Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ebb and Flow

Life is a continual ebb and flow of change - sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst.  The comfort that I have come to find in these changes is not always in moments we are soaring.  At times it is the in-between moments, where things are neither soaring or falling, but simply treading along the journey, maintaining a steady pace between the highs and lows.

The past week has contained a lot of lows, but it has contained a similar amount of highs as well.  A few days ago, my husband and I enjoyed a night of remembrance of his dad, who left us far too soon.  It came out of nowhere, really.  It is ironic, because only a few days earlier, I had been talking to my mother, who was recounting something a therapist had shared with her once about grief.  It ties into the "Ebb and Flow" theme effortlessly.  They had told her that grief is not unlike the ocean tide.  At times, the waves hit close together.  Other times, they may be much further apart.  But it doesn't change the impact the wave has upon you when it hits - the force is the same. 

So that is what happened the other night.  We were watching a movie that was filmed in Hawaii, and when the film came to a close, the closing credits were set to a hawaiian song we had used at his dad's funeral.  And there it was - the tidal wave, crashing upon us, knocking us down, without any warning it was coming.

Then it expounded into yesterday, when I found out a boarder and close friend was going to have to move her horses.  For the first time, I got to experience the perspective of the barn owner in this situation, and I can almost understand why some don't handle it so well.  The initial reaction is to take it personally.  Thankfully, because we do have a good foundation of friendship, the whole thing was settled and talked out in less than a day, and I am ecstatic to see her be able to have her ponies close to home where she can truly enjoy them.

I know this really doesn't have much correlation to my riding particularly, but I am learning to apply all these life lessons and experiences to my riding as well.  I had my lesson the weekend before last, and it was spectacular.  Then I came home and tried to apply all the things we had worked on, and we were still having issues.  Things really came to a head this past Saturday, when Robyn and I both had issues with our horses.  I was able to work through things somewhat, but was still not particularly satisfied with how they were going compared to how well our lesson had gone such a short time ago. 

We went home, regrouped over a cup of coffee the next morning, and analyzed.  We analyzed feed changes, weather patterns, terrain and footing, rider position and tension...every extinuating circumstance imaginable was discussed and beat into the ground until we came up with a plan.  We hooked up my new trailer and took the horses over to Kelsey's to try riding in a contained, flat area.  We lunged first, only for a few minutes, but enough to take the "buzz" off after trailering, etc.  We both tweaked a few approaches in terms of tack.  I approached every step with a different manner that day.  When I went to mount, April took a few steps forward.  Instead of asking her to halt, and then walking off, I got off and led her back to the mounting block.  I remounted, and this time she only took a step forward.  I got off again, then remounted while she stood quietly.

Then I progressed to the walk, and this time I didn't waste any time letting her hack around with her preffered "giraffe" form...I asked for contact immediately.  Within two circles, she was round, soft, and had consistent weight in my hands.  Once we had continued this through several circles and changes of direction, we moved on to the trot.  It was flawless. 

We got back to the farm that night, settled the ponies back in, and toasted our success with a six pack of Blue Moon.  Then, the exuberation carried over into building a riding ring at the top of the hill, so we would have a flat contained area to school in for awhile.  Our arena lighting had been finished while we were over at Kelsey's, so by the end of the night, we had a real ring, complete with lighting and all. 

I repeated all these little changes Monday night, and again last night.  Both rides were dramatically improved, but not without their little hiccups.  Monday night's ride contained a little bit of the skippy gait-breaking canter she has bene doing, but we literally worked through it in a matter of minutes.  Last night, she was being so spectacular, I trotted her over a little crossrail, and was rewarded with the most amazing canter off the backside of the fence.  She got a little fussy shortly afterward, when I asked her to collect again at the walk and go around quietly.  It is hard for her to come back after cantering or jumping.  But we worked through it, and by the end, we had several more circles of a beautiful trot, without her breaking into a canter at all.  Robyn actually commented on how nice of a mover she is, and what a lovely shoulder my sweet mare has.

So you see, it is all about the ebb and flow, in riding as well.  I used to be the queen of dramatic interludes after a ride.  As a matter of fact, a year ago, last night's ride would be nothing short of a disaster, because I had such a tendency to focus on the negatives rather than the big picture.  Now I am learning to translate the real message of the ride - not the fact that is went badly at one point, but the fact that we worked through it and transformed the ride back into a positive experience by the end. 

This fiery red mare is teaching me so many things.  There are days that I really miss Delilah, but I know that April has come into my life with a very distinct purpose.  She has already taught me so many things, and I can't wait to see what lesson she has for me next.  It has been an adventure, to say the least.  I am looking forward to whatever may be next.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Taste of Success!

I am just now getting around to blogging about my ride Tuesday night, because it has been a fairly crazy usual!  I am thrilled to report that my lesson from the weekend really stuck.  I rode April the other night, and applied a massive amount of focus to the position tips we had worked on.  We had an AMAZINGLY improved ride!  I hadn't realized how much the area I was riding in was affecting my position.  Because the property has been so wet and soggy, we have been riding in our little borrowed field right outside the farm.  It drains beautifully...because the entire thing is on a fairly dramatic incline.  So it has been great, in the aspect that we can ride there almost immediately after a decent downpour, but it stinks, because it has caused me to get really sloppy about my position.

We had pieced together the vicious circle of what was happening with April.  She is so forward naturally, that if she scoots out from under me the slightest bit, I fall back onto my butt, she interprets it as a driving seat, and continues to run out from under me, and then it just spins into an unending cycle.  Then she gets frustrated because half of my body is telling her one thing, whereas the other half is communicating something different.  So even though I had the hill to work on Tuesday night, I focused on really controlling my body.  It worked, to say the least.  We spent a lot of time working on the walk, until we produced a pretty darn correct result.  Then we went to the trot, which was challenging downhill.  She has the natural tendency to run onto the forehand going downhill, so I had to really fight to keep my seat correct while holding her from speeding out from under me.  It took a few tries, but by the end of our little workout, we did four huge circles including uphill and downhill slopes, connected, balanced, soft, and relaxed.  VICTORY!!!!

I was ecstatic, and decided to end it as a light workout since it was a huge step in the right direction.  Then I mustered my motivation and tacked up Samson for a conditioning ride.  I was feeling a little restless, so we went for a little moonlit adventure.  He is such a saint.  He barely flinched at the car headlights passing us by.  We worked a lot at the trot, to condition him, and to get me in shape, since I was riding at the two-point.  At one point, he got a little cranked up and buried his head, snatched the bridle, and took off at a gallop....oh dear.  Not ideal, in the dark, down the side of a country road.  Thankfully, he is completely unfit, and two minutes later we were back to a walk while he huffed and puffed from his exertions.  God I love my boy!!!!

I have a few barn tours set up for this weekend, an appointment to look at a trailer, and pony pedicure day (a.k.a. the farrier!) on Saturday.  I am really excited about the people coming to meet Samson.  I have concluded I need a little extra help keeping him worked, especially throughout the winter, so I am going to work out some half-lease situations.  We are three and a half months into running our own barn, and we are full, content, and really blossoming.

In addition, I am completely excited about next weekend.  I have an opportunity to go spend an entire weekend immersed in training rides and lessons, in hopes that we can possibly pull off going to the Pipe Opener at Carolina Horse Park in January.  I can't believe I am actually getting close to going to a show.  I have been hoping, dreaming, and breathing the thought of showing for what seems like forever, and now it seems as if it is finally in reach.  It may seem silly to be so excited over something so small, but when you spend years being the girl on the sidelines, it is all you can think of.  So here's to continuing to blossom, and hopefully continued tastes of success!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lesson Day Revelations

It's amazing how dramatically things can change in just a day.  I posted previously about the tough time that I had been having with April wanting to do a skippy-canter, and not stay at the trot.  Well, over the next ride or two, it continued to increase by fairly dramatic proportions.  By Saturday, I was frustrated to a near breaking point.  We had a horrible ride and were barely able to work through it to a decent stopping point.  I managed to untack and cool out my pony before plopping down on my tack trunk and promptly bawling my eyes out in a most dramatic fashion.  Poor Robyn...she had a tough ride too, and then she had the responsibility of trying to talk me through the emotional basketcase that I was being....

As it turns out, the next day was my lesson with Ivy.  She strolled up to the arena and inquired how things were going, and I filled her in on the troubles we had been having.  She proceeded to hop on April to see if she felt anything.  By the second circle around the ring in near-perfect form, Ivy rode by me with her singsong voice drifting back behind her...."You're a liar......"

If I hadn't laughed, I might have cried.  She hopped off, and I jumped on to start my lesson.  My heart leapt into my throat for the first ten minutes, expecting April to start skipping around like a fool at any moment.

It never happened.  Ivy started correcting minute details about my position from the instant I got on, and it made all the difference in the world.  We worked on the flat for the majority of the lesson and it went beautifully.  The biggest issues I need to work on are: A) my leg - rooting down into my heel, and bringing my knee away from pinching the saddle; B) my seat - rotating forward onto my crotch (sorry, but there isn't really a glamorous way to say that!) and off of my butt, and relaxing through my hip, and; C) my arms - more importantly, relaxing through my elbows and bringing my hands up and out of my lap.  These three things made all the difference in the world throughout my hour-long ride.  By the end of the lesson, we were schooling over a little cross-rail and working on feeling out distances by using a takeoff pole set out from the base of the fence.

Schooling at home, mid-November

My mind was spinning by the time I left, but I felt so relieved to know that such small changes would make such a huge difference in the way she goes.  I stayed to watch Ivy teach a couple more lessons, then headed back to the farm to unload.  After all the ponies were settled in for the evening, I headed over to Kelsey's to enjoy a beer and good conversation about my lesson.  It is so nice to be able to share things from my other lessons with her, and have her help me to expound on them even more.  So many trainers are threatened by a student working with another trainer, but Ivy and Kelsey have both made it so comfortable and non-threatening for me, and I feel unbelievably lucky to have the freedom to utilize multiple resources that each add another piece of the puzzle.

I am attaching the video from Kelsey's ride on April the day after Thanksgiving, as well as an AMAZING picture my little sister finally sent over to me.  Her photography continues to astound me - my girl is so photogenic!!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Girl Interrupted....

I feel like that has been the story of my life for the past two weeks.  First we had the fall, which thankfully didn't take any longer than a day to recover from, and that was seriously only a hair bit of whiplash.  Then came Thanksgiving, and the inevitable interruptions.  The day after Thanksgiving was great.  I took Miss April over to Kelsey's to see what she thought of some of the issues we had been having.  She had a great ride overall.  April pulled out all of her little tricks, which was a good thing.  First, it affirmed that I am not doing anything wrong for it to crop up.  Second, it gave me a chance to see how Kelsey worked through it.  It ended up being a great ride.  I had to laugh, because Kelsey commented that this is the third time she has been on April, and it has been a totally different ride every time...that's a chestnut mare for you!!!  I have video I am uploading of her ride that day...hopefully will get it posted soon!

Saturday was a gorgeous day, and I pulled April up to go for a ride with the other girls.  I groomed her carefully, and as I went to pick her feet, I discovered a minor issue...she had pulled a nail from her front shoe, and bent up the edge of the shoe.  Thank god for one of our boarders' friends that was there, whose grandfather was a farrier.  He was able to piece together enough tools to maneuver removing the shoe.  Problem solved.  However, being that it was Thanksgiving weekend, my farrier was out of town.  So it took til Wednesday to get the shoe tacked back on.  Half a week lost....sigh. 

I used the weekend to focus on getting Samson back into shape.  He has enjoyed a lot of down time since his suspensory injury, and I ended up taking the approach of putting him out to pasture for a few months to just see what happened.  He has gone back into light work over the last month, but it has been somewhat sporadic.  After April's shoe debacle on Saturday, I pulled Samson out and tacked up for a ride.  We ended up having an absolute blast.  We did some conditioning work through the trails on the property, and ended up cantering over a few little fallen logs.  I had almost forgotten how fun he is out the open!  My new goal for Samson is to get him into shape to go try some foxhunting.  I really think that is his calling in life, if he stays sound.  Ring work is NOT for him.  He is slow, sluggish, and cranky.  So that eliminates eventing and dressage.  The suspensory injury combined with his feet issues have ruled out serious jumping and the hunter ring, at least in my mind.  He could be fully recovered, but I can never justify jumping him extensively.  However, he LOVES to be out in the open.  He is forward, his ears perk forward with a look of excitement, and he is as steady as a rock.  So I have decided to try my hand at a little foxhunting, and see how it goes.  So on Sunday, I hit the roads outside the farm for a little more conditioning work, and had a blast yet again.

Then came the rain.  And more rain.  And guessed it.  Rain. 

The farm has become a soggy pit of mud, more or less, which puts a serious damper on riding.  So even though April's shoe was finally back on by Wednesday night, last night was pretty much a loss for riding without the risk of really tearing up the ground.  I am desperately hoping to find a dry enough spot to get SOME kind of work in this evening.  We have a lesson on Sunday, and I am feeling seriously unprepared for it.

So that is the current state of affairs.  Day by day fading by, and I try to squeeze in as much as I can.  I am hoping to go look at a horse trailer tomorrow, which is very exciting!  I am waiting to hear back on whether or not they will entertain an offer.  It would be nice to have a little freedom to pack up and go at a moment's notice!

Life is good.  I am so grateful for everything I have been given, everything I've worked for, and the people I have to share it with.  It is winter, and it can be frustrating to have goals skewed by the weather, but we will get through it.  I always do!

Hacking home on April the day after Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gray to Blue, & Giving Thanks

I just read the most insightful post by my trainer and dear friend Kelsey.  She was reflecting on a song by the Avett brothers, and the fact that it can be so easy to take the gray days forgranted.  Then I pull up my blog, and up comes my last post, a barely-three-sentence entry of general gloomy rambling.  I had to chuckle, because the things that had me so in the dumps that day already seem to be a shadow of what they were.  It is amazing what a little time and perspective can do to the big "issues."  Day by day, we continue to learn to deal with the things that crop up, and continue to perservere in a general forward direction.

I got bucked off pretty good over the weekend.  To be honest, I was hesitant to post that here.  I had my mental tally in my head that this would be the third fall I have blogged about, and, hmm, is that too many to confess to in the vast timeless space that is the internet?  There are those who would use it as fodder and gossip to fuel whatever malicious desire they have for me to fail, but nonetheless - I confess it.  I got rocket launched.  To the moon.  Or, um, a grassy field.  Regardless...ouch. 

Really, not ouch this time, thank goodness.  I hopped up without a second thought and was back on in minutes.  The next day I had a pretty good case of whiplash, but that was honestly it.  I was confessing the entire story to Kelsey with a bit of embarassment, and how I don't know how I've managed to fall off more this year than in the last six years of riding.  I barely got it out of my mouth when she piped in with a tiny nugget of insight to the effect of this - good for you.  If you aren't having a fall here and there, you aren't challenging yourself to do anything bigger than what you've been doing. 

It resonated.  In a big way.  And not just that afternoon.  It has been something that continues to bubble up and intrigue me with just how true it really is.  A year ago, a fall would have destroyed the last tiny shred of confidence I had left.  Yet here I am, jumping back on, and going right back to fixing the issue, without being haunted constantly by the fear of what just happened. 

April continues to surprise and intrigue me as well.  The more I study her and try to figure out, the more complex the picture becomes.  I actually see a lot of resemblances between her and Linkin.  She tends to have these little fits that are so reminiscent of Linkin's behaviors.  It is so funny how things work out, because Robyn and I were talking about Linkin the other week.  He is her warmblood/thoroughbred cross that she adopted for free because he had been the "crazy" horse in his previous career.  At the time, I had actually found the listing that he was available, but didn't get a chance to even go see him.  Robyn apologized while we were reminiscing about it, for the fact that she felt he had gotten snatched away from me even though I had discovered him.  I laughed, and reminded her that there was no way he would have been the right horse for me.

And then I turned to my mare, my sweet mare who can be fiery and insistent and downright nutty at times, and I had to add one word - "Then."  I couldn't have handled him then.  Now, however - now is a different story.  In so many ways, I have the same sort of horse on my hands.  She is incredible, talented, and amazing, but she is not easy.  She is a chestnut mare - don't horse people warn you about that combination?? 

So I look back on my fall, and see it not as another notch on the belt, not another scar on my battered confidence, but instead as another step on the ladder of where I aspire to be.  Another stretch towards the horsewoman I want to become.  It's all about perspective, right?  So walking away from the situation, here's what I see.  I see an opportunity to continue to progress.  I see a situation I am going to laugh about, and be proud of the fact that I brushed myself off and went on.  Mostly, I see pride in the fact that for ONCE, my heart didn't pound out of my chest when I got back on. 

I guess you can make of it what you like.  Success or failure, it is all in the eyes of the beholder.  This beholder chooses to take the beauty of the lesson rather than the sting of the fall.  So in those terms, I see gray skies turning to blue in my immediate future, and I am so grateful.

Last night, we had an impromptu barn party.  It sort of evolved from a personal crisis of a friend, which of course demanded the presence of a little tequila in form of our favorite pre-mixed margaritas.  Somehow, we ended up lying on our steady-eddy ponies, using their hindquarters as cupholders, laughing and talking, and just enjoying life.  It reminded me to never take anything too seriously.  The silly moments are what make things worthwhile.  It isn't the one hairy ride we had last week that sticks out in my memory today; it isn't the biting criticism that someone tries to passively throw out that is clearly meant for us...instead, it is these moments of great friendship and the presence of horses that I find joy in.  So, a little early for Thanksgiving I suppose, but these are but a few of the things I am intensely grateful for in my life. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gray Day

I'm having a gray and gloomy sort of day.  It happens so infrequently, sometimes you just have to roll with it.  Sometimes you just have to wonder....

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tales for a Rainy Day

Today is my first horse trainer's birthday, and it is making me sentimental and reminiscent of all our great times together.  Robin introduced me to the world of pony club, eventing, and even adulthood when she took me under her wing when I was seventeen.  She helped to convince my parents to buy me my first horse Cody, who I miss dearly, and who amazing is still alive today at 30.  This is a shot of me riding Cody back in my pony club days in Iowa.

I owe Robin and Cody so much.  They both helped to shape the horsewoman I have become today, along with everyone else that has helped to mold me along the way.  Each trainer that has come into my life has added another piece of the equation, and the journey only continues to blossom as I progress in the never-ending quest to improve.  Cody was the consummate babysitter, who didn't have a spook in him to save his life.  He did, however, have quite a productive buck, especially when one insisted that he canter....he challenged me early on to be a fearless little rider.  He was a bit of a lazy horse, and took an awful lot of convincing to jump up to the Novice level, which is where we eventually ended up.  We only ran a Beginner Novice event together, but schooled many times beyond that level.  I will never forget our most victorious day of cross country schooling at Lois Pienkos' farm, when we jumped the Training level turkey feeder and the scary-looking bench.  Cody was a star, even in his 20's, which is how old he was that day.

I visit him every time I go back to Iowa to visit my family.  I don't know for sure if horses remember people, but I could swear that he remembers me.  He now lives at Miracles in Motion, and totes around handicap children in a therapeutic riding program like the saint that he is.  One of the volunteers there told me the last time I visited that he had to remember me - that she had never seen him perk up to the extent that he did as I loved on him.  I owe that pony everything.  He was my sounding board, my shoulder to cry on, my teacher and confidant.  I miss him all the time, and I am so grateful to have had him in my life.

Now I have progressed to new teachers.  I have new trainers, and new horses, which are the ultimate teachers.  April is teaching me every day to rely on my seat and leg, and to quit relying on my hands as a method of control.  She is teaching me to trust when it might still be a little scary, and she is teaching me to be correct and change all sorts of old habits that were established from years of riding pretty much on my own.  Last night we rode in the dark, in an unfenced field, on a big sloping hill.  We ended up cantering a gorgeous 20 meter circle, where she was relaxed through the back and coming through behind.  She is such an amazing mare, and I really look forward to our future together!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Good For the Soul

Horses are, in a nutshell, extremely therapeutic to one's soul.  It is amazing the way life can become so trivial when you surrender yourself to being at the mercy of a 1200 pound animal.  They exude so much power and grace, and ultimately are the most tender creatures if you consider how much harm they could cause us if they weren't inherently good-natured.

I have established this new method of "bonding" with my ponies.  Now, spare me the lecture, because I know it isn't the safest thing, but I'm not going around hopping on everyone in this manner...  Anyhow.  I have been hopping up on Samson to lay bareback while he munches on his hay.  Last night I literally sprawled across him and massaged him while he munched beneath me.  It is the most peaceful place I can escape to in my chaotic little world, and when I lay there, it is as if he and I are the only creatures on earth.  It makes me feel like that 17 year old kid again...the one who used to sneak down into the barn late at night to lay on my first horse's back, or simply cuddle up in a corner of his stall, just to be close to him.  In these moments, it is as if I haven't aged a day, and I am still just a horse-crazy kid, looking to fill the neverending craving to be close to a pony. 

My, how things have changed.  Now I am an adult, and with that comes so many more issues.  Bills, responsibilities, a roof over my head, animals to care for, a husband to keep happy, family obligations to satisfy...the list is endless at times, and I never seem to accomplish everything I set out to do.  But I can still snuggle with my pony.  For those precious fifteen minutes, I can curl up in a cocoon of warmth, filled with the smell of hay, fresh shavings, the sounds of munching and whuffling, and an occassional nicker.  In these moments, I am one with the horse world, and chaos disappears.  Life is whole.

Speaking of chaos - my weekend was filled with it, but it was wonderful.  My little sister is an incredibly talented budding photographer who recently moved to Florida to further her education.  She came up Friday night to use our barn as the centerpiece for her final project for the semester, and Saturday morning we hit the barn early to start shooting.  She was our invisible paparazzi all day long, snapping pictures of hand-grazing, of the barn, of people grooming, and finally, of our riding.  I had an awesome ride.  April and I jumped BOTH sets of tire jumps on the property and had an absolute blast each time!  Then we set up a stadium fence to school and ended up jumping 3 feet!  She tends to get a little cranked up when the height starts climbing, so we aren't going to push the height issue, but rather focus on keeping fences calm and steady at this point.  Sunday morning we headed to the barn early again to finish up with the photography project.  Courtney needed us to do actual portrait shots, so we had to do a little bit of posing.  Of course this ended with the usual America's Next Top Model jokes about "schmizing" and "fierce!"-ness.  Let me tell you, there were plenty of laughs going around!  But it ended up being a total blast, and not bad when we were posing with ponies.  It's easy to interact with them.  It is MUCH more difficult to pose by ourselves!

After the little sis left town, we headed over to Kelsey's on horseback to meet her and Jamey for a trail ride on a great piece of land nearby.  What a clan we made - the advanced level eventer, steeplechase jockey, fearless-wonder-that-is-Robyn, and ME - aka, the gutless wonder.  HOW did I end up in this group again??  I'm still shaking my head over that one. 

Nevertheless, the next hour and a half was an absolute blast.  We cantered around a huge open stretch of land, without a border in sight.  We wandered through wooded trails, across a wide creek with running water, up a fairly steep bank, across a ditchy-creek crossing, and hopped numerous fallen logs.  It was total heaven.  April had a mini meltdown after really getting rolling over a few fallen logs in a row.  It seems that the more she goes over, the more excited she becomes.  Other than that brief moment, she was a superstar.  We had one of the most amazing canters out in the open field.  We went from a little hand-gallop into a soft, long, low canter.  It is an amazing feeling to see wide open land in front of you, nothing in your way, and to feel the steady rhythm of hoofbeats beneath you in perfect sync. 

So that was the weekend in a nutshell, and I've already filled you in on last night's snuggle time with my sweet kids.  I had a snuggle moment with April too - how amusing!  She was definitely not expecting her kooky owner to jump on her back in a stall.  She was startled, to say the least.  I have to say, I have eliminated her from too much bareback snuggling however...Samson is far more snuggly due to his not-so-girlish figure.  Horses are so good for the soul. 

A sneak preview of my photography session...hopefully the actual prints will arrive soon!

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Picture Perfect Weekend!

Well, here's hoping at least!  It will be a "picturesque" weekend, however, because my little sister is coming to shoot the farm for her final photography project of the semester.  I am looking forward to seeing what her creative eye comes up with in terms of capturing the farm on camera.  She always has amazing results.

I had a great ride on April the other night!  We are hoping to have our lights done this weekend, so we rode by the light of the moon...which isn't much, considering it was a very cloudy, overcast evening.  Regardless, we made the best of it and tacked up and headed to a neighboring field where there were fewer trees to block out the little bit of moonlight we had.  I had a great ride.  It was challenging, because the area we chose to ride in has a pretty good sized slope, but it was an excellent chance to work on not getting on the forehand while riding downhill, and really working through the hind end when going uphill.  It was an awesome, relaxed ride.  We called it quits fairly early since they were so good about riding in the dark, and headed back to the barn.

I am fighting another stupid cold and feeling a bit hazy today, so I am hoping to keep pumping the echinacea and fight that off before it takes hold.  We are showing a boarder around tomorrow, so I am hoping to feel up to getting more footing down in the muddy areas before she gets there tomorrow!  I think that is all of the exciting developments for the week.  It has been a ho-hum type of week, just the normal routine of feeding, riding, grooming, and working on the farm. 

I will leave you with the adorable sight I found this morning when I went out to feed.  April had a little "friend" hanging out on her hindquarters...take a look...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Oh Sun, Where Have You Gone?

I despise daylight savings time.  There, I said it.  I don't mind winter, don't mind chilly nights...I'd rather bundle up than be sweating profusely anyday.  But with that being said, I have to put it out there that I HATE the shorter days.

We "fell back" this past Sunday, and it is so depressing to get to the barn and it is already dark.  It makes everything that much harder.  Doing chores in the dark isn't so bad, but we don't have arena lights yet, so riding has gone out the window so far this week.  Tonight I think I will just ride in the dark.  I'm itching to ride.

The good news is, the bones are okay!  I think it has turned out to be my ridiculous knees, which I have had multiple problems with in the past anyway.  Thankfully it isn't my mounting knee this time, so as long as I baby it a good bit, I should be fine.

The barn is full as of the beginning of this month!  We have an awesome group of people.  Everyone is reliable and diligent, and I never have to worry about anything when I am gone.  I actually took the entire weekend to devote to getting my household back in order - something that fell completely to the back burner while getting the barn up and running.  It was so refreshing to take all that time off and never have a single worry in my head.

We did ride on Sunday afternoon.  It was GORGEOUS, and we hit the roads and went trailblazing around Indian Land, complete with a walking trail ride with Baby P, who is not allowed to go any faster than a walk yet. 

I worked on new footing going down in some of the boot-eating muddy areas around the farm, and I think we are on the right track to solving that issue.  All the horses are now acclimated and in a single herd for now and seem to be settled and happy. 

Lastly, Penelope has decided she is a horse.  She is our pygmy goat that we got to help with the brushy areas of the paddock we have been trying to clear.  She is a weed-eating machine!  When she first arrived, she was fairly skittish, but she is really coming around.  She now hangs out with the herd constantly, and rotates between stalls at night to find a warm place to sleep.  Life is great at our little farm, and I truly couldn't be happier!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Stupid Bones...

Yep.  You got it...I am (possibly) cursing my bones.  You see, even though I just wrote about my little fall yesterday, it has actually been a week and a half since it happened.  So as you can imagine, I am getting a little nervous that my leg is increasingly tender by the day. 

When I went home that night, I was surprised when my shin bone started throbbing incessantly.  I thought my knee had been the only thing affected by the fall.  I went on the counteroffensive, armed with frozen peas (the best ice packs EVER!) and a euro-sized pillow to elevate it.  When I woke up the next morning, it was dramatically improved, so I didn't think much of it. 

I rode again Monday, and it wasn't too bad.  Went for a hack Tuesday - not horrible.  However, every time I bump that bone against something (which is not all that infrequently, considering the wretched KLUTZ I can be...) I keep noticing how tender it is.  There isn't a muscle or tendon in that part of the leg that I can think of, so at the moment I am placing blame on the bone.  It keeps getting worse by the day, so I am becoming increasingly suspicious that I may have some sort of minor hairline stress fracture.

This leads me to a series of issues.  A) It means going to the doctor, probably an x-ray at a minimum, maybe even further diagnostics.  This means money, and my budget is already stretched beyond what is deemed liveable at the moment.  B) If it is indeed a fracture, even a tiny one, the doctor's recommendation will likely include a significant time off from riding and excessive weight-bearing.  Anyone who rides horses and owns their own farm knows this is next to impossible to obey.  C) Someone is going to have to keep my horse conditioned for the minimum amount of time I actually try to obey the doctor's orders, before I ultimately rebel and throw in the towel, becoming "Naughty Patient."  And D) Dr. Warren, sports medicine physician extraordinaire, is likely to scold me for being involved in my second horseback-related fracture this year.  What he is not aware of is the long-running six year track record I had with NO falls prior to this year's obvious string of FAILS.

So that's where we stand at this point.  I have a giant neoprene wrap strapped around my lower leg in order to give me some sort of extra support.  Tonight I will ice again, elevate, and try not to shoot myself while taking an actual night off from the barn.  This is one remedy I have not tried since the accident, so we shall see if it helps.  I'm guessing no.  Then again, leaping off said injured leg last night to mount my pony bareback probably wasn't the best step towards recovery either.  But who can resist lying on a pony's back while they munch hay?  Not I!!!!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Reflection on 250 ccs vs 1 Horsepower...

I was pondering my recent advances in riding on the way to work this week as a way to try to keep my brain from freezing - quite literally, as a matter of fact.  I purchased a pair of riding pants last week - not breeches, as most of the horsey-readers would first thing, but actually motorcycle gear.  So I broke them in this week in the barely 40 degree weather on my 45 minute commute to work, and it got me thinking.

I credit my motorcycle as a huge part of my recent boost in confidence.  I have not been someone who has easily penetrated the "fear" issue in the past.  As a matter of fact, I was a bit of a failure as a diver during my high school swim team days, because I had one really bad dive and never got over the mental block that resulted.  I was on the precipice of doing the same thing in my riding, and even though we took a multitude of approaches, the fear was always creeping around the edges of my overly-neurotic brain.  Until something completely unlikely happened that forever changed the way I approach things.

My husband bought a motorcycle.

I kicked.  I screamed.  I adamantly protested the dangers of riding a bike, and the inherent danger that accompanied such a reckless hobby.  And then I went for a ride around a parking lot on the back.  A few days later, I went for a ride around the block.  Yet a few days after that, I went for a ride across town.  And that was it - I was hooked.  A week after we got his bike, I brought home my very own Kawasaki Ninja 250. 

It started off slowly - circles around the parking lot at Indian Land High School.  Then graduating to the roads inside our neighborhood.  I dumped it three times before we finally got smart and lowered it, and I was fine after that.  It was terrifying, yet exhilerating at the same time.  I remember the first time I rode outside of the neighborhood, for a 1/4 mile stretch before turning back into the neighborhood.  I remember thinking I was FLYING....then I looked down and realized the speedometer read 35 miles per hour.  Sigh.....

But gradually, I progressed, and with every ride, the fear started to melt away, and I found myself becoming more and more secure.  Before I knew it, the newfound confidence began to translate over to my riding.  At this point, I still had Delilah, and the majority of our history together had been a hodgepodge of mistrust and doubt, and scary memories we couldn't seem to get past for good.  I got my motorcycle in May, and in June started Delilah in training.  Slowly, the changes began to take place.  It was small things at first - the fact that I was confident enough to ride alone, something which was a rare occurence before.  Then I started jumping alone.  Then we tackled some small cross country fences.  Little by little, my confidence began to grow in the arena of my riding.  It wasn't an overnight transformation, but it was tiny pieces here and there.  I would feel myself start to tense up with the same old nerves, and I would find myself reflecting on my first bike rides, and the fear I had felt when I had just started out.  Simply knowing that I had overcome a fear gave me the reassurance that I could apply the same baby steps to my riding - and I continued to do so.

Then I made the difficult decision to sell Delilah and move on to April, and it gave me an even bigger boost.  It was as if the slate was wiped clean, and I was free to start again and build a solid foundation.  Now, believe me - it has not meant by any stretch that I intend to have perfect, confidence-blossoming rides from here on out.  As a matter of fact, we already had the flatwork "episode" as I refer to it, and just last week, I got launched. 

Yep, you got it - I have already fallen off my girl.  Go figure, right?  Confidence begins blossoming, and then my horse has a near-meltdown, then a few weeks later I have a pretty good fall.  But here's the thing - it hasn't scared me.  If anything, it has given me even more motivation to overcome and  progress, because I am bound and determined to keep the clean slate, and to never be afraid of my horse again. 

We were schooling a few cross-country jumps last Wednesday over at my instructor's farm.  Robyn wasn't feeling great, so I hacked down to ride with Kelsey, and we started with big conditioning trot sets around the farm.  Then Kelsey started schooling a few cross-country coops, and I couldn't possibly resist doing a few myself.  We hopped the coop into the paddock, then hopped the little bank-coop going uphill - that was fun!  April sprung over it very cat-like, but we took it smoothly and ended up skipping the idea of doing it downhill.  We haven't graduated to a downhill bank with that degree of steepness yet!  I walked back around and into the paddock, and that's where I made the wrong decision.  I decided to try the skinny coop sitting right in the middle of the paddock.  When I say skinny, I mean a pretty darn narrow coop, without a wing in sight.  April has never refused anything I pointed her at, so I didn't figure there would be any issues whatsoever.  We picked up a forward trot, took a nice, straight approach, and....runout.  Ooops!!!  I circled around again, concentrating on using a lot of leg to tunnel her to the fence without another runout and....  Runout.  Again.  This time it was so quick and dodgy, left-right, left-right, it really shocked me when she managed to dart out at the last second.  At this point, Kelsey had noticed our struggling and came to assist, by having us walk to the base of the fence and halt on a perfect straight approach, then circle around at a trot and come again.  April dodged, back and forth, left to right, all the way to the fence.  I answered with the proper leg, each time she tried to run out, all the way to the fence, and then, she sprung into the a BIG way.  Not only did she leap the coop as if it were a four foot solid wall, she was still in the process of dodging around, so her takeoff was totally crooked, and I was thrown off-balance to the left.  I briefly contemplated saving myself from falling, and quickly decided that bailing off would probably be less traumatizing to her than trying to haul myself back up on landing.  That was all fine and dandy, and I landed on both feet, but given her crooked mid-air jump, she ended up landing crooked as well...  As I looked up, I saw hindquarters swinging towards me and made the split decision to fall/roll out of harm's way, and 95% of my body obeyed that plan.  My right leg, however, somehow seemed to plant itself firmly to the ground, and I ended up bending it in a direction that legs really shouldn't be bent.

Poor April.  She ran around in circles for a minute or two, trying to sort out what the heck had happened.  Seeing as how she came from a 2* rider before me, and a 4* rider before that, I can only imagine she is used to the humans staying ON her back and not flying off.  **Sigh**  I stood up to catch her, and my knee buckled underneath me.  CRAP.  I hopped one legged and caught my horse, and tried to walk it off.  Somewhere between standing up and catching my mare, adrenaline kicked in, and I was able to put some weight on my knee again.  I remounted and we enjoyed a relaxed hack back home to cool off, seeing as how my knee was not about to hold up to anymore jump schooling.

I had to take the next four days off - a combination of the busted knee, weather, and projects around the farm that demanded my attention.  Monday evening rolled around, and I was dying to get back to riding again.  I tacked up,  mounted, and proceeded to have the most glorious flatwork school that we have ever had on our own without an instructor present.  It was a phenomenal ride - relaxed, balanced, soft - everything I could possibly ask for.  Before I knew it, I was headed towards a little vertical to get it under our belt, since I had gotten launched the last time we jumped.  She picked up a steady canter, hopped the vertical, and landed in a soft, balanced, and relaxed canter.  I was grinning all the way back to the barn. 

Am I cured?  Of course not!  I have no doubt that little bits of fear will try to creep into my mind here and there.  The same neurotic historical pattern of thinking will rear its ugly head from time to time.  But I have built a foundation of success - first with the motorcycle, and now, I am taking baby steps in doing the same thing in my riding.  I have incidences to fall back on when I feel my nerves taking over - moments where I have felt those exact same nerves, faced them head-on, and won.  So here's to the's to conquering the fear, once and for all!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Battle of Epic Proportions...

A ride like last night deserves a pretty epic title.  You see, the name of my blog came about because my most prevalant goal was to conquer the fears I had been battling in my riding.  It has been a long and arduous journey, but I feel like I have made a lot of progress in the right direction.

Last night was another one of those huge steps.  My new mare, whom I absolutely adore, decided to act up a bit.  And by a bit, I really mean, an awful lot....

Everything started out normally.  The horses had eaten, I tacked up, put on her sport boots, and headed to the back to hopefully put our previous day's lesson into practice and possibly even school over a few fences.  Things started out without a hitch - we had a great walk, solid trot work, and a beautiful relaxed canter.  I trotted into the first line, and she went over both fences without a hitch.  That's when it started to fall apart.  As I approached the line the second time, I could tell she was anticipating.  Her head started creeping higher and higher, and she lost her hind end completely.  I did the best I could to fix it as we came to the first fence, but by that point I just had to ride through the line, which was pretty rushed.  She has a tendency to hit the ground and want to RUN after the fence, but most days it is fairly manageable.  Last night, it was taking every bit of strength to bring her back to a relaxed canter.  Next approach to the line, I focused on our pace up to the fence, and when she tried to run against me, I checked her with a good solid half-halt with both my seat and rein.  Too much...we ended up pulling a rail because she sucked back like crazy at the last minute.  Argh.  Came around to approach one more time, and by then, she was feeling completely frazzled, so I took a moment to focus on our flatwork.  I put her onto a twenty meter circle, trying to get her to relax and step from behind again, rather than running around with her head cranked in the air.  Much to my surprise, she kept trying to break into a canter.  Every time I asked her to go back to a trot, she would suck into an up-and-down collected canter that was nearly in place.  At one point, I asked for a halt, and then for a walk, and when I asked for the canter she did a fraction of a canter pirouette.  Okay, I have to admit, that was cool, but the fact that Miss April was running the show was NOT cool, as evidenced by what happened next...

I thought (key word!!!) I had pulled us back together, so I headed back towards the line, determined to get ONE GOOD JUMP to end on.  We can NOT end on a bad not.  Well, as soon as we headed that way, she would break into a canter and blow off my outside aids, which resulted in a big bulging turn and wretched approach to the fence.  I literally tried three times in a row, and she kept bulging through the outside.  I took mental inventory - from head to toe - trying to see if it was anything I was creating.  I couldn't come up with anything.  At this point, she kept trying to break from the trot into a canter, and was completely marching to her own beat.  I kept insisting that she come back to a trot and stay with me, and that is when she just flat shut down on me.  She stopped dead and refused to go forward.  At one point, she tried to start backing up with me.  Well, if there is one thing that Renie drilled into my head, it was that you do not evade by backing up - it is completely unacceptable.  I tried using my hand as a whip - she refused to move.  Robyn grabbed me a weedy little branch to use, and oh boy, did I use it.  At first, she blew it off.  Then she broke into a sideways canter....towards the hill at the back of the ring.  She completely blew off my aids and was nearly running backwards, sideways, and crowhopping at the canter, all at the same time.  We literally stopped before tumbing backwards down a pretty good sized hill, and I took a moment to catch my breath...and shove down my nerves.

At this point, my legs are killing me, I'm breathing like a freight train, my knee hurts from having to mount from the ground twice after resetting poles....but it doesn't matter, because we cannot end like this.  Robyn told me later that she was supremely impressed by how I handled the situation, because she was pretty sure things were going to blow up really bad at a couple different points.  I told her it was simple.  I was scared as you-know-what, but I REFUSE to have another Delilah situation on my hands.  I am not going to be afraid of my horse, and I am not going to set us up for failure in that aspect.  So I had to win, right when the issue presented itself.

So back to the ride.  At this point, I literally threw her away and held the reins on the buckle.  If there is one thing I know about this mare from Ivy, it is that when she arrived, she would not go forward.  Period.  And I am not going to be responsible for that behavior reappearing!  So I threw her head away, prayed to God she listened to my seat, and asked for a simple walk.  This time, she responded.  I asked for a trot, still trusting her to follow my seat and not having any contact or tension on the reins.  Don't get me wrong - she was chugging around at a pretty good pace, but she did stay with me for the most part.  The best part was that I started coaxing her to relax through her back and give me a big, stretchy trot - and she responded.  It could literally feel all the tension melting away.  I told Robyn that I wanted to canter, but wasn't sure if I should pick that battle again.  She responded with a question instead of an answer - could my legs hold up if I did try?  I laughed, and said they would have to.  I let out a huge deep breath, and asked for the canter, focusing on a light rein with minimal contact, and a soft and allowing seat - and she responded.  No more hopping up and down, no more blowing through the outside aids, running sideways - it was back to the usual soft, relaxed, supported canter.  I did two circles, then hopped off to loosen the girth.

I promptly collapsed to the ground when my mounting knee buckled underneath me, and my wobbly muscles refused to bail the knee out to hold me up.  Oops....

So, I feel like jello today, but I am victorious.  I didn't let my nerves win.  I'll be honest, in the moment, I was S-C-A-R-E-D.  It really was turning into a meltdown fast.  But I have to credit every single trainer I have worked with for giving me each piece of the solution that came together in a successful ending.  Renie, for teaching me to steadfastly REFUSE to accept the unacceptable behaviors, Kelsey, for teaching me the "stretchy trot" method that used to be the best solution for getting Delilah to relax through her back and get her head back in the game when she got frazzled, and Ivy, for the very recent help on quieting my seat and allowing rather than driving.  All three of these things gave me the tools to blast past the fear in the moment, and instead find the solution to the problem.  I look back today with so much pride, because six months ago, it could have realistically turned into so much of a bigger issue in my head.  But instead, I now have one more experience under my belt to reassure me that I can handle things, even when they go badly.  I think we are on the right track!!!!!

Photo Update!

As promised, here is the photographic evidence of our weekend lesson!  :-)




Monday, October 24, 2011

Adding to the Foundation

Well, we had an exciting weekend at Thalia Farm!  It started Friday, with the exciting news that we are about to be full!  We have two horses arriving on Friday, since our boarder decided the rescue horse she had on trial is not the right fit.  Thankfully, she is going to stick around and do a lease on Samson, so we will still have her at our barn!  So the weekend started off with great news!  We walked the farm and came up with plans to put out our roundbales, add a shavings bin, figure out trailer storage, and get our lighting project going.  We settled on using the cleared area behind the barn as our winter ring, and the big field will stay our jumping field to be used when it is light out.  There were too many logistics to run lights that far, so we are going to focus on the easier project to start out with.  We are also going to add in a pathway between the two gates the horses come in through, by using railroad ties and pit gravel that we are getting for free!  We have been planning to tackle the mud issue that cropped up over the last few weeks, but thankfully we held off and made some great connections that are going to save us a ton of money!

Gorgeous winter grazing coming up!

Saturday was farrier day, which ate up most of the day.  It was just in time, because April ended up pulling a shoe during our workout Friday night, so it was perfect timing for Bryan to show up!  She got her shiny new shoes put on, and everyone else had beautiful trims done.  On Sunday, I was motivated enough to clean nearly every piece of tack I had, and then conditioned it really thoroughly.  I love having clean, soft leather - I don't know why I don't make time for it more often!  Then we headed off to Waxhaw to pick up the trailer and load up April for our first lesson with Ivy.

Part of our mare exchange deal was that I would take at least a monthly lesson so she could keep an eye on our progress together.  April was a very difficult horse when Ivy first got her, and it took her three months to even get the mare to go forward instead of straight up.  (And now look at her!!!)  She really loves the mare and wanted to make sure it is a good fit, so this was one of her conditions to keep an eye on things.  So we trailered to her farm over in Lake Wylie for a 4 o'clock lesson.  I have to admit, I was nervous.  I am always nervous riding in front of people I don't know very well, but especially in a lesson format.  Thankfully I had Robyn with me as ground crew, and she also ended up being my calming force.  I know she could see my nerves getting cranked up while I was tacking up, and she was my voice of reason.  Before I knew it, we were in the ring having an awesome lesson.  Ivy goes a million miles an hour, but not so fast that I can't keep up.  We worked on the flat, and had some of the best canter work I have had on the mare!  It was great, because she helped add in little pieces to the foundation that Kelsey has been laying, and everything just built on each other and complimented the general principles that we have been working on.  I love working with multiple trainers, because one person can explain it one way, whereas another might present the same technique with a different explanation that just expands the theory that much more.  It is so exciting to be really working on my riding, and I am so excited to have a horse that I can learn so many things on! 

We checked out a few of Ivy's horses when we were finished, including a new spitfire of a mare she just brought back from Kentucky.  We loved on "Eve" (formerly Delilah!) for awhile too, and got an update on her progress.  They have been working closely with Susan Chandler to do a series of chiropractic adjustments.  After her first adjustment, they discovered she was severely out in her ribs and her poll.  It was amazing, because she had always turned to bite at my left leg at times, and we had thought it could be ulcers or hormonal issues - sure enough, it was being out in her ribs.  She did the same thing to Ivy on the first couple rides, and after having her ribs adjusted, it hasn't cropped up since.  Her poll was out so severely that she was curling behind to keep herself from being in pain.  Ivy said the mare has literally been running because she was in pain.  Since her first two adjustments, she now has rhythm and tempo, and can be ridden at a perfect tempo without even using a bit!  I can't wait to see her go, because it sounds like she has made some major progress.  I am hoping to go out next weekend and watch a few rides, including hers!  I am learning a lot about some of the alternative methods used on horses; things I would have never thought to look into.  I hate that I missed looking into chiropractic treatments, I just never thought of it.  We had run the gamut of ideas, and totally missed the fact that the mare was in pain.  I feel like I let her down for so long, but I guess what matters is that she is on the right track now, and hopefully on to a solid future!

I will post pictures of my ride tomorrow.  Robyn was an awesome paparazzi for me, but of course I overslept this morning and couldn't find the cord to my netbook!  It was a chaotic morning, but I am looking forward to it settling into a better day, followed by a good ride tonight!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Big Jump....LITERALLY!

I can't believe it has taken me this long to write about our ride on Monday night!  Haley did chores last night though, so I enjoyed a lazy night - the first in quite some time!  Needless to say, I didn't accomplish much of anything last night, so here I am, reliving my glory moment!

Okay, it wasn't supremely glorious, because I felt like a flopping fish in the saddle, but regardless...we were determined to get in one last ride Monday night before the next few days of rain were supposed to roll in.  I tacked up in jumping gear, because I knew the soggy footing would be arriving shortly, and it tends to take a few days to clear back out, so I wanted to get a jump school in.  We were both fresh off of a lesson Friday night, so everything was really recent in our little brains.  I have been having amazing rides ever since that lesson.  I have gotten on every day, determined to perfect our walk before I do anything else.  Every ride since, we have nailed it within minutes.  We have come a LONG ways, just from constantly reminding myself to not hang on the inside rein, and focusing on using the inside leg to outside rein connection. 

So back to Monday.  We warmed up on the flat, and April was outstanding.  By far, the best walk we have gotten since she came to the farm.  I started schooling over a little vertical, then graduated to the line, and really focused on consistency between the fences.  Robyn had worked on really using her leg in her lesson, and thankfully our horses have a lot of similarities, so watching her lesson tends to equal a bonus lesson for me as well!  I was working on applying a lot of the same techniques, and so was Robyn, and we were having stellar rides!  Linkin has come along in leaps and bounds since coming back from his injury-mandated time off.  He has been more relaxed between fences than I have ever seen him.

We kept riding by Kelsey's crazy jump that they had set up for Laddy.  It was still set around 3'3'' or 3'6''.  Both of us kept staring, longingly....then we started putting voice to the thoughts...."MAN, I want to jump that SO BAD!!!"  Pretty soon, the devious looks started flying back and forth.  Before I knew it, Robyn had hopped off to take it down a couple holes.  I mean, let's not get CRAZY here....

So I picked up a nice little canter and came around to the first fence, hopped the vertical, then took the bending line to the big fence.  As stated previously, I looked like a big flopping fish, but what the heck - we sailed right on over!  I let out the biggest whoop imagineable.  By far, the biggest fence I have been over in a LONG time.  It also signified to me that I have GOT to work on my nasty position over fences.  I guess that will come another day....

Next I saw Robyn heading for the first fence.  I started to holler out not to take the bending line, because it was a pretty hairy line to get to the second fence, but before I could finish I saw her setting her sights on the next fence.  Oh my....I think I shouted something about how of COURSE she would take the bending line, because she is uber-competetive, just like me....and if I did it, she'll do it.  Man, that girl and I have a lot in common!  Well, it was a bit much for Linkin the first time around, and they had a bit of an undignified ending.  I knew it had the potential to shake her up, so I hollered at her to get her butt over another fence, pronto.  They sailed over a little vertical.  Then I asked her if she wanted to try the big one again, and she said yes.  So they took a straight approach to the fence.  At the last minute, I saw her eyes drop and I yelled "look at the trees!"  What do you know...eyes went up, horse came up beneath her, and they SAILED right over.  Didn't overjump, didn't get might as well have been a crossrail.

That concluded the night.  I think we whooped and hollered, hung on our ponies' necks and rubbed them with furious excitement...all kinds of treats were given, and that was that.  Then of COURSE we had to measure, and the fence was every bit of 3 feet, if not a hair over.  I know, it really isn't much, but when I sat down to think about it, I realized it has been NINE YEARS since I have jumped that height!!!!!  Quite the victory in my eyes. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Life Has Taken on a Smooth Rhythm...

The days keep ticking on by, one after another, and I feel like everything has just fallen into place perfectly.  My life has taken on a steady rhythm of daily routines.  Weekday mornings I have feeding duty since it is on the way to work for me, then I head to work, back to the barn to work the horses and do evening chores, and then back at it the next day.  I keep waiting to get tired of it, but I truly enjoy every waking moment of doing something I truly love.  It has added so much peace and contentment to my life.

The weekend started out with a lesson with Kelsey on Friday night.  I have to give her major credit, because she has had a pretty devastating week of injuries and illnesses on her farm, but being the consummate professional that she is, she taught outstanding lessons regardless of any distractions going on.  I had a dressage lesson on April, which she happened to be quite fussy for, so it ended up being partly a schooling session for her and Kelsey.  She wasn't wanting to accept the leg, which was a big hint that I have not been using it as much as I should.  Robyn had a jumping lesson on Linkin, which you can check out on her blog - it was really incredible, and Linkin looked better over fences than he EVER has.

Saturday was sort of a lazy day, after busting our tails for Kelsey Friday night.  We were both sore, but the itch to ride was of COURSE still there, so we decided to go on an adventure, complete with a little adventure song and all....yes, I was being a little silly, but it was WELL worth it!  I gave April the day off, and decided to take Samson for a little workout, so we hacked over to Kelsey's farm for a visit.  It was a gorgeous fall day, the kind that requires a long t-shirt, and that is about it.  There was a light breeze, but the warmth of the sun was all you needed to keep things toasty enough to be comfortable.  The horses were amazing - calm, and relaxed, as if they have hacked down the side of the road their entire lives.  They didn't mind traffic passing by one bit.  We visited with Mama Briggs at the farm for awhile, and then Kelsey showed up and jumped on her retired event pony, Laddy, to accompany us back.  The girl is fearless.  She hacked back to our farm bareback, and then proceeded to take Laddy over our little cross country fences and the showjumping course.  What a little wonder-pony!

I had to jet off quickly to go meet my Dad - an AMAZING treat, since he hasn't flown into Charlotte once since I moved here in 2002.  He flew down in the Challenger to pick up the Rockwell CEO and his wife, who were on their way back from England with the CEO and wife of Goodrich Corporation, who live here in Charlotte.  We got to hang out for about an hour, which was so wonderful.  I have always been a bit of a daddy's girl, so time spent with him is always a pleasure, though it made me miss my entire family tremendously.  Of course, seeing as I had just left the farm from our hack, I was still in breeches and half-chaps, and leave it to me - I ended up meeting the CEOs of two MAJOR aerospace and technology corporations...while covered in horse hair.  Ahh, there is something to be said for remaining true to yourself!!!  Needless to say, they were the most gracious and genuine people, and their wives' gave me the warmest hugs when we all departed.  If only we could all have a taste of the jet-setting life my daddy gets to live!

Sunday rolled around, and I treated myself to a lazy day.  I slept in, hung around and watched tv, finished a Jodi Picoult novel, and then eventually rolled out to the barn.  I organized the hay and storage shed, cleaned up the feed room, unloaded the latest grain purchase.  Robyn and I ran to buy lime and starter fertilizer to put down before the four days of rain that is supposed to start today, and when Randon was spreading it, we went to ride our two.  I had an awesome ride on April  We have been working REALLY hard to master the walk, and we almost nailed it within about two minutes of getting started.  I was determined to get the walk perfected before moving on, and while there is still room for improvement, there was a huge progression during that ride.  It came from really focusing hard on inside leg to outside rein, and not reverting back to the inside rein.  Kelsey had preached that throughout my entire ride on Friday, so I made sure I focused on it during my entire ride.  We worked on a little counterbend at the w
alk and trot, and she was lovely, and I even got a little haunches in as well!  I can't resist playing with some of these things, although I know I am skipping a little ahead.  It is too cool to have a horse with so much knowledge!  We did a bunch of work without stirrups as well, and my legs are still aching as a result.

After finishing up, we had a little extra grooming time to work on manes - both April's and Samson's.  I absolutely adore my horses.  I gave my second shot yesterday too, the last of April's fall shots (they have to be spread out) and she was a gem!  Then it was back to the evening routine - cleaning stalls, rinsing and filling water buckets, throwing hay, raking the aisle, and setting up morning grain.  There is so much solace in the little routines of life.  And who wouldn't love being greeted by these sweet faces in the morning???

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I Admit, I'm Kind of in Love....

Just as the title would lead you to believe, I am in love...with a big, long-legged redhead....yes, you guessed it - my new mare.  I am absolutely smitten.  It is so funny, because for so long, I had started to think I might be (gasp!) lazy..or losing interest in riding...or a combination of the two.  The truth is, I had lost so much of the enjoyment in riding.  Delilah and I just never clicked.  I had an early foundation of distrust in her, and she had a history of being "lied" to, and it was just a bad combination.  I believe I learned from and overcame what I needed to in the situation, and thankfully conquered the fear issues before I sold her.  However, it was far past time to move on.

So here I am, moving on, and reveling in every moment.  I find myself so excited to get to the barn and ride.  I find it HARD to give her a day off, instead of a relief that I don't HAVE to go work her.  I have been schooling with no stirrups for a portion of my ride every night this week, because I am so determined to get back into shape.  Tuesday night I worked over fences for a bit, and even finished up with a great canter over our little log jump and stone wall in the cross country course.  Last night I had slated for flatwork, so I took away the stirrups for the majority of the ride, and even ended up cantering without stirrups.  I can't remember the last time I did that!  I even hopped a crossrail, on April, the SUPER forward mare, with no stirrups.  And when she tore off excitedly afterwards, instead of freaking out, I sat up, tightened my core, and she came right back to me. 

I'm in love.  With a mare.  And I am absolutely, positively, without a doubt, in heaven!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Chaos and Peace, All Rolled into One!

My life is exactly as the title describes it...a constant roller coaster of insanity and total peace, all wrapped into one.  Robyn left for the beach last Wednesday, so I was left with the care of our "kids" until she came back.  Thursday morning started bright and early with a bunch of personal errands, and I made it to the farm by 9 to feed and get ready for a lesson with Kelsey.  The ground was still soggy from the two solid weeks of downpouring rain we had here in the Carolinas, so we had to pick our work area carefully.  We spent a solid twenty minutes on the walk, as it is her hardest gait, in my opinion.  She prefers to go around hollow-backed with her head in the air at first.  So we perfected asking her for a correct walk, then moved on to the trot.  We put in some lovely work at the trot - she was instantly round and soft, not flying around in the slightest bit.  We worked on really asking her to carry from behind correctly, then called it a day.

That afternoon was "Vet Day"...I was running horrifically late, so I was a bit scattered when I got there, but everyone did great.  April gets her shots spread out to keep from catching a fever and ending up with sore feet, so her next shot is tonight.  Looking forward to that!!!  So, several hundred dollars and a hug later, the vet departed and left me with some new solutions to finish up the battle on Samson's reoccuring case of scratches.  Thursday evening was uneventful, but we did spend the late evening picking up some new farm toys - a pull-behind aerator and spreader for the mower, and four bags of winter rye and fescue. 

Friday night we tackled the back pasture.  We knew it wasn't going to last long, but even I was shocked at how quickly two horses ate it down.  So we aerated, put down seed, and then were left with another project to tackle - figuring out a sacrifice paddock to use for the next six weeks while the back field establishes grass....thank god for step-in t-posts.  It took me thirty minutes to put up a paddock, using some semi-clever land-planning, so now we have another paddock running up the right side of the driveway.  It went up just in the nick of time, because our new boarder was scheduled to arrive Saturday, thus adding the need for a second pasture!

New sacrifice paddock!

Saturday morning brought a delivery of alfalfa from my favorite Ohio hay guy...gorgeous hay, and such a nice guy.  Then I jetted over to sign April's sale agreement - that's right, she is now OFFICIALLY mine!  When I got back to the farm, I started tackling the wooded paddock with my hubby's help.  I conquered my fear of a chainsaw and quickly discovered they are a lot of FUN!  We are hoping to turn that overgrown mess into a useable paddock by springtime.  The new horse arrived a few hours later, and has settled in beautifully.  His owner is a really sweet girl who pitches in with chores, and is constantly helping.  It is so refreshing to have another little worker bee like us around!  You always wonder what you will end up with when a boarder shows up, but I think we are really going to enjoy having her around.

Future paddock - we have our work cut out!!!

I worked on April's canter Saturday, and fell MADLY in love.  I have never in my LIFE sat a canter like hers.  When I asked for the canter depart, she started to tear off in a long, flat canter.  I tightened my core and adjusted my position, and immediately I felt her back spring up beneath me, as she began to carry herself from behind.  What an incredible feeling!  It was one of those eye-opening moments where you realize "AH HA!  THIS is what it is supposed to feel like!"  I came back to the barn with tears in my eyes.  This mare has so much to teach me, and I cannot wait to learn and grow with her as my new partner.  It was amazing to feel something and learn what "correct" feels like, in such an obvious manner.  It's a far cry from wheeling around on a greenie, that is for certain! 

Sunday was a community tack sale, which of course consisted of loading, unloading, pricing, selling, loading again...and yes, I have to confess - I have yet to unload the remnants from my truck.  Guilty!!!  But the sale was amazing, and I picked up some huge deals - like a three-step mounting block for $20! 

So, as you can see, it has been a whirlwind of chaos, but there are so many wonderful moments wrapped in with it.  Like the midnight check on the new boarder, when the temperature has dropped twenty degrees, and I am snuggled up to Samson's soft neck under a soft moonlight, listening to the rhythmic sound of him munching on his hay.  The times I just plop down in a chair in the aisleway, just to stare at everything we have accomplished.  It is so fulfilling, and yet it has only just begun....

My sweet kids!!!