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 air....in 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 future....here's to conquering the fear, once and for all!