Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fourteen Hour Days....

Yep, that's right.  This week I have been going non-stop for pretty much fourteen hour days...and I couldn't be happier.  The alarm clock starts going off at 6 am sharp, and I am getting out of bed so much easier these days.  It seems that all the stress of the last month had added to the fact that it was hard to even get out of bed, because that all seems to be gone now.  I am excited to get up, and I am grinning when I pull up to the farm and see six ponies eagerly awaiting breakfast with soft whinnies and nodding heads. 

After breakfast is fed, which is now closer to 30 minutes than the previous 10, I start my commute to work.  The forty-five minute drive used to seem like an eternity, but after 9 years of commuting I have pretty much adapted to it.  I absorb myself in the workday for the following eight hours, which can involve any unpredictable range of events that can happen within a day in the property management field.  Budgets, payables, irate residents...you name it, it happens.  Then it is back on the road for the drive home, where I change clothes, let dogs out, and head to the barn.

Chores have pretty much doubled now, but it is enjoyable and satisfying work.  I am in LOVE with the slow feeder, and wish I could afford to put them out everywhere.  It is an amazing little contraption that completely eliminates hay waste, and keeps it neat and off the ground.  The new ponies have settled in perfectly, and I have to say, I really like each and every one of them.  Rosie is completely sweet and wants to be in your back pocket at all times.  The boys are an adorable pair who are also extremely personable and well-behaved.  I am enjoying getting to know each new pony, their quirks, habits, and individual personalities.

After chores last night, I took the time to work April since the horrible footing has been pushing her to the back burner.  I wish I could come up with some way to fight that battle, but I don't have any solutions at this point.  She has been really worked up over the arrival of the new geldings, and has been overly worried and rude at the same time, so I decided to do some groundwork and longing with her.  It started out with her trying to run the show, but I took Ivy's recent suggestion to work on asserting myself more in the little things, and by the end of the night things ended well.  When I walked back up to the barn I made sure that she stayed right in step with me, whether I was walking fast, slow, or stopped altogether.  I am coming to the realization that she is going to continue to try to walk all over me unless I consistently assert myself each and every time I handle her - it is just the kind of mare she is.  I have been learning a lot from each time I have watched Ivy handle her, and am making a huge effort to translate her successes into some of my own.  I have so much to learn in this world.  Not to slight Ivy, Kelsey, or any other trainer I have had, but I find it incredible that the horses end up being our greatest teachers.  April makes me a better horsewoman on a daily basis, even though some days I grit my teeth in extreme frustration as I learn it.  She is quickly becoming the greatest teacher I have ever had, and I am grateful for her each and every day.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Tossing and Turning

Why is it that our conscience always manages to get the best of us?  Try as I may to shove it aside, mine always ends up torturing me in the long run. 

The farm is full.  You would think that all the stress and worry of the last month would melt away into nothing, as financial burdens start to ease a bit, etc, etc, etc...  But instead, I hit my pillow and worry yet again - this time, about the people who lost those boarders that I just took in. 

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME???  I try SO hard to stick to the professional side of the business.  People are going to come and go.  They will get tired of this, that, or the other thing, and eventually they will move.  But it is still hard.  Boarding horses is some peoples' main livelihood, and if there is one thing I've learned, it is NOT an easy living to make.  Not by a long stretch. 

But, with that aside, yesterday was total madness at the farm, but an incredibly successful day.  Both new boarders ended up moving in within an hour of each other.  We acclimated the mares first, which was fairly uneventful.  Then the geldings, which was also extremely low-key.  Out of the whole day, my mare was the worst behaved, and it was mainly because she was dying to get closer to the new geldings.

I fed bright and early this morning.  It has been several weeks since I arrived to a full barn, and it was such a good feeling.  I got up an hour early so I could walk the geldings around some new fencelines and make sure they knew where the general boundaries were. 

Robyn is recovering well from surgery.  In case I haven't mentioned it, she had her tonsils taken out Friday morning, so she has missed the last few days of madness!  Poor girl - it has been a heck of a recovery.  I hung with her for a little while on Saturday, getting her pain meds and liquids, and trying to keep the humidifier full, which seemed to ease the pain on her throat.  She was not looking good when I saw her, but as of this morning seems to be feeling much better!

The upcoming week will probably be a blur.  I just finished invoices - yay for me getting organized!  I got all the new boarders' contracts copied to take out to the farm for their records.  The weekend was a lot of fun, even though it was a lot of work.  We made over the tack room first.  Josh built a shelf to get our mini-fridge off the ground, so it opened up more space for grain storage and the new boarders' tack.  We finally got the door latch installed to hold the door back, and hung the feed chart and a new chart for turnout/field arrangements.  We lopped and chainsawed trees, re-mounted corner feeders, installed a new line of fencing to block off the lane between paddocks....I love a well-organized operation.  If there is one thing I know I do well, it is run things in a fairly organized and efficient manner. 

Next tasks at hand - more fencing, to subdivide the back field; more tree clearing, and a little gravel driveway makeover to extend the parking area.  And we can never forget - there is ALWAYS the need to fight the mud this time of year!  That has become a full time job in and of itself.....

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ready to Wage War!

Well, exciting things are about to happen.  A few weeks ago I had a bluesy down-in-the-dumps post about a lot of the issues we are facing on the farm.  Well, tonight, we start to do something about it!!  I am meeting with a timber guy to tour him around the property and talk about some clearing.  I also found a source to go to for no-till drilling and other farm equipment we will need to get some of the formerly wooded areas into useable pasture in the near future.  It couldn't have come at a better time.  Today, we officially filled our empty stalls, and have a tour this evening about possibly taking on a pasture boarder.  I am really excited, because both options seem to be very stable, long-term people, and I think we will be able to meet their expectations easily because we are all on the same page with standards of care. 

So, after we have a plan in place for clearing, we will begin the next phase of fencing.  I have discovered a source for reasonably priced t-posts, and slightly better priced polyrope than we have been using.  The plan is to subdivide the back field, and ideally fence in the perimeter of the farm as well.  At this point, we will do as much as we can stretch our budget to cover.  It seems there is always one project or another floating around to be done.  After that, I imagine we will need to invest in a better driveway/parking system, because we will need additional gravel to accommodate the additional boarders and riders at the farm! 

I am soaring with excitement, and so ready to wage war on the farm!  I know there will be plenty of long hours and sweat involved, but it will be well worth it to see the finished project.  I will definitely need to take good pictures of the finished project to show off!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lesson Weekend Recap

I know, it is Friday, and I am just now getting around to blogging about my lessons last weekend.  But since it is already overdue, I will just cut to the chase already.

On Saturday, I did a dressage lesson with Kelsey.  It was freezing compared to the previous few days, and April was doing her best impression of a snorting dragon while I tacked up, so I really didn't know what the day would hold.  We hacked down to Kelsey's farm, which is only a 20 minute walk on horseback.  It was decided that I would lesson first, since April didn't particularly look like she would settle into standing around and waiting (Robyn and Linkin were with us for back-to-back lesson times)

It was an awesome ride.  We spent a solid amount of time working on the walk, then progressed up to the trot.  It was, without a doubt, one of the softest amounts of contact I have ever held while having her go correctly.  There wasn't the slightest bit of tension.  Ironically, the ride was not without its issues - the skippy-canter thing cropped up a few times -  but we worked through everything very effectively and quickly, always coming back to that soft, rhythmic trot.

On Sunday, we loaded up and trailered over to Ivy's.  I have to say, the lesson started well, quickly turned fairly disastrous, and then ended back on a good note - it was a rather interesting day, to say the least.  For one thing, I was incredibly sore from a solid hour of hardcore dressage the day before.  For another, we had both had an entire week off beforehand due to a combination of rain and bad footing at the farm.  So we weren't exactly coming into the day with our "A" game ready.  The flatwork went well.  Then we progressed into jumping.  I had a huge revelation about turning off the outside aids - something I realized I had always "heard" about, but never had to learn or use, since Delilah and I had never gotten that far.  I learned that I have re-developed an old habit of burying my hands in my lap, which is a huge part of what made the ride turn disastrous.  My thinking is that it is my way of subconsciencely trying to bring her head down, since she likes to get her head really high before a fence.  In effect, it is doing the opposite.  It is pissing April off, and causing us to fight with each other.  I also have a bad habit of swinging my hips, or pumping my seat.  I am quickly learning how to be a QUIET rider - it is the best side effect of riding a sensitive horse. 

So that is my weekend of lessons in a nutshell.  A huge thanks to Robyn, who was my helping hand on the ground and videographer.  I am always so grateful to her for the many times she has sat on the sidelines taking video or pictures, when I don't doubt she would rather be taking her own lesson.  The generousity of a true friend is something to never be taken forgranted!!!

Without further ado, here are a few clips!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


You know, it is so easy to forget the advances we make in our riding.  We tend to get so tied up in the issues of the present moment that the giant leaps we have already made just fall to the wayside.  I was reflecting back on this particular notion last night, reflecting on where I was a year ago today.  Then I remembered a blog I had started, right before I started this one.  It was a "secret" blog, because god forbid anybody know what I was up to back then...Without further ado, I suppose I will copy my first entry below, from exactly one year ago.

Sunday, January 9th, 2011
So, I've realized over the last week that I had been expecting the New Year to be some sort of miraculous turnaround from the horrific year that was 2010. In some ways, it has felt as though the slate has been wiped clean, but I have realized that the changing of the calendar unfortunately does not do away with what happened last year. I guess I thought that I could leave all the pain and grieving of 2010 in 2010 - unrealistic expectation, I know.

I set a few goals this year. One of the top priorities is to improve my riding and get both of my horses to their first show. I have wanted to get help with my mare, Delilah, for a long time. Lately my relationship with my trainer has been a bit off. It seems as though our barn has formed an elite clique, and while I am sometimes included, more often than not I am on the fringes. Yesterday I was crushed to come out and see a lesson being taught when I have asked repeatedly for help with my mare - for a lesson, for photos to be critiqued - and I have received no response. So I took a wild leap, and I contacted an acquaintance to set up a riding lesson. I feel like a double agent. I feel conniving and back stabbing, and I'm not really sure why. Yet at the same time, I am so excited to do something for
. So my first lesson is at 1:30 today, and I am looking forward to it for now, and will deal with the guilt later.

One of my other goals is to get my house in better order. A former pastor of mine used to say that when you have a lot of spiritual "junk" inside, it shows up on the outside. If that is the case, I'm guessing my spiritual life needs to get in order as well, because my house has been a mess more often than it has been clean.

And lastly, I want to work on
I want to be a better person. I don't want to be jealous of the girl with the free horse who is a star, just because I have a mare that is still green, and a gelding that has gone through surgery, recovery, and may never accomplish the goals I have in mind. I want to focus on myself instead of everyone around me. I jokingly titled my blog Confessions of a Self-Described Headcase - but it often feels as though it is true.

So that's the start of this, and we will see where it goes. For now, this is a place to vent, rant, and have an outlet, since I don't feel like I know who my friends are anymore. I guess that is yet another thing to discover this year.

Okay, so obviously, my goal of getting my house in order got bumped back to 2012.  But in regards to my riding....it is unbelievable how much my life has changed since then.  For one, Kelsey is now my regular trainer.  She has also become a dear friend, mentor, and a true aspiration.  She helped me to take the steps in finally making the right decision for me, and moving on to a horse that would challenge me and teach me, rather than scaring the pants off of me.  I have to laugh a little now, because my "frustrating" lesson on April this past Sunday isn't a fraction of the frustration I used to feel after getting off of Delilah.  I couldn't even canter her without going into mild cardiac failure.  For goodness' sakes, I couldn't jump a course EVER.  I am learning things that would be considered basic intermediate riding skills - and they are brand new to me, because I rode without progressing for so long because I was limited by the horse and rider combination I was in.  Turning off your outside aids is so basic.  But I have never been taught, because I never put more than two fences together on Delilah. 

I felt so guilty when I took that first lesson with Kelsey.  But it was a tiny step that blew a whole new world open for me.  I left that day soaring, because in our first lesson, she put me over a 2'9'' fence, which was something I hadn't done since god knows when.  The best part?  I never felt more than a fleeting seconds' worth of hesitation.  From there, I continued to return, as often as I could.  Mostly I rode Phaye, her semi-retired Trakehner mare.  Phaye is strikingly similar to April, so it set a good foundation of challenging me to push my comfort zone a little at a time.  I look back on those first lessons with a lot of fond memories.  Ridiculous memories too...like sneaking helmets into coats, so no one would ask why I was taking my helmet from the barn.  I got so scared that I would be caught that I finally bought a second used helmet!  Oh, the hilarity we go through to avoid a little drama.....

I also reflect back on the funniest statement of all from that blog last January.  The little nugget about not wanting to be jealous of the girl with the free horse.  Ironically, that girl is now my closest and dearest friend.  That free horse is living in our barn, and venturing into the eventing world along with me and April.  And now that I have my fiery red mare, I couldn't ever dream of that horse having been mine.  In the first place, I was scared of my own shadow back then, and he would have intimidated me beyond belief.  It took the journey of the last year to prepare me for April, and now I have found my own match.  For that, I am so incredibly grateful.

So that is a look into my head, though back when I wrote it, I vowed I would never share it.  But it seemed so relevant to what I wanted to share today anyway.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Melancholy Monday

I try to stay away from the melancholy wallow of self-pity, but it seems my blog is the best outlet for the trying times.  You see, I can pour my woes out into the vast universe of cyber-space, convince myself that someout there will listen, care, or maybe even sympathize....and maybe, just maybe - I will feel better having done so.

So here's my attempt at the above-mentioned logic.  Owning a farm is tougher than I ever imagined.  I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if you had a big enough place.  If I had ten boarders, losing one wouldn't be a big deal.  But when you only have a spot for one, or two at most, losing one will devastate you, in the financial sense.  All of a sudden, everything comes crashing down as your sole responsibility once again, and it can be really tough. 

I keep telling myself to hold the course, that everything will fall into place over time.  Sometimes, you just have to take a moment to wallow.  Come on - everyone does it.  I'm not going to pretend that I am any more emotionally mature than the next guy.  I have my breaking points, just like anyone else.  So this morning I have been wallowing, and now, I am trying to make the transition to doing something about it.

Here's my first problem.  I rent my farm.  I don't own it, so I can't afford to sink tons of money (not that I even have it, in the first place!) into the property, knowing I will never have any kind of return on my investment.   Secondly, the property is pretty heavily wooded.  I didn't find it to be that big of a deal, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that this will be a concern for a lot of potential boarders that we have shown around in the past few months.  Thirdly, we are not a fancy facility.  We are fairly basic, but I know we both take a lot of pride in the way we care for our horses.  But we don't have a nice ring to tote in advertisements, we don't have gorgeous three-board fencing, we don't have acres and acres of wide-open grass.  I have managed to be content with exactly what we have available to us - but perhaps that is just the pride of ownership?  Apparently that must be the case, because we can't seem to get anyone else to agree with us.

Okay, before this post gets any more depressing, it's time to evolve back to my chipper self, and share my plan.  I can't do a lot about problem one, the fact that I don't own the farm.  I basically have to suck it up and deal with it, and try to make the wisest choices possible.  The woods, however, I am preparing to tackle.  I put an inquiry out to my landlord to talk about doing some clearing on the property, and I should hopefully hear something back in the next day or two.  I am considering bringing in a professional to take a lot of the hardwoods out.  It would be a massive undertaking, when you consider the stump grinding, tilling, fertilizing, and seeding it would take to change around the property.  But apparently it may be warranted to make our farm a success.  So we are going to see how that turns out.  One step at a time, right??

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Day of Beauty

Let's face it - wintertime can suck in the South, too.  We may avoid the massive amounts of snow that our northerly neighbors are forced to deal with, but instead, we get a wetter precipitation - in fairly equal amounts.  What does that mean for us, you might inquire?

Puddles.  Sometimes ponds.  And MUD.  Oh, the neverending stretches of mud, that seem to continually surface.  I feel as if I can't possibly bring in enough footing to fight the mud this time of year.  It seems as if we are putting down more every two to three weekends lately.  Inevitably, that results in sore muscles, but slightly better footing - til the next monsoon, that is.

So Robyn and I were fighting the wintertime blues this week, since it has been so incredibly rainy that the arena hasn't had the slightest chance to dry.  We decided to retaliate the other night by giving our ponies a much needed "Day of Beauty"....mainly, their manes - no play on words intended!

Now Robyn only has one pony (and therefore one mane!) to deal with.  Thankfully, for me, she had a bit of trouble with her solo comb, and spent enough time trying to fix it that I was able to get both of my ponies done in the same amount of time.

April got the beauty treatment first.  I have to say, I think she has mostly resolved herself to the fact that I am in charge.  The first time I did her mane, I ended up using the solo comb when she started getting fussy.  This time I asserted myself a little more firmly, and got the job done without much trouble at all.  Then it was Samson's turn. 

I like to joke that Samson is my ethnic pony.  He has the kinkiest frizzy hair I have ever seen on a horse.  Of course, the longer I neglect to pull it, the worse it gets.  So when I pulled him out, he had quite the chestnut poof going on.  Thankfully you can pretty much pull his main with two fingers, so he was done in no time.

So now we have had a pony spa day, and I'm back to wanting to ride.  Go figure -it poured again yesterday, and any bit of drying that happened the day before is long gone.  SIGH.....  Here's to hoping for a few sunny days to dry it up.....

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


So, I may be ten days late in doing this.  But in all truthfulness, I still am not completely certain what my goals are for my horse and my riding this year.  I have been mulling it over, but I am not typically a hard and fast goal-setter, because it always seems as though life gets in the way.  So I am going to set a few loose goals and take it one step at a time from there.

My first goal might be coming up in two weeks, if I can figure out the financial end of things.  My main goal has been for a long time to get to a show.  Now, I know that I got out to the Everlong show on Penny last year, but I can hardly call that a true "showing" experience.  Let's not rehash that whole mess.  Regardless, my main goal is to take a horse and get into a ring.  Period, end of story.  So I was invited to go along with a couple people to do the Pipe Opener at Carolina Horse Park on the 21st, and hopefully I will get to that to do a Maiden level combined test.

The next goal is to team up with Robyn to get to another combined test together at TTC in March, and also do a cross country schooling since their course will be open after the show.  From there, I have decided not to set any hard and fast goals, but I would like to loosely set a goal of getting out at least every other month, hopefully more like once a month.  I would like to do a little dressage show, like Gone to Ground or Lighten Up Dressage, which are both fairly local.  And I would really like to run my first full event at the Beginner Novice level by this summer.  I think that is a reasonable goal, considering my horse is capable, and the height is only 2'7".  Ideally, I would like to try to move up to Novice by the end of the year, but we will take it one step at a time and see how things go.

Back to the Pipe Opener, and one small thing that I forgot to mention...entries are due tomorrow...and I need a show name.  Her barn name is April, because she was born on April Fools' Day.  She is a fiery chestnut mare, and deserves a particularly special name.  Any suggestions???!!!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Looking Up, And Other Related News...

Yep, that's right.  Things are definitely looking up.  In an interesting twist of events, we have a couple of barn tours lined up in the next week that we are incredibly excited about.  Both options seem like great people with expectations that completely match ours, so we are thrilled to show everyone around and see what they think of our little place!  We have a work day scheduled for bright and early Saturday morning, which will start immediately after we finish our rides.  The goal is to tackle the rest of our paddock, which will consist of finishing up mounting insulators, putting up the polywire, and then installing the fence charger.  The boys' new paddock will be ready by the end of the day if all goes as planned! 

In addition, Ivy gave me a few things to tweak in April's care regimen to see if her behavior improved.  I have to say, the combination of changes plus her week of tuning up has resulted in a dramatically improved horse for me.  I have had phenomenal rides every night this week, and I feel like I am learning something each and every time I sit on her.  I have been really focusing on recognizing when she is truly "put together", because she has a tendency to fool you unless you are really paying attention.  The hindquarters are what I tend to neglect, but I think I am finally starting to figure out when she is truly straight and carrying from behind.  One day at a time, I know we will continue to progress.  But overall, she has been an absolute gem all week, even the night we rode while it was less than 30 degrees out!!!  Last night we hopped a little vertical, and within three strides of landing, we were cantering a quiet 20 meter circle.  Big cheers for improvement!!!!

Samson started a half-lease yesterday, and I swear he gave me the stink eye when I brought him in last night.  Bless his heart, he is still so fat and out of shape, but convincing HIM of this fact is yet to come.  For now we will have to deal with the occassional cranky look while he continues to get back into shape....

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Taking Ownership

Owning a farm is the most trying, challenging, yet rewarding thing imagineable.  It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks, and sadly our little farm is back to the original three at the moment.  There have been several people expressing interest, and hopefully a couple really good prospects.  But when it rains it pours, so on top of losing our boarder, we also lost our half-leaser - she decided juggling three kids' schedules and a horse for herself was too much.  Can I really blame her??!!!  We have poured our energy into the farm lately - adding a paddock to subdivide the herd, re-organizing the hay shed and feed rooms, keeping everything neat and tidy.  Then winter hit out of the blue this week, and it dropped from 60 degrees during the day, to a high of 37 yesterday.  Which undoubtedly meant the low was 21, which equals additional blanketing, breaking ice in troughs, and all the other winter precautions that are necessary.  Nevertheless, I love wintertime for the most part, and I was actually excited for it to finally arrive.  There is something invigorating about feeding on a morning that the air is so crisp it nearly burns your lungs.  Call me crazy, I know - but I love it.

April has been doing amazing since coming back from a week of tune-up with Ivy.  I was lucky enough to have her offer to keep her ridden while I was in Iowa for Christmas break.  So instead of her sitting around doing nothing, she got a few training rides to get her tuned back up a bit.  We did a short lesson the day I picked her up, and discovered I have been half-halting incorrectly.  That alone has made a big difference in our rides.  We also made some changes to her diet and pasture arrangments, and the combination of factors has come together perfectly so far.  I was hoping to take her to the Pipe Opener this month, but it is looking like finances are going to force us to stay at home.  Hopefully I can find a backup option sometime in the near future.  For now, I am trying to keep my chin up, and just keep riding.  I was proud that I fought off the urge to back out of riding last night, and I braved the 30 degree weather and rode anyway. 

So that's the way that life is puttering along at the moment.  I'm taking ownership for all the things I can control, and trying to find peace in the fact that not everything falls into place perfectly, but it will get there eventually.  I still wouldn't trade my little piece of heaven for anything in the world.