventually the point of the blog would become apparent over time (right now it’s not, at least not to me).

Instead, I have experienced varying degrees of concern that someone from Eventing Nation is going to sue me for insulting one of their columns, and/or I mostly just sound like a bitter, disappointed wanna be horse girl who really needs a kick in the ass and a new lease on life.  That is, until I read this opinion piece in the NYT a couple of days ago.

“The biggest mistake new writers make is going to the computer wearing a three-piece suit. They craft love letters about their wonderful parents, spouses, children and they share upbeat anecdotal slices of life. This rarely inspires brilliance or self-insight. Drama, conflict and tension are more compelling, especially when the piece starts with your “I” narrator about to fall off a cliff (metaphorically, of course). It’s counterintuitive, but qualities that make you likable and popular in real life — good looks, wild success, happy marriage, lovely home, healthy confidence — will make a reader despise you. The more of a wreck you are from the start, the more the audience is hooked.” – Susan Shapiro

This blog is purposely is not a Facebook photo or Christmas card, where everyone is in love/getting married/pregnant/gainfully employed/lottery winners, and I’m forced to read pages upon pages about it while I sit at home and wonder why my life doesn’t match up.  It’s about reaching into those areas of myself that are sensitive to the touch and experimenting with bringing them into open air. Or at the very least, not writing the boring drivel that keeps me gainfully employed.

So, I shall continue with my own humiliation and memoir – and, as they say, I shall benefit from the journey.

In a new year, temporary objective perspective

There’s always something about a new year that seems to cause people to look back. And like many, I find myself on New Years’ Eve looking back and assessing — my choices, my failures and successes – and then using those judgments as a barometer for how I will improve things moving forward into the new year.

It’s not a bad plan, all things considered.  Dividing up my potential into manageable chunks of time and then assessing my relative success seems to be something I can easily comprehend and manage. I’m tough on myself, tougher probably than most others would be on me.  It’s hard not to be tough when your standards can be so easily swayed by the relative successes of those around you. The grass is always greener, as they say.

Speaking of being swayed, the horse world is probably the most difficult area for me to remain objective about my own growth and success.  It always seems like I’m a day behind or a dollar short of everyone else.  This blog is an outlet for me to air my bitterness and grievances about growing up without the support and encouragement so many good riders enjoyed from their parents, albeit couched in humor and cynicism.  But even with that outlet, it’s not like I’m actually over that loss, although I’m older and wiser now.

My riding growth is slow and painful and seemingly comes at a high cost.  There are some days I don’t feel like I’m even having fun as I re-learn how to correctly half halt (god forbid I learn how to do something right the first time).  I go for weeks at a time without riding as I continue to try to balance working hard at my job, pushing myself to discover my real career calling, home life, trying to get rid of my office ass, and then somehow riding in my spare time. It doesn’t always work well, and I always feels like one element is falling by the wayside.

Despite this, from a riding perspective last year was pretty amazing for me.  I was given the gift of access to two excellent, well-trained (patient) horses, access to two good trainers who I actually trusted, and for the first time, I am confident that I have begun to create a solid foundation built on correct riding that I can build on over time.  And part of me knows I wouldn’t have had any of that if I wasn’t a pretty okay rider to begin with.

Jar of successes

A jar of 2013 successes. Image credit heart2home.

One of the million posts this morning on Facebook about the new year reminded me that success (achievements, wins, positive experiences, etc.) is relative – and no one can use anyone else’s success as their barometer.  The post suggested collecting “good things” that happen to you in a jar over the course of a year and then reading them on Dec. 31 of the following year.

I’m thinking I may use 2013 to try something like this out.  Will the cynical posts stop?  Not highly likely.  But it will hopefully help me focus on what is going well for me, rather than what I’m missing out on.

So, here’s to a successful 2013 filled with successes defined by however we personally choose to define them.  And may all our dreams come true, or some shit like that.

Ima be a rising star

As a wanna-be equestrian blogger that considers myself a specialist in making fun of horse people (myself included), I quickly learned that in preparing to write a blog one must spend the requisite amount of time trolling what’s already out there to ensure that: a) you aren’t accidentally plagiarizing published material a la Wikipedia or something similar, b) accidentally copying someone’s brilliant idea, and c) you learn who your good company is so you can share their work, quote them, or even collaborate, share ideas, etc.  Oddly, I found very little out there (at least, in America) that is horse people with a sense of humor enjoying their sport and laughing at themselves.  There’s some great stuff coming out of the UK and Canada, but are American horse people seriously that full of themselves?

Actually, this blog has nothing to do with that, but I have a point, I promise.

On my search, I came across Eventing Nation, which aggregates a series of posts from guest bloggers on eventing and its people – some of which are a bit sales-y, but a lot of which are full of great content and are quite amusing.  Some of them are downright LOL, actually, including yet another gangnam style parody done by horse people at their barn (even the horses were amused).  And finally, one of my favorite recent additions is Yvette Seger’s Tips for Eventers Living in Itty Bitty Apartments in the City, cause in reality, most of us live in shitty apartments nowhere near our animals and have to deal with real life the other 22 hours a day when we’re not riding.

A few columns aren’t humorous, and a couple of them kinda make my lip curl.  One such is their “Rising Stars” column, which I read out of utter morbid fascination to see which 14-year-old has been given a $50,000 push-button eventer and is bragging about how awesome they are and how far they’ve come and how excited they are to go to *insert name of whatever important show is in your area* show.  I mean, how nice for them; I’m sure if someone had bought me an expensive fully trained eventer with massive scope and ability when I was 14, perhaps I might have also gone to *insert name of whatever important show is in your area* too, and probably won.

Now, life is unfair, and eventing isn’t easy, so I am sure these nice kids are working hard to make these things happen for themselves, and one can’t fault them for taking advantage of what they are given.

Somehow, the rest of us must find another way to become rising stars.  Which brings me to the actual point of this piece: my ride to rising stardom, Misti.

Misti first crossed my path when I was around 16, and riding mostly jumpers in NC.  She was a 14.2-hand Welsh-Arab cross that was way too small for me, but she had an attitude that more than made up for her size.  She was a fabulous jumper and had a go-anywhere, do-anything attitude that any eventer would envy.  Every time I tried to tighten her girth, she would try to eat my face, and when I picked her hooves, she’d move so that when her foot came down it was on top of my foot.  I put ribbons in her mane and made her wear costumes on Halloween and she would glower at me but would prance around with the best of them in the arena.  She was kind of a bitch, and so was I. We were a match made in heaven.

The requisite catch: Her owner was a 12-year-old girl who almost never rode her but jealously preferred no one else ride her, either.  Her mother was only slightly more practical and realized they couldn’t afford board for a kid who never rode, so she agreed to lease her to me.  I learned two big lessons from my experience with Misti’s first family: 1) parents are totally okay with hurting other children to protect their own, and 2) never lease a horse that is “owned” by a 12-year-old kid.   I mentioned in a previous post that I would further discuss the crazy people who have leased me horses, so below I describe my most memorable case.

Most of the time, things were great.  I rode Misti whenever and wherever I wanted, and we grew together in leaps and bounds.  Every now and then, the kid would show up and demand I do things, like clean her tack even though I never used it, or wouldn’t let me ride on a day previously agreed upon, and I endured it as best I could. There was also one short period of time where the family tried to change Misti’s name to Patricia (not that Misti was super awesome, but “Patricia” for a horse? It was a head-scratcher).  But one issue we never resolved was Misti’s mane.  She had this thick, scraggly mane that I so dearly wanted to pull because it made her look messy rather than gallant (the Welsh in her meant her mane was thick, but the Arab made it scraggly).  So when I got to a point where I wanted to start showing Misti, I asked the family if we could pull her mane so I could braid it.  The kid said no – I suppose it was her way of controlling the situation however she could.  The result was pretty much a mess.

Misti

1. Attempted braid of scraggly mane before dressage test,
2. During dressage test,
3. At embarrassing end of dressage test.
Obviously, there may be a few other issues with me, the horse, and/or use of tack in these photos, but you should ignore them in favor of the point.

I finally got so frustrated I pulled her mane without permission, and they cancelled my lease, effectively preventing me from riding my partner.  It when I realized that although some horses truly are the right match, their crazy owners are a red flag that cannot be ignored, and I’m much more careful to look for those signs when entering a potential new lease.

Luckily, Misti was sold to another local boarder shortly after that, and I was able to resume my lease, AND pull her mane without retribution.

Misti and I went to several shows, and had tons of adventures before her owner finally moved her to another barn and I left for college.  I think of her as my first partner, and effectively the first horse that made me any kind of rising star.  But in my opinion, my rising stardom resulted from hard work in getting myself to the level of rider required to take maximum advantage of her abilities, and extreme patience with her owners – NOT $50,000 and the parents I clearly never had.  So it goes.

Misti jumping

Misti and me blowing through a Beginner Novice schooling course, 1996.

So although those 14-year-olds that are being written up online may be much further along than where I am even today, they may not actually understand the real value of being able to easily pop around a Novice course on their clean, presentable (braided) steed.  But I hope they do, because finding that right partner who can push you to be your very best can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

In loving memory of Misti.